The Writers of Tomorrow seminar at the London Book Fair turned out to be a mix of optimism and pessimism about the craft (and business) of writing, with some reality-check statistics. We spend an estimated £30m a year on writing courses in the UK, but the average salary for a writer is £6k a year.
This means more writers than ever are chasing deals, deluging agents with their manuscript-shaped hopes. As a writer, you’ll likely need to find a way to adapt. According to Catherine Large (Assistant Director of Industry Engagement, Creative and Cultural Skills), those who’ll prosper will be flexible and entrepreneurial, taking on other work as part of a ‘portfolio career’.
Tash Aw, an author himself, and not a remotely disillusioned one, wanted others to share his faith in the traditional model of an editor nurturing a writer, establishing a strong, supportive relationship. But that only works once you’ve signed a deal.
For Fay Weldon it was a case of ‘you can’t keep a good book down’, but who really knows the truth of this? If there are good books which were kept down, we haven’t heard about them. Her words of encouragement rested with related opportunities for creative people, be they script editing or imagining the alternative universes of computer gaming. (Those options even had a salary attached, she noted.)
The uneasy relationship between art and commerce came up in a few different ways. But rather than being something affecting the ‘writers of tomorrow’, this is affecting the writers of today. As a publisher, Paul Baggaley of Picador wanted books that sold. What publisher doesn’t? His denominator was finding the right book at the right price. For him, the boom in writers and writing would mean a smaller percentage of ‘good books’.
Given the number of writers present, it was Chris Gribble (Chief Executive, New Writing Partnership) who appealed most to the assembled audience when he decried ‘writing for the market’ as dull and doomed to failure. He reserved his praise for the Arts Council whose funding could ‘subsidise risk’ and so facilitate the art of writing in all its glory.
(Publisher, Yearbooks, A&C Black)