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On caring for your publisher

A writer friend was rung by her agent. He had good news. The author’s publisher had acted with surprising dynamism and efficiency and had secured for her next novel privileged, front-of-shop status with of the one of the book chains. ‘I think you should send them some flowers,’ said the agent. Pleased as she was, the author was slightly surprised by this idea. ‘Flowers?’ ‘Or maybe a bottle of something nice, with a grateful note. They’ve done well. It’s important for an author to offer a bit of support and encouragement on these occasions.’ ‘I rather thought it was meant to be the other way round,’ said the writer. ‘Surely it’s the publisher who normally offers support and encouragement to the author.’ ‘Not these days, it isn’t,’ said the agent. ‘Shall I call Interflora or will you?’ As is so often the case, an uncomfortable truth was here being delivered...

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On becoming part of the creative arts industry

It has been brought to the attention of this column that many Society members do not have access to the internet and are therefore unaware of the many opportunities for writers and would-be writers in the government’s exciting new creative industries initiative. As a one-off service to the cybernetically challenged, we are pleased to be able to reproduce the home page from one of the many websites in this burgeoning sector of New Labour enterprise, creativeculturecareers.com. Hello! Are you a Creative Person? Do you write, or write about writing or teach writing? Are you interested in becoming a provider, funder or member of the support staff from the country’s writing industry? Would you like to source your inner creativity and develop core writing skills - and then have the appropriate certificate to prove it? If so, creativeculturecareers.com is here to help you. There are over 50,000 people currently working in...

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On attending the right literary events

At a recent festival, the subject under debate was whether there was such a thing as literary London but, because a high proportion of the audience were would-be writers, an edgy, anxious discussion soon developed about the art of networking. Where should one be seen? Who should one meet? Those of us on stage tried at first to remind the audience that it was what you wrote not who you know that was important but, in the end, we had to admit that strategic party-going is as important as it ever was. To make their way in the modern literary world, writers have become visibly and actively social, popping up, like Will Self, on the ghastly TV comedy quiz Shooting Stars or advancing their careers by being appearing in a special author’s edition of the humiliation show, The Weakest Link. For the beginner, the problem is simple. Which literary events are worth attending?...

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On writing bad sex

There comes a time in the life of many novelists when the terrible possibility begins to dawn that he may not, after all, win the Booker Prize, that even a sniff at the Whitbread might be beyond him. He has learnt down the years that prizes rarely have any connection with real, lasting worth - look at who wins them, for heaven’s sake - and he knows that fiction is not, officially at least, a competitive sport. All the same, it would be good to pick up the odd literary trinket, if only for the pleasure making other writers jealous. Inevitably, at these dark moments, thoughts will turn to the Bad Sex Prize, an award given by the Literary Review for the year’s most embarrassing attempt at eroticism. It is national. It garners an acceptable amount of publicity. It even confers a sort of skewed prestige on the winner. Writing bad sex,...

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On etiquette for a writer

A senior agent boasted in a recent interview that an important part of his job lay in advising authors on a variety of non-literary matters. One of them might need to know what to wear for a publishing meeting; another was concerned as to whether he should drink wine or beer when lunching with his editor. Most were worried about the class structure of the book business. Was your publisher essentially your boss, they wondered, or your employee? What is shocking about these remarks is not that they suggest a certain unworldliness among authors - we have higher matters to consider, after all - but that anybody should actually seek advice on etiquette from a literary agent of all people. Those uncertain as to how to behave while pursuing a writing career need do no more than bear in mind these basic guidelines of deportment. Agents, emotional relationship with Just...

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On interpreting a royalty statement

Every six months it happens. Authors all over the country receive a communication from their publisher which, in brutally reductive terms, defines the state of their writing careers. It is called a royalty statement and, in many cases, has been carefully designed by experts to conceal rather more information than it reveals. This seems a terrible shame - after all, for many writers, receiving a royalty is the only contact they have from their publisher all year. Because professional writers deserve, if nothing else, to know where they and their books stand, Endpaper proposes that a new form of code be included in future royalty statements - a code which will bring a spirit of honest transparency to relations between authors and publishers and reveal precisely how their books have been faring.. Statements would include: OD A close relation of OP, or ‘Out of Print’, OD will stand for One of the...

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On understanding your publisher’s speech at a launch party

Recently in these pages, a small number of idealistic authors have been arguing for more honesty and openness from their publishers. The culture of casual, routine deception is harmful, it has been said. There should be a great bonfire of publishers’ lies, after which negotiation and communication between them and us should be conducted in a spirit of frank, open comradeship. What a ghastly mistake these poor, innocent fools are making. The fact is that, while the truth may set us free, it is lies, illusions and fake hope that keeps us going from day to day. The last thing most authors want or need is to be told the truth about their careers. Now and then agents try it, caringly revealing to an author that he or she is simply not producing the kind of stuff which the market requires, but these acts of casual brutality do nothing but...

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On developing your public image

The word from the new editorial regime at The Author is that the team has to buck up its ideas. There’s too much gloom in our pages, for a start. The emphasis from here on is going to swing towards a sunny, positive vibe. Members of the editorial committee have been instructed to answer their telephones with the words, ‘Hi, I’m an author and I’m feeling good today!’ At the last editorial conference, we were each told to come with a ‘reason to be cheerful’ from our own working lives. I mentioned that Bloomsbury had forgotten to send me their usual six-monthly reminder of an unrecovered advance dating from 1996, and just about got away with it. On the other hand, it can sometimes be difficult smiling on through. This month brought news that has confirmed that the show-offs are now officially running the show. The rest of us -...

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On solving the practical problems of an author’s life

For some reason, attending to practical matters seems to bring the more sensitive kind of author out in hives. While the most complex literary conundrum causes him no problem at all, the need to change a light-bulb can bring on an artistic crisis. What does the light bulb feel about this? Won’t changing it alter the balance of illumination throughout the house as a whole? Maybe darkness is precisely what the project needs at this point? For others, the mere sight of a bill can bring on a severe case of writer’s block. Too many of us, it seems, follow the example of Martin Amis who famously confessed – or perhaps that should be ‘boasted’ - that he was physically unable to open a brown envelope and that any which happened to be addressed to him would be passed queasily to his wife. Not every author has such an understanding...

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On being promoted by a pair of underpants

The distinguished author was in a bad mood. He had always been a writer who had presented serious themes with a pronounced comic swing but these days, he said, publishers had decided that it was commercial death to suggest in a blurb that a novel might be humorous. ‘Uplifting’, ‘savage’, heart-breaking’, ‘coruscating’: these were the adjectives which they liked to use. Under pressure, they might just agree to deploy that handily double-faced construction, ‘darkly comic’ but, as a general rule, any book presented with humour was mysteriously diminished in the process. The assumption, complained the author, was that it is not to be taken seriously. I nodded in sympathy but, in a secret corner of my heart, I was with the publisher. What sensible grown-up goes into a bookshop in search of a rib-tickler, a book whose only reason for existence is to whip up those famous gales of laughter?...

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