In the late 1990s the venerable book trade chronicler Ian Norrie wrote to The Bookseller’s then-editor Louis Baum to complain about the inclusion of an author in the magazine’s series of The Great and the Good. “Authors are not part of the book trade per se,” Norrie wrote. This week The Bookseller did something to change that perception, running its first ever Author Day, an event designed to put authors and “the trade” together in one mutually supportive space to explore the future of publishing (our business) together.
Putting creatives in the same room as those who would take their work to market is not an exact science, but the attempt at Author Day was to find the overlaps. And it worked: the conversations were rich, broad and honest. The Society of Authors chief executive Nicola Solomon spoke persuasively about fairer publisher contracts; Alliance of Independent Authors founder Orna Ross challenged the snobbery that portrays self-published writers as second-class; author Jane Steen spoke about how the sector would work best if both types of authorship were allowed to thrive; and author Kamila Shamsie spoke eloquently about the need for publishers to invest again long term in writers, but also to broaden their outlook—”There is no story the novel cannot tell, so why is it the writers being published don’t begin to reflect the stories being lived in this nation?”
Publishers, too, fronted up. Ebury m.d. Rebecca Smart spoke of publishing being better when it is “collegial” and Pan Macmillan digital and communications director Sara Lloyd disputed a claim that publishers didn’t want to engage with authors.
There were other notes of conflict too, particularly during the final session when delegates were invited to respond to what they had heard. One author questioned whether publishers understood how negatively they were viewed; another wondered why publishers still only paid twice a year; publishers were criticised for over-reaching on rights, and squatting on those they already have; and they were challenged to communicate more and listen harder. The irony, not lost on the audience, was that by the time this session began most of the publishers attending had already left.
Still, the point of the day was to begin the conversation, not to conclude it. In an op-ed written this week, Michael Pietsch, c.e.o. of Hachette US, said publishers will “deepen their relationships with writers”. If he is right, then we will all benefit. Shamsie and Ross, as well as Nikesh Shukla and Sarah McIntyre (who drew pictures of the day’s participants), have positioned themselves as the new thought-leaders in this sector. Their campaigns around diversity and recognition are proving that authors can be great and good, and also part of the trade.