Saturday, 17 December 2011

17th December 2011 Lesson 101 on submissions.


I really, really find rejecting submissions something that is very, difficult. As an author I know how hard it is to take each rejection professionally rather than personally, and how hard it can be to grow the thick skin required to paper your walls with rejection slips.

I’ve rejected submissions for all kinds of reasons, from bad writing to bad plotting, stylistic issues to poor presentation. I’ve rejected manuscripts on purely commercial grounds, they don’t fit with our portfolio, or are too far “out there” to be a commercial success for us. I’ve even turned down books because of their highly questionable content, and no, I’m not going to elaborate on that one little bit, I’ll let you use your imaginations as to why I spend the next few minutes after reading them thinking about worshipping at the large throated white god in the bathroom. That’s just talking about fiction, we’ve pretty much pulled out of the non-fiction market having been bombarded with diet and self-help for self-harmers books where the author had no qualifications to write the book in the first place.

Today’s rejection though takes the biscuit, one I never thought I’d have to issue. It took me about three minutes to read the e-mail with a growing sense of disbelief, and about two more minutes to confirm my memory.

The reason for this rejection?

A serious Submission 101 breach.

It had already been rejected by us before! Fifteen months ago!

We hadn’t suggested a rewrite and resubmit, it had been a flat rejection, go find yourself someone else. I’ve come across authors who stubbornly send one book after another to a publisher, to be rejected time and time again until the publisher loses patience and says go forth and multiply, but honestly, to send the same book in again?

I have to be careful, this blog is turning into a crusading tirade against human stupidity.

I'm beginning to wonder if I’m the one who needs help.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

13th December 2012 Submission Guidelines.


I think I’ve reached my lowest possible ebb on this particular subject.

We reopened for submissions at the beginning of this month having cleared a rather heavy backlog, and when we did so, we deliberately reopened with much simpler guidelines.

Gone were the detailed formatting instructions, the list of specific exclusions, and all the hard bits, even the need to send the entire manuscript was removed. We do, however, reluctantly continue to exclude the publishing of poetry, non-fiction and children’s work but other than that there are no exclusions on  the page.

This is the core guideline:

"In the first instance please send an e-mail to ... telling us about yourself, with a short synopsis (not chapter by chapter) of your book together with a minimum of the first chapter of your book as an attachment in Word .doc or .rtf format. Please indicate whether you have completed the book. If your manuscript is shorter than 10,000 words please send the complete story. You must tell us if it has been previously, or is currently, published or self-published."

You’d have thought that was pretty simple, wouldn’t you? Nobody could get that wrong, could they?

Oh dear... can they ever.

Of six submissions sent in from authors we don't know so far:

1.       Nothing about the author, nothing to say if it was already completed.

2.       The first three chapters of the book were included in the body of the document.

3.        No synopsis, and nothing about it having been published – a twenty second search showed it on Smashwords. Nothing about how complete the manuscript is.

4.       A short story (in the author’s words about 5,000 words), only the first section attached, again nothing about the author.

5.       Met the guidelines but adds, no one has accepted my book for publication because they just don’t “get” my sense of humour.

6.        From the same author as number 5, ditto.

Two out of six meet the guidelines, and those two have broken a rule that shouldn’t need to be spelt out – don’t alienate the publisher, and especially not by criticising other publishers for rejecting the book.

Someone, please shoot me so I wake up from this nightmare.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

A long drawn out and frustrating conversation 27th November 2011.


We have been rather trapped into a long and ultimately frustrating conversation with a potential author over the last four months. I guess if I’m perfectly honest about this, she’s no longer a potential author for us, irrespective of the quality of her manuscript.

This, probably, very nice, lady sent in a submission around the end of July. Unfortunately we had a problem with the attachment, so we couldn’t open the attached manuscript – it was corrupt on receipt.

My business partner replied to her, politely asking her to forward another copy, suggesting alternative formats she could use. We heard nothing for nearly six weeks.

Then we got an answer asking, rather pointedly if we had received her first e-mail, and were we actually interested in her book.

We, of course replied, forwarding our previous e-mail back to her.

Nothing more was heard then we got an even more pointed response from her, asking us in her words “for a final time” if we were interested, and she was surprised by our lack of common courtesy in not even replying.

By now, our own patience was wearing a bit thin, so we checked out the e-mail link, and ascertained everything was fine at our end, and we weren’t black listed for spam with anyone either. It was clear she was either not receiving the return e-mails or, they were being dumped into her spam folders and she wasn’t checking them. She provided no alternative means of contacting her.

Over the weekend we’ve received what I can only assume will be her final e-mail to us:

“It's been another two months since I asked you if you were going to help me. Seems like I should have an answer by now. Would be nice if you tell someone if you are going to help them or not. Thanks anyway.”

She has of course now gone away cursing us for not replying, when we have, and we in the mean time are annoyed someone is now going to be posting the fact we haven’t replied all over the internet and telling people not to touch us with a barge pole.

Frustrating is only the start of it.

Arrrggghhhh!

Sunday, 20 November 2011

21st November 2011 – Open and Closed Doors.


No, I’m not talking about how some publishing doors seem open to you, and some seem closed, which is probably the case for 99% of us. I’m talking about the actual crafting of the book, and the way an author should approach their work.

We all do it, the book starts off as a germ of an idea, a tiny seed gem that sparks out creative imagination and then germinates to produce a seedling. Form here we start to think about the book as a whole, maybe develop a formal synopsis, maybe just a rough story treatment or outline. At this point many of us will run said treatment past a very select group of trusted friends to see if the idea has wings.

Sorry, I’m mixing metaphors like crazy, but remember this is a creative process, so we’re allowed to describe it in those terms.

Then having been given a green light we develop a detailed plan for the book (how detailed is up to the particular author, as is how that plan is developed) and then finally we sit down with a blank piece of paper, or a blank screen, to produce the first draft. This is, finally, where the doors concept comes in.

Stephen King was the first author I found who propounded this way of working in his book “On Writing” and it’s probably the best single piece of writing advice I’ve read:

“Write your first draft with the door closed.”

In other words, shut the world out, keep your workroom door closed, (he even goes as far as to close the blinds too) and let no one or nothing interrupt the flow. He doesn’t mean start writing and drop dead from exhaustion halfway through. What he’s specifically talking about is don’t show the uncompleted manuscript to anyone, not even your agent, publisher, friend, spouse or publicist. The door is closed to them, and everyone else so you can concentrate clearly on your vision for the book.

Finally, when the first draft is complete, this is the time to think about opening the door, to a few select people (not necessarily the same group as earlier in the process) and take note of their comments and critique as you from your ideas for the second draft.

First draft, door closed, second draft, door open letting the world in.

It works for me.

20th November 2011 – Editing with a chainsaw.


There’s been a lot of discussion on FB and the groups over the last few days on the subject of converting a first draft of a piece into something worthy of submission to a publisher or agent. Most of the “old hands” come down firmly on one side of the debate, and most of the more inexperienced authors come down on the other.

There’s an old adage in publishing, and a large number of well established authors lend pretty vocal support to the concept that, the second draft should be 10% shorter than the first draft. In other words, the second draft will be tighter, faster paced and will have had a few scenes, which added nothing to the plot, removed. Back in the days when all you had was a typewriter this wasn’t an easy process and you actually had to think long and hard about each cut or change, this was a major deal. Nowadays with modern word-processors it’s much easier and sometimes an author can get a little carried away – the chainsaw metaphor.

(Having said that, we stayed in Wales last year and in the middle of the park was a beautiful tree sculpture done with a chainsaw, so sometimes it can be the right artistic tool.)

The less seasoned writers tend to be far more protective of the words they’ve spend so long meticulously crafting. For them, cutting is like harming their own children, something they just won’t do. It’s a psychological block which they have a great deal of trouble getting their head around.

I think, there is one mental trick that can provide a solution for the reluctant pruners here and it’s about visualising the end result. The more experienced authors will visualise the end product they are going to pitch as the book. The less experienced visualise their product as the words. In simple terms I’m sure you can see how important the difference is, where the emotional attachment sits. If you are emotionally attached to the book rather than the words, then culling words feels far less emotional than culling seals does to the squeamish among us.

By the way, I’m not suggesting culling seals with a chainsaw either!

Just to throw another metaphoric concept at you, my next blog is going to be all about opening and closing doors.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

19th November 2011 – Bad Science.


Whether we care to admit it or not, the internet has seen an explosion of poor and bad information, and some deliberate miss-information about a large number of scientific topics. Barely a week goes past without some journalist or other raising their standard on new ground and declaring this or that is bad for you.

Too many people take what they read as the gospel truth, rather than applying Occam’s razor to the subject and seeing whether what is left is real or not, and should it be a cause for worry, a cause for concern or simply ignored.

One of my favourite examples of this was the scare about using Aspartame based sweeteners instead of sugar, as this could give rise to vastly increased risks of cancer. Since most artificially sweetened products recommended for diabetics contain Aspartame, and both my wife and I are diabetics now, this was obviously of concern.

It didn’t take long to find the basis of this research was actually flawed. To start with, the research was funded by sugar producers, which tends to flag up the research as being tailored to meet the brief the researchers were given. Secondly, the quantities being fed to the rats which had a higher tendency to develop cancer beggared belief. The rats most prone to cancer were regularly being fed their own bodyweight in Aspartame. I defy anyone to eat the equivalent dosage!

It simply goes to prove the adage, that not everything you see and read is truth, and don’t over indulge in anything – it’s bad for you.

The same point is also true in fiction; you see, I am getting to the point from a writer’s viewpoint. A friend of mine, as it happens a good writer, and a published author, is currently trying to produce a time travel adventure thriller for a young adult market. He’s desperately trying to avoid all the tired clich├ęs of the subject and come up with something new, a laudable aim if ever there is one.

There is one piece of very bad science in his early chapters though, which threatens to undermine the whole book. His time machine comes from the far future and is very sophisticated. When our adventurers go back from the present day to the 11th Century and they leave the machine, their memories of all historical knowledge since then are erased so they cannot inadvertently disrupt said history.

That sounds reasonable, you say?

Actually no.

On the next page one of the time travellers notes to one of the others, how the tangled woodland and narrow mud tracks surrounding them bears little resemblance to the ordered rows of pine trees and wide roads from their own time. That’s fine you say, as does he, that’s not historical knowledge, that’s geographical in nature and the two are unrelated.

At the risk of repeating myself, actually, no.

If you still retain knowledge of ordered rows of cultivated pines, you’ve retained knowledge of how the world came to be like that, why there are roads rather than narrow tracks. The technology that created the modern world is still there in your brain, ergo the history that created that technology is still there. Fundamentally the problem with all such memory wiping is you cannot isolate types of memory, and remove historical knowledge, or geographical knowledge, or economic knowledge, they are all interlinked.

You have to find another mechanism that works, or don’t try to draw comparisons between the “then” worked, and the “now” world. The trouble is that’s a good way to keep the reader’s interest and we tend to use those kind of comparisons a lot when we’re writing.

The big question is, does it matter?

Possibly, and possibly not. With an increasingly literate readership, these things are becoming more and more important all the time.

I’ll let you decide...

Friday, 18 November 2011

18th November 2011 - Giving Writers Advice.

The eponymous title of this section is about a path fraught with danger. We’ve all done it, gone to a writing group, maybe a new one, maybe one we’ve been a member of for a long time, and opened our mouths to give a piece of advice.
Maybe it comes out a little more emphatically than was intended, but sometimes, with some groups, even if the recipient of the advice isn’t the issue, you have to be emphatic to get the point across to some of the others in the room, especially the deaf guy on the other side of the room, who’s turned his hearing aids off, and has his head down reading something on his Kindle.
This is what happened to me.
I was banging on about the need to differentiate between thoughts and narrative when formatting a passage. As it happens, our house standard is to put thoughts in italics, rather than single quotes, or leave them jumbled up with the narrative.
This author decided she didn’t agree. She’s perfectly entitled to, of course.
Today, I get messaged with a link to the blog of another author (more famous than me) who lists 9 pieces of advice you should ignore, which of course includes the point about italics.
It never ceases to amaze me how people see the blogosphere as the font of all knowledge. If you go looking I guarantee you can find someone who can contradict any opinion within a few minutes. I also guarantee that if you look for a few minutes longer you will find someone who will agree with the first opinion, and then someone who presents a third option entirely.
Indeed if you take 10 authors and ask them a formatting question I guarantee you’ll get at least 9 different answers.
The point this particular blogger and I agree on, is the essential need to differentiate thoughts from narrative, either, in our manner, by formatting, or in her manner, by wording. She does, however, clearly state, you should do what your editor wants so we’re in agreement on that too.
One final point on the whole italics question though. Suppose you put all the thoughts into italics in the manuscript and the editor decides they should be changed to normal text. How long does that take? A minute using global replace? No more, that’s for sure. Now think about trying to put them in if you’ve left them out. How long is that going to take? Hours... Days....
QED.
PS This blogger also makes a lot of sense on the subject of deliberate rather than accidental repetition. I can assure you all the repetitions above were entirely deliberate. Woe betide any accidental repetitions I hear at the group next week. LOL

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Revival

Hi all,

Just a quick note to apologise for my absence for the last nine months or so. Had a combination of writer's block and also far too much other contracted work to deliver on, so this blog kind of went by the wayside.
I'll be back on in the next few days, and hopefully get this blog back on track.

David

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Submission 17th February 2011.

It never ceases to amaze me, the way some inexperienced authors think the world works according to their own skewed vision of it.

Case in point. We had a submission query in yesterday, note I said query, and not an actual submission itself.

The entire e-mail was basically three sentences (albeit one of them was quite long and included a web address).

Sentence 1. I’ve written a science fiction book, and released it on ... its fully edited and I have a cover, and you can find it on such and such a site.

Sentence 2. I’ve picked your company to publish it.

Sentence 3. I want a non-exclusive contract and royalties of x.

There was then quite a curt sign off.

That was it, the whole shebang.

I have no idea whether the guy was 8, 18 or 80, although I suspect the middle figure is nearer the mark. My gut reaction, and my partner’s gut reaction was to tell him to “go forth and whistle”, but luckily I refrained from doing that, and since it was the early hours of the morning over in New Zealand, I had the opportunity to react before she did.

Out of sheer curiosity I clicked on the link for the book, only to be dumped onto the site’s home page rather than the book page it purported to link too. It took a couple of minutes digging to find out why this self-publishing site didn’t want to show me the book. Apparently the author had flagged it as age restricted due to the level of violence in it, and the only way I could look at the book was to register and join the site – not something I was prepared to do.

By now, I’d calmed down a little so my reply was polite, informing him of my inability to see his book, and if he was truly interested then he should submit it. Secondly, I pointed out, politely, we would under no circumstances sign a non-exclusive contract for e-book rights. In fact I don’t know a single publisher who would, except for specific geographic rights that is – certainly not have two versions of the same book, with the same cover competing against each other. There is a world of difference between publishing rights, and copyright.

Finally I pointed out his exorbitant and pre-emptory demand for such a high royalty right was totally out of the question.

That e-mail elicited a nice exit e-mail, thanking me for answering so promptly and telling me “we weren’t for him.”

I bit my tongue... hard! It’s a good job I don’t swear very often. I felt like it several times.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Borders 14th January 2010

I see, with some sadness, today, that The Wall Street Journal is reporting the impending demise of the Borders Books chain. They are about to, indeed by the time you read this, may well have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy to provide them with protection while they try to wind up the business as smoothly as possible.

Borders, as much as Barnes and Noble, are almost an institution for the book buying portion of the American public, but have been hit by a double whammy. Firstly the inexorable rise and rise of Amazon and the web sales companies, and secondly by the more recent rise of the e-book readers. Barnes and Noble, may have been able to beat off both challenges, certainly the B&N web presence is slicker and of course they have the Nook, the e-book reader they are hoping to challenge Amazon’s Kindle with.

Over here, the rise of the supermarket book shelves, coupled with the influence of the Net and the e-book reader are taking their toll. WH Smith are probably safer than companies like Waterstones, but the loss of Borders, rumoured for so long, must be sending shockwaves through the retail sectors worldwide.

These stores are a national institution, they’re too important to be allowed to fail. No?

If you want to try that line, tell it to the staff of Woolworths.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Six Degrees of Separation 07th February 2011

You are probably already aware of the modern myth that no one person is more than six casual links away from any other person. It’s an interesting theory which is difficult to prove either way. It just turned up an amazing circular connection though, that circumnavigated the globe in a totally casual manner.

My business partner down in Christchurch, New Zealand, was being interviewed on television about her books, one Monday late last year. Of course, as would we all, including us men, she wanted to look her best so booked a rush appointment with a hairdresser beforehand. The hairdresser, making conversation asked what the rush was about, and on finding out it was about her writing and publishing books bemoaned the fate of a friend of hers who hadn’t been able to find a publisher for her book.

Sensing this was at least worth looking at, the other half of the company handed her business card to the hairdresser to pass onto her friend. Lo and behold a couple of weeks later the author submitted her book to us – from England where she lives. So that’s half way round the world – and nothing much in this day and age. She read through the manuscript and didn’t reject it, so I had a good look too and we decided to offer a contract last month, which was duly accepted. (Ed: They both have to agree it’s worth publishing – one no is enough to reject).

The first step after the contract is to start work on the production of the artwork for the cover, and in this case, as in many others, this is the first direct contact the author has with me. I had paid no attention to her contact details until it came time to e-mail her, and noticed where she lived, a town some fifty odd miles from me, but importantly, a town where I used to work full time. Several conversations later, coincidence was stretched to the limit. Not only did she know the company, which is not particularly surprising seeing as they’d been there for over a hundred years, and their premises were the tallest in that part of town. (Ed- Don’t remind him about those endless flights of stairs!). In fact, going back some thirty years, a few years before my involvement with the company, she’d actually dated one of my bosses – and I shared an office with the woman he eventually married!

So someone who was literally only one degree of separation from me, is now being published by us, and the contact was made half way around the world by someone different.

If you put that kind of thing in the plot of a novel, it’d probably be rejected as being beyond suspension of disbelief.

Truth is truly stranger...

By the way, this same boss, and his brother, went to school with Tony Blair, who of course got on famously with a certain Mr Clinton. So, I suppose it would be fair to say, there’s only three degrees of separation, between me and a certain infamous cigar.

Ah, well. Good job I don’t smoke... Monica.

Monday, 31 January 2011

What’s in a Name? – 31st January 2011.

For several authors I know, choosing a title for their book is almost as hard as writing a good synopsis. Many authors start their book under a working title and then change it several times during the process of producing the first draft, indeed on one memorable occasion after four name changes it reverted back to the original working title.

There are endless “rules” – the two word rule, the three word rule and a multitude of other more obscure and frankly ridiculous guidelines which, simply put, don’t work. The most important thing about a title was it needed to be memorable, so once glanced, en passant, the casual browser would be drawn to it the next time they saw it or heard it. It of course also needs to, in an ideal world encapsulate some part of the book itself.

The more memorable the book title, the more it stands out. You tend to wonder if some of today’s classics would have worked with a different title, Animal Farm for example, or The Hobbit.

These days, though, you need to look further than simply a catchy title that encapsulates the book. My very first published book, the first book of my Seven Sisters trilogy, the eponymous one, suffers from several coincidental names when you search for it on-line. There are two books which also respond to that as a two word phrase, several geographical features and a large electrical contractor in America with the same name. As a result seeing the book on the first page of Google is often dependant on who is blogging about what.

Another of our books has a similar problem, we were quite happy with the title the author was using, there were no other books even close to that title. Unfortunately the three word title (and I’m not directly naming it to save the author’s blushes (Ed: Yeah – Right!)) also forms the first three words of a phrase that is used frequently to search for a particular youngish chef’s popular recipes. Instead of seeing the book on the first page you see lots of searches for the recipes for carbonara, foraccia, kedgeree or a Waldorf salad!

Sometimes Google can be such a pain.

Do you check your titles on Google and Amazon first?

Pen names can be an issue too, especially if, like me, your name has already been used in a well known context. Science Fiction buffs won’t need help to work out my particular problem – but for the rest of you 2001 A Space Odyssey has caused literally thousands of references to my name to appear all over Google. There are also two other authors, a Mormon writer, and an East Coast photographer that share my name. Since I want my real name associated with at least some of my work, what can I do?

So tell me, when you picked your pen-name, what research did you do?

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Are you backed up? 25th January 2011.

This is Important, I didn’t know this one.

I spent a fairly large proportion of the nineties and the naughties working as an IT Manager (Ed: The sentence for a violent crime would have been shorter) and spent many hours devising and implementing multi-layered backup systems to provide business continuity if something went wrong.

These included the obvious, spare equipment for anything critical to the business, backup data copies if a hard disk drive went down, remote data copies in case the place burned down etc. etc. We even had a flood movement plan to shift the contents of the computer room upstairs in the event of the river (just behind the warehouse) bursting its banks. Of all the full disaster recovery plans that was actually the one that came closest to being put into action when the river level rose alarmingly one week and we were put on thirty minute evacuation notice. We had trolleys on standby and a my staff were ready to strip the wires from the back of the racks and take the racks upstairs while my boss bugged out and took the data copies home to his hilltop house.

We did in fact have to run the telecoms plan for real when the local council, in the process of installing a new lamppost down the street put their auger straight through the main trunk telephone cable and severed the telephone connections for dozens of businesses, including ours. That was the day my insistence on having two telephone suppliers, one copper, one digital paid off big time.

That’s digression really, and background. How backed up are you?

Like most of us, I bet you backup your data to an external drive. If you don’t keep a backup copy, even at this level then I can only shake my head in sorrow.

However, what do you do with that drive? Does it sit there permanently attached to your computer? If so, it’s a good mechanical protection for the drive breaking, but is it much good for anything else? What good is it to you in the event of fire, flood, theft or as my business partner found out in September, earthquake? Luckily she didn’t lose anything. What about lightning strike? Have you ever considered the result of that? Last week in town we had an electricity sub-station torched by some tosspot of a youth. The nearest couple of hundred houses experienced a power surge that damaged electrical equipment. If it had been your computer it could well have gone, and if your external drive was attached it could have gone too, irrecoverably.

I’ve got a surge protector on my system, you crow. Ah, but have you overloaded it, as you add more and more plug-in equipment to it?

I have two external drives, one is connected to the computer purely for the time it takes to back up, and they are used in rotation. One of them is always offsite.

Even that isn’t enough as a Facebook friend of mine discovered this week. (Ed: Now we’re coming to the meat of it). Someone, she has no idea who, made a complaint about her Facebook account, she doesn’t even know what the complaint was about. Her account and her fan page have been deleted. She wasn’t even given a chance to defend herself; there is no right of appeal. At a stroke she’s lost everything on there, friends list, posts, notes, contacts everything!
Since, as authors our promotional work is usually centred on our blogs and Facebook account she is utterly devastated. Given the sloth with which Facebook respond to any kind of query she’s had to start again. She’s also a best-selling author, who really “worked” Facebook to its fullest extent, losing it is a body-blow to her.

Do you backup your Facebook account?

I have to admit I didn’t. I didn’t even now you did not can, nor did I even consider I should.

So please, everyone, back up your account there.

Instructions are as follows:

Click on Account

Click on Account Settings

Under Settings, one up from the bottom of the list is a heading “Download your information”.

Click on the Learn more link next to it.

Follow the instructions from there.

They will e-mail you to confirm and will provide you with link to download a compressed file containing it.

Please go there and get it done, and then add it to your regular security routine.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Definition of a novelist 20th January 2011.

A Facebook friend of mine started an interesting conversation thread the other day, and it generated a surprising number of comments.

Apparently someone she knew was happily describing themselves as a “novelist”. So, you might say?

So, indeed. This person, has never in fact completed a novel, let alone been published. I might add it was a polite crowd, no expletives to be deleted, and there was a very strong consensus, from both published novelists, and other writers.

The group wisdom was there was no problem in this person describing themselves as a “writer”, or as an “aspiring novelist” or even a “would be novelist” but to claim to actually be a “novelist” was pushing the envelope far too far.

I’m not sure if it’s tribal or simply evolutionary imperative for those of us who perhaps have been lucky enough to be published, to want to defend our turf. We have one, or more, novels out there in the big wide world, we obtain some income from them, pin money maybe, but a portion of our income, so it’s a professional badge, and we resent anyone who is not a member of that club trying to muscle in on it.

Personally, I don’t have any problem with them calling themselves “writers”, but I have to go with the majority on this subject. I wouldn’t ask an accountant for financial advice without knowing they were qualified, they’d served their apprenticeship and taken (Ed: and passed!) their exams. I wouldn’t let a plumber loose on my house without checking their credentials, so how is an unpublished writer a novelist.

I wrote the above a couple of hours ago, and then left it alone for a while to do something else. I’ve come back to it now, and reread it, intending to finish it off.

My ending for it, is not what is was going to be.

I’m trying to work out who is the more pretentious – the person calling themselves a “novelist” when they haven’t had a novel published. Or us, objecting to their use of our hard won title.
Jeez. That’s a harder choice than you might think.

In the end we’re being rather precious about it, and is there any real difference between that and pretentiousness?

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Short stories 18th January 2011.

I seem to have spent a good part of the last three weeks watching sales figures and rankings. Not from any need for anxiety, January has proved to be an excellent month for sales and we’re only just over half-way.

I’ve been trying to get a handle on what has been selling and why in the e-book world, looking back over our historical sales, as well as recent, and digging back into information from previous publishers and as many other sources as I can find.

It’s like a sea of statistics, if not an ocean and there is a large amount of conflicting advice out there. When we started out eighteen months ago, there was a perceived wisdom that in terms of e-books short stories sell better than novels, but you make more money on the novel sales. This was in part due to the extreme influence Fictionwise and its royalty mechanism had on the overall market.

Fictionwise’s influence has dramatically declined, to the point we’re not yet on there,(it’s in hand, but nothing yet) and we’re not particularly hurting from our absence from that site.
Indeed four of our other retailers rank higher than them in terms of web site traffic – unheard of a mere two years ago.

So, for the first few months of our existence, the short stories sold well, and the novels kind of dribbled out. Then, during the first half of 2010 we found the short stories weren’t selling and novel sales took off, particularly in the third quarter.

In the fourth quarter, the short stories started selling again and several of the novels were still selling.

This month so far, it’s short stories that are making the sales again. Some of my own short stories have really taken off in the last three and a half months. Indeed, in volume terms a short story I wrote for a competition (it didn’t get anywhere) and then lengthened for release as an e-book is suddenly one of our best sellers (in volume terms) this month. It’s a lightweight “feel-good” romantic piece, under a pen name that has no other track record, just the two short stories. Even my alternative history series is moving where it languished in the doldrums for more than a year.

So is there a point to this rambling?

Yes, it’s a simple point – it can take time, but sometimes short stories do sell. You never get rich on the back of them, but boy, does it feel nice and it gets your name out there.

Anyone feel like pulling out some short stories that are gathering dust and going nowhere? Go on, be a devil, submit them – you never know.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

What you take for granted 13th January 2011.

It’s amazing they way, when you expect something from someone, you take it for granted they will do as you expect. I suppose its human nature at both its most ordinary and at the same time most exasperating.

A case in point, something we’ve never ever encountered before. We hadn’t heard back from two of our authors about edits so I gave them a chase call. In one case, they hadn’t received the edits so didn’t know we were expecting them back. That was obviously soon dealt with and she’s happily (or unhappily) beavering away.

The second case was slightly surreal; I can’t explain it any other way and is the focus of this article. Yes the author had received the edits, and had fully processed them resulting in a completed manuscript. Unfortunately the author hadn’t realised they were supposed to return them to us so hadn’t done so.

I almost didn’t know what to say in response.

Now, I’m quite sure most, if not all, of those reading this will exclaim in disbelief, having made exactly the same assumption that we had done. It’s patently obvious the editor or publisher wants the edits back.

Actually, especially for a newbie, it’s not so obvious is it?

You actually do have to spell everything out.

So, we learned a valuable lesson, and maybe so have you...

Monday, 10 January 2011

Playing With Numbers Again 10th January 2011.

I’ve been playing around with numbers again, this time trying to get my head around the sales ranking system Amazon uses to rank both its print and Kindle books in order to intelligently answer questions from our authors. (Ed – Huh? Answers? Nobody told me he’d answer questions!)

In no way am I trying to be critical of Amazon but it really is a beast to get your head around and I’m greatly indebted to an article by Morris Rosenthal at Foner Books for the analysis he has put together and who gave his kind permission to quote it here.

The sheer numbers of titles both listed and shipped by Amazon in both print and electronic from is absolutely staggering. Although, clearly, not all books listed are still in print so are no longer current, they have listed a staggering total of several million books over the years. The total number of Kindle books doesn’t yet approach this, but must by now be close to a million.
So how does the ranking work? How many sales do you need to get into the top 10,000 best sellers (this is of course overall and not by category)? How many do you need to get into the top 100,000 or even the top 1,000,000?

The answer is in fact, surprisingly few.

In print terms, if you sell a book a year you’ll probably be in the top 2,000,000. If you sell a copy every ten weeks you’ll make it into the top 1,000,000. 1 copy a week, the top 500,000 and 10 copies a week the top 100,000. You’ve probably got to be selling 200 copies a week to make the top 1,000.

In e-books the pattern is very similar, 1 book every 10 weeks gets you into the top 200,000, 2 copies a week the top 100,000 and probably around 50 copies a week to break the top 10,000, 450 a week to make the top 1,000.

The actual rankings are recalculated hourly and are hugely volatile; you can gain or lose 1,000 or 10,000 places without even selling a single copy. It’s exciting to see your book creeping or even jumping up the rankings and then in turn devastating when it suddenly drops again and as an author you get the impression your book is no longer popular. This isn’t true of course; it’s simply the vagaries of statistics when your book is one among such a huge swarm.

The UK rankings are of course a mini version of the US ones, especially since the Kindle hasn’t been out as long or, as yet, so popular over here. It is becoming so though.

It is interesting to note with the best sellers, where both versions are available, the average Kindle Sales ranking is pretty much equivalent to the average print ranking.

For myself, one of my paperback books is currently languishing below 2,000,000 – so I can only hope someone buys a copy real soon... Just the one... Please... Somebody...

Friday, 7 January 2011

The Review Bitch 07th January 2011.

I have had to spend some time today soothing an author who has had her feathers severely ruffled by a review posted on one of our retailer’s sites.

The overall review itself wasn’t too bad, giving the story three stars (out of five) and praising some parts of it. However it’s the detailed criticisms appended to it that upset this author.
Firstly, the reviewer carped on about the length of the story being so short – that’s a little unfair given the retailer clearly shows the word count and also it is priced at the lowest end of the scale. As I said somewhat unfair but it’s not something you can win.

The thing that really upset the author was the accusation that the author was Homophobic. This accusation was based on one exchange of dialogue between the main character and her long time boyfriend, discussing another member of the team, who was homosexual, and discussing that person in disparaging terms. Now this section of dialogue was included, to demonstrate the basic immaturity of the lead character who still has some growing up to do. The story is also set about twenty years ago, when the kind of attitudes demonstrated by two lines of dialogue were really the norm among adolescents, even if they're not now. It helps to pin the story in time, and provided a slightly comical moment.

To go so far over the top on political correctness like this reviewer has is seriously out of order. The problem is the retailer doesn’t see the review as unfair, simply an honest expression of the reader’s view (which, I suppose it is) and won’t take it down.

Scratch future sales of this e-book on that retailer site.

That’s part of the problem with the review system, I’m all for empowering the reader, but surely there should be a mechanism for right of reply too?

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Drowning in Numbers 06th January 2011.

Happy New Year everyone – been busy through the holiday season so haven’t had chance to post anything. Real life intrudes and all that, and it was of course Quarter End as well.

We had an excellent sales month in December, knocking all previous records into the proverbial cocked hat and finished 2010 on a real high. This was in part due to the introduction of a new retailer, but was also down to the number of people getting e-book readers for Christmas! We shipped an astonishing number of books in the three days prior to Xmas and then on Xmas day itself.

I have to say though, we are drowning in numbers. Quite literally – so let me explain.
Several of our retailers and wholesalers provide us with summary reports on the trends during the year, showing which genres are doing well, and which have fallen off in popularity, as well as which formats. It looks like the death knell for the venerable Microsoft Reader format is fast approaching – with a number of retailers considering dropping it, and a number of publishers already have! Given the problems involved in the conversion process (have to use 7 year old software on a 9 year old operating system) I think we’ll be dropping it going forward too.
The more interesting information relates to the numbers we’re drowning in.

One of our retailers has been adding new publishers at a rate of 8 a day during 2010 – and they have a minimum number of books requirement.

We were really ecstatic when we were signed up to provide e-books to the largest virtual library supplier in the world – who supply e-books to over 13,000 libraries worldwide for lending. Obviously our books have to compete with others on the system. The system grew by a staggering 185,000 books through 2010. Makes our 103 e-book total look a little paltry.

The situation on Amazon is similar – they have over 2 million print books listed and something over 580,000 e-books. Our 103 e-books (16 of them in print) are just a tiny drop in this ocean. How on Earth do you get people to notice your books in such a sea of choices?

Our sales figures per author split neatly into four bands. At the top of the list is one author who had an established reputation before signing with us, who also has a large number (31) of books.

The second band contains those authors who push their books and have several releases out (one of them has 35!) and you get repeat sales when people buy one book and then others by the same author.

The third band is those authors with single books out (although one of them has just released her second, who will shortly be moving up a band) who also promote their work. We have one guy of 89 who really works at it, e-mailing friends and family and anyone else he can contact on a regular basis, and his sales reflect this. Other authors (three in total) have been interviewd on thier local TV stations, let alone the myriad of press releases, newspaper articles and promotional items, book fairs attended.

Finally we have a small group of authors, who do no promotional work at all, sit back and expect us as the publisher to do everything. The truth is, if the author doesn’t work at the sales, it doesn't matter what we do, they aren’t going to see many sales.