All posts by Tim Inman

An interview with Scott Pack

By | Publishing & Consultancy | No Comments
[intro] Scott Pack is publisher at The Friday Project, an imprint of HarperCollins. He also heads up the team that looks after Authonomy, an online community that connects readers, writers and publishing professionals. Each month, the top five manuscripts on Authonomy make it to the desks of HarperCollins editors. Scott blogs and reviews at meandmybigmouth.typepad.com, and tweets @meandmybigmouth [/intro]

You used to work in Waterstones, where you had a pivotal role in what was promoted and endorsed by the brand throughout the country. Do you think bricks-and-mortar retailers can have that kind of influence over taste any more?

Not as much, no. There was a period of time when we could put pretty much any book in the 3 for 2 and sell a few hundred at the very least, often thousands. It was an offer that could transform the sales of a book. One of the reasons for that was the offer itself, which was like crack cocaine for book lovers, and I do think most customers miss it, but another was that the books would be supported by every branch. Nowadays it is rare for any new book outside of the real top sellers to be available in every branch of a given bricks-and-mortar chain.

Individual bookshops and individual booksellers can, of course, have great influence over what their customers read but I think the days of a book chain influencing what the nation reads are long gone. More’s the pity.

 

You look after Authonomy within HarperCollins. What is the process of getting an editor within the organisation to engage with something that has become successful on that site ?

It will differ from editor to editor and imprint to imprint. Some are actively checking out Authonomy for potential acquisitions and others are, quite understandably, busy with their own lists. The Avon imprint, for example, are huge supporters of Authonomy and have signed up yet another author from there, Kat French, on a three-book deal.

But we need to revamp Authonomy and improve its ranking system  something I have been very open about with the community – in order to get more editors engaged with it. I am pretty excited about that as our new version of the site is not too far away.

 

The Friday Project has always looked to challenge the conventions of traditional publishing. How different have you found it operating within a large corporate publisher as opposed to as an independent start-up ?

Well, I get paid now, which is nice. Also, the economies of scale make it easier to deliver a successful book. HarperCollins have been incredibly tolerant of what we do and allowed us the freedom to try out different stuff, so I can’t complain.

 

We’ve seen PRH buy Author Solutions and many publishers around the world enter partnerships with mega-online service providers such as Createspace. How do you think those relationships will evolve ?

It used to be that traditional publishers handled all the books that mattered, all the books that sold. Now there is a substantial chunk of the market, the self-published chunk, that publishers have no control over, so it is inevitable that they will look at ways to get involved. And I think that can work. Although there are successful self-published authors who are happy to remain so, most would welcome a traditional deal and as publishers engage more in that world we’ll see more partnerships emerging.

 

Would more publishing companies benefit from adopting a more ‘start-up’ mentality, and if so, how ?

I think many of them do in certain areas. I know HarperCollins actively encourages and supports that sort of thinking and many others will do likewise. Of course, there are lots of old school publishers doing things they way they always did but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The key is that both approaches need to work alongside each other, and I don’t think that’s impossible by any means.

 

How should corporate publishers react to Hugh Howey’s Author Reports and the debate that surrounds it?

Was any of it really a surprise? I cannot imagine there is a publisher who didn’t know this already. I think he should be applauded for exploding the debate but I am pretty sure most publishers already have strategies in place and are using all manner of data, both direct and assumed, to drive those strategies. It’s a sexy debate, though, and it gets tongues wagging.

An Interview with Nathan Burton

By | Design, Freelance, Interview, Publishing & Consultancy | No Comments
[intro]Nathan Burton is a London based designer and illustrator. He left Penguin in 2008 to set up his own company, Nathan Burton Design. He now works for a variety of publishers in the UK and abroad. You can see his work at www.nathanburtondesign.com and follow him on twitter @buronint[/intro]

How important is the clarity of a brief, or do you prefer to have more freedom to design a cover based on your interpretation of the book?

I’ve worked with all types of briefs, from incredibly specific projects to ones which are completely wide open, and both have their advantages and disadvantages. With a lot of the literary titles I work on the brief is very open: ‘here’s the book, have a read and come up with ideas’. There’s usually a panicked feeling of ‘what the hell am I going to do for this?’ at the start of the project which is followed by lots of head scratching, rejected ideas and finally a looming deadline which forces you into action. Because no-one has any preconceived ideas of the final design you can (hopefully) come up with something that surprises and excites the publisher and author. Also, book cover briefs aren’t set in stone so there can be a lot of back and forth between the designer and publisher before you get to the end solution. What the publishers think they want at the beginning isn’t always what the cover ends up looking like, but that’s all part of the creative process.

Nathan Burton

Are you aware of a greater emphasis on well-designed covers coming from self-published authors?

This isn’t something that I’ve noticed but that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. Being noticed in a crowded marketplace is always going to be a challenge, so having a well designed cover is sure to be a bonus.

 

With the increasing move to digital, do you think more emphasis is put on having a cover that is eye-catching as a thumbnail on a screen, or in trying to make a book an attractive and covetable physical possession?

When I start to design a cover I don’t really worry about the thumbnail issue. Usually, a nicely designed cover will work as a thumbnail, so I wouldn’t advocate designing one based solely on its ability to be shrunk down. I don’t see why a cover can’t work digitally, as a thumbnail, and also as a beautiful object that uses the same design.

 

Who has most influence on cover design? The author, the publisher, or the sales and marketing team?

It really depends on the book, how big the author is and how much the publisher has paid for it. The cover needs to be initially approved by the art director who then puts it into a meeting with various people including the editor and sales and marketing. If it survives that then its off to the author for approval. It’s always a relief when covers make it through this process, but quite often it can be back to the drawing board.

 

In your experience are more publishers now using consumer insight to test covers?

I’ve had this happen on a jacket I’m working on at the moment but I’ve not had the feedback yet, so I’m not sure what the effect will be. I can’t see it improving creativity in book cover design.

 

What 2013 cover do you wish you’d designed?

One of my favourites from 2013 is Tampa by Alissa Nutting, designed by Jon Gray. It’s a beautifully simple idea that’s perfectly executed. Another book, or rather series, that caught my eye is the P. G. Wodehouse redesign by David Wardle/Barnes & Noble. They are a lovely balance of modern and retro. Printed in eye-popping neon, they really stand out in the bookshop.

An interview with Polly Courtney

By | Author, Self publishing | No Comments
[intro]Polly Courtney is the author of six novels and a regular commentator on TV and radio. She is best known for her semi-autobiographical account of life in the Square Mile, Golden Handcuffs, and her latest novel, Feral Youth, which is based on the London Riots and told from the perspective of a disenfranchised 15-year-old girl. In 2011, Courtney famously walked out on HarperCollins in protest at the ‘chick lit’ branding assigned to her books. You can follow Polly on @PollyCourtney and find out more information on www.pollycourtney.com. [/intro]

You are a strong advocate of self-publishing. What makes this model so appealing to you?

Control! I’m sure all self-published writers feel the same way. When I was published by HarperCollins (having self-published my first two novels), I had no contractual say over the cover designs for my books, or even the titles. ‘Brand Polly Courtney’ was getting increasingly muddled, with each book cover looking different to the last and being out of alignment with what was inside. (The actual words seemed to be a minor consideration in my publishers’ minds.) In addition  and this is something that every published writer will tell you  I was offered next to nothing in marketing support. A part-time PR person spent half an hour with me, explained that she looked after all of the 52 titles that my imprint published each year and that she worked 3 days per week… well, by the time she’d finished explaining things I’d used up half of my allotted PR time and she was already thinking about the next author’s release. Now that I self-publish, I dictate the ‘look and feel’ of my books and make sure they are packages I can be proud of, which makes promotion a lot easier. I invest a lot of time in marketing.

 

Have the revelations in Hugh Howey’s Author Reports confirmed what you already believed, or have there been any surprises for you?

In many ways, the report confirms what I’ve been banging on about for a while: if executed well, self-publishing can be a very viable route for authors and that some of the most successful writers out there (measured by Amazon sales, which is a reasonable metric) are self-published.

My favourite chart in the first report is the one that looks at average price and average rating for top self-published books vs. top traditionally published books. Guess what? The traditionally published books are more expensive, yet not as good. This data backs up two trends that have been debated anecdotally for a while now: (1) large publishers haven’t woken up to the idea of flexible pricing and (2) the filters applied by these publishers are not always based on quality. There is so much risk aversion in the industry that a Z-list celebrity with a naff, illegible autobiography will stand a higher chance of getting published traditionally than a brilliant writer with only a small following. Self-publishing offers a way for those brilliant writers to find their audience.

 

What advice would you give first-time indie authors who feel that self-promotion and marketing isn’t their forte? And what role might social media have in that instance?

Self-promotion is a bit of a misnomer. You don’t have to stand up and yell “buy my book!”. In fact, doing that would be a really bad idea. Marketing is more about making your stuff visible to the people who want to find it. You need to think very hard about who your book is for before you set out to sell it. DON’T SAY ‘EVERYONE’. There will be people who don’t want to read your book. Get over it. Focus on the people you know will like it based on their interest in other books in the genre, or themes covered in the book, or communities that are aligned with you or your work. Once you have a good idea about who your target is, it’s much easier to seek them out and make yourself known to them. Social media has allowed us to do this without leaving our desk, even for niche groups. If you’re writing about naked gardening, I guarantee there’s a community out there, waiting to hear about your book. (Oh, wow. I just looked it up. World Naked Gardening Day is in a few weeks’ time!) Don’t go for the hard sell. Be authentic, get involved in discussions and then when you mention your book it will be of genuine interest to your newfound friends, who will (ideally) become your first advocates.

 

How do you approach pricing a new e-edition of your novel? Is there a formula for success?

I think all books are different. There’s definitely a supply-demand equation, but that demand comes from a different set of readers for every book. For my latest novel, Feral Youth, I knew that some of my readers would be young people on low incomes, so I didn’t want to price it too high. That said, I didn’t want to go below £2 on a permanent basis, because there’s a perception that cheapness equals poor quality. I set all my ebooks at £2.99 by default, although of course the retailer ultimately controls the price on the basis of demand. I occasionally flex the price for short periods and offer ‘freebies’, but I’m very aware that the type of person who grabs free books is not necessarily within my target audience  and won’t necessarily read the book! For me, the goal is to get my book read and enjoyed by as many people as possible. If I know someone won’t like it, I’d rather they didn’t buy it.

 

We hear that you sometimes crowd-source editorial input. How does that process work?

Aha. Yes, I use a bunch of crowd-sourced readers to supplement the work of my professional editor. When I’ve got a draft that I’m happy with, I put a shout-out to my fans on Facebook, Twitter and Google+ and offer a pre-publication copy of my book in return for structural editorial input. The comments that come back are really diverse but, interestingly, not usually in conflict. I don’t take everything on board, but actually most of the input is really helpful and gives me ideas for shaping the book before my professional editor gets to rip it apart. Then I do the same at the proof reading stage. Frankly, the more eyes on it, the better. I’d rather hear about typos and inconsistencies from these guys than from Amazon reviewers!

 

How often do you communicate with your readers? And do you feel as if you operate within a community of indie writers?

I use multiple channels to reach my readers because they hang out in different places. For all my books, I have a note at the back, offering readers the chance be put on my (non-spammy) mailing list, so they can be told when my next book comes out. Some of them follow me on my website, so they get alerts when something new goes up, but most of the day-to-day communication is via Twitter and Facebook. More and more, I’m trying to do as many speaking events as I can fit in, because nothing beats face-to-face contact!

There is definitely a community of indie writers. I’m good friends with a lot of authors who either publish their own books or do so in collaboration with others. In fact, a couple of years ago I teamed up with a writer and an editor so that the three of us could launch the writer’s book, War & Piste  just because we believed in it so much. There’s a lot of support out there now  especially now that we have the Alliance of Independent Authors. It’s a great time to self-publish.

Growing Pains

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The news surrounding our friends at Quercus this week is chastening. From small but profitable contract publishing beginnings to the riches of the Stieg bubble. From Publisher of the Year in 2011 to expanding into the US in 2013. And now seeking a buyer.

Trade publishing is hard. It is even harder when you choose to invest in people to help you grow organically, however talented those people are. It took Bloomsbury a while to work out how best to spend the Potter millions, including one disastrous Christmas season in 2006 spent spread betting on commercial non-fiction. But in the end it seems they have hit on a course that is paying dividends: acquire small content businesses targeted in discernible niches, many of them removed from the crap shoot of trade publishing. Maybe the only way to appease the growing pains for shareholders who are not interested in the long, roller coaster ride of investment in entertainment content is through strategic acquisition.

Reasons to be cheerful

By | Author | No Comments
This talk was originally given at Voice Literary’s ‘Lost in the Amazon‘ event on the 14th Jan 2014.
[intro]Today was one of those days. We’re well and truly back into January. I’ve finished playing publishing techno-word bingo with the CEOs’ predictions for the year (mobile – tick, spotify for books – tick, discoverability – tick, e-books continuing to plateau…(can something continue to plateau? I guess it can) – tick). And a tweet even came in from one of our beloved clients reminding us that most publishing start-ups fail.[/intro]

So in the here and now, I want to make some suggestions as to why you, as a writer in the UK in 2014, should be cheerful:

1. If you want it, you have control

Gone are the days when writers were like good children – meant to be seen and not heard. Now you are the marketing and the PR, and everyone chants the same mantra that the only things that matter are writers and readers. So, hell, be happy that at least you are one of those two.

2. There’s no such thing as out of print

Books are forever. Which means that a year after it has been published, your book can be as relevant as the week after it was published. Your window of opportunity no longer has to be dictated by a bricks and mortar retailer who may have had no enthusiasm for ordering your book in the first place.

3. The supermarkets are coming

2014 will see Sainsbury and Tesco both seriously enter the fray in e-books and tablets. Can they start to represent serious competition to Amazon? They have large sheds. They have data. And they have families who come to them every day of the week, as opposed to slumped individuals absent-mindedly scrolling during their lunch break.

4. You are not alone

You have plenty of peers in the same boat – you just need to connect to them. You have a community.
You are stronger as a group than as an individual. This is just an extension of what has always happened inside publishing companies. One very successful editor I know calls it getting writers to “gather around a book“. But you don’t need a publisher to do that for you.

5. Publishing is still not a science

However many algorithms and data geeks inherit our world. There is still serendipity, word of mouth that is influenced by the quality of the content and not the efficiency of the marketing. And when publishers say less is more… well, they don’t control the tap any more.

6. If you don’t want to go it alone, then good news…

There will be more publishers not fewer – it is just that those publishers may well be authors or disaffected agents or editors cast adrift by old publishing houses. Because all you really need in this new publishing landscape are good acquiring skills and a dedicated, relentless PR and marketing focus.

7. There’s now a myriad of talented support out there

And they’re unencumbered by endless back-covering meetings, being cc’d on barely relevant emails and enormous overheads. whitefox don’t have a warehouse, but We do have a database, within which lie the details of the people who actually make a difference in publishing in the UK today. Not that accountant. Not that MD or Sales Director with his rapidly declining influence. But all the editors, marketers, publicists, digital experts and specialists to help anyone DIY. And as trade publishing squeezes out good talented people, from traditional salaried roles, so we are waiting at the gates to see whether we can make them available to anyone who wants to access their services.

8. Authors are learning Bookcraft

Bookcraft. I love that word (which, I know, I stole from Philip Jones in the Bookseller last week, but which he stole from Minecraft, anyway). How empowering is it to be learning new things at what ever stage you are in the publishing process.

No one has to be in their box anymore. If you want to you can be your own creative dedicated digital marketing expert, designer, marketer or publicist.

9. Global opportunities

The world is your oyster. You are only at the beginning of e-reader and tablet consumption in so many territories around the world, and those are all potential markets for your work. You just have to reach them.

10. Agents

The ones that you might take on are having to do more than have lunch and gossip. They have to adaptfast or become irrelevant faster. Skilling up, offering more services, running courses, understanding and translating more for their clients to represent real value added.

11. Speed

Even the best, most innovative publishers will be squeezing you into slots so far ahead in the future schedule. You might as well not bother knowing how to spell ‘zeitgeist’. If you want to, you can DIY publish properly, thoughtfully, and in a considered and planned way, and do so in a quarter of the time.

12. We’re only at the beginning

(Bingo cards ready) This is the end of the beginning, not the beginning of the end. We’re only just beginning to learn what structures and models might work in the future. So you have the advantage of being able to experiment without being tied to full term of copyright deals if you don’t desire that.

I could easily be convinced my glass should be half empty at the beginning of 2014. I’ve just read yet another piece about the death of the mid-list author and the reliance publishers have on established author brands.

But the good thing is that writers in my experience have to write, whether they are adept at finding their readers or not. And people involved in the publishing process, like any humans involved in any collaborative activity, want to feel they are making a difference and that they have an influence. We want to feel needed.

So that heady combination will propel me forward in 2014. Content that has to be created and good people trying to make a positive difference to that content. That, it seems to me, matters as much as it ever has.

‘I’m with the brand’: Publishing and the rise of content marketing

By | Brand Publishing | No Comments

Marketing has become personal. There have never been so many ways for brands to directly access their audiences. However, there have also never been so many ways for audiences to choose not to acknowledge marketing content. We can ‘skip’ adverts, mute the TV, or just plain ignore the plethora of blogs, videos, images and articles available. People are no longer passive spectators, they are choosing how and what media to interact with, and are exercising this power.

Brands are fighting for attention. This doesn’t just mean measuring the number of ‘eyeballs on content’. Now it’s about ‘likes’, ‘followers’, ‘subscribers’. It’s about being seen and seen again. Popularity drives distribution. To survive the crowded marketplace, a brand needs a loyal following that identifies with their brand image, and loves the content enough to want to share it with others. How do you attract the ever-wavering attention of an audience basking in the wealth of available content? Be consistent, and engage. Don’t let them forget you. Be their morning espresso.

It appears less about directly meeting consumer demands with goods; that comes later. Sometimes what a brand is selling is not even determinable in their content. What is evident is their ‘identity’, and this is what they are asking consumers to stake their share in. Consumers read, watch and listen to content that they identify with. They ‘subscribe’ when they no longer want to live without it, when it is part of how they see themselves and how they want to be seen by others. By following content, people are, in a sense, buying into a ‘way of life’, and perhaps (hoping for?) popularity by association. They are picking teams in the digital world. Essentially, when people share branded content, they’re building their online identity, and making a statement about who they are.

To be successful, content therefore needs to be easily accessible for it to take advantage of being shared. Take memes, infographics and videos; they are made to be spontaneously ‘clicked on’ and quick to digest. Branded content that lasts, like all enduring stories, needs a clear, consistent purpose and a relatable narrative arc that makes people care. It needs to offer the implicit hope of an improved way of life.

Successful brands stay close to their audiences, know what they like and dislike, and tailor content to the needs of each individual ‘follower’. One meaningful connection is stronger than many fleeting perusals. They prey on the predictability of human nature. If content connects deeply with just one person, who will then share it with their ‘friends’ and ‘followers’, it will be more effective than if the same number of people came across that same content without it being preceded by personal recommendation. It’s human nature; trust your friends.

Like all progress, we are testing the waters and experimenting with new realms of multi-media potential. At whitefox, we put the jigsaw together, embrace new digital possibilities, and in so doing, create personable identities through story. We ensure that content is too good to ignore. It’s not just seen, it’s seen again. People crave content that is as reliable as an old friend, but as exciting as a new lover, but there’s no need to choose between the two; we’ll still be surprising you long after the honeymoon period.

Another One Bites The Dust

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At the same time as the great and the good of Digital Publishing arrive en masse in New York at DBW and articles abound on how agents have to make further transitions, news reaches whitefox in London of a really bright young agent who has thrown in the towel. Maybe not forever, but at least for now. Gone off to seek his fortune in another country in another way. And the reason for this fundamental career step change? Absolute all consuming frustration with publishers and their inability to engage with what he perceived to be low risk, commercial, highly marketable book projects. If there had been simply rejection, it would have been fine. But I believe the multi pack of straws that ended up breaking this particular camel’s back was the torpor, the laziness, the yawning silence, the inability of supposedly hungry younger editorial acquirers across a range of houses to bother to respond to what had been carefully pitched and positioned marketable proposals.

Maybe this is the way it has always been and only the emergence of an indie publishing DIY alternative has forced the issue out into the open. And this institutionalised inability to take risk will not kill off traditional publishing, seemingly obsessed with that cyclical old chestnut ‘less is more’. But it will mean that trade publishers will come to represent something different in the future. Big budget brand management, coordinated global releases, decisions made after consumer group testing and in house committee, genre books that can be favourably compared to previous bestsellers three years after they were published.

And here is a final thought. Publishing houses will contract and editors and agents directly serving those establishments will decline. But those people, those creative individuals are not all going to retrain to become plumbers and therapists, some of them will set up their own publishing houses and agencies, built on 21st century princples. They will find writers and commission content they believe will sell. They will nurture talent they believe in and they will create their own stables which represents ‘less is more’. Which will mean there really won’t be that much less at all.

New Year, Old Joke

By | Startup | No Comments

So we start 2014 full of optimism and hope with our batteries recharged and our burning desire to create a successful new business within the publishing eco-system undimmed. And at the same time we try to ignore the words of the sainted Barry Humphries on stage at the Palladium as his alter-ego Dame Edna:

“Entrepreneur? That’s French for failure, dear.”

2014 – The Year of The Freelancer

By | Freelance | No Comments

In the crystal ball gazing that inevitably takes up many end of the year publishing round ups, I have yet to see any that have referenced the impact of the proposed merger between oDesk and Elance.

These major online hubs for freelance talent represent all the speed, disruption, value and scalability associated with other VC darlings of the last few years. Between them oDesk and Elance have raised well over $100 million in investment. Both sites emphasise quick access to hundreds of thousands of suppliers, either freelancers or moonlighters. And both emphasise the word ‘quality’. Now, the two are looking to create one mega-marketplace; a supertanker of freelance services.

On the face of it, the stats are eye watering. 10 million workers across 180 countries with combined billings of $750 million this year alone. And in amongst all the inevitable talk of synergies and brand equity, there are some ambitious aspirations. The new company aims to be ‘the workplace for the world’. By combining their resources, they believe they have a shot at ‘building a business on the scale of Amazon or Linkedin or iTunes’. It will mean more data and faster matches. It will mean significant accelerated growth and real head to head competition with Freelancer.com and larger global agencies.

Why is this relevant to UK publishing? Because in 2014, the only thing that is certain is that there will be more uncertainty as old models and structures shift and mutate into viable ways of doing business, whether you are a traditional publisher, retailer, literary agent, published or unpublished writer. And with that uncertainty comes a recognition that there will have to be a greater emphasis on contracting directly with external suppliers, on outsourcing. For some, this is about variable costs versus fixed costs. For others it is about taking greater control or accessing new skill sets for an evolving industry. For everyone, it is about getting something actually done without having another body on the payroll. Meanwhile, the ranks of freelancing publishing specialists will continue to be swelled by those who’ve been deemed surplus to requirements, the experienced professionals who discover there are precious few permanent salaried opportunities that represent an equivalent to their old status.

So here is where it gets interesting. Because from our perspective (admittedly that of a UK-centric, much smaller freelance curated marketplace) the real tension in the coming years is not between the new and old models, but between different versions of the new model. That there will be a greater migration to transactional online service platforms seems inevitable, whatever the industry. But how do you guarantee a quality service and the scale required by investors? Back to those stats mentioned earlier. By any estimation, there will be an awful lot of people earning nothing or only tiny amounts who have signed up and posted their details looking for work. And how do you know whether you should be paying someone $3.00 or $20.00 an hour? Moreover, say you are looking for a book editor. Begin your search now and see how quickly you are pointed in the direction of translators and web designers; all possibly wonderful, talented people. But not book editors.

In our experience, more and more creative people are choosing a way of working which affords them variety, flexibility and the sort of stimulation large corporate machines find it hard to deliver. But good creative people also know their own worth. And there remains a value in understanding who are the right people for the right job.

In the mean time, we will watch out for how many million hours have been billed on the biggest global sites. Which just makes me think of those McDonald’s drive-thrus that say ‘99 Billion Served’, even when they have sold many more, but they only had space on the sign for two digits.

An interview with David Nicholls

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[intro]David Nicholls is a novelist and screenwriter. His books include One Day and Starter for Ten, both which he has adapted to screen. TV credits include a modern version of Much Ado about Nothing, and Tess of the D’Urbervilles, both for the BBC. He has had two BAFTA nominations to date. Before turning to writing, Nicholls trained as an actor.[/intro]
As both a novelist and a screenwriter, how do the editorial approaches to these mediums vary; is either more or less collaborative than the other? As a writer, does one medium offer you more creative control than the other?

Screenwriting is intensely collaborative, which is both its joy and its frustration. Unlike a novel, a screenplay serves no purpose except to be interpreted by someone else. It’s an instruction manual, a transcription of the film that plays in your head – ‘place this person in this location, make them say or do this at a particular time of day, in the rain perhaps, then go to this next scene.’ Within that framework, there are limitless possibilities. With the novel, you are the costume designer, the director, the head of casting, the musical co-ordinator. Of course there is input from other people, and I personally value that very much, but you’re in charge. For the most part, this is wonderful. But if the novel doesn’t work, you can’t blame the director.

Is there such a thing as too much or too little involvement in the PR or marketing of your novel or screenplay? How involved are you likely to be?

In film, very very little. The screenwriter is on a level with the cinematographer and the designer, and certainly below the director. Even the most ardent film fan will have trouble naming ten screenwriters – they probably know the names of more composers than writers. It’s rare for the screenwriter to go to festivals or on press junkets, but this is not necessarily a complaint. Film has always been a director’s medium, and actors are generally better-looking. But it is strange that the person who ‘authors’ the piece should get so little attention. TV is slightly different – the volumes are greater, there are limits on directorial interpretation, and TV writers generally have more control and involvement in all aspects of production, PR and marketing.

Personally, I have no desire to read JD Salinger’s twitter feed.

With novels, there seems to be a whole roadshow attached to the publication, and as an author it’s hard to be entirely hands-off. It can be a problem, I think. I’m sure most authors want a say in their cover designs – it seems to be the biggest source of friction between writer and publisher, though I’ve always been consulted and involved. Self-promotion can sometimes get a little out of hand. Certainly I couldn’t write a word of fiction for some time after the last book came out, but if the alternative is obscurity and lower sales, what choice does an author have? I’m very lucky to get that attention, and I really enjoy meeting readers and attending book festivals – work that isn’t really work. But it’s also important to support authors with a quieter demeanour, and to let the work speak for itself. I hope we don’t find ourselves in a situation where only the loudest are heard. I hope novelists retain the right to be left alone. Personally, I have no desire to read JD Salinger’s twitter feed.

You’ve adapted Great Expectations, Tess of the D’Ubervilles and Far from the Madding Crowd (currently in production) for screen. What is your approach to adapting the work of someone as illustrious as Hardy; do you rely on your own ideas and interpretations of the text, or consider the expectations of your potential audience?

It depends on the project. I adapted Blake Morrison’s And When Did You Last See Your Father, a wonderful, moving book but not rich in plot, so a certain degree of shaping was involved. I was asked to write a TV play loosely based on Much Ado About Nothing, one of my favourite plays, and though I love the original, the whole purpose of the project was to have fun with the material – consequently that’s an extremely free adaptation, more of an original play ‘inspired by -‘ than a straightforward adaptation. Great Expectations was about as faithful as you can be in 120 minutes – there’s hardly anything that isn’t taken from the novel, but the interpretation comes from the selection of material. A ‘faithful’ film would be twelve hours long. But Great Expectations is, I think, an almost perfect work of art. Madding Crowd is wonderful, but much more problematic – it has wild changes in tone, crazy melodrama, a lot of low-comedy. I’ve been encouraged to be a little more irreverent with the material, though there’s still very, very little that isn’t in the original. Adaptation is all about striking this balance – capturing the original while also altering it to work in an entirely different medium.

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