Friday, 31 August 2012

The world of publishing, again

By Peter Stuart Smith (AKA Max Adams, James Barrington, James Becker, Tom Kasey, Jack Steel and Thomas Payne)

I know we keep on returning to the same subject, but for that I make no apology. Anybody involved in any way in the world of publishing will be aware that the industry is in a state of flux, with nobody quite knowing what’s going to happen next. The two factors driving that uncertainty are the global recession, which is clearly having an impact upon every industry in the world and upon what people spend their money on, and the almost simultaneous introduction of the Kindle and other ebook readers.
            There was an interesting short editorial in the summer 2012 edition of The Author, which described the current situation in quite a concise and effective way, and I’m repeating some of his opinions in this blog posting. The author made the point that ebooks are neither a promise for the future, nor a potential new technology: they are already a very substantial part of the publishing spectrum. However, according to some of the latest figures, sales of ebooks appear to be levelling off, but absolutely nobody in the publishing business believes that the figures will decline, or that either the ebook or the ebook reader will prove to be a short term fad. No doubt in the future readers of various different types will appear, some with colour screens like the Kindle Fire, but the electronic reader as a technology and a device is here to stay.
            Figures also indicate that the main appeal of the ebook is to the dedicated fiction buyer, which is perhaps not surprising. I’ve mentioned before that in my opinion the novel is a disposable item, something which is read once and then given away, and for that kind of usage the Kindle is absolutely ideal. The reader can download the book instantly, almost irrespective of where in the world he or she may be sitting, read it and then remove it from the device, secure in the knowledge that the ebook is securely stored in Amazon’s archive and can be retrieved at any time, and at no further cost.
            Following on from this, it’s also becoming clear that ebook sales are supplanting rather than supplementing the sales of printed books, and most especially the sales of paperbacks, which given the foregoing is entirely predictable. What is perhaps rather unexpected is that sales of hardback books appear to be largely unaffected.
            Other factors in the equation include piracy, which is likely to remain a problem. In one survey over one third of the ebook users questioned admitted that they had illegally downloaded copyrighted material at some point. There are two ways of addressing this problem: complicated and simple.
The complicated way is to employ some form of Digital Rights Management (DRM) to try to ensure that only the person who has paid for the book is able to download it onto his or her device, and that it cannot subsequently be copied to another device or uploaded onto the web to be downloaded from there. The problem with this is that hackers regard such measures as a challenge, and are quite happy to spend hours, days or even weeks working out a way to disable the DRM or bypass them. It becomes a kind of contest which neither side is ever going to win.
The simple way is, really, really simple. When the price of an ebook, or anything else for that matter, is reduced to the point where for most people it is insignificant, which normally means about the price of a cup of coffee, there is almost no incentive for anyone to download a pirated version when for just a pound or two they can legitimately purchase the real thing. The problem at the moment is that publishers seem completely unable to grasp this fact, and almost without exception they are almost all pricing their ebooks at a similar – and in some cases even a higher – price than the paperback version.
I’m aware of all the arguments surrounding this subject, arguments which undeniably have merit, at least to people in the publishing industry. But they’re not selling ebooks to people in the publishing industry: they’re selling them to members of the general public. And most book buyers are very well aware that preparing an ebook and offering it for sale through Amazon is something that only ever has to be done once. Every subsequent sale of the ebook costs the publisher precisely nothing, whereas every paperback has to be printed, bound, stored, transported and finally displayed in a bookshop window or sent through the post, expenses which clearly have to be paid by somebody.
The inevitable result of this pricing policy is that most readers believe that full priced ebooks are at best unreasonably expensive, and at worst a rip-off, which makes the idea of downloading a pirate version infinitely more attractive.
I’m not really in the prediction business, otherwise I would simply win the lottery and retire to the Caribbean, but I’m prepared to wager money that within a couple of years, five years at the most, the essential truth of this argument will finally be realized, and publishers will begin selling ebooks at about the same price point as self-published authors are doing at the moment. In other words, for less than about £3.
            And I’ll make a further prediction: if they do this, ebook piracy will be enormously reduced, and the publishers will be selling far more copies than they do at the moment, and making significantly larger profits.
            Finally, in my probably vain attempt to retire to the Caribbean, could I urge everybody to take a look at the following website, and buy as many copies of the books listed there as you can afford!

You can contact me at:
Twitter:          @pss_author
Facebook:      Peter Stuart Smith

Friday, 24 August 2012


By Richard Parker

Just like a thriller shouldn't allow you to draw breath I'm not giving myself any opportunity to allow my pulse to slow between books.

Having today delivered my polishes for my stand alone being published in April I'm straight on to my next thriller, the idea of which has already been given the enthusiastic thumbs up by my editor.

May sound frantic but in fact I've been working up the idea for some time and, now the decks are (momentarily) cleared, I can concentrate on getting some words down.  I'm sure I'll still have to read next year's book a few more times before it's signed off but I'm looking forward to spending some hours with a new concept and characters.

Probably because us writers spend so much time waiting for feedback and news it's sometimes good to just get on with something new and exciting.

It's daunting to have your cursor flash on that first page again but this time next year I hope I'll be in the same position I am with the last.

Now, I've got the twist...  Just need the 100,000 words that lead up to it.

Visit Richard HERE
Follow him on Twitter HERE 


Storybook Pro

By Peter Stuart Smith (AKA Max Adams, James Barrington, James Becker, Tom Kasey, Jack Steel and Thomas Payne)

Matt Lynn and I have talked on several occasions about writing, which shouldn’t come as very much of a surprise, because we’re both full-time authors and authors, like people involved in any other trade, usually taken a keen interest in how other people approach their work. In our respective cases, we’re entirely different. Matt has the patience and the ability to work out an enormously detailed synopsis for each book, a synopsis that might approach one third of the length of the finished manuscript, and then he basically writes the book exactly following that synopsis.
            One of the things I like least about writing is doing a synopsis, even a one-page effort, and I simply wouldn’t have the patience to work the way he does. I tend to start with an idea and a blank page in Word. I think of a decent opening sentence – or I try to – and then go on from there. I always know more or less how the book is going to end, but I very rarely have any idea of the twists and turns which the plot will take during the writing, and for me this system works. Neither of us is right or wrong. Like all authors we work the way that seems to suit us best.
            But occasionally I do stop and wonder if some form of specialist software might help me to organize my thoughts rather better than simply trying to keep the entire plot and all the characters tucked away in various compartments of my unreliable brain. Hence my decision a short time ago to try Storybook Pro. I played around with the free version for a short time and then decided to buy the ‘Pro’ version and see how that worked.
            On the face of it, this should be a remarkably useful program for any writer, offering the ability to create major and minor characters, describe locations and all the rest of it, inspect the timeline and use various charts and other tools. In reality, and in use, it’s precisely the opposite. The program is non-intuitive in many respects, and the parameters are so rigid that it actually acts as a dampener on creativity. I doubt if any working author had any input into the design of the program at any stage.
For example, in most of my books I begin with a prologue, normally set many years, sometimes many centuries, before the action which takes place in the present day. This program simply won’t let me do that, because it insists on a precise date for each section, and it also won’t allow me to call the first chapter ‘Prologue’. In fact, I did eventually find a way around this, but it took me the better part of half an hour to do so. The dating system is particularly rigid. You either had to insert a specific date or what it calls ‘relative dating’, where a particular section occurs a number of days after the previous one. It’s so much easier in Word to just type the date I want – rather than the date the program wants – at the head of the chapter.
As well as chapters, there are also ‘strands’ and ‘parts’, neither of which seem to be particularly useful for any purpose I could discern. The program is also irritating in that various icons on the screen don’t do anything – for example, at the beginning of each chapter is either the word ‘draft’ or ‘outline’, each followed by a different icon which logically you would expect to allow you to switch views. They don’t. Neither the name nor the icon does anything at all, which makes you wonder why it’s there in the first place.
Other niggles with it are that it’s incredibly slow to load, so slow, in fact, that usually I end up clicking the icon again, when it generates an error message telling me that the file is already in use. Word is a big program, but it loads in less than half the time that Storybook Pro takes to appear. It’s even clumsy when you leave it. Clicking the close button doesn’t close the program, but generates a dialogue box which asks you if you want to close the program. Oddly enough, that was why I clicked the close button, but the program – or more accurately the programmer – appears to be too stupid to realize this.
            But perhaps my biggest concern with this program is that shortly after I purchased version 3.2, the company sent me an e-mail explaining how much better version 4.0 was, and how much less rigid the parameters were, and offering me a substantial discount off the purchase price of the new program. The idea was that existing users could input a code during the purchase process, and the price would then be adjusted accordingly. So I tried this. In fact, I tried it about a dozen times, and it simply didn’t work. I e-mailed the company. I actually e-mailed them six times pointing this out and asking if they could fix it. The last e-mail went off last week, and to date I have had no response whatsoever to any of my messages.
Bearing in mind that all I was trying to do was purchase the upgraded version – to send the company money, in fact – the total lack of response is extremely worrying. If that’s the way they treat potential customers, I very much doubt if they even have a support staff, and if they have I suspect that you’d be most unlikely to get any kind of sense out of them.
So in short, my personal review of Storybook Pro is ‘don’t bother’.

You can contact me at:

Friday, 17 August 2012

The mighty Amazon rolls on – electronically

By Peter Stuart Smith (AKA Max Adams, James Barrington, James Becker, Tom Kasey and Jack Steel)

First, something of an apology, as real life has been rather ganging up on me of late. Getting an Internet connection on board a ship is never an easy thing to achieve and, because the link is provided by a satellite, the download and upload speed is usually little better than dial-up, which means there’s no real incentive to spend much time on the Web. So while I was on board the Queen Mary 2, cruising from Southampton to Hamburg, and then up to Honningsvaag on the northern tip of Norway, I just gave lectures and wrote stuff for the next book, and didn’t bother with much else.
Back on dry land, we’ve had a few problems as well, trying to sort out various houses for reasons I won’t bore you with, because they’re really not very interesting, and then, when I finally got to France and should have had time to write an entry, I discovered that I had helpfully left the power cable for my laptop in Andorra, a hot and sweaty six hour drive south, so I’ve been out of e-mail contact for almost two weeks while I found one on eBay, using my wife’s netbook, and could get it sent out to my address here. Anyway, it arrived today, just in time for me to write this, so thank you to all_mobilecompaccessories2010 for such a prompt and efficient service.
            Leigh Russell has already touched on this topic in her contribution to this blog, but I thought I’d expand on it somewhat.
            About a week ago, to coincide with the second anniversary of the launch of the Kindle in the United Kingdom, Amazon UK announced that it was now selling more ebooks than paperback and hardback books combined. The figure the company came up with is that for every 100 printed books sold, Amazon sells 114 ebooks. This statistic is specific to Amazon in Britain, and does not necessarily reflect the balance between printed and electronic books bought from any other outlet.
            The Kindle became the bestselling product on Amazon within just a few months of its launch, and is still selling extremely well, because it’s very good at what it does, which I’ve mentioned on this blog before. It’s not the only electronic reader, of course, but it is far and away the most popular. One reason for the success of these devices is the huge number of sales of novels like Fifty Shades of Grey, some 2 million of which were apparently sold by Amazon in under four months.
            I’ve read elsewhere that this book is a contender for both the title of ‘fastest selling novel of all time’ and ‘worst novel of all time’, though because I haven’t read it – and have no intention of doing so – I’m not qualified to comment on the latter opinion. One reason for the success of this book and its kin is arguably the fact that women – and it is aimed squarely at this section of the market – can read it on the Kindle without anybody knowing that they’re immersed in a racy and semi-pornographic novel. Interestingly, this is exactly the opposite to one reason given for the success of The Da Vinci Code, which was undeniably a dreadful book, and which was supposed to be popular precisely because it had the words ‘Da Vinci’ on its cover.
            Another reason for the success of the electronic side of Amazon is self-publishing, and the company states that it has seen a 400% increase in the use of Kindle Direct Publishing over the past year.
But perhaps one of the most important – and encouraging – pieces of data released by Amazon is that, according to the company’s figures, the average Kindle owner buys four times more books than people who only buy printed versions. I’d agree with that, because it’s certainly true for me. Precisely because I can buy between three and four cheap Kindle downloads for the price of one paperback, and have them delivered in a matter of seconds, I tend to cruise the bestseller lists and buy books in clumps, or whatever the correct mass noun is for more than one book.
And, because each of them costs less than a cup of coffee, even if I decide they’re complete rubbish it really doesn’t matter. And while it’s true that most self-published books have been turned into Kindle downloads precisely because they’re nowhere near good enough for any commercial publisher to even consider, most of the ones I have bought are quite readable. I reckon that out of every 10 Kindle books I buy, one or two will be unreadably bad, one will probably be of publishable standard, and the rest will fall somewhere between these two extremes.
So although the publishing world is in something of a crisis at the moment, not really knowing what to do for the best and how to cope with the rise of the ebook, we can at least take comfort in the fact that the future of reading looks as bright as it ever did, even if the medium which is used to display the type on the page has changed dramatically.

You can contact me at:

Thursday, 9 August 2012

What Are Olympics?

By Richard Parker

Am now in receipt of SCARE ME edit notes from Exhibit A and I'm relieved they don't do what the title says.

When I edit I always try to be as objective about my own work as possible and the best way I've found to achieve this is to pretend it's somebody else's.  It's been a while since I read the whole manuscript so this will certainly help the approach.

A bit of time away from your project does help you to see areas that can be enhanced.  There's always room for improvement and adding those finer details is like adding a final dash of spice to a dish.

Whether or not readers will happily digest what I've prepared for them is an entirely different matter but now the book title and publishing date have been added to the new Exhibit A website it all seems so much more official and I realise the day of publication is drawing nearer.

Advance review copies should be doing the rounds by the end of the year and it will be in the hands of  paperback and Kindle readers by April.

So I really should get on with these final polishes.  27th of August is my deadline.  Olympics?  Barbecues?  Cold beers?  What do I need those for when I have bloody murder and mayhem for company?

Visit Richard HERE
Follow him on Twitter HERE      


Monday, 6 August 2012

The Waterstones Debate

In the light of recent news about e-books on amazon can anyone tell me why Waterstones is complicit in the disappearance of the printed book? While Amazon report that sales of ebooks (excluding free downloads) now outstrip combined sales of paperbacks and hardbacks 114 to 100, Waterstones have introduced a counterproductive events policy.
Nothing is ever achieved by being defeatist. Trends are not inevitable.
With passion, hard work, and some common sense, the printed book can survive alongside its electronic partner - yes, partner, not competitor. Why not, when ebooks are attracting more people to read?
Waterstones have a responsibility to readers and authors who want to see them come out fighting in defense of physical books. There is no one else who can do this on a significant scale (with no disrespect intended to the fantastic dedicated smaller chains and independent bookshops).
Read about "Waterstones Faulty Logic" on Book2Book ( site)

I make little personal gain from sales of my printed books.  Two of my titles are on offer on amazon kindle, one on the Summer Kindle Reading Marathon. Most sales of my books are already online.

But I would hate to see printed books disappear. If you agree, please join in the debate. Visit your local bookshop to discuss what is happening. Post online, join in debates taking place on my blog and others, on my facebook page, and twitter.
Don't wake up one morning and express surprise that Waterstones have gone.
Think about Ottakars, Dillons, and others, recently taken over by Waterstones. Then think about Borders, more recently morphed into stores like Primark. Then think.

Posted by Leigh Russell