Friday, March 28, 2008

An interesting debate

It has been a very strange week for me, and one in which I seem to keep getting my days mixed up. I am also extraordinarily tired, and as I write this, am struggling to keep my eyes open. This is largely due to the fact that I chose one of the busiest weeks of the year in which to work overtime. It was tempting to turn the offer down to work on Easter Monday, but to be honest, most of the smaller book shops that I had planned to ring were not open anyway, and so I thought that I might as well work. It turned to be a good thing that I did, as otherwise there would have been just two people in on the busiest day of the week. What with it being a market town and most of the other stores being closed, we all expected it to be dead, so we were surprised and pleased to find that we took £6000 in the 6 hours that we were open. It made the day go a lot quicker, that's for sure.

The big story in publishing today comes from Publishing News and concerns the somewhat thorny issue of whether authors should have to pay interest on repaid advances when they choose to move to a different publisher. My own opinion is that this is the thin end of a very long wedge, and the answer depends really on why the author is choosing to do this. I realise that publishers make large investments in the future careers of their authors, but it seems to me that this is a bit like asking a member of staff to repay the cost of their training when they move jobs.

If the author changes publisher because their current one is doing little to promote their books then that is not the authors fault, and it does not seem right that they should have to pay interest on repaid advances. The same can also be said if the author's editor changes jobs and they chose to go with them, for this is something that is outside of the authors control. While I can to some extent sympathise with the publisher, it seems to me that the fact that this issue is being debated at all means that the industry is not in as healthy a state as we have all been led to believe, for this is a pretty drastic measure to take.

As Philippa Milnes-Smith, President of the AAA said "If publishers do want to charge interest on repaid advances, then perhaps interest should also be added for slow payment of advances, of royalties, of subsidiary rights payments … it's a long list." Agent David Godwin echoed this, saying "I think the bottom line is that we must respect the views of writers over who they want to be published by - it's in all our interests to take those views seriously. Publishers have money, writers tend not to. I also think it's worth asking this question: do publishers pay interest on the royalties they sit on? If they don't pay interest on those sums, why should they charge interest on any other?"

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

God is smiling

The book lovers forum which I mentioned on here a day or so ago, has several authors within its growing membership including myself, and lots of interesting threads to get ones teeth into. One of these is aimed at the writing members, posing the question, why is it that we feel compelled to write. I have often wondered this myself, but nevertheless, was surprised to read this morning the answer that I typed after I got home last night. I was so tired that I am surprised I had the time or the energy to write at all, but then I often find, as do other writers, that my best work is produced when I am in that state, as spirit becomes detached from the body, allowing the mind to get out of the way.

Here though is what I wrote:

"I write for lots of different reasons - to express happiness, anger, sadness, despair and the sheer lunacy of life, but also to help me gain clarity on the burning issues that bore through to my soul and make me think and question what I see around me in the world at large, and also to make others think and question. I write as a means of learning and finding out more about the world - I teach what I need to learn. Most of all though I write for the sheer love of it, and because it make me feel good to know that in some small way I am making a difference to this world."

It took me a while to warm up this site, and I left for a while after I first joined following some comments that some ignorant so and so posted about how it was perfectly okay to rob authors of their livelihood by buying second hand books. Each to their own. It is all water under the bridge now anyway, and actually since I returned I have not seen that member on there anyway.

The discussion re Katie Price continues to rumble on on that same site, with members agreeing with my comments regarding how this may all be part of the divine plan to bring such issues to the attention of the public at large and open up a dialogue regarding such issues. To me it is and will always be about the authors right to be honoured as the creator of that work. In a way though, when it comes to ghost writing, it goes with the territory that this will not be the case, at least not publicly anyway.

Ghost writers are often very private people. It is a difficult but interesting and very lucrative profession to get into if you have the stomach for it, as it provides a license to get right under the skin of these celebrities and ask them all those pertinent questions that no one else can - not so much maybe with Katie, as let's face it, there is not much of her life that has not already been shoved down our throats anyway. Ghost writers are also paid handsomely for their efforts - usually for a set fee, but often with these celebrity books, if they are sensible and have a good agent who can negotiate on their behalf, for a share of the profits. They do the work knowing that it is part of the deal for their name not to be mentioned and not wanting the publicity that goes along with all of this.

I believe though that things are changing, and there is a big backlash going on against these practises that the industry would be wise to listen to. The public are wising up to the way in which they are basically being conned, and things will therefore have to change. This takes time to filter down through the echelons of the publishing industry, which is notoriously resistant to change. It will though happen, it is an inevitability and only a matter of time - it is not if, but when.

Perhaps a fair compromise would be for the ghost writer to retain her anonymity (I know her name, but most of Katie's fans and those outside the publishing industry wouldn't), but for the prize money to be shared equally between them. Mind you, with the fuss that this has caused, I would be very surprised if the book won anyway. If it does, then I don't think we have seen anything yet, but only time will tell. I do know one thing though; I can guarantee that this will not be the last time that a book such as this courts such controversy and debate.

The Bookseller website has had a few interesting articles regarding print on demand in the last week or so, which indicates that that change may be happening faster than any of us thought. The first of these by Tim Tevnan says that the number of books published in the UK skyrocketed to the highest level ever last year, driven by an increase in print on demand titles.
According to Nielsen BookScan, the number of front list titles (books with both an ISBN and a 2007 publication date) sold last year hit 118,602, up a staggering 36 percent from 2006 when the figure was 86,984.

The amount of back list titles with a pre 2007 publication date, which I guess then would include mine, as we did not change the ISBN for the second edition, sold last year also increased by 28 percent, up to 758,125 from 590,464 in 2006.

While some of this can be attributed to more products such as maps etc carrying ISBN's, this is largely due to the rise in print on demand books. André Breedt, Nielsen BookScan research and development analyst said: "there have been more front list and individual titles sold than ever before. What we are really beginning to see is the effect of books never going out of print with print on demand."

Richard Charkin, MD of Bloomsbury, JK Rowling's publisher said "what you see here is a reflection of a vibrant and healthy society." He went on to say "the principle is that it is simply getting cheaper to publish, but more costly to market to the high street." Tell me about it!

Penguin UK c.e.o. Peter Field agreed stating "if there are 120,000 books published, so many of them are POD or academic monographs, which just won’t make it to the High Street. For trade publishers, we each make decisions to publish based on what we can market and sell into the trade." More's the pity, as these figures seem to clearly show that despite these assertions, these so-called experts do not always get it right. Print on demand, as I have said so many times, has so much potential, not just for authors such as myself wishing to take control of their work, but also for those whose books have gone out of print. These figures then come as no surprise whatsoever to me or I suspect, the majority of print on demand authors both in this country and abroad.

The second story which only goes to underline my point, relates to literary agency PFD, whom it seems somewhat controversially, are also embracing this technology. The article states that PFD are 'entering into a relationship' with Lightning Source, enabling them to bring out of print works from many of their authors, both living and dead, back into circulation through print on demand. These authors include names such as V S Pritchett estate, the Storm Jameson estate and author Angela Huth.

PFD believes that this deal will fulfil two different services; firstly to bring these out of print titles back into circulation, but also to give them the opportunity to re-present titles to publishers with a concrete sales history, with a view to being republished on a mainstream list. I wonder if they would offer to represent me then with the history that I now have and whether I would be deemed to have made sufficient sales to be worthy of their attention?

The books will be available through all the usual outlets that are typically open to Lightning Source books namely, Amazon, Bertrams and Gardners, as well as via PFD's own website. This is the bit that causes the most controversy, as it means in effect that PFD have become both publisher and agent, and one cannot help but wonder whether there is a conflict of interest here.
Still it does show that print on demand continues to make waves and inroads within the industry in a way that would have been unthinkable a few short years ago.

In the almost 2 years since the first edition of my book was published, there have been tremendous changes within the industry, which many thought would never have been possible With changes in the supply chain and the softening attitude towards self publishing and in particular print on demand, there has never been a better time to be embracing this route, and I am for one am really proud and excited to be in the midst of this revolution as one of the forerunners who has helped to bring this change about.

Sometimes I think that you have to hit rock bottom before you can come out the other side, as it is only by reaching this point that you can come to a place of surrender. It is no secret that things have been very tough for me of late, but I am at last beginning to turn the corner and see some light at the end of the tunnel (and thankfully it is not a train coming the other way!)

Last week I reported that I had received an order for 2 books from a Scottish branch of Christian book chain Wesley Owen. They sent the books straight back again though, leaving me £5 out of pocket having sent them on a firm sale basis in good faith. I emailed them for an explanation and was surprised to have an email back a few days later apologising and offering to send me a cheque to cover the cost.

The article in the the local paper was published in last weeks issue and has so far resulted in 2 more sales. I have also been offered the chance to have a stall free of charge at the end of April at one of my local town's most important and best attended annual events - the Brigitte Trust complimentary health day. I also today had an email from a friend from the astrology group I attended last night to say that she would like to buy 10 copies of the book to distribute to her friends. The number I still have to sell is slowly diminishing and God is smiling on me once more. Long may that continue.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Celebrities fast tracking the publishing system

The Book lovers forum of which I am a member has an interesting discussion going at the moment entitled Celebs fast tracking the publishing system. Not that long ago, I was fiercely attacked on the same site for daring to state that it was unfair that celebrities such as Jordan (she will always be that to me and not Katie Price) were cashing in on others talents and claiming the glory for books that may well have been based on their own ideas, but were not in actual fact written by them at all. Those members who attacked me for having the audacity to suggest that brand Jordan was little more than a pair of breasts are it seems in the minority, for this new thread has far more supporters than critics.

I make the point, as I did in a recent article on Linda Jones' Freelance Writing Tips blog site that it seems a really sad indictment of our society when a ghost written novel by an ex glamour model sells more copies than the winner of the Booker prize for literature. It seems ironic to me that self publishing is seen as vanity press, by pandering to clients egos, when commercial publishers are in fact the real culprits. They may well be responding to market trends, and these books may well sell in the cartloads to blonde twenty somethings with nothing better to spend their money on, but the majority of book buyers in this country are not in that age range, but are in fact middle aged, and born during the sixties baby boom years. These people are not in the slightest bit interested in the so-called celebrity culture, in fact it bores them to tears.

It seems to me that far from self publishing being vanity press, commercial publishers that offer vast sums to celebrities in order to publish their works, or more accurately ideas, are the ones who are really guilt of vanity. This sets up a three way symbiotic relationship that feeds the ego of the celebrity keeping them in the public eye, at the same time offering publicity to the publisher who makes even more money. This also in turn feeds the illusion that celebrity status is desirable as it gives fame and fortune thus making the public, especially young women, feel that their own lives and aspirations are inadequate.

I believe that books at their best should enlighten and educate, making us think about the issues that really matter, whether through fiction or non fiction. Books such as these celebrity titles do nothing to either educate or enlighten, but have the opposite effect. They contribute to the general dumbing down of society by feeding the public with an endless supply of meaningless drivel that keeps their minds in overdrive and acts as a distraction that ultimately keeps both them and the so-called celebrities in chains as they have to work ever harder in order to maintain the illusion.

In its own way, the rise in self publishing can be seen as a by product of the so-called celebrity culture, since it leads people to a false sense of their own superiority, believing that if these celebrities, most of whom have no obvious talent apart from courting publicity, can do it, then so too can they. It is then partly the industry’s own attitude that has created this explosion.

It seems to me that commercial publishers have painted themselves into a corner, as by focusing on celebrities, who make up a very small proportion of the population and demand much higher advances, there is little money left with which to nurture new talent that comes from the many. The many grow to resent this as they are not being given equal opportunity, and so choose to take matters into their own hands and redress the imbalance by self publishing. That as I have discovered, has its own set of problems though ...

It seems that I am not the only one to be feeling as I do and criticising the rise in celebrity books. Award winning author Zadie Smith has launched a blistering attack on literary prizes. Critics of course say that this is rich coming from someone whose career was arguably kick started by such competitions, but she does have a a valid point when she says that most literary prizes are "only nominally" about literature. She goes on to state that "They are really about brand consolidation for beer companies, phone companies, coffee companies and even frozen food companies." Celebrities such as Jordan are increasingly seen as a brand in their own right, so these comments apply just as much to the rise in celebrity books as any other kind.

Bear in mind as I write this that Jordan's (Katie Price's) book Perfect Ponies: My Pony Care Book has been nominated for one of the most prestigious prizes in literature alongside the likes of Doris Lessing, Khaled Hosseini and Ian McEwan. Price's book has it seems been shortlisted for the WH Smith Children’s Book of the Year award, which is seen to many as the “Oscars” of the book trade – a decision that has whipped large sections of the literary world into a frenzy of disapproval, largely because she did not write one single word of it herself.

Somewhat depressingly, Price is one of the most commercially successful writers in the country. The Society of Authors has been inundated with complaints from concerned members. Tracy Chevalier, author of Girl with a Pearl Earring, who chairs the organisation, said: “I’m shocked. I’m amazed the publishers even put the book up. If it’s ghost-written then it’s inappropriate that it should be shortlisted. I am disappointed by the judges.” I have to say that I agree with her.

Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat and several children's titles said that it would be “depressing beyond anything” if Price wins on April 9th. “If this is an award for people who write books then it should be open only to people who write books, not to somebody who lends their name to a book, or who would have written a book if they had time but didn’t.”

Robert Harris, the author of Fatherland, whose most recent novel was about a ghostwriter, summed up by own views when he said that Price’s nomination was “emblematic of the tacky culture we live in”. It is as he says though a sad fact of life that “Very often the books are by writers who would not be able to make a living writing under their own name but if you put a celebrity name on the cover then it becomes marketable.”

In the meantime, the current Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen has leapt to Price's defense stating that “We get too hung up about authorship. None of us writes a book entirely on our own. We get help from editors, or ideas might come from conversations with our families, or children. The issue is whether the book’s good, not who has written it. If Jordan or any of her helpers have written a very good book, then absolutely good luck to them.”

I cannot help feel that he is missing the point. Yes we do all get help from others. In my case that help came from first and foremost from my wonderful partner and soul mate Coran, but also like he says from friends, and the various other authors whose books I used for research purposes. I was the one who spent five years though collating the information and putting it in the correct order - no one else. I was also the one who paid the money to publish my work and spent hour upon hour doing my utmost to get my book seen an noticed. It is then about honouring the creator of the work for their input and hard work. In this instance I have to disagree with Rosen, that authorship is indeed everything.

It does occur to me though, having said all of this, that the judges of said awards may in some way be being used (strictly unconsciously of course, as people nearly always are) by spirit to highlight these issues and bring them more widely into the public arena in order to open up discussions regarding the ethics or otherwise of the modern publishing world. Spirit does indeed move in mysterious ways, and who knows what goes on behind the scenes or what the higher agenda is. I often wish that I did, but then again, if I knew everything there was to know then what would be the point of me being here? I am here like everyone else to learn more about myself and then put what l learn into practise in the way that best serves myself and the rest of humanity. God never promised that it would be an easy ride, and actually I would rather it wasn't, for we learn through adversity and pain. If life was all love and light where would be the growth and the evolution?