Saturday, 31 December 2011

2011 - the year publishing changed

What a year 2011 has been for publishing. A time of accelerating change and radically differing opinions, it started well for me with Remix mentioned on 1st January 2011 in an article in The Times. Things I blogged about over the past year:
  • Some indie writers, like Amanda Hocking, making it mega big with millions of fans and sales and offers from traditional publishers
  • Realization dawning (a bit late in some quarters) that ebooks, not paperbacks, are going to be the most popular form of book very, very, soon.
  • The mysterious non-launch of Pottermore
  • Publishers like Penguin and Harper Collins trying to monetize the slush pile - all those keen and naive authors, surely some profit there somewhere...
  • Prognostications of doom about the future of publishing
  • The totally unsurprising  rise of ebook piracy, encouraged by the determination of publishers to keep ebook prices as high as possible
  • Spats between unpublished writers and self-published writers, fuelled by the near-impossibility of getting a contract, and the irritating success of some indies
  • Some agents attempting to become publishers, with mixed results
So what does 2012 hold? Amazon recently launched the Kindle Touch, the Kindle Fire and the affordable Kindle 4, and reported selling over a million a week in December. Post-Christmas, their charts exploded as all those new owners stocked up their Kindles. So that's a tricky question which I may save for a later post. Meanwhile,


Monday, 26 December 2011


Today, as part of the Goodreads Christmas Bloghop, I've made a seasonal quiz. There are only five questions of varying trickiness. No cheating and looking the answers up!

  • In Little Women, Jo said, "Christmas won't be Christmas without any..." Without any what?

  • parties
    alcoholic beverages

  • What does Mr Elton do when alone in the carriage with Emma on Christmas Eve?

  • Turn into a vampire
    Confess his love for Harriet

  • Which was the last of the spirits who appeared to Scrooge?

  • The Ghost of Christmas Past
    The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come
    The Ghost of Christmas Present

  • In The Prisoner of Azkaban, who wears a string of tinsel round his neck on Christmas day?

  • Dobby

  • In Wind in the Willows, who calls when Mole has taken Rattie to his old home?

  • Carol singing field mice
    Badger, first-footing
    Stoats and weasels on the rampage

    Why not visit the other blogs doing the Christmas Bloghop, and find out what they are up to, with prizes and links to more:    

    Saturday, 24 December 2011

    JKR's Pottermore & Sony Reader - what is going on?

    JK Rowling's Pottermore was scheduled for launch last October, with the long awaited ebooks available to meet the Christmas market. Hundreds of thousands of children would find a Sony Reader pre-loaded with Harry Potter plus extra bits in their Christmas stockings. The launch was postponed. Since then, a strange silence has settled over the whole topic. Google Pottermore, and all the entries date from June 2011. Has someone cast a Disillusionment charm, an Impediment Jinx or pronounced Colloportus?

    On behalf of my blog readers, I decided to investigate. First stop was the Pottermore website, still in beta. Not much to see for non-members, but if you go here it's clear just how many people are involved in the enterprise. Next stop Pottermore Insider, the site blog. Oddly, none of the posts have dates, only times, though you can tell from the sidebar the last four posts are December's. I liked the posts about designing the House Crests. No information about when the site will exit beta and the ebooks become available. No updates or press releases.

    What has this hiatus meant? First, it's enabled Amazon to consolidate Kindle's lead position among ereaders; they've brought out the affordable Kindle 4, the Kindle Touch and the Kindle Fire, and have been selling a million a week this month. Amazon's clever online store and wireless delivery are a hard act to beat. Sony's Reader (which must have been counting on the USP of offering access to the world's best-selling series of books) has lost ground it will never recover.

    Second, a canny operator like JKR has made the classic mistake of creating a demand and failing to meet it. The black market has stepped in. For those who don't care about copyright, the ebooks of Harry Potter are out there, readily available and free, in the format of your choice.

    and thanks to all my readers

    Saturday, 17 December 2011

    Publishing pantomime - it's BEHIND you!

    I've written a guest blog post for fellow indie JA Clement which you can read on her atmospheric blog with just one click of the mouse here. Do pop over and prove to her I am not a sad loser without any friends...

    Saturday, 10 December 2011

    Mark Coker, Amazon and the value of indie authors

    KDP Select, which I wrote about here, will cause most initial collateral damage to Smashwords, a site that allows self-publishers to access Sony, Kobo, Barnes and Noble and Apple. Tens of thousands of indie writers withdrew some or all of their books from the site yesterday, in order to comply with Amazon's exclusivity clause. I did myself.

    Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, has written critical pieces on his blog and in the Huffington Post. You can sympathize with his point of view - his site is a resource for indies, and now a massively richer business is poaching them. Although the writers leaving are those who, like me, sell insignificant numbers on Smashwords, if 20,000 books that sold one copy a month are removed, that's a lost income of around $4,000 a month.

    What would I do if I was Mark Coker facing this threat to his business? I'd ask myself what Amazon was doing that I wasn't - I'd stop fighting the alligators for a moment and do a bit of swamp draining. The key problem with Smashwords is you can load an excellent book, but no one who isn't looking for it will find it, as I know from personal experience. So, if I was him, I'd recruit my daughter and six voracious readers like her, young and willing to work for a modest fee. I'd tell them to find the best books on the site and write a review. I'd showcase one of these books a day, then put them in a Best Books on Smashwords chart. I'd think up other cheap promotional ideas, like Reduced for a Day, or Month's Best Cover.

    What chiefly interests me about this whole situation is that suddenly indie books are being viewed as a valuable resource, instead of a 'tsunami of crap'. Amazon has always known it was worthwhile giving nearly equal opportunities to self-published books - other outlets are only just beginning to catch up. How long before these outlets start actively competing for our custom, instead of tolerating and side-lining us?

    Thursday, 8 December 2011

    KDP Select - Amazon's offer to indies

    Amazon has just launched KDP Select; any books you sign up to the scheme can be borrowed by US Amazon Prime members through the Kindle Owners' Lending Library. Main features of KDP Select are:
    • Your books must not be digitally available anywhere but Amazon
    • You sign up for three months at a time, after which you can opt out
    • You are entitled to make your book free for 5 days out of each 90 day period
    • There is a fixed amount of money which will be split between books which have been lent out each month; you will receive this amount divided by number of loans x loans of your book. Amazon will provide $6 million for 2012.
    I've signed up for this, taking my books down from Smashwords, where I sell few copies. I like to be in at the start with new ventures, though I suspect the writers who do best will be US indie bestsellers with multiple books.

    The encouraging thing  is that it shows Amazon appreciates its self-publishers, who these days are a big slice of the publishing industry. Some best-selling US indies were consulted by them about the scheme before it was finalized. This is more proof that we are a force to be reckoned with in publishing, and a great deal more welcome - however it works out in practice - than Penguin's recent attempt to profit from would-be self-publishers. 

    I also can't help wondering, if Amazon is doing this for us, what else might it have up its sleeve for the future?

    Saturday, 3 December 2011

    Unique difficulties of writing a novel

    Coat of arms modelled in wax
    Comments on last week's post got me thinking about what writing a novel is like
    . I said it was similar to my own area of expertise, wax modelling, where I rough out the shape by joining strips of wax, add and subtract until it looks right, then texture.

    But on reflection writing is more difficult than that. If you are modelling a coat of arms, like the one on the left, you can tell at a glance when you have got there, because it looks as it is supposed to, and anyone can see that. You know when you are on track, as the piece begins to resemble the working drawing. 

    With a book, when you are finished all you have is a lot of words. You've been toiling on it sentence by sentence, chapter by chapter, while the first reader experiences it whole. Send it out on submission to agents, and the odds are none of them will think you've got it right. To be an author, not only do you need superb judgment of what to put in and what to leave out, but at some level you have to have a crazy amount of faith in yourself.