12 February 2010
Voting is open now for The Bookseller's annual Diagram Prize for the Oddest Book Title of the Year. Thanks to Twitter, this year saw the number of suggested titles triple, although self-published works were excluded.
Prize coordinator Horace Bent told The Bookseller: "The adage that everyone has a book in them may well be true, but that doesn't mean every Tom, Dick and Harry out there can bash a few words out on a keyboard and then upload it to Scribd with a humorous title like: The Historic Adventures of the Purple Waffle Iron on His Horse Made of Asparagus, and then think they have a chance at winning my prestigious award. I refuse to ackowledge such submissions."
This year's longlist ranged from the intentionally funny (such as children's book "Father Christmas Needs a Wee", of which my nephew is a fan, and bestseller "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies"), through the highly specialist ("Baptist Autographs in the John Rylands University Library of Manchester 1741-1845", "Dental Management of Sleep Disorders"), to the totally perplexing ("I'm Not Hanging Noodles on Your Ears", "The Great Dog Bottom Swap", "Venus Does Adonis While Apollo Shags a Tree").
You can help Horace to whittle the longlist down to a shortlist by casting your vote now. Even after that survey closes, you should be able to read the full longlist for the awards here.
05 February 2010
A new freesheet has launched called The London Weekly. On Twitter, it's getting a serious kicking at the moment. People are criticising its amateurish layout, and its inability to spell the name of Phil Tufnell in a front-page headline.
From the photos I've seen, it looks very much like a student newspaper. The design is boxy, it uses centred and multicoloured headlines, and leaves a lot of distracting dead space. I haven't seen a clear enough photo (or a real copy) to read the body text.
But, here are two observations:
- Firstly, if you're going to criticise a publication for having typos in it, be very sure your critique does not include typos itself. I've read two blog posts on the subject of The London Weekly, and they both include errors at least as bad as those they are damning The London Weekly for.
- Secondly, shouldn't we celebrate the daring of this venture? A relatively inexperienced team has gone into a mature market with a new publication. At the end of the day, they were able to say that they actually launched a new newspaper. Okay, so maybe they'll look back on it in future and wish they had the experience or funding to do a better job of it. But, what did you launch today?
28 January 2010
Strictly speaking, it's less of a "novel writing competition", and more of a "novel written competition", given the timescales, but Amazon's new promotion is a fantastic opportunity, all the same. One lucky author is going to walk away with a Penguin book deal and an advance of $15,000 (over £9,000).
There are just two categories: general fiction and young adult fiction. Up to 5,000 novels will be accepted into each category. Eligible works are between 50,000 and 150,000 words. Both unpublished and self-published works can be submitted (although works under contract anywhere else are excluded, obviously). The closing date is 7 February 2010, but if you're serious about entering, you should do so as soon as possible. I think there's a good chance this competition will be oversubscribed.
With that many books to try to process, most of them will be entirely unread. Books will be evaluated first on the basis of a 300 word overview, and then in later rounds on the basis of an excerpt. The overview isn't a synopsis: it needs to sell the book's concept and themes, and so is more of a cover letter. Some might think it's unfair that only 300 of their 100,000 words are being read, but this is a microcosm of the entire publishing industry. It's no good having your best bits buried on page 37. Publishers Weekly will review 500 full manuscripts, and Penguin will read 100 of those.
Ultimately, Amazon customers will select the winning novel from a shortlist of six. This is a good way to ensure there is a market for the resulting novel (a bit like Pop Idol on the tellybox), but it does also tend to skew the results towards mainstream works. A romantic comedy is likely to win out over a political satire, purely on the basis of market demand. But the satire might have been the better book, and the better publishing decision if the publisher has ideals beyond market share.
As always with competitions like this, you need to check the small print extremely carefully. By entering this, you're effectively agreeing to Penguin's contract terms and royalty rates unseen, although I think you retain the right to walk away.
To find out more and start preparing your entry, visit the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award microsite.
17 December 2009
The Evening Standard carried out an auction of unique experiences in aid of a children's charity, with the winning bids reported in yesterday's paper. What surprised me is how much people are willing to bid to have a taste of work as a writer, photographer or other media professional. Below are the media-related bids (in bold), together with a selection of other bids to give you an idea of how they compare.
- £14,600 - Dinner for 12 cooked by Gordon Ramsay (highest bid for any lot)
- £14,000 - A day with Richard Branson
- £8,100 - Two tickets for the 2010 final of Strictly Come Dancing
- £7,153 - A week on the Evening Standard's "fast-paced, hectic" newsdesk
- £5,600 - Tea with Elton John
- £5,450 - A two-week internship at Island Records, mentored by Duncan Beese who signed Amy Winehouse
- £5,300 - Dinner with the Evening Standard's editor at his favourite Notting Hill restaurant
- £3,958 - A two-hour art class with Tracey Emin
- £3,600 - Dance lesson with Anton du Beke
- £3,115 - Afternoon tea with TV and radio presenter Claudia Winkleman
- £3,100 - Artworks by Gilbert and George
- £2,801 - Take part in a Vogue fashion photo shoot (not clear whether this is as a model or helping to shoot it)
- £2,550 - A week's work experience on ES magazine
- £2,550 - Mentoring with James Caan from Dragon's Den
- £2,070 - Join BBC Five Live in the media centre at Lord's for the Test against Bangladesh
- £1,982 - Caroline Michel, boss of literary agency PFD, will critique your manuscript and give you guidance on publishing
- £1,470 - Two guests have "unprecedented access" to the Match of the Day studio
- £1,200 - A springtime stroll around the park with Bob Geldof
- £1,100 - Four people chauffeured to work by Rowan Atkinson in a Rolls Royce
Is it becoming that difficult to break into media that people are willing to pay £1,430 per day to work on the Evening Standard's news desk? Is it so hard to get the attention of an agent that somebody would rather pay £1,982 than go the long way around? Will work experience in the media deliver a better return on investment than artworks by Gilbert & George?
Of course, people don't really think like that. If they want something, they bid what they can afford to try to win it. They don't compare the lots. But I'm surprised that mentoring from James Caan (which I can see really helping a lot of businesses to reinvent themselves) is considered less valuable than a week's work experience on the ES Magazine. I'm surprised that dinner with a newspaper editor is more highly prized than time with Bob Geldof, Sebastian Coe, Jonathan Ross, Sophie Dahl, the Duchess of York, Stephen Fry and the QI team, footballer Harry Redknapp, director Guy Ritchie, Graham Norton and artist Anish Kapoor (who all featured in lower ranking bids).
16 October 2009
Phew! I've finished drafting 'Social Networking for the Older and Wiser' now. It's been a great few months, digging deep into social networks. Some of them are networks that I wouldn't naturally have come across before (such as Saga Zone), and others are networks that I'm a big fan of (including Facebook, Twitter and 43Things).
At times it was confusing dealing with multiple logins, having multiple versions of myself out there in cyberspace, making friends with each other (myself?) and chatting away. But apart from that, it was great fun and wonderful to take on another book-length project and to complete it in a few months. (My previous book was a novel that took two years).
The shape of the book changed during drafting. The original plan was to dedicate a chapter each to 13 social networks, but it became clear during drafting that it would be a more useful book if it focused its attention on leading networks. The book covers 9 different social networking sites in detail now, with an appendix dedicated to introducing the other networks out there.
From now, the book goes through a technical editor, comes back to me to make any final edits, and then goes off for design. I should see the page proofs in December, it should be printed early 2010, and in the shops in February.
I've set up a dedicated page for the book now and will add to this over time, building up a minisite with more information on the book. The plan is to include the table of contents, excerpts, all the links on one page (so you don't have to type them in), reviews, and other goodies. If there's anything you find particularly useful or interesting on book websites, let me know and I'll see if I can add it for you.
The book can be preordered from Amazon now. Amazon guarantees that you will pay the lowest price between when you order and when the book is published.
30 September 2009
Generally speaking, I recommend publishing free chapters of books online. Readers can thumb through the real book in a shop to get a flavour of what it's like, but to stimulate sales online, a free sample is essential.
However, this only applies if the book is good. If, say, you're a former Eastenders actress who has got a book deal purely on your name; and every paragraph you write makes readers wince; and your publisher thought it would be funnier to deny you the services of a decent copyeditor; then the following advice applies: on no account publish the first chapter online.
I cannot describe how awful Martine McCutcheon's first chapter is in a way that will make you appreciate the horror. It's repetitive, has weak characterisation, banal dialogue, awful description, terrible brand placement, lots of irrelevant chit-chat and filler. Nothing happens. It's like a case study in how not to write a story.
This is the first of three novels she is threatening to unleash. I'm certain she's not working with a ghost-writer (she could afford a good one, if she were). I've got nothing against her personally and it's great that she's exploring her creativity and learning to write novels. Everyone has their story to tell, and is entitled to their creativity.
But, Pan MacMillan, really? Shouldn't you have passed this one by? Waited until she had more finely tuned her craft before unleashing it on the nation? Offered her coaching maybe so that she met the basic standards for publication before going ahead with it? Given her an editor, perhaps? Celebrities get signed because they're guaranteed to shift units, but this book is so bad I can't even see it doing that.
09 August 2009
There's a self-publishing fair planned for 27 September in East London, organised by Publish and be Damned. If you're a self-publisher, you can apply for a place at the fair now to promote and sell your publications. If you're a reader, why not put the date in your diary and plan to go along? You'll find a thriving independent press which you might otherwise not come across, and will doubtless find lots of new ideas.
14 July 2009
I recently attended a talk by Michelle Harrison, author of The Thirteen Treasures, which won the Waterstone's Children's Book Prize 2009. Michelle was wearing a red top, because wearing something red is one of the ways you can protect yourself against fairies.
In The Thirteen Treasures, a 13-year-old girl can see fairies, but they're nasty and punish her for talking (or even writing) about them. The girl (Tanya) gets the blame for the mess the fairies make, and is always in trouble with her mum. When Tanya is sent to her grandmother's house to give her mother a break from all the chaos and destruction, she comes across a girl in the woods. That girl, it transpires, was the same one who disappeared 50 years ago. How is that possible? The book unravels the mystery, and the part that the fairies play in it.
It was inspiring to hear about Michelle's journey to publication. We occasionally see stories in the press about authors who get a lucky break, but don't so often hear about those who persevere through countless rejections.
This is what Michelle's journey to publication looked like:
- Spent a year drafting
- Sent draft to publisher
- Three months later, received a rejection
- Sent book to six agents
- Five said no
- One said they liked it, but didn't want to represent it yet
- Michelle edited the book using their feedback, and sent it back
- They sent a longer reply, outlining bits they still didn't like
- Michelle edited it, and sent new versions back to the agent three or four times, incorporating new feedback, over a period of 18 months
- The agent turned it down
- Michelle took another look at the book herself, decided she didn't like one of the characters and rewrote to make the character stronger
- She spent "the longest time" on a cover letter to go with this submission, and then approached the top agent on her list, a name she had been too intimidated to approach before
- They asked to meet up and then quickly signed up to represent the book. It had taken four years to get to that point.
- The agent shopped the book around publishers
- A number of publishers rejected the book, with some requesting that the book be edited for a younger audience
- Simon and Schuster signed the book
During Michelle's journey to publication, there were many points at which she could have given up. Winning the Waterstone's prize is as much a testament to her perseverance as her imagination and talent for writing.
09 July 2009
Chris Anderson's new book is called "Free", and is all about the history and future of giving things away in business. Contrary to some reports, it doesn't argue that everything should be free - it just looks at how giving some things away can enable you to sell some other things.
Some people have argued that authors should give away their work for free. The idea is that the reputation that builds as a result of that opens doors for consulting work, lecturing, media appearances and so on. Personally I'm not convinced by that argument: it means you have to work twice to get paid once, and it also means that your job changes from writer to consultant/lecturer/talking head, which is probably not what you really want to be. The writing just becomes marketing, rather than the focus of your creative and working life.
I can see how making things free can help to attract an audience, though, if you can afford to do so. At a time when it's hard enough to fight for people's attention, fighting for their money too is an uphill struggle.
Anderson's book is available in a couple of free formats. You can download the unabridged audiobook for free at Wired's website. The abridged audiobook will cost $7.50 from outlets including Audible. The thinking is that busy people might be prepared to pay more to save time. It's counterintuitive to charge more for less, but I do listen to a lot of audiobooks but can't ever remember getting through an unabridged one. The audio format just isn't as convenient as a real book for full-length works.
The ebook is available at Scribd, and embedded below, but you can't download or print the PDF. For more comfortable viewing, click the button in the top right of the box to view full screen. So much of the content on Scribd is there without the author's permission, so this promotion will also bring a lot of credibility to the Scribd platform.
The audio formats will remain free forever, but the ebook formats will be available for just one month. If all else fails you could always stump up for the hardback.
UPDATE: The Scribd version of Free has now been withdrawn, after five weeks and 170,000 reads.
18 June 2009
Business autobiographies are usually written by household name entrepreneurs, and marketed with the promise that you too can achieve riches beyond your wildest dreams. Most of the investors from Dragon's Den have spent some time on the bestseller lists and Richard Branson has three books to his name.
These books are often inspiring, revealing how far you can go with the right mix of entrepreneurial flair, hard work, creativity and a little luck. But they're also written by people who started their businesses decades ago, and so tend to be light on the early history. The mental gulf between a millionaire and a reader who hasn't yet made the first sale is hard to cross.
With her book Brand New Day, Lara Solomon builds a bridge. The book is her diary from 2004 to 2007, and shows how she set up a new business from scratch. By the end of the book, the company has six staff and has turned over AU$250k (£120k) in three months. The book is inspiring, in part because the steps Lara takes are small steps anybody could take, if they were comfortable with the risk and had equal drive.
The product is a mobile phone sock, available in a wide range of designs, with a different one reproduced in the corner of each page (nice touch). To be honest, it's not a product I could believe in and not one I could see myself buying. But one thing that's made Lara's business a success is that she's persevered even when others didn't share her enthusiasm, and she's created a market in the process.
Key themes throughout the book are the challenges Lara has recruiting and retaining good staff, the emphasis placed on building the Mocks brand, and the extent to which Lara has to work outside her comfort zone to get things done. The book reads like an honest account of those first entrepreneurial steps, and provides a rare insight into what goes on in a smaller business. Laroo, the company behind the Mocks, is based in Australia so there are a few cultural references I didn't get, but most of the lessons are applicable internationally.
Lara's self published the book, so if you'd like to read a sample or order a copy, head over to the Brand New Day website.
For more small business advice, check out my book Small Business Websites That Work.
03 June 2009
Lulu is making my novel about the music industry University of Death available on Amazon.com. This will increase the convenience of the buying experience for many readers because they won't need to register for a new Lulu account to order it.
You can find the book through my new Amazon Author page here. You can still read the reviews, download sample chapters and get your copy signed over the internet at the book's mini-site.
The ebook edition is still exclusively available through Lulu.com. I was delighted to hear from someone who's reading it on their iPhone at the moment - for avid users of iPhones and similar devices, ebooks can be the ideal format.
02 June 2009
As ebooks become a larger part of the book industry, publishers and authors could face the same challenges from piracy that record labels and musicians have over the last ten years.
A piece in the Bookseller last week said that the Publishers' Association had identified 800 illegally uploaded works and removed 90% of them using a new anti-piracy tool.
What caught my eye about the story was the suggestion that publishers might adopt similar spoofing tactics to those used by the music industry, where fake copies of a work are uploaded by the copyright owner to confuse the pirates.
The commitment that people make to a song is minimal compared to the commitment made to a book. If you're playing a song and it turns out to be a lecture about how you should be buying it instead, you could just click 'stop'. How annoying would it be if you were 200 pages in to a pirated copy of some romantic fiction novel, when a bunch of pirates swing in on ropes yelping like Tarzan and just start killing everyone? (er... in the book, obviously). I can see a lot of creative opportunities for authors who work with publishers to create spoofed versions of their works...
30 April 2009
Last week was the London Book Fair, attended by publishers, authors and Flanimals (pictured, right).
It was interesting to see how digital books were received at the fair. There was an area at the back of the hall given over to ebooks and digital publishing, and the seminars there were packed out. But it seemed to be led by the technology, rather than the content. There were plenty of firms who could help you to repurpose and distribute your content for mobile platforms (including the iPhone and Sony Reader), but I didn't notice anybody promoting digital content.
I didn't see any discussion about how ebooks can be different to print books. A certain amount of this is built into the device (eg searchability), but there is lots of potential to create new types of content based on the written word. Mindsportlive is developing iPhone apps based on its card packs, including '52 Ways to Beat Stress', but it was very much the exception.
It's partly the nature of shows like this that means major publishers would sideline their digital offerings. If you're negotiating rights, a printed book looks more impressive. Experienced publishers can get a measure of the content quickly. With ebooks, you can't tell how big they are, how well proofread they are in the middle, whether the book's consistently structured and so on without flicking through a lot of virtual pages. There's not a 'flick through until something catches my eye' button on any of the devices I've seen. Also, since the ebooks are often sold directly, they probably don't belong at a show that's partly about negotiating print book distribution and sales with intermediaries.
One company from Russia has an interesting proposition for interactive physical products - it markets hardback comic books for adults, with an enclosed music CD and CD-Rom. On the CD-Rom is a Flash animation that brings the comic book to life, and the CD contains atmospheric music that goes with the story. The project has been led by the music, with the creator being a musician first and commissioning illustration to expand on his work, which is an interesting way to create value at a time when it's increasingly difficult to sell music. For more information, check out the Ylotana website.
The Espresso Book Machine for printing on demand attracted a lot of attention. The Blackwell bookshop in Charing Cross Road will now be able to print books on demand using the machine, which was demonstrated at the fair. The device is a great way to increase effective footage in an expensive store, and it means many books need never go out of print. But it also transforms the bookseller into a book distributor. Surely the point of a bookshop is that you can browse and discover new titles you wouldn't have otherwise read? Isn't the idea that the bookshop can sell you books you didn't already know about? Print on demand is likely to require the shopper to ask for a specific book to be printed, although it is theoretically possible for displays to be mounted to showcase print-on-demand books, enabling infinite sales based on one shelf copy.
Other news from the show: Simon Pegg's writing a book for publication in October (hurrah!). It's an autobiography/memoir (err... okay). Enid Blyton is coming back from the dead with six new stories being ghostwritten in her (presumably trademarked) name. She wrote over 700 stories when she was alive, so you wouldn't think there would be a need for this. I wonder whether we'll see the day when John LennonTM releases a new album? Perhaps we have more respect for the personal creativity of songwriters than we do of book authors. Or perhaps it just needs another fifty years before The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Led Zepellin and Abba become brand names attached to ghostwritten work.
While at the show, I got some useful feedback on my novel University of Death from successful self-publishers, including Pauline Rowson, who writes and publishes crime fiction and business books. She has given me some great ideas for how I can make the book (or my next book) more marketable. Shows like this are always a good opportunity to pick up new ideas - I came back home with more ideas than I know what to do with.
30 August 2008
The new issue of Metal Hammer magazine (dated September 2008) includes a review of my novel 'University of Death' on p91. The review says the book is:
"A fun novel about the problems faced by musicians in making their mark on a music industry that's falling apart. A bitter satire that works its way up to a memorable finale."The full review makes reference to my non-fiction book 'Small Business Websites That Work' and says I'm letting my hair down here and having some fun. It's a comical observation in some ways, although there's no reason why someone shouldn't be an expert on website building and a passionate music fan. My press backgrounder for UoD mentions my non-fiction books as a way to establish my credibility as a published author. It's one way to differentiate myself from the many self-publishers out there, some of whom (whisper it now) aren't very readable.
For independent publishers, reviews are a valuable way of demonstrating credibility and publicising books, and I'm delighted to receive such a positive endorsement from Metal Hammer magazine. I'll be updating the book cover with this review quote. Although the book isn't available in the shops, each copy that's lying around in somebody's house or workplace is also an advert and good cover copy can help others to take an interest in the book and start reading.
The editor kindly published my website address with the review, although the exact URL published was unfortunately wrong. I've fixed it on the server so it redirects, but I'm also going to count the number of visits originating from that review, which will be an interesting experiment. It's difficult to attribute any sales or website traffic to particular coverage, but I do have an opportunity here to tie up the review with the resulting website visits (even if I can't follow that through to sales at the moment).
14 August 2008
You might already have heard of Garfield Minus Garfield, a cartoon strip created by Dan Walsh by editing Garfield out of the original cartoon strips. You're left with Jon, a lonely man who appears to be slowly cracking up. The empty frames create a sense of time crawling along.
Creative projects like that are risky - it's not uncommon for the original artists and writers to stamp out unauthorised derivative works. Jim Davis, though, has been supportive. He told The Washington Post (and much kudos to Walsh for getting his site covered there) that the site was "an inspired thing to do" and he wanted to thank Walsh for "enabling him to see another side of Garfield".
Now, there's going to be a book that puts the original Garfield strips alongside Walsh's edited strips. This seems like a great way for Davis to celebrate Garfield's 30th birthday, and it's a nice model for how cartoon strip writers can involve readers and package user generated content commercially.
I'm curious about how Walsh's creative input is being recognised - I doubt he's getting a half share as co-author, but I hope that his creativity is being compensated fairly. Particularly since a lot of people who have never bought a Garfield book might be inspired to do so because of the 'Minus Garfield' juxtaposition.
Scott Adams has mashups on his Dilbert site, which enable readers to replace his final frame with their own punchlines. Visitors can vote on which jokes they like best. This could make for a great book too, although the main value is the way that it involves the readers with the work and inspires them to visit Adams' site every day.
I have heard a conspiracy theory that the Fred Bassett cartoons are all missing a final frame which contains the punchline, which is why they're mostly unfunny. Perhaps that could be the next candidate for a writer-reader mashup?
09 July 2008
Based on my experience publishing my novel University of Death through Lulu.com, I've written twelve tips for self publishers on using Lulu.com. I hope they will be useful to people who are considering working with the site, or to those who are in the early stages of planning their publications. If anyone's got any questions about using Lulu, let me know and I'll update that page with responses to those questions.
20 May 2008
You can now print your own bookmark for University of Death and download Dove's soundcheck MP3 from MySpace or embed it in your MySpace profile.
I previously made bookmarks available for Small Business Websites That Work, and it turned out to be a fairly popular feature. I haven't seen anyone else doing printable bookmarks, which surprises me. For authors where the readers have bought into the merchandising as much as the stories, it could prove to be a popular website feature. And for all authors, it's nice to give readers the opportunity to download a souvenir when they visit their websites.
24 April 2008
There was an advert in Metro last week that read:
We are looking for brilliant new writers to submit entries for our first series of short novels and novellas. Deadline: June 1Adverts seeking 'new writers' are not uncommon - they are typically placed by organisations that sell a publishing service and charge authors to put their books into print. There's not usually any marketing of the title because the company makes its money off printing books and selling them to authors in bulk, and not off selling them to the general public.
The website behind this ad is Roastbooks. From the limited details online, the company's model is to market books through unconventional outlets (eg cafes, airport lounges). White Ladder Press is among the companies pioneering this approach (see The White Ladder Diaries, an entertaining and informative book about setting up a self-publishing operation, which rather unfortunately stops before the operation generates any profit).
I know many people are desperate to get into print, but Roastbooks' terms and conditions are hopelessly optimistic. There's no mention of any advance or royalty rates, but by entering the competition, authors are expected to grant the publisher 'the sole, exclusive option, until two months after the publication of the results of this competition, to enter into a publishing agreement in respect of the submitted manuscript'. I'm not a lawyer, but the language appears to suggest the option belongs to Roastbooks and authors submitting work are basically stuck with the contract the publisher chooses to foist upon them. There's no clause for the rights to revert to the author if the competition results are never announced, or are announced late, either. Roastbooks makes no commitment to a print run, or to any other media, but does require all rights worldwide.
We've seen publishers engaging in rights grabs over the last ten years, but usually from a position of strength. For a new publisher to expect authors to hand over exclusive rights for no return (not even the promise to publish the novel) is highly irregular. The publisher is candid enough to admit that it won't be able to get books into high street book shops, and it's a lot easier for authors to self-publish than it used to be. It's not clear what Roastbooks is doing for the author that the author could not more profitably do for him- or herself.
Few good writers will want to work with an untested publisher that doesn't appear to respect their rights. For that reason, I can't see a future for the company. New publishers would do well to see authors as potential business partners rather than raw materials.
15 April 2008
I blogged about Amazon's Kindle, a new ebook reader, when it launched. But I didn't look at the opportunity for self-publishers then.
So what's the opportunity at Kindle? Not much for me, it seems. You need to have a US postal address and US bank account details before they will let you publish any content. You can't even publish content for free and use Kindle as a promotional outlet (ebooks must be priced between $0.99 and $200, and you still need to be in the US). Given how slow Amazon's been in internationalising other features like Amazon Honor System, none of that is likely to change any time soon.
My friend John went through the motions of setting up a publication anyway, and has blogged about that experience.
There are a couple of terms that might worry some self-publishers. Firstly:
3. Digital Books; Marketing and Promotion. You agree that we may market and promote your Digital Books by making chapters or portions of your Titles available to prospective customers without charge, and permitting prospective customers to see excerpts of the Digital Book in response to search queries. Amazon will not owe you any fees for the marketing and promotional efforts described above. The Program may include features that allow users to print one or more pages of your Titles.The short version of that is: Amazon can distribute content from the book and allow users to print it, without charging for it and without paying you for it.
The 'permission to print' seems to go beyond the deal Amazon's already struck for 'Search inside this book' for promoting printed books on its website. It's essential for authors to give away some preview content to demonstrate the value of their books. Indeed, similar terms are usually a part of a conventional publishing contract. But Amazon's a shop, not a publisher. Authors and publishers should decide what material is promotional, and what material is only available for sale. Amazon wants the right to give away whatever content it wants, albeit with the implied motive that it will try to pick content that will help the book sell.
For reference works, the value could be significantly eroded if Amazon allows excerpts to be printed without any payment. We can only hope that Amazon is working on a way of administering micropayments so that people can buy book excerpts and authors can be rewarded appropriately.
Also, Amazon will keep 65% of the retail price. By comparison, Lulu charges a fee of 25% of what you get (which is then added to the sale price, so it's actually less than 25% of the ebook price). If you're a self-publisher, 35% is probably not too bad a return given that there's no work to do with moving printed books and there's no cost to incur in creating them, but it's far from competitive. It also seems to overstate the costs incurred in operating the infrastructure and underestimate the costs involved in creating content.
10. Technology. You acknowledge that we will be entitled to utilize DRM technology in connection with the distribution of Digital Books but are not obligated to do so. Accordingly, there may be no technology or other limitation imposed by us on copying or transfer of any Digital Book we distribute.Personally, I don't approve of digital rights management technology. But when publishers are selling ebooks, they'll want to know what rights they're licensing and what controls will be used to enforce them and this term seems somewhat vague. There 'might or might not be DRM' isn't really a good basis for making a decision about whether you want to sell through Amazon, particularly if piracy or consumer rights is something you feel strongly about.
The use of the words 'irrevocable licence' set off alarm bells, but it seems this is about protecting consumers and ensuring that they will be able to download content they've bought easily in future. The irrevocable licence does not extend to making the ebook available for sale (so you can withdraw it later).
If anyone's actually self-publishing through Amazon Kindle, I'd be interested in hearing about your results in the comments.
29 March 2008
I'm a keen reader of and subscriber to Private Eye. Given that my novel 'University of Death' has a subplot involving politics and uses a lot of humour in telling its story about the music business, the Eye's 798,000 readers could be an ideal advertising target. Adverts start at £26 for 10 words, which is within the reach of self-publishers.
And indeed, many self-publishers do promote their works there. But I had my suspicions the ads don't work. There's relatively high turnover of advertisers in the Eye Read section compared to some other sections (eg speechwriting), which suggests advertisers aren't seeing results. Additionally, the margin on book sales is such that I'd need to sell more than 13 copies directly attributable to Private Eye to break even. You only need to sell one speech per advert to make your money back, maybe even less if you're booking a series of ads.
I did a spot of market research and emailed five authors who have recently promoted their books in Private Eye and who had a website address. Four were kind enough to reply in some detail, and there was a clear consensus.
Lazz Hewings is a cartoonist researching a book about British Pub culture. He advertised to ask for responses to his questionnaire. He told me:
I was very disappointed with the response, considering the publication has a circulation of close to a million - I had 4 replies! Yes that's right - four! This, I thought, was interesting in its own right.Chris Snowden has written a book documenting the war against smoking and liberty. He said:
I actually got very little response from that advert although I have used Private Eye for business ads before and found them to be quite good. What the response would be for your novel I really couldn't say.Kevin Duffy, author of the novel 'Anthills and Stars' and small press manager, placed a couple of adverts for different books in the same issue. He said:
To be honest, for £120 the response wasn't that great, but that could be my ad, they went to the website and thought what was on offer was a pile of shite...however, glad I did it, I have had some great responses, e mail converstaions etc, but if you're thinking was it cost effective the answer is no it wasn't.Ian Poole used Private Eye to promote his 'radical interpretation of the events in Jesus's life'. He told me:
In answer to your query about the efficacy of Private Eye adverts, I can report that, sadly, it was a waste of £52. As far as I can make out not a single copy sold because of it. Obviously they tend to circulate for a while so it may produce a few, but it certainly has not been a success. Worth a try I suppose. The book has rather narrow appeal, so I think that it may have been the wrong place.I was particularly interested to see that Chris Snowden had found the business ads effective and Kevin Duffy's statement that it had generated some interesting correspondence. That suggests people do read the adverts, so for the right kind of book and right ad copy, there might be an opportunity there to pick up sales. But the experience of recent advertisers should be taken as a warning to authors and publishers that 798,000 circulated adverts does not necessarily translate into even a handful of sales.
06 December 2007
I've written 17 tips on novel writing. There are many more experienced people offering advice on how to paint a scene or structure a plot, so I've just focused on the logistics. In all the guides to novel writing I've seen, there's relatively little attention paid to organising ideas and time, which are key challenges for most writers.
02 December 2007
University of Death's MySpace page is live, including some blog posts by Dove and a soundcheck recording from the Berlin gig. If you're on MySpace, please add University of Death as a friend.
The mini-site for the book is now live too. I'll let you know on this blog when I add new content to it.
27 November 2007
Amazon's launch of an ebook reader is a smart strategic move: beat the competition by becoming the competition. The company sells most things nowadays, but built its fortune on book retailing and has since used its technology expertise to branch into search engines, distributed processing and micropayments. The company has already built relationships with publishers and has an archive of scanned material, which presumably is ready to publish digitally the moment the copyright holder gives the nod. If anyone can make a go of the ebook, then Amazon can. Kindle reportedly sold out at launch, which shows there are enough gadget freaks to sustain this kind of thing.
People compare Kindle to the iPod. We never knew we'd want to carry all our music everywhere until we could, goes the logic. I have dozens of half-read books around me right now, but I'm not convinced I need to carry them everywhere. The reason they're half-read is that I can't usually be bothered to read them. I read my better books instead. There's a big difference between a song, which you consume in about three minutes, and a book, which you consume in about three weeks. What made the iPod popular was that it was backwards compatible with CDs (and arguably with pirated material). Filling an iPod would cost an absolute fortune if you had to buy all the content again, but that's what you'll have to do with Kindle.
Kindle could emulate the iPod by creating a market for digital content, though. Nobody was fussed about buying digital music (although the options were there) until the iPod made the ownership experience so smooth. Kindle should make it much easier to buy digital content - easier than buying printed content, even. It will also establish a going rate for an ebook. At the moment, non-fiction ebooks are sold on the value of the information, independent of the number of pages. That could all change once Kindle's knocking out virtual paperbacks for a similar price to their paper equivalents. For some authors, Kindle is a threat.
Apparently, Kindle will enable you to subscribe to magazines and newspapers. It's hard to square that with today's information economy, where newspapers are cheap if not free and heavily subsidised by advertising. You don't mind if there's an A5 advert on a page of the Guardian, but you'll certainly mind if there's a (smaller) full screen ad on your Kindle screen. I don't believe people will tolerate advertising on content they've paid for on an ebook reader. For the publishers, Kindle sales are probably a revenue stream that works as marginal income but stops working if everyone reads the digital version instead of the print version. At that point, they can't sell ads any more.
Are we ready to give up the humble paperback? My friend John has written a great analysis of how Kindle's ebooks differ from how we like to use real books. As John writes, you can't lend, give, borrow or sell Kindle ebooks. There are a couple of other things I like to do with books which John hasn't mentioned, including annotating them, cutting them up and scrapbooking excerpts, and reading more than one page at once by flicking between the pages (more for IT and reference books than fiction).
There are more philosophical issues as well: do we really want the printed word to be governed by digital rights management (DRM)? The British Library has already expressed concern about DRM being used to restrict the use of creative works after their copyright protection has expired. Are we sure it's the right thing to do to replace the printed word (which has never been cheaper) with a device that costs two hundred pounds? What legacy will we leave in fifty years' time, when all the Kindles are conked out and nobody can unlock the files any more? Of course, it's not the beginning of the end. Books won't die out any more than speech will, and even if they were going to, we couldn't do much about it without undermining the whole basis of the market economy.
This could be the finest ebook reader that's been released. The wireless buying mechanism is particularly good. But I'd still rather read a real book, for which nobody will mug me on the tube and I won't care too much if it falls in the bath or gets lost/stolen on the beach.
Anything that encourages more people to read and buy books must be a good thing, although I suspect it will just be the same people using a different channel. If Kindle succeeds it will put Amazon in a similar position in the books market to that which Apple has attained in the music market. Amazon already negotiates hard with authors (who are expected to provide wholesale discounts on retail quantities) and publishers. Since there's no backwards compatibility with print books, Amazon does need authors a lot more than Apple needed record labels, though. Maybe we'll see a softening of Amazon's attitude towards content creators following its heavy investment in the Kindle technology and e-commerce infrastructure.