Author Notes #5 (January 2024)
Booksellers wanting less diversity (?!); a long look at the publishing industry; #Booktok; the Colleen Hoover backlash; and why authors need to check their contracts
Welcome to my first Author Notes for 2024, a monthly post in which I highlight a few things that have caught my attention in the writing and publishing industry over the last month.
In Australia, the owner of Robinson’s Bookshop Susanne Horman recently made some startling comments on X (Twitter) suggesting that what bookstores and readers really need is less diversity, more stories about men, boys and ‘white kids on the cover’. WTF? And then yesterday the official ‘apology’ was equally painful, offering explanations and justifications that didn’t go down too well with a lot of Aussie authors and readers. It feels depressing to give airtime to this kind of thing, but in response, author Zana Fraillon started a really great chat on Instagram about #betterbookshops, which has given everyone the opportunity to heap praise onto the booksellers who champion diversity and inclusivity. Shout out here to the excellent Indigenous owned and led Magabala Books in WA, with their beautiful bookshop in Broome.
Did you know that between 1986 and 1996 in America, 63 of the 100 bestselling books were written by six people (Tom Clancy, Michael Crichton, John Grisham, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and Danielle Steel), some of whom continue to dominate bestseller lists to this day? I learned this and lots more from the fascinating New Republic article ‘Big Publishing Killed the Author: How corporations wrested creative control from writers and editors – to produce less interesting books’. It’s part review of Dan Sinykin’s book Big Fiction: How Conglomeration Changed the Publishing Industry and American Literature, and part fascinating read for anyone interested in the book business. It’s also a reminder of how vital it is to champion smaller independent presses, promote authors doing interesting things, and highlight the books we love and cherish.
There’s been some recent commentary in the book biz that BookTok’s influence might be fading. I’m not so sure about that: the last time I went into my local bookstore they had a whole section of books popularised by TikTok, and I’ve heard that booksellers are using the platform to make buying decisions. Right now this space is dominated by young female readers’ appetites for romance/fantasy/romantasy, and bravo to these genres for getting a whole new generation picking up and enthusing about books! It’s probably not surprising that after growing up in the traumatic era of Covid and Trump, young women might be looking for hopeful and escapist reads. I’m going to check some of these books out, and I’ll report back from the midlife perspective!
I didn’t even realise there was a Colleen Hoover backlash until I stumbled across a post that mentioned it. As a result I looked it up and it seems that CoHo (as her fans know her) has spent a lot of the past year apologising: for writing books that apparently romanticise abuse, for casting the wrong people in her movie, for the costume choices in the movie, for her son’s actions, and for last year promoting (and then cancelling) a colouring book. I don’t have enough knowledge of Hoover or her books to comment, but it’s a salient reminder that our books take on a life of their own once they’re published, and invested readers don’t hold back. I’d be curious to know how much sway Hoover had in some of these decisions, as once an industry gets going around a book it can be difficult for authors to stay in control.
I’ve been looking into print on demand recently, because I’m hoping to self-publish some of my older titles. In essence, print on demand (i.e. not holding extra copies in warehouses and printing to order) seems like a win: lower warehousing costs, fewer books being pulped, and more books being accessible for reprint without ever having to go out of print. However, authors need to be aware of this when signing contracts, as a badly worded rights reversions might mean your book can be kept by publishers in perpetuity, because technically they never need to put it out of print. And for those with older contracts it might also be worth revisiting these clauses and checking how Print on Demand might affect your rights reversions.
SHORT NOTES AND SHOUT OUTS
I’m excited about authors serialising new fiction for their subscribers on Substack, after reading about Luke Jennings’ revival of Killing Eve. I would love to do this but fear I’m too much of a messy writer and I’d need to have the whole thing ready first or I’d want to go back and edit the beginning. Nevertheless, I’m watching with interest and sharpening my skills!
There is no one in the world I idolise more than Jane Goodall, and I was thrilled to see she’s touring Australia again (and then gutted to realise I’ll be in the UK at that time). If you haven’t seen her speaking live I highly recommend it. She manages to talk with urgency about climate change while exuding a calmness and wisdom that makes change feel less elusive, and, dare I say it, still possible.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT ON MY SUBSTACK
I’ll be interviewing Dervla McTiernan to celebrate the launch of her new novel What Happened to Nina? at St Stephen’s School Theatre on 29 February 2024. Some tickets are still available and it would be great to see you there!
I don’t have any appearances at Perth Writers Festival but I’m very much looking forward to going there as a guest as it’s a fantastic program this year. You can check it out here.
I’ll be talking at Harvey and Australind libraries on Friday 8 March for the Libraries Literary Festival. More details here.
And that’s it for my January Author Notes. As always, thanks for joining me, and I’m keen to hear your thoughts in the comments. I love creating these posts and I hope I’m providing you with lots of creative value. I’ve really enjoyed posting twice a week in Jan, but in Feb I have to go back to one post a week for a while (with extras where I can), so that I can work on Novel No. 10.
I’ll be looking at paid subscriber options at the end of February 2024, but there will always be plenty to read for those not in a position to upgrade to paid. I’ll also be working out some great bonuses for those who would like to pledge their support. And if you’re reading this and haven’t yet subscribed, hit the button below to get my posts sent straight to your inbox.
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