Wednesday, 11 June 2014

London cabs and why they are like Big Publishing

Today London's black cab drivers headed for Trafalgar Square in protest at the threat to their livelihood from Uber. You can summon an Uber cab from your smartphone, and it will collect you and take you to your destination for less than a black cab would cost. 

Though the official objection is to the unlicensed use of meter apps, that's not really the issue. Cabbies who have spent years acquiring The Knowledge and hold the whole network of London streets in their heads resent this newcomer using apps and satnavs muscling in on their territory and undercutting their prices.

It seems to me that the issue has a lot in common with Big Publishing's problems with Amazon. Like the Big Five, London's cabbies have enjoyed a virtual monopoly, and their prices have risen to the point where I don't take cabs any more - I can't afford the fares. Now Uber offers a digital alternative - cheaper and more convenient - no more waiting to hail a cab, just tap into your phone. 

Cabbies want Uber to go away so things can go on the way they always have. But the new technology won't go away. Unless the cabbies can persuade the government to block Uber, they will have to adapt in order to survive, even if that means being more competitive on price, accepting internet bookings and abandoning The Knowledge.

The internet has radically changed the way people do business. If you don't want to change, then you will find an outsider changing things for you. Publishing's outsider was Jeff Bezos.

Replica's screenplay

My brief foray into screenplay writing is over. (No, don't worry about me, I'll be fine, honestly.)

Many readers have commented that Replica would make a good film. So eventually I decided to write the screenplay. It was really hard reducing the book to 114 pages - so much had to go, including a character or two - but I finished a few months ago, and d'you know, I thought it was quite good. I was aware I was probably wrong - noobs are generally filled with false confidence regarding their first efforts. I knew I'd formatted it right, as formatting is easy if you just take pains enough.

A professional scriptwriter, Oli Jeffery, had kindly offered to read it for me. While waiting for his opinion, I put it in to the BBC's Scriptroom, which considers film scripts once a year. I'd told Oli not to pull his punches, and in a long and thoughtful critique he told me my screenplay, though the formatting and descriptions were good, was structurally out of whack and the pacing was off. Among other flaws. Quite a lot of them.

I'm sure he's right. Now I could spend more time learning to write scripts and I think if I did, I'd get there in the end. The process must be similar to learning to write a novel. But it occurred to me, once I'd written a brilliant screenplay it would need to pass the gatekeepers in order to be made into a film, and I just can't face that. Been there, got the tee shirt, didn't like it. My time would be better spent writing the next novel.

And Scriptroom 5? The BBC emailed me: We received over 1300 TV & Film Drama scripts, and our team of readers have been working intensively to sift through all submissions.

After reading the first 10 pages your script was put forward to the next sift where the first 20-30 pages of scripts were then read by another reader – which was the case with 13% of submissions we received. Unfortunately your script did not progress beyond this stage, so will not be considered further and will not receive any other feedback

I'm quite pleased my script was in the top 13% of submissions. (Mark you, the formatting was really good.)

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Indie to trad and happy?

An olden times writer exchanging his book for a contract
Joe Konrath said something on his blog a few weeks ago which has been kicking around at the back of my mind ever since:

"Publishers keep looking at indie success as a slush pile where they can scoop up the best. They'll keep doing that until indies learn better. But very few indies who sign with a legacy publisher and hate the experience will speak publicly about it, because their books are being held hostage and playing nice with their new corporate masters is essential if they want to continue to make money.

So you won't see many authors bashing their publishers. But how many who signed indie deals sing their publishers' praises? Isn't it odd we don't see a lot of that?"

Of course, when a successful indie is wooed and won by one of the Big Five*, he is initially thrilled. The advance will be substantial - it has to be, to match the money he's been making on his own - and it's always a boost to the ego to be pursued. Probably he's secretly gratified to think he'll finally fulfil his fledgling writer aspirations; piles of hardbacks in shop windows, book signings, 'proper' reviews in the media, even 'validation' by the gatekeepers. It'll save him from doing his own (or commissioning) editing, covers, formatting and marketing. For a few weeks, he'll be blogging and tweeting and telling everyone he knows.

Then what? I've poked about the internet a bit, and in most cases, the author goes curiously quiet. Blog posts become muted, mostly just about release dates and cover art. Have I picked up the wrong impression, or do most ex-indie authors conclude they've signed a pact with the devil?

*I'm not including Amazon publishing here, which offers much more to an author than trad pub does. I'd sign with Amazon with enthusiasm. Nor do I include print-only deals like Hugh Howey's.