Tuesday, 27 December 2011

An open letter to Random House

Dear Random House,

Thank you for your e-mail advising me of your book sale – UP TO 30% OFF - at your website http://www.rbooks.co.uk/.

I was intrigued to learn that the price of Robert Harris’ latest hardback book, The Fear Index, is £18.99 – reduced to £13.20 with the discount, and that the paperback price is £12.99 reduced to £9.09. But please tell me: how do you justify the e-book price, a whopping £19.81 – reduced to £13.86 with the discount? Further, your website informs me that it is available in one format – epub – and that this is not compatible with mobile devices such as iPhone, iTouch, iPad and Google's Android.

A scary price for an e-book - plus lies!

Are your marketing department people dim, incompetent or intentionally misleading the public in order to slow or stop the onslaught of e-books? First you price the electronic version higher than both the paper editions, then you tell people it is not compatible with their devices!

The native format for iBooks (used on iPhone/iPad/iPod) is actually epub . E-book fans can download readers for Android that will take just about any format (there may be limitations on some).

Incidentally, customers can buy the epub version from Kobo for  £6.99, and for Kindle at £5.59.

And you wonder why the publishing industry is in such a dire condition!

Kindest regards,

Kevin Bennett

Saturday, 17 December 2011

That's not real publishing (Part 5)

I have a sense of isolation...

There’s an air of anticipation whenever an author I know gets a publishing deal. There’s the waiting, and the building of tension as the author goes through the process of editing and re-editing. Tales are regaled of how “My editor told me to kill off the main character’s wife so we could ramp-up the emotional dynamic.” A bit severe for a cookery book ...

Ultimately, there is launch day.

I’ve witnessed several book launches and they all have something in common: friends, family and associates turn up at a bookshop or other chosen venue. The author and his/her publisher proudly look around at the assembled masses, chat politely, and in turn they buy copies if the book. Some buy multiple copies for friends and families. The author signs as many as possible and, having long since lost the ability to handwrite through years of computer use, suffers severe finger cramps.

The attendees are under a duty to buy: they have been personally invited - or even bullied - and will feel that they haven’t fulfilled their obligation if they don’t get at least one copy. If they have left their wallet/purse/credit card/roubles at home, there is always a promise that they will buy it soon. These defaulters (also called 'marked men') know that now they are now committed and that they must get a copy at the earliest opportunity after the launch so that they can track the author down and wave the book at him/her to get it signed.

Family members who can’t attend also feel an obligation to buy, but they can bide their time a little. Just as long as they have their copy before the family’s very own version of Charles Dickens pops in for that Christmas glass of port and to check that THE BOOK adorns the bookshelf. Canny family members will leave the pristine copy on the telephone table in the front hallway so that the visiting Dickens can see it immediately he/she arrives.

If the author happens to be a member of a writers’ circle or group, other members will attend the launch and buy the book. Or they buy it afterwards and produce it at a meeting for all to see that they, too, support those lucky enough to beat the slush piles of agents and/or publishers.

The more people the author knows and who attend the launch party or local signings, the more sales he/she will have in the first few weeks, and it makes for a warm and cuddly feeling to know that so many people are supporting the writer.

The cover price is irrelevant to all of this: if the book comes out in hardback at £18 - £25, attendees may be less inclined to purchase multiple copies, but as the royalties on hardbacks are that much higher than on paperbacks, it’s not too much of an issue for the author.

So, the author has a ready pool of purchasers who will pass on the word to other people, and some of this initial pool will be kind enough to post reviews on Amazon and such places. I have posted reviews in similar circumstances.

This is how traditionally published authors often make their first multiple sales.

Or you can self-publish the work as an e-book and not have any of that visible support.

Publishing straight to e-book format is, in theory, a good idea. An author can get the book into worldwide circulation very quickly and because he/she is fully in control, the price can be set low enough to encourage people to buy it. The author can make a similar royalty on an e-book priced at or around £2.99 as he can on a hardback book going for about £18! E-book sales are rapidly increasing while paper book sales are declining – particularly in the USA. What’s not to love about e-book publishing?

But who is going to buy it?

Hold up your hand and count. How many people do you know that own a proprietary e-reading device such as Kindle, Kobo, Sony reader or, in the USA, a Nook? How many people do you know that own an iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch (or an Android smart phone or tablet) and actually read books on it?

I am a member of a writers’ circle with a regular membership of between 40 and 50 people. Many of these people have heard and/or read extracts of Pike’s Quest and have offered help and support in the writing process – pointing out which bits weren’t funny, which bits worked well, etc. I am extremely grateful for this. Without the help and support of  Verulam Writers’ Circle I would not have achieved a high enough standard to release Pike as any kind of book. But here’s the rub: I am aware of only two VWC members who have bought Pike’s Quest. There may be more (I hope so), but they are not making themselves known. They can’t get my signature on the e-book, and they know I know that. And there's always that lingering issue about whether or not this is real publishing. [EDIT - 31 May 2012 - see http://www.kjbennett.co.uk/#Virtual re Kindlegraphs.]

I know of only one family member who has bought it, and one who is getting an e-reader very shortly and has promised to buy it.

The reason for such a lack of buying is simple – not many people I know possess an e-reader, and no one has been placed under the unspoken obligation to purchase at one of those wonderful launch parties. Would it be different in the USA, where e-readers are more popular than in the UK? I simply don’t know.

Of course, there are many ways to read an e-book, some less attractive than others. Let’s see:

·                     Proprietary  devices
·                     iAnything devices
·                     Android devices
·                     Apps for PC and Mac.
·                     Apps for other smart phones – e.g. BlackBerry

My favourite is the Kindle: the Kindle e-ink screens are marvellous works of beauty. The text almost leaps out of the page.

I’ve looked at Kobos many times and I find the screen lacks clarity and everything seems to display with double line spaces between paragraphs, reducing the amount of text on display. I also find the touch screen version to have less clarity than the non touch version. The controls on the non-touch version are to my mind, clunky.

I haven’t tried an Android reader yet, so I can’t comment. I did load the Kobo App onto my BlackBerry, but it’s a Curve with a screen that is far too small for me to read an entire novel.

I’m not sure of the reading apps for Mac, but my daughter has an iPod Touch. She downloaded the fee iBook App and I placed Pike’s Quest on there for her. I never thought I would say this, but it looks bloody fantastic, especially when set to sepia. She read the book on it over the course of two days. If you own an iPhone, iPod of iPad and haven’t yet discovered iBooks, you are missing a real treat. Get the App, load a free classic (Jane Austen will do) and see how good it looks. Once you’re convinced, pop along to the iTunes store and pay your 99 cents or 99 pence and getPike’s Quest. You’re only risking a small amount of money, a very small amount.

Finally, the reading apps for PC.

Before I had access to Pike on a Kindle, I used the Kindle app on my laptop. It’s Ok, but not as OK as an iDevice, nor as OK as a proprietary reading device, but it’s not bad at all. Having said that, I wouldn’t relish reading a library of books on a laptop, and even less so in a desktop PC. But, would I part with the princely sum of 99 cents or 86 pence to download the Kindle version of a book written by a fellow author and member/family member to show my support?

For that price? Hell yes. And I would read it.

To end this series on a slightly higher note: I have received several 5 star reviews for Pike on Amazon (UK & US) and e-mails of support from total strangers. Sales so far are slow, and it’s an uphill struggle, especially without the support I described at the start of this piece. But I’m in this for the long haul.

What do I want to get out of this?

Primarily sales of the e-book ... lots of sales, but I want more. I want an agent, I want a publisher and I want Pike in his rightful place - in bookshops, libraries and online stockpiles. Printed. On paper.

Yes, I want to be Geppetto:  I want Pike's Quest to be a ‘real’ book!


Pike's Quest

Amazon for Kindle on these links - UK - USA - DE - FR - IT - ES  

To read the blurb, click HERE


Wednesday, 14 December 2011

That's not real publishing (Part 4)

I’m holding a book signing event. Please bring your Kindle
and the engraving device of you choice. RSVP ...

E-publishing is very strange. After a year and a half or more of hard writing, editing and re-editing, the writer commits to e-publishing and ends up with a product that he can’t actually hold in his hands. Except on an e-reader or maybe a memory stick.

Many publishers seem averse to the concept of e-books. They seem intent on suppressing the market by overpricing the product. For instance, PD James has recently released her latest novel – Death Comes to Pemberly. On Amazon (UK site) you can purchase the hardback book for £8.55 (reduced from £18.99), or you can download the Kindle Edition for £6.64. Considering that the average paperback goes for around £6.99 - £8.99, how does the publisher justify such a high price for the digital edition?

Colin Bateman, one of my favourite authors, has had a string of comedy crime capers published. Not all are available as Kindle editions but Of Wee Sweetie Mice & Men: currently, the pre-order price for the Kindle edition is £4.99 - 30p more expensive that the paperback version. On Amazon, Bateman's most recent release, Nine Inch Nails is priced thus:
·                     Hardback - £13.99
·                     Paperback - £8.40
·                     Kindle - £7.99
Does that mean that the publisher only spends 41p on the paper, printing and cover materials for the paperback edition? I doubt it. In some cases, the e-book is more expensive than the paperback version, particularly if Amazon is discounting the paperback. How can this be?

The Kindle price is set by the publisher. I appreciate that there are overheads to cover, but the digital versions require no typesetting, no printing, binding or shipping costs: all they require is digital formatting, and even a dummy like me can do that. There is, however, the addition of  VAT.

I’d be interested to know what percentage goes to the author – not much, I imagine. I may be wrong, but my guess is that publishers are trying to make a hefty profit out of e-editions - that, or they want e-publishing to fail in order to protect their interests. They conveniently 'forget' that e-book owners have paid an up-front price for their device, so the books should be at least a couple of quid cheaper than their paperback brothers and sisters.

It was seeing the price of some of the titles published by companies that led me to believe that there was some strange, dark art that would make it impossible for me to publish to Kindle, let alone all the other formats that there are out there. But a small amount of knowledge and a free download or two made my job quite easy.

After a false start or two, that is. What follows is a summary of how I got Pike’s Quest into e-book format.

My first port of call was Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). Easy-peasy: you have a Word.doc, you upload it, KDP converts it and you publish. Name your price, click ‘publish’ and you have an instant best-seller. Except, of course, nothing actually is that easy.

MS WordTM   is a wonderful word processing package, but it carries lots of hidden code. If you use TAB to indent your paragraphs, the Kindle conversion will go wonky: some paragraphs will indent, some won’t:  some will indent in their entirety – every line of several paragraphs go right, others go left.

If you’ve used chapter headings to create chapter titles and a table of contents, by the time the conversion takes place the table of contents links to some parts  of text you never intended, and when it does link to a chapter heading, the formatting goes awry.   It didn’t take me long to realise that I would have to take drastic action.

I copied and pasted everything into a plain text document and saved it as a .txt file. Then I copied it back into a new Word.doc and formatted it afresh, And if that had worked it would have been fine, but it was only partially successful. I didn't knoiw then about the hidden book marks that Word inserts.

I won’t bore you any further: if you are going to try it for yourself, read the Smashwords FAQ section abut formatting and download the Smashwords Style Guide.Then format exactly as it instructs and save the Word.doc as a “web page – filtered”.

Download Calibre. Read the instructions, import the filtered web page, publish as a .mobi file, check it, upload it to KDP and check the preview. It should be fine. Calibre is brilliant – it will format to just about any e-book type; it’s free, but you can donate to the makers.

To publish via Smashwords (which is the best way to get an indie book onto Barnes & Noble, Kobo and the iTunes Book Store, you have to upload the original Word document, but as long as you follow the advice given by Smashwords, it will work.

So, now you have your e-book out there, you just have to convince people to buy it, and this is where the snobbery comes in. Remember that quote at the head of Part 1? No? Here it is again:

“Oh, it’s an e-book.” She gave a knowing grin. 
“That’s not real publishing, is it?”

This is the type of comment you hear from people. They say similar things about other self-published authors:

“Oh, he published it himself? That’s not real publishing, is it?”

Often this will be said just as the author passes by, and the person saying it does so with the back of a hand up near the lips, as if to shield the author from those hurtful words, but in a stage whisper loud enough for all of the English-speaking world to hear.

Someone who came out with this argument openly is a lady named Michelle. She posted a venomous response to a posting on 
THIS WEBSITE. There are many responses to the main article, but let's focus on Michelle: her posting is reproduced in full on THIS BLOG by Phantomimic. It cooked up a storm. Almost as venomous as Michelle is someone calling him-/her-self Observer. His comments are astoundingly bigoted. He may have had a bad experience with one or two independent books, but if one day he ate bad sandwich, would he then declare that all sandwiches are bad?
I know a plumber: his name is Terry Cobby. He’s very good and far cheaper than the like of British Gas. A more polite and accommodating plumber you’d be hard pushed to find anywhere. I’ve recommended him to loads of people, just like others recommended him to me. He’s self-employed: he doesn't work for a large conglomerate, but I know of no one who whispers, “Oh, he’s an independent. That’s not real plumbing, is it?” as he passes by.

I know another plumber called Brian - he's really crap. He is also self-employed. Now HE doesn't do real plumbing. Don't hire him.

The point is this: just because a writer is self-published does not mean the work is rubbish. I think there is a fair chance that some of them (quite a few, actually) will be rubbish. But many, many "traditionally published" writers are of doubtful quality and ability.  Dan Brown, multi-million-book-selling author of The da Vinci Code has come in for a lot of flack over his writing abilities (I know better than to comment in a public forum, personally), as has Stephenie Meyer of Twilight fame. Stephen King has had many highlights, but I think even his most ardent fan may admit to a low light along the way. Stieg Larsson wrote the immensely successful Millennium Trilogy - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, etc. I read and enjoyed all three books but, I have to say, I would have enjoyed them all far more if they'd been cut down by about 150-200 pages each, especially his detailed shopping lists!

And what of all these celebrity authors? They are “traditionally published”, and some of them didn’t even write the stuff themselves. Does anyone consider  Katie Price (Jordan) to be a literary genius? Actually, it's a serious question: DOES anyone consider her to be that? I've never read one of her books and I have no idea if she is ghost written, although I note that the copyright in at least two of her books (the only two I could bring myself to look-up on Amazon) is co-assigned to 
Rebecca Farnworth.

Ah, where was? Oh yes: nor is an e-book published by 'the professionals' likely to have better proofing and formatting than one that is self-published. Don't believe me? Just check out the samples on Amazon. Some are ludicrously formatted with chapter headings that run into the first paragraph, double line breaks between random paragraphs, poor spelling and punctuation, badly formatted tables of contents, etc. In fact, some paper books have many proofing errors despite having been through a professional edit. I recently read a book published by a relatively small publisher where within the first forty pages there were at least a dozen errors including random paragraph indentation (some, none or too much), missing full stops, missing ellipses, missing quotes, etc. (Does a quick proof read in the hope of eliminating all typos in this posting. Did I miss any? FURTHER EDIT: NO! Found some more several hours after posting.)

There are, of course, some downsides to e-publishing that transcend even normal self publishing: the lack of signing opportunities, for example.  Kindle/Kobo/iAnydevice owners tend to look at you in horror when you produce a felt-tipped pen and attempt to scrawl across the cover of your book – on their screen!

In the fifth and final part, I shall delve a little further into some more of the pros and cons of e-publishing and will discuss various e-reading devices.

Pike's Quest
Amazon for Kindle on these links - UK - USA - DE - FR - IT - ES  

To read the blurb, click HERE

Sunday, 11 December 2011

That's not real publishing (Part 3)

Today I was signed to a literary agency – tomorrow I shall
conquer the publishing world. Mwa-ha-ha-ha.”

Such is the battle cry of those authors who actually get an agent to read and then accept a submission. I’ve heard it several times from fellow writers in my local writers’ circle. The really interesting thing, though, is this: representation does not equal publication.

All unpublished authors should repeat this mantra 100 times whilst sitting in a full lotus position before eating their breakfast muesli.

I shall relate the tale of a man I know: he’s a university professor and a writer of children’s literature.  Funny, charming and, I think, talented. More talented than me? Obviously – he’s a professor, dammit. But a better writer than me? Who can say? I certainly can’t.

When the Prof approached agencies, they had a feeding frenzy. At one point, I believe, he had four or five agents clamouring to represent him. He had his choice of agents, and understandably chose one who is reputedly top of her field. That was probably about three years ago. A while back he ditched her. He wasn’t published, despite the numerous revisions she had suggested [one wonders what made his material so special if she had to suggest revisions: what did she want – a writing credit?]. Off he went, into the arms of another top agent.

The Prof is still has no publishing deal.

The same agent into whose arms the Prof ran represents another author I know, a historical novelist, and has done for several years: but does she have that contract? No. [EDIT - Actually, YES: with brilliantly good timing, Jenny Barden, the lady in question, announced today - 13 December 2011 - that she has signed to Ebury - part of Random House. Good luck, Jenny, you are a brilliant writer and you deserve every success).

There are obviously advantages to having an agent – for one thing they are the only route to being read by most large publishing houses – but they are not gods. In the UK they seem to exist purely to suppress the majority writers, to stop them from reaching those publishers.

Coinciding with my failed attempts to obtain representation and to slip into agency limbo like my two colleagues, I observed a mini-revolution taking place. E-books were becoming a reality.

I never for a minute thought I would self-publish, and certainly gave e-books no consideration at all, other than wondering how anyone could enjoy reading a full length novel on a mini-computer. After all, back-lit text is not easy on the eye, and I like to read before sleep. Why would I want an e-reader? Why would I inflict one on anyone else?

Earlier this year, in a fit of pique, I decided to serialise Pike’s Quest on the web. For free. It was a bad decision.

I was inspired by Jonathan Pinnock’s success with Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens, but I was mistaken as to the suitability of Pike for dissection into short, digestible chunks.  Mr Pinnock had written Mrs Darcy specifically for serialisation in short chucks of around 600 – 800 words. Each piece was self contained and the humour was immediate (annoyingly, it also works a novel, especially good for city commuters). Pike, on the other hand, is a 60,000 word novel in twenty-four chapters, some of which are 4000 words long, with jokes that stretch across the entire novel. An extreme example of this is a tool bag that is lost in chapter four or five. It is briefly mentioned later, but the pay-off will not appear until Book 2 is written. It’s the old comedy banana-skin technique: drop the skin in the opening scene and the clod will slip on it near the end - and rather like the opening quote at the head of Part 1.

In short, chopping-up Pike into twice-weekly sections was not good. The flow was lost. As one reviewer on Amazon states, “... it was a thought provoking page turner with a healthy dose of laugh out loud humour.” Chopping it up detracted from both of these qualities.

It was while considering my options that I realised that I was already embracing e-publishing, but in a non-user friendly way. Now I had to find out how it all worked.


Pike's Quest

Amazon for Kindle on these links - UK - USA - DE - FR - IT - ES  
To read the blurb, click HERE

Friday, 9 December 2011

An interview with Carolyn Arnold

Breaking away from my series of "That's not real publishing" posts, today I am pleased to welcome Canadian author, Carolyn Arnold to this blog. Carolyn writes about nice things, such as murder, mayhem and mad serial killers. Her debut novel, Ties That Bind, features female detective Madison Knight: at the time of this interview I am about 55%** through it (whatever happened to page numbers?) and I am thoroughly enjoying the experience. Carolyn’s latest tome, Eleven, was released on 11/11/11. 
** and now I've finished it, and it's very good..

Carolyn Arnold
Q: You may have seen from my last interview with Jonathan Pinnock that I am brutal in my questioning. However, Carolyn, you being a crime writer, I assume you are well connected and that you ‘know people’. All sorts of people ... I may have to go easy on you. So, tell me – please -  what is Eleven all about?

AEleven Rooms. Ten Bodies. One Empty Grave.
Brandon Fisher never expected this when he signed up as a Special Agent for the FBI. Working in the shadow of Supervisory Special Agent Jack Harper of the Behavioral Analysis Unit his career seemed set. But when the team is called to a small rural town where the remains of ten victims are found in an underground bunker, buried in an unusual way, Brandon knows he'll never return to his normal life.

With one empty grave, and the case touching close to home, he fears he's become the target of a psychotic serial killer who wants to make him number eleven. Only thing is, everything Brandon thinks he knows is far from the truth.

Q: Ties That Bind features a strong female lead character who battles against not only the criminal element, but also against the prejudices and judgements of some of her male colleagues: I can certainly relate to her (even though I'm male), having worked with women in a pressurised and largely male environment for the last thirty or so years. Did you base her on anybody you know?

A:  While there are characteristics that have been drawn from my own personality, I’ve never had to work in a male-dominated field.

Q: Does that person know you have moulded you character on her (and is she OK with that)?

A:  Yes, I’m fine with it, LOL

Q: Crime writing is, I imagine, a tough area: what research did you do before embarking on Ties?

A:  There was a lot of research involved.  I first had to learn about police department organization and hierarchy.  I needed to learn about forensics and trace evidence.  A lot of my research was conducted using textbooks and the internet.  I find by cross referencing this material it gave me a clear understanding.

I also have a few contacts that are, or were, in law enforcement to help me if I had a question on something.

Q: And did you have to do any extra research for Eleven

A:  I spent a lot of time on the FBI website researching their organization.  I also used Google Earth and the internet to learn about these places I’ve never personally been.  I am also fortunate to have a friend who lives in one of the cities the case takes them to.

Q:  Have you had any problems accessing police and FBI advisors, or have you found them only too willing to assist?

A: I did have a problem accessing them directly.  I sent emails to both the FBI and the prison in Kentucky where the one killer is serving time on an unrelated charge to murder.  None of my emails or inquiries were returned.

Q: What, in your mind, is it about Madison Knight that makes her different from other heroines in detective and crime fiction?

A:Her vulnerabilities.  She has a strong distaste for the sight of blood – a highly unlikely quality for a Major Crimes Detective – however she wants to have a purpose in her life.  She pushes through, inspired by a grandmother who believed in her.  She also has deep empathy for the family left behind.  Chocolate is her soother.

Q: I think I should point out here that you’re not just writing about strong women who fight suppression: I notice that the hero of Eleven is named Brandon Fisher, so I’m assuming that’s a male lead?

A:Yes, Brandon Fisher is the male lead in Eleven.  It’s a unique perspective in contrast to Madison Knight as well because while she is a seasoned detective, Brandon is new to the job.  The reader learns along with him.

Q: What’s your day job?

A:Do we have to talk about that? LOL  Just joking.  I work in an office where my main responsibility is to collect past due accounts. 

Q: Does it get in the way of your writing?

A: LOL I’d love to say it does, but my husband would correct me.  I’ll say work is getting in the way of my life, and he’ll say it’s the job that makes my life possible.  He has a point.  I’m fortunate to have a good job and workplace that I enjoy.

Of course, any dedicated author would love to do their writing full-time.

Q: I think I’m right in saying that you’re self published, as am I: what spurred you to take that step?

A:  Yes, you are correct.  A lot of factors were considered before I made the decision to self-publish.  One of which is just because you land an agent, it doesn’t guarantee you success anymore than getting a publishing contact does.  A lot of work is left up to the author these days, and I also preferred to get my work into the hands of readers sooner than later.

I have friends who have the NY agents and they’ve made the rounds to the major publishing houses.  Here it is years later and I still can’t buy their books.

Q: Do you dream of achieving a major publishing deal, or do you intend to remain independent?

A: Of course I do, but I’m not letting the “dream” of that stop me from doing what I love to do – that of writing and getting my books into the hands of my readers.  Should I become discovered during this course I would certainly consider offers.

Q: On the subject of independent publishing, what can you tell me about Celebrating Authors and Orangeberry Books?

A:  Celebrating Authors was something I developed to give back and extend support to other authors.  It is connected with Orangeberry Books in the sense I met the person who runs this and he has the same goals as I do – to bring readers and authors together.  With so many books to choose from, where can people turn?  We wanted to give readers a place to go for a variety of genres.

Q: How much help has it been to you, being a member of these two collectives?

A:  Like I said, I run Celebrating Authors.  It was my idea and concept, and Orangeberry Books was a writer colleague’s.   I believe I’ve benefited because as an author you need to stand out.  The more exposure you’re given, the more likely you’ll be noticed.

Q: What do you read when you’re not devising nasty methods of killing people?

A: Same type of literature LOL  I love mysteries and thrillers.

Q: What advice do you have for new authors trying to make an impression in the indie section of the book market?

A:  Be professional.  This will stand out, trust me.  Know how to not only support and promote others but how to promote yourself.  You would be surprised how some authors don’t know how to do this.  It’s not a matter of being in people’s faces but offering them something they want.

Q: Carolyn, it’s been a pleasure having you here. Good luck with ElevenI hope to read it soon.

A: Thank you.

Carolyn's catalogue


Where to connect online: 

Where to buy her books: