On Tuesday 21 June, Paul Mannering and Lee Murray visited Stephanie Soper and Catriona Ferguson of the New Zealand Book Council. The meeting was convened to discuss a recent article in Booksellers website (9 June, 2016) which said the Book Council would be sampling New Zealand print book sales on behalf of Creative New Zealand:
“As part of the New Zealand Book Council’s funding contract with Creative New Zealand we are collecting data on the readership and sales of NZ books within New Zealand. It is anticipated that this information will support Creative New Zealand’s decision making processes around where best to prioritise their resources for literature in the future.”
Paul and Lee explained that there is concern amongst our membership that the methodology suggested in the article would exclude speculative fiction books/writers, and could ultimately affect the likelihood of Creative New Zealand funding being available for speculative fiction projects. This is because our writers are often published by small, indie or overseas presses or are self-published, are not distributed by local distributors, and do not appear widely in New Zealand bookstores and libraries.
Catriona and Stephanie also expressed concern that speculative works would not be included under the current scheme, but with only limited resources and difficulty in obtaining verifiable data, they were unsure how they could improve their method to include us.
Paul recommended that the Book Council send SpecFicNZ a list of information they require, and we would canvass/survey our members for that information, which we will send on to the Book Council to be included in their analysis. Paul said that while not all of the data we would collect would fit the Book Council’s current protocol, we hope some speculative works/writers would make it into the study, and the broader information obtained could then be used to inform next year’s sampling. This work would need to be carried out and forwarded to the Book Council by the end of July 2016.
Two weeks into the term of our newly appointed committee, the meeting was also an appropriate moment for SpecFicNZ to renew its connection with the NZ Book Council and talk about how we can work together to support the New Zealand community of speculative fiction fans and creators.
For the remainder of the meeting, we discussed opportunities for the two organisations to support each other. Lee raised the barriers to SpecFicNZ members listing on the Book Council Writer Files or being part of the Books in Schools programme. Catriona and Stephanie said that limitations in the number of writers taken on annually is due to a lack of staff resources, but they are slowly refreshing the entries, including though use of publishing interns from the university. Paul proposed that SpecFicNZ undertake to help with providing details about recommended authors. In doing this, we could streamline their selection process and increase the likelihood of our members making it onto their site.
Paul also suggested ways in which newly planned SpecFicNZ youth programmes could complement the Writers in Schools programme offered by the Book Council, since we have members in most regions who can provide workshops and talks geared to children and secondary school students.
Another issue Stephanie raised was that much of her time is spent creating content for the Book Council site. Lee and Paul said that as writers, creating contact is what we do best. We undertook for SpecFicNZ members to write suitable articles about genre books (reviews, Best Of lists and similar articles) to be forward via SpecFicNZ to Stephanie to post on the site. This will also help to increase awareness of genre writers and our work.
We look forward to renewed ties with the Book Council as we move into 2016.