Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Bad Intentions on Free Promo

For the next few days Bad Intentions is on free promotion! Get your copy from Amazon here

Sunday, 26 May 2013


From as far back as we can trace, people have felt the need to share stories. Wasn't early cave man a forerunner of the fisherman boasting about 'the one that got away'? Imagine a prehistoric hunter with limited language but terrible injuries, posturing about the sabre toothed tiger that 'got away'. The cave man lived to tell the tale. Isn't that 'telling the tale' part of what differentiates us from other species of animal?
We hear a lot about the decline of reading, but I'm not sure that's actually a true picture of what's happening. Because we need stories.
I'm a great one for voicing fears of a 'doom and gloom' vision of  a dystopian future without books. Long before the phenomenal increase in ebooks I was writing about the 21st century version of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 where books become obsolete not through political suppression but simply from people not longer reading; we have the technology to become a post-literate society.
My first series offers a snapshot of what has happened in the world of publishing. When Cut Shortfirst came out, in 2009, I remember an author friend urging me to ask my publisher to bring it out as an ebook. I wasn't quite sure what that meant, but duly passed the message on. Six months later, the ebook appeared. Road Closed followed a similar pattern in 2010. By 2011, with Dead End, the ebook and print book were published on the same day. Since then, with Death Bed in 2012 and  Stop Dead and Cold Sacrifice in 2013, the ebook has become available to download six months before the print book is published.
The medium itself is not the key issue. The important question is whether fewer people are reading as a result of this change. That's an impossible question to answer in terms of my own books. What I can tell you is that sales of the ebooks have been phenomenal and I suspect they have reached a far wider audience as a result of reaching Number 1 on iTunes, and amazon, than they would have done had they been published solely as print books. Of course that's anecdotal, and the 'people who know' - (whoever they are, I'm certainly not one of them) - may have another story to tell.
Which brings me back to the point of this post. For several hundred years (how long is that in man's history?) books have provided a medium for sharing stories. I am passionate about books. I love bookshops, libraries, the feel of a new book... but think about a book you have read and loved. What lives on in your mind are the characters, the emotions and insights you experienced while reading, the images of scenes and actions. Books can change us, not because of the feel of the paper, but by their content.
What matters is the story a writer tells.

Leigh Russell writes the Geraldine Steel series http://leighrussell.co.uk
2013 sees the launch of the spin off series for DS Ian Peterson
This post was first published on http://leighrussell.blogspot.co.uk 

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Friday, 15 February 2013

The lost libraries?

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

This will be my last blog post for about three weeks because on Sunday I'm flying out to Hong Kong to join the Queen Mary 2 for a cruise lasting about two and a half weeks, and as usual I'll be giving lectures on the ship before I fly back from Sydney. It'll be a couple of quite long long haul flights, which I'm not really looking forward to, but at least there'll be a lot of sea time as the ship heads south across the Pacific Ocean to Australia, so there'll be no excuse for not getting quite a bit of work done.
            One thing this liner does have, as well as its more unusual and better publicised features, like the world's only oceangoing planetarium, is a decent library, and that sparked a train of thought. With the increasing domination in the marketplace of electronic books, pieces of text that in at least one sense don't really exist, what is the future for libraries? Suppose one of the many predictions about the future of the publishing industry comes true and most novels end up being released as ebooks rather than paperbacks? Can you have a virtual library, and if you can, how would it work?
            In fact, libraries do seem to be under threat. You may recall the British government's ill-advised plan to close down most of them, the spin doctors claiming by a piece of tortuous illogic that this would somehow improve the service to the public, and now it seems that much the same thing is happening in America. Obviously in a time of recession cuts do need to be made in many services, and it's probably only fair that libraries should also share the burden. And of course libraries do require funding if they are to remain up-to-date and relevant, not least because they have to buy books, and books cost money.
            According to a report in Library Journal, almost two thirds of libraries in America saw an increase in their budget last year, albeit a maximum of only 2.9%, and with an overall average figure of just over 1%, but costs, expenses and salary increases far outpaced this, leading to a net reduction in operating revenue, while the remaining third of libraries surveyed saw a significant drop in their funding. About a quarter of libraries were forced to cut staff simply to make ends meet. Predictably, the bulk of the materials budget – about 60% – is applied to book purchases, while spending on ebooks, audiobooks and music languish in single figures.
            The other thing which is clear about libraries is that they do need to change to reflect the changing lifestyles of their potential customers. It's no longer enough just to fill wooden shelves with hardback books and wait for people to walk in through the door. They needed to make going to the library a pleasurable and relevant experience, which might well mean branching out in non-traditional directions, such as providing comfortable chairs, a coffee bar, Internet access (though many do this already) and anything else which will help improve the experience of their customers.
            But without doubt they still fulfil an important need, by bringing people in the community together, and providing comprehensive and professional access to all manner of reading and communication materials in one place. This is particularly important for people who may not have enough disposable income to buy books for themselves, or may simply lack the skills needed to operate a home computer.
They are also important for authors, and not just because of PLR payments. I have done many talks in libraries around the United Kingdom, which has assisted me in generating publicity and gaining recognition as a writer, and I would like to think that in some small way I helped the budding authors who came along to listen to me. And, finally, even in this digital age, libraries hold reference materials and written resources which are frequently not available anywhere else.
            In short, our libraries are important and we need to keep them, guard them jealously and do whatever we can to make sure they survive. And authors are particularly well-placed to help in one way.
Whenever a new book is released, the publishers invariably send a number of free copies to the author. It has long been my policy that my local library in England is one of the first to receive a copy. It cost me nothing, but it puts my books on their shelves, which not only saves them money, but also must increase my exposure, and generates a little bit of free publicity.
            But exactly how the library system will work when the ebook finally comes to dominate the market – which I'm quite convinced that it will – I have no idea.

You can contact me at:
Twitter:          @pss_author
Facebook:      Peter Stuart Smith
Blogs:              The Curzon Group
Website link:  Brit Writers

Saturday, 9 February 2013

A strange year

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

By any standards, 2012 was a very strange year in the world of American publishing. Nielsen Bookscan, the industry analyst which monitors roughly three quarters of all sales of printed books, produced some quite fascinating statistics. Perhaps predictably in terms of overall sales, the three top spots in the charts for the year went to one single author – E L James – for the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, which of course began its life as a self-published book. The following three spots went to another individual author, Suzanne Collins, who wrote The Hunger Games series. As a result of this domination of the charts, half of all the bestselling books in the top twenty for 2012 came from only these two authors.
            Perhaps more of a surprise was the fact that two of the places in the top eleven books were held by the American political commentator Bill O'Reilly, a man virtually unknown outside America, and even more surprisingly the female author who took of the world by storm with the Harry Potter series only managed to get as high as number 18 with her latest novel The Casual Vacancy. In fairness, the reviews of this book could best be described as 'mixed', and it's clearly nothing like as popular as her earlier works, with only fairly limited appeal.
            Although Nielsen is probably the most accurate of all the monitoring systems, its figures are far from comprehensive. The company doesn't track the sale of every printed book, and has no facility for tracking either ebooks or audiobooks. Interpreting the numbers is made more difficult by the fact that some books only appear as printed versions while others are only produced electronically. And although the two big retailers – Amazon and Barnes & Noble – both sell broadly the same titles, there are some books which are available from one company but not from the other, and vice versa. So it’s far from being a complete picture.
            But one trend which the 2012 charts quite clearly show is that some authors do seem to attract brand loyalty. People who bought any one of the Fifty Shades of Grey have apparently then gone out and bought the other two novels in the series, and the same thing seems to have happened with the Suzanne Collins books. And it was a similar situation a few years ago with the three books in the Stieg Larsson trilogy.
The fact that Nielsen does not cover ebooks definitely means that the 2012 figures are inaccurate, not least because of an unrelated but parallel study by Bowker Market Research. Considering only the format of books sold, trade paperbacks led the field at 31%, followed – perhaps surprisingly – by hardcover books at 25%, just ahead of ebooks at 23%, while mass-market books languished at 12%. This means that almost a quarter of all books sold in America in 2012, the entire ebook market, is reflected nowhere in the Nielsen figures.
            What's particularly interesting is taking a look at how the market has changed in the recent past. Three years ago, hardcover books and trade paperbacks each held a little over a third of the market, at 35%, while ebooks accounted for a mere 2% of all book sales. Trade paperbacks still seem to be holding their own, while hardbacks have dropped back slightly, but ebook sales have increased enormously, taking over much of the share previously held by mass-market paperbacks.
            The pricing model in America has changed as well over the same period of time, the average ebook dropping from a little over $10 to less than $6, and some categories, most notably romance, costing under $4 each. In contrast, the cost of print books has increased very slightly.
            So can we learn anything from this? Probably, yes. First, both of the bestselling authors of 2012 were exploring largely new markets. Instead of following a trend, they were both establishing one, much as J K Rowling did with her Harry Potter novels, writing books which presumably appealed to them personally and which very clearly struck a chord with the reading public. The difficulty that every writer faces, of course, is knowing what the next 'big thing' in publishing is going to be, because following a trend very rarely works, as the plethora of Fifty Shades of Grey clones demonstrates. Setting a trend is always the biggest challenge.
            The second point is that if you do have a brand-new idea, a type a book which hasn't been done before, your chances of interesting any commercial publishers in it are probably fairly slim, simply because it will be unfamiliar territory to them. So your best bet is to ignore the conventional publishing route and take the ebook option immediately. That way, if the book takes off it can sell in enormous numbers very, very quickly, while if it doesn't your costs are extremely limited.
            In today's market, and if you're lucky, publishing an ebook can make you a fortune for almost no initial outlay. It really is a business opportunity – because writing is a business just like any other – with an unlimited upside and virtually no downside. And if you don't believe me, just ask E L James.

You can contact me at:
Twitter:          @pss_author
Facebook:      Peter Stuart Smith
Blogs:              The Curzon Group
Website link:  Brit Writers

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Kindling controversy

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

There’s one aspect of the electronic publishing revolution which is now becoming clear and which is also beginning to cause concern among people who actually care about the English language.
Because quite literally anybody can now publish virtually anything as an ebook, without the benefit of any form of writing ability and ignoring even the most rudimentary attempt at editing, there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of ebooks out there which are borderline illiterate and in some cases completely illiterate, full of grammatical errors, spelling mistakes and faulty punctuation. The corollary to this is that there are very clearly also tens or hundreds of thousands of readers who either don’t know what’s wrong with what they’re reading, or simply don’t care. Presumably, as long as the story romps along in a reasonably satisfactory fashion, the fact that the author can’t spell and has no idea what to do with an apostrophe or what a gerund is, simply doesn’t bother them.
            The author of the novel Beautiful Disaster, Jamie MacGuire, for example, has been criticised for poor usage and command of English, but that hasn’t stopped the book getting into the top 40 on the Amazon bestseller list. And the same criticisms and have been applied to Tracey Garvis Graves, the author of On the Island, but the novel has sold over 360,000 copies in ebook format, and she’s recently signed a contract for a reported seven figures with a Penguin imprint, yet another example of a self-published book being purchased by a mainstream publishing house. Which presumably means that at least the printed version of the book will be literate.
            Some people are deliberately taking advantage of the freedom offered by the Kindle to make a kind of obscure joke, perhaps the best recent example of this being The Diamond Club by Patricia Harkins-Bradley. The author doesn’t exist, being a creation of ‘Not Safe For Work’ comedy website presenters Brian Brushwood and Justin Young.
            And the book itself isn’t really a book, either, in that it doesn’t tell any kind of a coherent, logical or even vaguely sensible story. It was basically spawned by the success of the Fifty Shades of Grey series, and the authors – if that’s the right term – simply created an attractive cover and a blurb which promised far more than the book could possibly deliver, and stuffed the inside with pretty much anything they could find.
            Their masterstroke was to acknowledge the joke, putting the book on the iTunes store for only 99 cents and encouraging people who bought it to post a hilarious five-star review. And it worked.
            The book was published on 29 July 2012 and by 15 August it was at number four in the iTunes’s bestseller list with over 2260 reader ratings averaging at 4.5 stars. On Amazon.com on 23 January 2013, and priced at $1.59, it stood at number 28,225 with 95 reviews averaging 4.1 stars, while on the same day on Amazon UK it was at number 133,131 with only seven reviews averaging 3 stars. So maybe British readers are less able to see the joke, or want far more for their 99 pence than this offering. By any standards, the book is awful, with no discernible plot, just a series of largely unconnected sex scenes and simply terrible writing. But that, of course, was precisely the point of the exercise, to write a best-seller that was completely unpublishable by any sensible standard.
And on this subject, I do have a suggestion that might help readers decide what ebooks to buy. At the moment, the only way a reader can decide whether a particular ebook is likely to be worth reading is to look at the name of the publisher and glance at the reviews. If it’s a commercial publishing house, that should mean that the book will be grammatically accurate, and if it’s got good reviews then the story might be entertaining as well.
Perhaps a system could be initiated whereby for a small fee a self-published book could be submitted to an independent assessor who would analyse – not the story – but the way the story has been written, the way the language has been used. Any book which is deemed to be literate could then be awarded a kind of seal of approval, a stamp of quality, something like the old kitemark we used to have in Britain.
            It wouldn’t be much, but it might be one small step towards stemming the tide of electronic illiteracy that is now threatening to engulf us all.

You can contact me at:
Twitter:          @pss_author
Facebook:      Peter Stuart Smith
Blogs:              The Curzon Group
Website link:  Brit Writers