Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

What Is Writing Worth?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 28th June, 2018

wordcloud writing.pngThere is a massive paradox at the heart of Britain’s creative industries: though these are now worth over £90billion a year (and growing much faster than the economy as a whole), writers’ earnings have been declining sharply. In other words, the packaged goods are booming, but the people who produce core content are not getting properly remunerated, which inevitably means that many are having to search for other ways of earning a living. Let’s take a look at the figures. According to the latest survey of authors’ earnings — carried out by the University of Glasgow, on behalf of the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS)*, and launched at the All Party Parliamentary Writers Group summer reception in Parliament yesterday — the average actual earnings for professional writers in the UK last year was £10,437. That’s well below what someone on the minimum wage would earn for a 35-hour week. Worryingly, this sum is down from £12,330 in 2005 and £11,000 in 2013, when similar studies were carried out — and that doesn’t even take inflation into account. For part-time writers the figures are even worse. Now, I have met people who say “writers should write because of their love of writing, not for the money!” But that’s rather like saying, “chefs should cook for their love of cooking, not for the money!”. And just as one should not expect a free meal in a restaurant — or at least, one for which the chef is not being paid — neither should people expect free content when they get a book or other form of creative content. Sadly, one of the adverse effects of new technology and the ability to download content to all sorts of devices has been that consumers do increasingly expect a lot for free. But to do so risks cutting off the supply of the very thing they want. That’s why the work of bodies such as ALCS, the Society of Authors, the Writers’ Guild and others is so important, in campaigning for the respect of copyright and proper payment for creators. Work on copyright awareness is increasingly taking place in schools and other sectors, fortunately. So as this new alarm bell over writers’ impoverishment is rung, does that mean that when a further study is done in a few years time, we’ll see an upturn in the median earnings? Like most authors, I fervently hope so — but I’m not holding my breath.

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Engaging with Readers

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 23rd January, 2018

Eccles Cakes Eccles LibraryYesterday, together with several other Memoir Writers, I took part in my first Facebook event, which was an opportunity for us to talk about our books and for people to ask questions. Each of us who had signed up to the event had an average of an hour to be the focus of attention, while Brenda Mohammed (a prolific autobiographer living in Trinidad and Tobago) moderated. You can catch up with the discussion here:

Writing can be a lonely business, as by necessity one needs to spend large amounts of time undisturbed at one’s desk (or wherever one writes most fluently) day after day for months or even years on end. When I first started publishing books, the only contact I had with readers was the occasional letter that someone would write, sent to me via the publisher. Book signings — which I did for three of my books: George Fox and the Children of the Light Soho in the Fifties and Sixties and my childhood memoir Eccles Cakes — were an opportunity to meet some readers face-to-face, though inevitably those encounters were brief and superficial. However, with the development of new communication tools and people’s changing expectations, readers are often no longer satisfied just to be passive consumers, but instead want to engage more meaningfully with authors.

JF writing FortalezaThe proliferation of literary festivals in Britain is one manifestation of this. Festivals have sprung up like mushrooms across the country and some of the most established, such as Hay and Cheltenham, attract capacity audiences. Often these events give readers the opportunity to ask writers searching questions, and from the author’s point of view, they can boost sales. Thanks partly to pressure from the Society of Authors (the UK writers’ union), writers at festivals are increasingly paid a fee, as we should be. People are paying to hear us, after all, and time away from actually writing is something of a sacrifice.

All authors, whether self-published or not, are encouraged to do their own promotion these days, by going on book tours and badgering local or even national media to cover one’s new book. And growing numbers of us have blogs (like this one) or Facebook pages. In fact, I have several Facebook pages: a more personal one, for friends and followers, a political one, a writer’s one and most recently one for Eccles Cakes. I was a bit sceptical about creating a page for a specific book, but in fact it makes a lot of sense. People who like that page get updates whenever I post anything on it relating (however tangentially) to the book. They can ask questions or make comments, and of course there is a button enabling people to buy the book if they don’t already have it. Take a look, and see what you think! —

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Can One Learn Journalism?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 7th September, 2017

journalism 2Earlier this week I was invited to speak to a group of young people who aspire to be journalists, or otherwise to write in other ways. Actually, it was more of a Q&A session, and as I told them, my career has hardly been typical. Whereas most aspirant journos would leap at the chance of a job for a mainstream media organisation, I shied away of being anyone’s employee, leaving Reuters news agency after only one year and heading off down the freelance road. In fact, that’s where I started, as my very first published articles were for the Manchester Evening News and the Geographical Magazine, written in Vietnam during the war, between school and university. I went into Reuters as a graduate trainee and I did learn shorthand during my time there, as well as how to write a story in pyramid style, so essentially it makes sense no matter how far down you cut it. But otherwise I wasn’t taught how to write; I learned on the job. The same was true with writing my books. So I am always a little sceptical when I hear of media studies courses at university, though some, for example at London’s City University, have a good reputation. Can one really learn journalism, I wonder? Or is it more a question of having some sort of innate wish and talent to find out things and then to put them into words? My advice to the young people I spoke to this week was to identify what they are really passionate about and then to start writing. They are unlikely to be able to just ring a newspaper editor and get articles commissioned straight away, which is what happened with me at age 18, but then I chose a “hot topic”. But young people today have the great advantage that there are so many more platforms available now than when I first began, and both blogging and vlogging (which anyone with a modicum of tech-savviness can get into) are just two ways of getting one’s material out there. Whether that can lead to some paid employment or commissions is another matter. And of course it is important that people don’t always give away content for free, even if occasionally that can be good as a “taster”. But as I advised one young man, many years ago, who asked me if he ought to become a writer: if something inside you drives you to express yourself through writing, do it. If that drive’s not there. don’t.

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All in the Title

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 11th August, 2017

titlesNewspaper editors have long realised how important headlines are as teasers to attract people to read the articles that follow, and the same is true of book titles. A title should give some indication of what the book is about, or at least intrigue, so that the person who picks up the book in a bookshop or looks at its entry online is then encouraged to read the back cover, or open the volume to read a sample page. So it is important for writers to give due consideration to what their book will be called. Sometimes titles write themselves; my first book was called The Great Wall of China because it was indeed about the Great Wall of China — something everyone has heard of, but few know much about. In contrast, my latest book, a childhood memoir, went not for the straightforward but for the intriguing: Eccles Cakes, not just because the first half covers my childhood experiences in Eccles, now a suburb of Greater Manchester, but because of the way that Eccles cakes were a comfort food for me at times of distress. Sometimes agents or publishers will suggest a change of title, or even insist on it, but writers should be prepare to fight their corner on what they want. Perhaps my favourite among all the books I have written was published in England under the title I had given it: André & Oscar: Gide, Wilde and the Gay Art of Living, which did reasonably well, but the American publisher who brought out the US edition insisted on changing the title to André & Oscar: A Literary Friendship and the book sank like a stone Stateside. Some titles can be absolutely inspirational. My all-time favourite is Gone with the Wind — at once inviting and unforgettable.

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Writing Is a Lonely Craft

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 8th August, 2017

IMG_2689It’s 42 years since my first book (The Great Wall of China) was published, but as I get stuck into Number 16, I ruefully reflect that writing never gets any easier. At least, not for me. It’s not just the brain-wringing over every word and phrase, or the countless rewrites in my head before I commit something to paper. The process of writing takes over one’s whole life and can make one positively anti-social. There are authors who write, secluded, in the morning, before then enjoying a normal life for the rest of the day, but I find it almost impossible to put whatever I am working on out of my head. When I am in company, over dinner, for example, I say little and often my thoughts drift away from the table (better than that modern curse, checking one’s smartphone every few minutes, I suppose). And I absolutely have to have several waking hours each day absolutely alone. Writing some of the time, yes, but also reading, thinking and walking — especially when I am somewhere beautiful or new. I even prefer travelling alone. In fact, I spend nearly half the year doing just that. To some people that might sound awful, and, yes, it can sometimes be lonely. But as a working writer, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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