Friday, January 12, 2007

Friday fun

Romantic novel award

Each year, the UK's Romantic Novelists' Association gives an award to the Romantic Novel of the Year. The award is made in April, and the judging panel for 2007 has just been announced.

Chairman of the panel is Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson, who is one of the UK's most successful athletes. The two other members of the panel are Liz Brain, a librarian from Suffolk, and myself. I was very pleased to be asked to act as a judge. Matt Bates, Fiction Buyer at WH Smith Travel, who was one of last year's judges, rightly described the RNA awards lunch as 'the best event in publishing.'

There are 207 books entered for the award this year, from 22 publishers, including nine independents. Books all receive three reads from amongst a panel of over a hundred readers who are ordinary members of the public. The readers score the titles on such criteria as romantic content, readability, dialogue, characters, plot, style and setting. The books with the highest scores go on to a longlist and receive a fourth read. When that score has been added, the six books with the highest combined score form the shortlist for the year. The whole shortlist is read by all the final judges to select the outright winner.

Is it the indies at risk, or -- GASP!

Lynne Scanlon contributes to the debate about independent bookshops. And she asks some people outside the book trade what they think. Here's what one successful entrepreneur, and author of a marketing manual, has to say about publishers:
My guess is that somewhere in that solution will be the elimination of 'publishers' as we traditionally know them. The only other industry consisting of massively over-compensated mediocre performers who have utterly outlasted their utility and raison d'etre and exist only by virtue of an entrenched, self-protective, bullying autocracy that gangs up against threats posed by obviously more efficient methods that would, could, should and will eliminate them -- is Wall Street.

Crumbs. Or Gulp, as Lynne says. Who'd have thunk it?

Education, education, education

Education was, if you recall, what Mr Blair said his premiership was going to be all about. And we do occasionally, on this blog, pay some attention to the teaching of English, because unless English is taught properly, much else fails.

Today's Times carries two relevant items. First, we have an article by Rosemary Behan, who writes rather well. But this is no thanks, apparently, to her formal education. Her principled, left-wing parents insisted that she go to a state school rather than a private one, and the local state school was, to put it plainly, a shit-hole.

Discipline was non-existent: pupils ran riot and bullying was rife. I had no proper English lessons in two years -- the priority was 'English as a second language' and a succession of supply teachers had us copy out of books. To call it teaching would be an exaggeration.

Twenty years ago, when Rosemary was there, the school was said to be 'constantly improving'. The headmaster sent his own child to a private school. The state school has now been renamed a 'city academy' and Karen Buck, a former aviation minister, announced last month that she would be withdrawing her 12-year-old son Kosmo after just one term. She apparently labelled the school 'appalling'.

The second, and perhaps more important, story about education is on the front page. The government is going to raise the school-leaving age to eighteen.

One doesn't know whether to laugh or cry. British schools -- and I'm talking here about state-funded schools -- used to be places which functioned pretty well. They certainly weren't perfect, and it can be argued that they perpetuated undesirable class divisions, but they were places where children got the chance to learn if they wanted to. (And forty years ago I taught in one.)

Now, even a child who wants to learn will struggle. No wonder some Labour government ministers are prepared to face criticism by sending their children to private schools.

As for kids staying on till they're eighteen.... All this does is reduce the unemployment figures. It will increase the chaos in schools which already have an overload of stroppy kids who don't want to be there. Even now, a totally unacceptable proportion of young people emerge from a lengthy education without being able to read, write, spell, punctuate, stand up and speak in public with confidence, et cetera, et cetera.

What happy times we live in.

More brief reports

There's another Ward 6, in addition to the one mentioned earlier in the week (last item on Tuesday), and the latest edition of this one is just out, with poetry, fiction, et cetera.

Another online magazine is Void, with its second book-to-film wishlist issue, stories, poems, and more.

Martin Rundkvist reports that one of his posts has been chosen for an anthology of science-blog pieces to be published by Lulu. The science is probably too specialised to be of interest to most readers of this blog, but the anthology demonstrates yet another way in which Lulu can be an enormously useful tool.

Conversations in the Book Trade is a site where Finn Harvor interviews people in the agenting/publishing business. The latest is Catheryn Kilgarriff of Marion Boyars Publishers.

James Long, of New Tammany College, points out that Blogpulse is a tool which enables you to track what the blogosphere has to say about a given topic. Just by way of a test, I entered "Jeffrey Archer" and "Iscariot" in the search box, and found 7 results, the top one being my own reference of Wednesday. Quite a handy tool, so thanks, James.

Gerard Jones is in trouble again. His latest email, referred to here on Tuesday, has been declared 'spam' by someone who doesn't like him, and his ISP has blocked his email account. ISPs can do that, Gerard has learnt. 'The accusation itself is judge, jury and executioner. That sort of sucks.' Should you wish to read Gerard's email yourself, to make a judgement, you can find it here.

Jack Saunders is a phenomenon. He is writing a book and posting it on the web, daily, as he goes. Jack flourishes (it seems to me) in the digital age because on the internet you can give stuff away, free, to the entire world. Jack used to give stuff away free at art fairs and such, but now he makes a charge. To find out why, go to The Daily Bulletin, scroll down to January 11, and click on Free--Take One. Food for thought for all digitisers.

Josie Brown, on M.J. Rose's Buzz, Balls & Hype, has some valuable but frankly rather exhausting things to say about how to market your book. All that time and effort -- can you really be bothered? I can't, which is why....

Mark Boulton is a graphic designer who has some advice to offer on the use of white space on the printed page. (Thanks to Jon for the link.) On his blog he also discusses such issues as whether a pdf download of a text should be laid out differently from the printed version. The answer seems to be yes, ideally. This discussion is in connection with a book he is writing on designing for the web. It will be published in print form through Lulu -- yet another example of how Lulu can do a job which was unthinkable only a few years ago, i.e. enable someone like Mark to write and self-publish a book without sinking huge amounts of capital into the project. Warning -- the link to the book page is painfully slow to load, for some reason.

10 comments:

Martin said...

The science in each contribution to the Science Blogging Anthology may be somewhat specialised. But seen as a group, these entries are all over the scientific map. And the ones I've read should be quite accessible and enjoyable to the general reader.

I look forward to seeing what a Lulu book is like physically.

Mark said...

The Jack Saunders link was an interesting one - and his comment that "people who pay *might* read his stuff" is spot on.

A few years ago, at the height of the first dotcom boom, everyone was giving stuff away, building huge mailing lists, and then making money doing consultancy, building web sites - setting themselves up as an "Internet guru" who knew the 'secret' of how to make money on the Web.

One article - written by someone who's name now totally escapes me - railed against this stategy as akin to "dot-communism", and counselled against giving stuff away for free. His favourite phrase was that material is well worth the price you pay for it.

His slightly distasteful example of this was a (probably apocryphal) story of someone who ran an experiment to see what people would do for a freebie.

He advertised a "free box of dead kittens" at the end of his drive, and then interviewed those poeple who turned up to claim their free box. He concluded that some people's brains just to short-circuit when they see "free" and just want to grab it.

This is why the top-tier marketing gurus (people like J Abraham, Marlon Sanders, Markus Allen) all charge anything in excess of $25k for a 3-day seminar, or $1,000 per hour face-to-face. What they are saying isn't necessary worth that, but you can bet your backside that after stumping out that sort of cash, you're going to pay close attention to the choicest titbits.

Perhaps you should start selling access to your writing for a handsome sum and see how this goes...

Andrew O'Hara said...

I can never stroll past a discussion of the educational system without comment--needless to say, it's equally pathetic here in the US. Every child gets to be an "Honor Student" during the year and sheer stupidity seems to be the goal, not just the result.

Nurse Fusion said...

I enjoy reading you blog.

Holly Kennedy said...

I, too, am becoming addicted to your blog!! Thanks for the wonderful posts from a new author soaking it all up...

Anonymous said...

Me and my ISP is going 'round & 'round about why I can't send email. I expect it to esclate. Thanks. G.

Jon said...

"The only other industry consisting of massively over-compensated mediocre performers who have utterly outlasted their utility and raison d'etre and exist only by virtue of an entrenched, self-protective, bullying autocracy that gangs up against threats posed by obviously more efficient methods that would, could, should and will eliminate them -- is Wall Street."

ONLY other? What about the teaching profession? Banking? Medicine? Law? Real estate? The security industry?

Scanlon should get out more.

Jon.

bookbum said...

Au contraire, it is booksellers who will be eliminated in the brave new world of books. Unless you want to spend all your time wading through the slop that appears in blogs, you will need people of judgment to winnow the tsunami of glop down for you and polish and present the gems. That is what publishers do. The blogosphere is final proof of just what an essential role the selectors and shapers perform. That role will only become more important. The role that will disappear, along with all that of printers, is that of the people who run little shops full of bound paper. In future readers will be able to download the new masterpieces straight from the publisher, at a fraction of the present cost.

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gina said...

"The two other members of the panel are Liz Brain, a librarian from Suffolk, and myself. I was very pleased to be asked to act as a judge. Matt Bates, Fiction Buyer at WH Smith Travel, who was one of last year's judges, rightly described the RNA awards lunch as 'the best event in publishing."

Congratulations, Grumpy! You deserve it!