New Writers UK member, Rosemary Palmer, would like to make you aware of the Calabash Literary Festival; the only international literary festival in the English-speaking Caribbean. Authors and musicians from around the world fill the festival agenda with readings, discussions and musical events. Founded in 2001, Calabash is 'earthy, inspirational, daring and diverse' - and free and open to the public.
The festival is held at the Treasure Beach resort, in the Parish of Saint Elizabeth, Jamaica, in the month of May. Richard Branson offers some affordable flights on Virgin Atlantic, whilst Rosey can arrange a low cost writers’ camp at her yard. Alternatively, or you might choose a more classy, hotel option.
If you’re interested in testing the international waters, contact Rosey at email@example.com and check out last year’s Calabash festival http://www.calabashfestival.org/
Julie Gross (pen name 'Auntie Julie') would like to thank all the wonderful people sponsoring her head shave. So far, over £600 has been raised for The Moir Foundation, a charity that was initiated by her son, Joe, just before he died in 2009, aged 21. The money will be used to help set up and fund teenage cancer units at the City and QMC hospitals in Nottingham.
If you would like to make a donation, or learn more about the charity, then please visit http://www.themoirfoundation.org.uk/
Posted by John Baird at 11:44
A few months back there was a discussion on one of the groups on LinkedIn when I asked the question what is 'Literary Fiction?' The question was a serious one as the issue had been exercising me for sometime.
As an author of fiction, I spent a long time concentrating on looking for an agent rather than a publisher as the conventional wisdom is that an unknown author of fiction will never make it passed a Trade
Publisher's 'Slush Pile' (that mountain of solicited and unsolicited dreams sent in by aspiring authors) unless it has effectively been pre-filtered by an Agent.
The theory is understandable; Agents make money based on a percentage of the author’s earnings. If the author earns nothing then the agent earns a percentage of that nothing, which is of course still nothing. So if the agent is respected, a publisher may take a more serious look at a book if the agent feels there is sufficient potential revenue from the author to make it worth his while.
There is still no guarantee the publisher will take the book on of course, but it raises the prospects.
But whether an author is talking to a potential agent or publisher the question of genre will certainly crop up.
It seems to me that people are obsessed with genre - and if you get it wrong, well you are pretty much banjaxed!
People are often very prescriptive - call it the wrong thing and many people will just refuse to read it! "I don't read - (horror/Sci-Fi/thrillers/crime/historical/romance)” - enter almost any genre you can think of - is often a knee-jerk response.
I called my book "a historical, supernatural thriller" my publisher called it "horror" - but then I think that's because he is a wimp!
Bookshops insist on knowing what genre it is - apparently unless they are told which shelf to put the book, on booksellers can be seen marching up and down their shops with a book in their hand not knowing what to do next until they collapse from starvation.
Then of course, what genre a book is, is very subjective anyway. Often people will tell me 'Clan' is fantasy. I try to explain it isn't - I don't even like fantasy, successful though they are Terry Pratchett and Tolkein leave me cold - I did struggle through The Hobbit once and I have read a Terry Pratchett - but I can't remember which one because it did very little for me - but at least I tried!
I have a deep respect for all writers - I know how hard it is so I feel the least I can do is finish it. I always feel I must get to the end even if I'm hating it - it is some kind of masochism I was brought up with - like finishing the food on your plate because children in Africa are starving. I even finished a Jeffrey Archer once - that's how dedicated I am!
You will see therefore I am the same as all other readers - by declaring "I don't like fantasy" I am making generalised and sweeping assumptions that I have no doubt will lead to me missing some excellent writing.
(incidentally the difference between fantasy and supernatural for me is that fantasy creates entirely fantastical worlds, Middle Earth, hobbit languages and all that kind of thing - supernatural is about strange things happening in the real world - hence SUPERnatural)
So genre is a minefield - but even that is not as difficult as this concept of so-called 'Literary Fiction.'
Agents and publishers will often tell you they are not interested in your book because they only handle 'literary fiction'.
So what is my writing - 'Illiterate fiction’?
That may sound a little defensive and maybe it is - but there is no doubt that the term is often used as some kind of intellectual snobbery. Ask twenty people what 'Literary Fiction' is and you'll get twenty different answers, I know because I've tried it.
Some will say it is beyond genre, it is about beautiful language rather than plot and story, it is cross genre, or simply that it can't be good if people actually want to read it - that's commercial fiction, no intellectual would be seen dead reading something that was actually enjoyed by the hoi-polloi. Popular means bad.
Some people have never forgiven the BBC for using Nessun Dorma sung by Pavarotti as the theme for a football tournament - God forbid that some builder/soccer fan should enjoy the tune without having dressed up in a dinner suit and paid £200 for a seat at the Royal Opera House!
There are still people who say Stephen King is not a "proper writer" because before he became one of the World's most successful writers he submitted short stories to Sci-Fi magazines. Whatever next!
One of my favourite quotes is by Robert Benchley "It was fifteen years before I realised I was no good as a writer, but by then I was too famous to stop."
So - until somebody can come up with real definition of 'literary fiction' that actually has to do with something other than intellectual snobbery I will continue to claim I write literary fiction as well as commercial fiction, thrillers, mystery, crime, romance, horror etc - even if in the end - they are actually all the same book!
So I think we should let readers decide what they like and spend a little less time trying to categorise things.
Posted by John Baird at 15:42
In choice and cost, the internet market will win the general reader's money right from the start. Using the computer, we have the world's book supplies at one's fingertips. You want a title only printed in the States? Search Amazon.Com (for example) and you'll have a particular book ready for the purchase. There's three main drawbacks to t'internet book market; firstly, postage costs and shipping delays, problems or losses. Not terrible but annoying. Secondly, the limitations on browsing, not the site but the book "shelves". In a store, ones eyes are cast over many titles and, while looking for one author or title, your attention might be drawn to another name. On the internet, it's possible to browse but you can take hours and hours without finding anything that catches ones eye. Thirdly, the "physicality"; it might just be me but there's something about examining the cover art, reading through the back-cover blurb ... even dipping in and reading a paragraph or two. This just isn't possible online. In general, the internet is good for availability, accessability and cost. Bad for aimless yet satisfying browsing.
The chain bookstores are easy to find in any major town and great for popular titles but - for the genre reader - incredibly limited in "browsability" and availability. In theory, it's possible to order particular books from any branch ... but you can do that on the internet (possibly getting the book for cheaper). The main "up-sides" to chain bookstores are accessability and physicality but choice is limited and price isn't always good.
Supermarket book departments operate along similar lines - with attendant pro's and con's - as a chain bookstore but with a major hinderance - the choice. They will stock best sellers but overlook any (they see as) genre authors. For instance, the publishers of Lindsey Davis or Steven Saylor might've worked hard to get a good distribution deal with a big supermarket chain but the fan of roman crime fiction might search in vain for other, lesser broadcast names. Push comes to the shove, a supermarket is in business to sell, period. Buy cheap, sell masses. If the general public, while out buying their weekly supplies, aren't interested in an author then they will not see "different" titles on the shelves.
Independent stores - for my money - are a wonderland. They need to work hard to get the sales in any event; they have limited access to mainstream titles at a good price (thanks indirectly to the abrogation of the Net Book Agreement), they have a finite stocking resource and they have limited advertising and sales coverage. Their benefits are great, however. The physicality is massive. Just think of working your way through high stacks of shelves, squeezed to bulging with books, the sales assistant happy for you (they are usually reading something themselves) and always ready to chat, discuss and recommend. Wow! If you get a small bookshop which specialises in a genre, then you've hit paydirt! These might not have a particular title but they sure as hell will have one (or ten) which will attract your attention ... and money. They have drawbacks; first, they will have limited stock and, therefore, availability of particular titles. Secondly, the cost probably isn't the cheapest. After all, not only do they get a poor deal in stock-purchasing (again with the net discount agreement!) but they have staff and premesis overheads which eat into their total sales far more than the chain store.
So much for the current situation. So what am I getting at? I see nothing wrong with using the internet for particular titles - especially for struggling authors trying to get their work out to a wide readership. Chain bookshops have enough on their plate, slugging it out with supermarkets over celebrity semi-autobiographies and the latest diet/cook/excercise/lifestyle titles; they needn't worry about genre fans. I think readers - at the risk of stating the obvious - should devote their loyalty to the small, independent book shops. But, in return, the shops should speak out a bit more; not only do local interest events but put themselves out on the internet (generally speaking, this is an advertising world that's next to nothing in cost), look to attracting attention, not only from genre readers but the general public.
A short word about the Net Book Agreement farce. The background - the NBA was a British price fixing agreement between publishers and sellers that was started in 1900. In 1962, it was examined by the Restirictive Practices Court which decided it was of benefit to the industry (it meant that publishers could afford to print important - yet little known - authors with the profits from best sellers. In 1994 the Office of Fair Trading decided that the R.P. Court should review the NBA. After several big publishers and retailers lay low during the review, in March 1007 the Restrictive Practices Court ruled the NBA illegal.
Now this would seem A Good Thing to book buyers. Ah ... no. Well, at first it seemed good with book prices dropping. But it strengthened the hold on the market by chain bookstores, it meant supermarkets (which could negotiate bulk discounts and sell incredibly cheap) started to threaten even chain bookstores - and it severely affected the business for independent traders. As a result, it's easy to get "best sellers" ultra cheap anywhere but has driven genre readers to the world wide web.
A recent report commissioned by the Booksellers Association has shown that while the US has a lower avarage selling price than the UK, the UK - along with Sweden - "enjoys" lowest levels of profitability in sales. This is considered to be a direct result of the loss of the NBA. The moral of the story? Cheap books do not mean more sales. Odd, isn't it?
Posted by John Baird at 08:55