Not another post about the crisis of the publishing industry

This is not going to be another post about the crisis in the publishing industry.

Well, not quite.

The Emerging Writers’ Festival has been running over the last week in Melbourne.

The events I attended, including the crime genre panel at the Wheeler Centre last Thursday night (more about that later), were great. Good speakers, interesting discussion, a refreshing absence of hipsterdom.

I’ll certainly be marking the week off in my diary next year and trying to attend more events.

Not surprisingly, a central theme of the proceedings was the future of publishing. Much of the discussion focused on whether it was in crisis or not.

Before going any further, it’s important to set the record straight. I love books. I mean the paper kind you can smell and touch and thumb through. I’m not going to be coy about it, I really hope the manuscript of my crime novel set in Cambodia gets to become a book made out of a dead tree.

Hopefully you’ll be able to buy it from a neighbourhood bookstore owned by someone you’re on first name terms with. Shit, I even hope I make some money off it.

I also love newspapers, party politics, Hawaiian shirts and a whole lot of other things that have an uncertain future.

Whatever, the take home message for me from the Emerging Writers’ Festival, and this gels with something I’ve been thinking for a while now, is to stop focusing on the crisis (or not) of the publishing industry and just write as much as possible.

Which in a strange way brings me back to last Thursday’s crime panel.

There were three speakers, veteran crime writer Kerry Greenwood, Jarad Henry who is about to have his third book published, and myself, moderated by one of the convenors of the Australian Sisters in Crime, Carmel Shute.

As you’d expect from such varied panel there was a lot we differed on.

For example, is it important these days that writers transform themselves into one-person multi-media platform?

Not really, according to Kerry, but with fifty books under her belt she doesn’t have to worry too much about publicity (and good luck to her for it). As she put it, she’s already a brand.

Yes, according to Jarad and myself.

I love blogging and I’m fascinated by the plethora of interesting sites out there. In the last couple of days alone, I’ve found a great site on classic Hong Kong and Japanese television called Achilles Girl in Action Land, a blog solely devoted to reviewing prison movies, and Small Town Noir, true crime from the US town of New Castle, Pennsylvania between 1930 and 1959.

The web also provides a growing source of writing opportunities for aspiring crime novelists, including on-line publications like Crime Factory.

But in terms of advice for the emerging (and not so emerging) writers in last Thursday’s audience, there were a couple of important things (not just related to crime writing) we agreed on.

Try and get as much high quality writing out there as possible. I’m currently working on a film treatment, a short story, a review of the 1972 film Street Mobster by one of the favourite Japanese directors, Kinji Fukasaku, and the plot of my next novel.

Hopefully, this all makes me a better writer, builds my profile and someone, somewhere will eventually bite. It’s also helped me not obsess about that manuscript I want made into a book.

Also, write what you want to write and what you want to read.

Yeah, sure, be aware of trends and what’s selling and get advice from people you trust. But at the end of the day it’s important to go with your instincts. This may be hard when you’re an emerging writer, but it’s something you’ve got to develop for a couple of very important reasons.

First, no one will ever give you the same piece of feedback about that manuscript you’re working on.

Second, it will avoid confusion. If I tried to respond to every trend I’d end up writing about a criminal profiler who’s also a steam punk vampire trying to solve a murder in the middle of a pandemic turning everyone into zombies.

The panel didn’t have time to explore whether there is a crisis in the publishing industry and, if so, the impact it’s having on crime writers, but a few of us talked about it a lot at the pub later.

We came to the following question/conclusions.

If the publishing situation is so bad, why have there never been more books out there than there are now? Witness the 53 books by Australian women writers entered in the current Sisters In Crime Davitt awards.

Literary creativity is exploding even as the nature of Capital ‘L’ literature is changing.

Books made from dead trees will always be around, they will just be an increasingly niche product. It also means a lot of us emerging authors will have to get used to the fact that when/if out books come out, they won’t be made of paper.

There are some really exciting things going on internationally. In the US, where e-books already dominate, establishing and aspiring crime authors (and some people at the festival by the sounds of things) are just putting their books on the web where they can be downloaded for 99 cents each.

The on-line environment is also enabling crime writers to reach out beyond their immediate geographical surroundings and tap into other communities doing really exciting stuff across the sub-genres of crime, from cozy crime to the nastiest hard-boiled noir.

The possibilities are endless.

Stop talking about the crisis and just write.

And Hawaiian shirts will never go out of fashion.

 

3 Responses

  1. Hey Andrew, I had the same thoughts coming out of EWF. The future of publishing is obviously an important talking point, but it seems the conversation is largely focused on the loss of the current status quo, rather than on the possible futures.

    By the way, I noticed that you don’t have your actual name on your about page. Not sure if that was intentional or not, just thought I’d point it out.

  2. Publishing won’t look the same in a decade (or less) than now, everyone seems agreed on that, but what the new shape will be? That is less certain. You’re right, Andrew, that writers need to keep writing, keep creating, or the whole “What will be publishing look like” question becomes moot.

    And yes, new, emerging, writers who are not Salinger or Pynchon, do need to be out and about in the social media being themselves, joining in conversations. I’d add only one suggestion, that writers can at the same time start doing more to help to promote, preserve, protect Indie booksellers.

    Australia is in the happy position that Borders came and went and didn’t manage to destroy the Indies – unlike the situation in the UK & the USA. So, we emerging writers still have this wonderful resource, one that nurtures writers and readers by “discovering” new voices, and providing a range beyond the 20 big names that BigW, KMart etc can stock.

    After the comments by Senator Sherry yesterday predicting the end of bookstores in five years it’s time to for writers to ask not what your local Indie can do for you, but what you can do for them!

    Think of events you can do instore that don’t specifically relate to flogging your latest baby, events that encourage a crowd to come along and talk books, themes, ideas, mini-writers’ festival style events, that help establish your Indie as a community place for a community of readers and writers, who will find something in this bricks and mortar real live people place that an online seller just can’t provide.

    We’ve started doing something like this with a series of When Genres Attack events, and we plan to spread it about with writers and booksellers who are keen to jump on board.

    And yes, of course Hawaiian shirts will never go out of fashion. That’s just crazy talk.

  3. I luv ebooks — way to go! But holding back the potential surge is the competing formats and selective ebook readers.On Amazon more ebooks are sold than paper. Related to this is working out what path the would be writer — eg: crime writer — should follow.Self publishing? On Lulu? I’ve been monitoring ebookery — http://www.google.com/reader/public/atom/user%2F09007191750114621700%2Flabel%2FeBooks%20ePublishing — and I’m still confused.But you’re right: just do it!

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