Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Ebooks v Treebooks

Publishing directors are becoming taller and quotes are getting shorter. Have you noticed?

Time was, you could tell a literary agent or publishing director by their round shoulders and weary gait. No longer. In the recent past publishing professionals lugged sheaves of manuscripts to read in their precious free moments. Paper in bulk is not light. Hence their stoop. And then along came e-readers.

Whatever the effect of the shakeout in proprietary e-reading devices on the book-buying market, the adoption of e-readers is having a profound effect on publishing professionals, and not simply on their posture.

My evidence comes from observations at Verulam Writers' Circle's 5th annual Get Writing conference, on Saturday 19th February, at the University of Hertfordshire's Hatfield campus.

I've been a member of VWC for some six years and watched it grow from being a long-established but staid local institution into one of the UK's most progressive and successful writers' groups. Today, Get Writing attracts speakers from the top echelons of the publishing industry and the writing craft.

I shall write no further details of this excellent event and what outstanding value it represented, nor shall I list the literary luminaries who contributed and attended. This ground has been well covered by others in sparkling style, notably here by Gillian Green of Ebury Publishing, who stepped in at the 11th hour to cover for another contributor.

A notebook full of scribblings attests to the cornucopia of inspirational tips and information I received and attempted to record - mostly illegibly (would I even be a writer were it not for my computer? I think not) - at another wonderful Get Writing.

Above this solid bedrock of potentially career-changing information a few promontories shine in memory like gems: quote-bites - some intentional, some in passing - that I deem priceless:

Gillian Green: '…ebooks and treebooks…' - Gillian was I believe quoting someone else, but - in my view - this short phrase has the power and emotive impact single-handedly to change perceptions of the traditional codex-type book.

Simon Taylor: '…I have eight [Read fifty-two – yes, 52 – confirmed by Simon. Many apologies, Simon] manuscripts with me on my iPad…' Okay, that may not be the wittiest or most memorable quote ever - it may not even be an accurate record of Simon's words - but it does give insight to the way the world of publishing is changing.

Raymond Tallis: 'A writer is a professor of disappointment.' - 'I have learned as much from books I've written [i.e., from doing the research] as from books I've read.' - 'Twitter is suicide of the mind.'

So, VWC's Get Writing is over for 2011. Next year - to judge by progress to date - the event will be even better and a lot bigger. GW2011 was sold out. The cost is remarkably reasonable and could prove the best investment of your writing career.

Don't miss GW2012. Keep an eye on the VWC website toward the end of this year.

I hope to meet you there.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Oh, What a Night: World Book Night


Have you ever volunteered for something because it seemed like one hell of a good idea at the time and only later considered what your commitment entailed?

Don't get me wrong, as a writer and avid reader, I still think that World Book Night is a brilliant idea. But it is also a very quirky, eccentric, unlikely and very English sort of idea. Which, come to think of it, is probably why I liked it enough to volunteer at the outset with very little – if any – forethought.

I wonder, however, if I'm alone in finding the cold logistics - if carried out strictly in accordance with the spirit of the scheme – slightly more daunting than I had at first envisaged? No problem, it shall be done as intended, but it's not simply a question of handing out a book or two to mates in the pub. Oh no.

In case you've been out of the galaxy for a few months and haven't heard of the inaugural World Book Night (WBN), the big idea is that 1,000,000 – yes one million – free donated books will be distributed by a team of 20,000 volunteers, on, or close to March 5, 2011. We're not talking second hand rejects here. These are new, specially printed, editions of 25 best-selling books (for details of the titles click on the WBN logo or on the link in paragraph two above).

The core purpose of the project is to place each donated book into the hands of someone who might not otherwise read that book, or, indeed, any book. Ideally WBN would introduce a million people – perhaps more if the initial recipients read and pass their books to others – to the joys of reading.

So, in early March I shall be collecting 48 copies of my chosen title, the excellent Agent ZigZag, by Ben Macintyre, from a local bookshop. By then I hope to have knitted together a trusted local network of connections through which to fulfil my joyful obligation. Who knows, I may come knocking on your door.

As always, you're welcome to help yourselves to virtual tea and biccies while you're here, but please do turn the light out as you leave. No expenses for this contract.

Wish me luck.