Saturday 19 December 2009

As One Little Goldmine Closes

Just over twenty years ago I decided to take a modest advertisement in The Bookseller magazine – “Ghostwriter for Hire”. At the end of this year I am told the magazine will be closing the Directory page which has carried that ad almost every week since.

I owe The Bookseller a huge debt of thanks for all the fascinating people that little ad has steered in my direction over the last couple of decades.

When Zana Muhsen went into her local library to enquire how she could make contact with a ghostwriter, it was a copy of The Bookseller that the librarian pulled out to consult. Four million or so copies of the resulting book, “Sold”, have since been sold and many other authors, publishers and agents have been led to my door along the same route.

There were many months when the ad produced no results at all and other writers, following my lead and buying space themselves, would come and go, often disappointed not to be able to see instant results for their outlay. But every few months another opportunity would find its way through to me from that calling card, which I left permanently in the publishing world’s equivalent of their Post Office window.

I have no idea how the economics of the magazine’s advertising pages pan out these days, but I’m guessing they have done their sums before deciding to close this particular window.

Is it one more small brick in the bridge leading us all away from printed media, across choppy and uncharted seas to a totally digital world? Probably.

Whatever it is, taking that ad twenty years ago was quite possibly the best business decision I ever made – closely followed by the decision five years ago to ask the wonderful folk at Wordpool Design to build me a website.

Wednesday 16 December 2009

A Golden Age for Writers

Stephen Covey has shown us what the future might hold for writers.

If there is one thing that everyone in the publishing world can agree on amidst the current chaos, it is that everything is about to change. Insecurity is all around us as the big players all try to work out how the business is going to develop; are e-books finally going to take over the world? Will Kindles and the rest soon be as ubiquitous as mobile phones and laptops? And, if so, who the hell owns the rights to what?

As all the big corporations rush to their lawyers, it may be that this is about to become a golden age for those of us who have remained hungry and nimble and are used to living by our wits.

It is beginning to look as if in the long run none of these changes should trouble writers too much. We are used to insecurity. We are used to never knowing if we are going to be able to sell our work. We are used to not knowing how much we will be paid for it or when that money will ever actually arrive. We have never had regular salaries or pensions or subsidised canteens to lull us into a false sense of security. We have always known just how much of a jungle it is out there.

We have always been forced to accept that we have little or no control over our careers or our work, that we have to write as much and as well as we can and then basically hope for the best. We are used to being promised the Earth and then somehow not quite getting it.

We are also familiar with the exhilaration of a sudden triumph; a book that tops the charts, sells all over the world, creates a buzz and brings unexpected amounts of money pouring in. We know that those moments, and the dreams we have of those moments, make all the struggles and uncertainties worthwhile.

In this new age of e-books, self-publishing and print-on-demand, it is beginning to look as if we won’t necessarily have to rely on the patronage of publishers to help us reach our readers.

The writing life will still be a struggle, as it has always been, but it may just be that we are going to have more control over our destinies in the coming years than we have ever had in the past. It is possible that we will soon be actively choosing who we want to hire to edit us, design our covers and help us to market our wares.

Is it possible that we are about to enter a Golden Age for writers?

Tuesday 1 December 2009

Cactus TV to the Rescue of Book Publishing

Cactus, the television company that brought us Richard and Judy, have devised a new book programme in which celebrities will talk about books - Thank God for that!

If there is one thing the publishing world needs it is spokespeople who will help the general public to discover what a joy books can be and to give them some guidance through the maze.

We have seen how effective this can be with Oprah and Richard and Judy, both of whom are apparently retiring from their roles as ambassadors to the publishing world- we desperately need a renewed sprinkling of stardust. Let's all pray that Cactus continue to choose their celebrities and anointed books as wisely as they have in the past.

Celebrities are possibly the most powerful marketing tools ever invented - let's recruit as many of them as possible to the great cause!