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

Friday, 25 January 2013

The rise of the ebook (continued)

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

Free ebook this weekend only! This Saturday and Sunday you'll find my ebook Falklands: Voyage to War available for free on Amazon.

Some figures released by the Association of American Publishers for 2011 make interesting reading. In that year ebooks became ‘the dominant single format’ in the adult fiction category, accounting for 30% of publishers’ sales and more than doubling the 13% recorded the previous year. The revenue from adult fiction ebooks amounted to $1.27 billion, an increase of 117%. Also in 2011, the number of self-published books increased dramatically to 211,269 over the 133,936 released in 2010, not quite twice as many, and roughly 45% of these were fiction. New writers were discovering that, for the first time, they didn’t actually need publishers in order to get published.

And it’s still clear that mainstream commercial publishers have little or no idea how to take advantage of the new medium. One example: the author Eric van Lustbader, who wrote more than 25 bestsellers, suddenly discovered that many of his most successful novels weren’t available as ebooks. As his publisher was apparently unable or unwilling to release his work in this format, the author has reclaimed all the relevant rights to these novels and is in the process of releasing them as ebooks himself, without the assistance of any publishing house.

It’s worth bearing in mind another factor which has characterized the ebook revolution: not only can unknown writers publish anything they want, but professional authors can release books that no mainstream publisher would even consider. This is particularly the case with short stories. Very few authors have had short stories published in book form, and those that have managed this have usually seen these only as collections, released after the author has already become established as a bestselling novelist. Some magazines take short stories, but for most writers this is an ephemeral and unsatisfactory method of getting their work out to their readers. But the rise of the ebook has changed everything, because the length of the work is now virtually irrelevant.

I have had two short non-fiction books and a collection of ghost stories published by The Endeavour Press that I could never have hoped to see released by any commercial publishing house because the length of all three works was simply wrong. But as ebooks, they are selling well, and the low asking price reflects the fact that they aren’t full-length works.

Stephen Leather is a well-established and popular novelist, and he, too, is exploiting the short story medium with his ‘Inspector Zhang’ series. Reportedly, he sells roughly 6,000 of each every year, usually for under £1, and in 2012 he claimed to have sold about half a million ebooks in all, the majority being short stories.

This didn’t go down well when he spoke at the Crime Writers Association conference in Harrogate last July, and he was booed and hissed by the audience, apparently for having the temerity to properly embrace the new technology which is available. Clearly the people who listened to him speak objected very strongly to the entire concept of the ebook, and in particular the idea of cheap ones.

Personally, I think he’s quite right. The fact of the matter – as I hope I’ve shown in this blog post, if it wasn’t already perfectly apparent to everybody – is that the ebook is here and it’s here to stay, and there’s absolutely no point in not taking advantage of it and the opportunities it offers. We are never going to return to a time when a handful of publishing houses were able to decide what was – and what was not – suitable material for the reading public, and the sooner everybody realises that the better.

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

Friday, 18 January 2013

Porn – sort of

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

Many apologies for the long delay since my last blog post here. It was a combination of circumstances, including the inevitable Christmas and New Year celebrations when nobody really feels like doing very much, and a month on a cruise ship sailing down to the Caribbean and then returning to Portsmouth just before Christmas. That, I hasten to add, wasn’t a holiday, but work, because one of my secondary duties, if you like, is lecturing on such vessels, which usually means I stand up on my hind legs in front of a largely disinterested audience every other day and for about 40 minutes or so I bore them into submission.
            The talks I give vary from the sublime – Cold War espionage in Berlin – to the ridiculous – the secrets of the Bermuda Triangle – but my bread and butter is destination lecturing, talking about the next port the ship will be visiting. Of course, when I’m not standing up in the theatre or wherever my time is my own, so although it is work it really isn’t desperately hard work and I can usually get quite a lot of writing done, at least when the ship’s at sea. When it’s alongside in Barbados or Tortola, it’s very difficult to think of a really good reason to stay on board and work.
The early part of this year is going to be fairly hectic as well, because I have to do two cruises in fairly quick succession. For the first, they’re flying me out to Hong Kong to join the Queen Mary 2, returning from Sydney, and a couple of weeks after I get back I’m off again, this time to Bangkok to join the Aurora, and then flying back from Dubai.
            But that’s enough about my troubles. What I really want to talk about this week is porn. Mummy porn, to be precise.
            The somewhat startling news was released this week that the Fifty Shades of Grey series has sold 35 million copies in America and a further 35 million copies in the rest of the world. However you slice it, 70 million sales for three books that even their staunchest fans have to admit are barely average is pretty impressive. These books have now outsold the entire Harry Potter series and turned the author into a multimillionaire, all in just two years. According to one industry insider, at the height of their popularity in Britain the trilogy was selling around 1 million copies a week in paperback and 2 million as electronic downloads, meaning that the author was banking almost £1 million a week.
            In the good old days of traditional publishing, novels would be released first as hard covers then, after a decent interval, as paperbacks and, if there was sufficient interest, the publishers might later consider audiobooks or something of that sort. But the American publishers of the Grey series are doing it all backwards, and the next version of the books that will appear will be hardbacks, and on the Valentine’s Day to boot, which has to be sending some kind of a mixed message. Romance is dead – pass me those handcuffs? Or maybe ‘Say it with whips’?
            And in these days of spin-offs and derivatives it’s probably only a matter of time before we see the influence of this kind of mild mummy porn on the small screen. How about a brand-new series called Weird Sex in the City?

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