Category Archives: Being a writer

Google v Authors Guild – a decision at last

It’s eight years since the Authors Guild first sued Google about scanning books and displaying snippets. During that time, the Guild claimed to be representing all authors, not just their authors, and attempted to sell us all down the river by entering into a deal with Google that would have given them permission to produce and sell our books without the copyright holders permission and would also have prevented us suing Google ourselves. The Google Book Settlement was over 200 pages long, hard to understand, very one-sided in Google’s favour and a nightmare for authors. It took a  great deal of effort and hours of time to fight but fortunately we won.

The judge who threw out the dreadful Google Book Settlement was Denny Chin – the same judge who has ruled that Google’s scanning and display of snippets is “fair use” under US copyright law. Judge Chin listened carefully to authors comments on the Google Book Settlement, even those like me who wrote him ordinary letters because we couldn’t afford to pay lawyers.

I’m sure Judge Chin was right in his decision over the Google Book Settlement so I’m happy to accept that his decision on the “fair use” issue is equally right.

Partying with publishers

Contrary to what many people think, authors’ lives aren’t a constant whirl of launch parties and champagne lunches with publishers. Contact with the people who edit and produce our books is mostly by email, and the reality of an author’s life is mainly sitting alone in front of a computer, trying to put words into meaningful order.

partyinviteSo the arrival of my invitation to Usborne’s 40th Birthday Party caused great excitement, especially as the venue was the Orangery at Kensington Palace. The words “posh do” flew through my brain, rapidly followed by a question triggered by the dress code:  “What’s a cocktail dress?” A quick email to Usborne provided the answer so I set off to the shops.

As always, I initially met with disappointment. Designers don’t understand women with big busts. They create a dress for a flat chested size 8 and then adapt it to size 18 by increasing all the dimensions, thus producing a dress for someone who is still flat chested but fat. Honestly, it’s only my bust that strains the material. I don’t need armholes suitable for an elephant, and I don’t want something that’s the same size all the way down. Watching Gok Wan has taught me I should be proud of having a waist so I wanted a dress that admitted that I’d got one.

I finally found what I wanted in a dress agency. Retro style with a halter neck, it fitted perfectly and made me feel good. With the addition of a pink bag and some sandals that looked reasonably smart, I was all set to go. So on Tuesday 11 June, I walked nervously down the extremely long drive to Kensington Palace.

The nervousness wasn’t due to the auspicious surroundings. It was caused by my tendency to turn up to events on the wrong day. Although I had checked the invitation countless times, I still had horrible memories of turning up for a party brandishing a bottle and a happy grin only to discover I was a week late.

Once I reached the Orangery, I relaxed. There were other women in posh frocks, several of whom were changing into high-heeled shoes too precarious for the previously mentioned long walk. I obviously was at the right place at the right time.

book coverAnd then we were inside, being greeted warmly by friendly Usborne staff and served wine and nibbles by waiters dressed in trench coats, hats and false beards The reason for this became clear when Peter Usborne gave his entertaining speech about the history of Usborne and revealed that one of their first books was The KnowHow Book of Spycraft.

His speech wasn’t just funny – it was illuminating. The piece that resonated most with me was “My work is my hobby and my hobby is my work”. That’s so true of writers and explains why so many of use never retire.

The Orangery was packed with fascinating people I would never normally get the chance to meet, and it was particularly enjoyable to meet so many independent booksellers. Although we’re often told they are a dying breed, the ones I talked to were definitely alive, well and fantastically enthusiastic about books.

Huge thanks to Usborne for organising such a great event. I returned home, bouncy and enthusiastic and totally sure I had chosen the right career.

Usborne have published twenty of my books so far: 12 in the Pony-Mad Princess series and 8 in the Amy Wild – Animal Talker series. There’s another book in the pipeline – more news of that later.

Is Writing a Cottage Industry?

A recent editorial in The Bookseller contained an interesting sentence that set me thinking.

Most books in this country are not self-published, and most are sold at prices that sustain a sector not a cottage industry.

He’s right. Most traditionally publishing books are priced to support a sector , namely the traditional publishing industry. And that sector currently needs plenty of money to keep it going. For example, the books published by Penguin have to support an impressive headquarters in an impressive area of London: a building that must have cost a fortune. They also have to support all the staff in that building and make sure that Penguin’s CEO continues to earn more than half a million pounds a year.

The interesting issue is how well traditionally published books support the people who actually write them. They rarely get more than 7.5% of the cover price of a paperback and, in these days of high discount sales that trigger lower rates, they frequently get far less.

Advances have dropped and are continuing to fall. They are also paid in instalments so authors rarely receive more than half up front, where they need it to live on while they write the book. Worse still, the final advance payment is often made on publication – a date that’s normally a year or more after the actual work was done. Try that technique with a plumber and you won’t get far.

Wikipaedia defines a cottage industry as one where most people work at home, often part time. On that basis, writing is definitely a cottage industry. And the money from traditionally published books is not being used to sustain that industry – it’s sustaining the publishing sector instead.

Authors faced with falling royalties and increasing bills have to look around for other sources of income, and one of those is epublishing their backlist. This is remarkably easy and, once they’ve discovered how much more they earn per book that way, it’s logical to make the jump to self-publishing their next new book instead of handing it over to the traditional system.

The book trade has two vital components – the writers and the readers. Unless publishers look after the first, they’ll eventually have nothing to offer the second. So maybe it’s time for them to give up their prestigious offices and high managerial salaries and offer a better deal to the people without whom there would be no publishing industry at all.

 

If you are interested in self-publishing, you’ll find plenty of information to help you on www.helpwithpublishing.com.

 

Ten things I learned at the Winchester Writers’ Conference

I love the Winchester Writers Conference. It’s great to be part of such a huge, friendly group of  people who share my passion for writing. The food is good, the instruction is excellent and I always return home with my confidence and enthusiasm restored.

In case you didn’t manage to get there or you went to different sessions, here’s what I bought back from the 2012 Conference.

  1. The digital revolution is gathering speed. On the train to the Conference, I didn’t see anyone looking at a book or newspaper. Everyone was reading Kindles, iPads, laptops or phones. Continue reading

The Good Side of Bad Times

Life always has its up and downs and, for a writer, the downs can cause extra problems. Dealing with bad times takes energy that drains our creative power so, when they hit, writing often becomes impossible.

The biggest bad time of my life was the death of my son. It took away my first born child, my friend and my main advisor on the book I was writing about special effects. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t concentrate and I most definitely couldn’t write.

This was no time to pretend I could cope so my agent told my editors at Scholastic and they were brilliant. A completely open-ended extension to the deadline took away the pressure and left me time to grieve. Just as importantly, it also gave me time to think. Continue reading