‘There is a great love affair with the word’ – Jane Curry, Ventura Publishing
What a terrific, and truthful sentiment with which to kick off the latest addition to Sydney’s literary festival scene – the inaugural Writers in the Park, held yesterday in a rather soggy Centennial Park.
There is a love affair with the word. Of that I had no doubt. How else to explain why people would still venture out on a wet and cold September morning to listen to writers speak about their craft?
For me, it was a no-brainer. As it has been for so many writers and artists, Centennial Park is my creative home. A place where I walk and think nearly every day. Added to that was a chance to meet the very lovely Nicole Melanson, the force behind Word Mothers – a blog that features interviews with women writers and book industry professionals from all over the world.
In the first session of the day, a panel discussion titled ‘What on your mind,’ Shona Martyn (HarperCollins), Jane Curry (Ventura Press), Helen O’Dare (Hinkler Books) and Rick Raftos (Raftos Management) spoke about the state of the industry. Here’s what they had to say..
Mostly, the panel was positive on the state of the industry, acknowledging that it had been through a difficult period of adjustment but now seemed to have settled into the digital age.
‘The book industry is in a really good place at the moment.. The print book is holding its own,’ said Shona Martyn
Helen O’Dare said the colouring book craze had been ‘just incredible’ for Hinkler books, and Shona Martyn agreed it wasn’t a bad thing for the industry as a whole as it was getting people into bookshops.
On the downside, the publishers agreed the biggest threat to the industry was the increasing fragmentation of the entertainment market. ‘All of us spend less time reading,’ Shona Martyn, as our time is being eaten up by other things.
Jane Curry agreed that technology still posed a challenge and that the industry needed to think of itself as a technology/communications business, and start competing across entertainment platforms,
‘It’s the best and worst of times to be a writer,’ said Rick Raftos, referring to the relative ease with which writers can now be published, but the extreme difficulty they face in actually making any money out of it.
The market tends to be dominated by ‘brand name’ authors, making it extremely difficult to ‘break’ a new author into the market.
However, that’s not to say it’s impossible (and Shona Martyn mentioned that HarperCollins is looking for new women’s commercial fiction). The internet provides enormous opportunity for writers to engage their readers directly, something readers seem extremely receptive to; they want to know more about the authors they read. They want to go beyond the page with them, and into their lives.
Jane Curry mentioned that Ventura Press now asks its authors to generate content (such as blog posts) in order to engage with their readership. While some writers are naturally shy and reluctant to put themselves ‘out there’, Curry says that’s just something they have to put aside and assume a ‘different persona’.
More than ever, there is a focus in the publishing industry on crafting and curating quality books.
Jane Curry says the days where anything and everything was printed and expected to sell well, are over. Now, publishers are spending more time on crafting their books, not just on the marketing and cover design – ‘It comes down to the writing.’ Shona Martyn agreed, saying that to take a book to publication is a ten month process.
As for the next ‘big thing’ in books, the panel said they had no idea. ‘Trends are impossible to predict,’ said Rick Raftos. ‘If people ask me what they should be writing, they shouldn’t be writing.’
At the end of the day, what everyone on the panel is looking for is a good story, well told.
And, you know what, by the end of the day, the sun was shining, and the Park was revealing itself in its full glory.
I’ll be back next year, and I know many, many others will be too.