Thursday, 17 February 2011

"The anchovies are restless"

To see the video of Margaret Atwood's highly entertaining talk at the Tools of Change for Publishing conference in New York City this week:

She used the anchovy image in answer to a question from the floor. Writers are the anchovies; I am an anchovy.It's something to do with being very low down in the food chain in a world where there are some very big whales around.

(I think maybe we are krill or plankton, really, but I can live with anchovy)

She also said that we are a "primary source" like a dead moose feeding 30+ species and that it was unwise to eliminate your primary source in any industry. Only 10% of writers make their living solely from writing (nice to find myself in the same ten percent as MA, who is a bit of a heroine of mine).

What this was all about was how new technology was changing publishing and how little writers made on each ebook sold. A week or two back I had quite an argument with one of my publishers about how little he was making on each ebook, or would be. He told me off for saying how much I loved my Kindle, so I was relieved that Atwood said she had two ereaders, to use on planes.

She also commented on how when mass book publishing started there was the author plus the printer/publisher/bookseller - before those roles were separated out and then literary agents were added to the mix. Or became partakers of the pie. She wondered whether we would go back to a 19th century model of publishing and I have wondered that too.

It was a witty talk, full of epigrams but I particularly liked one image: every tool has three sides, the good side, the bad side and the stupid side. A hammer can be used to build a shelter for the homeless (good) or to murder someone (bad) but you can also inadvertently hit your thumb with it (stupid).

It seems to me we are in some danger from the third (stupid) side of some new publishing tools. "Not all change is good" said Margaret Atwood, illustrating this thought with her own cartoon of an alive person changing into a dead person. But nor is all change bad. (I immediately starting thinking how the dead person could be an evil dictator, an abusive partner etc etc.)

Personally I love new technology and social networking but it is not so for every writer and we must not get stuck with a single model of publishing that could exclude good writers. Whether that is the old model or the new.


karen ball said...

This is all really interesting. Like the good/bad/stupid use! Margaret Atwood is a heroine of mine, too. Love that she's on Twitter. Interesting times ahead.

catdownunder said...

Change can also be good, bad or stupid I suspect. I will be interested to see where e-readers end up.

Katherine Langrish said...

Thankyou for posting the link, Mary - this was fascinating.

Lisa@ButteryBooks said...

Very interesting..thanks for posting! There seems to be a lot of buzz about what is going to happen in the publishing world with all the digital media now available.

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