Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Secret Book Business

How did over 5,000 books remain hidden from sight?
In 2003-04, the last period for which the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) collected information on the book industry in Australia, the figures showed that 8,602 titles were published in Australia. The ABS numbers came from 244 publishers, purportedly fully representative of Australian publishing, being both big multi-national and small one-person operations.
However, as Andrew Wilkins reported in the September 2008 Australian Bookseller & Publisher, the Australian Books in print database showed that 14,258 titles were published in Australia in 2007. This is 5,656 more books than the ABS numbers – a whopping 65% increase. At first blush, this suggests the Australian publishing industry has had phenomenal success since 2004. Were it only so. When Wilkins linked titles to the 244 publishers used by the ABS, he found these publishers produced 8924 titles in 2007. This represented a reasonable 3.7% increase on their 2003-04 output. Good, but not fantastic.
Where did the other 5,334 titles come from and why haven’t they been counted before? The answer lies in the fact that Wilkins looked at a bibliographic database, one compiled from the list of all books published in Australia in 2007 with an International Standard Book Number (ISBN), rather than rely on the reported output of 244 designated publishers.
All major publishers use ISBNs, as do the vast majority of small and self publishers. In 2007, Wilkins shows that 2782 publishers were responsible for producing just one book. While one book per publisher is an insignificant output, when combined these books represents 19.5% of the total number of books produced in Australia. This is an output up there with the really big publishers. The Top 20 publishers, just 0.1% of all publishers, produced 4512 titles in 2007 – 32% of the total output. What these means is that over 50% of the books published in Australia come from both the 20 largest publishers and the 2782 smallest publishers, with the rest of the titles coming from “medium” publishers (those publishing from 2 to 100 books a year).
Yet, prior to this study, the books produced by he smallest publishers were ignored as part of our publishing output. Their existence wasn’t acknowledged. They were flying “under the radar”, which is the title of a US Book Industry Study Group into this sector. However, no such study has yet been comprehensively carried out in Australia.
How significant a part of the overall sales of books are these “secret” titles? The answer is we don’t know. Many of the books Wilkins identifies may not sell within the traditional bookshop market. Take for example the works of ASA member Philip R. Rush (www.philiprush.com.au). I’ve met Phil in Tasmania and talked to him extensively about his writing and publishing. Phil produces his books and CDs of bush-flavoured poetry himself. He currently has 15 in print and he reprints regularly – in runs that would make many larger publishers salivate! He sells his books and CDs across Australia, using his own card-based customer management system to rustle up order before he first prints, so most of his first print run goes out to his customers straight away – and as a firm sale! He’s developed relationships with the outlets that sell his books over the years. These outlets are rarely traditional bookshops. They are more likely to be Australiana shops, stock and station agents and other retail outlets Phil has identified.
Phil’s poetry has found a wide audience, but it’s one the mainstream market misses. While Phil writes bush poetry, poetry of all descriptions is making quite a mark for itself outside the traditional publishing marketplace. Wilkins’ analysis showed that there were 302 books of poetry published in Australia in 2007. This represented 2% of the total output of titles. However, the ABS numbers, which have been a benchmark for Australian publishing up until now, put the proportion for published poetry at a much lower rate. This is because most poetry is being produced outside the 244 publishers regarded as the backbone of the industry. The print runs may be small and the sales may be slow but poetry is still a going concern for publishers like Five Islands, Puncher & Wattman, Ginninderra, John Leonard Press and other small outfits.
Some of these small publishers (including the ASA) have banded together to assist each other in marketing and distribution. The umbrella group Small Press Underground Networking Community (SPUNC) represents their combined interests. The group may be representative of some of the smallest publishers in Australia, but these publishers are producing books and other media that are on the cutting edge of Australian literary culture. Their work has gone on largely unrecognised by the traditional publishing industry. Yet in creative terms it is an essential part of our cultural development. The SPUNC publishers also include literary journal publishers such as Overland, Meanjin, Griffith Review, and Going Down Swinging as well as publishers focused on young writers such as Wet Ink and Express Media.
All of these activities show that there is a vibrant publishing culture in Australia that has so far remained secret in terms of official analysis. It has escaped the attention of the ABS and the 244 publishers who are commonly regarded as “the trade”. In the USA, the BISG estimated that the value of the “secret book business” there was in the millions of dollars. We can’t come to any similar conclusions about Australia as the data are so sparse, but what is clear is that the areas that are commonly disparaged as valueless by the book trade are in fact both viable and sustainable, albeit marginal in terms of profitability. Not only is publishing flourishing, but short stories are appearing more frequently in book form, 76 collections being published in 2007.
These publications are also finding readers. They may be small in number at present, but they are sufficient to provide impetus for this publishing to continue. SPUNC provided assistance for its Melbourne members (and most of them are at present) to showcase their authors and publications at well-attended fringe events at the Melbourne Writers Festival. These events involved both readings as well as performances of work.
The sessions I attended were exciting, and indicative to me that they were reaching people who were not attending sessions featuring the latest Tuscan summer memoir or wacky American childhood tale. They featured poets and prose writers focused on the local, keen observers of a world they loved and loathed in equal measure, but accepted without hesitation as their own. Laboratory work, sure, and I was reminded of Frankenstein not only by the processes of creation I could see at work but also by the clothes the audiences were wearing.
So how could something this colourful, this enthusiastic, this damn good remain secret? Oops, I’ve let the secret out – Australian literature is alive and kicking all over the place. But there’s a whole heap of it the official radar has missed. It’s happening at small, intimate readings and poetry slams near you, no matter where you are. Catch it before commercial publishing bashes the life out of it. And buy one of the books on sale. Because they won’t be in the bookshops, even though there’s over 5,000 of them.
Copyright © 2008 Australian Society of Authors/Jeremy Fisher. First appeared in Australian Author, December 2008.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Why don’t we care about our literature?

Following is the text of a speech I gave to the South Australian Writers Centre on 27 November, 2008. Many people have asked that I provide a public copy.

Recently the mass media has been full of Baz Luhrmann’s new movie Australia. The spin doctors were working over time. I hope the movie does well. Our film industry needs it to do so.
But one of the unfortunate side-effects of the spin that accompanies the marketing of movies is that there is a perception movies have more significance and public appeal than books. In Australia, this certainly isn’t so. Even if Australia does very well at the box office, the vast number of movies we shall watch are produced in the United States. The box office will total about $1 billion – an awful lot of that will have been spent on spin, on attempts to get you and me into movie theatres or to buy DVDs to watch often very lacklustre films.
In August, figures from Nielsen Bookscan revealed that trade sales for books in Australia were worth $1, 250 million for the previous year. This represented sales of 63 million books, an increase of 7.5 per cent on the previous year.
Nielsen Bookscan data doesn't break out Australian books, but ABS data shows that Australian fiction, non-fiction and children's books (excluding educational titles) had average sales of $438.5 million each year over the period 2000-04. This is a major contribution to the Australian creative industries economy and of course a significant proportion of the sales of books in Australia. It’s also a helluva lot more money than Australian movies made.
Not only that, but five of the top 10 Bookscan bestsellers in the 2007-08 period were Australian. One, 4 Ingredients, sold over 600,000 copies. Another was Underbelly.
Unhappily, only one Australian film, Happy Feet, was in the to 50 films for the same period. So why, I ask, did Baz Luhrmann receive a 40% tax incentive to make Australia while the Australian book industry was rewarded with yet another parallel importation enquiry?
We are being punished for being successful and for standing on our own feet. The funding for Australian literature is pretty paltry. In 2003-05, the Australian Government allocated only $27.6 million to Literature and print media. This included funding for lending rights of around $17 million and amounts offered by the Australia Council. This amount is dwarfed by the enormous sums that flow to major performing arts and opera, arts forms that often fail at a cost recovery basis and offer none of the economic returns that can be seen with literature.
Australian literature is making an enormous contribution to our creative industries economy and this is largely unrecognised. This should not be so.
Let's face the fact that, as a post-colonial country, Australia is still strongly influenced by the central points of English-language culture. From about 1850, those points have been the United Kingdom and the United States.
It is sensible that our schools teach using cultural materials emanating from the United Kingdom and the United States. It is also sensible for them to use cultural materials from Australia's Indigneous cultures as well as the many other cultures from which the children in our schools come. This is all representative of where we have come from and what we are, a bit of a mongrel mix.
However, the most unifying and central themes for educating young Australians come directly from Australian culture, that unholy mess that has evolved here since this timeless land has been named "Australia". Our literature exemplifies and demonstrates those themes best because there is more of it than other forms of narrative. Unfortunately, there are simply not enough Australian films and television programs to fill out a curriculum. That's not so for poetry, novels, non-fiction, biography and so on. There's plenty there.
Now let me get a little personal. My book Perfect Timing is about to be published in a Vietnamese translation. It will sell for 20,000 Dong, about A$1.45. I’ll receive 5% of that price on each copy, a princely seven cents, so I’m not about to retire.
But what this makes clear is that books are much cheaper in Vietnam than Australia. I could buy 15 copies of my Vietnamese edition for the price of an average Australian paperback.
So, why is the book cheaper? The paper and print quality will be lower than the Australian edition for one. Another is there’ll be several more thousand copies printed in Vietnam than were ever printed in Australia, but the book will still be a tiny blip in a market of over 80 million readers. And those readers are much poorer than readers in Australia. To them, spending 20,000 Dong on a book is a luxury purchase.
This simply makes it clear that the price of books is relative from one country to another. The return to me from sales in Vietnam will be small financially, but large in the sense that I will have many more readers. I’m assisting with a tiny bit of cultural exchange as well. These are immeasureable benefits with no financial value.
But they’d still be there if I was lucky enough to sell US rights to my book, although the financial implications would be very different. I’d actually make some money – again, not enough to retire on, but enough perhaps for a new computer or new car.
As an author, I can trade my rights in different markets for different reasons. Trading of rights is the commercial basis for life as an author. We can sell Australian publishing rights, rights for translation into Vietnamese or rights to an American edition. This is intrinsic to our continued livelihood. Quite a few authors have different publishers in different markets. Australia, in line with most major book markets in the world, including the United States and United Kingdom, is currently a “closed “ market. Books can only be published here by the entity who holds the rights to the Australian territory. These rights are saleable parts of the bundle of rights that make up an author’s copyright. For example, popular author Jodi Picoult is published by Allen & Unwin in Australia, but by Hachette in the UK and Atria in the USA.
However, there are moves afoot to take some of these rights away from us. The moves are being led by booksellers, particularly Dymocks
Dymocks wants an open market. They wants to take away the right of Australian authors to transact their rights in different markets. Their argument is driven by the profit motive of course. Dymocks claims the wholesale price of books is cheaper in the United States through competition. And there is undoubtedly more competition in the US in the book industry than there is in Australia. The US book market is more than 10 times the size of Australia. Dymocks also claims books are expensive in Australia because the Australian publishing industry is artificially protected from competition.
But the US is by no means an open market. Nor should it be. Both the United States and Australia are separate copyright territories, and books are licensed into each territory by their rightsholders. Few Australian books receive much attention in the US. The Australian market is far more competitive than the US market because Australian books have to compete with those from the US and the UK. Under our law as it currently stands, all books published outside Australia must be made available in Australia within 30 days of their publication, or the rightsholder loses their exclusive licence to publish the book in Australia.
Dymocks is pushing hard to destroy Australia as a distinct publishing territory. In their argument, they ignore the fact that the US and UK are closed markets. They also ignore the fact that book prices in open market territories such as New Zealand and Singapore are equal to or greater than those in so-called closed markets.
Their fallacious argument is designed merely to increase Dymock’s profit margins, not to make books cheaper. Dymocks could make book prices cheaper in their stores overnight, if that was their real interest. How? Dymocks receives a minimum 40% discount on the Recommended Retail Price (RRP) on books it buys from publishers so they have nearly half the price of the book to play with in -- and often more when they negotiate bigger discounts. We don’t know how much of the 40% of the price of a book is Dymocks profit And it’s not as if bookselling is a risky business. Their purchases from publishers are on a sale or return basis. What they haven’t moved off the floor after six weeks gets sent back to the publisher for credit.
In contrast, life is bit tougher for the publisher, and much more so for the poor author. When a book is sold by Dymocks, the publisher gets about 12% (at least ABS statistics from 2004, the most recently available, show that) and the author generally receives 10%.
What’s clear is as authors we need to stand up and be counted – counted as a successful industry, counted for what we add to our culture and counted as opposing any changes to our current system. I urge you all to make your voices heard to the Productivity Commission. Detail are on the ASA website – www.asauthors.org

Friday, December 5, 2008

New Day Dawning: History of Sydney Gay Mardi Gras

The Pride History group has been working hard at documenting Sydney’s Gay, Lesbian and Transgender History with a number of publications. Their most recent, New Day Dawning, is a handsome documentary of the early years of Sydney’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.
The text has been written by Gavin Harris, John Witte and Ken Davis who, like me, were part of the original 1978 Mardi Gras. The book also makes liberal use of quotes from other Mardi Gras participants.
For an old-timer like me, this book is a welcome record of times past. It is refreshing to reflect on the changes that have been achieved in 30 years. That seems a long time, but change never happens as fast as we would like. The frustrations we felt back then are still around to some degree, but we are no longer criminals. Many of us, including myself, are respectable members of the middle classes, happily contributing in our various ways to a society that has found a place for us.
The writers of this book don’t try to offer too much for readers. The chapters are short, informative bites — pacy and interesting. They will be of interest to younger readers, too. Many of the younger gays and lesbians I know are keen to know more about the history of the liberation movement and this book will provide them with accessible information about a time before many of them were born.
But the book is especially valuable for the many photographs. The cover features a Jenny Templin photo the late, lamented Doris Fish at her tackiest. The back has a William Yang photo of a quartet of gays wearing tee-shirts spelling out POOF. I wasn’t, but I could have been one of them.
I looked closely at all the other photos in the book hoping to see myself, but while I recognise the scenes, I must have stayed just out of range of the lenses. Perhaps I was busy having fun.
Some of the wonderful posters from the early days of Mardi Gras are reproduced in glorious colour on the inside front covers. Click on the title of this blog entry for details of how to obtain the book or write to: Pride History Group, GPO Box 415 Sydney NSW 2001.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Maximising Opportunities: Adelaide

I'll be presenting a session on rights and writing on 27 November at this four-day workshop in Adelaide organised as a joint professional development program by the SA Writers Centre and the ASA.
I'll also being speaking on the state of Australian literature at a dinner that evening.

Second Person Narrative Voice

I'll be presenting a paper on this topic on Friday 28 November at the Australian Association of Writing Programs conference at the University of Technology Sydney. An abstract of the paper is available here. The paper is published in full in the Proceedings of the conference.
I'll be discussing Peter Kocan's The Treatment and G.M. Glaskin's (writing as Neville Jackson) No end to the way.

Little Disturbances launch: UTS

Friday November 28 from 5.30-7.00, UTS Gallery Courtyard. Southerly Launch – Little Disturbances edited by Debra Adelaide and John Dale. Launched by Louis Nowra.
Selected Readings (including from me) and drinks. Part of the Australian Association of Writing Programs conference.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Parallel importation: Cheap books, but at what price?

My book Perfect Timing is about to be published in a Vietnamese translation. It will sell for 20,000 Dong, about A$1.45. I’ll receive 5% of that price on each copy, a princely seven cents, so I’m not about to retire.
But what this makes clear is that books are much cheaper in Vietnam than Australia. I could buy 15 copies of my Vietnamese edition for the price of an average Australian paperback. So, why is the book cheaper? The paper and print quality will be lower than the Australian edition for one. Another is there’ll be several more thousand copies printed in Vietnam than were ever printed in Australia, but the book will still be a tiny blip in a market of over 80 million readers. And those readers are much poorer than readers in Australia. To them, spending 20,000 Dong on a book is a luxury purchase.
So the price of books is relative from one country to another. The return to me from sales in Vietnam will be small financially, but large in the sense that I will have many more readers. I’m assisting with a tiny bit of cultural exchange as well. These are immeasureable benefits with no financial value.
But they’d still be there if I was lucky enough to sell US rights to my book, although the financial implications would be very different. I’d actually make some money – again, not enough to retire on, but enough perhaps for a new computer or new car.
As an author, I can trade my rights in different markets for different reasons. Trading of rights is the commercial basis for life as an author. We can sell Australian publishing rights, rights for translation into Vietnamese or rights to an American edition. This is intrinsic to our continued livelihood. Quite a few authors have different publishers in different markets. Australia, in line with most major book markets in the world, including the United States and United Kingdom, is currently a “closed “ market. Books can only be published here by the entity who holds the rights to the Australian territory. These rights are saleable parts of the bundle of rights that make up an author’s copyright. For example, popular author Jodi Picoult is published by Allen & Unwin in Australia, but by Hachette in the UK and Atria in the USA.
However, there are moves afoot to take some of these rights away from us. The moves are being led by booksellers, particularly, Don Grover of Dymocks (Sydney Morning Herald, September 4, 2008). Booksellers are usually an author's best friends, but not Don at the moment.
Why? Don wants an open market. He wants to take away the right of Australian authors to transact their rights in different markets. His argument is driven by the profit motive of course. Don claims the wholesale price of books is cheaper in the United States through competition. And there is undoubtedly more competition in the US in the book industry than there is in Australia. The US book market is more than 10 times the size of Australia. Don also says books are expensive in Australia because the Australian publishing industry is artificially protected from competition. This is his subtle reference to our Copyright Act and the protection it gives to rightsholders – like authors.
But the US is by no means an open market. Nor should it be. Both the United States and Australia are separate copyright territories, and books are licensed into each territory by their rightsholders. Few Australian books receive much attention in the US. The Australian market is far more competitive than the US market because Australian books have to compete with those from the US and the UK. Under our law as it currently stands, all books published outside Australia must be made available in Australia within 30 days of their publication, or the rightsholder loses their exclusive licence to publish the book in Australia.
Grover’s suggestion is for those rightsholders to lose their right. The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) announced at the end of July that it had asked the Productivity Commission to review Australia’s copyright laws so far as they related to the parallel importation of books. Grover is pushing hard to destroy Australia as a distinct publishing territory. In his argument, he ignores the fact that the US and UK are closed markets. He also ignores the fact that book prices in open market territories such as New Zealand and Singapore are equal to or greater than those in so-called closed markets.
His fallacious argument is designed merely to increase Dymock’s profit margins, not to make books cheaper. Dymocks could make book prices cheaper in their stores overnight, if that was their real interest. How? Dymocks receives a minimum 40% discount on the Recommended Retail Price (RRP) on books it buys from publishers so they have nearly half the price of the book to play with in -- and often more when they negotiate bigger discounts. We don’t know how much of the 40% of the price of a book is Dymocks profit, but the company appears to be doing well. And it’s not as if Dymocks is a risky business, like drilling for oil. Their purchases from publishers are on a sale or return basis. What they haven’t moved off the floor after six weeks gets sent back to the publisher for credit.
In contrast, life is bit tougher for the publisher, and much more so for the poor author. When a book is sold by Dymocks, the publisher gets about 12% (at least ABS statistics from 2004, the most recently available, show that) and the author generally receives 10%.
What’s clear from this is Dymocks is in the best position to immediately reduce the price of books by passing on part of its discount to consumers. No need to change our copyright laws. No need to destroy the livelihood of Australian authors and their ability to transact their rights both here and internationally for whatever those markets will pay.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A pencil needs no electricity

In the June issue of Australian Bookseller & Publisher, retiring Wiley MD Peter Donoughue wrote a swansong article claiming the ASA knew next to nothing about educational publishing and rubbishing our research in the area. Donoughue was so pleased with his opus he rushed up to me at the Australian Industry Book Awards to ask if I had read it. I have now, and I can only say it’s fortunate Peter is retiring. Another educational publisher, Peter Debus, offers a more balanced view of educational publishing in the August 2008 issue of the Author. Debus accepts that the ASA is right in its assessment that the educational publishing sector is in its death throes. He doesn’t maintain Donoughue’s “head in the sand” position.
Yet the ASA, Debus and Donoughue are all describing the same elephant. How can we diverge so much in our descriptions?
The answer lies in judicious use of the facts. The Sydney Morning Herald reported on 25 July that federal public servants were involved in a systematic revision of Wikipedia entries about federal politicians. The parliamentary librarian was reported to have emailed instructions on how to alter Wikipedia entries to ensure the entries displayed only favourable information.
We can be sure that the practice is not unique to Canberra. It goes on all over the world. Why? Because it can. Wikipedia is open to all. It claims that this is its great strength. It says it can collect a massive amount of facts. And it does. You can read biographies of porn stars alongside entries about Australian politicians as well as overlong essays on arcane musicians and brief entries on Australian poets.
I even rate a mention. And that’s just a few of the reasons why Wikipedia’s authority should never be trusted.
The trouble with a freely available and editable source of information like Wikipedia, or the entire internet, is that it is so easily manipulable. And believable. That’s why politicians in the UK, US and Australia increasingly use YouTube and internet communications in elections. And it’s also why governments in China, Vietnam and Burma attempt to restrict access to the internet, or at least try to control content. Even a lovefest like the Olympics was not enough for Chinese authorities to release their grip on internet communications. And maybe we have to ask if they are right when our own politicians use the internet for their own nefarious propaganda purposes.
Wikipedia makes some claims to informational authority. Because of this, or perhaps because journalists like anyone else prefer the easy option, Wikipedia seems to have replaced a number of journalistic research skills. Students also relay on its immediacy and convenience. I’m not averse to it myself. I will often check for information there. However, and I am thankful for my editorial training for this, I don’t take Wikipedia information as the ultimate authority. Goodness, I’ll even consult some fossil reference source such as a book.
I admit I may be too much of a cynic, but these days I don’t trust any source of information unless I can verify the information there with at least two independent sources. Such rules used to be de rigeur for editors and journalists, although there were some sources we accepted.
In times past I would have trusted the Australian Encyclopaedia, for whose fourth edition I created the index, and the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Both of these publications had in place sound editorial polices and practices that ensured any errors were kept to a bare minimum. Were they error-free? No, but they had the gravitas of both peer review and editorial rigour.
What do I mean by editorial rigour? This is best answered with an example. As the literary heir of our Founding President Dal Stivens, recently the ASA received a number of his files and manuscripts. Included in these is the original copy-edited manuscript of Dal’s children’s book The Bushranger (Collins, 1978), the corrected galley-proofs and a letter from Miss Margaret R. Jones, the copy-editor. Among other queries, all guided by the purpose of making the book as accurate as possible for young readers, Miss Jones asks Dal to check his references to “pines”. She notes that Pinus radiata was not introduced into Victoria until 1857, leading her to question his usage since the book is set at an earlier time. Miss Jones was relying only on print sources, but I wonder whether anyone would even think to query such a point today.
I understand that the creators and editors of Wikipedia claim their data has a level of accuracy similar to the old print encyclopaedias, but the only research I have been able to uncover to validate those claims considers scientific articles. Wikipedia articles, contributed by over 13,000 volunteers, vary in quality, style and accuracy. They haven’t been subjected to a rigorous editorial audit.
Still, that doesn’t alter the fact that printed encyclopaedias have passed on, victims of the instant “authority” of the internet and Wikipedia. The skills involved in their production are being forgotten in the rush to accept instant information. But is that information any use? It is not the amount of information we can access that is fundamentally important, but what we do with it, which is why the governments of China, Vietnam and Burma have a much better understanding of the power of knowledge than do the politicians of the UK, US and Australia.
Knowledge is power.
I could lament the good old days. But again why? What was good about a reference book so heavy that it could cause a hernia? Or door-to-door salesmen hustling working class families into over-priced payment schemes for a rapidly aging set of books?
Even when I was doing my bit for the sum of knowledge about Australia in 1983, we were aware the encyclopaedia had a limited life. We had no idea of the internet, though. At that time, the IT specialists advised us that printed information would all flow onto CD-ROMs and these would be what people would use to access reference works. Hence part of my indexing brief was to ensure my index comprised logical indicators for both print and electronic formats.
But as we know the CD-ROM revolution never happened. And now we have the internet and DVDs to play with. So much so that many children these days gain almost all their information over the web, using a computer keyboard and mouse. On 28 July 2008 the Herald reported that some students preparing for the NSW Higher School Certificate needed to learn handwriting to be able to sit the written exams, which restrict typing to disabled students.
It shocks me that students could reach adulthood and lack the ability to write words. I imagine there will be some who would argue that this is just the way of the world, another sign of “progress”, another change to the way we live life.
These people would argue that life changes because technology changes. And I agree that the wheel was only invented because it made life easier than dragging things along the ground. But I worry that our current dependence on technology puts us a precarious position because the technology we rely on is dependent upon the provision of energy, particularly electrical energy, and in creating that energy we threaten our very existence.
We need to keep some skills that do not require any more energy than picking up a pencil. We need to be able to check our facts and, a very old skill, sort the wheat from the chaff, even in our assessment of the state of educational publishing. Otherwise we trust only new technology, turn to our plasma screens and burn down the future.
But what’s the point in going faster if we are merely going to crash into a brick wall sooner?

Copyright © 2008 Australian Society of Authors and Jeremy Fisher

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Garden wins prizes: Happy Day






We entered our garden in the recent community garden competition and we won four prizes, one first, two seconds and a third.These pictures show some of the garden. It was open for viewing on 2 November 2008.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Australian literature's contribution to creative industries economy much more than performing arts or opera

In August, figures from Nielsen Bookscan (as reported by Melissa Kent in the Sun Herald) revealed that trade sales for books in Australia was worth $1, 250 million for the previous year. This represented sales of 63 million books, and an increase of 7.5 per cent on the previous year.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics reported trade sales of $819.6 million for 2003-04, the last period for which it collected information, with total book sales (including educational books) of $1,353.2 million. Since educational books are mostly excluded from the Nielsen Bookscan figures because the system doesn't pick up sales from educational suppliers, the two data sources appear to corroborate that there has been an increase in sales of books in the trade sector. It is impossible to see what is happening in the educational sector, though.
Nielsen Bookscan data doesn't break out data for Australian books, but the ABS data shows that Australian fiction, non-fiction and children's books (excluding educational titles) had average sales of $438.5 million each year over the four year period 2000-04. This is a major contribution to the Australian creative industries economy and of course a significant proportion of the sales of books in Australia.
Five of the top 10 Bookscan bestsellers in the 2007-08 period were Australian. One, 4 Ingredients, sold over 600,000 copies (this is a self-published title). Another was Underbelly (John Silvester and Andrew Rule, Floradale Press) which had an appeal to the difficult 18-30 year old male demographic.
Unhappily, only one Australian film, Happy Feet, was in the to 50 films for the same period.
My point? Well, funding for Australian literature is pretty paltry. In 2003-05, the Australian Government allocated only $27.6 million to Literature and print media. This included funding for lending rights of around $17 million and amounts offered in grants by the Australia Council. This amount is dwarfed by the enormous sums that flow to major performing arts and opera, arts forms that often fail at a cost recovery basis and offer none of the economic returns that can be seen with literature.
Australian literature is making an enormous contribution to our creative industries economy and this is largely unrecognised. This should not be so.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Protocols for the depiction of children in art

Frank Moorhouse has entered the debate about protocols for the depiction of children in art, which the Australia Council has been asked to prepare for the Rudd Government. Frank stoutly defends artistic freedom, and he is right to do so.
The creation of artistic works should not be subject to dictates from above. Otherwise, we go down the path of the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany where artists were able to exist only because they abided by the script given to them by their governments. Artists in countries with totalitarian governments (even Singapore I am reliably informed) still face opprobrium if they risk breaking the official political line.
But at the same time we have to recognise that artists do not exist in a cosy universe where they are, or even should be, totally free to do as they wish. Artists live in the real world. Their art reflects that world. That's how they connect with their audiences. If artists are to make a living from their art, they must make that connection. When they alienate their audiences, not only do they lose the opportunity to live from their art they also lose the ability to communicate the artistic concepts about which they feel so strongly that they must create art.
Successful artists, and by that term I mean artists who not only live from their art but are respected by their peers, balance this well. They may well be confrontational with some of their themes and messages, but they bring their audiences with them in a dialogue. At the same time, they may also offer solace, comfort or something as simple as pleasure. It is not, after all, the artist's duty to challenge everything.
So what does all this have to do with protocols governing artists dealing with children? Do these represent some growing puritan approach to the creation of art? In many respects, I believe they do, but I do not hold with the view that only artists can decide what is appropriate for art.
Art as I have said reflects the real world and the real world offers many impediments not only to artists but also to all the rest of the people who live in it.
We accept the constraints of the law. We might argue that these constraints should be changed, and at times it is necessary to stand up to the law and force it to be changed, but overall most of us, even artists, abide by the conventions we have decided work in our community. For example, we need to abide by the rules of the road in order to move around successfully. When we don't, we crash, artists as much as anybody else.
So do we need special rules for artists dealing with childen? I argue that if we are going to have protocols for dealing with chidren, let's make sure these protocols do a real job and really protect our children. If we are going to have them, they should be much more extensive than proposed.
They shouldn't be aimed only at artists. They should be community standards we embrace to save our children from all forms of exploitation.
For example, they should ban the use of children in advertising. They should ensure tobacco products and drugs of any description (including alcohol) should never be advertised in a manner that means children might be exposed to such advertising.

But that's not enough -- obesity is a bigger problem in school playgrounds than artists on the prowl for models. Children should be prevented from exposure to food products that are nutritionally unsound. Even better, let's ban McDonalds, KFC, Coca-Cola, Dominos, Burger King, and all the rest. All of these companies target children with unhealthy products. If we ban these companies, our children won't eat themselves fat.

And it is equally important that no sport be reported or broadcast -- too many children injure themselves on the sporting field. Sport also encourages unhealthy, aggressive behaviour. We don't want that.

That's just for starters.
There are many, many more things we can do to protect our children from bad influences like food, sport, advertising and, oh yes, art.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Teaching Australian Literature in Australian Schools

There's been a good deal of discussion about this in the Australian newspaper and on the ASA website, and I have discussed the issue here before.
Let's face the fact that, as a post-colonial country, Australia is still strongly influenced by the central points of English-language culture. From about 1850, those points have been the United Kingdom and the United States, though Australia remained relatively immune from "American" English-language culture until World War II and after.
Remember, Hollywood didn't even have such a massive impact before then. Much of our earliest cinema was home grown. Oh for such simpler times.
It is sensible that our schools teach using cultural materials emanating from the United Kingdom and the United States. It is also sensible for them to use cultural materials from Australia's Indigneous cultures as well as the many other cultures from which the children in our schools come. This is all representative of where we have come from and what we are, a bit of a mongrel mix.
However, the most unifying and central themes for educating young Australians come directly from Australian culture, that unholy mess that has evolved here since this timeless land has been named "Australia". Our literature exemplifies and demonstrates those themes best because there is more of it than other forms of narrative. Unfortunately, there are simply not enough Australian films and television programs to fill out a curriculum. That's not so for poetry, novels, non-fiction, biography and so on. There's plenty there.
A book like Narrelle M. Harris' The Opposite of Life (Pulp Fiction Press), which I mention in a post below, would be a popular choice for girls in Year 10. The fact that Harris, like Stephanie Meyer, writes about vampires, wouldn't worry me as a teacher. I might also introduce them to the distinguished history of this genre. If my class could devour this book, enjoy it, write their own vampire stories and maybe even consider how Harris has used Melbourne as a setting for a vampire story, I'd be a satisfied teacher.
And I reckon most of the girls would be satisfied readers, too. And some of the boys, but as for the rest, maybe I'd need Garth Nix. Or John Marsden. There's no shortage of choices.
And I could even have my students considering a range of media and narrative options without ever using an American or British resource.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Power to the people: Legacies of 1968 and ASIO

On 2 October, I spoke at the conference "Power to the People: Legacies of 1968". It was held at the University of Wollongong and I was privileged to be able to drive down Jack Mundey and Mick Tubbs, who are elder statesmen of the Left of Australian politics.
Jack Mundey and I go back a long way. I proudly regard him as a mentor. Thanks to Jack and the Builders Labourers Federation, my expulsion from Robert Menzies College in 1973 became the first instance where a trade union acted industrially in defence of gay rights. Both Jack and I spoke about this matter, and, if you are interested in more details, there's a link to an article I wrote about it to the right of this item. There's also an article in Overland 191 (2008) by me called "Into the light". Jack has also spoken frequently on this matter and the Australian Biography project has published the transcript of one interview here although Jack states that I was 20 at the time, but in fact I was 18.
Mick Tubbs was a worker who studied to become a lawyer in the 1970s. He was admitted to the bar and acted for many clients against the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO). His own ASIO file goes back to 1963. I have obtained my NSW Special Branch file, but have yet to apply to the National Archives of Australia for my ASIO file. I shall do do soon. I'll be very interested to see what is there. The Special Branch file is scary enough for the minute details it contains.
Mick Tubbs has put his expertise to good use and produced a n important book, ASIO: The enemy within (ISBN 978 0 9805399 0 5) which he launched at the Wollongong conference. In the book he draws on the knowledge he gained in his work as a barrister as well as information from his own ASIO files. The book is compelling reading. It documents the extent of ASIO's surveillance of Australian citizens and the use of its surveillance by various governments.
ASIO still operates. Mick Tubbs argues it should be put out of business. The book costs $35. Mick published it himself. It should be available at all good bookshops, but I know distribution is an issue. It can be obtained from Mick Tubbs, PO Box 445, Croydon Park NSW 2133.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Twenty wonderful years: Who'd a thought?





We met twenty years ago today. And what a great twenty years it has been. We've been to so many different places together, have so many great friends and we have managed to create a home that we are very happy with, garden and all. It mightn't seem like much to most people, but we're both conscious that if we'd been been born a generation before none of it would have been possible. Life changes, and can be wonderful. I'm so lucky to have this relationship and this time.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Brisbane Writers Festival:

What a busy festival! My workshop "So you want to be an author" went very well and the feedback suggests that those attending are better prepared for a writing career now. That's always a pleasing result for me.
On Thursday, I chaired a very interesting conversation between Rod Morrison, publisher of Picador, and Judith Lanigan, who received an ASA Mentorship in 2007. Judith's book will be published by Picador next year. This was a really useful session for those who attended. They were able to gain an insight into the evolution of a book and the processes that go into its writing.
On the Saturday, Dr Anita Heiss, chair of the ASA and author of Avoiding Mr Right (Random House -- it's a funny, entertaining read) presented a compelling case for what is Australian literature in a debate chaired by Kerry Kilner of AustLit and featuring Madonna Duffy of UQP, author Matt Condon, and Rosemary Sorenson of the Australian. A great debate which you can follow on Anita's blog.
I was also pleased to catch up with Libby Gleeson (her new book is Mahtab's Story from Allen & Unwin and in its fourth reprint), the wonderful Kate Grenville who was launching her new book The Lieutenant (Text), Terri-ann White, publisher at University of Western Australia Press, as well as many aother ASA members, including the winner of the Prime Minister's Prize for Fiction, Stephen Conte. I was able to congratulate him again in person. His book The Zookeeper's War (HarperCollins) is in the pile on my bedside table and I'm looking forward to getting to it. I'm a little overwhelmed by non-fiction at present though as I'm a judge for the Walkley non-fiction book award.
One book I have got to is Narrelle M. Harris's The Opposite of Life (Pulp Fiction Press), which is a fabulous (literally!) vampire mystery set in Melbourne. Yes, it all works together to make a terrific read if you like contemporary vampire books set in Melbourne -- and who doesn't? Pulp Fiction Press is a new Brisbane publisher and its first two books set very high standards. Good luck to Ron Serdiuk and Diane Waters and their team!
The relocation of the BWF to the State Library of Queensland was a good one. And hats off to the State Library of Queensland Bookshop, which did a great job offering the books of the writers at the festival to the attending crowds. I hope for their sake that sales were robust.

Power to the People: The legacies of 1968

I am excited to be featured at this conference sponsored by the Faculty of Arts at the University of Wollongong, the Gramsci Society (Asia-Pacific), the Illawarra Branch of the Australian Labour History Society, Wollongong University Undergraduate Students’ Association, the South Coast Labour Council on Thursday and Friday, October 2-3, 2008.
Venue: Room 5, Communications Centre (opposite Library and Coffee Shop) University of Wollongong. I am speaking on Thursday 2 October:
3.45-5.15
The Student Movement: Peter Cockcroft, Ron Witton, Tim Dobson, Jeremy Fisher. I'm specifically speaking about Gay Liberation.


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

How to tell your father to drop dead: Southerly 68.2 (October)

Southerly will be publishing my short story "How to tell your father to drop dead" in volume 68, no. 2, due out in October. The issue is edited by Debra Adelaide and John Dale, and has a focus on the short story as narrative form. I was humbled to be selected in this collection, which also includes works by, just as examples, Kathryn Heyman, Paddy O'Reilly, Derek Motion, Michael Wilding and Mandy Sayer.
Southerly is available from all good bookshops as well as by subscription.
I was very saddened to hear that editorial assitant to Southerly, Pat Skinner, died suddenly while this issue was in production. One of her stories is also included in the issue.
I've only seen the proofs so far, but there's great reading in this issue so don't miss it.

UTS Writers network at the Hughenden Hotel: Blood Shall Have Blood (Picador India)

On Saturday 6 September, in atrocious Sydney weather, I made my way to that artistic oasis, the Hughenden Hotel, in Sydney's Woollahra to give a talk to the UTS Writers Network. I spoke to the group, which is a UTS alumni inititiative (and I am a UTS alumni myself) on professional issues I felt they needed to consider for the development of their careers as writers.
These days the need for authors to present and market themselves as "brand names" is crucial to their success and sustainability. The ASA's professional development program offers assistance in this area. One of the attendees at the Hughenden (in fact its gracious co-host) is my freind Suzanne Gervay, who was one of the presenters at a recent successful ASA professional development seminar titles "The author as brand name".
I also spoke about the need to authors to raise their profiles through websites and engagement in social networking sites.
The attendees, reduced in number because of the bad weather, listened very attentively and asked a number of pertinent and revealing questions afterwards.
The UTS Writers Alumni Network is run by Sharon Rundle, who also operates Round Table Writing from her home in the Hunter Valley. She's dedicated to the UTS group. Her four wheel drive had to be towed out of the mud so she could make it to Sydney.
Sharon is also dedicated to increasing understanding and awareness between writers in different countries, particularly India. With respected author and academic Meenakshi Bharat, Sharon has edited Blood Shall Have Blood, a collection of narrative fiction that looks at how terrorism impacts on normal life. Picador India is publishing it November 2008.
I'm delighted to have my contribution "The Liberation Centre" included in the book, which also includes works by far more significant authors including Sir Salmon Rushdie, Thomas Keneally, David Malouf and Susanne Gervay.
As I write, the book is still without an Australian publisher, despite the stellar list of contributors (oops -- this makes me think that maybe I'm the problem!).
Look out for the book anyway.
Suzanne, Sharon and I will be making a big fuss about it.
And if you are a UTS alumnus in Writing, check out the Network and do yourself some good!

Friday, September 5, 2008

ASA Donates $3078 to Indigenous Literacy Project

The Australian Society of Authors (ASA) announced today it had donated $3078 – one dollar for each of its members – to the Indigenous Literacy Project.

“The lack of literacy in Indigenous communities is a major problem for Australia,” said Dr Jeremy Fisher, ASA Executive Director. “We are by no means a rich organisation, but we want help resolve this problem. We are fortunate to be the heir to the literary estates of Mouni Sadhu and Dal Stivens. We’re certain both these authors would appreciate their bequests being used in this manner. We want ALL Australian children to be equally literate so as they can live complete lives, inclusive of being able to read and enjoy the wonderful books created by our members.”

Individual members of the ASA have been key players in the Project. ASA Chair Dr Anita Heiss is an Ambassador for the project along with members Alexis Wright, Kate Grenville and Andy Griffiths. As well, many other members have been actively engaged with events organised around Indigenous Literacy Day.

The Committee of Management of the ASA voted unanimously to make the donation at its meeting of 9 August. The Indigenous Literacy Project is a joint initiative of the Fred Hollows Foundation, the Australian Booksellers Association and the Australian Publishers Association.

For more information about bequests to the ASA, see www.asauthors.org

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Brisbane Writers festival: Judith Lanigan/ASA members workshop

I'll be chairing a session Judith Lanigan's True History of the Hula Hoop: From mentorship to publication at the Brisbane Writers' Festival at 10.30 am on 18 September 2008. Circus performer Judith Lanigan (Miss Judy) had written the first draft of her book intertwining the history of the hula hoop, the true story of the Great Clown Kidnapping of 1572 and her own adventures as a contemporary hula hoopist when she successfully applied for an Australian Society of Authors mentorship. I talk to Judith and her publisher, Rod Morrison of Picador, about how the mentorship led to publication. Includes a short performance by Miss Judy. The event is free and open to members and the public.

On Friday 19 September the ASA is presenting a seminar for members on Legal Matters. I'll be running the seminar. All you need to know about publishing contracts, copyright, defamation and other matters pertinent to earning your living as a professional author. Members need to book and register on the ASA website or by calling the ASA on 02 9318 0877. The seminar is $82.50 for members.

On Saturday 20 September I'll be presenting again my popular seminar "So you want to be an author" at the Brisbane Writers Festival at 2 pm. This event has sold out at the Perth, Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Byron Bay and Darwin Writers' Festivals. Do you have a work in progress and not much experience with the publishing world? This workshop will put your writing into a broader perspective and give you an insight into the issues that will affect you. My comprehensive overview covers: the economic background to being a professional writer in Australia, how the publishing industry in Australia works, copyright and contracts, knowing your market and tips for getting published. Come along to this vital workshop for up-to-date information on a range of matters of interest to authors. Maximum 24 participants. This is open to the public and ASA members. ASA members receive a discount of $10 off the full price of $60. Bookings (which are essential) should be made through the Brisbane Writers festival.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Reflections on small achievements

I have a mango tree in my garden.
It produces beautiful mangoes, as you can see in the picture.
The tree has grown with little help from me. I cut branches back and keep it from getting too close to the ground and that's about it.
I do not know Matthew Mitcham, who is on the Australian Beijing Olympic team.
He is a diver. I wish him well in his events.
Before he went to Beijing, Matthew disclosed that he was gay. He hoped his partner would be able to go to Beijing to watch him compete. Matthew is only 20.
If I can be proud of any achievements in my life, helping to create an environment where Matthew can comfortably accept his sexuality, and compete with little fuss, would be one of them.
But it's not something that happens overnight. It can take longer than a mango tree to grow to maturity.
Matthew and the mango tree -- both wonderful to see.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Australian Literature In Asia

The Gioi Publishers in Hanoi -- An Asialink partner
I was delighted to be invited recently to join the Literature Advisory Committee of Asialink. Asialink is based at the University of Melbourne. It promotes public understanding of the countries of Asia and creates links with Asian counterparts. With Literature, Asialink partners with a number of institutions and publishers in a wide range of countries to provide Literature residences.
I believe this sort of interaction helps develop a greater understanding of Australian culture in Asia as well as helping our own writers gain a better cultural awareness of our near neighbours.
I have travelled quite a bit in Asia and engaged with the publishing industry there. There are vast differences between countries. Singapore for example is a market for both English and Chinese books. Singapore is an open market. My experience there though is that books are rather more expensive than they are in Australia.
Malaysia has an established publishing industry that is becoming more sophisticated. There is some English langauge publishing, but the majority of books are published in Bahasa Malay. This linguistic singularity tends to mean the market for Malay books is closed, except for what may be shared with Indonesia.
Thanks to a need to abide by WTO protocols, Indonesia has moved to control piracy in its publishing industry. Piracy is still a problem, but the Indonesians are more and more cognisant of their requirement to abide by international copyright treaties.
The same is true of Vietnam. While many of the publishing houses in Vietnam are still state-owned agencies, including Literature Publishing House which will be producing my book Perfect Timing in translation later this year, publishing is buoyant there. Literacy is Vietnam is high, so there is a potential market of 85 million people. The Vietnamese enjoy Australian literature but don't have access to enough of it. There is no regular exchange of rights between the two countries.
Economics don't help. My book will sell in Vietnam for the equivalent of A$1.50, and my royalty is shared with the translator. I'll only be able to retire on the proceeds if all 85 million Vietnamese buy my book, which I think is highly unlikely.
But the fact that the book will be there and available is a sign that there is interest. If only Australians were as interested in reading the works of our near neighbours.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Parallel importation of books and the income of authors

In a surprise move for Australia's literary creators, the Communique from the Council of Australian Governments’ (COAG) Meeting of 3 July 2008 includes a reference to a COAG agreement on a number of priority areas for competition reform, including parallel importation of books. According to the Communique, the Commonwealth will request the Productivity Commission to undertake reviews of Australia’s anti-dumping system and parallel import restrictions on books.

What, you may well ask, is parallel importation and why is it important for Australian authors? “Parallel importation” refers to importation of products containing copyright material that are manufactured legitimately in the country of origin. In the case of books, parallel importation requires permission from the Australian copyright owner, unless the book was not published in Australia within 30 days of its publication overseas, or the Australian copyright owner cannot supply the book within 90 days.

To ensure Australian bookbuyers had access to the most recent of overseas-published books, the Australian rights up to then to which were often held by a British or US publisher who delayed or withheld distribution of the book in Australia, the Copyright Act was amended in 1991 to allow parallel importation in the circumstances outlined above, following a report of the Prices Surveillance Authority. The Act was subsequently amended to allow parallel importation in more extensive circumstances for CDs, computer software and computer games. There is substantial evidence that this has led to a massive decline in the sales of Australian recorded music, though this is difficult to measure when recording companies first responded to the advent of digital technology with a "head in the sand" approach and lost many sales to unauthorised downloads.

The Australian book publishing industry these days is worth over $1.5 billion. It is Australia's most successful creative industry. Australian books make up nearly 70% of those sold in Australia. The industry has also been very successful in exporting the works of our literary creators, so much so that Shaun Tan and Garth Nix and Nick Earls and Margaret Wild and Tom Keneally and Geraldine Brooks and James Bradley etc. etc. are best-sellers overseas. But they are best sellers in editions licensed to those overseas marketplaces. These licensed editions bring our literary creators welcome additional income. However, if parallel importation restrictions are removed, our literary creators will lose the home market to other editions for which they will receive minimal or no royalties.

The proponents of an open market argue that books would become cheaper for consumers and that 90 days is still too long to wait for a book from the Australian copyright owner. Both of these points are arguable. What the proponents do not point out, though, is that both of the biggest English language book markets, the Uk and the USA, are essentially closed markets in that the sales of books licensed to other territories is prohibited in much the same way as it is in Australia. But both these markets are also many, many times larger than the Australian market. Overwhelming, the books sold in both of those markets are produced especially for each market. It would be rare for a UK edition to sell in the USA and vice versa. But we are being asked to accept an open market for Australia when our market is so much smaller and already much more competitive. This would disappear if all editions were allowed into Australia. It would destroy our publishing industry, which has taken over a hundred years to evolve to the point where the major part of the content sold is Australian and the industry is profitable.

What is more, we would lose our literary culture. And the only people to benefit would be those who are supporting the Productivity Commission review -- and that seems to be primarily the chain bookseller Dymocks. You could be forgiven for thinking that Dymocks are prepared to sacrifice Australia's fragile liteary culture to increase their own profit levels by selling cheap imported editions of overseas books and what would be tantamount to pirated editions of Australian books. But surely that could not be the case when the Hon Bob Carr, former NSW Premier and in that position noted proponent of Australian literature, is on the Dymocks board?

Garth Nix has written a very comprehensive letter about the matter in Australian Bookseller and Publisher. Nick Earls has written to the Prime Minister on the issue. Both of these letters are worth reading, and you can here. They are very balanced approaches to a complex issue, though a simple one for Australia's liteary creators -- their very survival.

This isn't a matter that's simply about the cheapest price. It's about the maintenance of a distinctively Australian culture, about reading our own stories, hearing our own voices. Can you put a price on that?

Authors need to show their opposition to any proposed changes to the current restrictions on parallel importation of books. Take up your pens and write directly to the Prime Minister and the Federal Attorney-General, as well as your State Premier and State Attorney-General. Writing to all of these is necessary as the matter has been raised at COAG and thus becomes a cross-jurisdictional issue.

There will be more on this issue.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Lending Rights distributes distributes over $17 million

The 2006-07 annual report of the Public Lending Right (PLR) scheme has been released, showing detailed figures on the recipients of over $7 million in funds from PLR and $10.4 million from the Educational Lending Right (ELR).
PLR makes payments to eligible authors and publishers whose books are held in public libraries; ELR covers educational libraries. In 2006-07, 626 new claimants registered for the PLR program, 2808 new books were registered and 8866 claims were paid. Payments were made to 8866 creators and publishers under the PLR scheme, and 10,261 creators and publishers under the ELR scheme.
The report charts the 100 highest-scoring books for PLR in the past three and 30 years; the top 100 highest-scoring books in ELR for 2006-07; and the 100 largest payments to publishers.

The top 10 books held in public libraries for the three years 2004-05, 05-06 and 06-07 were:
1. Possum Magic (Mem Fox, Scholastic)
2. Where is the Green Sheep? (Mem Fox, Puffin)
3. Whitethorn (Bryce Courtenay, Penguin)
4. Seven Ancient Wonders (Matthew Reilly, Pan Macmillan)
5. Scarecrow (Matthew Reilly, Pan Macmillan)
6. Flags and Emblems of Australia (Jill B Bruce, S&S)
7. Looking for Alibrandi (Melina Marchetta, Penguin)
8. Dirt Music (Tim Winton, Picador)
9. The Reef (Di Morrissey, Pan)
10. Brother Fish (Bryce Courtenay, Penguin)

The 10 highest scoring books in the ELR scheme for 2006-07 were:
1. Possum Magic (Mem Fox, Scholastic)
2. Wombat Stew (Marcia K Vaughan, Scholastic)
3. Rowan of Rin (Emily Rodda, Scholastic)
4. Hating Alison Ashley (Robin Klein, Puffin)
5. The Paw Thing (Paul Jennings, Puffin)
6. Where the Forest Meets the Sea (Jeannie Baker, Walker Books)
7. Two Weeks With the Queen (Morris Gleitzman, Pan)
8. Playing Beatie Bow (Ruth Park, Puffin)
9. Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge (Mem Fox, Scholastic)
10. The Cabbage Patch Fib (Paul Jennings, Puffin)
To obtain a copy of the report, and for more information on PLR and ELR, go to www.environment.gov.au.

Will income ever come to authors from digital sales?

In November, 2007, the US Book Industry Study Group (BISG) met and discussed income from the digital supply chain. Digital issues remain at the core of what BISG is currently focusing on as a new type of supply chain, “a digital supply chain”, is emerging. However, if the sale of digital information is to be successful new standards need to be set and ways to identify digital products need to be developed. The common supply chain model for the digital environment involves the ability to sell pieces of books digitally. This results in an explosion of content fragments that need to be identified so that their sales can be tracked..
Managing fragment sales will be far more complicated than monitoring sales of print books, which have at most two or three editions (hardcover, trade paperback and mass market paperback). The challenge is managing hundreds of thousands of pieces of content. What is needed is a system that can manage not only print editions of a work, but an expanding range of digital products that includes audio, e-book, customized texts and various fragment sales such as the sale of book chapters. One proposed solution is the International Standard Text Code (ISTC), which is expected to be introduced next year and will bring together all the different formats of a piece of content under one identification number.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Melbourne Writers Festival

I'll be at the Melbourne Writers Festival on 22 and 23 August. More details will be available shortly, but I'll be presenting two workshops as well as appearing on an industry panel.

More details on the Melbourne Writers Festival website.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Queer Collaborations: Freedoms are won, not given

I am delighted to have been asked to deliver the plenary address to the 2008 Queer Collaborations conference "Freedoms are won, not given" at Melbourne University 3 July, 2008.


The conference runs from 1 to 4 July. I'll be talking about union actions in support of the struggle for equality for gays and lesbians, an issue that I have been involved in since 1973 (see other postings on this blog). The photo of me below is from that time.


You can read more about this and my involvement in the first Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras in Overland 191, now available in all good bookshops.
For more details of the Queer Collaborations conference, email freedomsarewonnotgiven@gmail.com

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Authors in Priority Schools Program report

The Australian Society of Authors (ASA) Authors in Priority Schools pilot project involved the Commonwealth Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR), the Australian Society of Authors (ASA), the Priority Schools Programs of the NSW Department of Education and Training (PSP) and the English Unit, Curriculum Directorate of the NSW Department of Education and Training (DET). A report on the project is available on the ASA website (http://www.asauthors.org/scripts/cgiip.exe/WService=ASP0016/ccms.r?PageId=10067).

The report demonstrates that:
• The Authors in Priority Schools project was highly regarded by students, teachers, parents and the authors
• Students’ positive attitudes to reading improved
• Students’ positive attitudes to writing improved
• Teachers gained useful knowledge from the project
• Teachers found the workshops useful in developing materials and strategies for engaging students
• Teachers valued the insights gained from observing an author workshop narrative
• All teachers agreed that the students’ attitudes and engagement had improved.
• Anecdotal comments indicated that participants agreed that the outcomes for the project were achieved. Comments to support these findings included: “Overall, the project has been a great success with tangible improvement in interest, engagement and writing skills of students … Students were extremely proud of their achievements ...(The) staff felt that they were given good ideas”.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Canberra Writers Festival 2008

June 21, 2008

9-10 am

So you want to be an author? With Dr Jeremy Fisher (ASA)

Why be a writer? The book is dead. The cultural context for a professional writer; Know your market: opportunities for writers; Know your rights: copyright, contracts and other contentious issues. QL2 Theatre, Gorman House, Ainslie Ave, Braddon. Max: 80 people.

10-11 am

How traditional book publishing works with Kristina Schulz from UQP and Dr Jeremy Fisher from the Australian Society of Authors. This session will cover submissions, advances, local and overseas rights, markets, royalties, bookshops, contracts, distributors, where does the money go? Q & A. Venue: QL2 Theatre, Gorman House, Ainslie Ave, Braddon




Allen & Unwin: Advice for would-be authors

Allen & Unwin, now Australia’s largest independent publisher, commenced publishing in Australia in 1976 as part of the UK-based parent company of the same name. In 1990, following the purchase of the UK parent company by HarperCollins, Allen & Unwin's Australian directors effected a management buy-out and the company became fully independent, owning the Allen & Unwin imprint throughout the world.
In addition to its own extensive publishing programme, Allen & Unwin is the Australian and New Zealand distributor for ABC Books and Audio and BBC Audio, A&C Black, Bloomsbury, Continuum, Faber & Faber, Granta, Icon Books, Nicholas Brealey and Profile Books.
Allen & Unwin been voted "Publisher of the Year" by Australian Booksellers in 1992 (the inaugural award), 1996, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006 and 2007. In 2007, the company published 250 titles, encompassing fiction and general non-fiction, an academic list specialising in the social sciences and health, and the Allen & Unwin children's list.
Allen & Unwin is represented in the United Kingdom by Orion (Adult Trade) and Francis Lincoln (Children's); in the United States and Canada by Independent Publisher's Group (Trade) and Paul & Company (Academic); in South Africa by Wild Dog Press; in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines by APD Singapore; in Hong Kong, Korea and Taiwan and PRC by Asia Publishers Services; and in Japan by United Publishers Services.
Allen & Unwin currently accepts unsolicited non-fiction and fiction manuscripts. The company does not accept submissions on disc or via email. For adult fiction and non-fiction submissions, send the first 60 pages and a one-page synopsis of the manuscript, printed on A4 paper. Include a covering letter detailing the author’s writing experience, previous publications, work and any relevant life details. If the manuscript targets a specific market, give a brief description of the intended readership. For non-fiction submissions the company also asks for a review of any already published books that cover a similar topic and an outline of how your proposal differs. Check the Allen & Unwin website for further details: www.allenandunwin.com.
Only send copies of your submission (never send the original or sole copy) - Allen & Unwin takes no responsibility for the loss or damage of unsolicited material received. Receipt of your submission will be acknowledged, but the company says it may take 3-6 months for them to fully assess the work.
Send a suitably sized, stamped, self-addressed postage bag for the return of your manuscript in the event that it is rejected. The work will not be returned if you do not send postage. Send submissions to this address: Allen & Unwin, PO Box 8500, St Leonards NSW 1590.

Text Publishing: Advice for would-be authors

Text Publishing began in 1994 based in Melbourneas an off-shoot of the Text Media group set up by former Fairfax executive Eric Beecher. As a book publisher, Text quickly established a reputation for quality fiction and non-fiction, guided by the vision of Michael Heyward. Heyward is a well-known Melbourne literary identity with links to the defunct literary magazine Scripsi and the omnipresent critic of all things literary in Melbourne, Peter Craven. Text has published Shane Maloney, Murray Bail, Anna Funder, Linda Jaivin, Raymond Gaita, Kate Grenville and most recently Nobel Laureate J.M. Coetzee.
When Beecher sold the Text Media magazine and suburban newspaper interests to Fairfax in 2004, the book company separated under Heyward’s ownership. In June 2004, Text Publishing and Canongate Books of Edinburgh announced an “alliance” which meant that Canongate took some equity in the Melbourne firm. This was important as it provided the financial wherewithal for Text to keep its independent character and continue to publish its eclectic list.
Text is broadly interested in publishing fiction and non-fiction, including upper Primary and young adult, but does not accept poetry or playscripts. Text accepts unsolicited manuscripts. Send a synopsis and three sample chapters to: Manuscript Submissions, Text Publishing, Swann House, 22 William Street, Melbourne 3000.
Send a copy, not the original, of your manuscripts in hard copy (rather than electronically or on disk). This copy must be single sided, with numbered pages and double spaced. Text will not receive you if you call in person with your submission, but they will return manuscripts with a self-addressed envelope and sufficient postage. However, rejected manuscripts not accompanied by return postage are “recycled”. If your manuscript is rejected, you will most likely receive a form rejection letter. That’ll be it. As Text receive so many manuscripts they do not have time for any follow-up.
They also do not send out acknowledgement of receipt of manuscripts, but they say they endeavour to respond to all submissions. Be aware though that assessment may take up to four months.
For all manuscript related queries, please email books@textpublishing.com.au rather than telephone.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

So you want the truth …

Many, many years ago when I had just started Year 7 my science teacher asked the class to write about what would happen if the sun stopped shining. I had learned all about photosynthesis in Year 6, so I wrote a story about the end of the world.
“Fade to black,” I called it.
I was pleased with my story. I was not pleased when the science teacher disdainfully held it up between thumb and forefinger in front of the class as an example of what primary school babies wrote.
“You’re in high school now,” he said. “You need to write science reports, not this science fiction”. And he threw my story on my desk with its mark of 1/10. This was a brutal introduction to scientific methodology and reporting. A quick lesson, remembered ever since that report writing was different to writing a story.
But while the writing mode had to be different, did truth change through being narrated in another way? My juvenile apocalyptic account of the end of the world due to the dying of the sun was true enough in that life needs sunlight to sustain it. But my science teacher required me to give it (questionable) scientific validity and describe in the form of problem, method, results and conclusion. Did this make it more truthful?
Only if you trust scientists absolutely. And you should not. Scientific fraud is not unknown. In 2006 two stem-cell research papers written by Woo Suk Hwang previously published in Science were retracted when the editors were advised Hwang had fabricated data. The esteemed medical journal Lancet also had to withdraw a paper by John Sudbo when it was discovered the patient histories included in them were invented. Researchers have also been known to report only positive results from their research, and this has led to the public release of pharmaceutical drugs whose adverse side effects have been fatal. There are many more examples, so scientific reports are no indicator of truthfulness. They can be as much fiction as, well, fiction.
Nevertheless scientists expect communication in the form of a report. A report provides a comprehensible structure. The structure is comfortably familiar, even if the contents are completely false. A false report can escape detection because it “looks right”. Most casual readers won’t necessarily check the data or the references.
It is clear from Bookscan sales data that biographies and autobiographies are popular sales categories. For the sale of trade books in the period January to September 2007 autobiographies and biographies make up the largest segment (4.5%) of the non-fiction category. Non-fiction itself represented 34.9% of trade books sold, while fiction made up only 26.8% of trade books sold. Thanks to a new Harry Potter book, children’s books had a massive 36.4% of the trade book market. So, according to the figures, if you can’t publish Harry Potter, a biography or autobiography is the next best bet, and publishers after all are betting people. Like lawyers, their business is all about risk and minimising it.
As a literary form, biographies and autobiographies traditionally have been regarded as “true stories”. But you have to question the nature of truth when a seventy-year-old, say, is writing about herself as a twenty year old. First, memory is selective. Then there are the boring bits left out because, well, they are boring. These boring bits may well be years of one’s person’s life. The resulting autobiography may well be an interesting narrative, with some matters in it that apparently “happened”, but they are as much “truth” as the drawings of a three-year old are “true” images of reality – that is, each is circumscribed by age, perception and ability. Each is not provable scientific fact, but interpretation. Hence, autobiography and biography are really and appropriately fiction, although the term “faction” might more appropriate.
Truth travels only a matter of degrees between a “true” autobiography and a fantasised story written as though it were an autobiography. The difficulty – the fraud – comes when one is passed off as the other, since each may be equally as good as each other as literary works. But is it really fraud? Regardless of genre or form, shouldn’t the quality of the writing be the final arbiter for good writing?
In Australia we are probably too rigid with our categorisations of what is fiction and non-fiction. Recently, I spoke about these issues with German author Uwe Timm, whose book In my brother’s shadow moved me greatly. Uwe insists this book is fiction, despite the fact that his includes excerpts from his dead brother’s diary, and that he writes in the first person as “Uwe Timm” about his own memories of World War II. Uwe’s brother was a member of the Waffen SS fighting on the Russian front. The diary his brother wrote there is the sort of straightforward account you might expect of an eighteen-year old – until he is wounded and reality sets in and the writing ceases. Uwe, fifty years later, wonders whether his brother felt guilt at his role in some of the worst atrocities of the war. He reflects on why his brother enlisted, how his mother and sister coped with the fire bombing of Hamburg, how he as a young child was rushed into air-raid shelters as Hamburg was firebombed. It appears to be almost all fact.
Another fact is that on one of the nights Uwe records in his book, a night when he was rushed through the streets showered with burning ashes, high above him my father peered out into the flak-lit sky from the cockpit of his Lancaster. Further back in the plane his bomb aimer lay prone and prepared to let loose the plane’s evil belly load of phosphorous bombs. The bombs were cruel weapons. My father knew that. The fact gnawed at him. The guilt had not abated even as I held his dying body in 2001. He knew he was killing civilians. Three-year-olds, as Uwe was at the time. Mothers. Grandparents. Those the soldiers had left at home in Hamburg, trusting they were relatively safe. My father was sent home to New Zealand later in 1943, sick in spirit and with bronchitis, conscious that the survival rate for the Allied air forces over Europe was only one in 2. He was merely 22 years old.
In defence of my father, Uwe argues that the phosphorous bombs were part of a desperate defence against the premeditated aggression of the Nazis, in whose tortuous philosophy his 18-year-old brother became entangled. He leaves open any analysis of the morality in such a thing as a premeditated attack on Iraq. He leaves open the distance of truth between himself at three on the ground and my father some miles up in the air at 22. He tells a story that is about truth but not “true”. He does not accept his story is memoir because he knows he has structured it as a novel. He is proud of the fugue form he has used, of the story’s rhythm, of its semblance of reality. He is proud, as he should be, of his beautiful narrative.
What is truth after all except the spaces between words?

Parts of this article first appeared in the April 2008 issue of Australian Author. Copyright © 2008 Jeremy Fisher/Australian Society of Authors.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Distribution: the key to effective publishing

Distribution is perhaps the key to publishing. Without effective distribution, books do not get into bookshops or online databases. Most publishers rely on this ability in terms of contracting with authors. While independent booksellers are still a major part of the book market in Australia, booksellers recognise that large megamarket chains such as Myer, Target, Kmart and Big W have been able to negotiate big discounts with publishers on titles used as loss leaders. Some of the major bookselling chains demand similar discounts and operate their own marketing campaigns that require a publisher to subsidise the shelf and signage placement for books.
These discounting practices and extra marketing costs have an impact on sales. The success of Dan Brown’s books and the Harry Potter series has been bolstered by the fact that they are available in many locations at discounted prices. Australian author Bryce Courtenay has encouraged his publisher Pearson (Penguin) to offer his books in a wide variety of locations and sales of his books are very impressive.
Online booksellers are beginning to have an impact though. In the case of Amazon, this is a threat to the Australian industry as the sales take place overseas. Amazon also does not pay GST on sales of books online. Since they are also based off-shore, they are unlikely to offer Australian editions for sale, which is not good for Australian authors. Fortunately, the online operations of Dymocks and other Australian suppliers are begiining to match those of Amazon. Independent bookstores like Gleebooks in Sydney also offer very good online facilities.
For authors whose royalties are calculated on the Recommended Retail Price, this discounting should serve to increase their potential earning. However, many publishers are introducing clauses that change royalty rates where discounts in excess of a certain amount (50% is generally the base at present), and this may well have an impact on an author’s potential and real earnings.

Self–publishing
For self-publishers, it is advantageous to have a distribution agreement in place before incurring any publishing costs. This allows self-publishers to cost their books around the most crucial part of the publishing process. Self-publishers should seek distribution options. These may be difficult to come by.
Most distributors (these may be traditional publishers or firms that specialise in placing products in retail outlets) seek to acquire stock for distribution at 30-35% of the RRP. As an example, on a book with a RRP of $24.95 and purchase priced at 30% a distributor would pay a self-publisher $7.49. For the self-publisher to make the equivalent of a 10% royalty, the total cost price of the book to the self-publisher needs to be $4.99 or less ($7.49 minus royalty of $2.50). Total cost price includes editing, typesetting, printing and binding costs.
Distributors will offer the self-publisher's book to bookshops at somewhere between 45-60% of the retail price. Bookshops are unwilling to stock books by unknown authors and will seek the most favourable terms. These terms mean the distributor will make between $3.74 and $7.48 on the self-publisher's book, but in doing so the distributor will incur costs for storage, freight and returns. A distributor may also ask a self-published author to contribute to the costs of marketing. That may mean providing material for sales representatives, cover blurbs, printing of sales material etc. These costs should be outlined in any distribution agreement so that self-publishers are aware of what they are liable for.
Booksellers will sell the book at $24.95 (or perhaps at a discount) and gross somewhere between 40-55% of the retail price. Again, although booksellers are buying on sale or return terms, they will incur costs for rent, labour, stock control etc.
Self-publishing authors should investigate distribution options before they commit to any production process. So-called publishing enterprises that provide editing and book production services without the surety of books being promoted and distributed to bookshops are not offering a bona fide publishing service. These enterprises leave the crucial task of promotion and sale of the book to the self-publisher.
Self-publishing writers seeking to use the services of such enterprises should question them keenly on their success rate in distribution and request evidence that the enterprise has successfully served other self-publishers in delivering sales.

Monday, May 5, 2008

The Pleasure of the Archive: Darwin Sessions

I'll be facilitating the above session at Wordstorm in Darwin. Alice Garner, Andrew McMillan, Ursula Dubosarsky and Gideon Haigh will reveal the pleasures to be found in the arms of an archive. Friday May 16, 12.45-2.15pm Arafura Tent.
I'll also be conducting a session on Legal Matters for Authors on Thursday May 15 and a session called "So you want to be an author?" on Sunday May 18.
I look forward to meeting heaps of ASA members there.
There'll be an ASA get-together on the Saturday evening. The ASA Chair, Dr Anita Heiss, and ASA NT representative Helen Pavlin will be in attendance. See the Northern Territory Writers Centre for details. Phone: 08 8941 2651.

Byron Bay Writers Festival

I'm going to be conducting two sessions at the Byron Bay Writers Festival.
One is a workshop "So you want to be an author?" That runs from 1.30 to 4.30 pm on Wednesday 23 July. The location is still be be announced.
I'll also be running a workshop on Legal Matters for Authors from 9.30 am to 12.30 pm on 24 July at the Lakehouse, Byron Bay Beach Resort.
Bookings should be made through the Northern Rivers Writers Centre. Ph: 02-6685-5115. Email: info@nrwc.org.au.