Monday, 5 October 2015

#diverseauthorday by Savita Kalhan

On Thursday 24th September, there was a #diverseauthorday on Twitter. It was a campaign organised by North Londoner Rosie Canning. A few months ago, Rosie sent out an email to writers she knew, diverse authors of children's lit and adult fiction and bloggers, proposing that on 24th September we tweet and retweet talk about diversity until the hash-tag got noticed. Well, it did get noticed. It was trending on Twitter, which is quite something. Yes, there were a few declaimers, a few trolls, but that's to be expected. People from all over the world got involved, which is pretty amazing.
Please read Rosie's full report on the Greenacre Writers Blog; it's a very interesting read - Reflections on #diverseauthorday

The other thing that happened was at the London Book Fair. The report, Writing the Future: Black and Asian Writers and Publishers in the UK Market Place, received backing from The Society of Authors and HarperCollins for greater cultural diversity across the publishing industry.
This is what was said:

John Athanasiou, director of people, HarperCollins Publishing, said:
"Publishing houses, like most industry sectors, are waking up to the business and ethical purpose and benefits of diversity. At HarperCollins, we have started the journey of changing the culture to one of inclusion for our employees, authors and consumers alike. This will help support more diversity in our acquisition of authors and content. It's a big job, but we are not afraid to ask for help or to work in partnership with others.

Nicola Solomon, chief executive, Society of Authors, said:
Publishers have a need to be relevant and attract readers to ensure their own survival. A publishing industry which does not reflect society fails writers, readers and itself.”

Sue Lawther, director of Spread the Word, added:
At Spread the Word we are already planning follow up work with BAME writers. We will share our findings more widely and intend to mobilise writers to make their voices heard. We will also be talking to influencers and decision-makers in the publishing industry, to see how we can work together, with the support of funding bodies, such as Arts Council England.”

You can read the full report, Writing the Future: Black and Asian Writers and Publishers in the UK Market Place - HERE

Good intentions are, well, good. Recognising and acknowledging there is a problem is good too. Beginning a dialogue, spreading the word about it is a step forward. Rosie asked me for my reflection on #diverseauthorday, and this is what I said:

The success of #diverseauthorday was best illustrated by the fact that the hash-tag was trending on Twitter. It was a clear indication of the number of people who felt that there was something missing in the books they find in bookshops and in libraries. That something is the absence of 'otherness', or the under-representation of black, asian, minority ethnic, (BAME), LGBT, and disabled characters in contemporary fiction. There is clearly an overwhelming need and desire for greater inclusiveness, and I'm not talking about the type of books which simply nod in the direction of diversity with all its outdated racial stereo-typing. That kind of box-ticking is not what diversity means.
But is anyone listening?
The publishing industry is 97% white. Who's looking into the mirror they're holding up?

Until they know the answer, will anything change? Let's hope.

My website -

Sunday, 4 October 2015

If 80% of 'Young Adult' books are bought by adults, should we keep the label? - David Thorpe

Did you know that 80% of Young Adult (YA) books are bought by adults? Why do you think this is? And what does this mean for the future of this label, for publishers and readers? As a writer of books for young adults, who has just completed what might be described as a young adult/crossover novel, this subject interests me intensely.

Some fascinating insights into children's book reading habits and book sales were recently revealed by market research company Nielsen Books at its second annual Children’s Book Summit at Convene, NYC, on September 15. Before moving on to a discussion of the YA label, here are some key other points:

BOOK SALES UP: For the time period between January 2014 to September 2015, children’s book sales were up 12.6% in the U.S., 28% in Brazil, and 10% in China, with 11 of the 20 bestselling books in the U.S. being children’s titles.

TABLET READING AGE DOWN: The spread into households of tablets and other digital devices has meant that children start reading e-books from the age of five, rather than seven previously. And, children from as young as a year-and-a-half are using tablets and engaging with content.

PRINT BOOK SALES UP: But this does not seem to be harming the sales of printed books: board book sales have grown by 20% over the last three years. Only 10% of children's books were e-books compared to 19% of all books in the last quarter of 2014.

MANY YOUNGER READERS SEEM TO PREFER PRINT OVER DIGITAL: There was speculation over why: Kristin McLean, Nielsen Book’s Director of New Business Development, said: "Partly they like to share them. Teens also like to carry books around, show off what they’re reading. Partly because [print books are] easier to get without a credit card, they like to use the library."

THERE ARE INTERESTING VARIATIONS AROUND THE WORLD: Mostly children's book publishing takes around 34% of all book sales on average around the world, a striking exception being in Australia and New Zealand where it is almost 50%. (What that says about adult reading habits is not mentioned, although it is mentioned that print sales of adult fiction and non-fiction have dropped in the US while the juvenile market has concomitantly grown 40% in the last decade. It's the categories of religion, today's and non-fiction that have seen the greater increase in sales and surprisingly e-books are down 14% this year so far.


MORE BOOKS ARE BEING BOUGHT ONLINE: With the demise of the Borders chain, sales in chains generally are down too. Sales from independent bookstores are stable but sales from school book clubs have increased.

5-8 IS THE BEST SELLING AGE GROUP: The most important age group for children's books in terms of market share was 5-8, accounting for 38% of sales to all children.

The Curious Case  of the Young Adult Label

Then the event came to the topic that interests me most. As we found out, rather surprisingly, earlier this year, a staggering 80% of all YA books that are selling are not being bought by teenagers but by adults.

To find out why this is happening, Nielsen asked a panel of eight adult consumers of young adult novels. They "seemed to suggest that the YA label can be limiting", they reported. YA isn't a genre, it's an age designation, so it doesn't help to say what the book is about.

But one member of the panel, a mother of two teenagers, said it was a useful label when trying to identify books that were appropriate for her children.

Many of these readers come across the books in bookshops, attracted by the cover design, or by hearing of movie in TV adaptations, through the Internet via GoodReads and twitter.

They overwhelmingly prefer fiction. And, their motivation for reading is that they enjoy getting into the character's head and growing along with them. One panellist said the YA label should be changed to YAH – Young at Heart. I find this patronising. I don't think it will catch on!

But the fact that she said this is illuminating. It tells us why older people are reading books for teenagers: they are still asking the questions and trying to understand the changes that are supposed to only happen during teen years. Maybe what it says is that we never stop growing up, contrary to how we are supposed to feel as adults.

Nielsen also brought along a panel of suburban teenagers who also had something to say about the label YA, namely that they don't take much notice of it because it doesn't say what kind of a book it is. Instead they are definitely attracted by movie releases when choosing what to read, as well as the Internet and Amazon's suggested books feature and Wattpad.

So where does this leave YA? I don't think it's going to go away any time soon, since it does help books to reach a market. But if we write is no most of our readers aren't even going to be teenagers but older, this should liberate us to write about more adult subjects and help us be less reticent about using certain kind of language. In other words, we can let our imaginations go further.

I very much like this idea.

Below, find some more infographics from the presentations.

How readers find books:

David Thorpe is the writer of the Sci-Fi YA novel Hybrids and the cli-fi YA novel Stormteller.

Saturday, 3 October 2015



 I packed my bag on the Friday and headed to Bath Spa station to get the train to Tenby in Pembrokeshire. I was off to stay with friend, author and Tenby Book Fair organiser Judith Barrow.

I lived there for seven years and my last Middle Grade mystery "The Shiver Stone" is set on this coastline.

Tenby is a delightful, picturesque harbour town and seaside resort surrounded by beautiful beaches. It’s also rich in history with its walled town and cobbled streets.

Tenby Harbour

Early on the gloriously sunny Saturday morning we met up with sixteen other authors and began setting up in the church hall. It was a colourful affair - tables stacked with books from many different genres ensured a variety of covers, posters and banners. Sci-Fi nudged shoulders with Romance, Poetry cosied up to family sagas and thrillers nestled next to local history.

From the minute the doors opened people flooded in. The warm weather ensured that the town was bustling with tourists and locals and many of them came to browse, buy books and engage with the authors.

Midway there were poetry readings and then Janet Thomas of Firefly Press and I handed out prizes to the winners of the “my favourite book” essay - a competition held in conjunction with local schools.

The event was professionally filmed by showboat tv – and there’s a short video here if you fancy a peep:

The Tenby Book Fair was a great success - it was buzzing and busy and there was plenty of good-humoured camaraderie. I thoroughly enjoyed my day and I’ve already signed up for next year.