Saturday, November 28, 2009

Book-buying in Ireland

My friend and blog-follower Zoe over at Apples and Bananas should be happy to read this. According to Fintan O'Toole's article in the Irish Times, Irish book-buyers are flocking to buy non-fiction titles about current affairs.

There are some great titles being released at the moment. I haven't been reading much about current affairs myself, because in the Irish press we're already hearing so much doom and gloom, and there is only so much I can take. By contrast, my hunger for cosy writers like Alexander McCall Smith (whom I love to pieces) and remote, dramatic historical fiction (Forever Amber and Gone With Wind) has skyrocketed. I don't account for any of the statistic myself, but it is nevertheless interesting.

What caught my attention about this article, though, was the line "Publishers have cottoned on to the fact that the market here is not really among book collectors but among book readers. It is, in other words, essentially a paperback market." I felt a little swell of patriotic fervour at that. And two new bookshops (that I'm aware of) have opened since the current economic recession started. We are a fairly bookish society over here, and very few people snigger at me when I tell them I want to be a writer.

The fact that Ireland is largely a paperback market reminded me of a post over at Apples and Bananas earlier this week, about book pricing. I forgot to mention in my comment that the practice of releasing fiction titles in hardback first drives me nuts. It's only a problem with certain writers - I'm quite disorganised and I don't often manage to buy books I want to read for some time after they come out, so usually there is a paperback by the time I'm likely to notice.

But with some writers, I hear that they have a new book out and I simply must read it. Terry Pratchett is the obvious one. Alexander McCall Smith is another (although not his world-conquering Number One Lady Detective so much as Isabel Dalhousie and 44 Scotland Street. I haven't read Corduroy Mansions yet because I'm scared of how another AMcS serial novel might take over my life. I adored Scotland Street. I can't overstate this). I'm the same with Sue Townsend's Adrian Mole books - although I was a bit disappointed in Weapons of Mass Destruction, I stopped off in the Big Ben Bookshop in Prague two days running to read the first few pages of The Prostate Years. Luckily, Christmas is coming.

And I dislike hardbacks in general. They press uncomfortably on your belly if you read on the couch or in bed. They weigh more in a bag. They take up more space on a cafe table when you put them down between mouthfuls of dinner.

So it turns out I'm Irish in my format preference but not in my taste. Can't say I'm surprised!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Raindrops on Rosie and Whiskers on Kittens. . .

Happy Thanksgiving :)

Yes, I'm Irish, and no, we don't celebrate it, but many of the American blogs I read had lovely uplifting posts this morning. Nathan Bransford asks what we are thankful for in the world of writing/publishing/querying, and Jessica Faust over at Bookends LLC has written a wonderful post in thanksgiving for books.

All of which has put me in a very good mood, so I'm going to take a very un-Irish moment out of my morning to mention some of the things I'm thankful for.

1. Writing is still fun. Most of the time.

2. The writing group I have been thinking of starting for ages has its first meeting in the New Year.

3. The writing group is, so far, composed of very cool writers who like tea as much as I do.

4. I still haven't given up on my novel, in spite of the difficulties. Rosie's story may yet have an ending.

5. There are so many great resources available for writers now that weren't there ten, or even five, years ago. Agent blogs, message boards, online critique forums, all kinds of cool stuff.

6. There are so many great books being written (some by the aforementioned cool writers who like tea). Every time I go online or talk to someone, it seems that I become aware of a new, excellent book to read.

7. I have a great support network for my writing - far better than I deserve.

8. And then there's the personal stuff - family, friends, loved ones, home, Dublin, tea, music, knitting, the fact I haven't wrapped any of the three cars I drive regularly around anything solid (yet), the fact London is still reassuringly there across the Irish sea, all full of bookshops and museums and cafes and red buses, material comforts, and too many other things to name.

Also, I discovered two nights ago that one of my old bosses has the ability to make obstacles vanish and create miracles in their place. I'm thankful she's on my side. . . !

Normal Hiberno-begrudgery will resume shortly.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Writer Beware

I'm preaching to the choir here (albeit a very small choir), but I have to weigh in on the subject of Harlequin becoming the latest reputable traditional publisher to launch a 'self-publishing' service.

Disclaimer: I don't work in publishing, I have no inside knowledge on this, I've just been reading everything about it that I can get my hands on. This post is about my response to the debate, which I know something about, rather than the actual nuts-and-bolts of the publishing development side of it.

Brief synopsis for those who don't know - Harlequin have launched a service in partnership with Author Solutions, which allows writers to pay to have their books published. Initially, the plan was that such books would be published under the Harlequin name, thus muddying the distinction between books deemed good enough to merit investment by a publishing house and books written by people who wanted to pay to see them in print. As a result of much outcry, these books will no longer be published under the name 'Harlequin Horizons.'

Before I start, I want to make it clear I have no problem with people paying to be published. I doubt I'd ever do it, but some people write for niche markets, don't want or need widespread distribution or have the time and effort to self-market. Whatever. Go nuts, if you have the money and it makes you happy, and best of luck to you. The issue is that it is being implied that this service is a stepping-stone to traditional publishing, and there are plans to offer the service in rejection letters sent to aspiring writers. I'd love to know how they will be worded.

Firstly, everyone should read Writer Beware, all the time. It's great.

And everyone should definitely read it today. At the time of writing, their most recent post is a statement from Novelists Inc about vanity publishing 'arms' of traditional publishing houses. It's a good read, but it's also nice to see a professional organisation step up in defence of people who aren't their own members. It's niceness that I want to talk about today.

I read a lot of agent blogs, and I have read many posts from agents who believe that their posts aren't reaching as much of their intended audience as they should. Periodically, agents will post revised submission guidelines, or say 'People querying me keep doing [insert annoying or time-consuming habit here]. Kindly stop. And I realise if you are reading this, you probably aren't the ones doing it. Sigh.'

So, by their own admission, the advice given on agent blogs is reaching a self-selecting sample - the kind of people who do research (or the kind of people who get bored in work and google things a lot). The kind of people who do research aren't as likely to be suckered into an 'author solution' that isn't right for them (and again, let me stress that self-publishing is right for lots of people. I'm not sure Author Solutions is right for anyone, but it might be). And it seems to me that the main issue that the publishing community has with this development is misrepresentation - the idea that less-informed writers may be persuaded to part with money in exchange for what they believe to be a path to traditional publishing success. Once again, the people reading the advice are the people who need it the least.

This is a generalisation, and obviously there are tons of exceptions, but as a rule, the kind of aspiring writers who do poor research into publishing options are the ones who - fairly or unfairly - are most likely to be shoved to the very bottom of the slush pile because they didn't follow the guidelines, or they queried someone who doesn't represent their genre, or something similar. And we all know that potentially excellent writers sometimes don't succeed not because they're poor at writing but because they're poor at hoop-jumping, or rule-following, depending on your perspective. So the entire publishing community is currently up in arms about the interests of a group of people, most of whom they are relatively unlikely to ever make money from. Not one person has said 'A quick Google search will throw up all the blog posts and controversy about this. Anyone too naive or stupid to do that deserves to be conned.' I feel this point of view would be unfair, because we have all blindly followed paths because we thought they would lead to the things we've dreamed.

And I think it's rather nice that no one has presented that counter argument, and that an industry is responding with concern for people who aren't their cash cows.

That is all.

Work In Progress Update

My difficult scene is inching along.

I did write last night, so I'm not embarrassed in front of the entire internet. For a change.

The scene I'm working on at the moment is moving slowly, because it's an intense and close description of something I've never experienced. I keep switching between NeoOffice (I am a proud Mac user but I try not to be a snotty one, FYI) and Firefox, checking to see if it's accurate to say that the pain travels from front to back, or does it shoot, or does it radiate? And is it tearing, searing, dull, sharp, muscular, nerve pain, like a toothache, like a heart attack, like a cramp?

I'm a hypochondriac as well as a would-be-writer, in case you can't tell. And researching different kinds of medical experiences is like catnip to a hypochondriac, so I won't pretend it isn't fun, but it is slow.

So to speed things up a little, I've decided to stop doing it. I'm going to write the damned thing, and at the end of it all I'll check if everything corresponds to real accounts. And if it doesn't, I'll have my character tell her mate 'I felt like my spine was on fire,' (for instance), and her mate can say 'That shouldn't happen,' and my character can say 'Well, that's what it sodding felt like. I won't pretend I was especially rational at the time.'

She may even stalk off, if she has the strength left after what I'm planning to put her through.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Work in Progress

I just got back from a week in Prague, so apologies for my spradic blogging of late [Insert traditional-blogger-promise-to-blog-more here].

Partly as a result of the trip, and partly as a result of me being rubbish, I have been writing very little lately, so I thought a blog post on the subject of my work-in-progress (if you'll pardon the overstatement) might help.

I want to have my current work-in-progress done soon, and once it is done, I am planning a monster post on what I've learned while writing it. Chief among these lessons is 'For the love of God, one timeline per book is enough for any sensible writer.' But if I was sensible, I suppose I wouldn't be writing a book, would I? :)

The work-in-progress is still untitled. I am terrible at titles. It deals predominantly with an unmarried mothers' home in the 1940s so I call it 'All The Single Ladies' in my head, but I feel this lacks long-term selling power. It may also lead potential readers to expect far more martini and Jimmy Choos than were to be found in unmarried mothers' homes in the 1940s, and some genius might try to slap a pastel pink cover on it. I started writing the book some time ago, and have taken short breaks from it here and there to play with other projects. Now I just want it done, so I can point to it on my hard drive and say 'There. That's my novel, that is. Bring on the next one, with its delicious single timeline.'

Updates on the work-in-progress will follow. I have planned to write a chapter tonight, and now that I've said that here, I could potentially be humiliated in front of the entire internet if I don't. Will let you know tomorrow how it goes.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

I have not the words. . .

I came across this online today.

I genuinely have not the words.

I think I may be slipping into a coma of sheer delight.

And I wish I had a pet. Imagine a pug dressed as Hamlet.