Excellent discussion on Saturday morning at Clapham Book Festival about writing and getting published with Emma Darwin and Philip Gwyn Jones.
After a brief canter through the traditional process of writing, seeking an agent and getting a publishing contract Emma and Philip went on to tackle various other aspects of publishing and writing. Such as how to cope with writing at the same time as having to negotiate with editors and publishers and to promote your book ( Emma recommended having a split personality, a ‘writing head’ and a ‘business head’, the second always protecting the first ). They touched upon the rise of the ‘e’ book and the recent resurgence of print; if the ‘e’ market has hit a natural plateau, the printed book has re-established itself with a good quality product, a huge improvement over the ‘pile it high and sell it cheap’ mentality which publishing houses adopted immediately after the ending of the Net Book Agreement.
There was some reality checking – in 2017 a mid-range published author would, on average, make about £11,000 a year from writing books. So few authors make sufficient income to enable them to devote all their time to writing, almost all augment their earnings by other means such as teaching, presenting talks, attending Festivals. General journalism, as a source of income, was deemed to be, in effect, dead, now that anyone could blog and everyone was a HuffPo correspondent. Huge success stories, like that of J.K.Rowling or Robert Harris are few in number. This theme was returned to later in the day in the Walls Have Ears session, a later discussion between historians and how they managed to fund the research needed in order to write their books.
There was some debate about the industry which had sprung up around writing, how to write and how to get published. Not all the teachers within it were necessarily worth a student’s money. Even the well-known and successful writer, someone capable of telling others about their own writing methods (and not all are) would not necessarily be a good teacher. As a former teacher of creative writing, many years ago, I can certainly confirm that offering real help to writing students takes much work and thought and depends as much on consideration of an individual’s needs and circumstances and how they might develop, as on offering one’s own skill and knowledge as a guide. The knowledge needed is sometimes different to that of a practitioner, although there are huge overlaps, and certainly should be more wide-ranging.
Philip gave us an insight into how a publisher thinks when he is considering a work and what sort of margins are common in the industry. We talked about a hypothetical book which yielded its author a £2,000 advance and the, probable, £15,000 investment likely by the publisher in that book. A publisher’s back catalogue counts for a lot.
The presenters understood that the benefit of their session to many in the audience would be in their responses to questions asked, so, after half an hour, they started the Q & A. Lots of interesting, good questions followed. The audience was a mix of young ( probably students ) and older people, many of whom had already begun the journey of writing a book, or wanted to do so. That they appreciated Emma and Philip’s advice was reflected in the warm and enthusiastic applause at the end – the moderator had to close the session, to allow the next event in the theatre to take place, otherwise the discussion would have continued.
It was a really first-rate beginning to this year’s Clapham Book festival.