Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Review Into The Welsh Government’s Support For Publishing And Literature In Wales

When I wrote A World Of Writers And Readers: Understanding Modern Publishing I didn't realise it would get picked up and shared all around the world. Maybe it is seen as a good overview; maybe it acts as a "how to" guide; maybe the world likes to know about the literary scene in Wales; and maybe it is seen as exposing a form of prejudice. Or all of the above. This post is a minor addition to that.

Yesterday the Welsh Government shared a link to its survey about support for publishing and literature in Wales. I was asked to help share it. The survey is open to anyone, not just people in Wales. It is short - a few demographic questions, a few about preferences, then a few text boxes where you can type what you want. This is the email:
Please see link below to the questionnaire in relation to the current Review into the Welsh Government’s support for Publishing and Literature in Wales. We would appreciate you sharing this widely with your contacts within the industry to ensure maximum input and feedback.
Questionnaire – Publishing and Literature Review
The Questionnaire will be available until 31st August 2016.
Just for information, my responses are below. Only afterwards did I realise that I forgot to add an important point: any panel to do with literature (reviews such as this, or prize-judging panels) should include at least one person who is an independent publisher or has experience of being an author-publisher, or is from an organisation like the Alliance of Independent Authors. Otherwise the panel aren't including all viewpoints, as well as missing out on a whole area of expertise.

Independently-published e-books vastly outperform
traditionally-published e-books [Source]

10. In your view, what are the main challenges faced by the publishing industry and literature in Wales? These could be cultural, social, economic or of another kind.

So much is produced globally (over a million new titles a year in the US alone, I think) that it is difficult to stand out. On the other hand, readership is growing, and new markets opening (India, China), so it is also an opportunity!

Also, publishing often adopts systems that irritate consumers - DRM, limited formats, high e-book prices, regional restrictions, severe copyright restrictions, dishonest marketing (fluff quotes etc) - which puts people off purchasing. Publishing should be more open and honest, and win back consumer trust.

11. Which aspects of the support currently provided for publishing and literature are working well (and why)?

To be honest it is hard to say, because I think the current system is quite difficult to understand. It doesn't seem to be very public about how much money is spent, on what, and why. How are decisions made to subsidise a title or publisher? How much funding goes to just support traditional publishing? Traditional publishing is important but is only one part of the story of literature in Wales. After all, traditional publishing came about a LONG time after the story of literature in Wales (oral and written) began! We're moving back towards a system of openness and participation, which is a good thing in many ways rather than a threat. We need services that aim to improve and promote all writing in Wales, regardless of who produces it and how.

12. Is there anything that should be done differently (and, if so, why)? Please explain what the outcomes would be of making the changes you describe.

We want the best quality writing from Wales. It’s not a requirement for everyone, of course - there is an important role for writing in terms of self-development and creativity, which needn't have anything to do with commercial success and markets. The vital parts of literature in Wales are the WRITERS; literature can exist without publishers, but not without writers. Nowadays there are many routes to market. So I feel that most of the money should go to writers directly. It shouldn’t matter whether the author chooses to licence rights to a publisher in exchange for royalties, or whether they prefer to act as an authorpreneur and retain control and royalties but hire people to provide the key services instead.

How could this be done? Possibly by funding writing services all writers in Wales could use (e.g. substantive editing and copyediting and proofreading). That's probably where I spend the bulk of my money, services which cost c. £1,000 per book. (Cover and interior design are the next most expensive). We want all books from Wales that are available for sale to be the best they can be.

I definitely don't agree with double-funding. This occurs when, for example, and author gets a grant to write a book, then a Welsh publisher gets a grant to publish it. It should be one or the other. Certainly the public seem to get annoyed when they realised double-funding is taking place in any sphere. Maybe grants for writing or editing services should include the condition that, if used, the book cannot receive a second grant to be traditionally published? Or ringfence figures for titles which aren't published by traditional publishers.

Public funding should also make works more widely available and re-usable/quotable to the public who support and fund it. I'm planning on making my books CC-NC in future (Creative Commons licensed, for non-commercial purposes - as used by Cory Doctorow). This kind of thing should be much more common. It could also tie in to the idea of using funding to pay a small guaranteed income to serious writers in Wales, in exchange for the resultant work being made open to the public in this way.

13. Is there anything else you would like the Panel to consider?

All authors should come together. Regardless of genre or format, or means of production. Authors are the primary producer, so it's a no-brainer that funding should primarily support them in their endeavours, and they shouldn't have to assign their rights elsewhere in order to benefit from funding and promotion. It should be their choice whether to do that or not, but they should be supported regardless of what they decide. Nothing publicly funded should exclude an author just because their book was not published by a small press, but rather by a team the author assembled and paid. To be honest, the future is likely to be a hybrid system, where some of an author's work might be traditionally published, some self-published; as rights revert titles might change from one to another. This kind of flexibility is a good thing for all involved in publishing: it's an opportunity, not something to fight over. I don't believe in "us and them": it is all authors together, with traditional publishing being one of the partners authors can work with. Not the only one, but one that can definitely benefit some projects because of the expertise, passion and connections of many small presses. Authors shouldn't miss out on the benefits of working with a publisher; nor should they be unaware of the benefits of retaining full creative control. Likewise we all benefit from a growth in quality literature, that creates new markets and enhances readership; we should all be working together to create that united creative industry.

Plus what I have already said here.

Thanks for being patient with me.



  1. Hi Karl - very interesting and something to chew over. Am on the panel and hybrid author: and non-fiction self published and non fiction published by Hodder, DK, Piatkus. Thanks for this useful input.

  2. Thanks for the additional information Philippa, I hadn't realised: and congratulations on The Gritties!

  3. Has this led to any change? It all seemed to go quiet.