What does Brexit mean for writers?

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While the dust has far from settled, following this enormous bombshell, I thought I’d risk some speculation.

The film and TV industries have been clear that they think it’ll be more difficult to get finance, and that fewer British and European films and programmes will show up in each other’s territories. For the next couple of years, I think we’ll see polarisation between low-budget domestic product, and material which looks as if it’ll be successful internationally. So, anyone who can write good scripts that cost very little and can be shot here, and more Harry Potter.

We might see some unexpected alliances, too, as co-production partners.

The publishing industry has also been clear it thinks Brexit is disastrous. In particular, the US and UK may war over English-language books exported to Europe. If the Americans can get cheaper editions into Europe, the UK publishers will lose many thousands of sales. In response, I think publishers will try and protect their incomes by putting even greater pressure on authors to agree to World rights deals.

It’s never been easy to make a living in this business, but the next few years will call on our best entrepreneurial and creative skills.

Meg

Hard at work!

As some may have noticed, we’ve been a bit quiet on the blog front. We bought another agency back in April, and have been paddling hard like the proverbial duck while attempting to look serene.

The easiest part of the process was doing the deal with my agent friend. She was great and furnished me with all sorts of information: spreadsheets of current licences, contact details, email addresses of royalty departments and so forth. Granted, the deal was on the basis that the agency couldn’t accommodate a large number of new clients – not with the level of attention we like to give.

What I’ve learned in the process:

1. Agents carry a very large amount of information in their heads. You think you’ve put everything down on paper, but it’s a whole nother thing to come along as a newcomer to this information.
2. Some people need telling twice. Some people are still trying to send money to the old agency. There will be people I have to remind more than twice, I can already tell.
3. You have to take the time it takes to establish good relationships. This applies to the new clients as well as new co-agents and publishers. It’s well worth it.
4. Change makes everyone anxious. Of course.

We’ve worked out who needs what tax forms, who’s writing what and for whom, and what money hasn’t arrived. It’s also been important to work out the new clients’ preferences in style of agenting, from the ‘professional only and don’t ask me about my new dog’, to the ‘I’d quite like an opinion on everything I’ve ever written’, to the ‘I miss old-fashioned publishing lunches and I’ll be really happy if we can linger till four in the afternoon talking about old friends and bad books’.

A few things have gone by the board lately, which we should apologise for. We haven’t been as responsive as we’d like to submissions, in particular. But everything’s now getting back onto an even keel. Still paddling hard, though.

The Fetish of Bookishness

Recently I was looking at the Twitter timeline of a local author. The tweeter described themselves as a ‘crime writer’ although I could find no evidence of either published works or, in fact, any attempt to get published. Such was this writer’s personal confidence and dominance of their local writer’s group that publication seemed a secondary aim. Forceful airing of views on writing craft, plot and the industry of publishing seemed to be enough. The writer had fetishized being part of a trade they could, at best, be deemed to exist on the periphery of. Curious at this self assured timeline I continued to find literary agents recommended to other potential authors by this unagented tweeter, rallies to other writers to ‘just write!!’, ‘edit edit edit’ and ‘research!!’. I was struck by this rock solid self-belief and wondered whether bookishness has become a fetish. One that perhaps eschews the entire publishing process?

With bookishness in mind I continued to examine the competition element in local writing groups and found that number of books read and owned appears to be a key factor in setting oneself apart from other unpublished writers. As someone who recently took a year out of publishing one of the most rewarding things I found was reading for pleasure and without pressure- what a joy! I would urge any writer wishing to be published to read less but increase quality and relevance. Yet writing groups appear to pressure their members to read at a volume I’d expect on an MA course list. A writer belonging to an amateur writing group setting themselves a public reading challenge seems intimidating in its one-upmanship. One could wonder whether it’s really a form of very vocal protest from someone who reads very little- in other words a fetish for writing and for books and all that entails. The process of submitting work becomes secondary because that involves, at some stage or another, rejection.

Form of writing; longhand or Macbook- (it’s always a Macbook), purchase of notepads and pens, hours worked, tweeting and favouriting latest Kindle deals., bellowing about every open submission deadline, vigorously agreeing, disagreeing and befriending agents on social media appear as a feature of this ungraceful trend. The book fetishist is aggressive and defensive in equal measure.

This is why I am skeptical about Bookaday a recent book blog appeal to ‘Read one book a day for each day of the summer vacation’. Bookaday’has been successfully running for six years and my doubts will not halt its popularity. For myself I’d rather hear about one affecting book in a lifetime than the seven someone read competitively this week. The idea of averaging out at one book a day for six weeks (sometimes three a day, sometimes none) is appallingly reductive to me. Read lots, if that’s what you enjoy, but do not feel a commitment to do so. Of what value is the skim reading of one book per day?

I thought of one of my very favourite books: JL Carr’s A Month In The Country. It is a decade since I last read Carr’s immersive story of the renewal and healing of soldier Tom Birkin in the peaceful summer of 1920. Yet it remains vivid to me. Imagine if I had read it in a day- slim though it is. Would I have noticed its beautiful rhythmic (slow) pace or the beauty of Carr’s writing? I loved it so much I didn’t want it to end. Even so, I’ve never felt the need to read it again.

I therefore announce the Ki Agency book lovers appeal. Here are the tenets:

Readers:

Strive over the next year not to listen to recommendations about the volume or regularity of your reading.

Don’t be pressured by a voluminous stack by your bed.

Don’t, in fact, allow a stack to develop at all.

Limit yourself to one book on the go at any time.

Try to find a book every six months that you will remember for years.

Writers:

Write less but write better.

Read the market segment you are aiming for and read the best books in that segment.

Spend less time reading and more time thinking of your potential reader.

Pass on books you’ve read and declutter- keeping only the finest writing to adorn your home.

Don’t enter into any debates about Kindle vs hard copy.

Understand that the materials you use to write with are not important. It’s the writing that counts.

Daniel

Meet Daniel!

116The amazing and talented Daniel Bouquet has joined the Ki Agency as an agent!  Here’s a chance to get to know him:

What was your first job in publishing?

“It was as an assistant to three directors at a literary agency, Watson, Little Ltd. It’s great that it still thrives but is today shaped so differently. ”

How did you become an agent?

“I had a useful background to be an agent. At the end of my time at Quercus Books Meg approached me about joining her at Ki. It took us a while to get to know each other better and in the end the attraction of working with Meg and Ki was too great to ignore.”

How long have you been at Ki and what was your previous job?

“I’ve only just arrived at Ki Agency. My previous job was as Head of International Rights at Quercus Books.”

What are the key skills an agent needs to do their job?

“The unoriginal but correct answer is: The ability to keep a large number of irons in the fire and to always believe that each work that comes your way could be genuinely original.”

On a day to day basis what is the most challenging aspect of your work?

“At this early point in my career at Ki, when I am seeing so much new writing, it is a challenge to be controlled enough not to leap at everything I like but to wait for those works that are truly saleable.”

Who has most influenced you in your career
Is there anyone in the book/film/tv industry you particularly admire?

“Most recently I would say Christopher MacLehose, the former Publisher at Harvill Books and now at his own imprint, MacLehose Press where I looked after his rights. Christopher is a true maverick and committed contrarian who publishes books I want to read- and which I sought to read before I ever met him. I have a large collection of Harvill Books. When you consider who he has published you can’t help but be awed. Murakami, Mankell, Hoeg, Richard Ford, William Maxwell, Anna Polytovskaya, Raymond Carver, Javier Marias, Jose Saramago, Roberto Saviano and Stieg Larsson to name a mere handful! He’s a hands on Editor, a relentless traveller and having achieved everything is still vigorously at it! I’m happy to say he is also a friend and someone from whom I can and do seek advice. ”

If you hadn’t become an agent what would you be doing today?

“Running a business of some kind- the shape of businesses small and large interests me: a record shop, a bookshop, a coffee shop, a small publisher, if viable, a combination of all? If earning a living was no issue just living on an island and near water. I’d like to live on the North coast of Mallorca.”

Who is your favourite writer?

“At the moment it is Ernest Hemingway. I am stunned by his craft. An old favourite is Robert Graves: Goodbye To All That is truly brilliant and very modern for its day, although not now very fashionable! In truth, my favourite writer changes constantly. When I was young I loved Paul Auster and Ian McEwan whom I now find barely readable. Sometimes it is Murakami. For craft I also admire William Maxwell, Georges Simenon, Jose Saramago, Paul Theroux, Roger Deakin and Henning Mankell. For exuberance I like Pedro Juan Guttierez. The things I read need to be enriching or have a point.”

Who is your favourite fictional character?

“Even though he frustrates I like Toru Watanabe from Murakami’s Norwegian Wood or the mysterious Major Quive Smith from Geoffrey Household’s Rogue Male.”

Do you have a favourite quote?

“The Reverend Sydney Smith’s Advice on Low Spirits to Lady Georgiana Devonshire. It’s too long to quote here but I advise anyone to look it up.”

[Meg says: here’s the link http://www.futilitycloset.com/2012/10/10/advice-concerning-low-spirits/ ]

What is your favourite book/film/tv show/computer game?

“A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway- masterful in its concision and the best book on Paris in the 1920s. I also regularly re-read The Man Who Planted Trees by Jean Giono and Dubliners by James Joyce. As you may tell, I like concise books and unelaborate writing. TV wise I like Scandinavian drama- especially Yellow Bird’s Wallander. It has to be with Krister Henrikson in the title role.”

Name a book you couldn’t finish.

“Fools Alphabet By Sebastian Faulks, which was recommended to me. Books I can’t finish seem to behave badly around me and lose themselves- this one was left on a train. I bought it a second time and left it on the roof of a car as I drove away.”

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

“If writing commercially, identify a readership which makes your writing viable. Keep a journal. Write every day. Less is more in everything. Write a good first line.”

Do you write yourself? If so where?

“I don’t have the compulsion necessary to be a real writer- I prefer to leave it to professionals…”

 

Galbraith or Rowling?

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Whether you believe that this week’s revelation that Galbraith’s novel was actually written by J K Rowling is a publishing scam or an accident, it underlines how difficult and slow it is to launch a writer.

Personally, I believe David Shelley that it wasn’t a callous marketing exercise, but I know the pressures on publishers to make money on authors quickly.  I can imagine a publisher losing their nerve and resorting to stunts, if sales aren’t fast enough, and you know a simple act on your part could change that overnight.

The problem is that producers and publishers – or the people who own and fund them – want faster results than the business will usually deliver.  I’m told a fast movie takes 7 years.  A fast sale will take maybe 6 weeks to make, if you exclude the time it takes to have everything in place to do a fast sale: your relationship with the writer, your relationship with the buyer, and the writer’s development time on the idea.  I’ve done a film deal in a week, but usually a fast negotiation takes three.

For a writer to develop their craft, probably allow 10 years starting when they begin to be interesting, around the age of 40.

For a brand to be successful, a generation?  Two?

Granted, there are notable exceptions, but it’s much more common for ‘overnight successes’ to have taken decades.

So to dump a writer if they’re not bringing in money quickly enough is like putting a few coins in a piggy bank, then smashing it, spending the cash and starting again.  The whole business – writers, agents, publishers, producers, and investors – have to choose to produce good work, and patiently keep putting the coins in that bank.