The business of writing is changing. Our publishing cheese is on the move. In fact, it may no longer be in the building.
So what to do? WritingWA invited Juliet Rogers—publishing guru and Executive Director of the Australian Society of Authors—to chat about why publishing is no longer all free lunches and champagne.
Scroll down for Juliet’s tips on getting published.
The business end of business
In Australia, the business of writing means we publish 7000 new Aussie books every year (and another 14000 titles from overseas), turning over 2 billion dollars and employing 20,000 people.
“We’re the sector that underpins the cultural identity of this country,” Juliet says.
“We’ve built a book ecosystem in this country which is largely self-sustaining, but there’s still a place for government support, and this is largely absent.”
In fact, she says, the industry’s currently under attack as the Productivity Commission moves to reduce the length of copyright for creators and FANG (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google) continue their push to “make free content cool and copyright old-fashioned.”
Sign the ASA’s petition here to help protect Australia’s book industry, and with it, the diversity of stories our children will be able to read.
Are we artists? Or entrepreneurs? Or both?
“We need to get better at separating the business of writing from the craft of writing, while understanding the importance of both,” Juliet says.
“As an industry we’ve been slow, we’ve clung to the old rules for too long and have had to scramble to keep up.”
We can now choose ebooks instead of print-and-petrol product. We can have the internet as a distributor, and social media as a publicity department.
However, says Juliet, the fundamentals remain the same:
“To write what is worth publishing, to find honest people to publish it, and get sensible people to read it are the three great difficulties in being an author.” Charles Caleb Colton
Anyone can be a writer
Anyone can make a book, and many do. This, I think, should be viewed as an asset to the industry, not a liability. Yet it does raise challenges.
Of Australia’s 3800 publishers, 60% have published just a single book. In fact, more than 70% of titles are published by only 3% of publishers, Juliet says.
“Writers no longer dream of winning Lotto; they dream of writing a title that goes viral,” she says. (Hands up if you can relate to this)(You’ve got to have a dream, right?)
Whether you’re writing, editing, self-publishing or searching for an agent or publisher, Juliet has some choice words of advice:
Juliet Rogers’ tips for getting published
Write a great book. “Your words have to be great words. They have to say something interesting or good or beautiful; most of all they have to stand out from the crowd…. Have you truly written something worth publishing? You need to be confident that it’s good enough for people you have never met to put their hands in their pockets and buy it.”
Beware ‘almost-there’. “The really good books, they stand out. You know you will move heaven and earth to publish that book. The sad ones are the ones that are nearly there. Almost there. In a tough market like this, almost isn’t going to get you there.”
Beware fraudsters and charlatans. The fake agents. The vanity publishers. The dodgy manuscript assessors who love your work but mostly love your chequebook. “When they hear, ‘we want to publish your book,’ perfectly intelligent, rational and perceptive human beings rush to sign contracts that are nothing less than criminal,” says Juliet. The answer, at least in part, is to get the ASA to check your contract before you sign.
Slow down. So, you have a publishing offer? It’s business time! “Let the excitement of imminent publication settle, and before you make any commitment, look for the red flags.” Is their website badly written? Do they make ridiculous promises without evidence or detail? “Let your head rule, not your heart. It’s not the time for emotion and passion and enthusiasm. Do you really want these people making your book?”
Read, read, read. “Read as widely as you can across your chosen genre. If you don’t understand the genre, you’re not going to succeed at it.”
Practise, practise, practise. “Your first attempt is unlikely to win the Miles Franklin, but the more you write, the better you’ll become. Be prepared to listen to feedback. Learn when to take notice, and when to stand your ground.”
“Self-publishing a shitty book doesn’t make you an author any more than singing in the shower makes you a rock star” Oliver Markus
Last words from Juliet
On diversity in publishing: “There are many voices in this country that aren’t being heard in the way that they should be. I’m not entirely with Lionel, I have to say. There’s a lot of work to be done.”
On globalisation in publishing: “The more corporatised you become, the less likely it is that you will take risks. That’s why there a lot of little companies starting up, and some are doing some interesting things.” See Text, Black Ink, Henry Scribe….
On rejection: “Vodka is only a short term answer. This is a time for ruthless self-honesty. It may be that although you love writing, you simply don’t have the skill to be a published author.”
On getting published: “It is still possible. You don’t need to have won prizes, you don’t need awards. You don’t need any paraphernalia. You need a book that knocks you over.”
Now go write! The future is bright.
“New technology has begun to shift and equalise the balance of power for authors, because knowledge is power,” says Juliet.
“Great books will continue to be written, and great books will continue to be read. The future looks a pretty exciting place to me.” Juliet Rogers
“The business of writing is never easy, but there is always demand for good writing,” Juliet says.
“Wherever technology takes us, we’ll always need writers.
“Writers help us honour the past, record the present and shape the future.”
Pretty great, huh? It was an awesome night. Thanks so much to WritingWA for organising!
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September 16, 2016 at 2:23 pm
Brilliant summary, Cris! Thanks!