Publishing markets: creative writing studies

In previous posts I set out the structural criteria that I had developed for selecting a market to publish into as a micro-enterprise. They were:

1. amenability to marketing (identifiability; locatability; contiguity/networked-ness);

2. scale (not too big; not too small);

3. supply (of authorship; of content);

4. competition (not too much; not too little);

5. and last – but the opposite of least – unfulfilled need.

Here I use these to assess a potential market, namely creative writing studies (CWS). By CWS I refer to the discipline of creative writing in higher education.

The market is certainly identifiable. The use of the label ‘creative writing’ is pretty consistent, both at undergraduate and postgraduate level, in anglophone territories. Where, within institutions, the discipline overlaps with others – English, literary studies, composition, and so on – identification of the parts that constitute creative writing is usually straightforward.

Where distinctions become fuzzier is on the border between ‘creative’ and other forms of writing, such as ‘professional’ writing. After all, professional writing can be highly creative.

CWS is reasonably locatable. Many courses are called simply Creative Writing and so are readily locatable in databases. Where creative writing is taught within another course, such as Literary Studies, it is often offered in distinct modules. Locating these requires a more granular kind of search, but is not over-taxing.

CWS has quite a distinct geography, at least in the UK, where it is strongest amongst what I call the ‘Lord Robbins universities’ that were founded in the 1960s and ’70s – places like Lancaster, East Anglia, and Brunel. The discipline also has a presence at older universities – for example, St Andrews – but less consistently. The same is true of newer universities, though some of these – notably Bath Spa – have established a strong presence.

CWS is also well networked. Writers, in my experience, tend to pretty good at finding an excuse to get together from time to time, especially if there is wine available. In America there is AWP (awpwriter.org); in Australasia, AAWP (www.aawp.org.au); and in the UK, (www.nawe.co.uk).

So against the first criterion, i.e. amenability to marketing, CWS stacks up promisingly. What about the second, namely size?

The CWS market is certainly not too big. In the UK, for example, it looks to me as though fewer than half of the country’s universities offer post-graduate qualifications in creative writing. On the other hand, it is not entirely niche: if that number in the UK may be less than half, it is not by much. And the trend has been upwards for many years. It is arguable, therefore, that the subject meets the ‘not too small, not too big’ requirement.

The question here is, what will happen in the future? In the short term, post-recession austerity is placing pressure on funding for arts subjects. It is likely that there will be a shake-out. Over the long term, however, it seems to me that the subject is in part a lifestyle choice (often bound up with a desire for what Maslow calls ‘self-actualisation’) and so may be expected to continue to grow as economies develop.

It would be natural to assume that CWS meets the third requirement – a strong supply of authors – without question. The people who teach creative writing, after all, are writers. Counter-intutively, though, it seems to me that this is a criterion against which the CWS market might not perform so well. This is because, though its teachers are writers, the writing they are often most interested in is their creative writing. Whatever time is available for writing is often devoted to writing the next chapter of a novel, as opposed to a monograph – and quite right too, I’m inclined to say! So the idea of writing academic books about CWS may be seen, not as opportunity, but as a distraction.

Plenty of publishers produce books on creative writing. In most cases, however, they are aiming at the trade market, as opposed to the academic. This is true, for example, of A&C Black (www.acblack.com), which has longed published a Writing Handbooks series and is now publishing, under its Methuen imprint, a series developed with the Arvon Foundation. Trade books do, however, sometimes cross over in to the academic book: Natalie Goldberg’s Writing down the bones, for example, is not an academic book, but features widely on course reading lists.

Many of the large academic publishers – including Pearson (especially in America), Routledge, and, notably, Palgrave – do publish CWS titles. They tend to do this, however, through their other lists, such as Literary Studies. I have yet to find an academic publisher with an editor dedicated wholly to CWS. Presumably, this  is because the market is not large enough to excite them, especially since it is ‘soft’ in terms of its pricing expectations.

Where multinational conglomerates do publish into CWS markets, they do not always hit the mark. In particular, CWS courses tend not to welcome textbooks, especially where they resemble in their format those of other disciplines (marketing, say, or psychology). The competition, therefore, is not scary. It would be comforting, though, if there was a little more of it.

Is there an unfulfilled need? Well, when I talk to CWS tutors about what difficulties they experience, a number of answers tend to recur. Perhaps, then, there is a demand for some problem-solving resources …

Overall, it seems that the CWS market has some promise. One could wish that it was a little larger. And that its prospects in the short-term were rosier. But I think it has  promise nonetheless. I would, of course, welcome comments on that conclusion – especially if you do not share my view.

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About Anthony Haynes

Director, Frontinus Ltd Communications Associate, FJWilson Talent Services

2 comments

  1. Nice overview, Anthony. Very helpful!

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