Archive for October, 2013
It never rains but it pours. For months I don’t think about Social Media. Then everyone at the Women’s Fiction Festival in Matera was talking about social media as the key to discovering books you want to read. On Saturday I went to Oxford to hear sound (near inspirational, indeed) advice from mega book blogger Barbara Vey. And then today Nicola Morgan posts a survey on people’s blog-reading habits. And I start to think . . .
I heep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.
What: blogs I long favour, blogs I’m introduced to by friends and colleagues; blogs I find by serendiptious links.
Why: to be intrigued, to laugh, to learn, to relax, to find information I want, to catch up with people who interest me, displacement activity (currently much reduced, see below). Sometimes am rewarded by being moved.
When: earlyish morning, sometimes late evening, Since I started working away from my desk (Other People’s Building Works, ask no further) I’m online less than an hour a day.
How: specific search or wandering. Not signed up for any, nor visit any blog regularly. Will go to some, like Word Wenches, when I want a break that will make me think, make me laugh and last as long as my coffee. Most blogs I read are less of a time investment, though.
Where: at my desktop. Don’t like phone surfing, it makes me miss train stops. No Wifi access where I work.
Who: Ah. For play: quite a lot of authors because they write nicely but not if they’re boring on about writing problems. When I’m in blogreading mode I want to get away from that nagging anxiety. I like the way some authors write about their work, life and ideas like Liz Fielding Mark Chisnell. Or blogs I’ve fallen across and enjoyed, like contemporary trumpeter and urban farmer Brendan Ball who led me to the classic video on the truth about Working with Singers by one of my favourite groups, I Fagiolini; or Pepys Diary for visiting another world, where the anxieties were quite, quite different.
For work: Source blogs like Best of World War 2 that touch on research for my Work in Progress; they’re really indices more than anything else ; Author, publisher, editor blogs that are practical and upbeat.
Book review blogs are work AND play. Sometimes I’m hoping to learn stuff I can use in my own career but mostly I want to make discoveries of new authors I’ll enjoy. Very keen on Mrs Peabody Investigates for the latter. But then, I don’t write crime. Yet.
BUT – I’m not absolutely sure that I would read my blog if I didn’t write it.
Last week I was in Matera, Italy (a UNESCO World Heritage Site of which more in another post) at the 10th International Conference on Women’s Fiction. It was amazing.
The Conference, which is part of a Festival celebrating women’s fiction, is the brainchild of translator/award-winning author Elizabeth Jennings, who lives in Matera, and editor/publisher/agent Maria Paola Romeo from Milan. And oh boy, was it international. There were authors from the USA, Italy, the UK, Australia, South Africa. There was simultaneous translation between Italian and English. There were writers, agents and publishers from the USA, Italy, the UK, France and Germany.
Most of the Conference was conducted in the form of panels, so we got a range of views and experience. It all felt very spontaneous and, as a result, startlingly honest. It must have been a real pain for the translators, though; they worked their socks off and with minimal prepared content. I take my hat off to them, especially as they donated their services free. That’s dedication to books!
Two issues emerged and stayed at the forefront for the whole conference: the hybrid author and ‘discoverability’. Hotly followed by the implication that authors now have to be serious business people. No living in a cottage, like Elizabeth Goudge, God bless her, and letting Other People sort out contracts, money and the practicalities of life. Good for the backbone of course, but more or less daunting for the author, depending on your habits of mind.
The Pillars of Wisdom or at least Commercial Fiction
Elizabeth Jennings, chairing the first panel, said that three years ago there were three pillars of the publishing world: Writer-Agent-Publisher. Stephane Marsan, founder of French publisher Bragelonne, later added a fourth: Bookseller. It was only very late in the conference that someone else (sorry, forget who) mentioned, in passing, the Reader. The European voices tended to agree that readers were diminishing in number, though I’m not sure whether that was just of print books. Everyone pointed out that, although e-readers were growing increasingly popular, once a book or short story was available digitally it could be read on other devices, such as laptops, tablets and even smartphones. The next generation of readers may find these a better fit with their daily lives, I suppose.
The hybrid author
One man in his time plays many parts … In the case of writers, in the new digital age you may find that you want to self-publish your first venture(s), but also contract with a small press for something that has a definite audience but you can’t quantify it; digital first(small or large publisher) for an experiment; and, maybe, a big mainstream publisher for your mega-reach books. And you may want them all at the same time. Publishing, as everyone said, is changing. Fast.
Digital publishing seems now to be driving the new commercial fiction market in the USA. The consensus was that Europe is two to three years behind but going in the same direction.
The upsurge of digital publishing has inevitably caused a traffic jam, to put it at its mildest. With all those books out there, how does the Reader find the book he/she actually wants to read? He/she can still browse, in real bookshops and the on-line stores, both of whom will deliver recommendations. The Amazon rankings increase an author’s visibility — but you have to take care to select carefully the categories in which you place your novel and also choose your time window carefully (there you go, author-businessperson again). The self-publisher will probably only get a visible place in the rankings for a short time.
However, the latter is true for all publishers, big, small and self. Crowding out has hit the book world big time. You may get a contract with a big publisher but they haven’t cracked this problem, any more than has Euphemia Gutbucket, publishing Forty Years in the Rain Forest, my life as rubber planter’s wife.
And this is where I pay tribute to the big thing I took away from Matera – the willingness of everyone there to help each other out. From Elizabeth herself, devoting what must be massive writing time to putting together this programme, to the agents, publishers, translators and other authors, I was humbled by the generosity of everyone, all cheerfully sharing the problems they had identified and some of the solutions they were trying. In particular I am grateful to fellow participants David Gaughran, who convinced me that it was possible to let people know about your books without having a personality transplant and Shannon Mckenna, who hit the New York Times bestseller list on the Friday of the Conference. That achievement reminded everyone that there are Readers out there and sometimes they just love your book. Phew!