New Zealand Author October/November 2011

Written By Lingkar Dunia on Friday, October 7, 2011 | 8:32 PM

A Farewell to Dame Christine Cole Catley, thoughts on NZ non-fiction, and a crime spree

I suppose it's eccentric of me, considering that New Zealand Author is by and for New Zealand writers, but it is always a surprise to find how extremely well the contributions are written.  The current bi-monthly issue is no exception.

The focus is on non-fiction, and the editor, Adrian Blackburn, provides some fascinating figures, contributed by Anna Hart of Neilson Bookscan.

In 2010 1.9 million New Zealand titles sold.
71.6% of these were non-fiction
Non-fiction books cost, on average, $34 each
Fiction titles sold at an average of $21.60 each
Thus, non-fiction commanded 80% of revenue

Therefore, it is logical that NZ writers and editors tend to focus on the non-fiction market.  Even then, as Post Book Award-winner and author of Blue Smoke (a history of popular music in NZ), Chris Bourke, wryly comments, "The New Zealand book market is so small that the actual income received usually doesn't approach what can be earned in a regular job."  Awards and fellowships, obviously, are crucially important to the future of writers and writing in this country.

Novelist and poet Michael Morrissey explores this even further in his dryly humorous account of trying to find a publisher for his 250,000-word memoir of mania.  After remarking that "bogging--sorry blogging" will probably "bonsai" novels to 20,000-words or even less, he goes on to describe that he "reduced my gargantuan memoir of going bonkers to 176,000 words, then to 108,000."  At that, he decided to embark on the submission process.

A search for an American agent led to a "Stygian silence," so he sent it to Nicola Legat at Random House.  She loved the book, but ...

Likely sales fell below their commercial threshold.

And more fascinating figures are duly produced:

The Random House commercial threshold is 4000 copies
At Penguin, the break-through point for non-fiction is 5000
HarperCollins is even more conservative, quoting a break-even number of 6000

The story does have a happy ending.  A small private press, Polygraphia, published the book, and a documentary, based on the memoir, was aired at the International Film Festival.

James McNeish and Paul Campbell also have stories to tell about writing and publishing non-fiction.

This issue is also devoted to Dame Christine Cole Catley, doyen of NZ literature, who recently passed away.  Graeme Lay and Bernard Brown provide touching and heart-warming accolades and anecdotes.  They made me wish that I had known her.

And finally, A Nationwide Crime Spree.  Craig Sisterson, who is becoming a major force in the NZ crime fiction scene (with apparently no ambitions of writing a mystery himself), provides a rundown on the truly remarkable number of Kiwis who are producing blood and guts and mayhem.  There's a great photo of some of the usual suspects in Canterbury, at the recent Ngaio Marsh award ceremony, where Paul Cleave carried off the prize.

Great smiles, all around.  But where is the mysterious Alix Bosco/Greg McGee ... ?


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