Showing all posts tagged: publishing

BookTok, the best friend of authors and booksellers

25 March 2023

Constance Grady, writing for Vox, on the impact BookTok — the book lovers’ community within video-sharing platform TikTok — has had on book sales in recent years. In terms of the American book market at least, BookTok is almost unrivalled when it comes to selling books. That could come down to the (unrivalled) sincerity of BookTokers, when they talk about their favourite novels:

The main reason BookTok sells so many books, according to most of the BookTokers I talked to, is because it feels authentic and personal. TikTok’s native format of short, punchy videos and culture of casual chattiness combine to create an atmosphere of intense intimacy between content creators and their audience. In the book world, that kind of intimacy and emotional connection is rare. All the caps-locked blog posts in the world can’t match the visceral force of a camera on a real person’s tearstained face as they sob over their favorite books — books that could easily become your favorites, too, if you want to buy them.

Grady also explores the matter of remuneration. Some BookTokers are making a living from their channels, but many are wary about accepting payments from book publishers. Others of course do, but usually declare which of their posts are sponsored, and which are not.

I’m not sure it’s territory I’d like to venture into. As regular readers know, I frequently feature new and recently published books, that are usually Australian. But they are outlines, and seldom reviews, and are written at my own volition, and not at the request of anyone else.


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Jinghua Qian: my role as a sensitivity reader

22 March 2023

Jinghua Qian, writing for ArtsHub, about working as a sensitivity reader:

I might notice that the portrayal of a cultural activity is off: Australians talk about going ‘to the footy’ but not ‘to the ball game’.

The article I link to was published about three and a half years ago. Sensitivity readers aren’t exactly new, it’s just we’ve been hearing a lot about their work recently.


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Fear of litigation stops publication of some Australian books

18 March 2023

Fear of litigation is prompting some Australian publishers to reject manuscripts for titles they think may be contentious, particularly books about controversial public figures.

Melbourne based writer and editor Hilary McPhee, says poorer quality books are the result, if public interest stories end up being suppressed:

“We have fewer and fewer publishers and we have poorer and poorer books as a result. There’s a lot of cautiousness and nervousness. And the larger the company, the more nervous they are.” Larger companies were publishing fewer but more lucrative authors. A few smaller companies such as Upswell were taking risks, “but the big ones don’t seem to me to be brave. It’s terribly bad for authors.”


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Striking workers reach tentative deal with HarperCollins

13 February 2023

New York based American publisher HarperCollins has reached a tentative deal with workers who have been striking since November 2022.

The tentative agreement includes increases to minimum salaries across levels throughout the term of the agreement, as well as a one time $1,500 lump sum bonus to be paid to bargaining unit employees following ratification.

Employees have been seeking fairer rates of remuneration, and an undertaking from the company to increase workplace diversity. Some workers have been struggling to make ends meet on salaries of US$45,000, which is well below the minimum annual salary of about US$56,000 needed by a single person to live sustainably in the New York City region.



Adam Vitcavage: the first book you write may not be published

23 January 2023

Adam Vitcavage, whose podcast Debutiful explores the work of debut authors, offers a blunt observation to aspiring writers, in a recent interview with Los Angeles based novelist Ruth Madievsky:

I think aspiring writers need to realize that your dream first book might not be what you actually publish. So many writers have said they had to shelve books they were working on for years for one reason or another. Or that they had to take what was working and reshape it altogether.

The dream book may be a story the writer likes, but no one else, unfortunately.


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Author meets publisher at Australian literary speed dating event

23 January 2023

Everyone has a book in them, so they say. But the multitude of story ideas is placing a strain on publishing houses. Some book publishers in Australia are said to be so overwhelmed with manuscripts, they are limiting submissions to works of literary fiction only.

The outlook for aspiring Australian authors may be bleak, but there are still opportunities to put work in front of publishers and literary agents, and literary speed dating is one of them. As the name suggests, literary speed dating is similar to regular (romantic) speed dating. Prospective authors have a set amount of time to present their book idea to publishing industry representatives, and see if they can “make a match” with someone.

A literary speed dating event hosted by the Australian Society of Authors (ASA) last year, saw forty percent of pitching authors, from a field of over four hundred, receive an expression of interest in their work. The ASA is planning more online speed dating events this year, commencing on Wednesday 29 March 2023, and they may be the opportunity some writers have been looking for.



Novel serialisation, good for readers, good for writers

13 January 2023

Publishing novels by serialisation, or regular instalment, used to be a widespread practice. At one time it was the only way to read the latest works of authors such as Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell, Jules Verne, Leo Tolstoy, H. G. Wells, and Arthur Conan Doyle. Usually authors would later publish their serialised work as a complete edition, or whole book.

But book serialisation is a model some writers are again embracing. As an experiment, American journalist and author Bill McKibben published his latest book, The Other Cheek, on email newsletter platform Substack. Long story, short, the idea seemed to go down well with readers, says McKibben, writing for Literary Hub:

Still, despite all that, readers seemed to enjoy it, and for just the reasons I had hoped: the story lingered in people’s minds from one Friday to the next, and they wondered what turn it would take. As it spun out across the span of a year I got letters (well, emails) from people regularly suggesting possible plot twists or bemoaning the demise of favorite characters. I didn’t consciously adjust the story to fit their requests (and I’d written much of it in advance) but I did take note of what people were responding to.

Reader interaction and feedback during the publishing of a book, instead of as a review, or reaction, to a whole work, now there’s something.


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Can an algorithm assess the quality of a novel manuscript?

18 December 2022

It pays to follow Australian scientist and writer Dr Karl Kruszelnicki (aka Dr Karl) on Twitter (as long as Twitter continues to permit such behaviour), especially if you are writing a novel.

The other day he posted a link to an article published in 2014, about a literary algorithm that is apparently capable of quickly assessing the quality of an unpublished novel manuscript. The article expounds upon research conducted (PDF) by Stony Brook University into the matter:

Regarding lexical choices, less successful books rely on verbs that are explicitly descriptive of actions and emotions (e.g., “wanted”, “took”, “promised”, “cried”, “cheered”, etc.), while more successful books favor verbs that describe thought-processing (e.g., “recognized”, “remembered”), and verbs that serve the purpose of quotes and reports (e.g,. “say”). Also, more successful books use discourse connectives and prepositions more frequently, while less successful books rely more on topical words that could be almost cliche, e.g., “love”, typical locations, and involve more extreme (e.g., “breathless”) and negative words (e.g., “risk”).

Fascinating, no? Remember though, don’t let the algorithm write the book, let it guide you in writing the book. But if you wish to avoid algorithms all together, look at the way Irish author Sally Rooney — for one — does things.


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Gravidity and Parity by Eleanor Jackson wins 2022 SPN book of year

25 November 2022
Gravidity and Parity by Eleanor Jackson, book cover

Gravidity and Parity, written by Eleanor Jackson, and published by Vagabond Press, has been named winner of the Small Press Network (SPN) Book of the Year award.

Gravidity and Parity is a poignant and intricate collection of poetry that guides the reader into the journey of motherhood, pulling no punches in how it addresses and details all that is often unsaid or unknown about pregnancy. The book is set during the COVID pandemic, and author Eleanor Jackson beautifully encapsulates this all-too-familiar moment in recent history, reflecting on themes of connectedness and isolation.

The SPN does invaluable work representing the interests of over two hundred and fifty small and independent book publishers in Australia and New Zealand.


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Penguin Random House calls off Simon & Schuster merger

23 November 2022

Penguin Random House, one of the world’s largest book publishers, has called off a proposed merger with Simon & Schuster. Last month, a United States court blocked the proposal, on the grounds competition, and remuneration to authors, stood to be adversely effected. Initially Penguin had indicated they would appeal the ruling, in the hope the deal could still go ahead. The merger, had it proceeded, would have reduced the world’s major publishers from five to four.

The U.S. Justice Department filed a lawsuit aimed at stopping the deal in November 2021. In hearings held in August, the government argued that the largest five publishers control 90% of the market, and a combined Penguin and Simon & Schuster would control nearly half of the market for publishing rights to blockbuster books, while its nearest competitors would be less than half its size.

Hopefully this is a good outcome for authors and book readers. However, Paramount Global, who own Simon & Schuster, have expressed a desire to divest itself of the book publisher, as the film production company sees ownership of a publisher as a non-core asset. This probably means we’ll see Simon & Schuster being brought to the market again, at some point in the future.


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Blurb Your Enthusiasm by Louise Willder book blurbs uncovered

21 November 2022
Blurb Your Enthusiasm by Louise Willder, book cover

You’ve probably read more of the work of London based copywriter Louise Willder than you realise. Although her writings can be found in bookshops across the world, Willder has only ever written one book, which was published in October 2022.

Certainly Willder may not be in the same league as Elena Ferrante, Sally Rooney, or Kazuo Ishiguro, but her work may well have adorned one of their novels. Willder is a book blurb writer, and in a twenty-five year career at Penguin Books, estimates she has penned some five-thousand of these attention grabbing pitches, intended to entice someone to buy the book in their hands, having read the blurb printed on the dust jacket.

And in Blurb Your Enthusiasm (published by Simon & Schuster), Willder shares all she has learned about the craft of blurb writing:

We love the words in books — but what about the words on them? How do they work their magic? Here is a book about the ways books entice us to read them: their titles, quotes, covers and, above all, blurbs — via authors from Jane Austen to Zadie Smith, writing tricks, classic literature, bonkbusters, plot spoilers and publishing secrets. It’s nothing less than the inside story of the outside of books.

For my part, blurbs are something I take or leave. If a novel has a good enough recommendation — for instance it has been shortlisted for a literary prize — I’ll probably only settle for reading a mere outline of the story. And if I notice an endorsing blurb written by another (high profile) author, I’ll just about always ignore it. While I can’t be sure, I often get the feeling such “endorsements” have been given over sight unseen so to speak.


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HarperCollins workers strike for an improved pay deal

12 November 2022

Workers at American publisher HarperCollins have been on strike since 10 November, as they attempt to negotiate their pay rates. While salaries at the company average US$55,000 — close to the average in America — many workers would be earning far less.

Publishing has for decades has been known for its low pay and overwhelmingly white staff. But workers at HarperCollins, the only member of the “big four” publishing houses to have a union, have had enough and authorized an indefinite strike. Work stopped at the downtown Manhattan offices on the sunny morning of 10 November.

Here’s hoping the workers and company can reach a fair deal.



Small publishers thrive on Prime Minister’s Literary Awards shortlist

9 November 2022

The shortlist for the 2022 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards was unveiled this week. Thirty titles, across six categories — including fiction, poetry, Australian history, and young adult — were selected from over five-hundred and forty entries.

Notably, sixteen of the books shortlisted were published by members of the Small Press Network, a representative body for small and independent Australian publishers.

With consolidations taking place in the publishing industry worldwide, potentially reducing the number of publishing houses, and leaving only a handful of large players, this is a welcome indication that smaller publishers are thriving.


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Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster merger blocked

3 November 2022

The proposed merger of book publishers Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster has been blocked — at least for now — by the U.S. District Court. The idea, first mooted in late 2020, has drawn the ire of many in the publishing industry, who fear the combined entity, and the influence it could wield, would be detrimental to authors and readers alike.

But it was still a dramatic departure from recent history in the book world and beyond. The publishing industry has been consolidating for years with little interference from the government, even when Random House and Penguin merged in 2013 and formed what was then the biggest publishing house in memory. The joining of Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster would have created a company far exceeding any rival and those opposing the merger included one of Simon & Schuster’s signature writers, Stephen King, who testified last summer on behalf of the government.


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Surging inflation is changing the way books are published

6 October 2022

Not even books are immune to the ravages of surging inflation, and increasing prices in the shops is only one problem afflicting the publishing industry. As production costs rise, printers are being forced to look for ways to reduce overheads. These include using cheaper paper stock, and smaller fonts along with less page margins, so books can be produced using less resources.

Blow on its pages and they might lift and fall differently: cheaper, lighter paper is being used in some books. Peer closely at its print and you might notice that the letters jostle more closely together: some cost-conscious publishers are starting to shrink the white space between characters. The text might run closer to the edges of pages, too: the margins of publishing are shrinking, in every sense.


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Australian publishing industry diversity and inclusion survey 2022

7 September 2022

Recently released results of a diversity and inclusion survey (PDF) conducted by the Australian Publishers Association and the University of Melbourne, offer a revealing snapshot of the Australian publishing industry. Although more than eight in ten publishing professionals are women, few are in senior roles, while under one percent of workers identify as Indigenous or First Nations people:

  • Fewer than 1% of Australian publishing industry professionals identify as First Nations
  • 84.4% of survey respondents identify as women, 13.8% identify as men, and 2% identify as non-binary or prefer to use another term
  • The proportion of men increases for senior roles
  • 35.4% of respondents were experiencing mental health conditions at the time of responding to the survey
  • 24.8% of respondents were located in places other than Sydney or Melbourne



Publishing contract morality clauses may be unfair to authors

26 August 2022

Finding a traditional publisher for a novel is becoming ever more difficult. For one thing, aspiring — being unpublished — authors, are up against who knows how many other hopeful novelists. They also have to contend with a shrinking pool of publishing houses, as the industry appears to be going through a consolidation, which is seeing many smaller and independent publishers absorbed by larger players.

Even authors with several published works to their name, are reporting waits of up to a year to hear back about a pitch. But adding to the woes of many authors, emerging and established, are so-called morality clauses some publishers are including in their agreements.

In short, if a writer fails to meet a certain standard of behaviour, they may lose any advances or royalties they’ve received. The problem author advocates — such as the Authors Guild — have with morality clauses are the sometimes vague definitions of inappropriate or wrong conduct.

These contract provisions allow publishers to terminate a book contract, and in many cases even require the author to repay portions of the advance already received, if the author is accused of immoral, illegal, or publicly condemned behavior. Publishers insist they need the clauses to protect themselves in the event an author’s reputation becomes so tarnished after the book contract is signed that it will hurt sales. But most of these clauses are too broad and allow a publisher to terminate based on individual accusations or the vague notion of “public condemnation” — which can occur all too easily in these days of viral social media.

People should be held accountable for wrong-doing, but everyone is entitled to proper due-process. The concern is morality clauses, particularly where the definition of inappropriate or wrong behaviour is poorly defined, could be used unfairly against some authors.


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Publishing your book online, Ted Gioia lists the reasons why

25 August 2022

American author Ted Gioia intends to publish his next book on Substack, an online publishing platform. This really is worth a read for anyone considering self-publishing a novel.

The Internet may be a curse in many regards, but it has given me direct contact with my readers. I cherish that. Things that once took a year now happen instantaneously. Instead of getting feedback from one editor, I learn from thousands of people, many of them very smart with useful things to say. The whole process is energized, streamlined, and turbocharged.


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Rejected authors finding publishers, film deals, on TikTok

19 August 2022

TikTok is proving to be a fertile ground for new music acts looking for a lucky break, with the video hosting app kick-starting the careers of numerous musicians so far.

And authors are also cashing in. Many writers who struggled to find publishers previously, are sometimes finding themselves at the centre of bidding wars between rival publishing houses, after taking a novel idea to TikTok to gauge interest in the premise.

American writer Alex Aster is an example, and in 2021 signed a lucrative publishing deal, and later film rights, for her YA novel Lightlark.

Aster didn’t expect much, especially when she checked in a few hours later to see that her post had only clocked up about 1,000 views. Maybe the books world was right, she thought. Maybe there wasn’t a market for Lightlark, a young adult story she had been writing and rewriting for years, to no interest from publishers. The next day, however, she woke up to see her video had been viewed more than a million times. A week later, Lightlark had gone to auction and she had a six-figure deal with Amulet Books. Last month, Universal preemptively bought the film rights for, in her words, “more zeros than I’ve seen in my life”.

Aster conceded an element of luck was involved though, describing the TikTok algorithm that eventually propelled her to success as “finicky”. Here’s hoping the algorithm will favour other writers.


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Literary speed dating results in potential publishing offers

2 June 2022

A recent Australian Society of Authors (ASA) literary speed dating event, whereby prospective authors pitched ideas to Australian publishers or literary agents, yielded an impressive success rate. Nearly forty-one percent of writers were “matched”, about one hundred and eighty from a field of four hundred and forty three, saw interest in their ideas.

Over two days the ASA hosted our largest event yet, with 16 publishers and 7 agents, facilitating 443 pitches from members across Australia. We are delighted to share that of these pitches, 40.41% received an expression of interest from a publisher or agent!