Brisbane Writers Festival Dazzles

Analogue MenThe  2014 Brisbane Writers Festival had an inspiring launch on Thursday night when author/publisher Dave Eggers (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, What is the What – about the lost boys of Sudan) told a full tent  about the genesis of McSweeney’s publishing company and its 826 Valencia Writing Centres. The tutoring behind these pirate, superhero and other themed storefronts has helped countless children with their writing. Groups doing similar work in Australia are Sydney’s Story Factory with its Martian Embassy, Melbourne’s 100 Story Building, and Book Links in Queensland is working towards its own centre.

My next session was ‘Dangerous Allies’ where Robert Manne interviewed Malcolm Fraser in front of a capacity crowd. The insights about Australia’s alliance with the US were provocative and chilling.

‘Zen and the Art of Tea’ was a light-hearted exploration of tea by Morris Gleitzman and Josephine Moon. Josephine’s tip about brewing lavender, garlic or basil to make teas sounds worth trying and Morris – a literary Geoffrey Rush – was hilarious. He personified coffee as a bully, and tea as a whispering lover.

David Hunt was in fine form discussing his Indies Book winner, Girt which is a retelling of Australian history with a comedic eye.

It was fun to cross paths with David Malouf (for the second time in two weeks), Jennifer Byrne, Will Kostakis, Pamela Rushby and Tristan Bancks. If only there was more time for more sessions … I would have loved to see YA writers such as A.J. Betts, Isobelle Carmody and Jackie French but they were either offsite or clashed with my events. Andy Griffiths was so popular he had his own signing area after the other children’s writers’ part of the program had finished. Chairing Andy and John Boyne (Boy in the Striped Pyjamas) a few years ago was one of the funniest times of my life.

Forgotten Rebels of EurekaThis year I was privileged to moderate sessions with Clare Wright on The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka (Text) and Nick Earls on Analogue Men (Vintage). Clare must be the world’s most informed person in her field of women at Eureka. Her book deservedly won the Stella Prize this year. It is compulsive, engaging reading, notwithstanding its 500+ pages.

Nick was as funny as expected and revealed a secret about Analogue Men. We learned that his favourite Dr Who is Jon Pertwee and his favourite tech device Bluetooth. I explained how I laughed out loud repeatedly over one scene that I read on instant replay and Nick implied that my brain is like that of a goldfish. But no – it really was the skilful writing. It was wonderful to hear the laughing throughout this session and see the animated audiences in both these events.

Many thanks to the authors involved in the Festival, particularly Clare and Nick, and to the incredible BWF staff and volunteers led by Kate Eltham.

Lost Book Sales

The publishing industry is going through now what the music industry has been going through for a few years: fast-changing technologies, risk-averse dinosaur suppliers unsure how and unable to adjust to the market, users fed up with being dictated the terms under which they are allowed to use content that are invariably un-user friendly, and technologies rightly or wrongly enabling users to wrestle back some of the control.

I had the (mis)fortune to work for Australia’s largest music retailer who shall not be named throughout most of my uni degree. I can say with assurety that they didn’t handle the music landscape changes well.

Remember region-specific DVDs? Yeah, well some clever chap (or chap-ess) created non-region-specific DVD players and we haven’t looked back. Remember windows (AKA, the industry term for staggering releases around the world)? Yeah, well piracy is fast putting paid to that.

Distributors have been super slow to react, but they’re finally starting to realise they need to release content worldwide and simultaneously or lose revenue as people share content in their own (free) way. They’re not there yet, but money not made is a language they know and understand.

See, region restrictions and windows are arbitrary rules and obstacles put in place by those who own the rights to control and ultimately maximise their revenue. Those restrictions aren’t in the interest of the people who are after the content.

While I don’t condone piracy, I do understand it. Especially when I cannot get Games of Thrones legitimately at the time it’s released in the US and then am being spoilered into the next universe by my internationally based social media friends. I mean, The Oatmeal outlined his I-tried-to-do-the-right-thing-then-f&ck-it-you-made-it-impossible-to philosophy much better than I ever could.

All of this is a long-winded whine is a precursor to a website I discovered via the ever astonishing Kate Eltham. Called Lost Book Sales, it’s a site where readers can tell the world (and, hopefully, the author and publisher) about book sale lost for reasons that may include price, region restrictions, or availability.

It’s a genius idea, overcoming that chicken–egg argument that publishers, bookstores, and the like present for not making books available: no sales history. But, as frustrated readers and authors know, you can’t develop a sales history when the book’s not available for sale. And if publishers don’t know readers are after said book, they might not even consider releasing it in, say, Australia in an e-book format.

Lost Book Sales is simple, crowdsourced, using freely available online tools and templates, seemingly volunteer-run for the greater good, and hopefully something that will help authors get their books into the hands of more readers*.** Excuse me while I spend the rest of my Sunday submitting books to it …

*If I had to make one suggestion, it’s that they social media it up—its reach and impact would go gangbusters if they got themselves on Facebook and Twitter.

**It’s worth noting that Boomerang Books is also tackling this lost book sales issues. You might have come across some listings where the book’s not available, but Boomerang Books includes it in the catalogue with the purpose of showing that it does exist, that it’s worth trying to contact the distributor to see if it can be made available here.

Bookcamp

I’m heading to If:Book Australia’s Bookcamp in a fortnight’s time (and yes, I realise that sounds like the publishing industry equivalent of ‘band camp’. It’s not, honest. It’s far less salacious and potentially happily even more nerdy).

Bookcamp’s actually an ‘unconference’ that’s designed to bring together creative, bookish people from a bunch of backgrounds to explore books’ future. It will be ‘bottom-up, grass-roots, and collaborative’, i.e. entirely outside the traditional conference model box.

The theme? The emerging future.

Hmm. Lots to ponder there.

I went to If:Book’s last unconference (at least, I think it was an unconference) entitled The Reader. It was a fantastic day organised by a fantastic organisation that ‘promotes new forms of digital literature and explores ways to boost connections between writers and audiences’. As a side note, I love its logo and website design (I hope the If:Book team don’t mind, but I’ve included a small screengrab of their design here for reference. You can visit it in full at www.futureofthebook.org.)

If:Book BookcampIf:Book Australia was set up by outgoing Queensland Writers Centre CEO/incoming Brisbane Writers Festival Director Kate Eltham. If you haven’t yet heard of her, I’d recommend you rectify that now, starting by following her on Twitter: @kate_eltham. The Australian newspaper named her one of 10 Emerging Leaders of Culture way back in 2009, something she’s well and truly proved in the three years since. Eltham’s not only one to watch, but one we’d all love to emulate.

In fact, ‘digital champion’ Eltham was one of the few people the industry who didn’t completely freak out about the ‘death’ of the physical book at the hands of the digital one. She correctly predicted that there’d always be room for physical books and that e-books were just joining the conversation. What mattered, and what we all fall in love with over and over again, are the stories themselves—the container in which they come now just involves more choice.

But I’m getting carried away. The above’s not gush—it’s meant to be useful-background-information segway. That is, an unconference organised by an organisation involving Eltham is the kind of conference writers, editors, designers, publishers, and readers ought to attend—it’s likely to yield some groundbreaking and inspiring results.

The thing about unconferences is that they don’t have pre-determined programs. Instead, the website tells us, we participants will get to suggest topics and then be responsible for leading discussions and brainstorming sessions around them.

Sounds great, except that I’m rubbish at thinking of topics. Which is why I’m writing this blog. If you were me and you had the opportunity to put forward some topics you’d like tackled at Bookcamp, what would you recommend?

To give you some ideas, the unconference will also have a guest speaker—independent writer, designer, and publisher, Craig Mod, who divides his time between Palo Alto, New York, and Tokyo, and who has created a stack of impressive projects and publications.

His interests and work, his website tells me, are about digital books, publishing, and start-ups—three areas that are increasingly, happily converging. Like Eltham, he’s a ‘technology optimist’ who sees a bunch of publishing opportunities awaiting us, best summed up as follows:

The old guard is crumbling. A new guard is awkwardly emerging. Together, we can affect the shape of the new guard.

Which returns me to my previous question: If you were me and you had the opportunity to suggest topics you’d like tackled along the theme of ‘the emerging future’ at Bookcamp, what would you recommend?