Sunday, 27 September 2009

Is Traditional Publishing Dead?

Here's another argument I see a lot on Writers' Boards. Fairly regularly someone writes an article pointing to slumps in book sales and the success of Kindle and moans sybil-like that publishing is dead. Others say the future lies in self-publishing and twenty years from now we'll all be publishing through Lulu et al and hawking our books out of car boots or on Amazon Marketplace.

I don't pretend to know enough about the business to have any glib answers to this. Nor do I have any premonitions about what the Future of Publishing is. What I do know is I get bloody sick of all this bickering. OK, it's a contentious issue with lots of people's livelihood at stake, but what's the point in indulging in circular arguments when none of us really knows what the future holds. All we can do is wait and see.

It seems to me, as a disinterested novice in this field I hasten to add, that you need to do 2 things to succeed at publishing.

The first and most important is write a bloody brilliant book. Note: not a good enough book, but a bloody brilliant one. Knock their socks off good. Having done that you need to get it into people's hands. This is where the self-publisher is up against the odds, but it has been known to happen.

There should be no two-tier attitude to this. Publishing is publishing. We're all in it together. The Enemy, if there is one, is other media; tv, film, computer games. As authors we have to drag the punters back into the book shops to buy our books. Have them rushing to order from Amazon instead of vegitating in front of the telly letting their brains turn to mush.

It's whether we can succeed at this that will determine the future of publishing, not which press prints our books.

We all love books or we wouldn't be trying to get into this field. So maybe we should spend less time bickering about the Future of Publishing and write that bloody brilliant book!

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Reading other people's work

I'm posting this article because it made me laugh and highlights the pitfalls of being a successful writer when everyone thinks they can collar you for a free crit of their manuscript.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Am I too young to write a novel?

Sometimes it seems like everyone and their auntie is writing a novel. If you hang around writers' boards as much as I do (procrastinating - er - I mean, researching) it starts to look that way. And some of them are very young - teenage young.

Ah, it takes me back to my own misspent youth. Donnie Osmond, tartan patches on my jeans, fly smokes behind the bike sheds. I don't remember ever thinking about writing a novel. Stories, yes. But my attention span was so brief back then I could barely get to the third page before chucking the whole thing in favour of watching Top of the Pops. What with all those raging hormones, swotting for exams and worrying about boys I barely put pen to paper.

And looking back I don't think it ever occurred to me that anyone would be remotely interested in my scribblings. Maybe that's just a symptom of my low self-esteem, but it's something that still hangs over me today when I write. Writing a novel is not the same as pouring out your angst into a diary or penning a short story for you and your family to read. Writing a novel is for a larger audience, and their interest in what you have to say is key.

This week I noted a post from a fairly young writer who bemoaned the attitude of some older people in this respect, quoting a college tutor who said she was too young to write a novel. The encounter had obviously knocked her confidence, but was he right?

I gave it a lot of thought, because in my gut I think he has a point but at the same time I wouldn't want to deter any young person from pursuing a writing career. It seems to me there are two aspects to writing a novel:

The first is the technical side - knowledge of grammar, description, dialogue etc. For this you can never start too young and the more you read and practice writing the better you will become.

The other is having a story to tell. This is where I think age is an issue. I do believe you need to have lived a little and experienced all kinds of emotions, but not only that; you need to have enough maturity to be able to see your experiences in perspective. This is something that comes to everyone at different times, so it's hard to generalise but usually only comes with age in all but the prodigiously talented.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Description - good or bad?

Another one of those rules you see flung around in writers' circles is about description.

"You use too much description. The story gets bogged down. Cut, cut, cut." Is the gist of it.

And I agree, on the whole. You see, I have the attention span of a hyperactive gnat with its arse on fire; I'm not the type who loves to spend days reading about the redness of her hair or the blueness of the sky. I had to wade through enough stodge to get my degree and at my age I'm too old to waste any precious minutes absorbing some pretentious writer's endless wordplay when they get to go for the Booker. GET ON WITH IT is what I'm thinking during long descriptive passages - and if they go on much longer than that I'm chucking the book at the wall and blacklisting the author for all time.

It's something all writers should be paranoid about. Exactly when is Joe Schmoe gonna chuck my book away? If it's on page three you're in trouble because they'll never forgive you, believe me. You get one chance to impress in this game so don't blow it.

But how do I set the scene? You cry.

Well, it's true. You do have to set the scene, but the trick is to tell just enough to get the reader into what's happening. Once they care about your characters you can slip in more description - it's best to drip feed it, much like the dreaded backstory. And always ask yourself, is it really necessary people know he has grey hair sprouting like gorse bushes out of his flaring nostrils? A lot of the time people like to draw their own picture from the sketch you've given them; your version of the picture is like the screen adaptation that everyone hates because it's not how they imagined it.

Writing is a collaboration between writer and reader. Without their imagination in play the reader will never get fully into the story. And you have to trust them by giving just enough description to get them there.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

The Great Genre Debate 2

Ever heard of James Kelman?

I hadn't, I must admit, until this item popped up on a writers' board recently. Now everyone in Scotland, and a lot further afield, knows who Kelman is and what he thinks about the state of Scottish literature.

I'm not surprised his outburst has caused such a fuss. For a start it's practically sacrilege to say a word against the Harry Potter franchise. I've noticed this elsewhere - whenever anyone dares to criticise these books their legion of fans responds with such vitriol you'd think it was their mother's chastity that was being besmirched.

Yet why does everyone in Western Civilisation know who J K Rowling is when many (including me) had never heard of Kelman despite his having won the Booker in 1994 for How late it was, How late and some would say thereby deserves more attention?

Such is the power of commercialisation. That's why you can't move for Harry Potter merchandise and Rebus tv spin-offs. It's an indictment of publishing, but also of our profit chasing culture where everything has to be about getting the fast buck. Mediocrity is King in the land of Chased Ratings.

I think Kelman has a point and I'm glad he's raised this issue. I shouldn't be surprised at the vitriol aimed at him in response, but isn't it the role of writers to rattle our cages once in a while and get us all thinking?

And now I know another Scottish writer to look out for.