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:
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 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.

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:

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Remuneration in Australian Publishing

It comes as no surprise that publishers are the main beneficiaries from the publishing industry in terms of receiving the greatest financial benefits. However, up until 2002-03, the returns from publishing were not significantly different from returns from cash investment. Between 2001-02 and 2002-03, the operating profit before tax for book publishing businesses increased from $50.2 million to $88.4 million. The profit margin increased from 3.3% in 2001-02 to 5.6% in 2002-03.
In 2003-04, however, this situation changed dramatically. Overall operating profit for that period was $152.1 million or 9.7%. The profit margin for the 20 largest book publishers was 4.4% in 2002-03 but rose to 9.7% in 2003-04. Other book publishers had a profit margin of 10.2% in 2002-03 and 12.7% in 2003-04, which is a very healthy return by any standard.

Salary scales for publishers
At the end of June 2004, there were 5,300 people employed in book publishing. In 2003-04, 3,547 (67%) of these 5,300 employees were employed by the 20 largest publishers. In 2003-04, wages and salaries paid by publishers came to $266.1 million, which represented 19% of publishers total expenses compared to the 6.5% paid as royalties or fees (down from 10.9% the previous years). In 2003-04, royalty payments and fees paid by publishers fell 11% or $11.7 million from $102.6 million to $90.9 million.
In 2002-03, the average salary of full-time publishing employees was $46,554. In 2003-04, this had risen $52,300, an increase of 9% over the previous year. However, only 3972 of these employees were full-time. Therefore, many people working in the publishing industry earn much more. Senior sales and publishing managers may well receive $150,000 to $200,000, or even more with bonus payments and fringe benefits. Sales representatives will have salaries from $50,000. Administrative staff members have salaries starting from $40,000.

Salary scales for editors
Publishers use the term “editor’ with some looseness. “Acquisitions” or “Commissioning” editors may be publishers, and receive payment as such. The term editor here refers to those people who work on a manuscript and shepherd it through the production process. and are covered under the Book Industry Award. Under this award, trainee editors commence on a salary (at the time this was prepared) of $30,600 and the highest grade receives nearly $51,000 plus 9% superannuation. In practice, many publishers pay above these rates and offer fringe benefits.
The freelance rate for book editors currently appears to vary between $45 and $75 per hour. How many freelancers can be assured of this rate however depends on their desperation and the publisher’s powers of persuasion.

Payment scales for indexers
The Australian and New Zealand Society of Indexers (ANZSI) recommends a base rate of $55.00 (excluding GST) an hour for its members. The same comment as above applies regarding how many indexers can be assured of this rate.

Remuneration to authors
Authors survive on royalties, payments for subsidiary rights, lending rights payments and payments for statutory reprographic rights (administered by Copyright Agency Limited [CAL]). Even so, the Throsby and Hollister report Don’t give up your day job indicates that in the period 2000-01 writers had a mean arts income of $26,400 and a median arts income of $11,700.
In 2001-02, the proportion of sales of Australian titles of $853.8 million paid as royalties and fees to creators was 10.9%, or $93.06 million. In 2002-03, the proportion of sales of Australian titles of $877 million paid as royalties and fees to creators was 11.7%, or $102.6 million. This amount dropped in 2003-04 to $90.9 million, only 6.5%.