Friday 1 February 2008

Writers Need Two Brains

I've been a member of SCBWI (the Society for Children's Book Writer's and Illustrators) for donkey's years but last year I decided to join the Society of Authors. The SOA is only for the published author (I got in on the basis of a non-fiction book and my radio work)and the difference between SCBWI - which supports both published and non-published - was veeeery interesting.

Whilst at SCBWI there is clear emphasis on craft and (naturally) getting published, the focus at SOA is on sales, rights, taxes - all the stuff that many SCBWIites have yet to dream about.

It became clear to me that to call yourself an author, you need two brains.

The brains of an artist, dedicated to his/her craft.

And the brains of the entrepreneur, building his/her brand and getting the books sold.

Weirdly there was a lot of stuff out there today about the process of selling books.

A New York Times essay by Rachel Donadio described the shift from writing the book to seeing it in bookshops as akin to "a sudden change in cabin pressure"
As soon as a literary agent has sold a publisher a book, and even before it’s edited, copy-edited, proofread and indexed, the publicity wheels start turning. While writers bite their nails, the book editor tries to persuade the in-house sales representatives to get excited about the book, the sales representatives try to persuade retail buyers to get excited, and the retail buyers decide how many copies to buy and whether to feature the book in a prominent front-of-the-store display, for which publishers pay dearly. In the meantime, the publisher’s publicity department tries to persuade magazine editors and television producers to feature the book or its author around the publication date, often giving elaborate lunches and parties months in advance to drum up interest.
It doesn't sound like a picnic.

Shelfstalker, a children's bookseller's blog, described how independent bookstores augment the bestseller sales of publishers by handselling titles they have a personal liking for. Here's a quote from bookseller Karl Pohrt speaking at the Beijing Book Fair:
When we do our job properly, independent booksellers act as an early warning system for publishers. We help publishers launch books. It should also be noted that the 150 to 500 range of titles is where publishers are making money, because they haven’t made huge investments that they have to recuperate in contracts with best-selling authors and large ad campaigns. So we also augment sales from the top 150 to 300 titles.
And here's Scott Pack, former Waterstones big guy (now The Friday Project publisher), analysing the stuff going on at Borders (nutshell: one boss has left - will Borders still meet its potential?):
What next? If Borders continue to prove value for money for publishers and carry on with their support for indies as well as offering a decent alternative on the high street then presumably there is no problem. If the new regime start tinkering, and you would guess they will, then hopefully it will be to improve and progress. If their planned review of the business can strengthen the work already done then great. If they get it wrong then their rivals will give them a thumping.
It's been a newsy day for booksellers.

Writers ought to look up from their keyboards and pay some heed.

1 comment :

  1. 'Writers ought to look up from their keyboards and pay some heed'
    We do, believe me, we do! Just discovered your blog - think it's going to be a regular!


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