There and Back Again

Well, I’m back.
It’s been a very long journey from New Zealand to Britain, through a very long Narnia like double winter. But this morning it suddenly feels like Spring.

And that is very, very welcome.

So my family and I are slowly settling down to life and work here. We settled in Cambridge, which means an excellent reaquaintance with cycling and there’s a lot of exploring to do. So far though its good. I’m back in publishing at Yale UP and its hugely interesting learning a new business, understanding a new mode of publishing and getting to know a host of new people. And its certainly keeping me on my toes.

There’s been more than a twinge of sadness (or two) about leaving New Zealand, (though I have decided to block my ears to any mention of New Zealand’s finest Summer in a generation) but in some ways its not that far away. I’m reminded of the strange tangle of international connections this morning as I read this article from Wellington’s Dom Post. Its an interview with my friend Neil Cross, born in Bristol, a resident of Crofton Downs and writer of tonight’s episode of Dr Who.

My oldest son, Joe and I are huge fans of the good Doctor (we’ve been limbering up for this new series with a lot of old epsiodes). To be able to sit and watch it here live on a Saturday night feels the most British of things. And to know the writer is terribly exciting.

So we’re very, very excited for Neil, to whom I think this episode means a great deal and we’re going to be ready and watching tonight at 6.15 BST.  Obviously its going to rock.

Best of luck Neil. And for you at home here’s a taster….

So we’re settled enough now to write and think properly and there seems a good deal to talk about. So I’ll be posting once a week or so, or more if I can/need.

Good to be back, and may Spring truly be here.

Oh go on, here’s another:


Margaret Mahy 1936-2012

Great sadness here at the loss of the extraordinary Margaret Mahy. As one of my colleagues put it, ‘she’s the Edmund Hilary of New Zealand writing’. I like that because she was, undoubtedly, one of the great explorers of the imagination. We will miss the tales of her journeys. And we will miss her presence.

My sincere condolences to Bridget, Penny and their families.

Toby Manhire at The Listener has collected some of the best tributes to Margaret here. And on Graham Beattie’s blog there are some very touching tributes.

Getting the book invented

I’ve been travelling and a bit busy with one thing or another. But returning I find this excellent little video. Words from the ever wonderful and far-sighted Douglas Adams (in 1993), animation by competition winner Eleanor Stokes and the whole thing was put together by the people at The Literary Platform.

Seems like its been a long couple of weeks.  Much to catch up on.

Mood music

If its true that we’ve never read so much about writing, then it’s certainly true that we’ve never read so much about publishing. And certainly never so much about alternatives to publishing.
I’ve been thinking about a post on the status of authors, and in doing so I’ve found it hugely interesting to take a look at some of the ways writers (both famous and not) are now perceiving the industry. Now of course this is hardly a comprehensive survey but the volume of criticism of publishers does seem to be rising as the apparent opportunities to publish outside of the conventional channels increase.

So over the past couple of months I’ve collected some instances of these critical voices and I’m posting a couple of the more interesting examples here. My intention is to tease out and examine some of the recurring themes and perhaps to contribute something positive to the debate.Firstly, Andrew Sullivan, on quality control, marketing, timeliness and the potential of the future.

Ask Me Anything: What Do I think of the Book Industry?(VIDEO)Secondly some further views from author-readers of the Dish on the perils of selection, acquisition and, importantly, how we replay publishing decisions to authors.

Thirdly, the very successfully self-published Joe Konrath, nemesis of ‘legacy’ publishers, lets fly.

It’s difficult to know how representative these views are of authors in general, but there is undoubtedly a challenge. The digital revolution has clearly changed the dynamics of the author/publisher relationship.

But does this mean that the union of publishing and authors is coming to an end?

Agent Jonny Geller contributed this piece in a recent edition of the Bookseller and Hachette, as seen in this document has articulated its approach. But is it enough?

Read/view them and see what you think. I have some thoughts I’d like to share on the subject next week.

Harry Potter and the publishing power shift

To the great interest of book industry watchers the Pottermore shop has gone live. This is, like almost anything related to Harry Potter, very big news indeed. Not so much even for the phenomenon of Potter this time but for the effect it may have on the ecosystem. Excellent appraisals from Mike Shatzkin and Eoin Purcell and the Daily Telegraph here. Mike is convincing on the potential for a change in DRM policy to alter again the balance of the marketplace and I think Eoin is absolutely on the money about the increasing importance of community (and by extension therefore branding) in publishing.

Back on deck

I’ve been busy this past few weeks but I’m now coming up for air. I’ve had much to think about this past couple of months and therefore I suspect also that there are some things in the offing which will make for an interesting rest of year. I’ve no doubt I’ll be sharing them here, when they become real. Anyway, I’ve haven’t been entirely idle on the internet which you may have seen if you follow me on twitter (@MrGatsby) and the little feed to right has been quite busy.

Featuring heavily on that was the PANZ conference in Auckland last week (Lisa Buchan’s report on Publishing Perspectives here) which was a hugely useful and enjoyable experience that slotted many things into place for me. Highlights for me were Mark Higginson from HarperCollins Australia on social media, the excellent Elizabeth Weiss from Allen and Unwin on their digital publishing experiences and David Shelley from Little Brown UK on why publishers remain relevant in the digital revolution.

Sadly Shelley didn’t reveal much about his day job as JK Rowling’s new publisher.

The whole thing was smart, upbeat and from my perspective at least, very uplifting about the possibilities for publishers who embrace a more vibrantly creative and innovative approach.

Mind you the antidote to that is possibly to read Mike Shatzkin’s latest, which looks at the seemingly inexorable rise of Amazon’s market dominance by asking two questions:

When will the growth in Amazon’s share of the consumer book business stop?

Who will be left standing when it does?

It’s certainly a must read, and while as a consumer I’m always impressed by Amazon I cannot but find the potential monopolisation of the book industry by them (or anyone for that matter) a concern. Joe Wikert clearly thinks so.

But back to innovation, John Lanchester’s Capital appears to be book with its finger on the pulse of contemporary London (Claire Tomalin’s review here) and while I’ve not yet read, I’m hearing great things from those who have. It seems also that Lanchester’s publisher Faber wanted to capture the book visually in its promotion and have created this (this blog is a big fan of book promos):

And they’ve also put up an interview with John:

It’s a good combination of intriguing and contextual and I’d be interested to see its results in promoting the book.

If you’re in Wellington, you’ll know that the NZ International Arts Festival is in town and its Writers and Readers Week starts this Friday with a keynote from Tim Flannery. I am lucky enough to interviewing author and Dr Who screen writer Robert Shearman on Monday at the Embassy Cinema. Interview comes with a full showing of the Dalek episode. Apparently, a cyberman came along to his appearance in Adelaide. I’m hoping for the Master myself or a Dalek of course.

Andrew Sullivan on ebooks

Following on from his response to Jonathan Franzen, Sullivan expounds his views on ebooks:

And his reader’s responses to Franzen here.

Also this piece by Ewan Morrison is a fascinating, and well worth reading, follow-up to his Edinburgh Festival lecture of last year, entitled: Are Books Dead and will the Author Survive?