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Putting words into effect

The task ahead

On 20 July 2011 we were elected for a three-year term to a seat on the Management Committee of the Society of Authors. We deliberately use the pronoun ‘we’ because this is not my election, it is your election, the authors’ election.

One of the chief aims in our electoral programme was increased author participation in the life of the Society.

The other major aim was to work for an improvement in the quality of books published, hence our new slogan ‘Better Books!’ I had originally proposed ‘Better Books for Britain’. But at a meeting of a few authors and journalists on 7 August we decided that this was far too nationalistic and narrow-minded: the Society caters for English-speaking writers around the world.

We all agreed that an effective campaign to improve books compels author participation — and, as Pierre Tran’s opening article suggests, we have in mind all arts media, and all subjects. Without participation there can be no campaign. Without this necessary campaign for improvement there will be no books worth reading, no thought, no vivid debate, no creation worth speaking of, no genuine democracy, no example for future generations to follow — no authors. All we will have is what the current ‘book industry’ now offers us: a wasteland of transient ‘titles’, chosen on the basis of the Nielsen Bookscan data, without regard to content, and pushed by an army of marketing and sales people. There is no room here for authors. In an age of economic crisis and unmanageable debt, with the West teetering towards violence, we are obliged to force publishers to publish civilized thought. Otherwise human hope will gradually disappear.

The task before us is immense. But it has to be done. The election is behind us. We now have to make every effort to realize our goals. We are remodelling this section of our website accordingly.
We are giving it a new title, ‘Manifest 2011’. And we are dividing it into two sub-sections: (A) Electoral Programme, and (B) The Enactment. The first is made up of the articles written during the campaign of May through to July 2011. Not every author will agree with these articles. A journalist friend of mine whispered, during an NUJ-Paris meeting I recently attended, ‘Organizing authors is like herding together a collection of wild alley cats.’ But I knew what he meant: historically it has always been so. But we don’t have to agree. We simply work towards the same two grand goals, increased participation in the life of the Society and a general campaign for the improvement of the quality of books: ‘Better Books!’

Now we have got three years to work towards what we set out to do. The second sub-section will be an on-line record of the difficult bit: our achievements.

GD, Le Vieil Estrée, 8 August 2011

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