Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Plus audiobook news, Colleen Hoover’s writer’s block, SFF book length advice, and the state of British TV.

Hi there,

I’ve got a veritable smorgasbord of links for you today, so I’m breaking away from my usual newsletter format and where I’ve got a lot of related links I’m grouping them by theme, otherwise this would be a very, very long newsletter!

Also, happy Three-Quarters-Of-A-Century Newsletter to me! Yes, this is my 75th Word Count newsletter, which also coincides with the arrival of my 300th subscriber! Thank you to all of you for being a part of my newsletter journey, and even bigger thanks to those of you who are supporting my writing with a paid subscription. I am incredibly grateful!

Arthur C Clarke Award shortlist announced

The shortlist for the 38th Arthur C Clarke Award, which celebrates the best of science fiction, was announced last week. The short list is:

Lots of good reading there!

Interview with Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman in The British Library © RLF

Neil Gaiman was interviewed by the Royal Literary Fund. Interviews with Neil are always good value, but I particularly liked this bit:

What was the proudest moment of your writing career?

The proudest moment of my writing career would be my first Hugo Award. I got it for American Gods. I was one hundred per cent certain that I wouldn’t get it -there were lots of amazing books on that shortlist. So I’m sitting there happily in the audience, not having written a speech, not even a list of thank yous, because I knew I wasn’t going to win. And then they called my name. I went up on the stage and I remember standing in front of an audience and saying, “F*** I’ve got a Hugo!”

Canongate first UK publisher to become a B Corp

B Corp certification is awarded to “companies able to demonstrate that they have a positive social and environmental impact on the world”, and British publisher Canongate has now won its B Corp status, the first UK publisher to do so. Caroline Gorham, production and systems director, said:

“Becoming a B Corp feels like a public commitment: we want to ensure our impact on our colleagues, authors, suppliers, booksellers, readers and the world at large is a positive one.”

I’d love to think that this could be the beginning of a trend, but I find myself doubtful given the poverty wages/advances most major publishers pay.

What I’m watching: The Fall Guy

If you haven’t yet gotten to the cinema to see The Fall Guy or, as we say in the UK, The Autumn Guy, hie thee to a picture house right now. I don’t often feel moved to review TV or movies, but The Fall Guy is fabulous. It’s that perfect blend of action and romcom that reminds me of Romancing The Stone. It never takes itself too seriously, yet someone somewhere (literally everyone involved) took the making of it very seriously indeed.

I love a film that takes us behind the scenes, and The Fall Guy does just that, showing us how stunts are done by a dedicated and large crew of experts who makes sure that the stunt men and women don’t hurt themselves too much. Though, as Ryan Gosling’s Colt Seavers says, it all hurts. But Gosling and Emily Blunt’s comic timing is perfect, their chemistry sizzles, and the whole thing is just perfection. You don’t need to have ever seen, or even heard of, the original TV series to enjoy this, so go see it on the big screen if you can.

And yes, I’m going to keep making that ‘autumn guy’ joke until someone laughs.

Audiobooks: The good, the bad, and the bad is also the ugly

The Guardian reports that in the UK, audiobooks are  are booming, with downloads  up 17 per cent since last year and revenue up 24 per cent to £206 million over the same period. Audiobook revenue has also doubled over the last five years, which is fabulous for authors and publishers.

But despite increases in the value of several publishing market segments, and overall growth for the industry, “major publishers have said that they are struggling with rising costs” and that there will be cuts, so the good news is tempered a little.

The Guardian also takes a look at “dramatised audiobooks” which feature dozens of, even over 150, different actors and narrators. I can’t see this become a major trend, simply because of cost. Only the most popular titles are ever going to get this treatment, so I don’t think that it asks quite the “existential question” that The Guardian claims in its headline.

Variety report that Spotify are being sued in the US over the bundling of audiobooks into its Premium Individual, Duo and Family subscription streaming plans, which will results “result in an underpayment of royalties”. Spotify recently increased its subscription prices, but Billboard calculated that because of bundling:

songwriters and publishers will earn an estimated $150 million less in U.S. mechanical royalties from premium, duo and family plans for the first 12 months that this is in effect, compared to what they would have earned if these three subscriptions were never bundled.

Ugly, indeed.

Colleen Hoover struck by writer’s block

Smash hit author Colleen Hoover hasn’t written anything for 18 months, and doesn’t know if she’ll write again. In this interview, she says that she has become a lot more famous than she ever wanted to be, and that has attracted a lot of cruelty from her detractors. That, and the pressure of needing to live up to now high expectations, seems to have damaged her confidence and she finds herself unable to develop anything beyond the idea stage.

Last week I took a look at the four types of writer’s block and a dozen potential solutions. To me, it seems like the cause of Hoover’s writer’s block is motivational: She’s suffering from a very understandable fear of criticism, performance anxiety, and lack of enjoyment. I hope she can find her way out of what sounds like a rather unpleasant place to be.

How long should an SFF book be?

This set of posts from editor Jonathan Oliver on Bluesky (sadly, not formatted as a thread) explores not just how long a science fiction or fantasy novel should be, but also the pressures within the industry that are cutting page lengths.

Honestly, shorter often is better, because it forces you to make the hard choices and only keep the stuff that really, really works.

So, I have seen various comments on what length a work of SFF ‘should’ be, and as a professional editor I wanted to add my 10p’s worth. Firstly, I very rarely see novels over 150K that don’t need trimming down a touch. That’s not to say there aren’t great epic works out there…1/

Secondly, the current economy of print, paper costs, and shipping means that physical novels published in the mainstream are trending shorter. Couple that with that the fact that the latest trending genre (romantasy) tends to go for shorter novels (70-90K). 2/

Of course, with self-publishing, you can publish at whatever length you like. But, if you’re intending to produce physical copies via POD you still have to consider the longer the work, the more it’s going to cost to print, especially at that scale. 3/

On an artistic basis, a novel should be whatever length it should be. But, the longer epic works I see generally need squeezing to refine the narrative, and SFF audiences (especially with the rise of self-pub) tend to go for shorter works in series, rather than huge fat pbks by newer authors. 4/?

I love an epic when it’s done well, but they’re really really hard to do well. I’ve had one client over the past three years who has managed to nail it. But he’s struggling to get his book out into the mainstream because publishers are less likely to take a risk on a big work by an unknown 5/

So, in conclusion – stories should be whatever shape they need to be. But, in the reality of SFF publishing (taking into account boring real world economic factors and international situations’ effect on shipping) bigger books are on the wane, and slimmer, punchier titles or on the rise. 6ish?/

The rot at the centre of British TV runs deep

There’s no good news coming out of the TV industry at the moment, which is a bit miserable for anyone hoping to break into it. Channel 4 reveals that less than 10 per cent of “film and TV workers are from working class backgrounds, the lowest in a decade. And most of them are based in London.”

The Guardian talks about the misogyny that women in TV and film face. There’s way too much from this article that’s quotable, but I’ll stick to just this one:

The number of women in senior roles fell 5% between 2019 and 2022. One in three directors are women, yet they get only a quarter of director credits. Contributions from female writers fell from 43% to 32% between 2016 and 2022. Behind these figures, women are less likely to be employed on peak-time shows, which are generally more prestigious and have larger audiences, than men.

Oh, and this one:

“There’s tremendous cultural impetus,” Aust adds, “to get women to behave like men and not present any kind of disruption – don’t have a baby, don’t have IVF, don’t go through menopause, don’t have periods.” Reynolds knows an experienced documentary-maker who hides the existence of her son for fearing of losing work. Eikhof interviewed one woman who, when suffering from morning sickness on set, hid airline sick bags in her handbag so she could vomit discreetly.

Philip Ralph spoke to the Royal Television Society about how difficult it is for early career writers to get their foot in the industry’s door.

“What’s happening now is an existential-level crisis for the industry. Like what happened to the miners in the 1980s.” This is writer Phil Ralph (Doctors, Einstein and the Bomb), following the decision to axe BBC One’s daytime mainstay Doctors. […]

With its mix of long-running storylines and stories-of-the-day, Doctors was developed to train early-career writers. They would then move on to bigger series, some eventually creating their own shows.

I’ve deliberately put this section at the end, because dear lord it’s depressing reading. This thread by Kelly, a director on Twitter, pretty much sums up how hard it is for people who aren’t in London and aren’t connected to the right people to make any headway at all.

I do worry that we are gutting the future of the creative industries, which together contributed “£126bn in gross value added to the economy and employed 2.4 million people in 2022”, because industry leaders and politicians are all so bloody short-sighted. Yes, of course it’s cheaper to axe long-running training ground TV shows and replace them with ineffective and selective competitions, but in 10 years time, who’s going to be writing your hits?

We have already reached the point at which only people who don’t need the money can really afford to work in the creative industries, and it’s only going to get worse from here on in and idiots and AI decimate the jobs market.

Obligatory cat picture

To cheer you up after all that, here is Sir Izacat Mewton and Professor Grabbity Tinycat helping me to iron way back in 2013.

That’s it for this week… or is it? I actually have a bunch more links that I didn’t include because frankly this newsletter’s long enough as it is. If you’re on Substack Notes or if you follow me on Bluesky, I’ll be sharing them there.

All the best,



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