Reader Consultant – The Job of Tomorrow

Yesterday I went to the library to pick up some books that I needed and while I was there I got talking to a librarian. She was helping me order in a book and we just got chatting. We started out discussing my thesis topic and then moved into young adult literature, and before we knew it we were deep in conversation about all our favourite books. We talked about genres, authors, best sellers, audio books, big books, small books, relatively unknown books, all sorts of books. We talked for an hour, until I realised that my parking was about to run out and I had to sprint back to my car, having not even gotten the books I had gone in there to get.

Luckily, all was well. I got back to my car on time and came out fine-less. But the real victory here was that I (inadvertently) got to do some Odyssey publicity. While chatting away to this woman I had never met before she asked me if I knew any books that her and her kids might like. And I did! Because we’d really gotten to know each other in that hour, I knew exactly what she was looking for, the genre, the age group, the themes, the writing style, basically exactly what would appeal to her and her kids. I told her to go out and get the first two books of a series Odyssey is publishing by Cindy Cipriano, called The Circle and The Choice (they’re wonderful kids fantasy, you can find them here… http://odysseybooks.com.au/portfolio-category/childrens-books/)

And it was a great feeling being able to do that, to suggest something I thought her and her family were really going to enjoy. I got a little bit too excited and wrote down the titles in an only just legible hand. It was like telling someone about your favourite restaurant, except better because books stay with you way longer than even the greatest pizza. As Carrie Bradshaw famously said, literature will feed you more than any food ever could, well she said Vogue, but you get the idea.

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This interaction lead me to ponder all the different ways that people find new books to read. As part of a small press it’s always something to think about – how are people going to know about our books? How are we going to get books out there?

I considered how I normally find books to read. In my case, and I’m sure I’m not alone, there just always seems to be a constant pile waiting. And while you to take books from it, it never seems to get any smaller…. The piles are just never-ending.

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But I think the most common ways most people find books to read is through sites like Goodreads, blogs, vlogs, catalogues, bookshops, advertisements and social media. Basically, online.

But I think there’s another big, really important one that we often seem to forget, the old word of mouth. Old fashioned, human recommendation. Someone just saying to you, “Hey, I liked this book, I think you might too!” There’s something uniquely convincing about someone who knows you, telling you to read a book. Books are a deeply personal thing and only people close to you are really going to be able to know what you’ll like (or a librarian that you’ve only known for an hour but really seemed to bond with…)

Thinking about all this made me remember an essay I read recently by Margaret Mackey called Northern Lights and Northern Readers: Background knowledge, Affect Linking, and Literary Understanding.” It looks at how the reading of novels is so deeply affected by experience, perspective and memories. It argues that how we interpret what we read is entirely constructed by who we are, that while readers may get similar things out of books it is never entirely the same. Essentially, books are a completely individual experience.

It makes sense then that the most important, the most moving, books I’ve ever read have been recommended by the people in my life who are close to me and understand me, like for example Far From the Madding Crowd, recommended by my Dad, or The Secret History, recommended by my lovely friend Alice. A lot of the books that I’ve read because someone told me I would enjoy it, have quite literally changed my life. These books have completely rewritten the way I think about the world.

Perhaps it was also that these books were recommended to me at the right time, when I was in the right place in my life to enjoy them, when the people around me could see that I was ready for them. If I’d stumbled upon them at the wrong time maybe they wouldn’t have had nearly as much of an impact.

Books are most enjoyable when they fit a certain time of life or experience – they can help you through a breakup or whisk you through a summer holiday. And that’s something people are great at – at taking that random life information and helping craft a suggestion from it, information like: “I’m going to Barbados, I need a holiday book but nothing to holiday-y, if you know what I mean, I don’t want any romance right now, I don’t like crime, I need strong independent female characters, and I hate talking animals… any suggestions?”

Yeah, just try typing that into Google.

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What I realised after pondering all this, is how invaluable personal book recommendations are. And moreover, that whenever we recommend a book to someone else, whether it’s a holiday read or some dense literary fiction, we’re thinking about who they are, what they want and how they would experience it. We’re thinking about their tastes, preferences, previous reads, moods, all these different things about them to find a book to match them. It’s a much more complicated and personal process than any internet site could hope to replicate. And in the process, we all become what I have named ‘Reader Consultants’, those who consult their clients about what books would suit them best.

I mean, why isn’t Reader Consultancy a thing? (It’s definitely not, I checked). But it should be! Much more exciting than financial planning, is the new, bibliophilic planning. Sounds fancy, huh! If Odyssey is looking for a new Reader Consultant, my hand is way up.

Hi, I’m Kate, Odyssey Intern and Reader Consultant. It has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?

 

 

Umm, excuse me ABC, don’t mean to be rude, but WE publish Australian sci-fi!

 

An article published recently by the ABC caught the attention of some of us at Odyssey. It’s about sci-fi’s representation by the Australian publishing industry, (you can find it here: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-03-09/australian-science-fiction-authors-let-down-by-local-publishers/8336308). Sarah L’Estrange writes that sadly Australian sci-fi authors often feel they’re “let down” by local publishes, and find they have to look overseas to get published. It outlines how difficult it can be as a sci-fi author and paints a pretty bleak picture for those trying to get published.

While the article is focused mainly on the big publishers and their refusal to represent authors, it’s tackling the issue of sci-fi publishing in Australia as a whole, and reading it from a small press perspective a little voice in my head kept asking, “what about us? What about all the small publishers?”

My question was briefly answered. L’Estrange writes that authors often “resort to self-publishing – or go to smaller publishers.” It seems a little harsh to suggest that small publishers are a “resort” rather than a choice, but it’s okay, we’ll just assume it wasn’t meant like that. I held back the tears (just).

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But secondly, the mention small press does get is only very brief, the article then moving straight into looking at the young adult market. The actual influence and role of small press in publishing Australian sci-fi is left unknown. It seems silly to simply skirt over all the “smaller publishers” who might well be the very answer to the genre’s publishing issues.

In response I wanted to write about the contribution that small press can and does bring, and from an interns perspective, the role I think Odyssey plays in publishing Australian sci-fi.

Like many small publishers, Odyssey specialises in specific types of literature. Small press fills the niches that larger publishers can ignore, sci-fi, as we’ve seen being one of them. Odyssey looks to publish works that are about adventures, far away places and new ideas. So one such genre that Oydssey tends to specialise in is, you got it, sci-fi. It’s our thang.

And as part of my work as an intern I look through the submissions. My mission, if I chose to accept it (I do), is to discover new, original and exciting stories; to find sci-fi that we can publish. So while large publishers may be hesitant to publish Australian sci-fi, small publishers like Odyssey actively seek it.

Moreover, not only does small press look to publish the genre, it takes a vested and educated interest in it. Because small press is so specialised, the genres it publishes are specialties of the staff, they cater to that genre.

For example, part of the work Odyssey and their author’s engage in is attending and organising stands at relevant events. There’s a surprising amount of events on all the time, throughout the country, that encourage like-minded people to come together and talk about sci-fi. Odyssey has a Facebook group where everyone involved can post about such events. At least a couple times a week a new event is posted and suggested, an event where authors and publishers alike can attend, an event where they can network, engage with fans and promote their work. This engagement with the sci-fi community allows for better publicity and impact. Put simply, it means better sales.

Small press that specialise in their genre bring to authors a knowledge of, and genuine engagement with, that genre. Moreover, small press bring a fierce passion that major publishing houses cannot so easily boast. They may have more twitter followers, but do they even go to Gamma.Con?

Another massive advantage that independent press can offer to sci-fi authors is the ability to be very closely involved with the publication of their work, every step of the way. Well small press offers that to authors of any genre, but arguably with something like sci-fi where the concept, the world, the characters are so unique and original  it is even more important that the creator of the novel can be involved as much as possible to make sure that the final product is how the author envisioned it; that the cover art, the formatting, the language conveys exactly what it was meant to.

Perhaps small press is often overlooked because it exists in a different space to larger publishing firms, having a more small scale approach. But what it brings to author’s wanting to publish their sci-fi novels is a specialty in that genre, a keen interest in their area, skills and understanding of the sci-fi industry, and an inclusive publishing experience. Perhaps when the article mentioned above referred to small press as a last “resort”, what it really meant was a rescue. Small publishers, like the super heroes they are, are rescuing underrepresented Australian sci-fi authors one novel at a time.

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Editing Reveries: Things I realised editing my first manuscript

This week I was given my first editing task as an intern. I’m helping to edit the third book in a fantasy series published by Odyssey. I really enjoyed reading the first two novels in the series so I feel pretty darn lucky to get to read the third before it’s even published and to have the opportunity to help out with it. Editing exciting new manuscripts seems to me like the very bread and butter of publishing, a real taste of the industry, and I was pretty keen to get started. I felt like a proud and protective new Godparent to this novel (even though so far I’d had nothing whatsoever to do with it’s upbringing…but then neither do the Godparents until they’re God-parented).

But that’s when I realised that this amazing task is also sort of scary. I realised the importance of what I was doing. For an author, writing a novel is not only a long and laborious process, but it’s also a very personal one. I’ve just started writing my own novel for my PhD and it’s still a wee baby novel that I can’t let out of my sight, let alone give to someone else to hold. It’s new and fragile and uncertain. Hopefully when my baby novel has grown up enough to take it’s first steps out into the world, and be read by other eyes, it will be big enough and strong enough to take it. But right now I am acutely aware of how sensitive writing is to the person that’s written it; that really it’s an extension of yourself. I know the manuscript I’ve been given is certainly not a baby novel, and that it’s nearly ready to take on the world, but for the author will it ever stop being their baby?

When I started reading the novel I imagined how much work had gone in to every paragraph, every sentence, every word, and I crumbled at the thought of making any changes at all. Who was I to critique what had been so laboriously crafted and nurtured? This was my chance to edit a real novel about to be published, and I was scared to edit it. Not a great start. I emailed Jen asking for a bit of advice on how to approach the editing process, which she kindly gave, and I felt better. I decided to treat it like the grownup novel it is and stop being so tentative.

Then it wasn’t like I had anticipated at all. The point of editing is to polish what needs to be polished, but what I found was that it was already pretty shiny. I’d definitely been blessed with a novel that is well structured, well proofread and well written. There were some little alterations of course, minor things, but nothing difficult or major. Moreover, the little things that I did suggest I wholeheartedly thought would enhance the novel in some way, and it didn’t feel fussy or overbearing but instead it felt cooperative and helpful.

The more I read through it, making my little notes as I went, the more I realised that while editing is in essence about criticising, it’s not about being critical for the sake of it. I think the editing process can sometimes seem malicious or disparaging, that it’s mistakenly taken as the act of searching for the negatives, that every edit is like a slap in the face of the author. But in fact, the right sort of editing is actually a kindly hand, one that simply helps to mould the story like a piece of clay, shaping it into a piece of art. This delicate, personal piece of art is not at the mercy of editing; it’s being honoured by it. Like the kindly godparent, editing nurtures the novel, and I hope that I will too.

 

Life Hacks for Writer’s Block

This week I want to write about something painfully close to my heart, that evil terror, the dreaded writer’s block. We’ve all had it at one time or another, whether writing a novel, an essay, a letter, or even a blog, where it seems physically impossible to coerce you mind and your fingers into creating something even vaguely coherent.

So I thought I could compile a list of potential antidotes that can be referenced if need be (fingers crossed for never). So I racked my brain for what has worked for me in the past, and also went on an online hunt for the most convincing ways to get your writer’s groove back.

And behold, a ten-step solution to writer’s block woes.

Number One: The deceptively helpful act of doing nothing at all

When a piece of writing is driving you absolutely crazy, I think sometimes the best thing you can do is walk away. By giving yourself a little distance you leave behind the negative or convoluted ideas that are distracting you from what you’re really trying to do. With that distance sometimes the crux of the issue, what you’re really trying to say and how you can say it becomes much clearer.

Number two: The opposite of what I just suggested

Sometimes if you’ve tried walking away and it doesn’t work, or you can’t stop thinking about it or you don’t have time to give it a rest, what can work is to just keep writing. Even if you know it’s terrible and clunky and awkward, if you just keep writing at least you’re somewhat closer to getting something down and you can go back and edit what you’ve got.

Number Three: The mighty and unquestionable power of colour-coding

In a second year creative writing lecture I remember my lecturer saying that one of her favourite authors uses colour coding to figure out who her characters are, how they interact and where the story is going. She plans out the series of events by the colour of their emotions. This is something I’ve found really helpful when writing. If I know the emotional colour of what I’m trying to write it’s easier to find the words that describe it.

Number Four: Saying it out loud to a helpful ear

So many times I have been so grateful to a friend that has listened to me trying to explain, and this is for two reasons. The first is that by trying to say out loud what you’re attempting to write you’re forcing yourself to vocalise concepts that you may never have put explicitly in words – you’re forcing your brain into using language without the pressure of writing it down, then you can write it down (don’t tell your brain that). The second reason is that the person you’re telling can contribute real, valuable and fresh insights about what you’re saying and how you could say it. I can’t count how many times a friend simply explaining something back to me in their words suddenly makes my own idea so much clearer.

Number Five: Changing the way you’re writing it

Sometimes a blank computer screen alone can be enough to scare away any decent ideas or sentences that may have popped into my head. When faced with this problem sometimes it helps if I write it somewhere else. A nice colourful notepad or an old lecture pad can be a little less daunting.

Number Six: Changing where you write

The place I can be most productive is never ever constant. Some days it’s the library, sometimes a coffee shop, sometimes just being at home is the best thing to get the creative juices flowing. I’ve learnt that if I’m really struggling to get something on the page a good start is to try going somewhere else. Another thing I’ve noticed is that there’s a correlation between where I can write and what I’m writing about. For example if it’s something particularly personal, or something I’m quite self-conscious about I will work best at home, but if it’s something I’m more confident about I’m more likely to be able to write in a café or public place. Catering the setting to the writing can helpful.

Number Seven: Reading a book/piece of writing you think is really good

Often when I know what I want to say but I don’t know how I want to say it I think about how my favourite authors would have done it. I read a book that I love and let it inspire me. The writing might not be the same genre or style as what you’re writing but it reminds you what good language is.

Number Eight: Reading a book/piece of writing you think is really bad

There’s no such thing as bad writing, but writing is so completely objective in so many ways that there’s always things your going to read and think really aren’t very good. Sometimes I find that reading something too inspirationally jaw-dropping makes me spiral further into the abyss of my own inadequacies. Where as if you read something that you think’s a little crappy you’re suddenly filled with the confidence that you can do better.

Number Nine: Listen to a song that matches the mood of what you’re trying to write

Sometimes I think of writing as like a workout, but for my brain; it’s mental cardio. And just like you need a motivational workout playlist, sometimes you also need a motivational writing playlist. By using music to get you in the mood of the thing you’re writing, you make yourself more likely to emulate it with your language. Sometimes I find specific songs inspire me to write something that I would never have thought of otherwise.

Number Ten: Stop thinking about what the critics will say

Critics will always have something to say, no matter what you write, and if you’re pandering to critics before you’ve even written anything you may never write at all. I think the best things I’ve ever written I decided I would never show anyone. By convincing yourself that it doesn’t matter, that no-one will read it, that it’s just to pass the time, you might be able to allow yourself to write exactly what you need to, not what you think other people might like. Writing at it’s core is about using language to express yourself, so you owe it to yourself to give it a full-hearted, uninhibited go.

So there you have it. I hope this list will be helpful, if only just to me!

 

 An Ode to Booktubers

 

This week as part of my intern work I did some more social media exploring. I looked at booktubers, the youtubers whose channels focus solely on discussing books. As I mentioned in my previous post, the way I normally engage with books tends to be fairly old-fashioned and I hadn’t really looked into booktubers. The closest I had come was when I got really invested in The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, a blog-style adaptation of Pride and Prejudice (if you haven’t watched the blog it’s amazing but also very addictive, proceed with caution –https://www.youtube.com/user/LizzieBennet)

Much like my social media stalking/research, yet again I was shocked and impressed by what I found. These channels are massive, some booktubers, such as Sasha Alsbery, who created her channel ABookTopia, have over 300K followers. She’s a woman in her 20s who has 300 thousand people listening to her talk about books, that’s impressive. Moreover, there’s a whole culture around booktubing with its own slang and customs. For example most of the booktubers I looked at would promote their “book hauls”, “TBRs” (to be reads), “wrap ups”, “tags” and of course “reviews”. All these practices are geared towards making talking about books all the more interesting, engaging and entertaining. They create these massive followings through creating videos that are so damn watchable. You watch one short video and bam, you’re stuck in a Youtube spiral, it’s The Lizzie Bennet Diaries all over again.

The booktubers that I have become most besotted with so far are: Jessethereader – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDPo9-NZFNi2Gwe8LnlvAUQ

and Mercy’sbookishmusings – https://www.youtube.com/user/MercysBookishMusings

Jesse is enthusiastic, funny, conversational and so endearing. He reads a lot of young adult and fantasy fiction, and the way he talks about the books he reads imbues them with such excitement and enjoyment that you’re immediately convinced that you need to read them; he’s a publisher’s dream! Also he cuts his videos in to spoiler-free and spoiler-full sections so you avoid the bits you need to. I’m really interested in the ways young adults receive and review YA fiction and I’m going to be researching it for my PhD thesis, so I can’t wait to explore more of his videos.

My other new favourite booktuber, Mercy, looks at a range of genres including literary fiction, magical realism and even non-fiction. I was drawn to her reviews of literary fiction and impressed by the range of books she takes on. She’s also really engaging, but comes off a little more serious and thoughtful than Jesse. Another thing that I really like is that Mercy states boldly in her information section that she doesn’t “have a degree in English literature” and that she’ll “never write a novel”, but that she still has her own opinion. I love that she’s so unapologetic about her lack of university knowledge, and so confident in the importance of varied opinions and analyses. As she suggests there is never one way to read, understand or appreciate a book. So what I’m coming to discover, and really value, about the booktuber community is that predominantly it’s not exclusive, elite or pretentious. Instead it’s inclusive, positive and compelling.

These booktubers are creating their own cyber book clubs, where anyone, from anywhere, at any time of day can connect with other people about the literature that inspires them. I joined a book club a few months ago (mostly because they were going to talk about my idol Thomas Hardy) and I went to one meeting, just the one, and never another one since. Even though I loved it and I met great people, it was so hard to make schedules align. What booktubers offer is a massive, exciting, anytime, kind of book club.

I believe the most important thing a book can do is change the way you think about the world, and when you get one of those rare, incredible, thought-changing books you absolutely NEED someone to talk to about it, and booktubers create the perfect platform for that conversation.

Even more wonderfully, pretty much everything they do promotes literature.  I was talking to a friend recently about booktubers, and he commented that it’s ironic to think that an industry so threatened by the internet could now come to rely on it. But I don’t think it’s ironic at all, it’s ingenious. In an era that prescribes the demise of the book, the publishing industry and literary community is using the very technology that threatened it as the launching pad into a new world of communication. So go you good booktubers!

Social Stalking: An Investigation into the Social Media of the Author

First of all I want to introduce myself. I’m Kate, one of the new interns with Odyssey. I am about to start my PhD in creative writing and I really, really like books. Nice to meet you.

I’m excited to contribute my first blog post, so thank you for indulging me with your readership. One of the first things that sprung to mind when I was deciding what to write about was a topic we discussed during my interview. I was asked about social media and if I knew much about how authors use their social media accounts. My answer was basically no… I was completely, pitifully naive to how social media is used by authors and how central it has become to modern marketing strategies. For much of my undergrad degree and all of my Honours thesis I studied mostly Victorian authors for whom the internet and social media would seem about as conceivable as teleporting to Mars. But I had always been interested in how the social image of an author impacts the way their work is received. During Honours I read diary entries about Thomas Hardy’s conversations at dinner parties, so I figure that’s the 19th Century alternative to stalking his twitter; I’m already in the right frame of mind, I just have to update my tactics.

I thought that I should take a look at the social media accounts of a modern author to gain a basic understanding of how they are used. I’m particularly interested in young adult fantasy fiction and its authors, which is a convenient place to start given the suitability of social media for this demographic. So I decided I should investigate an author of that genre who is well known, successful and savvy, and I settled on J.K. Rowling. The two social media sites I looked to were Facebook and Twitter. Facebook I chose because it’s arguably the most widely used site, especially for young adults, and Twitter because it’s particularly apt for authors due to its focus on text and writing, rather than say Intagram which deals in images.

These are the things that struck me most from exploring J.K. Rowling’s official Facebook page:

  1. J.K. Rowling has A LOT of followers, which really shouldn’t be surprising, but right now it’s 5,386,803. Just by posting one status, or sharing one interview, or plugging one publication 5 million people are probably going to see it. That’s some pretty damn effective advertising.
  1. The main things shared are, as you would expect, to do with publications, current projects, interviews, and information about the charity she established, Lumos.
  1. Importantly the interaction Facebook enables is very much a two way street. While the author is using this platform to share things with fans, what’s really important is that the fans can share things back. Being able to not just like, but also comment on posts, means fans are able to engage in a direct dialogue with the author. For example on Rowling’s page a Brazilian fan has commented on a post, addressing it to the author directly, and remarking how grateful he is that her books have encouraged Brazilian children into reading and engaging with literature. This comment has been liked by hundreds of other users, and a stream of comments follows it discussing the benefits of children’s literacy.
  1. So this is a space for authors to share things with their fans, but also for fans to share things with each other. Often Rowling will share a post that begins a dialogue, which is then taken up entirely by the fans. This is the epitome of networking and marketing, when the author can contribute to a discussion about their work that then continues and flourishes even without them. What Facebook creates on Rowling’s page is a keen and engaged community of fans.
  1. Facebook is complicit in this process. The page tells the user when they come across it which of their friends has already liked it. Facebook shows the user that they already have links to the community. It says “be a part of this community, these friends of yours already are, you don’t want to be left out do you?”
  1. Lastly, there is a “Shop Now” button at the very top of the page giving users immediate and convenient access to purchase her novels. While Facebook offers a platform for the author and her fans to simply interact, it doesn’t forget the opportunities that could stem from that.

Next I looked at her Twitter page, and this is what I noticed most:

  1. She has even more followers on Twitter, 8.98 million! Merlin’s beard!
  2. Much like Facebook she uses Twitter as a platform to share promotional articles and videos, giving them more scope.
  1. Twitter’s cap on the characters means Rowling’s posts are shorter than on Facebook, or sometimes in instalments. They’re also often quite jovial and much more conversational. She speaks to her followers as if she knows them, and you are convinced that she does.
  1. Finally, in comparison to Facebook, Rowling’s Twitter certainly seems more personal. She tweets and retweets about a plethora of different things. While she often references Harry Potter and promotes new releases etc., she also writes passionately about social justice issues, the writing process itself, and even her social life and New Years Eve plans. It’s social, political, literary and personal. It’s not just her books and how to purchase, but instead her everyday thoughts, those valuable thoughts that have made her one of the most successful authors of the century. By looking at J.K. Rowling’s Twitter you can feel like you’re actually getting to communicate with her; she becomes very real.

So what struck me most when investigating these two different social media sites is that despite often sharing similar material, Rowling takes quiet a different approach to each. Facebook seems to serve as the more professional platform, with links to interviews and a “Shop Now” button, while Twitter is much more conversational, where the fans can really get to know the author and read tweets about her hanging out with her cat. Nonetheless both sites offer to Rowling’s fans a means of staying in touch with the author, her projects and the wider community of her readers. Social media is changing the way we communicate with the authors that inspire us, it puts them right in our back pocket, where we can interact with them on a daily basis.

Unlike the networking antics of Harry Potter’s Gilderoy Lockhart, modern authors need not employ tactics such as smarmy charm, bleached white toothy grins or the shameless and even forceful circulation of autographed photos. Instead through social media they can consistently connect with their readers on a more substantial level, whether it’s through starting important discussions, or simply saying Merry Christmas. Significantly for me, despite being unable to read diary entries about Rowling’s conversations at dinner parties, I feel equally happy with the stalking levels achieved via her Twitter feed.

 

Redundant Editing?

This blog has an overwhelming preoccupation with book editing. For many, that’s the image of an editor that springs to mind when you hear the word. But for others, the vision can be that of the harried newspaper editor, a la Spiderman’s John Jonah Jameson Jr.

However, the endurance of that vision must be called into question. As we move deeper into the digital age, print newspapers are seeing circulation rates plummet, as consumers increasingly look to the screen for their news.

The result is that newspaper companies have been forced to slash jobs. What is interesting is that these have overwhelmingly been from editorial departments.

On 24th November, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that News Corp, Australia’s largest newspaper and media company, was to axe 55 jobs, all from editorial.

Traditionally, editors, particularly copy-editors, provided vital support to the newspaper publication process. Their job was primarily about being a second pair of eyes to review the article before it was printed. Editors oversaw corrections to spelling and grammar, fact checking, and changing sentences that may have left the newspaper liable to defamation or other legal issues.

With the cuts to editorial, these jobs are being consolidated into the ever-expanding role of the journalist. Increasingly, the onus is on these individuals to not only write, but also to find their own stories and edit them. The journalism process has changed to facilitate even more rapid news reports, by having articles immediately uploaded to the web, then subsequently incorporated into print.

This has significant implications for newspaper quality. As we all know, the benefits of having someone else review your writing are substantial. Most of us quickly grow familiar with our own work, making it more difficult to spot mistakes, or places where improvement is needed.

Inevitably, things slip through the cracks. Editors Victoria demonstrated how a lack of editorial review contributes to even the simplest mistakes, when they posted a photo of the Herald Sun’s December 2 front page. In a blatant typo, the newspaper proclaimed the year to be 2105, transporting its readers 90 years into the future simply through a disordering of the number keys.

Herald Sun

It was a very simple mistake. How many times have any of us hit the wrong keys as we whiz through a document? But this easy fix made it all the way through editorial and print, to appear on shelves across the country. I have to ask, if the Herald Sun had been given adequate editorial support, would this error have still slipped through the cracks? I consider that unlikely.

Many people, those in control of staffing decisions across News Corp and Fairfax in particular it seems, consider the role of an editor to be superfluous – desirable, not necessary. After all, anyone can proofread, right? While I won’t comment on the average person’s ability to fix their own grammatical issues (Youtube comments section anyone?) editors provide a level of quality control that our newspapers are currently floundering without.

Those in charge may think that axing editorial staff is the most efficient way to cut costs and have the waning print newspaper format survive in the digital age. I can assure them that it isn’t. The increased production of poor quality work that we see when the position of editor is devalued will only accelerate the decline of the medium, as consumers search for a medium that can at least get the date right.

A Matter of Unparalleled Import

Last week, the Government announced it would support a recommendation to remove the Parallel Importation Restrictions (PIRs) that are applied to books by the Copyright Act, last proposed by the Productivity Commission in 2009. This is a serious issue for anyone interested in the book industry, as PIRs are a vital financial foundation of Australian publishing. As the Productivity Commission stated in their 2009 report,

“Parallel Import Restrictions (PIRs) provide territorial protection for the publication of many books in Australia, preventing booksellers from sourcing cheaper or better value-for-money editions of those titles from world markets.”

The report goes on to suggest that PIRs place upward pressure on book prices to the benefit of publishers and authors and detriment of consumers. What it does not state are the benefits to the consumer from the PIR regime, namely access to a higher quality product and greater opportunity to read and discover local authors.

Certain commentators have been dismissive of these benefits and the affect of PIR on them. They have argued that the removal of PIRs will have virtually no effect, as the industry is much stronger and competitive than it claims, or should become so as an effect of the changes. They haven’t offered any real evidence to these claims.

One complainant has even objected to the use of colourful language, to which I say: This is the business of words, why would they not be used for effect? And distinctions of the colour of the language aside, the result of this recommendation would be disastrous, so let’s not waste time critiquing the semantics.

If we must discuss the language, then let’s talk about the buzzword that all economic reform in this country now hinges upon: innovation. Let’s be clear, destroying territorial copyright is not innovative, it’s destructive. For this economy to succeed through innovation, it’s about making Australian product and industry innovative, not “innovating” policy to allow world markets to crowd Australian book producers out. That’s not the creation of competition. It’s the end of competition.

The Australian publishing industry is a diverse and competitive place. The proof of this is in the success of Independent Publishing, which is thriving in this country, in large part due to innovation. To hollow out the value of the market by flooding it with cheap international titles will destroy the conditions by which this innovation and competition is possible.

Why invest in local books when the risk of a return is made even more untenable? We already function as an extremely high-risk industry, and all this policy does is diminish the reward.

As a result of of removing PIRs, investment in Australian publishing and writing will be down, which means jobs will be cut and the voices of many local authors will not be heard here or overseas.

So how do we address this and stop it from occurring?

I had considered an open letter to the Prime Minister and Treasurer, but respected authors Richard Flanagan, Peter Carey and Tom Keneally beat me to it. Their letter was fantastic and covered many of the same areas I wanted to cover. But I absolutely wanted to reiterate some of those concerns and add my voice to this debate, because without vocal opposition, this policy could very well come to pass.

The Australian publishing industry employs some 20,000 people, and is worth around $2 billion. Territorial copyright is a pivotal financial plank of the industry. One of the counter arguments to this is that most of this money is made by Australian branches of multinational companies. But this naively ignores the various economic and cultural benefits that those companies bring to the Australian publishing industry. To see the vacuum that could be created by diminishing this input, one only needs to look to New Zealand.

One thing that these recommendations don’t seem to understand is this: Booksellers cannot compete with Amazon on price. The removal of PIRs may bring a temporary breath of cool air to booksellers, allowing them to drop prices, but they know as we all do, that Amazon cannot be beaten in a price war and nor should we want that. Not only would it signal the further deterioration of the perceived value of the book, it would diminish us as a book industry.

It’s a flight of fantasy that books cost too much. In Australia, the standard price of a paperback has dropped by around 20% since 2009. This fact alone shows that the Harper recommendation doesn’t understand or comprehend the mechanics of this industry. Yes, PIRs may place upward pressure on book prices, but local competition, as well as competition with overseas online retailers, places downward pressure on book prices. Competition from online retailers is not going to decrease in the future, so if anything the PIRs are vital to sustaining some upward pressure to keep publishing both profitable and able to employ the 20,000 or so people that it does.

I’d like to ask the Government this: if they are intent on removing PIRs on books, then they should first commission a review of the Book Industry by a panel that understands that this stunning practice of culture and commerce is an altogether different beast. As it stands, the removal of PIRs for the reasons stated in the recommendation is shortsighted and based on a poor understanding of the economics of the book trade. In short, it’s moronic.

I’d love to fight with people in the comments. I love doing that. So please, have a crack.

As a wrap I would suggest the following for further reading on the subject (not all of which I agree with):

Black Inc. and Hachette: how the removal of PIR will affect our business, from Books + Publishing

The Productivity Commission Report on Copyright Restrictions on the Parallel Importation of Books

Jason Ensor, Read it and weep: the book trade needs more than parallel import restrictions at The Conversation

A resurrected debate with the same old dead language, Peter Donoughue Pub Date Critical

 

The Reading Season

Like everything else associated with the holidays, I’m sure you’ll consider this article one that comes too soon. But, for the publishing industry, the looming spectre of the Christmas season has well and truly begun.

 

This post was spurred partly by my receipt of an actual gasp physical book catalogue last week, geared at – you guessed it – Christmas shoppers. With a smidge less than a month until the big day, every business even remotely associated with retail is pulling out all the stops.

 

However, I was curious as to what Christmas meant for the publishing industry. As one that produces physical objects that may easily be used as gifts, it would be clear to anyone that this particular national holiday is important to book sales.

 

And yet, for many, the book is not at the top of any Christmas lists. True, the rectangular package under the tree does have it’s own brand of predictability. The avid readers out there will also be familiar with the mingling of excitement and dread as you unwrap a carefully chosen book to be confronted with your fourth copy of Pride and Prejudice. Book buying can become a minefield at Christmas time, so how does the publishing industry address this?

 

Well, first and foremost, by increasing the number of new and exciting titles for readers to salivate over and parents to be confused by. The significant increase in books being released for publication around the first week in October has become so apparent that it now has its own name – Super Thursday. This is the day on which many of the big potential bestsellers are released, with plenty of time to entice shoppers away from shiny plastic and chocolate-coated nuts.

 

The reason for this is that new books are generally given between 2-3 months to prove themselves, sales-wise. Usually it becomes clear after the first two months whether the publisher has a bestseller on their hands or not. By releasing books on Super Thursday, these books have just the right amount of time to get on the Christmas bandwagon and help the word of mouth spread in the seasonal sales rush.

 

But this is done in order to target a certain type of recipient – the ones who (apparently) most commonly receive books for Christmas. An article published in UK newspaper The Telegraph a day before the publication of this year’s Super Thursday books noted a large skew in one area – children’s books, and a complete absence of one particular genre – chick-lit.

 

This says a lot about the expectations publishers have drawn out about who will be buying books this Christmas. Overwhelmingly, the season is targeted at children. So an increase in the release of books aimed at this age bracket makes sense. Christmas-themed books also represent a growing and popular trend. The Elf on the Shelf book, for one, has combined Christmas, books and toys in such an appealing way that many will choose to sit a small plush elf in their children’s room this Christmas, in an effort to both awaken their holiday spirit, and get some well behaved children in the bargain.

 

The other trend is more interesting. The absence of chick-lit novels, and the presence of those focused on crime and war suggests that – if you’ll forgive me for invoking a stereotype to demonstrate how I think the industry is using it – that book publishers consider men (particularly older men) to be the recipients of books more often than women will be this Christmas. This is certainly not to say that the industry is ignoring women over this time, but it does not appear to be their focus.

 

Interestingly, this surge in publication around Christmastime is also a positive step for the future of the print book. Let’s face it; an eBook has to be one of the more underwhelming presents available. Oh cool! A digital file! – said no one ever. And the rush is predominately towards print.

 

This Christmas, you may choose to buy a book for a loved one, or even yourself. Certainly the outpouring of usually non-existent catalogues and a higher percentage of new, physical books would suggest that this might be a good time to stock up. For the publishing industry, just like others involved with consumption, Christmas is an important time, with products produced especially for those swept up in the spirit of the season.

The Forgotten Readers

We’ve all been inside one. For many, including myself, our love of reading was grown and cultivated in a building absolutely bursting with books. You could stroll through the seemingly endless rows of towering shelves, trying to find that perfect book. Especially as children, libraries seem to house never-ending possibilities for reading. Across the country, indeed, across the world, libraries are institutions that open their doors to thousands of avid readers every day.

Whilst the library is the main source of reading material for numerous individuals, it is a commonly overlooked vehicle for increasing promotion and awareness of your book. This is largely because many don’t consider an institution that buys one copy of a book and then lends it to as many people as possible an opportunity for substantial profit.

However, if you look a little closer, you’ll see that there are far more opportunities for promotion than first meets the eye.

It has been suggested that libraries purchase as much as 12% of all books sold in Australia. Although many towns no longer have bookstores, especially rural ones, many of them still have a library, or have access to a travelling library – yes, those still exist! All these libraries need to be stocked, and librarians are always looking for new and interesting titles to attract readers to their shelves.

The fact that libraries only buy one copy of a book, and are therefore not worth spending time marketing to, is a common argument. However, not only is this not always true, even when it is, that’s no reason to discount the library. School libraries in particular are known for ordering class sets (usually around 30 copies) of books they are interested in acquiring. If a book proves popular, libraries may buy multiple copies in order to cater to demand.

But even if they only buy one copy, that copy is one more sale you didn’t have yesterday. In a 2011-2012 report, Australian Public Library Statistics recorded 1,505 public libraries across the country. If every library in Australia bought only one copy, that’s still a significant sales count.

Additionally, the report noted that there were approximately 9 million visits to libraries every month. Consider the exposure that one book could get if it was seen 9 million times a month. Nowhere but a library will you have that kind of potential for people to see a book, and quite often pick it up and read it. If they love it, not only do you have a loyal reader, but they’re very likely to spread the word to all their friends, who can easily access your book from their library.

For the small press author, libraries, especially your local library, can be a great support in getting your book talked about. Many regularly host events with authors, including talks and signings. Others may also support the idea of launching your book right there in the library. Events like these not only open up more opportunities for sales, but also make sure your book is exposed in a place that has regular and dedicated traffic – and they ALL read books!

As many libraries purchase largely through library vendors, this can limit the opportunity for small press and self-published authors to get their books on the shelves. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a chance. Local libraries in particular love supporting authors who reside nearby. And once the word spreads about books that are popular, other libraries may begin to show interest.

Nowhere else in the world can you regularly attract such a concentrated group of readers as you can in a library. Those who are focused on the bottom line in the short term can dismiss those non-paying individuals who grip tightly to their library card. However, increasing the number of people who see and read your book is never a bad thing, in the long term it will contribute to an increase in sales. Especially if those library patrons are all as impatient as I am and, when faced with their desired book being on loan, goes out and buys their own copy because they cannot bear to wait. The book industry forgets about library patrons at their peril.