Thursday, August 30, 2007

ABC Radio 774 Melbourne Evening Program: How to get published

It was a pleasure to join Wendy Tuohy and host Derek Guille on the Evening program on ABC Radio 774 Melbourne on 29 August at 8.15 pm.

In a general discussion on books coinciding with the Melbourne Writers Festival (see my other blog entries below), Wendy and Derek asked me to provide some advice to listeners on how to get their novels published. It was interesting while I waiting to go live to hear the many listeners calling in to talk abouit their reading groups and the books they were fond of reading. Unfortunately, none of these readers mentioned any books by Australian authors, and that is significant. Ian McEwan and Dave Eggers appear to have a higher public profile than any new Australian author. That means their books are more likely to be read. It doesn't mean their books are any better than those of Tara June Winch, say, or James Bradley or Shane Maloney.

Derek suggested that everyone had a novel in them, but I don't think this is true. Writing is a specialised craft. Unfortunately, it is not one that everyone can master. But as I pointed out, knowing your market -- the potential of that market -- is very important for any writer. If you are writing for a niche market, your potential for return is going to be limited by the economic size of that niche. You may be very successful in that niche, however.

As I said, only 10% of the Australian book market is made up of Australian fiction. This is a distressing statistic for anyone who seeks to be come a professional writer of fiction in Australia, living off their writing. We just don't seem to see Australian literature as a vital part of our culture. I don't mean any insult to Derek, but the Freudian slips he made (calling the Miles Franklin Award the Booker, and confusing Alexis Wright's Carpentaria with Xavier Herbert's Capricornia -- easy enough to do when you're speaking off the cuff) suggest that foreign authors are more familiar to us than our own. Doesn't anyone share my outrage that this seems to be so?

Anyway, for any members of reading groups out there, why not read the two great books Capricornia and Carpentaria together and comprehend their revealing and contrasting views of Australia.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Kick-start to Creation: Some notes from the Melbourne Writers festival

Thank you to all those people who attended this session at the Melbourne Writers festival. I hope you gained some insight into the many issues that need to be considered if you are seriously going to contemplate the difficult life of a professional author.

I was pleased to be able to work with Louise Connor (Victorian Branch Secretary from Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance) and Joel Becker (Director of the Victorian Writers’ Centre) to try to alleviate your fears about life as a professional author. I think we managed to give considerable practical advice about support services, networking and negotiating your net worth as an author (book contracts) and a freelance writer (individual contracts) in the time allowed.

But if you need to know more, I highly recommend the Australian Society of Authors website where you will find an enormous amount of information to assist in setting you up as a professional author and help you towards getting published.

One thing that the MWF session made clear was the need for authors to feel they are not alone. Memberships of writers centres and professional organisations like the Australian Society of Authors are excellent ways of overcoming the lonelineness of the professional author and in creating the networks necessary to enhance your career prospects. If you want to be a professional author, you should become a member of the peak organisation represeting your rights and interests.

Copyright: Some notes after the Melbourne Writers Festival

Under the Australian Copyright Act of 1968 artistic ideas are reputedly protected from plagiarists and plunderers, but that is possibly only enforced when creators are backed by sufficient cash resources to defend their rights. Most cases heard in Australian courts relating to copyright have been brought by larger companies protecting their economic interests. It is rare that an individual creator has the resources to bring action against a copyright infringer.

But a creator at least has the ability to decide what to do with their creation. In the case of an author, in order to make a living, the creative work is usually licensed to a publisher who pays the author a fee or royalty for the use of the material in different forms, but primarily for publication in book form. It is always an option for an author to choose to give their work away if they do not wish to earn any income from it.

In the session on copyright at the Melbourne Writers Festival on 26 August I joined a panel that discussed many questions about how we can preserve and protect the intellectual property of authors who publish in an online environment and how we can predict the future of the printed word and the publishing industry. Other members of the panel included Hugo Award-winning author Cory Doctorow who has published three science fiction novels. Cory allows his books to be downloaded from the internet for free under a Creative Commons License ( Cory argues that e-books should be seen as a way of winning new audiences rather than losing sales. Sandy Grant, Publisher of Hardie Grant Books and Director of Copyright Agency Limited, wondered whether there was any real advantage in this. He welcomed the free marketing, and was very complimentary about Cory's website, but suggested that there was far too much unedited material available on the net and publishers added valuable quality control to printed products.

Jessica Coates, project manager of Creative Commons, asserted that the e-age will empower online authors, but she cautioned that authors need to be clear what they want to do and the licensing terms they are entering into.

As Executive Director of the Australian Society of Authors and a member of the Board of the Australian Copyright Council, I agree entirely with this approach. An author should be very clear as to the terms of any publishing agreement, whether that agreement be for traditional print use or online use, and whether for payment or otherwise. Authors should also know what they have licensed. For example, if you use a creative Commons licence to allow your work to be disseminated and copied freely, you may find that you are not entitled to payments for copying of your work under the statutory licences embedded in the Australian Copyright Act (such licences do not operate in the Unted States). Also if a library downloads and prints a copy of your work, then stores it for access, you may find you are not entitled to lending rights payments for that copy.

The Australian Society of Authors can provide help and assistance to members seeking clarification on these issues. The Australian Copyright Council and Creative Commons also provide advice.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Australian Book Market: A brief economic outline

What research there is on the Australian book industry has been conducted comparatively recently. From 2000-2004, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) assessed the industry as part of the Book Industry Assistance Package given by the current Federal Government as compensation for the imposition of the GST on books. Data in this blog entry comes from the ABS.

The net sales value of the book market in Australia was $1,560.6 million in 2003-04, a slight decline from $1,578.6 million in 2002-03. In 2003-04, there were 234 businesses identified as book publishers and a further 10 identified as major contributors. In 2002-03, the overall operating profit (income, less expenses of $1,487.7 million and a reduction in inventories of $2.5 million) for the industry was $88.4 million (5.6%), but, even with a decrease in net sales value, 2003-04 proved a better year than the previous one with the overall operating profit rising to $152.1 million (9.7%) as expenses were lower at $1,404.4 million and reduction in inventories was $4.2 million. In 2003-04, 133 of 244 publishers were involved mainly in publishing books of general content while 111 were involved mainly with publishing educational books (including professional and reference books).

Just on 60% of the books sold in Australia originate in Australia accounting for sales in 2003-04 of $811.9 million. This is a vast change from 1960, when 75% of the books sold in Australia were imported, and 1980, when 63% of the books sold in Australia were imported.

However, the change in ownership of publishers has been insidiously the other way. Very few Australian companies feature on the list of the Top 20 publishers. However, it is interesting to note that the structure of the industry hasn’t changed much in over 20 years. In 1982, there were 200 active publishers in Australia, compared with 234 in 2003-04. In 1982, no publishers had a turnover of more than $40 million, and only 20% had a turnover of more than $2 million. The majority had a turnover of less than $1 million. This pattern was pretty much unaltered in 2003-04. While there are no publicly available figures on the turnover of most Australian publishing companies because they don't have to report to Australian authorities or are privately owned, it is possible to gauge their size through their reported activities and the annual reports of their overseas owners. As well the ABS has reported (the only year it has done so) that in 2000-01, the 20 largest book publishers in terms of income earned an average of $52 million each, while the remaining book publishers earned an average of $2 million. Overall the 228 businesses involved in book publishing in that year earned an average of $6 million each.

These facts need to be placed in a global context. For example, the international operations of Harcourt Education (purchased by Pearson in 2007), which include Australia, had an operating profit of A$69.6 million for the six months ended June 2004, the 2004 world-wide revenue for McGraw-Hill in 2004 was A$3,050 million with an operating profit of A$432 million, and the 2003 world-wide revenue for Random House (part of privately owned, German Bertelsmann) was A$2,940 million. In other words, the Australian market is a very small part of global publishing, and the global activities of some of the larger publishers operating in Australia are larger than the entire Australian market.

Closer examination of the Australian market reveals that 77% ($1,198.3 million) of the 2003-04 total income for publishers and other major contributors was generated by the 20 largest (in terms of income) book publishers. These 20 publishers were equally as significant in sales, selling 78% ($1,057.8 million) of the value of total book sales and 76% (97.7 million) of all books sold, but their profit margin was lower than that for the overall industry at 9.5% in 2003-04 while it was 12.7% for the other publishers. Mind you, that's not a bad return!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Educational Publishing in Australia: what's it worth?

There is no comprehensive analysis of sales in the educational market. Statistics have not been collected since 2004 as the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) no longer received funding to do so.

Currently, the education sector represents the largest publishing segment. It was worth $547.8 million in 2002-03, with $342.5 million of that resulting from Australian published material, but had dropped to $526.1 million in 2003-04. Of the 2003-04 sales, books produced in Australia were worth $343.4 million or 65% of educational sales. Most of these were for school use, the largest proportion of imported titles being used in tertiary education, though the number of imported titles being used in schools is growing and is a worrying trend for both culture and income for educational writers.

The decline in sales of educational books reflects international patterns and perhaps the influence of internet in education. Copyright Agency Ltd (CAL) is reporting a greater rate of copying of material available on the internet. Its market size had increased year by year since 2000 but plummeted to $498.8 million in 2003-04 (Table). There were 4615 new Australian educational titles published in 2002-03 and 4610 in 2003-04.

Table: Income from sales in the educational publishing market in Australia 2000-2004
Period Australian Education (m) Imported Education (m) Total (m)
2000-01 $295.9 $178.4 $474.3
2001-02 $310.2 $209 $519.2
2002-03 $328.4 $205.3 $533.7
2003-04 $313.2 $185.6 $498.8
Source: ABS

What books sell well in Australia and who publishes them?

Publicly available Australian data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) do not allow much elaboration on the subject areas being published. The ABS data is only broken down by fiction, childrens, non-fiction and educational. Bookscan information is more specific, but only available to subscribers. Non-fiction outsells fiction. Australian fiction makes up around 10% of the market in revenue terms.
The Australian Publishers Association (APA) compiles a list of bestsellers each year in the categories of adult hardbacks; adult trade paperbacks; adult mass-market paperbacks; children’s hardbacks; and children’s paperbacks. Only sales at retail outlets at standard publisher discounts and where the author gets a full royalty are included.
Books by Australian authors sell well. The APA survey in the year up to 30 March 2004 showed the adult hardback Brother Fish by Bryce Courtenay (Pearson/Penguin) sold more than 250,000 copies at an RRP of $49.95, topping that category; the adult trade paperback The Reef by Di Morrissey sold over 105,000 copies at an RRP of $30, topping that category; and the mass market adult paperback Friends to the End by Bradley Trevor Grieve sold more 50,000 copies at a RRP of $14.95, coming in at No. 11 in that category well behind Dan Brown whose books filled the first four positions in this category.
In a year when a new Harry Potter book is published (such as 2007), that book dominates the sales charts. In 2006, Kate Grenville's The Secret River (Text) sold well, helped by its inclusion in the Books Alive campaign. A big seller in 2005-06 was Li Cunxin's Mao's Last Dancer (Pearson/Viking).
In 2003-04, publishers and other major contributors based in New South Wales or Victoria accounted for 94% of total book sales (51% NSW; 43% in Victoria).

Monday, August 20, 2007

Preparing for the election: What's in it for authors?

Australia will go to the polls later in 2007, probably November. The issues for authors are quite clear -- more support for our livelihood from all parties.

One way of ensuring this has been suggested by the Australian Literature in Education Roundtable in Canberra on 7 August. That was a call for government financial support for the purchase of class sets of Australian literature for study in our schools. This would not only provide more support for the teaching of our literature in schools, it would have the practical benefit of providing royalties for authors and income for publishers.

We also need to ensure that awards, prizes and grants for authors are provided tax- free, in the same manner that Prime Minister Howard has flagged for the Prime Minister's Prize for History.

A third crucial point for Australian authors is increased funding for lending rights. This should also encompass the permanent funding of Educational Lending Right (ELR), with ELR linked to CPI increases, as applies to Public Lending Right (PLR).

But we need to make our view on these issues heard by our elected representatives and we need to make sure we have their support. This means we need to write to them.

The purchase of Australian books for schools requires interaction between the Arts and the Education portfolios. Senator Brandis is Minister for the Arts and Julie Bishop is Minister for Education. Peter Garrett is Shadow Minister for the Arts and Stephen Smith is Shadow Minister for Education.

Start your lobbying early!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Unprecedented industry reaction to A&R

Both the Australian Publishers Association and the Australian Booksellers Association have released unprecedented statements regarding the change in trading terms posed by Angus & Robertson Bookshops.

There is an encouraging unity of responses across the Australian publishing industry in the face of A & R's bizarre behaviour.

Monday, August 13, 2007

A&R dumps on Australian literature

On 8 August, just a day after the Australian Literature in Education Roundtable in Canberra. the news broke that Angus & Robertson Booksellers (A&R) were proposing to charge small to medium sized publishers a "non profitability" fee. A&R had reviewed its suppliers and decided it had too many of them and some of them didn't generate the profit levels the owners of A&R, the private equity group Pacific Equity Partners, feel is desirable. Therefore, if these suppliers wanted their books stocked in A&R stores they would have to make a payment to increase A&R's profit level. Payments of between $1,500 and $45,000 were demanded in an invoice sent with the letter announcing A&R's unilateral change of trading terms.

The correspondence from A&R, with a response from Tower Books distributors can be read by clicking on the title to this blog entry.

The ASA and the Australian Publishers Association (APA) immediately protested A&R's actions, since Australian authors (like Miles Franklin award winner Alexis Wright) were affected.

The support we have received was overwhelming. Weekly Book Newsletter produced a special edition noting the unprecedented industry response.

We have also received messages of support like this one from Mark Carthew : "Small and medium sized publishers who are a critical mainstay of support to Australian writers, illustrators and book creators will be totally disenfranchised by these tactics and only the big conglomerates will be able to compete. They will support overseas initiated products and almost certainly cheap import dumping. These methods that can only be described as akin to extortion, and should be viewed as such by the community. Our industry is in dire trouble if this tactic goes unchallenged ... I applaud the APA and ASA for taking such a quick stand to uphold the values and integrity of our industry".

It has been suggested that the Australian Society of Authors and like-minded organisations such as PEN institute a "buy Australian authors" campaign to highlight the fact that our national litearture faces perils ranging from lack of attention in education to cost impositions in bookstores.

What do you think? Let me know through your comments

Friday, August 10, 2007

How many books can you read?

Publishing News in London reports Nielsen statistics that the number of titles published in the United Kingdom in 2006 increased by 4.1% to over 115,000. This was still below a high of over 130,000 in 2005. The number of publishers in the UK (defined as companies registering their first ISBN prefix) increased to 2801. Nielsen estimates that there over 258,000 titles were published in the English language in 2006.
Think about that next time your publisher rejects your manuscript!
Click on the title to this blog entry to go to the original source.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Australian Literature in Education Roundtable

The table wasn't actually "round", but the debate was challenging. Left to right, Elizabeth Weiss, Allen & Unwin; Prof. Robert Dixon, University of Sydney; Bronwyn Lea, University of Queensland/Literature Board; Bob Sessions, Penguin; The Hon Bob Carr; Jill Jones, Literature Board; Dr Peter Holbrook, University of Queensland/Literature Board; Dr Imre Salusinszky, Literature Board; Josie Emery. Literature Board; Emeritus Professor Elizabeth Webby; Emeritus Professor Peter Pierce (back to camera).Photo: Jeremy Fisher.
I was invited to attend the Australian Literature in Education Roundtable in Canberra, ACT, Australia, on 6-7 August. The Roundtable was organised by Dr Imre Salusinszky, Chair of the Literature Board of the Australia Council, and Dr Peter Holbrook, Literature Board member, to review the position of Australian literature in secondary and tertiary education.
The Roundtable on 7 August, 2007, began with positive news. The night before, the federal Minister for Education, Julie Bishop, had announced the endowment of a new chair of Australian literature. While the name and location of the chair has yet to be determined the move was welcomed. There are only two other chairs of Australian literature (Sydney and Queensland universities).
Both of the Professors occupying those chairs (Robert Dixon from Sydney and David Carter from Queensland) were present at the Roundtable.
David Carter gave a presentation looking at the number of Australian novels and literary novels published over he past few years. His figures did not cheer us much. The research can also be read in the April issue of Australian Author (available from the ASA).
Robert Dixon presented a paper that looked at the books and authors studied at Sydney in Australian literature from 1967 until now. In the past few years both the number of books and authors has declined, as has the number of students. All in all, dispiriting stuff.
So it was a relief to debate the communique that was made public after the event (available from the Australia Council).

Monday, August 6, 2007

Brisbane Event 15 September: Announcement of ASA Medal winner

The ASA Chair Georgia Blain and Queensland State Representative Robyn Sheahan-Bright will host an event at the Brisbane Writers' Festival on the Rooftop Terrace of the Powerhouse on Saturday, 15 September, from 6 pm to 7.30 pm. The event is open to all ASA Members (especially Queensland members), who should book using the BWF program. The winner of the 2007 ASA Medal will be announced at the function. Go to