Jonathan Fryer

Writers Hot under the Collar

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 27th September, 2012

The AGM of my trade union, the Society of Authors, held at Conway Hall in Central London this evening, was unusually contentious, as various members objected to the way things have been handled recently. But those concerns were postponed to another day, when an extraordinary general meeting can be summoned. In the meantime, we got the panel (minus one person who had already left) most of us had come to hear, on The Best of Times, The Worst of Times, moderated by my fellow biographer Anne Sebba. The publisher Larry Finlay (Transworld) and literary agent Anthony Goff (David Higham Associates) shared their impressions of the literary scene today. Anna started the discussion gloomily by pointing out that one new book is published in the United States every 10 seconds every day. Small wonder that many authors struggle to get noticed, even if they are published. At the same time, megastars such as J K Rowling (though one could argue she is one of a kind) can command front page coverage in every UK newspaper just for bringing out a book that isn’t about Harry Potter, as she did today. Nonetheless, Larry Finlay argued that we writers owe a debt of gratitude to J K Rowling, for making reading hip among young people. He was also quite upbeat about the rise of Kindle and other electronic reading devices, pointing out that most people who use Kindle also read physical books. Anthony Goff, in contrast, declared that the degree of author-care on the part of publishers is the lowest he ever remembers. He also bemoaned the fact that many publishers now oblige their authors to do most of the publicity for their works themselves, on blogs and social media such as twitter. There was general agreement that the upsurge in free content is undermining authors’ rights. However, Larry Finlay stressed that in Transworld’s case, at least, they employ piracy monitors who issue take-down notices when they locate pirated material.

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