Writing Industries Conference 2010

Lynne Connolly, Sue Moorcroft, Mary Nichols

Brilliant Writing Industries Conference at Martin Hall, Loughborough University on Saturday – I really enjoyed it.

The conference theme was how publishing is changing and ‘new media’ was the buzz phrase. I had never attended a conference quite like this one. I’m used to a lot of ‘how to’ workshops but this conference was aimed at understanding and analysing the publishing industry and where to find a place within it.

I chaired a panel from the Romantic Novelists’ Association – myself, Lynne Connolly and Mary Nichols. Mary is a prolific Mills & Boon historical romance writer and also writes mainstream women’s fiction, presently for Allison & Busby. Her books are released in print all over the world and now, of course, also in ebook format.

Lynne writes historical romance and paranormal erotic romance for Ellora’s Cave, Samhain and other epublishers. Although her books are available in print, too, the main of her sales comes from ebooks. The publishers are American and, as Lynne makes money from her work, ebooks are probably more widely accepted, there. In our audience, only two people said that they read ebooks.

With panellists from two such different areas of romantic fiction, the discussion was wide ranging. Although Mary writes in a traditional area, Lynne at the cutting edge and me, with romantic fiction, kind of in the middle with novels from Choc Lit and ‘how to’ from Accent Press, we had a surprising number of things in common. We write for a living. We all have more than one publisher. We work hard. We place the majority, if not all, our work without help from an agent.

I think we took the audience a little by surprise with our emphasis on getting published for money – bless our commercial little hearts. And, yes, we would still write if we weren’t paid for it. But we’d be submitting for paid publication all the time. Art for art’s sake is lovely as a hobby but doesn’t pay the bills.

I would hate to have to get a proper job and only be able to write evenings and weekends.

A panel I enjoyed as part of the audience for on community journalism and blogging.

Each of the panel members, John Coster, Al Needham, James Walker and Susi O’Neill, are involved in community news collectives in Nottinghamshire or Leicestershire – the Leftlion, Citizen’s Eye, Soar Magazine and Creative Nottingham, in print and online.

It was an entertaining panel and I chose to attend because I didn’t know what community journalism is. I was impressed by the energy and vision each panellist brought to their work but the question that had been burning through me as I listened was voiced by the guy in front of me – a journalist. ‘How do you make money?’ Ah, well. Money didn’t really come into it. They covered their costs. They had grants. They didn’t actually take much out in the way of wages – each of them earns money through day jobs, such as journalism.

I admire their community spirit and altruism.

Closer to my heart was the panel about commercial fiction: Nicola Monaghan, writer,  Alan Mahar, publishing director of Tindal Street Press, and Lorella Belli, Lorella Belli Literary Agency.

I fell in love with Lorella for stating stoutly that the end of the print era is not upon us. It’s still the mainstream popular choice of the reader. The book is the starting point, ebooks are ‘just another format’ and have a number of formatting issues to perfect and she can’t see ebooks taking over from paper. Phew! I was beginning to think I was astride a dinosaur. In fact, she said that her agency had a fabulous year last year – although this was partly due to work selling well into translation markets as high street sales in fiction have dropped 7-10% for fiction, more for non-fiction, and serial rights to magazines by as much as 50%. The market for travel writing and coffee table books has slumped.

If you’re sending work to Lorella, you will probably have to try harder than ever before as publishers are concentrating on fewer writers but giving more support. Check out what she represents before sending it to her, do all your research, be market aware and professional. If you’re sending non-fiction your proposal will need to be more comprehensive than previously. She agreed that we do need to adapt to current trends but publishing is by no means all doom.

Alan said that small publishers were finding advantages to the current economic downturn – picking up good writers that larger houses had dropped! Good on you, Alan. He’s a fan of Waterstones and the 3 for 2 deals but mourns the declining number of independent bookshops. Tindal Street publishes literary fiction, a division of general fiction and, emphatically, still gives writers editorial support. Prize listings are important to Tindal Street, as are reviews. Alan suggests that anybody who wants to write for Tindal write the very best book that’s within them, without accommodating market trends, which will have changed by the time that the book is published, anyway.

Nicola Monaghan didn’t suggest that she had been affected by the recession. She’s with a big publisher, Random House, and seemed quite happy to be so.

With so many examples of writers still writing and editors and agents still doing their thing, too, I’m wondering where all the people who predict doom and gloom get their information from … From the dropped writers and the redundant editors, I suppose.

My favourite part of the day was a keynote speech from Graham Joyce. It wasn’t unduly optimistic but Graham is a great speaker and he made me laugh, especially when he pretended to be his dad. Maybe I was meant to take more away from a great speech delivered with individualism but that’s what stuck in my mind.

Oh yes, and that writers, to make a living, should be prepared to not only embrace new media but draw their income streams from many different sources.

So I’m doing something right!

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13 Comments

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13 responses to “Writing Industries Conference 2010

  1. Penny

    Thank you, Sue! Informative and interesting post, and glad you had a good day. I too was wondering what is a ‘community journalist’!

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  2. What you say here about writing in order to make a sale interests me. Many people – among the unpublished, I mean – do seem to find the idea of selling their work secondary to the fun of writing it in the first place. Of course, it’s normal within small or community presses not to write for a profit – or indeed to make any money at all. I’ve done it myself, for various reasons, the most obvious being to raise my profile as a writer and to gain useful experience in the business.

    But writing a novel for nothing is quite a different beast. That kind of wasted effort is more like lunacy than community spirit or a useful career move. I would never write with the expectation of failing to get paid. I do write speculatively – sadly, very few writers don’t have to do so, in these lean times – but it’s with a certain amount of confidence in my ability to sell. If not in one place, then in another. Novels are so very demanding as a genre. If one didn’t think the end product would be saleable, what would be the point of all that work?

    I suppose *practice* is a good reason to write a novel without hope or expectation of selling. But once you’re past that first attempt … ?!

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    • suemoorcroft

      Hi Jane,

      As a tutor, I come across loads of people who enjoy writing but have no intention of trying for publication. I try and think back to the first two books I wrote (which is difficult, without cringing, as they were so damned bad) and remember that I enjoyed writing those books more than any others. I truly did.

      But I enjoy seeing my books on the shelves even more than that!

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  3. I thoroughly enjoyed this report, Sue, thank you so much for sharing!. I’m one of the writers who find the idea of writing a whole novel for no financial reward at all, quite a daunting prospect. But then I have a day job as a copywriter and have earned my living from writing that way for over 20 years so maybe I have a different perspective.

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  4. Roberta Grieve

    Like you I find some people in my group are not really interested in publication but we encourage them to enter competitions. A winning story publshed in a magazine can be a tremendous boost and encourage them to start submitting. Some of them are what you might term ‘community journalists’ in that they send stuff to church magazines etc. I too do a certain amount of unpaid writing – editing (and writing a lot of) a quarterly newsletter for the local literary society. I do it because it’s fun and rewarding in other ways than financial.
    As for the daunting prospect of writing that first novel with no expectation (but a lot of hope) of getting published, as Jane says, you can look on it as practice. You wouldn’t expect to play Mozart’s violin concerto the first time you picked up a violin. If you manage to get to the end it is such a satisfying feeling, then comes the nitty gritty of editing, sending it out – again and again – and the inevitable (for most of us) rejections. But, as the old song says, you just have to ‘pick yourself up, dust yourself down and start all over again’.

    If you really persevere it will happen as it did for me. My fourth novel comes out in June but it took a long time and a lot of disappointments.

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  5. Roberta, I totally agree! If you persevere, it wll happen. I rewrote my first novel about three times before I dared to send it off to an agent. I assumed I’d be rejected but I carried on because I was enjoying it so much. Fortunately, I was very lucky and it was accepted!

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  6. An interesting post Sue, but oh – depressing when so many of the people pushing new media haven’t given a thought to how anyone will make money from writing content. At some point the penny is going to have to drop – literally as well as metaphorically.

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    • suemoorcroft

      I think that a lot of it is meant to publicise paying work – for the freelance journos, anyway.

      But, to be fair, Graham Joyce is writing the new Doom game, Doom 4. Or IV. He says that games are a big boom area for writers as gamers are beginning to move towards games with a strong story and carry on playing to see what happens next rather than just to see how many minotaurs or hedgehogs they can zap. I’m not a gamer so don’t know about trends in that arena.

      What I’m surprised about regarding the electronic world is that sometimes downloads are as expensive as print. Don’t get that.

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  7. Rebecca Holmes

    Thanks for the post, Sue. Sadly, I couldn’t go to the conference as I had to be somewhere else that dy, so it was good to see a report and get some idea of what went on.

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  8. Rebecca Holmes

    Or even “day”!

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  9. Hi Sue
    Interesting post – thanks for sharing. Very good to know the good old book is not yet dead! As you know I write short stories for womags and find the idea of writing thousands of words with no idea of whether anybody will ever read them or whether I’ll ever get paid for them terrifying! Consequently I find I can’t do it, so I’m trying to ride two horses with one bottom and keep on writing shorts at the same time as working on a longer WIP. I know it’ll take longer that way, but at least I’ll (hopefully) get paid something for my stories while I’m working on the longer project! Glad I’ve discovered this blog! x
    http://www.lydiajones.co.uk/blog

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    • suemoorcroft

      Hi Lydia,

      I always have more than one writing project on the go – short stories, a novel, maybe a serial and some articles. It keeps the income as even as possible in this random industry. And when one project needs a bit more thought, I just move on to another.

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