Tag Archives: literature

The rise of digital publishing and the death of the author

On seeing The Guardian‘s article on digital publishing and the death of the author, I was immediately reminded of my English BA days when I wrote about Roland  Barthes’ essay on ‘The death of the author’. Despite the differences in context, it appears that appealing to readers is more important to authors than writing titles that make a lot of money.

Digital Book World (DBW) surveyed 1,600 self-published authors and only 20% of those claimed it was “extremely important” to “make money writing books”. On the other hand, 56% said that publishing a “book that people will buy” was more important. Of course, in this day and age, social media/online platforms make it far more easier for authors to distribute their works. What’s more is that this also allows them to find audiences for their work. While digital publishing has indeed proved an advantage to authors in some instances, the DBW survey also stated that 54% of traditionally published and 80% of self-published authors earn less than £600 each year.

While the surge of self publishing combined with digital means that discoverabilty of literature is easier online in particular, it also means that the definition of an author is almost being devalued as a result. This is emphasised by Hugh Howey’s statement (Howey actually sold thousands of copies of his book, Wool, on Amazon prior to finding a publisher):

the self-publishing revolution has allowed “hundreds of thousands of voracious readers with a dream of writing a novel” to write books “out of love and passion, just like a kid goes out and dribbles a basketball for hours every day or kicks a soccer ball against a garage wall”. But over the past few decades we wouldn’t have called these people “writers” any more than we would call that kid in the back yard a footballer. If all it takes to be a writer is to stick your work online then we’re all writers now.

Howey further states that self-publishing is currently going through a “renaissance”. Today’s new authors do not have the same amount of experience  and “market maturity” to go up against the 1% of authors who have had numerous years of experience.

I guess if I was to link in some criticism here, I would use that of Michel Foucault’s What Is An Author? (1969):

The idea of the author is not a timeless figure: the figure and significance of the author varies across time, and from one culture to another, from one discourse to another and so on.

Drawing from what Howey states, and Foucault many years prior to this article, is the death of the author an actual occurrence? Or is it simply going through yet another change?

Picture by Donald D Palmer, 1997

Picture by Donald D Palmer, 1997

Image comes from: http://suewatling.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk/tag/death-of-the-author/ [Accessed: 27.01.14]

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Book Prizes: more than just a celebration of fantastic literature

I read such a sad, yet inspiring Feature article in the London Evening Standard today. James Ashton told of how he had lost his three-year-old son due to an undetected heart condition a year ago and how he had set up a book prize, entitled Oscar’s First Book Prize, in his son’s memory.

Ashton describes in the article how Oscar had such a unique and vivid imagination and how this inspired him to set up the Book Prize. Ashton states:

Our sim it to find the best pre-school book of the year that celebrates a child’s love for magical stories, something that would have satisfied Oscar’s vivid imagination.

The Prize has been set up by the Evening Standard and Waitrose. The winner shall be the “best first book for children aged five or under published in 2013” and shall be awarded £5,000. It is thought that Oscar’s mother; Viveka Alvestrand; the chief executive of Waitrose, Mark Price; former CEO of Pearson, Marjorie Scardino and the deputy editor for the Evening Standard, Charlotte Ross shall judge the entries with the winner being announced in May 2014.

Evidently, this shows that Book Prizes are not just about celebrating outstanding works of Literature, but people themselves. It can celebrate culture, history, memories, and as Ashton states: imagination. When you look deeply into things, to me it’s almost as if the Prize has been launched to portray the fact that Oscar will live on through the imagination within the winning book. Ashton states in the article how he imagines what Oscar would be like were he alive, therefore portraying that Book Prizes are also incredibly important.


#NationalPoetryDay

The theme of this year’s National Poetry Day (@PoetryDayUK) is ‘water, water everywhere’; inspired by one of my favourite poets (and poems), Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner. The first Thursday of October has marked the special event for the last 20 years. Poetry is a fantastic medium which can express anything. And the best part is, is that everybody can interpret different things from poetry; what may mean one thing to someone, could mean something completely different to someone else.

Matt Lewis writes in an article for The Telegraph: “The aim of National Poetry Day is to celebrate poetry in all of its diverse forms. In doing so, The Poetry Society and its affiliates hope to attract new readers and remove some of the academic, elitist stigma that is attached to verse, making it part of the public imagination again”. Something else which I feel I should mention is how muscians can also promote poetry. Being a fan of Arctic Monkeys, I really enjoyed their slightly altered version of John Cooper Clarke’s ‘I Wanna Be Yours’ which is included on their new album, AM. Anyone who is a fan of either JCC or AM should definitely YouTube the different versions.

On another note, I shall leave you with this:

Possibly my favourite quote to describe poetry.


Man Booker: to go Stateside, or to not go Stateside?

That is the question on everyone’s lips as newspapers and bloggers speculated whether or not the Man Booker Prize will be extended to American authors in 2014. Whilst the decision will remain undecided until Wednesday (18th) of this week, it hasn’t stopped the likes of The Guardian and The Bookseller reporting the possibility of the rule change to one of the world’s most prestigious literary prizes.

For the past 45 years, the Man Booker Prize has recognised the works of authors in the UK, Ireland and other countries of the Commonwealth. Extending the Prize out to authors across the pond has received mixed opinions. Writer/broadcaster Melvin Bragg compared the possible change to “a British company being taken over by some worldwide conglomerate”. The main concern is that allowing American writers to be a part of the prize will drastically diminish the award’s identity and its link with Britain.

On the other hand, allowing the Booker to go Stateside will ensure that the Prize receives more recognition internationally. Scott Pack, Me And My Big Mouth, wrote a good piece outlining 10 points about the move and pointed out that the USA is the only English-speaking country which isn’t currently included in the Man Booker. Pack also suggests that the Man Booker could end up stealing “some of the Baileys Prize or Orange Prize’s thunder” as they already include writers from the USA in addition to other worldwide authors.  Michael Bhaskar has also written a piece on The Bookseller: Keep it special‘ speculating his thoughts on the possible change.

I have mixed feelings about the possible change. I can see how it could be beneficial to the Prize itself in terms of promoting writing from undiscovered authors and small independent publishers. But on the other hand, the Man Booker Prize creates a sense of identity in British literature. The world is so inundated with global products, corporations, organisations etc. that I feel they can sometimes become disenfranchised to the point where people may actually lose interest. I personally believe that people like to find the undiscovered and I feel that the Man Booker Prize could still appeal to new people without the help of American authors.  Moreover, there are already other prizes (such as those mentioned previously) which credits American authors and their writing, so why not keep the Man Booker the way it is?

More on this on Wednesday when the decision will be finalised… In the meantime, here is a list of this year’s Man Booker Prize shortlist and reasons why it’s the best shortlist in a decade…

  • NoViolet Bulawayo We Need New Names (Chatto)

    Photo from The Guardian

    Photo from The Guardian

  • Eleanor Catton The Luminaries (Granta)
  • Jim Crace Harvest (Picador)
  • Jhumpa Lahiri The Lowland (Bloomsbury)
  • Ruth Ozeki A Tale for the Time Being (Canongate)
  • Colm Toibin The Testament of Mary (Viking)

‘What’s in a name…?’

97814087039912The Guardian has today published an article stating that JK Rowling has been writing novels under pseudonym Robert Galbraith.

The crime novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling, was released in April of this year and received outstanding reviews. It was, however, due to these reviews and the novel being ‘too accomplished’ for a debut novel, that led the investigation into who actually wrote the book. JK Rowling said that:

“I had hoped to keep this secret a little longer because being Robert Galbraith has been such a liberating experience. It has been wonderful to publish without hype or expectation, and pure pleasure to get feedback under a different name.”

Of course the big reveal has led to a wave of criticism and debates through social media sites, as well as comments on The Guardian‘s page. I find it very hard to agree with some people’s comments, particularly the ones who state that the author’s true identity has only been revealed so that Rowling can earn more money. (Has everyone forgotten the millions which she has made through the Harry Potter series?!) The article reported that the novel has sold 1,500 copies. For a hardback novel, this is a fine achievement for an author we believed to have been making his debut.

It did make me wonder though… can the quality and success of a book be undermined according to the name on the front cover?

Well of course in most instances – yes! Let’s face it, publishers don’t have big branding campaigns and it is no lie that they use the authors’ names to sell their products. Of course a book is going to sell well if it is by an author which is already an established bestseller. People already know what to expect. On the other hand, there is also an argument that no, the name on the cover of a book doesn’t always determine the quality and success of the book. As the article states, The Cuckoo’s Calling has already experienced great success, despite the author not being known. In essence, you only have to think about every bestselling author out there; there was a time when (s)he was not known, yet the quality and success of their book was not undermined because of this.

I think it’s safe to say that in this instance, like those words uttered by Juliet and penned by Shakespeare: ‘that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet’ is a statement which, undoubtedly, can be applied here.