Monthly Archives: June 2011

Up the Workers

Another inter­est­ing piece in The Guardian about self pub­lish­ing (this is the term they’re apply­ing to inde­pend­ent ebook pub­lic­a­tion) by Alison Flood.

This caught my eye:

Publishing has always been a quasi-monopoly built on the lock pub­lish­ers had on paper dis­tri­bu­tion. Digital dis­tri­bu­tion has broken that lock, but leg­acy pub­lish­ers are still behav­ing as though they have mono­poly power,” believes Eisler. “They’re run­ning their busi­ness with two gen­eral imper­at­ives in mind: (i) main­tain the primacy of paper (in sig­ni­fic­ant part, by delay­ing the release of digital books and pri­cing them too high); and (ii) offer pun­it­ive fin­an­cial, cre­at­ive, and other terms to authors. Or, to put it another way, pub­lish­ers are cur­rently run­ning their busi­ness in a way that pun­ishes both their end-user cus­tom­ers (read­ers) and their pro­viders (authors). This was sus­tain­able when pub­lish­ers faced no mean­ing­ful com­pet­i­tion. They do now, and will have to adapt or die, because yes, more and more authors are eschew­ing the leg­acy model in favour of self-publishing and in favour of the emer­ging Amazon hybrid model.”

I, and many oth­ers, have com­men­ted on the art­icle. Brace your­self for the some­what arrog­ant mode, but I’m respond­ing to some counter-independent com­ments. It runs:

Interesting art­icle. I like the data (indeed, I’ve blogged on Scott Pack’s blog ‘Me and My Big Mouth’ a couple of times about my own ebook pub­lish­ing exper­i­ences, where I’ve tried to be trans­par­ent about my sales).

Whether ebooks will be good for the pub­lish­ing industry is a moot point. It is cer­tainly good for me. In my case, my first book was pub­lished by a small press and went nowhere because, back then (in 2005!), you had to get your book into a high­street book­seller or oth­er­wise die on your arse. Over the years since then, I’ve had count­less agents and pub­lish­ers rave about my work and then mut­ter some­thing about marketing/categorisation/effort and not pub­lish it. Clearly they thought it was not the bother. I dis­agree, and I’ve now sold more than three thou­sand cop­ies since March.

Again, it’s a moot point whether this is good for pub­lish­ing. I will be forever indebted to Amazon, who man­u­fac­tured and pushed the Kindle when every­one (includ­ing me, at first) was pour­ing scorn on it. They’ve given me the chance to have people read my work. That was never going to hap­pen with UK publishers.

Are my self pub­lished books crap? Quite pos­sibly, but I don’t think so. Both were pro­fes­sion­ally edited and both have good cov­ers (the first my own, the second pro­duced by a pro­fes­sional). Both books have mean rat­ings greater than 4 on Amazon. But, more than this, dozens of people a day are down­load­ing my books; a large per­cent­age of them will be read­ing them.

That’s the revolu­tion: being able, as an artist, to reach the end point of the cre­at­ive process.

Up the workers.

The Guardian on Two Self-Publishing Successes

Worth a com­plete read, I think. But this para­graph struck me as interesting:

Ask your­self this. If someone offered you a half-million dol­lars today as a one-time pay­ment, or $50,000 a year for the rest of your life, which would you take? Assuming you weren’t in the middle of a fin­an­cial emer­gency and expec­ted to live longer than a dec­ade, you’d be bet­ter off with the annu­ity. And that’s the dif­fer­ence between leg­acy pub­lish­ing and indie.

Here’s the art­icle.

★ More Pottermore

You’ve prob­ably noticed that J K Rowling has announced a new web­site called Pottermore. As far as I can make out from the video embed­ded on that site, it’s some­what in the Star Wars: Galaxies mould. I got a whiff of Willy Wonka from the video, but that might be my office need­ing a clean.

Rather more inter­est­ing for me, with my ‘inde­pend­ent writer’ hat on, are the com­ments gen­er­ated by an art­icle in the Bookseller, J K Rowling to take Potter digital.

What is clear…is that the digital con­tent will be pub­lished under the imprint Pottermore Publishing, rather than by her print pub­lisher Bloomsbury, which does not own the digital rights.

Actually, I’m not sure this is clear. As com­ment Peter Cox points out:

JK Rowling has con­firmed that she will release paid-for e-book ver­sions of her incred­ibly suc­cess­ful Harry Potter books from her new web­site Pottermore “in part­ner­ship with J K Rowling’s pub­lish­ers worldwide”.

Whether the ebooks will, or will not, involve her physical-book pub­lish­ers, my eye is drawn to those com­menters who believe that when digital rights revert to the author (or stay with them because they are unsold), the pub­lisher should retain a per­cent­age of the sales because the pub­lisher helped to edit the book.

Both view­points are jus­ti­fi­able: The author can reas­on­ably claim that if the pub­lisher wants the digital rights, they can pay for them. The pub­lisher, by con­trast, might argue that the text of the fin­ished product is a com­pos­ite of the author’s work and the edit­ors who helped her render it.

Morally, should Bloomsbury be rewar­ded to help­ing to edit the book?

Commenter Peter Cox writes:

Without [Bloomsbury’s] clever mar­ket­ing there would be no Pottermore launch today; it stands on their shoulders.

That’s a strong claim. I don’t think there’s any evid­ence that Bloomsbury sig­ni­fic­antly con­trib­uted bey­ond the usual ‘back­ground noise’ pub­li­city that minor, new books get.

I do won­der how much one would credit an editor in a work of prose. I cer­tainly include the names of my two edit­ors — Aliya Whiteley and Clare Christian — prom­in­ently in my books. The idea that they are co-writing the book is a tricky one. Let’s say I sug­gest to a painter that a par­tic­u­lar view­point might make a nice sketch. Did I pro­duce the sketch? Hardly.

This does make me won­der, how­ever. I think you’d see some com­mon­al­it­ies between books that have been edited by a par­tic­u­lar indi­vidual, much as you’d see com­mon­al­it­ies between music albums and their pro­du­cers. But pro­du­cers aren’t in the band. Only the band are in the band.

Jesus, I hate Dobby.

Just sayin’.

In Which iBooks Are Like Buses

A couple of months back I tried to pub­lish Déjà Vu for iBooks via Lulu. It didn’t work so I gave up in dis­gust. Then I tried to pub­lish it with Smashwords. It didn’t work there, either, so I gave up in disgust.

All the more per­plex­ing for me, then, that there are now two edi­tions of Déjà Vu avail­able for iBooks. One pub­lished by Lulu, of course, and one pub­lished by Smashwords — bien sur.

It’s twice the fun! And both are 45p rather than the Kindle price of 70p.

If you’re going to buy a copy, please get the Lulu one. I was able to manu­ally con­trol its format­ting, so it looks as I inten­ded it to look. The Smashwords one is the product of an auto­mated format­ter, and looks rubbish.

★ The Amber Rooms: Thoughts on the First Draft

Yesterday even­ing, I expor­ted the first draft of The Amber Rooms — Saskia Brandt novel three — to my Kindle with a plan to read it quickly and estab­lish how much work it needs prior to pub­lic­a­tion. I have, delib­er­ately, com­mit­ted myself to a 2012 pub­lic­a­tion date for the book. This gives me space to re-draft three (maybe four) times, on the assump­tion that a single draft­ing takes three or four months. (I’ll have the energy to work about half an hour, per­haps an hour, when I come home from the day job.)

What is a first draft? Hell, what’s a draft? Back in the day, when writers pro­duced long-hand manu­scripts and had them typed up peri­od­ic­ally, it made sense to think of each draft as a com­plete revi­sion of the last. Some writers — Ken Follett, I know, did this — would not even look at the pre­vi­ous draft when writ­ing the new.

We’re more advanced these days, of course. Our type­writers have Apple logos.

The Amber Rooms. Hmm.

I note that I aban­doned the novel, with a heavy heart at the indif­fer­ence of pub­lish­ers’ reac­tions to books one and two, in September 2008. Even then I had the idea that I was going to retire from writing.

The draft I’m read­ing is quite tightly writ­ten. The first half, I remem­ber, was revised when I came up with a cooler idea for a begin­ning about two thirds of the way through. I could prob­ably release it for the Kindle tomor­row and it would be work­able as a story. However, it has the poten­tial to be a much bet­ter novel than either Déjà Vu or Flashback.

So what’s good about it?

First, the lan­guage passes muster. There are no clichés and each sen­tence deserves to be there. I’m get­ting on for hav­ing writ­ten a mil­lion or so words of pub­lish­able fic­tion. By this point, Hemingway, Chandler et al. are now con­struct­ive rather than crit­ical ghosts. I find it easier to cre­ate and manip­u­late tone. I know when a slow­ing down of the nar­rat­ive works as a rest for the reader without sac­ri­fi­cing over­all pace — or, at least, I think I do.

Second, the story is reas­on­ably com­pel­ling. There are nuts and bolts to be tightened here and there, but each scene is a scene — that is, it advances the story — and the research (which is some­what more osten­ta­tious in this novel, as it is set in Russia, 1908) con­trib­utes to the milieu without dis­tract­ing from it.

So what’s bad?

Right now, the book is some­what ema­ci­ated. I’ve pared it down to essen­tial con­nect­ive tis­sue. While this gives it pace for the most part, there are one or two points — in par­tic­u­lar, an escape scene at the begin­ning of the novel — that are far too brief. It works too much like a mont­age, or notes for a novel.

Talking of mont­ages, I’m head­but­ting the ceil­ing of my tal­ent again: I find it dif­fi­cult to con­ceive of story bey­ond the con­fines of the medium that I’m most com­fort­able with. That medium is, para­dox­ic­ally, cinema, not lit­er­at­ure. Too often, I’m present­ing the story as shots and describ­ing beats with the eye of a cine­ma­to­grapher. I have to get away from this. It does make the story very read­able but I need to remem­ber the par­tic­u­lar advant­ages of the novel as a form. (I will be doing this later in the draft, as I settle down.)

One example is where our heroine, Saskia Brandt, arrives in St Petersburg pur­sued by three ‘watch­ers’ from the Tsarist secret police. She travels quickly from horse bus to trol­ley rather too much like Jason Bourne. And when I describe the moment she loses the last of her three watch­ers, whom she leaves hand­cuffed to a rail on the trol­ley, the fram­ing reads like a story­board. It’s effect­ive, prob­ably, but there is too much sleight of hand about the whole thing. Hemingway could do this without being super­fi­cial; I should be able to do it too, given time and thought.

Let’s get geeky: metaphor.

The meta­phor­ical lan­guage of the novel is often wonky in a first draft. When the book is fin­ished, and I have an idea of its iden­tity, I know which meta­phors are cor­rect and which are not. For instance, there is a meta­phor early on in the novel in which Saskia thinks of time passing through her hands like a rope, too fast to grip. I don’t know why this is a good meta­phor for this point; but it is. Other meta­phors are com­pletely wrong. An inab­il­ity to choose the cor­rect meta­phor is the hall­mark of a bad writer (or at least a writer who has sub­mit­ted a draft too early). One of the dif­fi­culties with select­ing the right meta­phor is that it can­not be done con­sciously (for me, any­way). It must be done ran­domly, a bit like Arthur Dent pulling out let­ters from the neo­lithic Scrabble bag in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. They’ll get stead­ily more appropriate.

Looking back, the meta­phor­ical lan­guage of Déjà Vu and Flashback seems to revolve around mir­rors, blood, old wounds reopen­ing, iden­tity, and the con­nec­tion between help­ing someone and the phys­ical cost of that help (ampu­ta­tion; “Take my hand,” and so on).

As you can tell, I’m prob­ably more inter­ested in this stuff than the mech­an­ics of hav­ing the story work as a thriller. However, it must work as a thriller first or the meta­phor­ical brick­work will fall. That’s the job of the second draft — to get the plot work­ing. Third draft — plot plus meta­phor equals story. Four draft — finesse.


And, always there is the chance that the book doesn’t work at all; that it will die on stage. In a way, that makes it more excit­ing. Everything, abso­lutely everything, is on the line.

Cover Me

What’s it like devel­op­ing a cover for a book? Well, there’s the cheap option — Déjà Vu — and then there’s the expens­ive one — Flashback.

I talk about both over at Me and My Big Mouth, the blog of Scott Pack.

Now, do you need to spend this kind money to pub­lish your book? Difficult to say. One might argue that £1000-plus is tak­ing the enter­prise into what used to be known as ‘van­ity pub­lish­ing’ ter­rit­ory — i.e. a con tar­get­ing the vulnerable.

On Legerdemaine

Part two of my inter­view Aliya Whiteley is now up on her web­site. More mots bon from me.

A: When do you feel sat­is­fied that you’ve done enough research?

I: I don’t think I’ve ever felt sat­is­fied with research. There’s always some­thing that you’ve handled wrong. With spe­cific regard to a novel, where you’re deal­ing with the rep­res­ent­a­tion of lived exper­i­ence, there’s no way everything is going to ring true. A phrase might be wrong; or a train line that you thought was there in 1904 wasn’t built until 1910, or some such. I’d go as far as to say that if I ever had that feel­ing of sat­is­fac­tion, I’d be los­ing my grip on reality.