The Books Biz Down Under

by Tess Gerritsen

(Yes, it’s the obligatory kangaroo photo!)

I just got home from a head-spinning book tour to Australia and New Zealand, and although I’d love to overwhelm you with my hundreds of cool travel photos, I’ll try to focus here on books and publishing. I’m always curious about what’s going on in the books business around the world, and this trip allowed me to chat with booksellers, publishers and local writers to get an idea of the specific challenges facing our friends Down Under.

My first stop was Auckland, where I was a guest speaker at the Romance Writers of New Zealand conference. Since the romance genre is where I started my career, it felt like a homecoming, and what fun it was to dress up for the opening night party where I wore — what else?  A tiara!  Here I am, snuggling up to Nalini Singh and the wonderful Tessa Radley, who first invited me to attend.

One sad note put a damper on everyone’s spirits, though: the sudden death of Desire author Sandra Hyatt, who fell critically ill over that weekend.  Because RWNZ is such a small and close-knit group, the loss shook everyone.

Also in Auckland, I did an evening event at the Women’s Bookshop, where I sipped wine with my NZ publicist Yvonne Thynne and one of the most enthusiastic promoters of the mystery genre in New Zealand, Craig Sisterson.

From there it was on to Christchurch where, despite the recent earthquakes, the Christchurch Arts Festival has been reborn.  

(with Ruth Todd and Yvonne Thynne)

Although I wasn’t able to visit the central business district to see the worst of the damage, it’s obvious that the city is still rebuilding.  It’s still experiencing frequent quakes, and residents have become so accustomed to them that they’ll debate with great authority whether that last tremor felt like a 4.2 or a 3.8.  All over town, you can spot signs of quake damage, including at my hotel:


During my 2003 visit to NZ, my book event was held in Christchurch Cathedral, and it’s sad to think how many of those lovely buildings I saw then are no more.  But the city seems determined to move forward, and the Arts Festival was a hit, with a nice turnout to see author John Hart and me being interviewed by Graham Beattie, as well as the presentation of the Ngaio Marsh Award (to Paul Cleave).

Most New Zealand writers must sell to foreign markets if they want to earn a living.  With a small population (just over four million), it would be difficult indeed to support yourself with just the local market.  If you sell as few as 300 copies in a week, you can land on the top-5 NZ (international) bestseller list.  A big concern is the astronomical price of books.  Because of their small economy of scale, books aren’t printed locally but are shipped in from Australia, adding to the cost.  A hardback costs $60! (NZ/US rate 1.00/ 0.85).  The e-book revolution has yet to fully arrive on its shores, but with the high price of print books, it’s not hard to see that e-books could threaten print sales. And when those e-sales happen, where will the money go?  Will it be sent overseas to  How will New Zealand publishers survive if e-sales profits go out of the country, instead of being kept within its borders? Obviously they’ll need to establish their own e-sales territory to keep consumer spending local.

In Australia, many of the same issues are brewing.  E-sales are still a small part of their market, but they can see the revolution on the horizon. While print books are cheaper than in New Zealand, they’re still expensive compared to the U.S.  Australia’s population is 22 million, and it takes about 1,000 weekly sales to hit the top-10 bestselling list, but it’s still not a big enough market to support most local writers. Foreign sales, once again, are key to survival.

My travels in Australia took me to Adelaide…

(Mt Barker Community Library.  Check out the tee shirts!)

… Sydney, and finally Melbourne, site of the Melbourne Writers Festival, where every event seemed to be sold out.  I gained street cred with my kids when I shared the stage with Steve Hely, producer and writer for “The Office” (U.S. version), revealed crime writing tips along with one of my favorite writers, Michael Robotham, and went on to a cozy evening with the local Sisters in Crime chapter where I was interviewed by Rose Mercer and had dinner with our own P.D. Martin (waving to P.D.!).

What I learned is that writers everywhere are facing the same challenges.  Finding readers. Trying to figure out where we’ll fit in as e-books take over the market. No matter where you go, the writing business is a challenge.

14 thoughts on “The Books Biz Down Under

  1. Pari Noskin

    Great tour, Tess. Thanks for all the pix. I'm not surprised we're all facing the same questions re: writing and making a living.

  2. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Tess – great pix and you look fabulous, as always. How come you didn't get a T-shirt?

    How interesting to hear the specific problems facing authors Down Under. The e-question is a fascinating one, but if it enables writers to write more, and readers to read more, it has to be a good thing, doesn't it?

  3. tess gerritsen

    Zoe, yes, the ebook revolution is a great thing for writers! But for publishers (and booksellers) in NZ and Australia, it could be a problem.

    (And I made sure to ask for a tee-shirt.)

  4. Reine

    Hi Tess,
    Love the pics! Fabulous tiara! Didn't know kangaroos would let you pat them. But then, why not? If you can sport a tiara with a smile a kangaroo should let you pat him.
    Does having media interplay (sorry need a better word) with books help book sales . . . given your experience, that is?
    I'd been very disappointed with a book a few years ago when an author I'd loved seemed to be writing with film production in mind. I was very reluctant to read her next book. I did, though, because I'd always enjoyed her writing so much, and the jacket seemed to reflect her previous types of settings. Maybe she turned a script gone bad into a book. But it got me thinking that maybe the benefit to book sales was hidden in there somewhere?

  5. tess gerritsen

    Reine, I'm very strict about keeping my book universe consistent, so I haven't let the TV show influence my stories or my characters. But the show certainly does seem to be helping book sales — at least, the public's recognition that the book series exists.

  6. Reine

    Tess, thanks. I love your books. And it's way more fun to read the stories. I also love Rizzoli & Isles on TV but discovered the show through Murderati and your posts, where I discovered you as an author.

  7. PD Martin

    Hi Tess. Waving right back at you from Down Under 🙂 It was great too meet you in person.

    Yes, it's true Aussie authors have to make it overseas. The average Aussie author makes $10,000 a year. Pretty bad. I know a few children's authors who make a living out of it through speaking gigs (at schools). But it's a lot of hard work and travelling too. Of course, the speaking gigs sell books too, so it's a win-win. And the key for children's authors who write for the older market is to get on the government school reading list. Then they have much better sales. But for adult fiction, I think the overseas market is essential. It's why I opted for a US agent and why I'm looking again now (as you know, my agent passed away last year). Lots of Aussie authors with what we'd call good sales here in terms of our population have to keep their day jobs.

    Glad you got to pat a kangaroo too!

  8. Halley | Pocket Folders

    Though you said it was obligatory, it looked like you were enjoying the photo with the kangaroo! 🙂 Which is very nice, by the way. It's nice to have this one time where you meet fellow authors [NOTE: romance authors]. I was a copywriter back then, it there are days when writing seem so hard. Is it harder for romance authors to create something really romantic and something that everyone [people at the right age] can really relate to and be inspirational? Where do you get most of your inspiration?

  9. tess gerritsen

    Hailey, sorry I didn't see your comment till this a.m.! Romance authors have a double burden to bear — not just creating the stories, but also dealing with the prejudices against their genre. Yet they still manage to put amazingly fresh spins on the age-old courtship and conflict tale. So it doesn't seem they have any problems creating stories that people can relate to, whatever the reader's age.

    As for my own inspiration, I draw a lot from newspapers, movies, and simple daydreaming. Where probably most of us get our inspiration.

  10. Deborah Lewis-Smith

    Tess, you are so generous to writers as well as readers. I am among the many who appreciate that.

  11. Deborah Lewis-Smith

    Tess the photos were great…yes, if one has the opportunity to be photographed with a kangaroo one should take advantage. You do look great and when I see you standing among the T-shirted I am reminded of my petite niece. When her high school wind ensemble was invited to China by their cultural ministry a side bar was the fact that for the first time in her life she was of average height among those present.

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