Saturday, 27 May 2017

Bill Clinton and James Patterson - So Who Will Actually Do the Typing? By Andrew Crofts


Two of the biggest names in the world, Bill Clinton and James Patterson, are “collaborating on a novel”. But who is actually going to be sitting down and doing the typing? Will there be a ghostwriter involved? Would anyone care if there was?

So where does ghostwriting end and collaboration begin? And what roles will the two “big name” editors who have been announced play in the process?




I guess it all comes down to how many megawatts of star power each member of the team can muster. How far up the billing in the global media pantomime do their names appear?

Bill Clinton is about as high as you can get in the international fame game. Anyone who might be a potential buyer of this thriller will know who he is. His name will give the book credibility because he actually knows what goes on behind the scenes – dare we say, he actually knows “where the bodies are buried”?

He reputedly wrote every word of his autobiography, “My Life”, and unkind critics complained that it would have been a less tedious read if it had been written by a professional ghostwriter. Clinton himself has always claimed that one of his greatest ambitions was to write a “good book”, so maybe he is going to be doing the bulk of the work here. I guess he has some time on his hands – possibly more than Patterson, but would he have the ability to write gripping fictional prose?

Patterson’s name will resonate with anyone who has ever glanced at an airport bookstall and he probably has the biggest following of loyal adult readers in the world; so there’s another dollop of credibility for the project. He is also, however, known to collaborate with other writers who produce the books which boast his famous name in the boldest print face, and are reportedly based on his plot lines. The sheer number of books that he produces each year mean that it would be physically impossible for him to do all the writing himself and he doesn’t pretend otherwise. Is there any chance that he will have been able to find time to actually write this one?

Maybe they will both be relying on the two editors to do the necessary “re-writing”. If so, not many people will know about it. Sonny Mehta is a legend in the publishing world but his name would mean nothing to the book-buying general public. Likewise Michael Pietsch, also rumoured to be working on the project, runs one of the biggest publishing conglomerates in the world, which means to the man in the street he is just another anonymous suit.

Because of their star power, therefore, Clinton and Patterson will be the names on the cover, (and the publicity that the project has already received bears out the commercial wisdom of that decision). The names of the editors will only resonate within the publishing trade and I imagine that the name of whoever actually sits down and pumps out the words, if it is actually none of the above, will probably be known only to those in the inner circle.

There would be no point in broadcasting the name of the ghostwriter if it didn’t help to sell more copies, and my guess is that whoever might get the job is perfectly happy with that, enjoying the editorial meetings with these global figures and relishing the challenge of creating a good read from the ideas that they are firing out. Of all the advantages that ghostwriting offers, one of the greatest must be the opportunity that you get to meet people of interest. The same holds true of “collaboration”.

Will the public care who actually wrote the words? Absolutely not. Why should they? A team as experienced and professional as this one will undoubtedly be able to produce exactly the sort of story that the readers want to buy. The nuts and bolts of how it was created will only interest other writers.

I may be completely wrong, of course. It is possible that Clinton and Patterson are spending long nights together, ties at half mast, ashtrays filled with brutally crushed butt ends, empty coffee cups covering the writing pads that are strewn all around the dimly lit room as they labour desperately into the small hours of the morning to meet the editors’ deadlines – I'd like to think that would be how it went.    

  

Friday, 26 May 2017

Lessons On Panelists For A Most Excellent Book Launch : Dipika Mukherjee writes from Malaysia

The very first book launch I had to organise was for The Merlion and The Hibiscus; it was an anthology published by Penguin, and designed to market the best of Southeast Asian writing worldwide. I was the lead editor with Kirpal Singh and M.A Quayum but a total newbie. I honestly thought that all my subsequent book launches would be like this, with the legendary Raffles hotel in Singapore sponsoring hors d'oeuvres, a leading statesman and writer the Guest of Honour, and a ballroom packed with people sipping wine, eager to buy the books that the publisher had imported in large quantities.

That was in 2002. I had no idea that publisher-backed anthologies are a very different beast from single-authored books and debut novels can be a hard sell. 

In 2011, at the launch of my debut novel Thunder Demons at the India Habitat Centre in Delhi, it rained incessantly. It made the bad Delhi traffic virtually unnavigable (it rained at ALL the launches of Thunder Demons, until I would joke that I’d title the sequel Sunny Angels). When my father, a career diplomat, finally made his way into the cavernous room at the IHC, he shed all diplomacy to querulously ask, But where is the audience?

People did trickle in through the evening, but not in the numbers I had imagined. Looking at the mounds of uneaten food congealing in serving trays, I was convinced that my book was doomed, I was a failed writer, and that I should never ever launch a book again.

Divya Dubey of Gyaana Books had arranged a fabulous four-city launch, and things were much better at Chennai and Kolkata, where the event was held within the cosy confines of leading bookstores. But I was still new to the ranks of Published Authors, and found myself on panels with people I barely knew and those completely unfamiliar with my work. I had to read my work aloud -- which I still dislike -- and in those early days, each literary event meant to celebrate my work ended up being excruciating.
Then, in May 2012, the Indian Consulate in Shanghai hosted a reading for Thunder Demons. The event took place in the gorgeous historical grounds of the Shanghai Writers’ Association. And although I was still publicizing the same book by the same author, I stumbled into something that made this event glitter in a way that none had done before: there was a very special panel discussing my book.
That the panel was awesome was undeniable (it included Tan Zheng, a prolific writer & professor of English Literature at Fudan University; Peoy Leng, a Malaysian writer; Kunal Sinha, Indian writer & Regional Director for Cultural Insights, Oglivy & Mather, Asia Pacific; moderated by Indira Ravindran, visiting professor at the School of Political Science & International Relations at Tongji University). But the best part was: they were all my friends.
There is a wonderful ease to an event where literary friends read their favourite parts of your published work so that you don’t have to read anything at all. The questions often delve deeper because they know you well, but are never uncomfortable.
So when a similar event was held in Kuala Lumpur earlier this month on May 13, 2017, to launch my latest novel Shambala Junction, I had no hesitation in putting together a panel of friendly experts. This time, the panelists included Mahi Ramakrishnan, Journalist & Filmmaker; Sumitra Selvaraj, TV Executive Producer; Malachi Edwin Vethamani, Professor of Modern English Literature; moderated by Sharon Bakar, Publisher and Writing Coach.
The evening sparkled. A panel brought in a crowd I single-handedly would not be able to attract and  both the discussion (and the food!) was devoured. Books sold out completely and very quickly.
So here are a few things I have learnt from my experience of book launches over the last decade and a half:
1) Shouldering the responsibility of a book launch alone can be scary and lonely. Sharing the stage with a panel of friends who know your work helps immensely.
2) Getting panelists to focus on their favourite parts of the book works really well. Usually that leads to a discussion of sociopolitical issues or gender inequalities or the craft of writing...infinitely more interesting than having the author read out large swathes of the book. Enthusiastic panelists feed off each other’s energy and make the book look really good!
3) Academics are wonderful to have on a panel, but they should be balanced with practicing writers and practitioners in the field (in the case of Shambala Junction, this meant Human Rights activists). A diversity of experiences and backgrounds makes the panel buzz and keeps it jargon-free.

Try launching your next book with a panel of your literary buddies. Then relax...be a guest at your own party!



Dipika Mukherjee is a writer and sociolinguist. Her second novel, Shambala Junction, won the UK Virginia Prize for Fiction (Aurora Metro, 2016). Her debut novel was longlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize and republished as Ode to Broken Things (Repeater, 2016). Her short story collection is Rules of Desire (Fixi, 2015) and edited collections include Champion Fellas (Word Works, 2016), Silverfish New Writing 6 (Silverfish, 2006) and The Merlion and Hibiscus (Penguin, 2002). She has two poetry collections: The Third Glass of Wine (Writer’s Workshop, 2015), and The Palimpsest of Exile (Rubicon Press, 2009). She is a Juror on the The Neustadt International Prize for Literature 2017 and founded the D.K Dutt Award for Literary Excellence in Malaysia in 2015. www.dipikamukherjee.com

Thursday, 25 May 2017

"How To Be Free" - reviewed by Susan Price

 

Life is absurd. 

 

Be merry. Be free.

 

This sentiment appears on the cover of How To Be Free and runs throughout the book.

It's a most entertaining read. Half the time I agreed with  Hodgkinson's arguments so wholeheartedly, I wanted to cheer. The rest of the time I thought them so crack-brained, I wanted to throw the book across the room. I always enjoy books like this. They make you think.

Tom Hodgkinson, The Idler
Tom Hodgkinson is the editor of The Idler and the author of How To Be Idle. From page one to the end, he rages against the 'mind-forged manacles' that keep people in jobs they hate in order to pay, often, for things they don't need or even really want. They just think they ought to want them. (In his opinion.)

Modern society, he argues, is in all but name, a slave society, but the chains are all 'mind-forged.' It forces people into a rigid system. First it educates them to believe in passing exams and 'getting a good job.' But a 'career' Hodgkinson argues, sets meaningless goals of 'sales targets', 'bonuses' and 'promotion.' People are convinced that a bigger house in a 'better' neighbourhood, a more expensive car, 'designer' clothes and kitchen gadgets are signs of success and, therefore, happiness. But none of these things are, fundamentally, what make people happy.

And, of course, in our present society it's impossible for everyone to have a high-flying career. Some simply aren't interested and they're called stupid, feckless, unambitious and lazy. Others are broken by the stultifying demands of 'career' and many are suddenly made redundant by economic shifts they have no control over. These people are labelled 'failures,' which does its own psychological damage.

The whole notion of 'a good job' and 'a career' are, Hodgkinson says, traps and enslavements. The things that make human beings happy are: friends and family, having a laugh with them, creativity, control over your own life, growing things and tending animals, and having plenty of time to be idle and think.

The book is a series of 29 short essays, all ending with a rousing slogan. Among them are:-

  • Banish Anxiety: Be Carefree - Ride a bike.
  •  The Tyranny of Bills and the Freedom of Simplicity - Play the ukelele.
  • Reject Career and All its Empty Promises -  Find your gift.
  • Escape Debt - Cut Up Your Credit Card.
  • Forget Government -  Stop Voting.
  • Reject Waste, Embrace Thrift - Shovel Shit! 
  • Stop Working, Start Living -  Play.
It's all energetically, playfully and wittily written, but Hodgkinson really means it. Every chapter has its own note at the end, giving hints on how you might practically follow up the advice.

As a grumpy old Leftie, I muttered and mumbled about public-school educated Poshos telling the rest of us how to live - haven't we had a gut-full of that, for gods' sake? And it's all right for some with their Trust Funds and the Bank of Mummy and Daddy to fall back on...

But then I had to admit that, for most of my life, I've followed most of what Hodgkinson suggests. I am, I suppose, what he likes to call 'a Bohemian.' Indeed, a rather hard Glaswegian of my acquaintance nicknamed me and Davy 'The Brummie Bohemians' when we learned that, not only weren't we married, but we had no intention of ever getting married. (I was only surprised that this friend thought it worth commenting on at all.)

I didn't plan to be a Bohemian - but then, I've never gone in for life-plans or even five-year-plans. They strike me as very odd. I had no idea I was 'stepping outside the system' or being free. Mostly, I thought I was being broke, but apparently being broke is the new rich.

I've never had 'a career' or wanted one. (My writing is sometimes called 'a career' but, well, hardly.) I've lived from advance to lecture-fee to royalty. I am very frugal and thrifty (some would say stingy.) I will spend money, if I have to, on things I really want - books, travel, plants. Everything else is cheap or second-hand and never replaced until there's not another day's use in it. Because what I don't spend on non-essentials I can put towards stuff I'll enjoy. (And of course, what's 'essential' is open to definition. Fashionable clothes and house redecoration are, for me, non-essential in the extreme whereas books, single malt whisky and trips to the Hebrides... )

I've always had plenty of time to be idle, to read, to think, to write, draw, learn, make... It's also true that I've rarely felt such satisfaction as I have with my recent (and on-going) creation of a wildlife garden combined with growing my own fruit and vegetables. Hodgkinson is a hugely enthusiastic gardener and wants everyone to garden - and I have to agree with him about gardening as a source of happiness.

Hodgkinson blames the sorry state of slavery that exists today on 'Puritans.' He really hates 'Puritans.'

In the good old, Catholic Middle Ages, according to him, we all lived in a demi-paradise. We each of us had our cosy little cottage with a small-holding and all we had to do in return for it was a couple of days' light work a week on the lord's land - and, of course, as we all worked together, there was lots of good fellowship and cheer and it wasn't like work at all really.

The rest of the time we could work at our own pace on our own business, growing our own food or working, with creativity and satisfaction, at some useful craft like blacksmithing, pottery or basket-making. (All working-class crafts, which workers had no choice but to do, all recently taken up as 'artisan jobs' by the middle-classes like Hodgkinson. Excuse my grump. My great-grandfather was a blacksmith: my grandfather was a brick-maker. Neither did the work in order to be happy. Neither had much choice about it.)

Brueghal's peasants whooping it up on one of their many carefree holidays.
 
The Catholic Church was a benevolent overseer to this golden Merry England, providing lots of gorgeous ritual, music and holidays to lighten our days. Life was just wonderful all the time.

But then came the Reformation and the rise of Capitalism. The Catholic church and all the monasteries were destroyed. The peasants' common land was stolen from them and enclosed for the rearing of sheep. Families who'd been comfortably self-sufficient became hired farm hands in tied cottages. Land began to be something the rich speculated in to make fortunes, rather than something used by and for the whole community, to raise food.

Things just got worse and worse with the rise of industry and the dark, satanic mills. Workers became disposessed 'hands' and 'mechanics', forced to work miserably in terrible conditions, for inhumanly long hours, for a pittance. The medieval guilds where masters and men worked together vanished, and Unions were formed from the workers' desperation. Ever since then, workers and employers have been at loggerheads, one side for ever trying on some chicanery in order to make more profit and the other side forever on the defensive, trying to claw out some quality of life from the hellish urban landscape.

Wrong but Wromantic                          Right but Repulsive
For Hodgkinson, the Middle Ages and the 17th Century Cavaliers represent Ease, Joy, Grace, Elegance, Freedom.

Later centuries and the Puritans represent Greed, Narrowness, Ugliness, Rudeness, Joylessness and Slavery. It all reminds me of 1066 and All That, where the Cavaliers are summed up as 'Wrong but Wromantic,' and the Roundheads as 'Right but Repulsive.' (The beautiful drawing is by John Reynolds.)

I recognise that there are some grains of truth in Hodgkinson's account. The idea that all peasants, throughout the entire 400 years or so that make up 'the Middle Ages' were all plague-ridden, shit-encrusted and starving all the time is a nonsense. Excavations have revealed that many 'peasants' lived comfortable and prosperous lives. They did have more public holidays than we do and they could work as hard or as lightly as they chose, just as workers in the later cottage-industries could. As Marx put it, before the Industrial Revolution, work was a part of life. After, work was a sacrifice of life. (But did medieval peasants think that on a freezing cold morning when they had to go out and plough?)

The medieval Catholic Church often did serve a benevolent social role, providing work for makers of beautiful things, giving alms, keeping guest houses for travellers and taking the sick into its care.

But, but... I can't help feeling that Hodgkinson's view of the Middle Ages is seen not so much through rose-tinted specs as a shocking-pink blindfold. The Catholic Church was often anything but benevolent - the Inquisition? The witch-hunts? The Crusades? The slaughter of the Cathars? Where do these things fit into the happy, singy-dancy medieval dream?

And that cosy medieval world of Hodgkinson's, where everybody loves everybody else and they're always singing and dancing and feasting? Were there never any cold winters or hungry gaps? - How about this, from Piers Plowman, by Langland, who was actually present at the time, 600 years ago?


“As I went on my way,
I saw a poor man over the plough bending.

His hood was full of holes,
And his hair stuck out.
His shoes were patched,
His toes peeped out as he the ground trod.
His wife walked by him
In a skirt cut full and high,
Wrapped in a sheet to keep her from the weather,
Bare foot on the bare ice
So that the blood flowed.
At the field’s end lay a little bowl,
And in there lay a little child wrapped in rags
And two more of two years old upon another side.
And all of them sang a song
That was sorrowful to hear.
They all cried a cry,
A sorrowful note.
And the poor man sighed sore and said
“Children be still.”


And with all Hodgkinson's railing against 'slavery' I was a little taken aback at his description of the American Civil War as one fought between the 'rude North and the courteous South.' He doesn't mention that one of the South's 'courteousies' was the enslavement and mistreatment of other human beings. I'll take the grasping North's rudeness, thanks, over that kind of 'courtesy.' It was this kind of thing which enraged me and made me throw the book aside.

Even so, I picked it up again. I can't help agreeing with Hodgkinson more often than I disagree with him. I think he is often silly,  but still has the big picture of our society and how it needs to change, framed about right.

I recommend the book as a stimulating, entertaining and, perhaps, even world-changing read.






Susan Price won the Carnegie medal for her book, The Ghost Drum. 


The Sterkarm Handshake won her the Guardian Fiction Prize. 

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Characters - real and imagined! Jo Carroll

I've been home from Malawi for a few weeks now, and a little ebook about my travels is taking shape. At the same time, I've been trying to market a novel.

And this has got me thinking. Although the novel was inspired by a vignette I found in the museum in Hokitika, New Zealand, most of it is made up. I had to find characters in my own head. I went through the long process of getting to know them all, how they spoke, why they did what they did. It's a long unravelling - and I loved it. I love the unpicking of a character and throwing them into new places - I have notebooks full of scribbles as I let each character find his or her voice, and only then did I know them well enough to drop them into the novel.

Then came the task of inviting the reader to go through a comparable process - of meeting each character, unpicking why they do what they do, even responding on an emotional level. (Looking back, I think there is still one character that I don't know well enough - brownie points to anyone who has read the book and works out who that is!)

But now I've returned to the travel writing. And in Malawi my guide, Everlasting (that really is his name), proved to be extraordinary - never in all my imaginings could I have created a character like him. He has given permission for me to write about him (thankfully) - so now I have to find a way to present him to the reader in such a way that he or she gets a feel for him, but also believes in a man I couldn't possibly make up. I can describe him (tall, and slim, with clothes that almost fitted him). I can tell some of his stories (he is a great story-teller). I can write about the way he looked out for me. But ... I'm not convinced, at the moment, that I've found a way to write about him in such a way that the reader gets to know him, page by page, as we do in a novel.

I'll have to finish the book and then wait for reviews, I suppose. Though I'd be interested to hear if anyone else has had to grapple with this.


Meanwhile, you can find the novel here and explore my travelling here

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

All Good Things by Lev Butts

Parsival by Richard Monaco
When I was a teenager, as many of you know, I discovered on the shelves of an Atlanta used bookstore the book that would figuratively chart the course of my life: Richard Monaco’s Parsival or a Knight’s Tale. The story is not new. I have told it time and again both here and elsewhere. But I am a Southerner and one thing we Southerners excel at is telling the same story over and over with little or no diminishing of interest. So you’ve heard this story before but not in this way.

I had skipped school that day and gone to Oxford II Books. I often did this. I wouldn’t skip school and hang out at bowling alleys, movie houses, or amusement parks; I would go to bookstores or libraries and read all day. My teachers knew about it. My dad knew about it. It wouldn’t go unpunished, mind you: My father would scratch out an embarrassing note (“Please excuse Lev from school yesterday,” he would write, “he woke up with exploding diarrhea and stomach cramps. I felt it best to leave him home, leaking from all ports as he was.”), and my teachers would read it, chuckle, and write me an excused note.

Anyway, on this day I went to Oxford II Books in Atlanta. They were the first bookstore I was aware of that had a coffee stand inside and actually encouraged you to sit a spell and read their wares before buying, so it often became my go-to spot for playing hooky. That’s where I found Monaco’s novel. The thing about the book that first caught my eye was the cover art: The ink and watercolor cover art made it look very much like a high-end graphic novel, so I picked it up to see why it wasn’t with the comics.

When I realized it was an Arthurian novel, I decided to give it a closer look. I sat down with my coffee and to read the first few pages and read it cover-to-cover in one sitting. When I was done, I realized I had read all the way to the store’s 10:00 closing time. I paid for the book (and the two sequels they also had) and went home. My father was livid: His note the next day informed my teachers that I had been suffering from “crippling premenstrual cramps.”

If you have followed my work at all, you probably also know that I loved Parsival so much that I took to keeping my copy in my backpack or satchel wherever I went in case I decided that today was the day I read it again.

Richard Monaco became everything I aspired to be in a writer: witty, intelligent, cynical, but also steeped in pathos. When, in late 2009, I went on to write my own Arthurian novel, Guns of the Waste Land, I wanted, as closely as possible, to mirror Monaco’s style while also developing my own voice. It was shortly after deciding to write an Arthurian Western that I met Monaco.

I found him on FaceBook of all places. We struck up a conversation about writing and reading and literature that has continued through the publication of Guns (which was due to his own championing of my work and convincing his publisher to give me a chance), through our working together on the online Literary Journal, Grand Central Review, to this day as I fly to New York City to see him in the hospital for what may possibly be the last time.

Richard has taught me more about the art of writing than just about anyone else. As I mentioned last month, I am, like Richard, a gardener in my writing: Richard taught me that just as you eventually have to let your children go their own way, your characters, too, need to have the freedom to tell their own stories at the risk of giving up on whatever plan you had for them.

“Plan, yeah,” he says, “but you can’t get so wrapped up in your plot that you lose the story. The characters know where they want to go. You make their desires fit yours. Rein them in if you have to, but give their ideas a try first.”

Richard also gave me the courage to not only write what I know, but to give myself permission to tread unfamiliar waters, too. “I never left the country, and I only left New York once really. What do you think imagination is for? If I had to write only what I know, I never could’ve written Parsival. Do some research and let your imagination build on that.”

Richard taught me not to fear taking risks. When the first publisher I submitted Guns of the Waste Land to had passed because they didn’t know how to market it, I considered scrapping the whole project, but Richard stopped me “Tell the story you want to tell, and tell it well. Don’t worry about whether it will sell or not. If it’s good, you’ll find an audience; if it’s not, you will probably still find something worthwhile to build on later. At the end of the day, the story is yours.”

Richard has taught me about much more than writing, though. He has taught me how to live. One of Richard’s prized possessions is a genuine katana his first wife bought him as an anniversary present. After all these years in his possession, it is a bit worse for wear: the hilt wrappings are growing tattered, the blade is a bit loose, the edge a tad dull.  His wife and daughter fear it will fly off one day when he’s practicing with it on the roof and kill some hapless dog-walker on the street below, but Richard is unconcerned: “The key is balance,” he told me the first time I met him in person and he showed it to me, “You have to know where it needs to be,” with his back to me and lifting  one foot like a crane and raising the sword over his right shoulder, he spun 180 degrees and brought the tip of the sword just under my chin, “and balance your desire to put it there with your restraint. Balance your wishes with the sword’s, and nothing can go wrong.”

Of all the things Richard has taught me, the most important also has nothing to do with writing. A few years ago, we were standing on the roof of his apartment building in Manhattan watching the boats go up and down the Hudson and discussing his memoirs. We were talking about his growing up in and around Manhattan, and he was reminiscing about his parents and aunts and their friends. He talked about the role they all played in shaping the man he grew up to be. “You gotta love your people,” he says. “Your friends, your family, your students, your teachers. Hell, even the rotten bastards who cut you off in traffic, and the poor bastards hitting you up for dough.  They’re all part of the world you created around yourself, and they all contribute something. You don’t gotta like them. But you gotta love them.”

And, when I am in my seventies or eighties, or God-willing my nineties, that’s what I will remember most about Richard Monaco: this rangy guy standing damn near six feet tall, white/blonde hair wafting in the evening breeze and katana resting casually over his shoulder as he watches the sun set over the Hudson and tells me that the key to living a good life is to love everyone. 


Monday, 22 May 2017

A Question for Big Publishers - Why Do We Have to Wait for Paperbacks? - by Ali Bacon

Big books from monthly book-clubs (growing dusty!) 
In my childhood everything- even Mallory Towers! -  was in hardback, and in my early married life I indulged in a book club (remember them?) which delivered a chunky novel once a month.
          I think I can pin down my change of heart over hardbacks  to when I asked my young teenage daughter for a copy of the newly published Donna Tart (The Little Friend) for Christmas, on the basis it wouldn’t be too big a drain on her pocket money. Being out of the book-buying habit at the time, I'd missed that it was only out in hardback and was filled with guilt as I unwrapped the unwieldy and expensive brute.
          From then on, I have never chosen to buy fiction in hardback. (Non-fiction, poetry and illustrated books are a different matter). A novel in my mind is either e-book or tree-book, and a tree-book is a paperback. A hardback takes up too much room, is awkward to hold and always costs more. If I desire a brand new book, I try the library or wait for the paperback. I may even read the e-book and buy the paperback afterwards. The only exception to this rule, is when a friend is launching a book from one of the big commercial publishers. I want to own a (signed) copy and I want to support my friend and fellow-writer. There is no alternative except to buy the hardback. My question to these publishers is, WHY ON EARTH NOT?

Interrogating Google here and here doesn’t really help me understand this publishing model, and the answers that come back look distinctly out of date.
          1) Hardbacks make more money per copy. Publishers want to sell as many hardbacks as possible before going to paperback. This is compared to films being available only in cinema before going to TV/DVD.
          BUT it’s admitted that sales of hardbacks can be ridiculously low. Why delay approaching the mass-market? And sorry, I don’t really get the comparison with films where big screen/small screen are utterly different experiences.

          2) Libraries want hardbacks.
          Looking along most library shelves, I say 'not any more'. They buy paperbacks and additional dust jackets if necessary, presumably still at lower cost than a hardback.  
Local library - not many hardbacks now

          3) Publishing in hardback is a sign of confidence in the author. Reviewers of literary fiction therefore only accept hardbacks.
          Well hang on. I have looked at a number of smaller publishers like Saraband, Salt and Sandstone Press, all of which have featured in literary prize lists recently, and unless I’m mistaken they usually issue straight to paperback. If there are any reviewers out there who refuse to look at something from a literary publisher because of the cut of its cloth,  I think we should send them back to the century from whence they came.

          But maybe I'm the one who's out of step. To check I'm not the whingeing minority I conducted an ad hoc survey by asking my Facebook 'friends' two questions. 
          a) If money were not an object, would you buy the hardback of a novel or the paperback?
          b) If your favourite author has a new book coming out, would you buy the hardback or wait for the paperback?
          46 people had responded at the last count, not always in detail to each question, but in a way that makes it easy to give a working analysis.
         14 people expressed a degree of love for the hardback, whether or not they could always afford one.
          31 stated a preference for paperbacks. Of these quite a few did say they would splash out on a hardback but only for the sake of getting a new book more quickly.  I tried to leave e-books out of the equation but one respondent said they read everything on Kindle.
By the way the respondents were a mixture of real life- friends and online writing/reading contacts - a reasonably diverse bunch. 

           NOT JUST ME THEN!

          Yes, there are lovers of hardbacks, but why should the rest of us have to wait? Here are a couple of suggestions as to how publishers with the wherewithal might keep both camps happy. 
          1) Issue hardback and paperback simultaneously. I imagine this might be an option restricted to proven best-sellers with a dedicated fan base. Hardback could then have ‘special edition’ status. 
          2) Make the first paperback print run special in some way and/or do not offer discounts during a ‘hot-off-the press’ period. Keen readers will pay a higher price to get it quickly (well I would).  This would preserve the higher mark-up rate and discounting could be offered down the line.

At Corvus, psych thriller
goes straight to paperback
          I’m not sure how many publishers still favour the ‘old’ model  across the board. I notice Atlantic issue hardbacks in the Corvus imprint but not others and there is generally some differentiation between 'commercial' and 'literary' fiction. But I know at least two of the big six are still using the hardback-first model and I still don’t understand why. 


WHAT DO THE AUTHORS THINK?

Maybe the people I should have asked are the authors who have won these deals. The big publishers still issue advances on sales. Is the author, cash in hand, happy to wait a year for mass-market penetration? 
          Do they like the opportunity for a second paperback launch? 
          How does it feel to be categorised as 'commercial' and sell paperbacks to  your readers from the off, or win the 'literary' accolade and have only a hardback to offer? 
I'l be happy to stand corrected on the feeling that this model is elitist and outdated. 



Of course I can see I might be asking this question in the wrong place. Here at Authors Electric we are mostly one-man bands doing our own thing and as far as I know don’t issue non-illustrated fiction in hardback.  But we are market driven as much as anyone else. Check out the books on our author pages. If you fancy a paperback you won't have to wait!

Paperback, obvs!
Ali Bacon lives in South Gloucestershire and writes contemporary and historical fiction. Her coming of age novel A Kettle of Fish was published in 2012 and she has recently had stories shortlisted for the Exeter Writers Prize and The Magic Oxygen Prize. Last year appeared at the Cheltenham Literature Festival and in a one woman show in Scotland. She is currently working on a collection of linked short stories inspired by early photographs.