Monday, 23 July 2012

Harrogate / Tossergate – The View From the Audience

I was in the audience of the much talked about panel Wanted For Murder featuring authors -Stephen Leather, Steve Mosby, agent Phil Paterson, VP of the Publisher’s Association Ursula Mackenzie and bookshop owner Patrick Neale. The panel was moderated by Mark Lawson

There was a rather heated debate which didn’t just flirt with controversy as much as drop its undergarments and offer itself to all comers. Now to quantify my position in the debate I am a reader, reviewer and writer myself. I had the previous evening, spoken with Stephen Leather, Steve Mosby and Mark Billingham and I spoke with them all after the event about aspects of the debate.

Here are my thoughts and experiences of the day.

Stephen Leather TV WorkIt was a panel I was looking forward to as I have a foot in all camps so to speak. It started off fairly tamely but as the discussion progressed there became a feeling that the event was turning into something of a public hanging. Sadly for Stephen Leather it appeared that he was not only the victim but was intent on playing the part of pantomime villain. (One wag even suggested he’d bought the rope.)

The crowd was made up of a mix of industry professionals and readers alike. Stephen Leather soon received occasional boos and hisses. Any point scored against him in the debate received cheers and claps. When he said that pirates stealing his work were helping him by doing his marketing for him, the event’s chair Mark Billingham was handed a microphone.

Billingham made a strong and heated argument against Leather’s viewpoint which at the time had me feeling that the chair of the event should not be speaking with such vehemence. However upon reflection I realised that my initial thought was wrong and that if the chair cannot defend his opinion passionately then nobody can.

The lowest point for me was the shout of “tosser” aimed at Stephen Leather from the back of the room. Surely this is not becoming of a literary event? In my experience base insults in a debate always come from the person who feels that they are losing the argument.

To sum up my feelings from the event I would make the following points.

Stephen Leather’s use of multiple online personas is by no means a new or exclusive tactic. I have read a number of articles and blog posts advocating such dealings.
Stephen Leather knew much more about direct marketing than almost everyone else in the room.
The book buying public should have cheap and easily accessible books.
Books however should not be so cheap as to be of less value than a cup of coffee. There is a lot of hard work that goes into writing a book and authors deserves fair recompense.
Mark Billingham was right to condemn piracy in all its forms with his impassioned counter-argument.
Stephen Leather’s comment that his work receives little editing from his publisher is most likely borne from his experience as a writer rather than any direct failings of the publisher. After 28 books he ought to know what he’s doing.
Regarding the pricing of books there is probably a middle ground to be sought which provides value for reader and author alike.
The person who shouted TOSSER should hang their head in shame. It was unbecoming of the occasion.
Agents and publishers need to react against the rise in sales of eBooks and eReaders. Denial and condemnation are not the way forward.
Amazon should implement better measures against piracy. They are loosing out too!
Amazon should implement a stepped system of minimum prices based on word count. Just don’t ask me what the thresholds should be.
The lady who said she ePublished her book after not securing a traditional print deal after trying for only three months should learn the meaning of perspective and patience.

Finally I believe that this debate will run for months and years.

Please feel free to comment below.


  1. This is the most balanced view I've read on this subject. Well done, Graham.

    Personally, I like and admire the writers involved, so I won't be adding any fuel to the fire. It's burning quite enough.

    Now then, where's that fence...? I need to sit down. ;-)


    1. Thanks Col. I've a foot in all camps so to speak so I takes no sides.

  2. Yeah, good to see a balanced view, Graham. It's a complicated issue and one that was never going to be resolved in an hour when there were five speakers. I have to say that the booing and hissing and the 'tosser' made me see Harrogate in a whole new light! Ditto some of the comments that have been written since. Still, all publicity is good publicity. Worth mentioning that I was at the festival to write Inspector Zhang Goes To Harrogate in which a nasty author is murdered in his bedroom while the prime suspect is downstairs in full view of hundreds of people.....

    1. The partisan nature of the crowd wasn't a good thing to experience, although I did speak to a number of industry people afterwards who conceded that you were right on some points.
      Can't wait to read the Inspector Zhang story. I remember you getting the idea last year when I interviewed you in the bookless library.