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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Genre fiction and the Authors' Fund

In this month's issue of the New Zealand Author, published by the New Zealand Society of Authors (PEN New Zealand Inc.) there is a thought-provoking article by an author in the Western genre, Keith Chapman ("Chap O'Keefe").

As the blurb in the newsletter says: Once upon a time in New Zealand, a writer decides to write genre fiction. Romances, perhaps. Thrillers, fantasies or science fiction. That writer might even decide to write a western, but that, says KEITH CHAPMAN, would be the biggest gamble he or she could take.

I find it fascinating that someone in New Zealand should write in a genre that is so totally American -- that is part of the American mythology. Chapman describes the hurdles -- that New York agents don't want to take on an outsider who would compete with the homegrown product. Local publishers were equally unhelpful, saying that the US "owns the western genre", and the local market wouldn't support a genre that was so un-New Zealand. Finally, he was rescued by a British independent, Robert Hale, and is featured in their Black Horse western publishing list. But, while Chapman's list of publications is steadily lengthening, because he is not easily identifiable as a New Zealand writer -- and does not use New Zealand histories and settings -- he misses out in other ways, as well.

Creative NZ administers the Authors' Fund, which gives authors some recompense for royalties lost through library borrowing, each writer's share of the fund being based on the number of books held in New Zealand libraries. Holdings of less than fifty are not eligible, and, as Chapman says, "No compounding of totals for different books is allowed, so an unlucky writer could have 490 copies of ten different books being borrowed and read and get nothing."

I've heard the same observation made by academic authors, who produce many books which have very small print runs, being published for a specific audience, so never crack that fifty-copy barrier. Genre writers, it seems, are just as likely to be unlucky (though I would question whether romance writers miss out), because of the publisher requirement that they produce three or four books a year. Libraries cannot afford to buy so many, so stock a selection.

As he also says, politicians and taxpaying citizens might agree to support "writers who bolster the 'feelgood' way we see ourselves, who identify our national identity. But will they support writers of fiction as entertainment and set in foreign countries -- let alone books designed primarily for export markets but that make no mention of NZ?"

I can testify that the same applies to books of nonfiction that are not narrowly confined to New Zealand settings and stories.

For those who would like to know more about the fascinating business of writing westerns, have a look at the website run by Hale's western writers, who contribute voluntarily, without payment:


Neil A. Waring said...

Nice Blog! I have enjoyed several Black Horse Westerns. I write western short stories and am considering trying Black Horse for a Western Novel I have had for many years but have never attempted to publish.

World of the Written Word said...

Glad you are enjoying the blog. It's a great way of getting into the writing mood each day. Why don't you subscribe to the Black Horse Western website (address in the menu to the right)? I'm sure you would get lots of useful advice. If you have a track record in western genre short stories, you should find an interested editor, so go for it -- you never know, 2009 could be your lucky year.