Saturday, 25 June 2011

On numbers and what they mean

Any indie with a book doing reasonably well on Amazon is obsessed by numbers, and Amazon makes it easy to indulge one's obsession.

Once an hour, rankings change. On Author Central, you have a sales graph going back to December last year. You can watch sales tick up on your KDP page (Kindle Direct Publishing) as they happen - last night I waited before turning out the light for the last few UK sales that would take Replica to a total of 7,000. Childish, I know.

What I don't forget, though, is that each time the number goes up, a human being has decided he/she likes the look of my book, and is prepared to spend several hours reading it, and I am very grateful. Now and then readers write a review, or email me to say they enjoyed the books, which makes my day.

David Gaughran has blogged about some other very interesting numbers, under the title Print Continues Its Death Spiral; the American Association of Publishers have released their sales figures for April 2011. The figures make it clear where books are heading - away from print and towards digital. The implications of this are enormous for writers, readers, and anyone in the publishing industry.

Winners and losers in the revolution? My guess:

Authors and readers - it's often forgotten, but they're the only essential components of the business. And Amazon, whose business nous is awesome.

Bookshops (we'll all be sad about this), publishers, agents.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Sunday, 19 June 2011

E-book piracy:Yo ho ho and what happens next?

Google Alerts alerted me last week to a site where Remix can be downloaded for free. I checked with a knowledgeable friend, and yes, the book is indeed available for download, not just there as an inducement to buy membership to their site. I’m surprised, as a) I’m not a famous author, and b) Amazon charges £0.49 or $0.99 for Remix – hardly prices worth evading. But then, the book has been in the UK top 100 for 209 days…

This got me thinking about ebook piracy, so I did some research, and these are my conclusions:

  • Ebook piracy is happening now. DRM offers little or no protection.

  • Many of the early adopters of the Kindle are middle-aged; they can afford it, adjustable font sizes are good for ageing eyes, and it’s an easy gadget to use even if you haven’t been brought up with computers and mobile phones from earliest youth. This age group is less likely to use pirate sites.

  • Younger readers aren't buying Kindles at the moment, thinking them overpriced and that the technology will only improve. This doesn't mean they don’t download pirated books and read them on their computers. Or smart phones, a recent development.

  • As e-readers get cheaper and more common, people used to downloading their music for nothing from torrents will expect to do the same with e-books. A quick search shows you can download the BBC list of top 100 books. It's in pdf format, but it's easy enough to convert to epub or other formats.

  • Publishers are encouraging piracy by their determination to maintain high ebook prices, causing resentment among e-reader owners. One reason they give for high prices (and low digital royalties for authors) is they need to spend money to prevent copyright infringement; but it’s not clear quite what they are doing, beyond giving more money to their legal departments, and hoping e-books are a passing fad.
If the experience of the music industry is anything to go by, publishers will not be able to stop piracy even if they try wholeheartedly to do so, and they have no Plan B. Witness the whole huge amount of effort put into trying to shut down The Pirate Bay - legal proceedings have been going on for years, and yet the site is still up. Maybe I'm being naïve, but I can't see any way that they will be able to stop people illegally downloading without heavily censoring the internet. I don't believe people would stand for that.

This is a big problem for authors that will only get bigger. I've no idea what the answer is.

EDIT: I sent the site a Cease & Desist notice, and the page has been taken down.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Mainstream versus indie authors

...or, the farmer and the cowboy should be friends.

Last week Robin Sullivan, who successfully runs the indie small press Ridan, was banned from AbsoluteWrite with this message from the administrator:

"You have been banned for the following reason: Just get the hell off my site. You're relentlessly snotty, rude, and you're a fucking bald-faced liar. I'm done with you.

Date the ban will be lifted: Never."

Nice. Robin's offence? To politely argue the case for indie publishing on AbsoluteWrite's forums on this thread. On AbsoluteWrite, they don't like self-publishers. Mention that some indies have done rather well, and you are likely to be ignored or disbelieved. The majority of members are wedded to the way things are currently run in the publishing industry, however much evidence accrues that it is broken.

Why are they quite so vitriolic? I have a theory. It can be pretty discouraging, being a writer. You toil away on your own for years, learning how to write, then you reach stage one: submit to agents. Suppose you get an agent (and only a handful of writers I know have achieved this) she will submit your book to publishers. They take their time to reply, and you may find after a year or so your agent has used all her contacts and failed to place your book.

If you are lucky enough to find a publisher, you will wait eighteen months or more to see your novel in print. As a new author you are unlikely to get much of an advance (I know of two exceptions to this, Guy Saville and Elspeth Cooper). With little of the publisher's money invested in it, your book will not get much hype or a favourable spot in the bookshops. 90% of new authors sell fewer than 1,000 copies and don't earn out their advance. Unless you sell surprisingly well, after some months your unsold books will be returned and pulped.

Anyone committed to this dismal system, accepting repeated rejection with gritted teeth and the mantra I'll write another book, is likely to be touchy with those she sees leaping over the gatekeepers and making their books available to readers within weeks of finishing them. It makes it even worse that some of these writers are doing rather well out of it. Stockholm Syndrome kicks in.

The most clued-up authors think that a mixture of indie and traditional publishing is the best way to go. Being hostile to writers who have chosen a different route is pointless - and anyone who subsequently switches sides is going to feel really foolish.

Not the bigots at AbsoluteWrite, though. They know what they think, and you'd better agree with them if you go on their site.

(I choose not to, myself.)

Saturday, 4 June 2011

The author, the agent and the cover artist

The publishing industry is in a strange but interesting state, with everyone trying out each other's jobs. This story caught my eye.

Catherine Cookson's books were published long before ebooks were thought of, so her publishers, Transworld and Simon & Schuster don't hold the rights. Catherine Cookson's estate has authorized her agent Sonia Land to release a hundred of her books for Kindle in an exclusive deal with Amazon. Priced at £3.99, I'm sure Cookson's many fans will be delighted.

What struck me as odd is how Sonia Land has published the novels. She's started her own company, and called it Peach Publishing, in spite of the fact that there is already a Peach Publishing in existence in the UK with a website here. Sonia Land's website is still under construction. Did she not think to google the name?

And then there's the covers... I move in indie circles, and have seen a few amateur book covers in my time, but these take the biscuit. How any professional in the publishing industry could think these acceptable beats me. They aren't just ugly and cheap-looking, they're inept.

Perhaps Ms Land has the visual equivalent of a tin ear, or maybe she reflected that Catherine Cookson's books would sell however dire the covers. Maybe the designs were done by a relative, and she found it hard to be objective. I do hope she didn't do them herself...

Whatever the explanation, I wouldn't want her choosing a cover artist for my books.