Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The Times on book issues

Yesterday's issue of the UK Times had three articles which were of interest from a book point of view.

First, there was an article by Libby Purves, pointing out that many arts organisations depend on the free labour of young people who are dumb enough to think that, by working for nothing in some lowly capacity, they will find out how a particular form of art business works, meet useful people, get a foot on the ladder, et cetera. The whole naive thing.

Libby doesn't rate their chances very highly. Furthermore, she points out, this arrangement creates an uneven playing field. Those young people whose parents can afford to support them for a year or two while they work for nothing, or next to nothing, get to hang in there, while the truly poor really can't survive. Thus some true talent is lost to the industry, and only the well-heeled talent (or a proportion of it) ever graduates into a proper job.

Nowhere, of course, is this better exemplified than in publishing. There we find lots of interns -- usually reading the slush pile. And, of course, there are legions of writers, banging away on the old keyboard for years on end, learning their trade without a penny to show for it, sometimes for decades.

As I said in my book The Truth about Writing, 'Publishing depends, for its continuance, upon a ceaseless flow of mugs, suckers, and assorted halfwits who are prepared to work for a year or more without any serious prospect of remuneration.'

Next, the Times offered a story about John Howard and his book The Key to Chintak, mentioned here on 13 April. As you would expect, the story is built around John's experiment of sending out a washing-machine manual in the guise of a novel, and inviting agents and publishers to read it. That's inevitable, because from the average reader's point of view that's a good story. But there are also plenty of mentions of John's self-published book. John seems to be a dab hand at marketing both himself and his book, and is getting a good response from professionals.

By the way, if you read my earlier reference to John Howard's submission experiment, you will come across Zeno Cosini's very reasonable and, in the circumstances, polite comment, to the effect that agents get sent all kinds of weird stuff in the guise of novels, and some of it is intended to be taken seriously. And he also makes a good case for a standard reply which is friendly.

I accept all that entirely. And if Zeno wasn't a pseudonym I would have written back to tell him so. (Actually I think I can guess his identity, but that's another story.)

Also, if you are looking for a present for a nephew/niece, please note that John Howard is doing a book signing at Waterstone's, 311 Oxford Street (London) at 3 pm on Saturday 29 April. You may have to queue.

Finally, we have the inevitable tale about Waterstone's and various proposed take-overs. The latest features an attempt by the company's founder, Tim Waterstone, to buy back his old company. Authors, apparently, welcome this. But no one else seems to take it seriously.

1 comment:

Andrew said...

With regard to Zeno's comment "that agents get sent all kinds of weird stuff in the guise of novels," my question has to be

"Why are they publishing them?"