Letters – Issue 101


The novelist, Alex Miller, who lives in Melbourne (the city where I mostly reside), said that “writing fiction is a dangerous occupation. It is an act of imagination that requires the writer to confront unclear aspects of the self; to delve, in other words, into the unconscious and awaken repressed emotions and memories.”

Another path equally full of peril is that of producing a literary magazine focused on reviewing books. Many who have embarked on this quest have met with disaster.

Mirabile dictu, New Zealand Books has safely navigated this testing track and, last year, achieved the remarkable tally of 100 issues. And New Zealand, and New Zealand literature, are so much the better for that.

Heart-felt congratulations, New Zealand Books. Ad multos annos!

Peter Biggs


Congrats on the 100th issue of New Zealand Books! And a special thanks for enabling blind and partially sighted New Zealanders to access the publication. Since losing sight around a dozen years ago I have been dependent on the magazines put into audio format by the Blind Foundation. Naturally, these tend to be the widely read, majority-taste publications and sometimes I did yearn for something more in-depth.

So New Zealand Books, read by synthetic voice (and these voices are now hard to distinguish from the real thing), has become a regular treat.

Thanks again and I hope the team keeps up the great work.

Camille Guy


Publishing be damned

I do not pretend to be one of the literati. I’ve been a journalist and magazine editor for a quarter of a century, instead. However, having completed a 630,000 word trilogy, I do have a few thoughts about the New Zealand publishing scene.

1. It’s backward as hell. They want submissions on paper. I simply won’t deal with anyone who wants subs on paper. Printing out an 180,000 first volume double-spaced on paper, and mailing it on the chance of selection, puts all the financial risk on me and none on them. It’s a waste of my time and resource. Don’t they have e-book readers? If not, why not?

2. Publishers don’t seem to know what’s going on. I had to tell Penguin that Richards Literary Agency had effectively closed and that Frances Plumpton is only marketing children’s books. That means we have no literary agents in New Zealand accepting work.

3. They treat writers like children. I can talk to most business people about risks and rewards. The downside risk of printing and promoting a huge debut trilogy and losing heaps on it is not insignificant. I should be able to ring up a publisher and get 10 minutes on the phone to see whether it’s even worth sending in a sub. If they aren’t interested, then nobody wastes time and resource. But no, they won’t even entertain a discussion.

4. They just don’t seem to get Amazon. It’s running rings around them. The royalties are better, the upside is bigger, the long-tail market is longer. Why would anyone want to commit to a print run when just-in-time printing is so much cheaper?

I’ve got a manufacturing quote of US$6 for a 500-page first volume, delivered. Print run: one. The distributed cost of print is US$20 per volume via Amazon. That’s the power of just-in-time printing. The idea that anyone will go to the risk of printing 1000 volumes only to get them back from the booksellers after one month is ridiculous. That model is going bust.

I make these points because, frankly, for a while now New Zealand publishing has been disintegrating. The literati rely on subsidies and don’t pay any attention to the romance writers, who make all the money. In the end, however, I contend we are all on the same side. In the end it is about New Zealand voices being heard and it seems to me that if these turkeys don’t get with the programme soon, New Zealand publishing will become a hobby for rich people and Government departments who like wasting money. That isn’t how the New Zealand film industry (which I know far better) did it.

Peter King


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