Tuesday, May 7, 2013

What is wrong with the publishing industry?

So: eleven years ago I sold my first novel, for a record breaking amount, and with a splash of publicity.  That novel was called The Drink and Dream Teahouse.  It was set in modern China, and went on to win a number of prizes - including a Betty Trask Award, and the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, whose previous winners include Seamus Heaney, J.M. Coetzee, Julian Barnes, Will Self - well, check the link and see.  It's the who's who of modern British fiction.  I was delighted!

The hardback came out and got great reviews and sold well.  (Heh - I'm biased, but I think it's a great book! - Scroll down to check out some of the quotes below....)   It was translated into thirteen languages, the Chinese government banned it, and the Washington Post  made it one of their Notable Books of the Year.

And then my editor left the publishing house to become an agent.

And the new editor wasn't interested in my next book, and so I found a new publisher.  And within a year The Drink and Dream Teahouse was out of print. 

This is how daft the modern publishing industry is. 

Of course, I wanted it back in print, but the publishing industry isn't geared up for backlists.  Marketing revolves around the buzz of a new book.  There was no interest in getting this great book back in print.  Not even as an ebook. 

And until recently there wasn't much an author could do about this. 

Thankfully this has all changed.  Technology means that authors can publish and distribute their books, and readers can get to things that the publishing industry can't or wont publish. 

Personally I'm excited for the possibilities this now offers.  I'm working on a series about the Battle of Hastings, and there are parts of the story that don't really fit into the novels I'm writing.  But there are many parts of the story that would work well as short stories.  But no one publishes Historical Fiction shorts, so ebook publishing again offers great opportunities for authors and readers to get around the limitations of legacy publishing.

Praise for The Drink and Dream Teahouse

‘A vivid portrait of a small community in provincial China…Hill gives us plenty of insights into contemporary Chinese politics and its new economic rigours…his main interest resides in the domestic: family meal times, romantic mishaps, and nights out at the Number One Patriotic Karaoke Nightclub’ 

Emma Hagestadt, Independent on Sunday 

‘Justin Hill knows China inside out.  Every sentence is filled with knowledge, affection and a poignant sense of loss’

Washington Post

‘A fine novel… The Drink and Dream Teahouse is very well written and creative, a wonderful antidote to much writing about China, whether the three-generation-fiction style of Wild Swans or the backward-looking bitterness of most recent memoirs’

Frances Wood, Times Literary Supplement

‘[Hill] occupies the consciousness of these characters with convincing confidence. His impressive knowledge is complemented by a sensitivity to China’s past and an awareness of the cultural life that offers hope in its persistence’

Peter Ho Davies, The Independent

‘A vivid portrait of a small community in provincial China that is making a painful transition to a ‘socialist market economy’.  Although he neatly sketches in the political and economic background of contemporary Chinese life, Hill’s focus rests entirely on his characters and their romantic and familial problems…It should….appeal to anyone wanting a conventional read in an unusual setting’

Daily Mail

‘China has been thrown into upheaval as it adapts to capitalism, but most of the effects on its populace have been hidden from us. The disruption is the basis for Hill's novel, which examines the shifting fortunes of some of the residents of the provincial city of Shaoyang. Hill's decorously written tale of fraught romance amid social cataclysm is by turns entertaining, moving and amusing

Peter Carty, The Observer

‘This is intelligent and interesting novel about the clash between Chinese communism and Western capitalism. And the struggle between the two ideologies is focused exactly where it should be – in family life…. The Drink and Dream Teahouse has many passages that are extremely moving…its thoughtfulness reflects well upon the author, who shows promise as an engaging storyteller’

Mary Loudon, The Times

‘A novel about human failure and endurance. Faith is little more than a joke between muttering nuns in a run-down temple. Art is given voice by one woman belting Beijing opera from the balcony of her factory flat. Language has lost its meaning, somewhere between communist slogans, village proverbs and over-iterated ancient poetry. And yet the rituals of mourning and celebration continue, the social distinctions of old China persist (landlords who no longer own land, peasants who run video shops), and poetry still makes some people cry, or fall in love…a direct and powerful novel portraying modern China with humour and affection’ 

Stephanie Smith, New Statesman

‘Hill’s portrait of modern-day Shaoyang is brilliantly vivid: a world of Western-style restaurants and supermarkets that are far too expensive for most of the town’s inhabitants. If you have ever wondered what daily life in contemporary China might really be like, this will tell you more than a thousand travel books’

Jerome Boyd Maunsell,  The Times

The Drink and Dream Teahouse is a tale of old versus new, hopes and illusions crushed and generations attempting to understand each other, and themselves. It is a story about the search for ideals and meaning in a time of change and political and economic turbulence.’

Visage Magazine

'a masterful tale of China’s full circle, but what is truly remarkable about this novel is that the characters rise above their stereotypes…A must read if you’re looking for a book that delivers on many levels’

Gabriella Boston, The Washington Times

‘Justin Hill has said that during his evacuation flight from Eritrea in 1999, he read Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude. It's no surprise, then, that he brings that same sensibility to this novel of modern China that is really about the profound differences between the old and the new in a country that lies uneasily between both’

Lee Milazzo, Dallas Morning News

‘Hill weaves together ex-revolutionaries, wannabe opera singers, peasants-made-good and corrupt party officials.  A fascinating journey’ 

Big Issue

'The Drink and Dream Teahouse is noteworthy as one of the relatively few novels in English set in the China of ordinary people struggling to live according to rules that are constantly rewritten’

Chicago Tribune

‘A hugely ambitious novel.’ 

Times Literary Supplement

‘The wonderful thing about Justin Hill’s writing is that he presents the Chinese as neither exotic nor quirky, but as fully rounded people… His descriptions of China are video-like. One feels lifted up and transported to the village of Shaoyang…this is a bold picture of post-Tiananmen China, and his ability to absorb this complex culture is impressive….It's the kind of book that will stay with you for years’

Asian Review of Books

‘A minor masterpiece…reading it is like discovering an early novel by D.H. Lawrence.  It has strength and gentleness combined…it's the most compulsively readable novel set in modern China I've ever read…Hill has all the hallmarks of a major writer. We will be hearing a lot more of him, and with luck before very long’

Bradley Winterton, Taipei Times

‘The setting of this story is absorbing on a number of levels…the story of broken hearts at the core of this fine first novel is effortlessly woven in and out of the drab flats and the even drabber lives of ordinary people, here brought wonderfully to life’

Irish Independent

‘When a factory closes down in a small Chinese town, it is a signal for the old culture to confront the new. A touching and funny portrayal of the lives, loves and losses of ordinary people coming to terms with the new China’

The Bookseller, Star Rating

‘Hill’s novel doesn’t fall into the travelogue trap or get bogged down with politics. It offers a compelling and very moving portrait of a community trying to find its way in an ever-changing world, and that’s something everyone can relate to. Excellent’

Matt Inslone, Time Out

The Drink and Dream Teahouse is full of fascinating insight into the character of the Chinese people. This novel records a period of profound change in China, of course, but Justin Hill isn't naïve enough to draw that like a fault-line through the story. He understands, like Tolstoy, that human nature cannot change along with the times’

Edward Stern,  The Independent on Sunday

‘In Hill’s China, the past is ever close behind…His voice is tender and wise beyond his years’

Publishers Weekly

‘Hill…spins a marvelously credible and affecting tale about a colony of human barnacles shipwrecked through decades of turbulent Chinese history…Hill displays an intimate, artfully nuanced knowledge of Chinese customs, bureaucracy, and character in one of those novels that seems, like its people, to have found its own rare way.’

Kirkus Reviews

‘In the shadow of the Chinese town of Shaoyang's defunct Number Two Space Rocket Factory lives an eclectic group of people deeply rooted to the factory's past as their town's center of industry….Through the Cultural Revolution and the tragedy at Tiananmen Square, Hill's cast of characters is like driftwood tossed about by China's undulating political currents, with generational gaps that run deeper than any ocean’

Elsa Gaztambide, Booklist

The Drink and Dream Teahouse breathes life back into representations of modern China, and steers way from the historical memoire genre…There are elegiac splashes of beauty throughout, but the book also resists the urge to tie up every detail…This is an enjoyable debut that should lull you back too reading oriental titles if you’ve had enough of Geisha books’

Sinead Gleeson, RTÉ Online

‘On receiving a novel whose accompanying publicity is all about the vast sums publishers bid for it, a reviewers natural instinct is to sharpen the flaying knife.  But I have to say that this one, which achieved a record-breaking advance, really is remarkably good’

Jessica Mann, Sunday Telegraph

‘Hill's thoroughly developed characters come to life in an equally well-realized setting... [He] uses wit and great powers of observation...China has been thrown into upheaval as it adapts to capitalism, but most of the effects on its populace have been hidden from us. The disruption is the basis for Hill's novel, which examines the shifting fortunes of some of the residents of the provincial city of Shaoyang. Hill's decorously written tale of fraught romance amid social cataclysm is by turns entertaining, moving and amusing’ 

Library Journal



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