Happy new year and here, in a jaunty 10-bulletpoint plan, are my 2022 hopes for our industry.
- Access. I would love book events and festivals to have online components as standard. We accomplished extraordinary things quickly during this pandemic and should maintain momentum. Why? Because it is democratic. There are many people who are too ill to attend, who are disabled, carers or people who could not afford it. Author Penny Batchelor makes a fine case here.
- Sensitivity readers. More of them, and at an early editorial stage—or even in acquisitions. I do not say this because I wish to censor anyone; I say it because what we write carries responsibility. Find that oppressive? We may think that because we are not used to being oppressed, marginalised and misrepresented. Some extremely ugly things happened during the past year because of our failure to confront privilege, prejudice and ignorance, and because those who could have given good advice were not engaged with early in the process.
- Connected with point two is diversity. Within stories that are told, but very importantly in writers and a clear eye on own voices narratives. We are not, I believe, seeing everything this country could offer in terms of voice, identity and background. Failure to engage with points one and two might, we could say, ensure that diverse voices do not even try to come forward.
- Mental health. I have seen some marvellous practice but seen other practice which, writing as someone with both chronic mental and physical and health concerns, has shocked me. When a book is released, the writer may feel vulnerable because that book is closely connected with their emotional landscape and, I argue, their sense of worth. They may feel nervous about how they are presented in the public eye. Trust me on this. If you come from a background where you have been demeaned, and if you have ingested that treatment over decades, having no say in how your story as a writer is told is very damaging. So always have dialogue, make sure things are handled sensitively and ensure no surprises online.
- Down with false promises! I never attribute anything, but you would be amazed who I had in the back of my DMs last week. Something that comes up frequently is that writers have been promised career development and guidance and not a whit has materialised. Some of the worst offenders are those who speak openly about being their writers’ greatest allies. Be honest: this should NEVER be a sales technique or publicity because a book, a writing career, is someone’s dream. Tread softly; be honest.
- I would love it if people who consider themselves literary writers or publishers stopped being so snarky about commercial fiction. Likewise, romance. Lots of people love romance; it is what most people read. Down with snobbishness on this topic.
- Something which I embrace as a writer: might there be a way to allow—forgive me if this sounds hideous to people who are actually publishers—indie publishers to work hand in hand with big or the biggest publishers? Partnerships, funding, events. Spreading cost, risk, fun, finding new readers and, frankly, benefiting writers.
- Less moaning on Twitter. Keep up the gossip, the scandal, possibly even the sexual frisson, but the amount of negative critical engagement between publishing sectors and, sometimes, between writers, can be really depressing. I do NOT mean that we fail to combat injustice, but that the landscape can be clouded by grudges and bitterness. We need to support each other and bring each other on. While I am here, I have been sapped by sub-tweets about privilege directed at me: please have a conversation with me instead because I will always want to check it.
- I have mentioned this before: might we develop a code of conduct on replies and rejections, standardising where we can? I say this because I have seen vulnerable people in pieces when they did not receive replies to queries or were ghosted after sending in a full manuscript. I speak of agents and indie publishers here. We need to remember: some people feel voiceless. If writing a book is the first part of empowerment, we need to think carefully about what happens when that work first goes out into the world.
- Financial transparency. On publishing jobs as standard and in the first instance, but also in book writing. I would love to see everyone encouraging ambition—and we should never be ashamed to yoke commerce and art—but writers need to be aware how little they might make and plan their time and energies accordingly. Is it likely to be worth it financially, or would a car boot sale be more profitable?
Whatever your hopes and aspirations for the new year, I wish you the very best!
Anna Vaught is a novelist, short story writer, editor, mentor, English teacher and mental health campaigner. Her third and fourth books, Saving Lucia (Bluemoose) and Famished (Influx), were published in 2020.