On the AskALLi Beginners' Self-Publishing Salon, ALLi Director Orna Ross and Monash University Associate Law Professor Rebecca Giblin look at copyright matters.
“What's really essential here is how we divide up the pie,” Rebecca says. “The copyright is all of the financial, the economic rights that an author has in their work and that needs to sustain them and it needs to protect their interests. That includes the interest in being paid, but it also includes their interest in continuing to be read, which every author that I know is keenly concerned with.”
Indie publishing, she says, has been instrumental in bringing about a change of thinking about what publishers should get in exchange for the services that they offer.
Also, on Inspirational Indie Authors
Howard Lovy interviews Selfie-Award-winning author Jane Davis. We don't have very many rock stars in the indie publishing world, but a few have risen to the top with a reputation for producing wonderfully written, compelling books that stand out as great literature, no matter what label you put on it.
One of them is Davis, who was recently recognized as one of the best self-published authors of the year with the new SELFIE awards for her book called Smash All The Windows, which is also smashing all the preconceptions many people have about self published books.
If you haven’t already, we invite you to join our organization and become a self-publishing ally. You can do that at http://allianceindependentauthors.org.
Now, go write and publish!
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About the Hosts
Orna Ross launched the Alliance of Independent Authors at the London Book Fair in 2012. Her work for ALLi has seen her named as one of The Bookseller’s “100 top people in publishing”. She also publishes poetry, fiction and nonfiction, and is greatly excited by the democratising, empowering potential of author-publishing. For more information about Orna, visit her website: http://www.ornaross.com
The copyright is all of the financial, the economic rights that an author has in their work and that needs to sustain them and it needs to protect their interests, says @rgibli. Click To Tweet
Read the Transcript
Orna: Hello and good morning from London and good evening from Melbourne because I am here for our Ask ALLi Beginners Salon today with a guest, who I'm really looking forward to speaking to about the all important topic of copyright and regular viewers and listeners will know that we are in the middle of all of compiling our Alliance of Independent Authors Copyright Bill of Rights and one of the people whose work was very instrumental in us sorting out our thinking and understanding where we stood on this really important issue is with me here today. It is associate professor, Rebecca Giblin to give her her full title. Hi Rebecca.
Rebecca: Hi Orna, thanks for having me.
Orna: It's marvellous indeed to have you. And I'm really keen to just kick off by asking you where this interest in copyright came for you, you know, what some people think copyright, even authors, think copyright's a kind of dull and boring topic, you clearly didn't.
Rebecca: Yeah, it's really funny actually. It turns out to be incredibly addictive. Some of us that have joke about do you take the blue pill or the red pill? Cause if you take the red pill with copyright you go down very deep into the rabbit hole. For me, I decided a really long time ago when I was growing up, I was one of those kids who was obsessed with books. So I was always walking into trees because it was much more interesting to be reading my book and seeing where I was going. But I grew up in a house that didn't have very many books in it and so libraries have always been extremely important to me. And I've never forgotten that real yearning as well. You know, that hunger for something new to read. And of course that's not a hunger that I have any more like, like all of us.
Rebecca: My to read pile is quite intimidating but I'm still really a voracious reader and libraries and authors and books have continued to be really important in my life. So it's natural I think that when I was starting out as a baby academic, there was those issues around access to knowledge, issues that are of interest to libraries and to authors that were, you know, of really huge interest to me. And I've also done some work in technology regulation, which of course is really important and touches on all of these issues as well. And so it's been about 15 years now that I, since I took the red pill and I have been really immersed in all of these issues around copyright.
Orna: So what do you think are the most important issues for authors today? And if we can kind of specifically gear our talk, not exclusively but around self publishing. We have all of our members self publish and of course, they also sell their rights to trade publishers be that, the English language rights in a particular book, they might trade those or license those or it could be translation rights and various other rights. So they work with trade, some work with trade publishers also but what do you think are the key things that we need? Why is it important for authors to even know about copyright?
Rebecca: What's really essential here is how we divide up the pie. The copyright is all of the financial, the economic rights that an author has in their work and that needs to sustain them and it needs to protect their interests. That includes the interest in being paid, but it also includes their interest in continuing to be read, which every author that I know is keenly concerned with and so contracts absolutely key as I'm sure your members have heard over and over. But I'm just going to say it again.
Rebecca: We really need to be thinking very carefully these days about how those rights are divided up and authors need to be thinking very carefully about exactly what it is that they give away. And in fact, indie publishing has been, I think, instrumental here in bringing about a change of thinking about what publishers should get an exchange for the services that they offer, partly because it's so new and so it became an opportunity for rethinking whereas traditional trade publishing has been around for a very long time and they have taken, you know, rights for the entire term of copyright for as long as publishing contracts has been around. Now we see, uh, digital presses come along and we see a print on demand and we see companies that say, “Well, actually we don't need your entire copyright to justify our investments in that and we're going to do it differently.”
Rebecca: And so for authors being aware of exactly what it is that they're giving away in exchange for what is the number one thing that I would emphasize and when it does come to when it, when it comes to, um, self publishing, I think working with a reputable, reputable suppliers and service providers is really, really important so that you know that you're not going to be ripped off and there's so many sharks out there. But we've trade publishers too. You've got to be very careful and you've got to be thinking about not thinking about what you need to give away in order to maximize your interest as well as make it possible for and interesting for the publisher to work with you. Where we we're really starting to see talk and we're really starting to see movement is around reversion clauses. We've long had out of print closes in trade publishing contracts, those out of print clauses are now too often outdated and not fit for the digital age. Even though the earliest one I ever saw that was appropriate for digital availability, it was back in 1987.
Rebecca: So publishers have no excuse, no excuse for still providing out of print closes that are based on this traditional notion of whether it's unavailable in any form, but some of them still do. So you need to get on that and you need to be proposing a fair out of print clause that's based on some kind of objective measure. For example, number of sales in the previous 12 months or a dollar value of revenue revenue that you've received. How, but we also need to start thinking much more about reversion clauses for other rights too. So publishers may well try and take worldwide rights, all territories and there needs to be mechanisms giving those back and freeing them up in the event that they don't actually exploit them. Same with unused language rights. It can be a great idea to give your publisher the rights worldwide in any and all languages if they are actually suited to exploiting them, if they have the relationships and the will to actually go ahead and do that.
Rebecca: But in the event that they don't manage to sell those rights, you need to be able to get them back and do something else with them. So I think that those really are the most important issues. Figuring out what is fair given that the book industry is structured and pays very differently to how it used to. But also thinking about what are the baseline writes that both has ought to have given that we know that we can't rely on all publishers to get their contracts in the appropriate shape.
Orna: Sure. And if I can just a guide viewers and listeners to the fact that the Alliance will help you with reversion clauses and other contract. Another thing that happens when dating with trade publishers or translation buyer's rights, buyers of any kind is that certain key clauses are omitted.
Orna: And if you don't know they're supposed to be there, then there's nothing for you to even to kind of work on. So we can help you if you have received a contract and you're not sure about the terms and conditions, and you know, if you, if you want to know about how to proceed the negotiation so that you limit the term, limit the territory and so on we can help with that. And also just to guide you to Rebecca's website, which is authorsnterest.org and to our own publication, which is free for members to download and the member zone, How Authors Sell Publishing Rights. So that's kind of the, when you're selling to a trade publisher or when you're kind of disencumbering yourself of some of your rights. And licensing some of your rights. But of course most of our members, and this is our Beginner Salon are concerned with they own their rights.
Orna: That is the wonderful thing about being Indie and that is the key and important thing that a lot of people don't realize within the trade and outside the trade what a privilege it is to own those rights. And that those privileges were hard won by copyright activists of the past. And as I was working on the Bill of Rights, one of the things that was most interesting to me was looking back at the framers of copyright law, you know, where it came from and its, you know, its origins here in London when copyright used to actually be vested with the stationers guild, a medieval sort of guild of printers and stationers owned copyright and this was at 1710 I think, or 1701 act that actually vested copyright with the Creator, with the author, rather than with the guild of stationers who at that time were suppressing and censoring and basically running the thing to very much suits themselves and the framers of copyright framed it so that author's economic rights could be had, in order to, for the public interest in order to disseminate more work more freely, and to get a variety of voices and so on into the publishing space, which up to that had been very severely curtailed. And of course, that's the other thing that I'd love to ask you about, which is reader's interest in this because we don't get these economic rights just because we're something super special beings, but because us having those economic rights is seem to be in the public good and in the public interest. And some of this is a little bit kind of under minimum debate, controversy but you could say under threat and in danger. Have you any thoughts about it all that?
Rebecca: Let me first start by saying, I think the author's interest in copyright and the public interest in copyright have a lot of our overlap because, you know, what do authors need, well, they need a whole bunch of really good quality books that they can read and learn from and even draw inspiration from and copy from a bit in defining their own style along the way. They need lots of educated people who have enough time and money to, and the inclination to buy books and to read books and to talk about books and to create a reading and literary culture. And of course they need to be able to make living from their writing. All of these things are in the public interest and the authors interest in copyright. And so I do think access to knowledge issues are incredibly important.
Rebecca: I've been heartened and incredibly disappointed by the new EU copyright directive. I think it's really encouraging to see the new provisions in there about authors rights to transparency, to fair and equitable remuneration. But I think at draft article 13, which has now article 17 in the new law, this is incredibly disappointing because it's making exactly the same mistake as what we made with Amazon 20 years ago. When Amazon came along, it was the publishers who insisted on I'm putting digital rights managements onto the book files so that they couldn't be copied. That's what they were worried about. And Amazon agreed to that very happily. The end result was that everybody is now tied to Amazon because we've all got kindle libraries and books and it's very hard to migrate over to another service that maybe might be better for authors and better for the book industry then Amazon is and what that insistence on DRM resulted in is a stranglehold by Amazon on the market.
Rebecca: So we can't create a new platform very easily and migrate all of our books because it's against copyright law to do so. The same thing, this, articles 13/article 17, what we're doing here is it's supposed to be against Google and against Facebook. And I understand why everybody is so upset with these companies and why we need to do a lot to redress the balance. It's absolutely not okay that they're taking 60% of global ad revenue when they're doing so little to provide, to actually invest in the content that that's on the back of. But doing it in a way that requires this filtering of the Internet in a way that only the most established and profitable companies are going to be able to comply with, i.e. Google and Facebook means that we can't get competitors to Google and Facebook, it's going to be much harder and so that stranglehold is going to be locked in longer than it would otherwise have had to be.
Rebecca: So while I'm all in favor of having a big discussion and taking real action about how we need to do a better job of getting creatives paid, I think that the way that it was done in the directive was absolutely the wrong way to go and the people who were behind that are going to come to regret it.
Orna: Yeah. We feel very much that the sort of invisibility of self publishing authors in those discussions was detrimental to how things unfolded because unfortunately a lot of the author representative groups or actually they do fantastic work when they're talking to publishers about fair contract and so on, when it came to this digital space, they aligned very much with the publisher big contents kind of view and in a way it was almost like a business, to our mind, It was almost like a business dispute between business models, you know, big content versus big tech. But if we had had some insights around how authors trade in their own books that if would have been very useful in terms of this debate and we really feel that self publishing authors, that's why we're preparing the bill of rights, we really feel that the self publishing author has a lot to, a lot of light to, to throw on these debates because, for example, a number of our members are actually very successfully publishing outside of Amazon. A number of them are actually very successfully using their own websites as their hub. And we have a campaign called Self-Publishing 3.0, which encourages readers to understand how, what value it has to actually purchase ebooks, for example, directly from the author on the author's websites, which is not difficult these days compared to Amazon and so on.
Rebecca: I love Cory Doctorow's Shut Up and Take my Money Platform that he developed, for example, because he was so frustrated with people unable to buy his books, keep getting the message that you can't find that in this country, but they just want to give him money. And he negotiated with his publisher for the right to be, with his traditional publisher to be able to sell those online and take the retailer's cut as well. So it's a really clever way of being able to, even within the traditional publishing space, being able to really significantly increase your ebook royalty if you're taking the retailers slice as well as the author's slice. So I do encourage people to check that out. I think he's going to make that platform available for people more widely if he hasn't already done so in recognition that not everyone's got the technical skills to set that up. But it would be so much easier for all of this kind of activity to occur if people were free to migrate their existing book collections. And that's, that's where I think we would see so much more take up of, you know, this great stuff that people are already doing at the margins.
Orna: Yes. The DRM, we advise all our members not to, you know, as a self publishing author you get the option on all the platforms, Kobo, Ingramspark and as well as Amazon, you get the option, do you want to add DRM or not? And I think, you know, we have no evidence of any of our members actually choose DRM. They understand fully that DRM is or you know, any self-respecting hack will get past it in five minutes and that it doesn't add-
Rebecca: Or five seconds.
Orna: Exactly. It doesn't give you any protection on, all it does is frustrate your reader. And of course independent authors have a very close relationship with their readers. Much closer than the trade publishing author who has intermediaries between them and the readers so they understand how important it is not to upset the reader. So, what's happening specifically in your neck of the woods. It seems to be, we were invited to, to contribute to the changes in copyright law in New Zealand and we were very pleased to do that. And there seems to be a lot of activity, not least your own, but lots of good stuff coming out, from that part of the world around these issues. Yeah. What's up?
Rebecca: So there's been review after review in Australia over the last few years, hopefully eventually there will be some action in response to one of these that's not just another review, but I do see that the conversation is changing. There is more recognition now of the fact that while authors and publishes interests, you know, have quite a lot of alignment, they do diverged and that those divergences are important and that authors and publishers have different interests that need to be satisfied in different ways. So we ask that in, and I've been working for the last couple of years and something called the Author's Interest Project, which is a big national research council piece of work. where my team has been given four years to work on these issues. We're doing lots of really interesting research into things like what is happening in author contracts, really shining a light on those contractual practices and the problems that I mentioned there. Also, you know, doing some economic analysis of, you know, what are the, what do we actually lose as a society by not having better reversion rights that would allow rights to be freed back up for the author to be able to either exploit them with the same publisher or to a new one or via some other new business model and that seems to be having some impact as well. Particularly publishers are starting to listen. I don't think we always need actual change to the legislation to make a difference. I did present the results of this study of author contracts that we did from, from the archive of the Australian Society of Authors here up in Sydney.
Rebecca: And when I presented that at the Independent Publishers Conference there were some really egregious things that we found. So we found, you know, all kinds of ambiguities and inconsistencies in the contracts that meant authors would really struggle to enforce the rights or even work out what rights they did have. We found, you know, really updated out of print clauses. We found some really unconscionable clauses too. So there was one that popped up quite a few times when the author could get their rights back if the book was unavailable in any form and the author repaid any unearned portion of their advance and they bought all of the prints and plates and so on that the publisher had made for the book at half of their original cost. So there were all kinds of things like this we really saw very little, it's so easy for a publisher to just put a line in the contract and take everything, worldwide rights, all languages forever, but so few of them bother to make provision for giving them back if they're not exploited, which is such an important part of the bargain.
Rebecca: And so after presenting that, you know, there were quite a few publishers who seem to be a bit ashamed of themselves and have said that they're going to go back and revisit those contracts. I might mention that I will be talking about that study in London in October, October at a Society of Authors events, if any of your local members want to be coming along I'll post about that on social media closer to the time.
Orna: Fantastic. And indeed, if you are doing anything in, in Melbourne, Sydney or anywhere down that we have lots of members in that part of the world also, so you know, there's, our members are global. They're not just local. So-
Rebecca: And I am actually heading to New Zealand the week of the 20th. So I'll be giving a big public lecture for those who are in Wellington about how the key to meaningful copyright reform is to take authors' interests seriously instead of just using them as stocking horses to mask other people's economic interests.
Rebecca: And that will be in Wellington on the 21st.
Orna: Yeah, I'm really interested that you mention that because I love your quote and actually we put it at the front of our bill of rights and you know, for people who get talked about so much in copyright debates, isn't it funny that we end up with so little outcome from that because I do feel, particularly in all the debates we had around the EU directive, which course was very live here in London, particularly with Brexit looming and all of that, I think it really increased the interest in this EU directive. It was striking how many people were talking about authors' interest, without actually talking to authors about what they wanted. And it was also striking how many authors were on the side of those protesting the very acts, or you know, the articles, of the directive, which author representative bodies were lining up to support.
Orna: So there definitely is a conversation that needs to happen there between different kinds of authors with different kinds of approaches. Because even when it comes to something like piracy, our members would divide. Some are, you know, very, you know, just see it as theft and want a very strong protection of copyright for against piracy, others see piracy as a way to kind of get their books out there and even use it as a marketing tool. So, yeah, lots of, I think different conversations that need to be hard. And it would be really interesting to work with you sometime perhaps on self publishing contracts with the big players like Amazon, Kobo and people like that because I think there's a similar job of work to be done there. Though I must say also that I feel the publishing big tech companies, people who work in the publishing space like Amazon and Kobo, Ingramspark, Google books, Apple, in the deal that they have given to self publishers, they have respected copyright far more than, say, Facebook, Youtube, Pinterest for example. And they have worked out a way whereby our members can make an income and many of them can actually make a living from their writing. So in innovating in that way and doing something different while, yes, I agree, of course there are big dangers and there is an imbalance here in the same way as there always has been with Big Content, I think there's also some credit to be given for the way in which publishing tech companies in particular have approached copyright and respected it. And put money behind it.
Rebecca: I really agree with that. Particularly when we look at the steady declines in number of traditionally published authors who are able to actually make a living from their creative labor, and on Author's Interest we do have various blog posts about this and some surveying, all of the surveys, but the trends are really stark. And the one that strikes me the most that I've seen in every single author earning survey that's come out of every English language market is that authors need to have a high household income to subsidize their writing. And that means a wealthy partner or a wealthy family. And that so much affects the stories that get to be told and the voices we get to hear. I'm sorry, anything that we can do to democratize writing to open it up to less privileged voices, then I'm absolutely all in favor of.
Orna: absolutely. And returning, I think that was very much the intent of the original framers of copyright. And that leads me to kind of ask you, do you think actually we need changes to copyright law or is it more about actually implementing, you know that the law is actually sufficient and quite good and it's more about implementing that law and punishing offenders, people who don't respect copyright, people who who plagiarize or pirate and so on and more about actually getting the law to work rather than. Or do you think there is actually need to change?
Rebecca: We fundamentally have to rethink this. At the moment you keep hearing is the copyright debate frame as being about authors versus users. And it's a bit of a refinement lately. Sometimes it's authors versus Google, but this is a massive simplification. If you think about all of the interests that are obscured behind this author's group and all of the ones that are there in the user's category, what that framing of skewers is the questions about what we actually want copyright to achieve. And fundamentally there's three things. Two of them are about incentives. We want to incentivize the initial production of creative informational works. And we want to make sure that they're available ongoing as long as they can be. And those aren't ends in and of themselves. We want those things to happen so that society can benefit from widespread access to knowledge and culture.
Rebecca: On top of that, like sort of in addition to the bare incentives that we need, there's a motivation to recognize and reward creatives. And that is because it's right and just to do so and so we need to separate out the, and when we think about these incentives and rewards motivations, we see that they do need to be satisfied differently. So the incentives, it doesn't really matter too much who they go to. They can be shared between the author and the investor or whatever. What we're mostly interested in is getting those works produced and available, but the rewards motivation, which is the above incentive that's justifiable only for the actual creative themselves. And when we start evaluating copyright against these aims, we see it's doing a really poor job of achieving them, right? We grab copyright as an upfront lump sum payment, uh, intended to achieve all of these things tut regardless of whether it actually does so.
Rebecca: So we give far more than we need to incentivize the initial production of works. And we do that regardless of whether the copyright owner continues to make them available and we do so regardless of whether the creator is given their fair share of the rewards. So what we need to start thinking about not, not accepting these conversations any longer that frame it as authors versus users. Let's start asking how well is that material, I mean, incentivizing investment in making sure that material is available and how well are we rewarding creators for their contributions. And so that's what I would really encourage all of your members to be thinking about is just not accepting at face value, that more copyright is actually good and less is actually bad. How do we design copyright in a way that actually achieves our aims and with less collateral damage than it does in the moment?
Orna: I mean, you're singing my song in terms of not separating users and creators because it's completely symbiotic. So you can't have one without the other. And to try and kind of polarize them and put them on opposite fences I think is completely not a great thing to do. But the, I suppose where I kind of would love to tease it out a bit more is to ask, is it, is it the law that lets us down there or is it business practice. You know, and in that case, isn't it also authors' responsibility?
Orna: And, we, you know, we spend a lot of time encouraging our members to understand their rights and when they go into a negotiation, I mean, I think the fact that you, your only choice in the past was to go through a trade publisher. And from there on to distribution of books. That was really your only way to a mass market, created this awful situation where there was such a power imbalance and it was “Publish me please!” You know, “Here, take everything. I don't care.” And we don't have-
Rebecca: That power imbalance, I think, does still really exist.
Orna: Sure it does. Absolutely.
Rebecca: in trade publishing. And Ruth Towse, for example, is it a cultural economist who I've worked with a little bit and she's done some terrific work on this. There's lots of factors that play into the inequality of bargaining power, including the desirability of creative labor compared to other forms of labor. So changing business practice is one thing, but I do think we also need to fundamentally change the way that we divide these rights up. So for example, we do know that to those incentives, we need to get our work produced and available. That's a purely economic aim so the economists have told us how much we need for that. It's somewhere between that 10 and 25 years of exclusive rights.
Rebecca: So 25 years at the outside is the maximum that we need. So one thing we might consider is limiting the transfers that can be given. So the author has the copyright and the most that they can give away is 25 years of exclusive rights after which you could come back to the author, they've then got the opportunity to, they can license it back to the same publisher, if it's still selling, maybe in exchange for a new advance or renegotiation on the royalties or they can exploit it via a different publisher or someone else with a different business model. And that would open up all kinds of really interesting possibilities like direct licensing into public libraries in exchange for per loan remuneration. Like all kinds of things that we could do to reclaim some of the culture that's lost under current approaches. But we can't rely on cultural intermediaries to just voluntarily limit themselves to shorter terms, for example, cause rationally they're not going to do that.
Rebecca: They're going to take absolutely everything they can get. And that's exemplified, I think, the standard form Hollywood contracts. They take rights forever and across all rights, but not just on planet earth, throughout the universe at large. So it's even if a lucrative extra terrestrial market emerges, it's still not going to be the artist that actually gets rich. And so I do think we can affect some positive change without changing the law. But if we want meaningful reform for copyright, we need to radically rethink how we up these rights.
Orna: Great. I'd love to keep talking to you forever about this and we will continue the conversation in all sorts of different ways. But, yeah, I'd like, we need to close unfortunately. So I'm just wondering, in terms of global, you know, these are global issues for self publishing authors and particularly, and as we trade our rights, the economic incentives that is encompassed in copyright law and, is there for us, it's about how we choose to exploit, to use the term that's usually used about copyright. It's how we choose to do it and also how we enter negotiations and how we, how we hold our own and how we understand what's at stake and all of those things. I'm assuming you believe that education is core to all of this. Good copyright education going forward is really important.
Rebecca: Good critical copyright education. Yeah. Where I do really want people thinking about those different interests and how they ought to be achieved and not just accepting at face value some of the rhetoric that I think really doesn't and in fact, harms authors' interests rather than puts them forward even though the authors are the ones who are being used to drive them.
Orna: Absolutely. And returning back and finish just talking about those original framers of copyright law that I'm completely obsessed with at the moment. It seems to me, you know, as they try to kind of rest author rights and author interest to use your words from the printers and stationers guild. And in a way we're in a not dissimilar situation today as we try to rest all his interests away from the copyright industry itself, which has become, you know, for copyright use, to protect diversity of expression and so on.
Orna: Now it seems to be used far more often by big content to shut down criticism in very similar ways to what was going on with the stationers guild, the printers guild in those days that authors need to really, as as you say, think critically about our own interests, as self publishers and as people who license and trade our rights, how we're going to kind of keep that balance and return to the intent that I think was there in the original framing of the law. Anything to add?
Rebecca: No, I think I said lots of things, haven't I?
Orna: You said so much.
Rebecca: Thank you so much for having me and if people who are listening are interested, you can find me on Twitter @rgibli or @authorsinterest.
Orna: Marvellous. And I do encourage you folks to check out Authors Interest, there's loads there that is just even in terms of just beginning the thinking process and if you have any questions and issues, we are going to be working on this around our Bill of Rights. This is our kind of our project for the next number of months. So I'm sure you're going to have loads of questions, loads of things you'd like to talk about. Do have a chat with Rebecca and let's get the conversation opened up on and global, all the way from London to Melbourne and back again. So thank you so much for taking time out, I know it's late in the evening there. I really appreciate you coming to talk to our members and followers about this important issue, Rebecca, and thanks for the work.
Rebecca: No worries. Always happy to talk about this stuff.
Orna: Great. Okay, good. Nice to talk to you and goodbye to all.
Howard: I'm Howard Lovy and you're listening to Inspirational Indie Authors. You know, we don't have very many rock stars in the indie publishing world, but a few have risen to the top with a reputation for producing wonderfully written, compelling books that stand out as great literature, no matter what label you put on it. One of them is my guest today, Jane Davis, who was recently recognized as one of the best self published authors of the year with the new Selfie awards for her book called Smash All The Windows, which is also smashing all the preconceptions many people have about self published books. Hello Jane and welcome to Inspirational Indie Authors.
Jane: Hello Howard. I must admit I've never been called a rockstar before, so that's the first of me.
Howard: Well, you know, just go with it and then take it, you know.
Jane: I'll enjoy that one.
Howard: Well first tell me what the Selfies are and how you felt when you found out you won.
Jane: Well, the Selfies is a new award this year that was presented at London Book Fair. And when you think that London Book Fair only opened its doors to authors back in 2012, there's been leaps and bounds since then. But the thing that I particularly liked about the award, it wasn't just about the writing but it was about the whole publication process and standards. So it acknowledged your publishing standards. So the edit had to be right, it had to be proofread properly, it looked at the cover design, it looked at production, it looked at your marketing plans and results. So it's really the whole package. And so as a self publisher, you know, I always say that's a misnomer because I have a team of 35 people behind me and to me it's a really nice thing for me to be able to say to them, you know, we're an award winning team.
Jane: It's actually the second award of that type I've had. So I had another one back in 2016. I've got this great team around me. People mustn't think when they hear the word self publishing that it's me on my own pushing a button. I have an amazing amount of support and I really it's a big thank you to them.
Howard: And also one of your editors is a name we all know at ALLi-
Howard: Our News Director Dan Holloway.
Jane: Yes, that's right.
Howard: How important was it to have all these other eyes on your work?
Jane: No, it's totally, it's vital because you're working on a book for such a long time on your own. I'm quite superstitious. I don't like to talk about a work in progress, but I do a lot of self editing before I test the waters with Beta readers. And then I weave their recommendations through the book. I, to be honest, I had some fantastic comments from Beta readers that I think things even that professionals would have missed. I mean, I don't have children myself and one of my Beta readers had kept a pregnancy diary and she basically gave me the diary and said, I think your one of your characters who is pregnant is a bit too generic, so please have this and use whatever you like from it. So that's, that's an amazing gift for someone like me.
Jane: Right. And I was able to use quite a few of her suggestions in that, but I also had someone who after the professionals had had their hands on the book, a Beta reader came back. She hadn't been able to keep to the time limit I gave her and she happened to be reading the book over the bank holiday weekend, which we have in the UK in August. And she contacted me. I said, “Look, I haven't finished it, but I've just realized that you've got a 15 year old boy wearing school uniform during the school holidays.” And it just hadn't struck me that the kids wouldn't have gone back to school on that particular date. In fact, in Scotland they would have gone back to school, but in England they don't go back to school til the first week in September.
Jane: So it's input like that that the small details that sometimes get overlooked, as well as the bigger picture. You know, one of the things you mentioned Dan Holloway and he really does challenge you on the bigger picture. So after you've been working on a book for so long it's so important to have some objectivity back and have people read it for the first time because, you know, I might've read it 50 times over and it just starts to, you know, it gets inside your brain, you need fresh eyes on it.
Howard: Right. That's what I tell editing clients too that the editor plays the role of the average reader. Smash All The Windows is based on a real disaster in a football stadium in 1989 that you fictionalize. First, why did it need to be fictionalized and how did you settle on the final premise?
Jane: Well, I really felt that I didn't have any rights to, I didn't have any direct connection to the Hillsborough disaster. What started the novel really was my anger at hearing about the presses reaction to the second inquest. And it'd taken, I think it's the 40 year anniversary of the disaster this year. So it's only a couple of years ago that this happened, that the family finally got some sort of justice and actually there's more criminal prosecutions going on now. And the-
Howard: Briefly, for those of us in the States who aren't necessarily familiar with the disaster-
Jane: It's a disaster at a football stadium where 80 odd fans were crushed to death. Basically there were too many people in the stands and the stands then were not what they are now. They were all standing and they were crushed up, you know, basically people went through a tunnel and went to, into an error that was already full. And, it was a terrible, terrible event, because people didn't realize really what was going on. But, you know, there were faults with the stadium that hadn't been picked up on before. There were faults with the police action and it's been terribly complicated unraveling what actually happened.
Howard: in your book. You, you turned it into something else though.
Jane: Yes. I mean, I, it's a book. The event was something that I didn't feel I had a direct connection with. It has also been dramatized and fictionalized by other people, but with the blessing of the families of the victims and a lot had already been said about it and my angle was slightly different. My angle was the reaction to the second inquest where there's a criminologist, Phil Stratton who'd been working behind the scenes for many, many years building up this huge sequence of events that had given rise to the incident. And what I did was to take a lot of those elements and create a new instant out of it. And the instant I chose was based on something that happened to me actually on my way to my previous book launch. And also, some personal fears that I have of being in a claustrophobic space and I have vertigo. But basically I had, I'd been on my way to a book reading at Waterstones in Covent Garden and I fell down some escalators in a tube station in rush hour and actually I escaped completely unscathed. Only had some ladder tights, didn't come to too much damage. But my imagined scenario with someone falling in rush hour, which caught, had a sort of domino domino effect.
Howard: Right, right, right. Wow. Yeah. So you know, unfortunately mass catastrophe is part of our lives today. You never know when you going to turn on the news in the morning and hear about another one. Are we becoming numb to it and can literature and fiction help humanize it?
Jane: Well, I don't think we are becoming numb to it. I think our reaction is changing. One of the challenges that I have is after I finished writing the book two events happened in the UK. One of them was the terrorist attack on London Bridge. And that was the era in which I'd set my book. So it was a place where I'd imagined lots of the action taking place and I saw the reaction to the emergency services to that. And you always tend to get criticism of emergency services after a major event, but they are up against so much, because, you know, they're only a set number of fire engines, of police units who can respond and they're up against the traffic. They're up against the narrow roads in the city. They're up against rush hour. All of those things-
Howard: Think about the Notre Dame fire
Jane: Oh, absolutely.
Howard: There was criticism there.
Jane: But similarly, there was also the Grenfell fire, and I don't know if you're aware of that one, but it was a tower block in London, which, it, there were, I don't know, the precise number of deaths, but it was certainly one of the largest events within my living memory. And there were a number of pieces of advice again, given out by the ambulance that the emergency services told residents to stay put because they didn't realize that the cladding, the building was clad in a type of material that meant that the fires spread in a way that hadn't been anticipated and it's spread incredibly quickly. So there were a number of deaths and people were immediately wanting blame to be apportioned. And actually, although we have corporate manslaughter over here, there are very, very few prosecutions that have taken place.
Jane: My view for the book had been, it had been more about unblame than blame. So in the Hillsborough case, the victims themselves had been made out to be almost criminalized, almost demonized, to take the emphasis away from the police or authorities, or other people. They were almost being told, “No, you caused your own, you know, you were the cause of your own deaths. You contributed to that.” And my book, I wanted my book to be about unblame rather than about blaming other people because you know, for every, it's not the fault of the police officers that they can't get to the scene of the crime in time. It's not the fault of the ambulance services. There are real, real heroes. When you hear about all of the doctors and nurses who've been on a double shift and came back because the, you know, hospitals put out a cry for more staff to be available to deal with emergencies.
Jane: You know, on the occasion of the bombing on London Bridge, taxi drivers all over London knew that people wouldn't be able to get home and they just lined the South Banks. And just helped to take people home that night. People who absolutely traumatized.
Howard: Individual stories-
Jane: Absolutely amazing. So I wanted my story to be about unblame rather than blame. And it was at a time when the demand was actually, the demand from the public was actually the opposite, that people did want to see people held to account and people responsible. So again, I talked through with Dan, my structural editor and with John Hudspeth, my copy editor, whether I should change the book or whether I should leave it. But I did feel that I needed to acknowledge slightly more that there were people who would be calling out for people to be held to account. So it's complicated. It's always complicated.
Howard: It sounds fascinating. And I was reading some of the glowing reviews you've received on Amazon and many of them mentioned your ability to focus not only on big events, but on little things and individual people. And that's the kind of writing I like to do it. And it's what I like to read. Can you tell me just a little bit about that process of humanizing a big, big event?
Jane: Well, I think it's the only way that you can make a big event or a big issue understandable is by portraying it through the eyes of one or possibly a small number of people. So you've got those personal experiences and I certainly wanted to show that the victims of any instant are individuals who had lives and aspirations and you know, the lives of their relatives. And I had, one victim was expecting her first child. So the family, if you like, not only lost their daughter, but they actually, they only had one daughter, so they lost the future generations of their family at the same time. So that family tree came to the end of the line. So I think you have to show, I think it's important to show things through the eyes of individuals. It's the only way that we can make these huge events understandable, I think.
Howard: Well it sounds fascinating. Congratulations again on your award, and the book again is called Smash All the Windows by Selfie award winning author Jane Davis. And thank you for appearing on the show, Jane.
Jane: My pleasure, Howard. Good to talk to you.
Howard: Thank you. Bye.