Friday, 6 November 2009

Coffee Break: The Glamour, the Glamour ...

Hello all - how's your week been? Working hard on rewrites here, so why not put your feet up and I'll pop the kettle on. Tea, coffee? For some reason I was thinking about the Irish coffees Dad used to make this time of the year - hot, sweet, lethally laced with scotch and topped with thick cold cream. Can I tempt anyone?

I couldn't figure out why there had been a recent spike in visitors to my own blog recently - until I noticed Jordan had a new series out 'What Katie Did Next'. There must have been a lot of disappointed horny teenagers hoping to google the buxom one who ended up with a crabby old bag wittering on about juggling writing and family. A cup of strong coffee over a messy rewrite at the kitchen table is about as glamorous as it gets here - no sequins and spandex catsuits I'm afraid.

There does seem to be a backlash against these sleb writers. Perhaps Jordan's pubescent acolytes trashed Smiths in the Metrocentre, and Ant & Dec scored £2.5 million for a ghosted bio, but finally real writers are beginning to speak up. Lynda La Plante made an impassioned plea to publishers at a recent awards ceremony, Joanne Harris has said sleb books are 'depressing beyond words' and Tracy Chevalier has said it is 'all rather tacky'.

I had an interesting chat with the creative writing professor at Winchester University yesterday - he was saying they prepare their writing students by finding other avenues for their creative skills than traditional publishing. Getting a novel published is the holy grail - about as likely as finding a unicorn hiding at the bottom of your garden. Again, at the recent People's Author show, talking back stage to one of the authors judging, he said publishers are looking for something they can market.

So what do you think? How can 'real' authors compete against this? If you're just a normal person - not a soap star turned 'writer' (shudder - has anyone read the sample chapters of Martine McCutcheon's debut?), how can you get publishers to take a chance on you? Does good writing even matter any more? Perhaps I will go for that Irish Coffee after all ...


Leatherdykeuk said...

Good writing always matters but other than that I'm lost.

Annieye said...

Your very methodical annotated manuscript makes me feel very guilty, Kate. I'd love an Irish coffee, but without the scotch because I've got to go to work in a minute.

This is a great post and so relevant to most of us who are seeking the Holy Grail. It's heartening that people are, at last, speaking up about this topsy turvy world where most of the X factor winners will probably, most magically, also find hidden talents as writers, too.

Your professor is right, though. I am lucky I am in a full time job I love, which includes writing. Ok, it's not a glamorous job (like a journalist), but it satisfies me enough to be content with my lot if I don't get published in my other 'life' as a writer of fiction.

I think good writing does matter, though. I think it will shine through in the end. Publishers should remember that reading is subjective - one man's meat is another man's poison - and not try to stack readers into nice neat little pigeon holes. Loads of my friends in their mid thirties to mid seventies say they are fed up to the back teeth with not being able to find a stonking good read they just can't put down.

So Novel Racers, lets all get our writing fingers oiled and crack that market!

Thank you for posting this Kate. It's a brilliant post and nicely motivating for the weekend ahead.

sheepish said...

I'm getting my comment in early this week as I lost the comments last week!!!!
That Irish coffee sounds good but perhaps I can save it for later.
I just ignore the celeb stuff it's not worth worrying about it. Nothing I can do would make any difference to whether a publisher wants to waste trees on Jordan[ other than not buy the 'book']. And I just have to hope that the undoubted brilliance of my writing will shine through!!! Maybe i will have that coffee now and with lots of cream please.

Flowerpot said...

I can't drink caffeine so will have to pass on the coffee thanks! Great post though. I do believe as Annie says that good writing will come through and I think lots of agents would vouch for that. It's what they're all looking for. I'm lucky writing as a journalist (though believe me most of it is NOT Glamorous, or not the stuff I do! It is fun though and often very humbling). But I'm not going to give up just because of Jordan's latest ouvre that she didnt even write! So come on you lot - let's show 'em!

Serendipity said...

I love Irish coffees but we were only ever allowed them at Christmas! So yes please - I feel like being a rebel this morning!

A brilliant post. I think good writing certainly matters; I like to believe there is an intelligent discerning market that, like me, totally ignores these celebrity books - even if Waterstones annoyingly make a big display of them in their window. To that end, there must still be some credible publishers so fingers crossed for us all. I am now going to don my boots and look for the unicorn at the bottom of my garden! ;-)

Kate Harrison said...

Hello all. Great post, Kate, and sorry you didn't get through on People's Author - found it on the web and I thought you came across brilliantly and were VERY marketable so that will definitely go in your favour in future.

As one who had no celeb or other 'fame' credentials (a backstage job at the BBC really didn't cut it) and has managed to make it into the publishing world, I do feel there are always opportunities to break in. That's not to say it isn't bloody difficult, or that the recession isn't affecting things, but at the end of the day if you write a book that publishers love - and also believe they can sell to readers who will love it too - then you can overcome the Jordan factor. Look at our own Cally - very marketable, very bright and interesting - but, as far as I know, not a WAG or a X Factor runner-up. The quality of her book won her deals not just here but all over the world...

I do get slightly grumpy old woman about the celeb novels because I don't like the way it can undervalue the process of creating fiction. But I also know how corrosive it can be for me to get wound up by things I cannot control - at the end of the day all I can really control is my own writing. That's what I need to work on. The rest is about luck...

Now back to nanowrimo - if anyone is doing it and wants to buddy up, I am caffeinefuelledwriter (surprise, surprise). Nano is another interesting area - so many people seem to talk about submitting to agents the minute they've finished their work, but as we Novel Racers all know, the sprint is just the start. Then comes the marathon of the edits...


ChrisH said...

Irish coffee, please, I've got a chest infection so it's allowed... just don't tell the antibiotics. I believe that good writing should come through, but maybe I'll get the spandex catsuit and a couple of bags of silicone just in case (ewwwwww!) Grotesque thought, oh well, had better work on the writing.

I couldn't get in the comments last week either.

Graeme K Talboys said...

As someone said to me recently, it won't be long before being offered a publishing contract by one of the mainstream publishers will actually be an insult to your writing.

Good writing always matters. The trouble is, most big pubishers are run by people who are more interested in maximising the dividend for their shareholders. And their mindset equates tacky celebrity and quick profit with success. Small publishers have to compete in the market that has been created by the big players. And agents, well they aren't going to be interested in you unless they can make a healthy profit on their outlay on you. All of which makes for a very conservative (and sometimes downright rude) market.

I keep getting rejected with letters that tell me how wonderful my writing is and how interesting the ideas, but... my books wouldn't make enough profit for anyone to be interested (or in a recent case I came from the wrong town, but that's a whole other story). So, what hope, when my writing is considered good but no one is interested because the profit margins are too small?

What gets me about celebs as well is that whilst a first class footballer can get a book deal why can't I, as someone who has worked hard at his writing, get a contract with a football club on a stupid salary? The playing field (sorry) is not level. If a celeb writes a book, submits it like the rest of us have to (and uses a false name), and manages to get a contract I would be the first to applaud.

I'll shut up now. Besides, I'm off to gett boob implants and a bit of botox - I hear it does wonders for your writing.

HelenMHunt said...

I think the way to retain our sanity is to think of it as two totally different markets. People who go out and buy sleb books aren't doing so because they want a good read, they're doing so because they want to somehow buy into the celebrity culture. Therefore, in many ways the quality of that book is irrelevant - and publishers know that.

There is also an audience out there who genuinely want to read good books - they'll be out there buying the latest Kate Atkinson etc. They are the audience we need to put our faith in. Anything else will just make us want to cry.

Flowerpot said...

Helen - very good point and well put!

Debs said...

Great post, Kate.

I do think it over simplifies what writing a novel entails when you hear Penny Smith saying she took a couple of weeks off work to write her book, or words to that effect.

So, as I would ensure I'd never get signed by an agent if I posed wearing a spandex catsuit, I think I'd better carry on doing my best to hone my writing skills, for what they are.

Kate said...

REally interesting post Kate. Personally I much prefer authors that were published on the basis of their talent rather than their personal life.

Kate C

Anonymous said...

Because its a virtual coffee I will definitely have one please, with double everything and chocolate sprinkles, thanks.

I am so glad you brought up this topic. I was going to reply in anger until I read Kate Harrison's comment and calmed down. There really is nothing we can do about celebrity ghost written books unfortunately.

I've never read a celebrity autobiography or ghost written novel, and I've never bothered to ask myself why that is. They just don't appeal to me. But now I'm purposefully never going to read them, so as not to contribute to their profits :P

Yes I know I'm immature, oh well. I'm also (sort of) doing NaNoWriMo, so please add me as a buddy! I'm normally normal, I promise ;)

Lane said...

I have exactly the same kitchen tablecloth but my m/s doesn't look nearly as neat:-)

In theory good writing is all that matters but I'm sure the reality is that many more factors are taken into consideration.
Have to keep trying though.

Graeme - are you still able to smile after the botox?

Graeme K Talboys said...

I'm a writer, Lane, I gave up smiling years ago ;-)

Karen said...

I read a while ago that Cheryl Cole was being paid a LOT of money to 'write' a series of chick lit novels. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

Trouble is, the name alone pretty much guarantees there'll be lots of interest - probably from younger females - but I still hold out hope that perseverance and good writing will win out in the end. I HAVE to believe that or I'd throw in the towel!

Kate Lord Brown said...

Great comments - yes, have come to a similar conclusion, that you just have to ignore the sleb market and get on with writing the best books you can.

Good luck with NaNo all of you - did it last year and it was a blast, but up to my eyes in edits here!

liz fenwick said...

Great topic Kate and sorry to be late!

Margaret Atwood made a comment during the Dubai Lit Fest last year that struck a chord with me.

It was along the lines of once Publishing was a craft and now it is a business with a small portoin of craft.

The world has changed and publishing although about the creative arts in general is a business with a large number of people employed through out the whole chain and then there are shareholders. Profits have to be made and the selebs bring in profits - for whatever reason people buy them.

In the past publishers allowed the big books topay for the ones they were passionate about that would never make big bucks but the change in the business this does happen - the profits are not fed back in to grow writers and just to print good books it is used to pay dividends and salaries.... Not saying this is right or wrong but how it is which makes it difficult for everyone involved excpet the selebs who get the big money.


Fia said...

Sorry to be so late and Kate, you are well brave for going on TV.
Can you see I'm trying to keep up with teenager son? Perhaps a novel written entirely in text speak would work or, don't tell me, it's been done.

I don't know how I feel about sleb books, other than a bit sad, but perhaps they keep the bookshops solvent and as my surname's Mackenzie, if I got published my novel would be close to McCutcheon's and have a chance.
I'm still working on marrying a footballer as a backup.