National Writers’ Congress: Authorship 20/20

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The Australian Society of Authors National Writers’ Congress: Authorship 20/20, supported by Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund, hosted 200 authors and illustrators at a range of venues around the Sydney CBD last weekend.

Over three days 17-19 October, the National Writers’ Congress examined current and anticipated issues facing professional authors, including copyright, fair pay, the market for eBooks, the growing trend towards self-publishing and increasing pressures on authors to run their own marketing and publicity. More than 50% of the speakers and participants attending the Congress came from beyond Sydney, making it a truly national event.

In her “fundamentals” address Miles Franklin award-winning author Anna Funder set the tone for the weekend: “The value of writing should be expressed not in hits or likes or friends or fans but in money.” Anna Funder went on to criticise the growing trend of professional publications requesting writers to work for free, describing this practice as a “race to the quality bottom.”

Digital publishing was also a much-discussed issue. “Some speakers discussed the growing digital possibilities and the need to embrace rather than be fearful of them,” says Angelo Loukakis, ASA Executive Director. “Others, such as Rosie Scott, spoke of taking an organised approach to advocacy on our issues and challenges, the need to work together to improve the terms and conditions of our activity—especially when, for most authors, the currently available forms of digital publication have led to reduced not enhanced income.”

“Another major and timely area of discussion was the future of copyright, given that we have an Australian Law Reform Commission inquiry in progress, as well as a recent report from the Book Industry Collaborative Council on the situation for copyright, variously consider replacing our current ‘fair dealing’ provisions with an American style ‘fair use’ approach, and more and more ‘exceptions’ that will further undermine the work of real, risk-taking publishers and literary creators.”

Other events featured during the National Writers’ Congress included the Colin Simpson Memorial Lecture, delivered by Melissa Lucashenko, as well as Literary Speed Dating, which allowed more than 60 writers in various stages of their career to pitch their work to publishers and agents.

“The National Congress covered considerable territory, areas of concern as well as opportunities for authors. But the feeling of camaraderie was also a highlight for me and I know for many others,” says Loukakis. “We will be using what we’ve learnt in our advocacy and advice to authors, and are formulating plans to run a similar event in the future.”

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