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Comment from the book world in January 2021


Screenwriting, Diversity and Black Lives Matter

27 December 2021

‘Quite a few of my authors have wanted to move into screenwriting which makes sense because publishing doesn't always pay them enough to keep them going in that particular way. I know publishers will disagree but I think there are some ideas that are better for screen than necessarily for books and vice versa so that actually that is the thing I think agents should start to begin pivoting towards more rather than seeing it as an adjunct... particularly because film and television companies are desperate for IP and this is kind of a glorious time...

My people and my people's experience is not a trend, the collective history and pain of my ancestors is not something that is in vogue.

People from lots of different backgrounds write about lots of different things, it doesn't have to be mining the same pain over and over again. What everybody wants is to be given the same equality of platform to voice their experiences in the world.

What I am sceptical about is this idea of a collective bandwagon or reaching a quota and thinking I've done that quota. Publish responsibly and publish creatively and look at that person as a long-term career not a short-term enterprise.

Agent Nelle Andrew of Rachel Mills Literary in London in conversation with The Bookseller's managing editor Tom Tivnan at last month's FutureBook conference.


'Have fun with it'

13 December 2021

"I never give advice to young writers. They don't need someone to tell them to write something every day. The one thing I will say is: have fun with it. Don't listen to all these authors who tell you that writing is such hard work... If you go into it thinking that, it's going to be a chore for you. If you instead go, "Hey! Look at me writing. I'm creating something! I'm having a good time!" that's the way to go. Writing is a lot easier when you have that attitude."

R.L. Stine, celebrated author of dozens of children's books, many in the horror genre, who died recently.


Why indie publishers are better than conglomerates

29 November 2021

‘By the time you get to a company that's bigger than, say, 300 or 400 people, an amazing amount of the energy that's expended is internal, it's all about filling out forms and attending meetings and setting standards and training and it's got very little to do with publishing. As an editor with a book you really believe in, you don't tell the world about it...

You have to put all your energy into persuading other people in the big companies to do this for you...

We're nimble, we're flexible, we're not numbers driven in the same way, so we can publish books at the optimum time which is best for the book and best for the author and not because we have to fit it in as the 1,000th book that has to slot in with 999 others...

Those in independent publishing have much greater involvement with our authors, and everybody knows what's going on. Everybody meets the authors [and] everybody can read all the books...

It's much more fun... it's much more rewarding and it's much more satisfying.'

Andrew Franklin, publisher of UK indie Profile Books, speaking at a recent IPG (Independent Publishers Guild) conference


What Hollywood needs

15 November 2021

‘What Hollywood needs is more and more content because of all the outlets, but in many cases, before studios buy the rights to a book, they need some form of validation, so they know something is good.

I don't think [exclusively] writing books ever was a way to make a living. I mean, in the old days, authors were doctors and lawyers and had real jobs. Writing was rarely considered a full-time job. The difference is now, there are so many other opportunities for authors to write.'

Peter Gethers, Knopf editor-at-large, who co-produces projects for Universal Studios, STUDIOCANAL and Food Network and previously ran Penguin Random House's book-to-film department.


'Writers do not need to be charismatic'

1 November 2021

'One of the shining exceptions in personalities is that writers do not need to be charismatic in their own persons; they are free to be dull by each of the human senses as a void for other, more powerful realities. Some have the ability to dwell almost completely in their imaginations, living vicariously through the stunning characters and fascinating worlds they create by using only words on paper. In this way, people are much like books: we can try judging them by their covers, but alas, there is always the possibility of our being deluded in doing so.'

Criss Jami, author of Killospophy, Healology, Venus in Arms and 4 other books

"I'm not studying because I want to write stories"

18 October 2021

My teacher said: ‘Stories? How do you at the age of 13, come to me brazen-faced and say, "I'm not studying because I want to write stories?" Explain: how can you be so brazen-faced?... I decided I would start writing again, but I wouldn't tell anyone...

The humiliation got to me and later, in spite of the swagger of youth, I really was very cautious. I didn't believe, for example, in the convention that we have a single face and that face is our identity. We are changeable organisms...

Rather than assail me, that man tried in a cruel, confused way to protect me, and I learnt more from the episode than I'm willing to admit because writing is a game of chance, and it's very rare that you win.'

Elena Ferrante, bestselling author of the Neapolitan quartet, My Brilliant Friend, and The lying life of adults and many other novels, who has steadfastly concealed her or his true identity from the world.


'Those words that are rolling through my mind'

4 October 2021

‘I write in my head on the way home from work, or when mowing the lawn, or on a night out with friends. Sometimes I find the time to capture those words that are rolling through my mind, quivering and drumming and swimming, banging into each other until I can finally trick them and leak them out onto the page. And sometimes I don't. Writers are like that.'

Karl Wiggins, indie author of Calico Jack in Your Garden and three other books.

Historical fiction and historical fact

20 September 2021

‘Fiction is good at contradictions and flaws; it doesn't deal just in cause and effect, but in the inconsequential, the incidental, the half-formed, half-understood, and what is too ephemeral to write itself into the record. To a degree, historians have to believe that people meant what they said and said what they meant, and that their actions can be interpreted by the logic of their lives and times. But fiction redirects us to mystery and chance, and doesn't assume that people know their own minds or hearts.'

Hilary Mantel, author of the Wolf Hall trilogy, two books from which won the Man Booker Prize, and six other novels


'I needed the money'

6 September 2021

‘I have often been asked how I came to write. The best answer is that I needed the money. When I started I was 35 and had failed in every enterprise I had ever attempted. . . I had gone thoroughly through some of the all-fiction magazines and I made up my mind that if people were paid for writing such rot as I read I could write stories just as rotten. Although I had never written a story, I knew absolutely that I could write stories just as entertaining and probably a lot more so than any I chanced to read in those magazines.'

Edgar Rice Burroughs, author of 91 novels, which have sold hundreds of millions of copies, who is best known for Tarzan of the Apes, the first of 26 Tarzan books which were translated into more than 56 languages and were also popular in comic-strip, motion-picture, television, and radio versions. He once said 'I write to escape ... to escape poverty'.

'I always wanted to write books, and always crime'

23 August 2021

‘I always wanted to write books, and always crime. I'd read Agatha Christie as a child and in the late 1980s I discovered the US crime writer Sara Paretsky. I thought: wow, these are the kind of books I want to write - books with strong female protagonists with a brain and sense of humour; women who didn't have to get the guys in for the heavy lifting. I wanted my characters to be three-dimensional, and if some of those characters happened to be gay, they were not defined by it...

I never wrote to be successful, so success was a happy surprise. But I don't particularly live the life of a rich person - no flash cars, no ridiculous jewellery, and I used to buy most of my shirts from Debenhams.'

Val McDermid, whose latest book is 1979, and who is the author of 45 books, nearly all of them crime novels, which have sold over 17 million copies worldwide, in the Sunday Times magazine


'The internet has been a lifeline'

9 August 2021

‘The outlook may sound bleak. But the internet has been a lifeline, enabling authors to lean on their peers. With fewer events and chances to meet face-to-face, the virtual author community has never been more important. And boy, have we needed moral support the past year or so!...

More people turned to reading during the pandemic, in particular using their e-readers when they couldn't get to physical stores. A lot of authors I know have seen this reflected in their digital sales, which have positively boomed during this time.'

Tracy Buchanan, creator of Savvy Writers, a blog which offers help and resources for published authors, in Bookbrunch


'The relationship between agent and editor cannot be conducted via Zoom'

29 July 2021

‘The pandemic has been a period of caution, safe bets and, understandably due to the restrictions in distribution, a time of low experimentation. I hope this will change over the summer and through the personal connections that will infuse a new energy in the business...

One thing the lockdown has proven without any doubt is that the relationship between agent and editor cannot be conducted via Zoom. We need to know what is going on in editorial commissioning rooms and understand the changing tastes of acquiring editors. They are not merely names on a sheet that you email your submission to. I would encourage every agent and editor to use this 'freedom' to re-connect, put back some energy and dynamism in the submissions process.'

Jonny Geller, CEO at Curtis BrownSee Curtis Brown listing UK, in the Bookseller