Friday, May 26, 2006

Favorite hobby horse

Frank Moorhouse wrote in a not-so-recent Australian: "We need adequate, long-term funding of individual writers by arts organisations, publishers and private patronage." It's the "publishers" bit that stirred me to mount one of my favorite hobby horses: writers can only expect long-term funding from a publisher if the writer is prepared to back a publisher in the longer term.

In today's world of agents and big advances, both of which are supposedly both in the writer's best interest, there's little incentive from publishers to back authors in the longer term. And creatively it's usually best for writer's to find a good publishing house and build a relationship and let a relationship be built.

Sometimes writers benefit from a change of publisher but it should be done as part of longer term view not a short term one, and advances are short term - the theory is the writer is only getting earlier what they should be getting as royalties anyway. Advances are but smoke and mirrors.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Sydney, Glorious Sydney

Sydney is a great place to visit. And I'm up here for a couple of days with a late running at catching up with the Australia Council's Visitiing International Publishers program, and as always taking the opportunity to catch up with booksellers.

I was reading John Nicolson's 'The Sydney Harbour Bridge' with my son Miles (aged 6) on Wednesday night. Its a very lovely book. It's quite complex in text and illustration and I don't know how much Miles took in but he was intrigued and wanted me to take photos of the bridge while I was in Sydney. The Oz Co Visiting International Publishers program is spread out over several days so I went off for the afternoon to do the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb. It was naughty - I should have been making my commercial best of being in Sydney - but worth it. The day was clear, the views were perfect and the bridge is an extraordinary construction. There was even a rainbow when we arrived at the top of the arch of the bridge. Our bridge guide said that 1 in 4 Australians live in the greater Sydney area.

It's fortunate from my point of view that Sydney is such good place to visit as it looks like I'll have to spend more time here. The publishing industry, organizationally, is becoming increasingly Sydneycentric - with both the APA and the Australia Council being in Sydney and organizing events around the Sydney Writer's Festival. The design awards are here, the visiting international publishers are here, and its all spread out over the whole week. I'm wondering whether this will have an impact on the literary side of the Adelaide Festival. SWF now seems to be the event a publisher pretty much has to attend.

The Visting International Publishers seminar was fascinating and useful - and both exciting and deflating. At this level you get a sense of publishing as a game with authors and books as the playing cards to be traded, and of it being important to be a trader and a player. The bright lights of globalisation are flashing. As an audience member it came across as an uneasy mix of litterati - of editors earnestly and importantly talking to editors - and the dollars of agents and advances. The uneasiness made it thought provoking. Ivor Indyk (I'm guessing it was Ivor - we've not met) did fly the flag for the editorial task of actually making an Australian book for Australian readers. But his point was largely lost. The debate then devolved into a discussion of how British publishers weren't willing for Australian rights to be sold separately for important books - "Perfidious Albion" needed Australian sales to make their P&Ls work. Culturally I don't want to remain a British colony yet I thought we had the cart before the horse - the international publishers were there so we could find out how to sell our books to them not to learn how we could argue about how we could better buy their books. (I was surprised though to find out how economically important we are to the British publishers.) I was also wondering what the lone New Zealand publisher was thinking, knowing Australian publishers automatic assumption that when we buy rights New Zealand is included.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Design Awards - Shirtfront wins

We just got a text message from Sal of Blue Boat (9:39pm, Monday): "We won." Shirtfront won in its category of the design awards. Hooray and congratulations to Blue Boat. And in my humble opinion it was richly deserved. It's something new in non-fiction. Everybody should go out and buy a copy, enjoy the design and read Paula's excellent text and admire the match between form and content.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Mary Bryant from a Dutch-American perspective

I've just finished Escape from Botany Bay: The True Story of Mary Bryant. Except it isn't true but a work of fiction.
A strong story that came through a rather clumsy telling. The authors made a good choice of subject. It is always ambitious to use the first person and Mary's character didn't ring true to me. When tapped there wasn't the ring of crystal, instead a rather leaden earnestness, especially in the first half of the book. Mary dances to the authors' tune and present concerns are imposed on the past.To say Mary was transported for stealing a bonnet is disingenuous. The authors' own telling has it as a crime of some violence and Mary was a practicing highway woman. The eighteenth century was a richer and more complex place than is portryed here. The book comes packaged with an authors' note at the beginning and an epilogue at the end just in case you missed their intent. The Dutch are good, the English, bad. The epilogue reads: "Mary Bryant is a national heroine in Holland but to date she is barely known in England and Australia. One assumes this is because neither English-speaking nation is proud of the penal system that needlessly took so many unfortunate lives." Pontification from afar? In recent years there have been both a TV mini-series and a play on Mary in this country. And we have a rich and complex relation with our convict past. At $27.95 I can't see it have a big YA take up here though. Still, despite the book's flaws overall, I enjoyed the story when I got into it and book grew in strength. James Boswell comes through as a nicer percursor to Truman Capote.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

"Magpies are great"

Magpies is a such a great magazine - spend an hour or two browsing, skimming and dipping, and you have a complete snapshot of what's happening in children's books in ANZ - and beyond. Congratulations to Rayma and James.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

lovely Rita

Carole Wilkinson has a gorgeous new black dog, Rita:

interesting week

It's been an interesting week and it's not all over.

Firstly, congratulations to Leon Davidson on winning the NZ Post award for non-fiction for our Scarecrow Army. We were thrilled the book was short-listed and blown away it won. We're not New Zealand publishers but we are publishing stories that both countries share, and they're often stories that mean a huge amount to both of us. So I'm appreciative that the judges must have seen something in that too. And Leon did a beautiful job of the writing.

I heard there were mutterings from one NZ publisher about non-New Zealand publishers getting awards (but I'm not sure what they'd choose to call a Penguin or a Random House). And I have sympathy with that viewpoint and a not dissimiliar debate is going on here. It's important to encourage local writers and it's important to encourage the local publishing industry too, but does it help to reduce the options that writers have? And does it encourage the best books or does the quality of the books suffer through over-protection?

Scarecrow is an example of a book that I think black dog does particularly well. (And congratulations to Ali Arnold for nurturing it through the editorial process.) It was a concept and format generated by black dog that Leon executed with heartfelt emotion and Ali gave Leon that support a new writer needs.

And it was interesting to read the Blue News today. Lisa Hanrahan (ex Random House) is establishing a new literary agency which, among other things will look to take on "established writers already published by smaller publishers who are ready to move into larger fields". Is this poaching? What's the advantage of moving? Larger is good for its own sake? it could have been the other way round: establish writers already published by large multinationals who are ready to move into independent fields where they receive editorial commitment, support and attention. I think advances are smoke and mirrors - money the author should be receiving as royalties anyhow, if the publisher is doing their job. Sometimes (occasionally) a change of publisher benefits a writer but generally given the lonely nature of the work a writer benefits from consistent long-term support from their publisher. In those circumstances I think the writer will maximise the return from there work and that includes the financial return. I do wish Lisa the best of luck with her new venture though.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

launch of May titles

We launched our May titles on Thursday evening. A lovely crop of books - a mix of the old and the new - and excellent evening.

There was Cameron Nunn's gorgeous Shadows in the Mirror. We have had just such an incredible pre-publication response. A meaty story wrapped in an easy to digest thriller covering. It was a pity it was too far from Glenhaven for Cameron to join us. Cameron's a new author and we're thrilled to building new voices. It was a long haul to publication and Cameron hung in there, dealing with the rejections, taking on board the comments, improving the work. And then it came to us unsolicited but with a recommendation from Helen Sykes and we took to it immediately on reading. Cameron is such a quick study that all the effort of the first book will pay off not only in the terrific Shadows but also in the books to come. I can't wait.

We've worked with Bernadette Kelly (no relation) for a long time. In fact she went to primary school with Maryann, and then came to black dog through a circuitous route and we've been working together for a long time. Riding High is doing just that - the best pre-publication sales of a series we've had since we switched to HGEg. Book 1 is already in reprint. Bernadette spoke beautifully about working with Karen. The covers from Blue Boat are gorgeous. We're thrilled to see Bernadette who has put in the hard writing yards to start reaping the rewards with a richly deserved success.

And then there was Sue Lawson's sparkly Diva's. It's been an absolutely pleasure working with Sue. Her warmth and enthusiasm is infectious. The Divas are a delight. And watch out for the warm and affirming Allie McGregor's True Colours coming out in July. It inspired me to dig out the my old Phil Collin's version, but the Cyndi Lauper version is preferred at the office. We were thrilled to welcome Sue over from the dark side, and look forward to the years to come.

The Maxx Rumble footy series is now 9 books. (That makes 18 books we did with Michael in less than two years. I'd like to see another publisher match that sort of quick decision making and efficiency of output.) Michael captures that extravagant melodramatic story telling style of young boys perfectly. Miles (age 6) came back from Auskick on Saturday and told how the ball had kicked through the goal and landed on the edge of the park and then the light had turned green and ball had rolled across the road.

And last but very far from least is Lili's Joan of Arc. Lili is a new author and this is a rocket pad. It's a mix of fiction and non-fiction - read the fiction carefully and how well Lili has modulated the voices to fit the task. It may look easy but I know it took a heap of research. We're enjoying the rich editorial relationship with Lili - her concern with the book as an object put us on our mettle. Lili isn't new to black dog. As a 15 year old work experience student she got us on to email and the internet with some incredilbly low band modem - so low I can't even guess. There's more to come from the Lili and black dog.

Thanks to Paula Kelly (no, not another relation) from the CYL for launching the books with a lovely speech.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Oh …

And Dave Eggers does a lovely imprint page, too.

McSweeney empire
This site is worth a look - especially as it for a self-described 'publishing empire'. Clean. crisp and McSweeney's do gorgeous books too. YA-wise have a look at Noisy Outlaws, Unfriendly Blobs, and Some Other Things. Gorgeously packaged. You gotta see the book in the hand. I'm ordering one as I write this (multi-tasking).