Friday, 28 September 2012

The price of ebooks and JK Rowling

JK Rowling's first non-Potter novel was published yesterday, and The Casual Vacancy now sits at the top of the ebook and hardback charts in the UK and the US. Amazon is obliged to charge the price set by the publisher for the ebook; in the UK, this is £11.99, and £9.00 including free delivery for the hardback. This means the hardback is 25% cheaper than the digital version, which cannot be lent or passed on or sold second hand (Amazon will buy the hardback from you once you have read it for £4.50). Although ebooks include VAT, Amazon charges the Luxembourg rate of 3%.

Unsurprisingly, some readers who prefer the convenience of reading on a Kindle are fed up about this. Go to the book's reviews and (at time of writing) half of them are one star, mostly because of the price. Almost none of the people posting reviews, favourable or not, have read the book.

My view is the price is extortionate; Hachette are milking JKR's fans in a shameless way just because they can. I am surprised JKR has let them do this. Though setting the price is the province of the publisher, I'd be astonished if a writer with her clout had no hand in deciding on it. There is nothing about JoRo to suggest she is not one shrewd cookie.

Joe Konrath says it will be good for indie authors when the US Department of Justice's ruling on the Price-Fix Six (the five publishers who colluded with Apple to keep ebook prices high) comes into effect, as readers will have cash to buy more books if they spend less on well-known authors. I hope he is right.

(Any of my readers read TCV yet? I wasn't enamoured of the sample or what I've read in the newspaper reviews; I prefer novels with some likeable characters.)

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Fanfiction and why I don't approve

Fanfiction has been in the news lately. Can anyone not know that EL James wrote an erotic series based on Twilight characters Bella and Edward, called Master of the Universe? She then changed the characters' names and 11% of the text. Benefiting from her own fans as well as piggy-backing on Stephanie Meyer's, the book, now called Fifty Shades of Grey, was bought by everyone on this planet except me.

I don't approve of fanfiction. An author writes the story she means to, no more and no less, and it's gross impertinence of her 'fans' to attempt to write what she chose not to. Real fans would have more respect. Had Jane Austen wanted there to be a sequel to Pride and Prejudice, she'd have written it herself. Had JK Rowling envisioned Draco Malfoy and Hermione overcome by mutual lust, she'd have mentioned it in one of Harry Potter's seven volumes.

It doesn't help that the standard of writing is generally poor.

My stance on this clarified for me this week, when I was tracking down the last Mary Renault novel I haven't read, Kind Are Her Answers. It's an early one, so not one of her best, but I still want to read it. And I came across links to Mary Renault fanfiction sites. There's no way I was going to visit them, but it seems most of the stories add in the homosexual sex that Mary Renault chose not to describe in detail. Her view on the subject was: 

"I have sometimes been asked whether I would have written this book more explicitly in a more permissive decade. No; I have always been as explicit as I wanted to be, and have not been much more so in recent books. If characters have come to life, one should know how they will make love; if not it doesn't matter. Inch-by-inch physical descriptions are the ketchup of the literary cuisine, only required by the insipid dish or by the diner without a palate." 

She also, like any sensible person, disliked being pigeon-holed, and having some of her novels on the Gay and Lesbian shelves in libraries like my local one would, I feel sure, have annoyed her.

Yes, I know Shakespeare based some of his plays on other people's plots, using the same names. That's no excuse for us lesser mortals. Some writers argue that copying another's work is acceptable as a means of learning to write, like using training wheels on a bike. But a bike doesn't have an opinion on the matter, whereas most authors do. I'd certainly hate my characters to figure in another person's writing, and behave in ways I know they wouldn't.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Creating isn't normal reality...

When I was doing a post-graduate jewellery course at the Royal College of Art, we all cared too much. Most of us spent our time straining to produce the ultimate piece of jewellery; something so ground-breaking and fabulous no one had ever seen its like before. This had a curiously stultifying effect on the students. One girl only produced six pieces in the three-year course. To get a degree, a modest nine were required, so the technician made up three designs for her.

Later, when working as a self-employed jeweller, and turning out the equivalent of a degree show every three months, I realized we'd been on the wrong tack. What we should have been doing was creating a body of work; making lots of things, including mistakes, then at the end of each term assessing what worked and what didn't, and moving on from there.

If you look at all of a writer's books, or an exhibition of a designer's work, there will be some things you love, others you don't. Mary Renault has written books I will reread for the rest of my life, and others (some of her early work) I've read once. Lalique was a genius, but a few of his pieces do nothing for me at all. And this is fine; fine for them, and for the rest of us too. Few mistakes are fatal. Let's all take risks, get things wrong, and care less about it. We're more likely to get it right in the end.

I have Jerry Cleaver’s Rules of the Page copied to the notes of each book I write. Here they are:
  • Creating isn't normal reality. 
  • You will make a mess. 
  • You must write badly first. 
  • Mistakes lead to discovery. 
  • Letting yourself be bad is the best way to become good. 
  • Everything can be fixed. 
  • The less you care, the better you write. 
  • Everything that happens is OK. 
  • Progress is never even. 
  • It will get good again—always. 
  • Keep writing no matter how awful it feels.