Tag Archives: WritingWA

Hard times for Australian writers

For years the right of Australian authors to receive fair payment for their work has been safeguarded by copyright law. But proposed changes, pushed by the Productivity Commission and reinforced by lobbyists for large organisations and big technology companies such as Google, will severely diminish these copyright protections.

The Australian Government is currently considering the Productivity Commission’s recommendations for change. If adopted they would be ruinous to literary creativity in this country. (For more information, click here.) Preserving copyright protections is vital not only for individual authors but also for the millions of readers who care about keeping Australian stories alive.

This threat to copyright comes at a time when the income of those who write books is already meagre and declining. A recent national survey of Australian authors found that their average annual earnings from all writing-related sources (royalties, copyright, fees for talks etc.) amounted to a miserable $12,900. The book market is overcrowded with new titles: more and more books are getting published, with shorter and shorter shelf lives and less and less publicity backing, while fewer and fewer people are buying what we produce.

So it’s timely that WritingWA, the peak support body for literary creators in Western Australia, will hold a two-day ‘Writing and Publishing Sector Forum’ on 31 July and 1 August at the City of Perth Library and History Centre, 573 Hay Street, Perth. There will be sessions on the publisher-to-bookshop supply chain, on self-publishing, on copyright and ‘fair use,’ on the recent state government review of writing and publishing in WA, and several other topics. My own invited presentation will be on authors’ incomes and pay rates. Program details and ticketing arrangements here.

Help to repel an assault on Australian writing

IMG_4888Since its inception more than half a century ago  the Australian Society of Authors (ASA) has gained very substantial benefits for this country’s writers, and so for readers of Australian literature as well. Right now its efforts are more crucially important than ever, because Australian writing is under heavy assault.

As its current slogan proclaims, the acronym ASA could just as well stand for the range of services that this organisation offers to literary practitioners: Advocacy/Support/Advice.

Fair copyright licence provisions and public lending right legislation are among its most impressive and tangible achievements.

I’ve written appreciatively about the ASA in a previous post. At this moment it’s in the spotlight as it valiantly fights the good fight against potentially disastrous measures proposed by the Productivity Commission, particularly a recommendation to remove existing restrictions on parallel importation of books. Anyone who cares about the future of Australian writing should take heed – and take action!

(In what follows I’ve abridged a statement sent recently to ASA members by its CEO, Juliet Rogers. I do so with her permission and in my capacity as an ASA Board Director.)

On Friday 23 September the Productivity Commission will deliver to the Commonwealth Government its final report on Intellectual Property Arrangements. It is unlikely to change the recommendations of its draft report, which would have these drastic effects:

The ASA is working with the Australian Publishers Association to submit to the government within the next few weeks a joint petition protesting against these changes . Although it already contains more than 16,000 signatures, there’s an urgent need to add as many signatories as possible so that politicians with the power to influence this decision receive a strong message.

Some loyal readers of Australian books are still not aware of what’s at stake. If you’re in that category, please go to the information links highlighted above – and then consider sending a letter to your Member of Parliament and a State Senator expressing your concerns.

Some Australian writers haven’t yet signed the ASA petition. If you’re in that category, please do so without delay by following this link. And if you’re not a member of the Australian Society of Authors, NOW is a very good time to join this vital organisation.

ASA colour logo

By the way, if you live in or near Perth you may like to attend an event on Thursday 15 September at the State Library of WA Theatre, 6-8 pm: Juliet Rogers, CEO of the ASA, will talk about ‘The Business of Writing.’ This overview of current challenges, hazards and opportunities for writers is sponsored by WritingWA – a great example of the kind of partnership in which both WritingWA and the ASA have excelled. It’s a free event, open to all, but registration is required.



Why should governments fund writers’ centres?

IMG_3898A recent article by Victoria Laurie in The Australian reported what some of us already knew: that government funding for literary activities in Western Australia has been slashed for 2016.

As the report notes, several cutbacks during the last year have substantially reduced financial support for authors, publishers, and associated organisations in this state. These include turning the WA Premier’s Book Awards from an annual into a biennial event – which, as WritingWA CEO Sharon Flindell remarks, ‘has essentially halved opportunities for authors and publishers to promote their work.’ Also stripped away has been some of the Australia Council funding for literature in Western Australia.

And now the unkindest cut of all has discontinued the grants previously provided by the state’s Department of Culture and the Arts for a number of vital operations, such as the magazine Westerly, the Fellowship of Australian Writers (WA), and – most astoundingly – the peak coordinating body WritingWA, which represents every link in the book industry supply chain through 80 member organisations.

Laurie’s article quotes statements of distress by a number of writers and others involved in the production and promotion of books. Although they all have reasonable things to say, I suspect that a casual observer would probably dismiss those concerns with a shrug, thinking it’s just a case of cottage-industry practitioners expecting the taxpayer to subsidise their individual pursuits indefinitely and having a whinge about the prospect of reduced privileges such as trips to literary festivals etc.

What doesn’t come through in Victoria Laurie’s article is the strong business case for supporting such activities because their demonstrable public impact is achieved so thriftily. Take WritingWA as the prime example: it has delivered an exceptionally good return on investment, stretching the value of every funding dollar by forming several very productive partnerships regionally and nationally. Its work has been almost as miraculous as the fabled feeding of the 5000 with a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish.

I’ve written elsewhere about the enterprising ways in which WritingWA manages to maximise the range of practical benefits it confers not only on individual writers but on communities across the state. I’ve also spoken about this in recent radio interviews, locally and nationally. Examples are worth repeating here. WritingWA maintains strong working relationships with the following:

  • Westlink TV, resulting in an outstanding publicity vehicle for writers – Meri Fatin’s monthly “Cover to Cover” program, showcasing WA writers and reaching out through community centres to many regional locations.
  • Literary festivals. I’ve seen at first hand (e.g. in Geraldton, Kununurra and the Avon Valley as well as in Perth) how valuable this kind of liaison can be, not only for writers but also for diverse communities.
  • The Literature Board of the Australia Council, e.g. in a jointly organised workshop on Market Development Skills for writers – again, developing good business practice.
  • The West Australian newspaper, for which WritingWA works with its literary editor Will Yeoman to ensure prominent coverage of books produced in this state.
  • Public libraries, e.g. assisting with payment for writers who give library talks and readings.

It’s unfortunate that this point about leveraged business efficiency and the $$ multiplier effect, extending community access to cultural resources, wasn’t made forcefully in the newspaper report. Anyone outside literary circles who glances at it will probably not have taken away a clear message about the admirably resourceful way in which WritingWA has extracted extra value for the community from every invested dollar.

Support for solitaries

support-teamAlthough the act of writing is solitary, its ultimate purpose is to communicate – which a lone individual can’t achieve unaided. Reaching a wide readership requires concerted effort. So three cheers for organisations that give practical support to writers!

These are difficult times for the book industry. Most authors, publishers and retail outlets are struggling, and it would be hard for some of us to keep our heads above water without the reliable ancillary service provided by various support organisations.

At a national level several bodies do indispensable work, most notably the Literature Board of the Australia Council, the Copyright Agency, and the Australian Society of Authors. I’ve had good reason to be grateful to all of these. But it’s at least equally important  to find encouragement close at hand, in one’s own community. Even a writer who isn’t inclined to be gregarious will sometimes be glad of assistance from a group of other writers.

For those of us who pursue our literary vocation in Western Australia, at a daunting distance from the HQs of national organisations (most of whose facilities, meetings etc. are beyond reach), there’s a special value in the support that locally-focused groups can give. Several of these operate in and around Perth, where I live. Having been involved with most of them at some stage as member, workshop leader, guest  speaker or attendee at events, I respect what they do and I’m grateful for their  contributions to the literary scene here.

Among the organisations that come particularly to mind, two have now been around for a combined total of 50 years, which is all the more admirable in view of their heavy dependence on volunteers. In the hills east of Perth, the KSP Writers Centre has provided a range of development activities for 30 years, while the Peter Cowan Writers Centre is now marking the 20th anniversary of its similar work in the northern suburbs. Each recognises in its name a significant WA fiction-writer from the past – Katherine Susannah Prichard and Peter Cowan. Both Centres have enjoyed loyal backing throughout this period from stalwarts who contributed to their establishment.

Within the last couple of years I’ve given an invited talk at KSP and a workshop on editing at PCWC, and I could see at first hand what a nurturing ethos both groups have created for their members.

The literary organisation with the longest and proudest tradition of service to writers in this state is the WA branch of the Fellowship of Australian Writers, founded in 1938. As a member of FAWWA, I’ve given presentations (e.g. to the Book-Length Project Group), attended readings (e.g. by the Well-Versed poetry presenters), listened to notable fellow-writers such as Amanda Curtin and Nicholas Hasluck talk about their recent work, and chatted with many people at informal social gatherings. Through these interactions I’ve struck up friendships, received (and shown, I hope) collegial support, acquired useful information (in particular from the online newsletters), and generally felt the value of belonging to a literary community that is equally welcoming to tyros and eminent figures. The positive spirit engendered by FAWWA owes a lot to the energy of its President Peter Bibby, its Past President Trisha Kotai-Ewers, and its Administrative Officer Pat Johnson..

It takes nothing away from the work of FAWWA, KSP and PCWC to say that the advent of WritingWA has brought a higher level of statewide coordination, strategic thinking and energetic advocacy to our writers. It has many member organisations, including the three I’ve just mentioned, and represents every link in the whole book industry supply chain. WritingWA has been especially active in ensuring that regional writers and readers don’t miss out on services available to their counterparts in urban areas. For a state as large as WA, that’s no mean feat. The Board of Writing WA (chaired by Dennis Haskell) has worked hard to give CEO Sharon Flindell and Regional Engagement Officer Deidre Robb plenty of scope for their excellent efforts.

I admire the enterprising way in which WritingWA manages to maximise the range of practical benefits it offers through active partnerships with other local and national bodies. Here are five examples from my own experience:

Recording with Ian 1 copy

  • The strong working relationship between WritingWA and Westlink TV has resulted in an outstanding publicity vehicle for writers – Meri Fatin’s monthly “Cover to Cover” program, showcasing Western Australian writers and reaching out to many regional locations. As Meri’s interview with me is about to be telecast (next week), I’m particularly conscious at the moment of the value that this service brings to writers and readers.
  • WritingWA works closely with the organisers of WA’s literary festivals. As a guest of the Perth Writers Festival in recent years and Geraldton’s Big Sky event in 2013, I saw how productive this kind of liaison can be, and I’m sure I’ll see further evidence of it next month as a featured writer at other regional festivals in the Avon Valley and the Kimberley.
  • Last year I took part in a thoroughly worthwhile Market Development Skills Workshop run jointly by WritingWA and the Literature Board of the Australia Council. This was an exemplary partnership, and I’m sure other participants gained as much from it as I did. It helped me to think in more practical ways about commercial aspects of the work I do, and this has been a useful focus in the lead-up to the release of my latest book.
  • At a time when national newspapers and magazines are generally reducing the space allocated to literary reviews, I and my fellow writers have good reason to thank WritingWA for the way it links up with The West Australian to ensure that the paper maintains a good prominent coverage of books produced by authors in this state (including recently Will Yeoman’s interview-based article on my new novel).
  • WritingWA collaborates with public libraries to assist with payment for writers who give talks and readings in libraries. I’ve been glad of the fees generated in this way. (Incidentally, the fact that the WritingWA office is located in the State Library building, where I’m currently working on my Battye Fellowship project, has made it convenient for me to make more frequent personal contact with its staff. They are just a few paces away from the Library Theatre where I’ll be giving a public lecture next week.)

Through these and other leveraging partnerships, WritingWA extracts plenty of value from every dollar of funding it receives. At present it is holding its breath (like other literary organisations in WA) as it awaits the result of crucial funding applications. I trust it will receive substantial government grants so that writers and the wider public can continue to benefit from its vital work.