Posts Tagged ‘ new writing ’

Harry Potter and the Dam-Busters – you heard it here first!

We interrupt the Girls Just Wanna Have Fun blogfest for a news update.

So now it’s official.

JK Rowling IS going digital, and there’s much chatter among the writing classes about what this means for us all.

The consensus is more e-reader sales, more kudos to e-publishing, and a Christmas bonanza in 2011.

Actually, here at MWi we were saying exactly this way back in April. It seems appropriate therefore to reproduce that post today.

The figures for Sugar & Spice sales are a little dated, of course, but the main thrust of the post seems as pertinent today as three months ago and is reproduced here as was.

Remember, you heard it here first! 🙂

Harry Potter and the Dam-Busters.


How long is too long? When is the “right time” to self-publish?

Okay, I have to be honest. I’ve been struggling all week to figure out an angle to do a shameless plug for the launch of our US Edition of Sugar & Spice without it looking like a shameless plug.

Then out of the blue came three successive blog posts by a fellow author that made me realise that the plug could wait until tomorrow.

This was far more interesting. So ignore that image above. It has no place here.

Instead, say hello to Anne R. Allen.

Among Anne’s most recent offerings is a post titled “12 signs your novel isn’t ready to publish”, which follows hard on the heels of “3 questions to ask before you jump on the indie publishing bandwagon.”

As Anne says, “Trusted voices in the publishing industry, who not long ago warned against self-publishing, are now singing its praises.

Self-publishing is no longer equated with vanity publishing, and we all know the success stories of writers like Amanda Hocking, who have spear-headed the “indie” e-publishing revolution, and rightly earned their place in publishing history.

But as Anne thoughtfully reminds us, it is a bandwagon.

And, tempting as it may be to rush in now with your recipe book, great great grandfather’s memoirs, or the blockbuster manuscript you’ve been secretly working on this past three decades and lay them before an adoring public, maybe it is better to take a step back and take a reality check. Hence the “12 signs your novel…”

Anne had in mind the case of the author on Amazon who recently responded badly to what appeared to be legitimate criticism, and was savaged all the more for her troubles. I certainly won’t embarrass the author further by identifying her or her book. I’m sure we all know the story by now. A sad episode for all parties concerned, as best summed up Nathan Bransford in his blog Virtual Witch-Hunt.

I have to say I was heartened to learn (again through Anne’s blog) that the author’s sales actually picked up as a consequence. Which is kind of nice. Hopefully that writer has learned her lesson and will go on to greater things. As for those who jumped on that particular bandwagon of name calling and finger pointing… The less said the better.

But underlying Anne’s blog piece was the question of how do we, as writers, know when we are ready? Or when our work is ready?

At what point do we stop seeking approval of the almighty gatekeepers and just go for it?

“How long is too long?”


Now obviously we’ve been exceptionally lucky with Sugar & Spice.

When we finished the script last year the idea of e-publishing hadn’t been given much thought. The Kindle hadn’t really caught on here in the UK, and anyway we were writers.

We believed a book wasn’t a book until it was on the plinth in the bookstore on the High Street. Or at least gathering dust on a shelf somewhere. But it had to involve real ink, and paper. After all, this new “e-publishing” malarkey was just a modern form of vanity-publishing, wasn’t it?

Of course we’d heard of Amanda Hocking and the other up-starts making waves across the pond, but no-one in the UK read e-books, surely?

So we began the long, hard slog of playing find-an-agent.

Now it’s one of the ironies of the agent-hunting business that, the longer they take to respond, the more likely it is they are actually interested.

If your proposal comes back by return post, or even worse, the same day as an email, you’ve either submitted your work to an agent who doesn’t touch your genre, or your work was bad enough to need just a single glance and be allocated a rejection slip.

Agents are running businesses. Time is money. They don’t have time to waste trying to find the one good bit in your mess of a manuscript. And they most certainly don’t want your pointless proposal cluttering up their desk any longer than necessary.

So if you’ve been waiting for an eternity for a response, take heart. They like your work enough to at least seriously consider it.

But as we’ve seen with Tom, Mark and Gerry (previous blogs), even if you get the agency contract, that’s only half the battle. You then go through the whole thing again to get an actual publisher.

Which brings us back to the key question: “How long is too long?”

And perhaps more importantly, are you missing out on the opportunity of a life-time by chasing the paper dream?


We elected for the dual approach.

With the Kindle Christmas bonanza approaching we decided to e-publish through Amazon and continue to submit to agents simultaneously. We hoped maybe we’d pick up a few e-sales along the way and get some feedback, and meanwhile keep our fingers crossed for an agent.

In fact we’d left it too late and we totally missed the festive e-sales bonanza. Come Christmas morning when everyone was gleefully buying their first ever e-book downloads, Sugar & Spice was just another obscure e-book in the Amazon jungle and no-one knew it existed. And so it stayed in January. What did it take to get noticed on Amazon’s Kindle?

Fast forward three months…

Agency rejections have come in slowly. Slowly being the sign we weren’t being rejected out of hand, at least. But our novel is not an easy-sell. One leading agent told us it was well written and she had agonized over it, but the subject matter (inside the mind of a paedophile killer) was “the last taboo” in crime writing.

And of course the paper publishing industry anyway works on a different time-scale from the real world.

The manuscript has been with the latest prospective agent now for two months. Yes, they are definitely interested, but that’s as far as we’ve got.

The e-book?

Well, regular readers will know the situation and just have to forgive me mentioning for new visitors that Sugar & Spice is, as I write, the #1 best selling thriller on Kindle UK and #3 in the main Kindle UK chart, selling some 20,000 books a month.

And that’s JUST through Amazon. We haven’t even begun to explore other options properly yet.

But the reason for citing those figures is to make a very real point.

Leaving aside the obvious delight at having got so far on our own, and leaving aside the short-term financial boost this brings, what we have now as writers is something far more important.

Let’s return here to the third of Anne’s blogs, titled “What if somebody steals your plot?”

Anne begins by addressing the amusing habit new writers have of fearing their agent / publisher / best friend’s mother-in-law will steal their plot and make a million.

As Anne says, new writers “can embarrass themselves with plot-theft paranoia. That’s why you never want to mention copyright in a query letter. It red-flags you as an amateur.”

Wise advice indeed. But it was Anne’s follow-up comment that really struck a chord with me. Anne mentions how she and other authors are often approached by non-writers convinced they have this great idea for a book and just need someone to put it into words for them.

“I don’t want to be mean,” Anne says with majestic diplomacy, “but they (non-writers) need to understand that most writers have plenty of story ideas of our own. Our biggest fear is not living long enough to write them all.”

How true is that?!

Even before I teamed up with Saffi my projects folder was a heaving mass of ideas across all genres, fiction and non-fiction. Now, between us, just the short synopses of what we’d like to write next would make a full length book.

What of it?

Well, had we not gone the self-publishing route, and instead were still patiently hoping for the gatekeepers’ seal of approval, we would at best have been working half-heartedly at book number two, wondering what we were doing wrong.

And of course if an offer had materialised we would have just signed on the dotted line, glad to be “accepted” by the gatekeepers, and agreeing to whatever they suggested.

Which sure as hell wouldn’t be daring to experiment with a US edition of Sugar & Spice, or working on completely different genres. In fact ninety per cent of our projects would have been vetoed from the start just because they didn’t tick the right boxes for the gatekeepers.

Knowing now that we don’t “need” an agent or publisher to reach an audience has given us the confidence to press ahead with our many other projects. We hope to have several more books on Amazon by the end of the year, across several genres (the first of the Rose Red crime thriller series and the first of the Equilibrium dark fantasy trilogy to name but a few), and have plans for a dozen more over the next three years. (Two writers together can easily more than double the output of one!)

We’re far from ready to give up the day jobs, of course. And yes, we could drop out of the charts tomorrow and plummet into oblivion. Our next books may flop completely. We are always realistic.

But having the confidence to seriously get on with the next projects, knowing we can publish when we are ready and not have to rely on the gatekeepers’ approval… Having the freedom to write what we want to write next, not what the gatekeepers think will trend in two years time… And above all being able to control the timing, the marketing and the pricing (of course we would never be selling 20,000 a month at book-shop prices) is worth its weight in gold.

And it does raise the awkward question, what will we do if an agent / publisher does finally come up with an offer?

Watch this space…

Becoming a Rhino – Gerry McCullough’s Story

When an attachment about a rhino first arrived in my in-box it had had me flummoxed.

Plenty of hippos in this part of West Africa, but rhinos are in short supply. Was this a safari enquiry? Or maybe a recipe suggestion?

In fact it was from Gerry McCullough, author of Belfast Girls.

Rhinos? That will become clear as we go.

I’d asked Gerry to share with us her path to publication. Had she discovered the magic formula to instant success?

Sadly, no. It’s another forlorn tale of hope and disappointment, of  dreams and reality, and of rejection and redemption. But yeah, mostly rejection.

Rejection underpins the lives of amost all authors, no matter how successful they are now. And in a weird kind of way, we as wannabe writers thrive on other peoples’ rejection stories.

They give us the will to live when we begin to doubt ourselves, as yet another beautifully crafted rejection slip arrives in the post or our email in-box.

We love to remind ourselves how the venerable JK’s first Harry Potter manuscript was dismissed by the gatekeepers time after time, including the biggest names in British publishing, and then given a tiny print run and was almost never heard of again.

We love to hear how John Grisham got up an hour early every day to write his first novel, only to have it rejected by twelve publishers and fifteen agents who thought they knew best.

Which of course they must do, right?

Agents and publishers are the gatekeepers, after all. Or so some seem to think.

Jenny Bent is a New York based literary agent who thankfully doesn’t see things that way, but readily admits she’s pretty much on her own. This from her latest blog:

“A year or two ago I was having lunch with an old friend, someone I think both intelligent and savvy, the publisher of a largish imprint at a major house. We had a disagreement about what was going to happen as e-books became more popular. His position was that readers would always need the big publishing houses because they needed to have their content filtered, so to speak–because as agents, editors, and publishers, we had a certain kind of literary taste or standard and we needed to pass that along to the reader”

I’ll be coming back to the issue of agents and publishers as gate-keepers in a near-future blog. But for now, before we move on to Gerry McCullough properly, sit back and enjoy a few more examples of the gate-keepers showing their “certain kind of literary taste or standard,” as Jenny so elegantly puts it.

Let us be forever thankful for the gatekeeper who spotted the mindless drivel some up-start wannabe writer tried to palm off on a professional publisher. Wisely he passed on The Spy Who Came In From The Cold to a rival with the comment, “You’re welcome to le Carré – he hasn’t got any future.

“We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.” So said another gatekeeper publisher as he saved us from the banal witterings of this new guy, Stephen King.

William Golding’s Lord Of the Flies managed to upset an impressive twenty publishers. One noted thoughtfully, “An absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull.”

“I’m sorry Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.” With those words a young Rudyard was sent packing by those who know best.

“It is impossible to sell animal stories in the USA,” said a publisher who slightly misunderstood the point of George Orwell’s Animal Farm.

Another talentless wannabe, Margaret Mitchell, managed to rack up no less than 38 rejections for her ludicrous attempt at a manuscipt before some two-bit publishing outfit got fed up with her pestering them and gave it a small print run. Then some idiot went and made a film about it.

They both flopped, of course. I mean, whoever heard of Gone With The Wind?

But apart from being writers, what do all the above have in common with Gerry McCullough?

Answer: They never gave up.

Here’s Gerry’s story:

I’ve been writing since childhood, with the encouragement of my primary school teachers, but it was when I was in my teens that I started sending things off to publishers/ magazines, and piling up the rejections.

PG Wodehouse once said that he had enough rejections to paper the walls of his study. By the time I had a study, I had enough rejections to paper all four walls and the downstairs loo as well.

My dream was to be a great writer on the lines of Dickens and Charlotte Bronte, acknowledged as a good writer by the literary critics but also a bestseller popular with the reader-in-the-street.

I had no idea how impossible that is in today’s publishing world.

Ten years ago, I had my first acceptance, a short story for a popular Irish weekly magazine. I was flying. This was it – no more refusals, now!

Well, no. The same magazine seemed happy to accept anything else I sent them but not many others were. The rejections kept coming.

A few years later I won the Cuirt Award for New International Writing for a more literary short story.  This is a prestigious Irish award from Galway Arts Festival. Again, I saw this as a real breakthrough – but it wasn’t.

Did I see myself as a short story writer?  No. I’ve written lots of short stories and had quite a few published but meanwhile I’ve also written at least six novels, the first completed and unsuccessfully submitted to publishers in my mid-to-late teens.

I badly wanted to have a novel published.

Another breakthrough – I thought – was when a local agent accepted me and started to push my book, Dangerous Games.

This was the story of three girls growing up in Belfast. Originally set during the Troubles, it had been re-written for the modern post-conflict era of drugs and money. Sound familiar? Yes, with a change of title it became Belfast Girls.

After a year of unsuccessful submissions, my agent suggested that I put it up on, the HarperCollins online slush pile, and I did.

The rest is history – the history of a hard slog.

I worked to make my book visible, reading other books and commenting on them in the hope that their authors would be polite enough to at least look at mine in return. Mostly they were. I think if the book had been rubbish they wouldn’t have gone further.

But in fact by April last year, at the end of five months, I had reached the top five, earning my book a review by an HC reader and the possibility of a publishing contract. I held on to my Top Five place until the end of April and then waited another six weeks for the review.

I had convinced myself by now that a contract offer would follow.

Alas, although the reader said some very flattering things about the book, no publishing deal emerged. It was a bitter disappointment.

Rejections still pierce.

I haven’t yet developed the hide of a rhino, which my friend Sam Millar, the crime writer, says all authors need.

HC wanted me to turn my book into either a romance or a thriller, and I wasn’t up for that. Belfast Girls is about life – which means romance, thriller, comedy and much more.

I’m delighted to say that the exposure of being on Authonomy won my book the interest of quite a few smaller publishers. 

Of these, Night Publishing was happy to take it as it was, without trying to push it into a genre. They offered me a contract on 1 July (a fortnight after the HC review) and a few weeks later I decided to go for it.

By the end of November, the book was for sale on as a paperback and on both Kindles, etc, in eBook format.

Then came the really hard work.

Lots of articles are written about how to sell your book online and you’ll be glad to hear this isn’t yet another one.

At first I tried to sell my paperbacks. About a month ago, I realised that the major sales were coming from the eBooks, and started to concentrate on that.

I’d had quite a few interviews on blogs, which was nice – but I’m not sure how many books it sold.

I’d been on local radio, with a wide audience, three times, with the prospect of more, and I’d had a number of good reviews in local newspapers and magazines. Writer Garbhan Downey compared me to Andre Malraux, and said my book was about the human condition, which pleased me a lot, because that was the intention.

I was getting the literary appreciation I’d hoped for. But what about the bestseller status?

Did I need to change, to label my book ‘Romance’? Change the title and cover and description? I thought about it.

Meanwhile, my husband had set me up on Facebook with a Fan page, and I began to make use of this.

Suddenly I saw the book begin to climb the bestseller lists on Kindle UK.

I didn’t, like Byron, wake up one morning to find myself famous. But I did wake up one morning to find myself well up the Women’s Literary Fiction list, at No.32. Last Sunday I came home to see that I had reached No.13. I was also halfway up the Literary Fiction and the Contemporary Romance lists.

Since then it’s been continual movement.  I hope I’ve at last reached the tipping point, where the book will continue to sell without the amount of work on publicity I’ve had to give it until now.

Belfast Girls is on just about every Amazon site worldwide and although it’s early days yet to say how it’s doing, there’s been quite a bit of interest.

One customer from South Africa has been glowingly enthusiastic, and hopefully there’ll be lots more from these other countries. So far all my reviews have been good. With increased sales I expect a few bad ones will arrive. Then I’ll find out how thick a hide I’ve grown. Not very thick yet, I suspect.

But the main market is Kindle. I’d hoped to see piles of my books in bookshops, and that isn’t likely to happen currently.

But the Kindle sales are a delight and more than make up for it. Perhaps I’ll get to the top of the bestseller list sometime soon.  That’ll be the time for running through the streets shouting, ‘Hallelujah!’

But if not – well, I can only say that I’m very happy – over the moon, in fact! – to see Belfast Girls doing as well as it has.

Thanks for that, Gerry. Let’s hope your book soars up the Kindle charts and begins to develop sales elsewhere.

For anyone interested, Belfast Girls can be bought on here, and here.

BTW, and for the record, should anyone have spotted that Night Publishing is behind both Gerry’s book and Tom Winton’s Beyond Nostalgia, featured here a week or two back, just to stress that that is purely coincidental. Neither Saffi nor I are connected in any way with Night Publishing.

My acquaintance with both authors came through their presence on the peer review sites youwriteon and authonomy.

Which is perhaps a pertinent note to end on.

For all their faults, both sites remain excellent places to “meet” and sample new and up-and-coming writing talent.

Both sites deserve our continued support and encouragement whether, like us, we are just taking our first tentative steps on the self-publishing ladder, or even if one of us hits the jackpot and get a deal that would make even JK envious.

However successful the mega-star writers are now, they all started out as wannabes, just like us.

Harry Potter and the Dam-Busters

The dam is about to burst, with the announcement that JK Rowling is negotiating for all her Harry Potter books to be released as e-books.

Not only will this trigger a huge rise in e-reader sales, on top of the phenomenal expansion already happening, but more importantly this will be the day e-books come of age.

At the moment most paper-based publishers treat the e-book market as a useful sideline to their main business of selling books on paper.

That point is worth dwelling on.

Publishers have spent their entire past existence selling paper with a book attached. Just as, until oh so recently, the music industry sold first vinyl and then CDs with music attached.

When music downloads first became available, the music industry went out of its way to dismiss the digital alternative as inferior quality that would open the flood-gates to any old Tom, Dick or Harriet producing their own music and making it available to the public.

How dare the up and coming musicians think they could by-pass the music industry’s gate-keepers?!

What about standards? Quality? Professionalism? The gate-keepers ensured the public’s well-being and protected them by preventing the market being flooded by rubbish music from wannabes who hadn’t followed the rule book.

But despite the music industry’s best efforts to ignore and belittle them, digital music downloads just got better and better, until finally a tipping point was reached and the music industry embraced them.

True, CDs are still available, and even vinyl, but the main delivery system is now digital.

And the key factors in making that happen were consumer choice and technological innovation.

Consumer choice meant that suddenly a music lover did not have to restrict themselves to whatever their soon to go out of business local store could offer, nor even to the bigger but oh so predictable and commercial range offered by the music superstores.

Technological innovations meant you could carry around with you more music than you could ever listen to in a life-time.

Books were slow to follow suit.

Technology held back progress and consumer choice held back progress.

Reading a whole book sat at a computer screen was never going to be a pleasant experience, and consumer choice was pretty much non-existent.

As e-readers became better and cheaper that began to change. Barnes & Noble’s Nook was a reasonable success, but as it did (and still does) prevent anyone outside the US actually downloading anything it never deserved to do better. The limited competition from Sony and the cheap Korean imitations had the same problem of limited consumer choice.

Then along came the Kindle…

We all know the Kindle’s success story, and we can see, day by day, how the Kindle is transforming the e-book market.

The CEO of Barnes & Noble conceded last month that digital downloads would be the primary delivery system for books within two years. This hard on the heels of Amazon confirming they sold more e-books than paper books last year.

The next twelve to eighteen months will see e-readers radically improve in quality and rapidly reduce in price as the trend to e-reading accelerates.

At the moment the one big advantage paper has is that it is universal. Language aside, a paper book is a paper book. Whether you buy it from B&N, Amazon, your local book-store or a charity shop you can read it. Sadly my Kindle cannot easily download a book from B&N or Waterstone’s, so if Amazon doesn’t have it it’s not an option.

Sure there are numerous apps and other ways and means to transfer books between devices, but it’s not straight-forward.

It looks like we’re in for a year or so of mix-n-match marketing, rather like the old days with Betamax and VHS, until an industry standard is agreed for delivery and all devices will be able to receive e-books from all suppliers.

And all books will be avalable as e-books.

Like it or not, it’s going to happen. Your personal preference for a good old fashioned chunk of a dead tree in your hands will still be an option for a good while yet, but the direction is clear and nothing is going to stop it.

Borders paid the price for ignoring it. B&N are desperately struggling to keep up with it.

For the big publishing houses it’s crunch time. The publishing world in five years time will be a wholly different place from what it is now. Paper books will be a niche market. Lucrative for the few, but most definitely a niche.

The Barnes & Noble CEO predicted it would be two years before the balance swayed in favour of digital. This despite Amazon already having reached that point.

But this before the announcement that the venerable JK herself was about to go digital.

That’s the same JK who has previously deliberately distanced herself from the e-book markets.

Not that she needs it, but Rowling expected to net one hundred million pounds from the deal – and that just a small percentage of what her publishers will make.

Make no mistake: e-books have arrived, and the other big names will soon follow suit in a big way.

No timetable has been given, but safe to presume Christmas 2011 will see e-reader sales hit the stratosphere as a Kindle / Nook/ Sony / etc becomes a must-have accessory, and Harry Potter will hold the top seven places in the e-book charts.

For anyone still on the fence about e-publishing, now is most definitely the time to take the plunge.

In a year’s time it may be too late.

At the moment very few publishers seem to be taking e-books too seriously. Just as Borders didn’t…

There will be a huge shake-up as e-publishing hits their margins and those that emerge stronger from the battle will almost certainly become the gate-keepers for the new e-book publishing world, able to introduce loss-leaders (as we saw at Christmas on Kindle) and able to invest huge sums in promoting the select few, just as they do now.

We (Saffi and I) been extraordinarily lucky. We’ve beaten the likes of James Patterson and Steig Larsson in the Kindle charts and are currently locked against the almighty Wilbur Smith for third place.

We’re not so arrogant as to think our book, Sugar & Spice, is better than theirs, or that we are actually out-selling theirs, of course.  Obviously we can compete with mega-stars like these only because most of their buyers will still be opting for the paper version.

Nonetheless, despite being complete unknowns without an agent or publisher, and with no loyal following from previously published works, we’ve come from nowhere to sell over 20,000 e-books on Kindle so far (no, you won’t see that on Novelrank, but we have sent Mario our figures) and are on target this month to double that, with sales edging (slowly!) towards 1000 a day.

That’s nothing compared to Wilbur Smith, of course, or even our main chart rival Stephen Leather, who has consistently held the top places on Kindle UK.

Our point being, it’s 20,000 more than we would have sold if we’d sat back waiting for a paper publisher…

The fact is, 15,000 of those e-books have been sold since we last sent our manuscript to an agent, and we are still waiting for a response…

And much as we’d love to straddle both paper and digital markets, it has to be said we’re doing pretty well on our own. So far we are ONLY selling to Kindle owners. Next to target B&N on the Nook, Waterstone’s on Sony, etc, etc.

And if the right offer comes along, maybe to go to paper too, while it’s still an option. There’s no question that a good contract with a paper publisher could offer opportunities  we as “indies” could not take advantage of. Again, Stephen Leather leaves us looking on enviously as he gets his paper works translated and sold across Europe while simultaneously keeping us off the number two spot on Kindle UK.

But Stephen is an old hand at this game, and has been on the circuit a long time, with a raft of published books to his credit. He also has a little help from above, as this never before seen in the UK photo shows. (Oops! That’s us two off his Christmas card list!)

This blog is aimed at the new and up-and-coming writers who are currently on the fence about e-publishing. At the moment the door is wide open and those with a combination of energy, good marketing, a reasonable product and a degree of luck have a golden opportunity to jump the queue, get a head start and establish a brand.

An opportunity that almost certainly won’t exist this time next year.

Christmas 2011 is pretty much guaranteed to see Harry Potter sweeping the board, and where JK leads, the rest will surely follow.

This time next year a new and unknown “indie” publisher will be lucky to get into the top hundred.

Which is why we are now going full out now to get as many titles out there as quickly as possible to establish a brand and develop a wide readership that will hopefully carries us through the turbulent waters ahead.

We thought we had a period of grace of maybe two years, as the B&N CEO suggested, but JK Rowling has just upped the ante.

Carpe diem! Make your lives extraordinary!

The numbers game.

Okay, today’s blog is about… numbers.

Yes, I hear you. We’re writers, not mathematicians, and words are our tools.

I know how you all hate maths, or even math, for our American readers.

But this is about real numbers. Numbers that matter to us as writers.

Royalties, in other words.

Yeah, thought that would get your attention.

As previously blogged, Barry Eisler’s turning down half a million bucks to “go indie” and darling Amanda “selling out” (not my words!) to the dead-tree guys has over-night changed the way the world views publishing.

On top of that, as Borders US finally succumbed to the inevitable and went into liquidation (Borders UK did so a year or two back) the CEO of Barnes & Noble stated on record that digital books would be the primary delivery system for books within two years.

For Amazon, that’s already the case. They sold more e-books than paper books last year, and that was before the Kindle took off big-time (eleven million Kindles sold).

Britain’s biggest retailer Tesco now sells Kindles over the counter and rival groups are selling rival e-readers. Six months e-readers were virtually unheard of in the UK. Now we see them everywhere, and the trend is growing by the day.

In the US, as the B&N CEO concedes, that trend is far more advanced.

A tipping point has been reached.

The next generation of e-readers will be more savvy, more creative, more must-have, and perhaps most importantly less costly.

There can be no question that e-books are the future. The question is just when, and how it will effect us, both as readers and as writers.

Nathan Bransford has just published a most informative blog that spells out the reality of numbers as they relate to us as authors. You can read his full blog here.

Essentially, he asks, is it better to go “indie” and e-publish, or to keep chasing the dream of a real, printed book in your hands and try to get an agent and publisher?

Of course we all want the pleasure of a real book, our book, in our hands.

We approached agents before we decided to e-publish, and had one offered us the chance at the time we would almost certainly have signed on the dotted line, agreed to anything they wanted, and now be sitting waiting for our book to appear in the shops in maybe a year’s time.

Hopefully having been given a huge advance, but as an unknown author with an unknown book the chances of any advance being offered was slim, let alone a life-changing one.

As you all know, the agents were intrigued but not convinced. So we put our book out as en e-book and got on with life.

Had we signed up with an agent and then a publisher, and leaving aside any advance (which is clawed back from future sales – it’s not a gift from the publisher!) what could we have expected?

Nathan has kindly laid out the figures for us and I reproduce them here with due acknowledgement.

Standard royalties via traditional publishers (note: these may vary):
Hardcover: 10% retail, sometimes escalating to 15% after sales thresholds are met
Trade paperback: 7.5% retail
Mass market: 8% retail
E-book: 25% net (usually translates to 17.5% retail)

Kindle revenue share for self-published authors:
Priced higher than $9.99: 35% retail
Priced between $2.99-$9.99: 70% retail
Priced below $2.99: 35% retail

B&N revenue share for self-published authors:
Priced higher than $9.99: 40% retail
Priced between $2.99-$9.99: 65% retail
Priced below $2.99: 40% retail

E-distribution fee:
Smashwords: about 15%. Usually translates to about 60% of the retail price.

Approximate E-book market share:
Amazon: ~55%
B&N: ~25%
Others (Kobo, Apple, Google, Sony, etc.): ~20% combined

Okay, so what does that mean in real money?

Let us suppose that we had been offered, and signed, a deal for Sugar & Spice and it had not been e-published independently by us.

What would have happened?

First off, you would not be reading this, because you would never have heard of the groundbreaking debut crime thriller Sugar & Spice, or Saffina Desforges or Mark Williams.

Possibly by the end of 2011, but more likely 2012 (according to Publishers’ Lunch most manuscripts now being signed up will not see print until spring 2013!) our book would finally be published.

Now unless that publisher is taking a huge interest in us, is buying us a plinth in Waterstone’s (don’t for one second think bookshops hand over the plinth and poster space out of the kindness of their heart!) and is sending out sample copies and lunch invitations to all their well-connected reviewers, etc, then our book will be just another spine on the shelf.

Again, who ever heard of Saffina Desforges?

In 2012 the name would be as just as obscure as in 2010.

But we’ll be hoping that readers who have never heard of the author or the title will risk ten pounds (or whatever the dollar equivalent may be) on us rather than spend that ten pounds on Stephen King, James Patterson or another big name they know and trust.

Come to that, dollar equivalent? Forget that!

Our book would only be available in selected high-street stores in the UK.

Okay, so sometime in 2012, a year down the line, our book is finally published and if we’re really lucky people buy it.

Nathan states royalties of 10% for hardback and 7% to 8% for paperbacks. E-book royalties if put online via a publisher are 25%, but in  reality only 14% to 17%.

Now this month, March 2011, we have sold approximately 13,000 e-books at our chosen retail price of 71p. That could go up or down next month, though the trend is most definitely up.

We were only a top twenty seller at the beginning of March. As I write this we are a top five seller. On our current daily sales we are on target to sell 20,000 next month if nothing changes. And believe me, those figures pale into insignificance compared to Stephen Leather’s sales!

And our sales are only for Amazon Kindle. We haven’t listed on Waterstone’s yet, and we haven’t started marketing ourselves on Barnes & Noble properly.

But let’s take 13,000 sales in one month as our base-line.

Now the Amazon royalties are public knowledge. No trade secrets here. We make 35% of retail because we choose a low retail price.

What chance our paper-published book selling 13,000 copies in a month? Virtually impossible.

Of course, the mega-names like Cornwell, Patterson, King, Grisham, etc, do it all the time, sure. But this is an unknown author with no history, no loyal readership built up over years, and no publicity machine behind it.

So in a year’s time Sugar & Spice is published by a “real” publisher, and released through them as an e-book on Amazon. And we’re lucky and it does as well as it is now, and we sell 13,000 copies in a month.

Read out those figures again, Nathan!

E-book: 25% net (usually translates to 17.5% retail).

17.5%!!! And Barry Eisler reckons the real figure is nearer 14%.

But let’s stick to 17.5%.

So we sell 13,000 e-books at the same price, with the same amount of marketing effort on our part.

But instead of getting 35% of the royalties we hand over half of that to the publisher!

Suddenly we have to sell over 25,000 e-books a month just to get the same money back we earn by selling just 13,000 as “indie” publishers.

True, only people with a screen can read our book now, and we are missing out on a huge number of prospective readers who only read on paper.

But by the time the book actually sees print the number of e-readers will have multiplied a zillion times while the number of paper readers will have dwindled.

Not fantasy. That’s the very near future as seen by the CEO of America’s biggest bookstore chain, B&N.

Now go a step further. Supposing our book continues to sell in volume over the coming months, or even increases as word spreads. Supposing we get our act together (remember, this is all new to us – we’re learning as we go) and get our book on Waterstone’s e-books list and somehow make it happen on Barnes & Noble too…

Supposing we maintained 13,000 sales a month over the coming year. That’s 156,000 sales that, if we had signed a contract and were waiting for our book to be published, would not exist.

And as previously said, we’d then have to sell 25,000 e-books a month (300,000 a year!) just to make the same money.

We have several more books in the pipeline this year and many more after that. The first of our Rose Red crime thriller series is due on Kindle this summer, and the first of our dark fantasy trilogy Equilibrium will be on Kindle in September. Two follow-ups to Sugar & Spice are planned for the future (Puppy Dogs’ Tails and Cold Blood), and the projects list beyond that is a book in itself!

None of these would be seeing the light of day before 2012/ 2013 if we were with a dead-tree publisher.

Perhaps more importantly still, we would not have had the confidence to be planning this far ahead if we hadn’t already proven we could do it through e-sales.

Of course, a “real” publisher can potentially offer so many things we’d love to take advantage of.

Professional proof-reading (if you’re not a writer you can have no idea how time-consuming that is – time that could be spent writing the next book), foreign language translation, etc, etc.

Don’t think for one second we are trashing “real” publishing.

We are most definitely not.

If the right deal comes along of course we’ll grab it and run!

We still have bills to pay, families to provide for, and we still subscribe to Private Jet Monthly, just in case… (The one in the pic is mine. Saffi wants a pink one!)

But if the offer ever comes, we will have to balance the short-term delight of being able to hand over a real, made of paper, signed copy of our book to our loved ones, against the realities of the new publishing world that is now emerging.

If you’re on the fence with your manuscript, still sitting on the hard-drive while you weigh up the same issues, ponder the following conclusion from Nathan.

If you can sell print copies, all things being equal there’s still the bulk of the money to be made there.

But if you’re not going out in print in a big way, a self-published e-book is absolutely the way to go.

Hocking sell out. Eisler sells in. Or is it quite that simple?

Amanda Hocking has pretty much captured the headlines this past week with her decision to sign up with a major publishing house and finally see her books in real print.

For those of you living on another planet this past year or two, Amanda became the first writer to become a millionaire never having had a book published on paper. She achieved fame and fortune purely by selling her work on-line, and had become the icon of indie writers for her pains.

My co-author Saffi has blogged on this issue already, so here to address the other side of the coin: a major paper-published author who has just turned down a half million dollar book deal because he believes e-books are the future and he can do better without a big publishing house behind him.

Barry Eisler is the author in question, and he and fellow author Joe Konrath conducted a “live debate” on google docs discussing their experiences, hopes and fears for the future.

As they have kindly made it available for the purpose, I have selected a few salient points from their debate that address issues which are relevant to us, as new and aspiring writers, struggling to make sense of the huge changes taking place in the publishing world.

Eisler began by rehearsing an argument he first put forward a year previously: that digital was going to become more and more attractive relative to paper.

First, because the price of digital readers would continue to drop while the functionality would continue to increase; second, because more and more titles would become available for digital download at the same time more brick and mortar stores were closing.

In other words, everything about paper represented a static defense, while everything about digital represented a dynamic offense.

Not hard to predict how a battle like that is going to end.

Apple sold 15 million iPads in 2010, and the iPad2 just went on sale. And Amazon sold eight million Kindle books in 2010–more digital books, in fact, than paperbacks.

Meanwhile, Borders is shuttering 224 stores.

So I think it’s safe to say the trends I just mentioned are continuing. And the trends reinforce each other: the Borders in your neighborhood closes, so you try a low-priced digital reader, and you love the lower cost of digital books, the immediate delivery, the adjustable font, etc… and you never go back to paper.

The reverse isn’t happening: people aren’t leaving digital for paper. There’s a ratchet effect in favor of digital.

The figures for book-store closures are of course from the US, but we see similar trends in the UK and Europe, and the rise in popularity of e-reading devices and options is beyond dispute.

So is this the end for traditional publishing houses? Some people seem to think (or even hope) so but to me that seems unlikely just yet.

But what is certain is that the publishing world is being transformed, and there will be casualties along the way.

Back to Barry and Joe:

Barry: I can’t tell you how many people I’ve heard saying, “But paper isn’t going to disappear.”

That isn’t the point!

If you ask the wrong question, the right answer to that question isn’t going to help you.

So the question isn’t, “Will paper disappear?” Of course it won’t, but that’s not what matters.

What matters is that paper is being marginalized.

Did firearms eliminate the bow and arrow? No–some enthusiasts still hunt with a bow. Did the automobile eliminate the horse and buggy? No–I can still get a buggy ride around Central Park if I want.

Now, some new technologies really have completely displaced their forebears. For example, there’s no such thing as eight-track tape anymore. And yet some people still do listen to their music on vinyl, despite the advent of mp3 technology.

The question, then, is what advantages does the previous technology retain over the new technology? If the answer is “none,” then the previous technology will become extinct, like eight-track. If the answer is “some,” then the question is, how big a market will the old technology continue to command based on those advantages?

Joe: You’re talking about niche markets.

Barry: Exactly.

Joe: We’ve discussed this before. Paper won’t disappear, but that’s not the point. The point is, paper will become a niche while digital will become the norm.

Now it may well be that Amanda Hocking’s deal has helped delay that eventuality, and provided succour to those who like to pretend the e-publishing revolution is just another bubble waiting to burst.

But the truth is that while many more e-book-only writers will of course leap at the chance of reaching the real-book market currently beyond them, established paper-based brands like Barry Eisler will increasingly abandon the dead-tree sector because they have a choice.

They no longer need to be shackled by paper contracts, write only what the huge expense of paper-publishing can justify, and endure the ponderous speed of the dead-tree publishing process.

As my co-author Saffi observes on her own blog today, we are writers, not just genre writers

It may well be that Barry Eisler has no intention of diversifying his style and genre preferences, but at least he now has that freedom to experiment.

And as we shall examine in forthcoming blogs following more of Barry and Joe’s debate, that freedom is not just about style and genre. It’s about the freedom to choose your cover, your cover artist, the time and date of your book launch, and perhaps most critical of all, the price of your book.

Writers write to be read. Publishers publish to make money.

Nothing wrong with that, of course. But until recently the publishers entirely justifiable need to make money meant that writers wrote what publishers wanted.

It’s not an “us and them” issue, but the reality of the publishing world is changing before our eyes.

There’s never been a more exciting time to be a writer.

Of Mice And Men…

Whether you’re a John Steinbeck fan, or can trace affiliation back to Robbie Burns himself, you’ll be familiar with the frustration of seeing your carefully laid schedule ripped into pieces and tossed to the far winds by “events.”

Thus is it with the blog re-launch.

There I was, living a life of blissful ignorance in the glorious sunshine here on the Smiling Coast, supping an ice-cold Sprite, pondering what direction to take our new Snow White crime thriller series, when my co-author Saffina emails the news that we’ve made the top ten on Amazon!

Sure enough, when eventually I managed to log on (The Gambia is still very much a third-world country where IT is concerned) our ground-breaking thriller Sugar & Spice is indeed in at number ten in the thriller genre and, perhaps even more remarkably, in the top forty on the overall Amazon Kindle chart, competing against star names like James Patterson, Patricia Cornwell et al.

Oh for an ice-cold beer to celebrate! But alcohol in this largely Muslim country is to be found only in the tourist areas, where I venture only when necessary. Maybe tomorrow!

Meanwhile, back to reality.

Tomorrow shall see my revival of the ones-to-watch-on-youwriteon, as part of our commitment to building a platform for new writing and writers, beginning with a WIP from Anthony C Green by the curious title of Spiritual Philosophy: The Novel, which deserves a wider audience.

Peer-group-review sites like youwriteon, authonomy, etc, enjoy mixed reputations in the writing community, but for many new writers they are the only place where they can get independent and (hopefully) honest feedback about works in progress, from absolute beginners through to accomplished authors. Certainly for youwriteon it is the case that many established writers trial new material on the site to test audience reaction.

With so much material on both sites it’s quite impossible to keep track of everything, so if anyone has seen something special on a peer-review site recently, or just something that shows real promise, even if still in the very early stages, please let me know.

Good new writers both need and deserve every break they can get, and as the tsunami that is the e-book revolution continues to rewrite the rule book on how writers, agents, publishers and readers interact, there has never been a better time for wannabe writers to get their works before the reading public, and for the best among them to rise to well-deserved fame and fortune.

%d bloggers like this: