Luna Park, Sydney, Sept 11-12, 2015
I was very excited to be part of this congress. Set against the background of the Sydney Harbour, it was a perfect way to listen to members of the bookish world. David Day, ASA chair, introduced the conference by saying the aim was to take the temperature of the industry, in the light of great changes, and look at issues facing creators, especially considering the fall of authors' incomes, the average of which is $11000. Eeek!
David Marr took charge of the opening address and in very eloquent and witty style, wanted to congratulate us for facing the perils of the writing industry on a daily basis. He stressed that the world cannot do without us…that we’re not endangered….we are indispensable.
He maintained that story is the mainstay underpinning everything. Maths, science, politics and that even though books are disappearing, bookshops closing, papers evaporating…we are still indispensable….we just have to make it pay.
Australian content, now and tomorrow. Does it matter?
Moderator: Angelo Loukakis
Michael Mohammed Ahmad, Bronwyn Bancroft, Kerryn Goldsworthy,
Bronwyn Bancroft: Australian content makes us unique and from a childhood with no aboriginal books in the library her personal goal is to change that. We need stories to enliven our society, and even though artists are underpaid and under-regarded, their voices are as important as ever. Need first to know who we are, understand where we live and share it with the world and in our own home. We have a responsibility to tell the truth. She likens being Australian as being part of a mirror ball: We all have our moments where we shine and we all need to get to the disco more often. Classy.
Michael Mohammed Ahmad: need diversity…we live in a fantasy position of white supremacy that makes us unsympathetic to outsiders who want to come here. Need a broad engagement with the global community.
Has spent 30 years teaching and researching Australian literature. Teachers need Australian content and it’s widely and well taught better than ever in university and schools. It is also taught and researched internationally.
Part B: Channels and pathways Moderator: Debra Adelaide
Mark Dreyfus, Jackie French, Libby Gleeson, Elizabeth Weiss
Jackie French: Current state of kids lit.
In Jackie’s ever passionate and sparky way, she declared that if your books are good they will sell. As the Children's Laureate, she’s surveyed 120 000 kids over the last 2 years and 80% think books are boring. If we want kids to love books, we have to enthuse and excite them! They need to read, comprehend, read fluently but they need choices! We need to provide good, diverse books and avoid giving kids boring books or books that are too difficult. Once you have them hooked they’ll keep reading for life.
Libby Gleeson: Spoke passionately about the Reading Australia website and how we should all get on board.
Mark Dreyfus, Shadow Attorney-General and Shadow Minister for the Arts wants to cancel the current govt’s NPEA, that takes money from the ASA and hands it to George Brandis’ office, but does not include money for authors or literature. (There was huge applause there…this may change since with the ousting of Tony Abbott for Malcolm Turnball, George Brandis is no longer Minister for the Arts. He said the govt has an obligation to support literature.
An Australian book industry: What is it and what does it do? Who benefits?
Recent signs indicate a welcome upturn in the fortunes of the Australian book industry. Dollars and sales have increased, and ebooks represent a larger proportion of total book sales than they did five years ago. But what are authors getting out of recent developments? Is “the market” all that authors need? How are publishers adjusting to the digital shift and its effect on their operations? Session includes updates from cultural agencies and political representatives.
Part A: Building an industry that supports authors
Moderator: Angelo Loukakis
Panel: Adam Bandt, David Day, Mark Dreyfus, Kate Larsen
How are we doing when bookshops are closing, there’s pressure to reduce the cost of books but book sales are increasing? There are fewer editors on staff, there are cut backs in staff and selling books overseas and reduced payment to creators.
The ASA wanted an advocacy group independent of the govt who could speak to the imp of books, reading, paying for content against the idea that content (books) should be free. Instead we have Book Council created by Aust Govt. who will propose how money will be spent and approved by the Book Council. ASA is reconsidering their reaction to this (which again may change with the new Minister for the Arts)
There is generally a very healthy book landscape but many content creators not being paid properly. This was a big theme at the congress.
Reading is the main way Australians engage with the arts…but on more modern forms. There is a danger of newbies offering their work for free…which devalues what we do. We need to stand up for each other and be clear about exploitation and underpayment. We need to share all we know.
The Abbott govt took $6 million from the ASA and $107 million from the Australia Council for the Arts which will mainly affect diverse writers and communities.
Adam Bandt spoke to the current govt’s changes to arts funding being a privatization of the arts being for organisations rich enough to apply. He warned of the lack of support for writers, increased difficulty in making money as creators and lack of diversity. Wants to make prizes tax free and make creative activity relevant to the receiving the dole. This was warmly received.
Part B: Improving the numbers, broadening readerships
Moderator: Jill Eddington
Panel: Kate Forsyth, Alice Grundy, Amelia Lush, Susan Hawthorne
Kate began with a story of writers in heaven and hell being lashed to typewriters and the only difference between the two is that the writers in heaven are paid. With all the changes, Kate Forsyth declares that she still wants to be read and tell her story in the very best way she can. The aim of reading is to share, connect, communicate, move and be moved. Slow starvation of our culture is the result of not supporting writing and writers. When it is devalued, we devalue what makes us human. Go Kate!!
Susan Hawthorne said that there is a difference between Sales and Marketing department…Sales wanted to know how a new book was the same as successful books out there and Editorial wanted to know how is this different. Tricky!
Amelia Lush from Better Read Than Dead was so optimistic! She is selling more Aust content than ever and children‘s sales are through the roof. Reading trends can create new readers….which is good and she has no problem forcing other books on new readers. We need strategic, deliberate choices to encourage a reading of local authors, which is against the bigger mainstream well-funded overseas books. She is very concerned about the current govt’s moves against supporting writers and writing. Booksellers are giving loads of support to Australian authors and publishers are responding. There is a strong readership for Australian books. Yay!
Alice Grundy spoke about her excitement about the publication of the diversity of voices and short story collections and this, in part, has been because of literary journals. Proliferation of lit festivals also means there is a way of creating audiences and revealing new voices.
Show us the money!
Authors are reportedly receiving less income from writing now than they were a decade ago. What’s caused this? Who should pay for authors’ labour and time spent creating works for readers? What is happening to funding? Where are the rip-offs occurring and what forms do they take? Reports and news from the front line.
Moderator: David Marr
Panel: David Day, Ben Eltham, Pamela Freeman, Lex Hirst, Benython Oldfield
Ben Eltham kept it simple: An easy way to make sure authors earn money…is to pay them. There is a great need to have more funding to support writers to write.
Pamela: 30% of income comes from books…the rest from teaching and school visits.
Benython: As an agent he is getting reduced advances. The big area of growth is film, stage and TV rights. Ask for a rising royalty of 12.5% after 7000 copies. A growth area for books is audio.
David Day: ASA chair spoke of ASA introducing ELR PLR and continuing to fight for them. He wants literary prizes to be tax-free. They are working collaboration to defending copyright from companies like Google. There were 30 000 books published in Australia last year, making the field very crowded. (8000 self-published)
An end to the copyright wars?
The Copyright Hub and the future
With the concept of copyright undermined daily by online theft and a “free access is the only access” view of the internet, where can authors look for better remuneration? In the UK it’s called the Copyright Hub and its rise has been hailed as a way to end the copyright wars, making the permissions process faster, easier and simpler, while providing a mechanism to increase authors’ incomes.
Moderator: Kim Williams
Part A: Special presentation Speaker: Dominic Young
Part B: Responses Panel: Libby Baulch, Linda Jaivin, Scott Turow
Putin has essentially destroyed authors’ income and livelihood in Russia by decimating copyright. Copies of newly released books appear almost overnight, making the value of the book worthless in terms of income.
Internet is built on copying…the Copyright Hub has as its aim to build a mechanism to manage copyright. They want to attach identifiers to online content to make it easier to find the person to approach for permission. Copyright is for everyone because everyone who uses the Internet is creating work. We need to have freedom to assert control over our own work.
Damned Whores and God’s Police
Special event 1
On the fortieth anniversary of its first publication, renowned writer, journalist and activist Anne Summers will speak to her acclaimed book, Damned Whores and God’s Police. This was the first work to forensically pick apart destructive stereotypes and attitudes towards women in Australian culture, illuminating the true cost to women themselves and to society at large.
Anne Summers was introduced by Anne Maria Nicholson
Some of the worst reviews when first released were from other feminists. The book will be republished in 2016 after going out of print in 2008.
How much has changed since 1975 when it was released? Aust has changed, some restraints self-imposed, others culturally dictated. Whitlam was first to legislate for women’s equality. It was legally acceptable to treat women as inferior. Eg job ads for men only. Mad Men is an uncomfortably accurate representation of the time. Slowly, legislation was passed to outlaw discrimination against women. Is it important to ask ‘are we there yet?’ or should we simply look at the truth without the measurement of success. And what about women who impose their own restrictions or adherence to stereotypes? We need not to adapt previous ideas on women being Damned Whores and God’s Police, we need to abolish it. If the number of women killed at the hands of former and current partners happened in any other context, there would be a national emergency.
This talk was sobering, insightful and I could have listened for much longer.
Working the internet
Along with many challenges, the expansion of the internet has brought with it improved opportunities for writers to pursue artistic, activist or other ends. Which technologies are working best for which purposes? Beyond the explosion of formats and possibilities is the question of who does the internet work “for”? This panel will feature presentations from some frontline practitioners.
Moderator: Jesse Blackadder
Panel: Van Badham, Elliott Bledsoe, Benjamin Law, Bronwyn Mehan
Ben Law: as a writer, people online are his ‘colleagues in the office.’ His rules for tweeting are: only tweet if it’s interesting, educational or funny. A few apps exist to restrict time wasting like Freedom and Rescue Apps. It is a great way to meet people and be exposed to different ideas and be educated.
Van Badham picked up a following from Q&A twitter. This led to a job writing for the Guardian. ‘Like twitter but longer.’
Rules for being on social media:
Make deliberate decisions about who you want to see you. Learn from how others use it. Keep professional and private friends separate. Don't be on everything, focus on what suits you and do it really well…and stick with it.
Stretching stories: new opportunities
for creators in the digital space
Special event 2
How and why choose a digital path? Where do the opportunities for digital work lie and how can they be accessed? Are digital projects financially worthwhile? Four digital creators showcase their work and experiences to inspire other artists.
Introduction: Anne Summers
Special presentations: Deborah Abela, Sarah Davis, Christy Dena, Annabel Smith
It was so amazing to be part of this panel of creators writing in a new digital world. Annabel spoke about receiving a grant from the ASA to create an app for her novel, The Ark. Christy Dena spoke about writing scripts of robots, Sarah explained how she operates in a digital work to create works she once created using acrylics and gouache and I spoke about how the digital world has affected me in three ways: making it easier to reach my audience and keep my name and books out there, improving ways of others being able to find me and making researching topics easier and more instantly accessible.
This was a brilliant conference filled with fascinating people, subjects and lots of friends all gathering on the shores of Sydney Harbour at the iconic Luna Park on two perfectly beautiful spring days.
If you are not yet a member of the ASA, SCBWI members receive 20% off membership rates.