Lights… Camera…. READ! How Writing Goes Live

Joyce and Beckett walked into a bar...One thing which made the transition from my business brain to my bookish brain lately was a certain trend in the music industry, which now seems to be making inroads into the book industry.

It’s all becoming more and more about live performance.

Part of what I do for a living (my actual living, which pays me actual money) involves looking at sales and (financial) performance trends in different industries. On a bad day, I’m forced to switch from the sales projections of ball-bearing manufacturers, to the financial ratios of insurance companies. On a good day, I can jump from looking at companies who make ridiculously expensive shirts, to pondering the machinations of media moguls (hence the thoughts which led me to this particular soapbox).

Reaching for mic stand

Ever since music publishing entered the murky era of music sharing, social media and bedroom record labels (which in the business is known as the “Nobody Knows What The F*** Is Going On” era), a few things have become clear, namely:

  1. Artists aren’t making as much money from album sales as they used to.
  2. Record companies aren’t making as much money from album sales as they used to.
  3. Record companies and (some) artists used to make obscene amounts of money from album sales. Nowadays, this is rare (unless you’re Adele, or Adele’s record company).
  4. Artists can still make a lot of money from touring, but that’s pretty much it (unless you’re Adele).
  5. Record companies without live music divisions are in trouble, and there’s no light at the end of the tunnel just yet.

So, How Does This Relate To Books?

Well, since the advent of e-publishing, and self-publishing, the book industry has been undergoing the same stresses. Book pricing has changed completely; even full-price books are cheaper online, and the majority of books in shops are being discounted anyway. Readers are flooding electronic devices with free content. Online fan fiction takes a huge chunk of readership. There are a hundred other reasons why things have changed, but the upshot is that there are far more authors on the scene, and those authors are all getting less money. And publishers are petrified, because their business models are becoming obsolete.

And here’s where the author performance events come in.

ah nice bookshopWhat originally germinated from small-ish literature festivals, book clubs, dead-of-night TV arts programmes and open mic nights has now become a whole new and important part of the entertainment industry, not to mention a major driver of books sales.

Big-name authors can now sell out concert halls for readings, signings and interviews. Some authors are becoming more famous for their live performances than their work on the page. But live “performances” – for that is what they are, whether they’re called interviews, signings or otherwise – are undeniably selling books. It’s the equivalent of the rock band live tour.

Some authors are huge and can sell thousands of tickets to their appearances. Some authors are small, and give readings to tens of people in bookshops.

But the parallels with the music industry are there too. Some garage bands dream of making it to the stadium; some want to stay indie because they believe it’s truer to their art. Either way, none of them want to stay in the garage.

I did a Spoken Word workshop recently, and it was a real eye-opener. But I also go to a lot of book events, and a good performance always makes me buy more.

Could I Get To The Point, Please?

The moral of the story is: whether you’re self-published or traditionally published; starting out, struggling, mid-list or heading for imminent superstardom – you must get yourself ready to perform.

Learn how to read your work publicly, in an entertaining way. (The old chestnut here is “Be the best version of yourself”.) Learn how to engage with an audience; learn how to engage with an interviewer. Practice reading your work out loud, and get feedback. Select well from your work, and ask for the opinion of others; the best piece (to you) could easily be the worst to read aloud, and fail to give an audience any reason to buy your book.

Opera CurtainSo if you want to be a hugely famous author, learn how to act. Put on a show. Any writer who wants to be successful nowadays must be able to entertain in ways which do not involve sitting behind their desk, or hiding behind their computer and crippling shyness. It’s all about the show today, folks, and the show must go on.

Do you agree?

What A Blank Page Says To A Writer

Blank pages. You know what they look like, right? Empty, white space?

Wrong.

A blank page can be full of things. Daft people – optimists and the like – might say they are full of possibility. But a blank page can be chock-full of insults, jibes, and taunts too.

Just look at what a blank page says to a writer.

One blank page said all this to me only yesterday

My blank page said all this to me only yesterday

You can tell it’s been one of those weeks already. I hope your blank pages are treating you better.

Unbelievable New Tax Reforms For Writers in Ireland

Money harvest

This is me, with my abnormally huge head and skinny little legs

Yup. That’s what I said, folks. Unbelievable.

The Irish government issued its annual budget on Tuesday. In it, there were plenty of teeny-tiny measures to please almost everybody just a teeny-tiny bit, but nothing targeted at the artistic community, or at writers in particular.

I reckon the government missed a trick here (particularly if, as I suspect, every second person in this country is writing a book; the other 50% are too busy grappling with real life).

With that in mind, I put my nerdy numbers hat on, and came up with a few schemes they should have included for booky types.

1. The Residency Royalty Scheme

In the normal scheme of things, to be resident in Ireland for tax purposes, you must be in the country for at least 183 days a year (unless you’re Bono). This requirement will be reduced to just 60 days for multinational writers, throughout which accommodation and meals will be provided, free of charge, in former hotels and closed-down Garda stations.

Once tax-resident in Ireland, writers will be eligible for a net effective tax rate of just 5% on all royalties earned. If royalties exceed €100,000, the rate will decrease to 4%.

2. The Hollywood Irish Tax Rebate

If a writer (Irish or otherwise – for equal opportunities purposes) bases a book in Ireland which features at least three drunk men, an extremely short person, some flat caps or a thatched roof, they will qualify as an Irish resident for tax purposes and be eligible for the royalty tax discount rate of 5%.

If they agree to appear on both Irish weekend TV chat shows and be photographed with the Taoiseach, they will be in net receipt of tax, and the Revenue Commissioners will present them with a cheque for €30,000.

Film and Popcorn the heavenly combination

3. The Film Fiduciary Benefit Scheme

If a writer’s book is adapted for the screen and the film is subsequently shot in this country (and the writer agrees to appear on both Irish TV chat shows and be photographed with the Taoiseach), they will become resident in Ireland for tax purposes. This will make them eligible for the royalty tax discount rate of 5%, unless royalties exceed $500,000, in which case the effective rate will reduce to 3.5%.

4. The e-Book Innovation Scheme

Ireland is a proud and staunch supporter of Research & Development, particularly in the areas of technology, pharmaceuticals, technology, pharmaceuticals, and, er, technology.

With this in mind, the Irish government will offer tax residency status in Ireland to any self-published author who has managed to learn how to format their own book for Kindle, which will make them eligible for a royalty tax discount rate of 4%.

is this the future of pen and paper illustrations

5. The Triple Irish

You’ve heard of the Double Irish tax hoopla which the Irish government dispensed with this week, meaning that naughty foreign companies must eventually stop exploiting certain loopholes which get Ireland’s bottom smacked every time we come back inside from the playground at lunchtime.

In the Triple Irish, any multinational writers earning over $1 million per annum will get a free Irish passport and a 2% effective tax rate on royalties if they base themselves in Donegal for 2 weeks of the year. If they also squeeze in a fortnight in Clare and a book launch in Limerick, they’ll get a 0.5% flat rate of tax, and a lifetime supply of brown soda bread and black pudding.

 ***

Right so, I’m off to Leinster House for a meeting. Thank you for listening; feel free to leave your own suggestions for tax reform or further budgetary measures below.

*Postscript: Did anyone notice what happened following my last post warning of the dangers of optimism…? Did they? Well, no sooner had I intervened to save us all from the forces of positivity, and the knock-on prospect of football failure, than Ireland managed to draw 1-1 with World Cup holders Germany! Sometimes I surprise myself, I really do. You can thank me later.

Look Away Now… It’s Irish Writing Kryptonite

Sheep in the rain

The sheep know a fraud when they see one

Tell me. Have you breathed any air, lately? Got up in the morning? Smiled, any time in the last 6 weeks? Yes? Well, pull up a pew, then, because you need to listen to this.

I don’t want to be the girl who cried wolf, here, because that could possibly ruin my cheap and nasty reputation; but I have just realised something, and it would be remiss of me not to make you all listen to it. (This is an extremely serious matter, so pull your chair a bit closer, there.)

An extremely dangerous virus has reached our shores. And the future of Irish writing is in jeopardy.

A dangerous streak of optimism (Futurus Maximus) has been spotted in certain pockets of the country where it had previously  been entirely unknown (mainly Leitrim and Louth; but also any county with a vowel).

Certain mutations of this strain of optimism have been known to wipe out entire waves of success in golf, stand-up comedy, football, big stadium bands, rugby, and river-dancing. And lately, it has been licking at the fringes of Irish literature.

I myself came down with a woeful bout of it, last weekend. At one point, during the Blog Awards, I was wearing a permagrin you could have strained soup through. On Sunday, I was heard singing in the shower (Spandau Ballet, I believe it was).

The problem is, I haven’t been able to write a thing since.

Not Failing Better

What is an Irish writer, without misery? What is literature in this country, without downtrodden, hopeless, damp, grey and scabby existences; without hope of salve or salvation? Where would all our greatest writers have been without the pestilence of addiction, poverty, desperation, anger, bitterness, along with the tendency to pretend that things are worse than they are, and that they care less than they actually do?

They’d be on the slush pile – that’s where. A thousand literary giants lurking on desks, never to be published because nobody wants their stories of bunnies and kittens and empowerment and enlightenment and happy childhoods and fulfilling careers, that’s where. Sure, half of them wouldn’t have written a word in the first place. They’d have been too content.

Generations of great Irish writers have successfully combined a putrid existence with ironic irreverence for misery in order to produce great works of art. They knew where the money was (it was in poverty. Or failing that, pugilism), and they followed it. And all the best writers had dank tales of denigration. Real success didn’t sit well with them at all: no sir. Great accolades were welcome only after death.

But with all this talk in the country of positive economic outlook and new jobs and hopes for the future; what with this making people think they might be on some sort of creative right track by handing out awards willy-nilly to bloggers from the West of Ireland without so much as a thought for what it’ll do to their genetically ingrained pessimism, we can kiss goodbye to artistic success.

This is what success does to Irish writers

This is what success does to Irish writers

You mark my words: unless someone dunks this country under a cold shower very soon, there will never be another Irish Costa or IMPAC winner, Hozier won’t take over the world like we planned (thus wasting three years’ hard graft by six government quangos, and Bono), and the Football Association of Ireland will be forced to join up with the Faroe Islands in order to field a team. And I won’t be able to write another word.

Oh, there’s the rain, now. Batin’ off of the window like a long grey streak of pain. Thank God.

I WON AT THE BLOG AWARDS! And, um, this outfit happened

So I wasn’t expecting that! (Obviously, or I never would have promised you a photograph.) But I won the award for Best Newcomer at the Blog Awards last night. And I’m so delighted I don’t even mind jeopardising everything I hold dear now, by showing you just how seriously I took the 1980s fancy dress theme.

It was marginally funny earlier when I realised that at least 50% of the people in the room had possibly never even heard of Dynasty, Dallas, or anything else involving Grade A shoulder pad abuse.

Which meant that they thought I dressed like this normally. Although you’d think hair big enough to invade a small country and the texture of candyfloss might suggest otherwise. And that’s even before you even register the horror of a pastel pink power suit. Thank God for the dazzling compère, Bunny, who was channelling much the same thing and shouting Joan Collins before I even got to the stage.

I swear this outfit happened on purpose

I swear this outfit happened on purpose

And here I am later, with an award, a massive smile on my face and a lovely spouse to inject a bit of levity into the photograph.

2 for the price of 1

No flashes were harmed in the making of this picture

Thank you to Lorna Sixsmith and Amanda Webb who put enormous energy and expertise into organising the 2014 awards and put on a bloody fabulous show for everyone last night to boot.

And a humongous thank you to everyone here for their messages, votes, laughs, comments, shares, tweets, e-mails, visits, and interaction in general. My first steps into blogging have turned into an utter joyride (not in the 1980s Dubin meaning of the word obviously) and more fun than popping bubble wrap in a champagne-filled Jacuzzi.

And just one word of warning. I think I saw Tark and Mara at another table last night. They may have their own take on the awards… oh dear.

 

The 2014 1980’s Blog Awards Are Here! Wait. That’s not right

Irish Blog Awards 2014

The 1980s Blog Awards 2014 are here! Hang on, that still doesn’t sound…

Oh yes. It’s the Blog Awards Ireland 2014, and on Saturday night, it’s the 1980s!

This Supreme Do takes place this Saturday night, and the theme this year is the 1980s. In two day’s time, I will be dressed in what I thought was the HEIGHT of fashion when I was in national school, aroundabout 1985. I will be a terrifying vision of pastel hideousness, but seeing as I will be finally fulfilling a childhood fantasy of ideal womanhood, I can’t wait to look awful.

Love the SuitThe fact that I managed to find everything I needed for my chosen outfit either in my own wardrobe, or well-known shops just 10 feet from my office, says either something about me, something about fashion, or something about Dublin; but let’s make it all about me for today.

Because on Saturday night, there will be seriously stiff competition for all the awards, and unfortunately for me, particularly so in the 2 categories in which I’m nominated – Best Newcomer, and Best Humour Blog. Which is the reason I’m so happy to have got this far. This blog is but a fledgling, and still reeling from having got a few more hits than expected, let alone making the finals of this competition.

I am therefore content enough to make the solemn promise here that if I win, I will do penance for the privilege, by posting a photograph of me here in full rig-out. If I don’t win, I won’t. (Yes. I am mean and horrid.)

Timeless Overloading Of AccessoriesAnyhoo, on Saturday, I’m going to party like it’s 1999 (which makes no sense, because 1999 was not in the 80s, and neither am I); I’m going to Push It, for The Politics Of Dancing; and I’m going to Fight For my Right To Party… All Night Long (All Night).

And there is just a teeny chance I just might do the Wham! dance.
See you next week, after the glitter settles.

* Update: In a bizarre, unprecedented and in no way hyperbolic twist, this also appears to be my ceremonially questionable 100th post! Woo-hoo! Double celebrations and libations for me!

Is Funny A Gender Thing?

I found myself saying something utterly woeful the other day. I was describing a book I’d read to a friend. “I think it’s for men,” I said to her. “I mean, it was good. But it didn’t grab me. So I think it was probably written for men.”

To my credit, I whacked myself in the face with a large fresh haddock after I said this, because it was an uncommonly stupid thing to say for someone who climbs on to a soapbox 48% of the time about how labels such as “women’s fiction” should be burned at the stake.

Unfortunately, it was also true.

The book was supposed to be funny. In fact, the reason I’d bought it, apart from the fact that it had been nominated for multiple prizes and won a few very serious ones, was because of the cover quote from the Irish Times. “So good,” it said. “So good, so funny, and so sad.”

That’s a book for me, says I to myself, I says. Funny and sad and good. That’s totally me, says I.

The Sisters Brothers

Anyway, I had just finished reading it. It was The Sisters Brothers, by Patrick DeWitt. And it was good. Well, good-ish, but not great. The funny bits, it seemed to me, generally concerned horrific injuries, a walking corpse of a horse, general violence, and drunkenness (the hungover part, at least). Which is all very well, but while it might raise a titter from some, I found my inner voice behaving like a pedantic German stereotype, with such thoughts as “oh yes, I see what he did there,” and “Ah. This part is humorous, because it is technically comical that his leg is falling off.”

A similar thing happened with Howard Jacobson’s The Finkler Question, another apparently marvellous example of literary humour. My reaction was nine parts “I see that this is meant to be funny,” and one part “I don’t get it”. It was, literally, no parts “Hahaha”.

This made me wonder about what is funny to men and women. Are our funny bones wired differently? Does the female pelvis vibrate to a different frequency of humour? Is, for example, slapstick and injury-based violence more humorous to men than to women?

congatastic!

OMG, non-gender specific LOLs are like totes hilairs

Most Irish people I know who like performance comedy in general, and stand-up in particular, like the same comedians, no matter their gender, or the gender of the comedian. A standard Irish comedy audience doesn’t appear to favour one sex over another. But when it comes to films, the audience is split. Is it the same with books – or to be more specific, that rare breed of literary fiction which is supposed to be funny?

The Hangover was hilarious, apparently. But some of us had to be told that, and we were also told that the reason we didn’t get how much of a rip-roaring, vomitous laugh it was, was because it was a lad’s movie. Bridesmaids was supposed to bridge the great divide, but it was harder to get men to go and see it, because it was a woman’s comedy, and so, couldn’t be funny.

As someone who doesn’t set out to write funny, but has sometimes fooled readers into thinking that her writing can raise the odd ‘lol’, I find that thinking about what is funny, generally kills the joke.

 

Recently, this has become more of a problem. What I’m writing at the moment should be for a general audience; community humour, so to speak, about people in general, and small towns in particular. If I were marketing it, I would totally say it was non gender-specific.

But I’m not marketing it, I’m still trying to write it. And I have a niggling feeling sometimes that it might be woman funny, not man funny, no matter how much I’d like to bridge the great divide. And I don’t think I can change that, because sometimes I come across a book like The Sisters Brothers, and I find myself thinking that there is a certain type of literary humour for men, and I disassociate myself from it.

Whilst I will continue on fighting for the right to not categorise what I write as women’s fiction, I’m afraid I might lose this other battle. I’m afraid that funny might be a gender issue, when it comes to literary fiction at least. But let it be known that I am open to someone poking fun at the notion. Or, for that matter, at me.

What do you think? Is there a gender divide when it comes to literary humour – or is it a more cultural, geographic thing?