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"The deeper partnership in the book world is between author and reader." James McConnachie, Editor
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Can't wait for your Autumn issue to drop through the letterbox? Here is a taster of what's to come.
From the Editor
As I write, Amazon and Hachette continue to battle over sales terms in the US. Their negotiations have been dubbed a ‘clash of the titans’ – the publishing giant trading blows with the retail colossus. To me, it seems more like the mythical, epoch-changing war the Greeks called the Titanomachy. Sensing their waxing power, the younger generation of gods, Zeus’s arrogant Olympians, rose up and overthrew their giant forebears, the Titans, and seized control of creation.
You might think of authors as the mortals in all this, forever tilling the soil below – and weathering droughts, plagues and other kinds of collateral damage from the divine battle thundering above. This conflict has had two positive results for us, though. Even while the disputants noisily claim to represent authors and their interests, we have found the strength of our own voices – and not just through the many celebrated and celebrity writers quoted and endlessly misquoted in the media (George Orwell, J. K. Rowling). The Society of Authors continues to speak out for us all, and we offer our considered view in this Autumn edition.
In claiming to speak for authors, publishers and retailers also betray a weakness: they reveal how much they need us on their side. We need them too, of course. Publishers offer advances, and they do (usually) edit, sell right and (sometimes) market our books. And Amazon transports our books to readers with astounding efficiency (though it does almost nothing else to support us, and let’s not even get into its reprehensible tax arrangements). But the deeper partnership in the book world is between author and reader, and anyone between author and reader is a middleman taking a cut, however they try to spin it.
Authors may disagree, or feel confused, about which gods will serve us best: the old or the new. For now, it is true that the sacrifices demanded by publishers can feel punishing. (The odd libation is one thing, but three-quarters of the entire animal?) Amazon’s greed for an ever fatter share, however, seems quite unjustified. It does precious little to earn it, other than by continuing to service and exploit its virtual monopoly.
The same issues – who needs whom more? who is rewarded? – arise in the contentious matter of authors’ festival appearances, and how, or whether, they are paid. Receiving payment for speaking at a festival should not feel, as it sometimes does, like scavenging for a bit of offal graciously thrown aside. This summer, the Chipping Norton Literary Festival launched a new way of remunerating authors: through a profit-share scheme. I offer my comments, and Wendy Cope contributes her far pithier thoughts in verse. We would welcome members’ responses.
Questions of authorial voice and authors’ rewards rise up loudly, too, in A. L. Kennedy’s inspiring and exhortatory speech at the Society’s Awards, in June, which we reproduce here in full. She urges prize-winners to travel. We reproduce here the Istanbul diary of one of last year’s recipients, poet Abi Curtis. Her journey, of course, is just a small part of what the SoA’s awards make possible.
The Near East features in two other articles in this issue, but in a more troubled context. Julia Copus describes her appearance at a literary festival where payment might now seem the least of any author’s problems: the Niniti festival in Iraqi Kurdistan. And we are proud to publish a piece by the Turkish human rights lawyer, author and member of the Kurdish Writers’ Association, Muharrem Erbey, in which he describes how books helped him survive four and a half years in gaol without trial. All of these articles are salutary. They remind us, in the midst of trade disputes and the like, that books and writing really matter.
- Literary festivals: work not play
- The travelling poet Wendy Cope
- How Anthony Trollope had it all Michael Bland
- How popular is Popular Science Peter Forbes
- What’s Amazon done now?
- Writing retreats Kenneth Steven
- Exceptional blindness Selina Mills
- Letter from Iraqi Kurdistan Julia Copus
- Reading in gaol Muharrem Erbey
- Biography and the afterlife of lives Anne Sebba
- Colour chemistry A. T. Boyle
- Website dentistry Shelley Weiner
- The digital agony aunt Kristen Harrison
Authors' Awards Special
- Quarterly News
- Out and About: SoA publicity conference Shoo Rayner
- Grub Street Andrew Taylor
- Cartoon: 'the publisher's choice' Merrily Harpur
- To the Editor
- Booktrade news
- Endpaper Terence Blacker
About The Author
The Author is an invaluable source of information, news and opinion for Members and Associates as well as for publishers, literary agents and other professionals working in the book industry. It has a circulation of approximately 9,200. Members and Associates receive The Author free of charge.
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