Monday, 28 November 2011

How Many Kindles Are Out There?

By Matt Lynn

At the moment, I’m spending a lot of time setting up my new digital publishing venture, Endeavour Press. One of the things that interests me is, how many Kindles are out there. Amazon reported today that over the holiday weekend in the US it had sold four times as many Kindles as it did last year. But, rather irritatingly, it doesn’t actually say how many.

Figures are surprisingly hard to come by. For 2010, the estimates from the analysts are that million Kindles were sold. Let’s take a median figure, and called it 6.5 million. If Amazon has quadrupled those sales this time around – and based on anecdotal evidence, that sounds realistic – then it should sell around 26 million this year.

Add in the 2010 sales, and, after Xmas there could be 32 million Kindles out there globally. That’s about half the population of the UK. More significantly, I bet nearly all of those people are keener than average readers. After all, there isn’t much point in getting one if you only read one James Patterson book a year. You need to be a 5-10 books a year minimum reader to make the investment worthwhile.

So what proportion of heavy book readers will have a Kindle by 2012? I’d estimate about 40%. That’s what makes this market so fascinating. 

Friday, 25 November 2011

Does advertising work?

By Peter Stuart Smith (AKA Max Adams, James Barrington, James Becker, Philip Berenson and Jack Steel)
The big day was yesterday, 24th November 2011. Well, actually not that big, I suppose, but it was the day when the fourth 'James Becker' book – The Nosferatu Scroll – hits the shelves as a mass-market paperback. This novel had been handled by Transworld rather differently to the previous three, because it was actually first released back in June as a hardback, which I think about three people bought, and as a trade paperback.
            For those of you not familiar with the distinction, trade paperbacks are the large volumes normally sold airside, in places like W H Smith in the departure lounge at Gatwick or Heathrow, where they have a captive audience desperately seeking any kind of distraction while they wait for their aircraft to arrive from Iceland or wherever it's been delayed. Mass-market paperbacks are the regular sized books you'll find in any high street retailer.
            The previous three 'James Becker' novels were all released immediately in mass market format, but I suppose Transworld decided that the fourth book might do better if they tried two bites of the cherry. And they might have been right, because apparently the trade paperback sold quite well, despite the absence of any promotions or special offers. It will be interesting to see how well the book does over the next month or so, because it is a kind of a winter's tale, best read by flickering firelight in a warm and cosy – but, above all, dark – room.
            All of which has rather made me wonder just how effective marketing and promotional campaigns actually are. Whenever you travel by rail or underground, you'll frequently find yourself staring at some poster depicting a book which you may or may not have heard about, written by an author that you probably know. You may even have wondered why you rarely see posters extolling the literary efforts of lesser-known writers, and the answer to that, in simple terms, is money. Or, to be absolutely accurate and to use a bit of marketing-speak, it's return on investment.
            If a publishing house decides that they have a budget of, say, £50k to throw at one of two authors, and they assume that the campaign will generate roughly 10% of additional sales, the choice of which author to select is comparatively easy. If Author A sells an average of 100,000 books a year, and Author B sells an average of 10,000 books a year, the advertising campaign will generate additional sales of either 10,000 books or 1,000 books. So which do you think they'll choose?
            That's why you'll see the latest offerings from Jilly Cooper and Lee Child, to pick two writers from opposite ends of the spectrum, prominently displayed on posters, and why you’ll almost never see any promotions for first novels or for writers who haven't yet hit the big time. In some ways, this is a self-fulfilling prophecy, and inevitably results in a few bestselling writers selling even more books, and everybody else selling a lot less.
            And while talking, albeit obliquely, about Lee Child, you may have heard that his books are going to be turned into films, which is good news for those of us who enjoy his novels, but Hollywood has chosen for the lead role an actor who is so completely unsuited for the part that it's simply laughable. Lee Child's hero is a man named Jack Reacher, well over six feet tall, massively built and a former military policeman. In every book Reacher solves problems by, basically, bashing heads together and generally beating the hell out of anybody who gets in his way. So Hollywood has chosen, to play this ultimate macho man role, Tom Cruise. Five feet tall and eight stone dripping wet. Presumably he's going to beat up the bad guys standing on a box, which is going to be somewhat limiting. Either that or there’ll be some really impressive trick photography.
            But back to the plot. So do advertising campaigns work? The general perception in the industry seems to be that they don't.
           I know of at least one writer who was poached from his original publishing house by another publisher, allegedly for far too much money, and whose next book received massive, almost blanket, coverage in London. Despite this, the book didn't sell – I didn't read it, but I did try some of his earlier efforts, which were so bad as to fully justify the epithet 'unreadable' – and since that campaign neither the author nor his works have been much in evidence. He's still writing – I suppose his new publisher is still trying to recoup some of the money they spent – and his reviews on Amazon have been, shall we say, 'mixed'.
            The best advertising is probably still word-of-mouth, and a good many bestsellers in recent years have risen to the top of the charts mainly because people read them, enjoyed them, and told their friends about them. Mind you, one of my friends out here in Andorra told me that The Da Vinci Code was the best book he'd ever read, which caused me to revise my opinion of him fairly drastically.
But word-of-mouth works, there's no doubt about that, as long as the book itself is worth reading.

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Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Long Live The Imagination

By Richard Jay Parker

Following on from Matt's piece about pulp fiction I feel I should add my own positive endorsement of not just pulp fiction but the broader notion of the written word remaining a vital part of everyone's personal development.  Whether you like reading Russian classics or riveting thrillers you're exercising your imagination - a faculty that is being steadily dimished by the plethora of 21st Century instant entertainment available to us.

Maybe it's not the fate of printed books we should be campaigning for but simply the idea of perpetuating the unique and personal experience of using words (in whatever format) to populate your mind with characters drawn from your own well.

OK - it's hardly surprising that a writer would be all for this but I really can't conceive of a world where some of the people who entertain me aren't entirely personal to me.  When you open/switch on a book your imagination is choreographed by the author but it's the only time your brain fills in the gaps and fleshes out the characters.

TV, DVDs and computer games are great entertainment and enrich our leisure time but they do all the work for us.  A little like dragging yourself down to the gym but watching everyone else working out.  Fun but not very beneficial.  And like your body your brain needs to be stimulated to stay in shape.  OK - fifties scaremongering infomercial over.

Simply put, I don't want the human imagination to become a casualty.  It's way too valuable and has given us the best books as well as the best DVDs, TV and computer games.  We've got to keep it in shape.

Even though I use mine every day I realise it's not relevant to everyone's lives.  I just hope this number doesn't rapidly escalate and we lose all those vital triggers to every new concept that entertains us.   Can you imagine that?

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Saturday, 19 November 2011

The Return of Pulp Fiction

by Matt Lynn

The most interesting thing happening in writing right now is the way the Kindle is breaking down old barriers. It is creating a lot of new space for writers, and, rather surprising, it is also bringing back some old forms.

One is the long essay, which is really just a recreation of the polemical pamphlet. The other is the e-novella, which is really the heir to pulp fiction.

Pulp fiction flourished as the ‘penny dreadfuls’, lurid, sensationalist tales that filled Victorian and Edwardian railway bookshops in Britain, and in the ‘pulp fiction’ story magazines that were hugely successful in the US right up until the 1960s.

Both specialised in genre fiction, usually written fast by highly professional writers. The stories ere disposable, shocking, and attention-grabbing. And they were sold cheaply.

Look at the Kindle charts and you’ll see a lot of stuff is very similar. Lots of fairly sensationalist cheap fiction.

In effect, new technology has bought pulp fiction back to life.

The interesting point I think is that some great writing emerged from that tradition. The Victorian penny dreadfuls contained plenty of rubbish and so did the American pulp magazines.

But those magazines also provided the foundation for some great writers. Raymond Chandler, Zane Grey, Rider Haggard, and many others. Upton Sinclair was at one point knocking out 8,000 words a day for the pulps.

They allowed writers to write a lot, to develop characters, and push genres. At the moment, Kindle is allowing writers to do something very similar. There is a lot of rubbish, of course, but I suspect when we look back in fifty or a hundred years time we will decide that a lot of the most interesting work is being done for Kindle, just as it was in for the pulps in the past.

Friday, 18 November 2011


By Richard Jay Parker

It seems like such a convenient idea at the time.  Christmas is coming and you want to see your loved ones' faces light up on the big day.  So you go to Amazon and see all those books begging for attention.  You buy one and keep it hidden and then watch their reaction when they open it.  But what happens after?  Some of those books go to a good home where they're loved and cherished and given attention but many of them have a harsh reality to face in the New Year.

Many are neglected before the Croft Original has been stored back in the drinks cabinet or even before the egg nog has gone sour.  It doesn't take long before the kids realise how much hard work they're going to be.  Often they end up being ignored by the whole family until they become nothing but a nuisance.  Eventually they're taken for that inevitable drive and dumped out of sight out of mind.

Christmas is the time when the most hastily bought books end up being unceremoniously disposed of.  Abandoned celeb bios, estranged TV tie-in cookbooks, shunned novels and spurned comedy compendiums.

How many ebooks will suffer the same fate?  Enthusiastically downloaded but ultimately unloved. 

So before you make that purchase think of how the 'that'll do for Uncle Colin' book will very likely spend 2012 - crammed onto a charity shop shelf with all the other waifs and strays. 

Remember - a book isn't just for Christmas... Choose with care and you'll have something that may stay with them a lifetime.

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Cross-genre publishing? Try a Kindle

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

One of the slightly strange realities of the publishing business is that books have to be both similar and different, at exactly the same time. On first reading, that sentence probably doesn't seem to make too much sense, but it is nevertheless true. When a writer submits a manuscript to an agent or publisher, the work has to achieve two things simultaneously. It has to be sufficiently familiar in its scope and concept that the person reading it will immediately be able to pigeonhole it. He'll be able to recognize that it's a police procedural book, or a romance, or a comedy or whatever. But at the same time, the manuscript has to be sufficiently different to everything else published in that particular genre to be identified as something new.
            Most of the time, this all works out rather well. The author knows what he's writing about, and the agent will recognize the genre and be able to submit the book to a publisher who works in that field. And the man browsing the shelves in the bookshop will be able to go directly to the section which holds the kind of stuff that he likes to read.
            The problem comes when an author has an idea for a book which simply doesn't fit into any convenient genre. Many years ago, when I was trawling the pages of the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook searching desperately for an agent who would be willing to take me on, I had an idea for a book of precisely this sort, a cross-genre work. What was rather odd was that I did find one agent who was prepared to accept both me and the novel and try to sell both, but in the event I got a better offer and went elsewhere.
            This book was first entitled Trade-off, and the majority of the text reads like a straight, mainstream thriller, with a missing girl snatched by a ruthless gang while her boyfriend – a British police officer on an exchange posting with the FBI – criss-crosses America searching for her. The problem comes at the end of the book, when it becomes clear that the bad guys are working for a most unusual organization, and that takes the book out of the thriller category and puts it somewhere else. But this other factor (and I'm not going to tell you what it is, because I'd like you to buy the book and find out for yourself) does not form a sufficiently large part of the manuscript to justify placing the book in a different genre.
            It's a true cross-genre, and hence difficult to sell, novel, and despite the best efforts of my agent, we've never found a publisher willing to take it on, despite the fact that I've now achieved a reasonable reputation as a writer, and all my books sell quite well.
            For a very brief period, the book was being offered by a small American publishing house which specialised in ebooks in the early days of this publishing medium, and it turned out to be pretty much their biggest selling title. But that didn't last long, and when the firm went out of business, the rights reverted to me again.
            I read what Matt Lynn said in an earlier blog entry, and so I decided that it was worth having a go at selling the book myself, as a Kindle download. Fortunately, I already had a cover which had been produced by the American company, so that was one job I didn't have to do. What surprised me was how easy it was to format the book so that it looked OK on a Kindle, and how painless the upload process actually was, which I think both pleased me and depressed me in almost equal measure. This demonstrated very clearly that anybody can write almost anything and have it available for the world to buy and download in a matter of minutes. And in the world of publishing, more choice of material is not necessarily a good thing, simply because until you buy the book you have no clue if the author can actually write or tell a story. But that's a topic for another day.
            Anyway, the short version is that the book, with its original cover and revised title – it's called The Omega Protocols – and with a completely different author's name – Philip Berenson – is now available for the world to buy on Amazon for what I personally think is an extremely modest price.
            If any of you do buy it, please let me know what you think it.

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Friday, 11 November 2011

Unbound books and the Man in the Shed

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

Actually, it isn't necessarily a man at all. It could just as well be a writer of the female persuasion, but men are traditionally supposed to own sheds. In fact, I've heard a number of people who claim to Know About These Things who believe that a shed can save a marriage, because it provides space between the two combatants, and gives the husband a place to which he can retire to pursue whatever solitary and sordid pursuits float his particular boat: model railways, smoking, or just viewing high quality porn.
            Unbound? Shed? I'm talking about what, exactly? Oddly enough, it's a brand-new venture in publishing. Instead of an author spending a few months or a few years writing a book and then trying to interest a publisher or literary agent into taking it on, with the attendant risk that the book might never be sold, in which case the author has wasted a year or so of his or her life, Unbound ( has come up with a novel – in the other sense of the word – idea.
Before the writer finishes the book, or even gets properly started on it, he or she can submit it to Unbound and, if the idea for the work is accepted by the website, details of the proposed book will be displayed and members of the public can then pledge money to the author, essentially providing sufficient funding to pay for the book to be written and then published.
            It's an interesting idea, because if the proposal stinks, and attracts no or very little attention, the author will presumably slink away, back to his or her garret, and try and come up with a better or more compelling plot. But if the core idea of the book attracts the public's attention, money will flood in and eventually the book will make it onto the shelves of Waterstones and W H Smith. So it is, in some ways, a mechanism for assessing the likely popularity – and hence potential sales – of a particular book without the author going through the tiresome process of actually writing the thing.
            And the people who agree to provide funding benefit in some small ways as well. The minimum contribution is a mere £10, and that produces a copy of the ebook edition of the work, prints the contributor's name at the back of the book, and provides access to the author's 'shed', of which more later. Contribution levels differ depending on the book, but typically rise through £20, £50, £75 and £150 to £250, which gets you two tickets to the book's launch party, one or two other bits and pieces, and lunch with the author, which is for some reason seen to be a Good Thing. But I suppose that does depend on the author.
If you've just won the lottery and feel like taking a punt, it's even possible to fund the entire work, which presumably means you effectively own the author for the duration of the project, and possibly acquire some of the headaches – coping with the looming deadline, tantrums, writer’s block and so on – as well.
            But – and with most ideas of this type there's always a 'but' somewhere – the bad news is that at the moment the site is mainly commissioning works from published authors, presumably because that way the finished product will hopefully be competently written and won't need weeks of editing to knock it into shape. So this certainly isn't a quick route to publication for somebody with no track record, and is really simply another avenue that published authors can explore. And that, I suppose, is either good or bad, or both, depending entirely upon which side of the publishing fence you're standing.
            And there's another tiny little niggle that I have, not with the idea of the site and its aims, but with that one word: 'shed'. It's probably just me, but to refer to the author's shed – which according to the site simply means the author's private area, which could be construed to have some slight sexual connotations as well – just seems a little dismissive. As if the author is simply an inconveniently eccentric family member who's dismissed to the garden shed to pursue his solitary vice away from the public gaze of the adults. Why couldn't they have called it the author's 'study' or 'office' or even 'workroom'?
            That aside, it’ll be interesting to see how the project fares. Currently, the site is displaying details of five books which have received 100% funding, including one by a first-time novelist named Jennifer Pickup, and nine other books to which money can be contributed, with the existing donation level displayed by each one. Every book remains on the site for a finite period of time, and at the end of that is presumably removed if it has not attracted sufficient support. Looking at the levels of contribution and the days remaining, my guess is that at least one of the books displayed will not make it into either the bookshops or the world of the ebook.
            So will it work? Probably. I suppose you could say that it's really not that different to conventional publishing. Normally, a commissioning editor will pitch a manuscript that he likes to his colleagues, and if enough of them agree with him, the book will be bought. What Unbound is doing is exactly the same, except that there is no commissioning editor, and the people who make the publishing decision are the kind of people who will ultimately be buying the book. So it's really a new slant rather than a brand-new idea.
            But it also means that a new expression has entered the world of books: welcome to 'crowd publishing'.

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Chinese Whisperings

By Richard Jay Parker

My writing has taken many forms but recently I was very excited to be part of an interesting project involving writers from all over the world - Chinese Whisperings - The Yin and Yang Book.  I was invited by eMergent Publishing's editor, Jodi Cleghorn, to get involved in an anthology with a difference.  All of the stories are set in one location, during a specific event and feed off each other to create a solid whole.

The location is an airport and the event the grounding of all flights by fictitious airline, Pangean.  There was much debate about the feasibility of this but, as is so often the case, reality stepped in at an opportune moment when Qantas grounded all of its flights the weekend before last coinciding perfectly with the release of the paperback.

The book serves as a showcase for writing talent from the US, the UK, Australia, Canada, France and Germany with all of the authors using each other's stories as triggers for their own episodes.

It's a neat idea put together by Jodi and eMergent's UK co-founder and editor Paul Anderson and features work by Jen Brubacher, Jason Coggins, Annie Evett, Emma Newman and Carrie Clevenger amongst many other talented people.

The stories are as varied as the contributors and my own piece is an unsettling story with a twist that's pretty dark even by my standards.  You can now check out the paperback and the ebook at Amazon etc.

If you're a writer of quirky and original short stories then I thoroughly recommend you getting in touch with Jodi and Paul.  You can find their website by hitting the title of the book in the first para of this blog.

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Sunday, 6 November 2011

E-Books Are Blurring The Lines Between What Is ‘Published’ And What Isn’t:

by Matt Lynn

About the most interesting thing happening in the book trade right now is that the lines between traditional publishing and self-publishing are getting blurred. My Death Force series is published by Hodder Headline, but my Black Ops series of novellas I am bringing out myself.

More and more writers, so far as I can tell, are going down that road.

One indicator of that this week was the decision by the International Thriller Writer’s Association to allow its members to post the details of their self-published work up on their website. Until now, they had only allowed work bought by major publishers.

A hybrid model is emerging I suspect where writers do some work for major publishers, and some work for themselves, probably forming their own judgements on what mix will maximise their sales, income and creative satisfaction.

Personally I like the combination. I value the prestige of the mainstream publisher, and seeing my books in the shops. But I like the energy and immediacy of doing my own thing as well. And, I suspect I’ll soon be making more money as well.

But how exactly this is all going to work, however, no one really knows.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Back home again

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

We’re now back in Andorra, where the weather had been fantastic, by all accounts, pretty much until we drove across the border, when the temperature fell like a stone and the rain started. In fact, not just the rain. We’ve seen no snow at our altitude – we live in a house at the end of a valley just outside a hamlet named El Serrat that’s at an elevation of around 5,000 feet, or about 1,500 feet higher than the top of Mount Snowdon, to put it into perspective – but there’s now an almost permanent white cap on the mountains all around us, and we’re expecting the first serious falls of snow within a couple of weeks.
            The picture above shows what it can get like here.
            Pretty soon all the Mercedes and BMW saloons will vanish from the roads – they’re completely useless in the snow – and the commonest car in the country will as usual be the old model Fiat Panda. The Fiat Panda? The old Fiat Panda? Yes – the old, boxy 4x4 version of this cheap and cheerful little car is far and away the best possible vehicle to drive when there’s snow on the ground, much better than the current model. Its simple four-wheel drive system delivers precisely 25% of the power to each of the four wheels, it has relatively high ground clearance, it has thin wheels which are usually permanently fitted with snow tyres out here, and it can get to places that the big 4x4s simply can’t reach. Every public body here uses them – the government, the comuns, the medical services, even the phone company. We have one as well, just like most people who live outside the towns, and it’s never once let us down.
            Pundits here tell us it’s going to be a hard winter, which is good for the country, because it’s a ski resort. Less good for us, perhaps, but we can always escape to France or Spain if it gets really bad. That’s one of the advantages of living in a postage-stamp sized country bordered by two other nations – you can easily and quickly get out if you have to.
            The other advantage is the absence of income tax, though it’s also worth pointing out that we’re deprived of all the other benefits of living in the European Union. So we don’t have toxic debt, banks going under, VAT, corporation tax, inheritance tax, capital transfer tax, capital gains tax and quite a few others. It’s hell here, really …
            The work’s going to plan as well. I delivered the first draft of the fifth ‘James Becker’ novel to my editor at Transworld at the end of October, and I’m already roughly 5,000 words into the second ‘Jack Steel’ adventure for Simon & Schuster, scheduled for delivery in mid-February 2012. That date sounds like it’s a long way ahead – I mean, it’s next year – but it’s actually only fifteen weeks away, so I need to write about 1,000 words a day, every day, to make the delivery on time. And as usual there’s a fair bit of research to do to make sure that the book has a pretty solid background of fact around which I can try to weave the story, which all takes time.
            In fact, I’d better get going right now …

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