The Publishing Business

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As some folks may have heard, I wrote another book. And the good folk at Orbit are going to publish it this year!

That pile of paper there is the proofs for The Free – a stand-alone fantasy novel coming out in a bookshop or digital venue near you this October. The proofs are the last stage before the whole thing is kind of locked down, so I spent a fair few hours not long ago reading every single word of the thing all over again. Line by line, sentence by sentence, hunting for mistakes, typos, embarrassments, all that sort of thing.

It’s a strange experience for me, this bit of the writing/publishing process. Once a book (or story, or comic) of mine is published, I’m profoundly disinclined to ever read it, not even a little bit of it, again. It’s finished and I can’t change it and all I’m likely to see if I read it again is stuff I wish I could change. Reading and correcting proofs is kind of half-way into that territory – it’s too late to make big changes – but still embedded in the revising process to some extent, because little tweaks are possible. So I’m at ease with it, in a way I’m not at ease with re-reading the finished, published novel. Kind of like it, in fact, because once you get to this point you know you’re pretty much done. This thing’s happening. This book’s going to be for real soon.

In fact, The Free is going to be for real on or about October 14th. Not all that soon, I know, but it’s avilable for pre-order on all the usual online sites. If you’re at all inclined to do such a thing, pre-ordering is helpful and encouraging so you get my (impersonal, anonymous) gratitude if you take the plunge. I don’t think you’ll regret it – I’ve read The Free quite recently, after all, and I didn’t think it was bad. All nearly 450 pages of it.

The book’s right there waiting for your anticipatory support on Amazon UK, Amazon US, Amazon CA, Barnes & Noble etc. (But sadly not yet my personal preference these days – now that Amazon has bought up virtually every other independent online vendor – Wordery, which is a newish UK-based site that does free worldwide shipping. So you can’t pre-order The Free there yet, as far as I can see, but why not bookmark or sign up with Wordery.com and try it out sometime? Competition is a good thing, and boy does Amazon need some competition).

More to come about The Free in coming weeks and months, of course. For now, though, here’s the start of the contents because … well, why not?

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I was given a tea towel today.  It’s adorned with 13 bits of ‘honest advice’ for the aspiring author.  It was given as a joke, rather than a serious gift – I don’t think I’m believed to be in urgent need of the advice in question – but as well as being quite smile-inducing, it does contain several nuggets of basic wisdom that really would be quite handy for aspiring writers to embrace, if they haven’t already done so.  Such as:

  • You may break any rules but you will only break them beautifully if you understand them fully.
  • Write the first draft with your heart and the second draft with your head.
  • Rubbish is published because it sells.  Stop moaning; focus on your writing.  Publishing is a business, so deal with it.
  • You only need two out of talent, luck and determination.  Some manage only with luck.  Real writers aim for the other two.
  • Of course your mother loves your book: she’s your mother.

All true, more or less*.

The tea towel, and the advice thereupon, is the creation of Nicola Morgan.

*I confess, I don’t think my mother loves any of my books.  Not really her kind of thing.  But that’s fine; she loves me, after all. And my father does quite like at least some of them, I think, so there you are.

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If The Godin says it, it must be true, right? Well, could be. His is one of three posts linked to from this round-up, all of which are worth a read and all of which, I think, are fundamentally saying not so much that books are dying, as that the infrastructure and systems in place to publish, distribute and sell them as physical objects are dying, or at the very least heading towards a radically different and very probably much diminished future.  Which seems kind of plausible, if nothing else.  Difficult to be confident that the ink-and-paper book business faces anything other than ‘interesting times’.

Despite that, I’m evidently still writing books.  I know this because look: someone’s somehow got their hands on a book cover.  And discovered an Amazon UK link.  Cool.

Hold your horses, though.  I can certainly vouch for the fact that my novel The Free should indeed be published next year, because I’m in the late stages of battering it into publication-ready form at this very moment  (I was until I broke off to write this post, anyway).  That cover, though?  If you’d read the book, you’d know that the ‘Cover Not Final’ tag appearing on the artwork is … well, highly likely to be accurate.  That rather fine image of knightly chaps looking mean and moody is kind of cool, but it’s not what you’d call a ruthlessly accurate representation of the text.

Mean and moody’s fair enough, mind you, so who knows what’ll be adorning the book when it does eventually hit the shelves next year?  Anyway, I’m aware I’ve not said much about my writing endeavours here of late, but with The Free nearing something that approximates to a presentable state, that’ll be changing a bit.  I’ve got some stuff to say about the perils and pleasures of rewriting and revising, I think, which’ll be along in due course …

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Once upon a time, I was an aspiring writer with no time for luck.  It wasn’t hard to find, out on the interwebs, those who hung on to various odd theories about how some folks managed to get their books published and others didn’t; one of the things that sometimes got said was that it was all about luck.  (That, or it was all about who you knew, what secret handshake you’d mastered, etc.).

The luck theory was, I suppose, a bit less daft than the various conspiracies proposed, but I still didn’t give it much credence.  I reckoned, in my infinite wisdom, that getting published and making a success of it was all about talent and application.  Maybe, I might have grudgingly conceded, the tiniest little bit of luck now and again; but mostly, not luck.

Now, I’ve got a different take on the whole business.  Sure, luck can play a part.  Not just in getting published in the first place, but in what happens thereafter.  I’ve had the odd bit of luck here and there.

The thing I’ve come to believe about luck, though, is that although you as a writer, aspiring or otherwise, can’t exactly control it, you can give it the chance it needs to make a difference.  You can invite luck into your writing life.  It’s not some numinous, magical force that picks folk out at random to sprinkle its beneficial pixie dust upon.  I mean, it might do that sometimes, but just as often the old cliche is true: You make your own luck.

Which brings me to the closest thing I’ve got to general advice for aspiring writers.  Luck might have a part to play in making your dreams come true.  You don’t get to decide whether, or when or how it will do so; that’s kind of in the nature of the luck beast.  But you can give it the chance to make a difference.  How do you do that?  Easy.

  • You write a lot, and you aspire to write well.  That means getting words down on (virtual) paper, finishing things you start, giving yourself the time and practice to get better at it.  You set your sights, and your expectations of yourself, high.
  • You put things you have written out there into the world.  Give them air.  You submit your work to magazines, publishers etc.  It’s difficult for luck to intervene if it doesn’t have the basic material to work with, and in this case that basic material is your work, sent out into the world.

I should note that this is not a roundabout way of advocating the self-publishing route that is so easily available now.  It has its place, no doubt, and there are those (not many) for whom it has worked magic.  But consider the possibility that on occasion it might also be a trap.  It’s an invitation to try a shortcut around parts of the first of those two bullet points and skip to the second: ‘putting your work out there’.  And that’s all I’ve got to say about that.

So I’ve had my share of luck, some of it earned, some unearned.  None of it, though, would have happened if I hadn’t learned to finish pieces of writing, if I hadn’t sent them out to see what other, professional folks thought of them and taken rejection as a suggestion that I should try harder, if I hadn’t said ‘yes’ to certain opportunities or invitations that came my way that allowed me to get more writing out there, or get my existing writing into a different form.

All of which is perhaps just a long-winded way of saying that if you’re an aspiring author, or a published author who wants to get better or be more successful, luck might be able to help.  But if it does, it probably won’t be as a substitute for putting the hours in, risking and learning from rejection, aiming high, striving to improve.  More likely, it’ll be a result of those things.

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A few miscellaneous bits. Starting with by far the most important thing, the minor frustrations of my life. Because that’s what really matters, right?

So, I’m going to talk to some students on the MLitt course at Stirling University today. Enthuse or dispirit them on the subject of the life of a published author; could go either way, I suspect. Naturally, given that appointment, today’s the day I wake up with a sore throat, cough and general feeling of mild grottiness. Typical. Harrumph. Does it affect the odds of the enthuse or dispirit outcome? Time will tell.

Raising my eyes (reluctantly) from my own travails, I see B&N is heading into turbulent waters. Looks like those hoping the Nook might save them from a slow fade into history might be disappointed. And for reasons that are mysterious to me, it seems the founder wants to break up the company, taking over the the bookselling bit and cutting adrift the digital/Nook bit. It all looks very much like decline to me, terminal or otherwise. Given they’ve already said they’re going to be closing stores, it’s the slow-motion chewing up of a formerly strong but now very definitely fragile company. I’m kind of sceptical, to put it extremely mildly, much of it’s going to be left intact by the time the mastication is over.

Creative destruction’s all very well, but the future of writing, publishing, selling and reading books does not look a hugely appealing place to me these days. Quasi-monopolistic dictatorships are rarely pretty. We’re all going to have to live there, though, so might as well try to make the best of it.  Enjoy your nearest bricks and mortar bookstore while you can.

And here’s The Miniature Earth. What the world would look like, numbers-wise, if it was a village of 100 souls. Not a great deal that’s hugely surprising, but it’s kind of interesting, and elegantly done.

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I like, and use Amazon, as much as any averagely active buyer of stuff over the internet.  That’s as a price-conscious consumer.  As a reader and writer, and as someone who is generally in favour of choice and competition in as many industries and retail sectors as possible, I find them … alarming, I suppose.  Not so long ago, I tended to use The Book Depository for most of my book purchases, in part specifically because they weren’t Amazon, but … oh, look.  Amazon bought them.  What a surprise.

So I’m a fan of anything that introduces more diversity into the online bookselling scene (because I think we can safely assume that nobody’s going to be introducing more diversity into the bricks and mortar bookselling scene any time soon).  The arrival of Bookish is therefore interesting.  It’s backed by three big publishers (including mine), and loads more are connected to it, so whatever anyone might say it’s undoubtedly at least in part an attempt to break Amazon’s growing stranglehold on their business.

But never mind why it’s (belatedly, since it’s been in the works for ages) here, or who’s behind it: putting my price-conscious consumer’s hat on for a second, Bookish looks like a good thing.  Competitive prices for both print and e-books, loads of social features, wide range of titles etc. etc.  It’s also a USA thing, so to any and all of you living on that side of the Atlantic I merely suggest: check it out, maybe give it a try.

Choice and competition matter, and they are not heading in a healthy direction at the moment.  To put it mildly.  Using Bookish might be one small way to nurture them.

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So, as promised in the last post, we’re going to have a bit of news and stuff this week.

Of which the first item is: The Godless World trilogy got optioned for film/TV development a little while ago.  That’s nice, don’t you think?

Not nice because I assume it means we’ll ever actually see Orisian, Aeglyss and co. marching across our screens – going from selling an option to any moving pictures actually getting made is a gigantic, probability-defying leap – but nice in that someone liked the books enough, and saw enough filmic potential in them, to put a little bit (and it really is a little bit, at this stage) of their money into buying the right to talk to other folks about it.  That’s all an option really means: the author rents out, for a limited time, the right to explore possibilities for film/TV adaptation.

So I won’t be drinking champagne from gold-plated glasses or anything, but it’s a pleasant vote of confidence in the books.  And I can amuse myself by wondering what Daniel Craig’s filming schedule looks like a few years hence.  As also mentioned in the last post, he’s the man to play Adam Quire in any adaptation of The Edinburgh Dead, but I’m sure he could do a fine job of Taim Narran in Winterbirth, too.

An interesting incidental consequence of selling the film rights: I was asked to send off a recording of me reading out some character names from Winterbirth, so that everyone was clear on the pronunciation.  The names, and the naming conventions attached to them, in The Godless World have drawn the odd bit of not entirely positive comment from readers over the years.  In hindsight, I can see why, although I’m still kind of attached to the choices I made.

Anyway, sitting there reading out a few names inspired me to test the audio waters a bit further, so I’m thinking I might try to put together a brief little mp3 of me talking about/reading out the character names in the trilogy for posting here on the website.  It’ll be dreadful, quite possibly, as I’m no great reader-out-loud and I don’t have decent equipment for the job, but I’m curious to see what’s possible with the limited material to hand (i.e. me and a tablet’s in-built microphone) so prepare yourself for the possibility – and it’s no more than that at this stage – that tomorrow’s exciting instalment in the ongoing saga that is News Week will be … me talking.  Oh dear.

So, I finally took the plunge a while back and joined the ranks of the e-reader army.

Kindle 4 (i.e. no keyboard, wi-fi only).

And sure enough, it changed my mind. Not in the sense that it substantially changed my opinion about anything to do with e-books etc. No, it changed – or at least is trying to change – my thought processes; my perceptions.

We’ll get to that in a bit, but first: do I like my Kindle?

Sure I do.  It’s a clever, effective bit of kit that does one thing – sell, deliver and display text for on-screen consumption – jolly well.  It’s what my parents, and hence I, would tend to call, approvingly, A Thing of Purpose.  It’s got a job to do, and it does it well.

And also: do I feel good about becoming a Kindle-owner?

Huh. What kind of a dumb question is that? Not quite as dumb as it sounds, if you were privy to my inner thoughts. Which approximate to: Amazon is not my friend. Neither as a reader nor a writer should I fall into the trap of imagining that Amazon is ‘on my side’. Amazon is on but one side, and that is its own. Charles Stross articulates my thoughts better than I could, right here.  Worth reading, especially if you’re under the illusion that the word ‘altriusm’ appears anywhere on Amazon’s agenda.

So, to rephrase, do I feel good about contributing, in my own entirely minuscule way, to Amazon’s advance towards monopoly and monopsony?  No, not especially.

But here’s the thing.  Amazon is going to determine – far more than any other single player – what the short and possibly medium term futures of the e-book look like.  I’m a writer, so I have a certain financial, creative and personal stake in this game.  So I got a Kindle, because I want to see what the biggest player and rule-maker is doing, how they’re doing it and how their system works.

I’ll probably do another post some time about what I actually make of some of the content I’ve loaded onto my Precious … ah, excuse me … my Kindle, and how I feel about the reading experience, but for now let’s just consider What my Kindle is doing to my brain.

It’s re-wiring it, that’s what.  It’s attempting to change my perceptions of what a book is, and what the value of a book is.  The second, unsurpisingly, is the interesting bit for me as an author.

Essentially, as I bimbled about online, wading through the swamps of the Kindle store, anything over £3 or £4 started looking expensive.  Now, I don’t actually believe that to be an entirely sensible conclusion to reach but nevertheless, for a whole load of reasons, I could all but feel the notion trying to take root in my brain.  Just a few of those reasons (not all of which I necessarily think are valid, but they were all there, feeding my unconscious thought processes):

  • There is no physical object for me to indisputably, irrevocably own on a permanent, unconstrained and transferable basis.  Without those fundamental components of ‘ownership’ I should not be expected to pay so much.
  • There is no physical object that has cost someone money to create.  Without those sunk costs, I should not be expected to pay so much.
  • There is a vast array of free or very cheap material on offer in the Kindle store; by comparison with it, more ‘traditionally’ priced items automatically start to appear expensive.
  • A virtual text feels inherently less consequential, considered and substantial (and therefore less valuable) than one that has been given physical form.
  • It’s sometimes hard to tell how long a text you’re being asked to pay for is, and there’s therefore a temptation to err on the side of caution when considering its value.
  • I don’t pay over £3 or £4 for hardly anything non-physical I acquire for entertainment purposes online (e.g. apps, renting a movie), indeed I pay nothing for a lot of it (e.g. podcasts, on-demand TV).

I could go on, but you get the idea.

To reiterate, I don’t think all of these kind of thoughts are either rational or reasonable, but that some part of my brain was busily processing them, out of the reach of my internal oversight, is indisputable.

It may be just me, of course.  I doubt it, though.  I fear I might be getting a glimpse of the future, just by peering into the muddy recesses of my own little head. And that future is cheap, but not necessarily in a good way.

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… who knows?  The world the aspiring writer’s confronted with is a less structured, less restrictive, less certain place.  That, plus I’ve maybe changed my mind a bit about some of the stuff that used to be taken for granted ten years ago, back when I was scavenging for info on how publishing worked and what I had to do to get a seat at the table.

1.  Start with short stories.  This one was probably holed below the waterline even ten years ago, to be honest, but at some point before that it certainly used to be the prevailing wisdom that when it came to speculative fiction, one sensible route map for launching a career was to sell some short stories to the magazines and then ‘graduate’ to novel writing.  My impression is that nowadays a much higher proportion of novelists skip the short fiction stage and jump straight to novels.

There are all kinds of reason why it’s changed, but I suspect one of them is that there’s a much higher proportion nowadays of potential sf and fantasy novel readers who don’t pay attention to the short story outlets (new or long-established).  That, in many ways, is a good thing: the potential audience for the spec fic novelist has expanded far beyond the core audience of genre fans.  Personally (and despite rarely writing them myself) I still think short stories have enormous value as a craft-honing exercise for the aspiring writer.

2. You need an agent.  Well now.  This one’s complicated, and still – I’d say – more true than not.  But … but … the writing life’s changing fast, and the role and place of the agent is as much up for re-evaluation as any other aspect of the publishing business, now that the digital revolution is well and truly underway.

There’s the obvious self-publishing issue.  You don’t need an agent to get your novel in front of millions of paying customers now that the e-book is gradually becoming the key medium.  Unless you’re super-sharp and super-confident, and have plenty of time to spare, you probably still need one if and when the time comes to talk contracts with a publishing house (and most of them are, anyway, still very reluctant to look at unagented submissions as far as I know), but even then I wonder what the future holds.

One of my strong suspicions about this brave new digital world is that mid-list authors being published by the big publishing houses are facing an uncertain future.  Even if you can land a contract, my guess is that absolute income for mid-list writers is more likely to decline than rise in coming years, due to some combination of lower overall sales and/or the inevitable continuing downward pressure on e-book prices.  That being the case, sacrificing a non-trivial chunk of your income to an agent might eventually start to look like a really good reason to develop your own bargaining and negotiating skills.  Or your own self-publishing and marketing skills.

3. Advertising doesn’t work for books.  I can remember hearing or reading this repeatedly a few years back.  The consensus in the industry seemed to be that money spent on advertising a book was money that could probably have been more profitably used elsewhere (like buying high profile displays in bookshops, for example).  What actually sold books was word of mouth, covers and name recognition.  Advertising spend (posters, magazine adverts, whatever) existed to mollify self-important superstar authors and to front-load sales rather than increase them in absolute terms.  I’m sure the situation wasn’t as simple as all that, even twenty years ago, but I’m equally sure it’s a whole lot less simple these days.

I’ve heard self-publishers and niche publishers say that Facebook advertising (paid Facebook advertising, not just social networking) can indeed move the sales figures for books.  I can also see a scenario – in this connected, digitised, visual world – in which book trailers and other forms of online advertising, especially those designed to go viral, could have an effect.  But mostly, when it comes to thinking about the future of book advertising, it just looks like one of the ways big publishing houses could justify their existence in a hostile future.  If there’s any way of making book advertising work nowadays, I imagine they’re working and thinking hard to try to find it.

4. Publishers and agents have to love a book to take it on.  I was always slightly sceptical about this one, which you still hear now and again.  Not because I mistrust what publishers and agents say, but because the whole thing’s a business, right?  There are undoubtedly plenty of agents and publishers around who would decline involvement with a book because they don’t personally love it, even if they can see that it’s commercially very promising.  More power to them, I say.  But I’ve no doubt there are also plenty who are very happily, and sensibly, working hard to turn books they’re personally not exactly wild about into the bestsellers they believe they can be.

The very small publishing houses, who have their costs under ferocious control, can afford to be picky and choosy, restricting their publishing projects to those in which love of the material plays a major part.  The giants of the industry, which their overheads and mutlinational corporate masters – maybe not so much, in the testing years to come.  I mean, when the only certainty is uncertainty, would it really make sense to merrily turn down a book that looked like a seriously strong commercial prospect just because you didn’t absolutely adore it yourself?

5.  Aspiring writers shouldn’t try to follow trends.  I can think of a couple of reasons this used to be said, back in the day.  First, the time lag involved in writing a novel, submitting it to agents/publishers, revising it, getting it published and onto bookstore shelves, was so enormous that whatever trend the author had been aiming at had probably gone the way of the Titanic by the time their magnum opus actually saw the light of day.  Second, agents and publishers often seemed to be saying, in public, that what they really wanted to see was new stuff, not retreads of stuff that was already out there.

That trends exist, and persist, and are enormously powerful sales juggernauts seems indisputable these days.  Steampunk and urban fantasy, to name but two.  But what interests me more is the chaotic free-for-all that is the e-book market.  Low-priced, often but not always self-published, novels abound on the e-bestseller charts, and they can very easily be written and published a great deal faster than print books ever could.  Following a trend might starts to look more and more like an entirely sensible strategy, especially given that price and availability are quite clearly non-trivial factors in the aggregate purchasing decisions of e-book consumers, and perhaps more so than anticipated quality.

But me, I’d still say to any aspiring writer: ‘Write whatever you want to write.  If it’s similar to a lot of other stuff already doing well in the market, there’s no harm in that.  If it’s utterly unlike everything that’s ever been published before (unlikely, but you know what I mean), go ahead and write it.  It might turn out to be a triumph or a tragedy, but you’ll never know until you write the thing.’

6.  It’s not about luck.  Creating and sustaining a writing career has, I suspect, always been about three things: talent, persistence and luck.  I used to be pretty confident that luck was the least important of those.  I’m no longer so sure.  I am pretty sure that – even if it wasn’t always the case, which it probably was – persistence is now the only one of the three that’s indispensible.  And that’s all I have to say about that.

 

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Because you can never have too many links, right?  And they don’t even all have to be about me … though some of them are, of course.

Let’s flag a couple of reviews of The Edinburgh Dead, first.

Neth Space likes it ( ‘a very good historical gothic mystery horror urban supernatural thriller’ !)

So does Civilian Reader ( ‘a superb, slow-burning horror suspense. Very highly recommended.’ !)

Come to that, so do the folks at RT Book reviews, who’ve got it listed as a nominee in the Fantasy category for their annual awards.  That’s nice, don’t you think?

And here’s something that tickles me.  As regular visitors here may have noticed, I’m a big, big podcast fan, so it’s particularly nice to be able to report my own podcast debut.  It has to be said, life is full of small lessons in humility, and one of them for me is hearing my own voice as others do: never fails to chip away at my self-image.  I did have a bit of a head cold at the time of recording (fully congealed sinuses, if you must know), but sadly I have a feeling I always sound much like this.  Ho hum.

Anyway, of all the places I thought I might end up talking about one of my books, the venue for my first podcast appearance wasn’t one of them, but it was a jolly pleasant experience: the National Review’s Between the Covers podcast.  You do, of course, come away from a quick, unedited interview like that with your brain buzzing with all the things you should have said and didn’t, but I don’t think I said anything that invites legal action or anything, so that counts as some sort of success in my book.

I’m also interviewed, in the more traditional text form, over at the aforementioned Civilian Reader.

Now, on to some less self-serving content netted out of the great ocean that is the internet.

First, two podcasts of possible interest to those, like me, with a near-limitless appetite for learning more about history:

The Seige of Tenochtitlan got talked about on BBC radio’s In Our Time programme recently – available on BBC iplayer here, or you can probably find a downloadable version in this list.  Difficult to think of a more extreme example of clashing cultures in all of human history, really …

And Max Hastings talks at some length about the Second World War on the BBC History magazine podcast – direct link to audio here, or find it in the list here (it’s the 21st October edition).  I found it interesting mostly because he concentrates on some of the details that often get overlooked or ignored in discussions about the war (like how many Chinese soldiers and civilians were killed … i.e. a very, very large number).

And now one of the most remarakble demonstrations of fan dedication and craftsmanship I’ve ever encountered.   The ultimate Star Wars documentary, in that you get to watch the film while simultaneously getting deluged with background information, annotations, creator interviews etc. etc.  Very, very clever and entertaining, and all the more remarkable because the same fan has done the same thing for Empire Strikes Back and Jedi.  Here, for your viewing pleasure, then, is Star Wars – all of it! – as you’ve never seen or heard it before.

I mean, seriously: that almost justifies the entire existence of the internet by itself, doesn’t it?

But let’s end on a less cheery note and dip our toes into the muddy waters of the impending bookpocalypse.  It’s mesmerizing, watching the turmoil into which the whole publishing industry is descending bit by bit.  Here’s two markers along the way to wherever it is we’re heading that caught my notice recently:

Ewan Morrison asking Are books dead, and can authors survive?  The answer to the first bit of that is clearly Not Yet.  Print books are clearly going to fade into a niche, but e-books aren’t going to be dying any time soon.  The answer to the second bit, I’m not so sure about.  The folks who sell really, really big numbers of their books are going to be just fine, of course.  The rest of us?  Actually: maybe not.

The picture Morrison paints is the worst case scenario, and I can’t really buy into it unreservedly, but … but … there are more than enough folk out there around the internet hailing the digital revolution as the best thing since sliced bread, and I increasingly find myself inclining towards a much darker prognosis, not only for publishers (turmoil hardly covers what they’re looking at) and writers (I strongly suspect if – like me – you’re not a bestseller, things are about to get uncomfortable, to say the least) but also for readers (be careful what you wish for … low prices and an explosion in self-publishing don’t come without consequences).

And Amazon continues to hammer away at the chances of anyone but them making money out of the book business.  Including authors, which is the bit that bugs me, obviously.  A lending programme for e-books might sound like a nifty idea to owners of Kindles, but it sounds like the tolling of a funereal bell to me.

The weird thing is, there’s so much going on that looks at best inadvisable and at worst potentially disastrous if, like me, you value the work of writers and the survival of a diverse and high quality output of books, and yet … I can’t think of a single thing anyone involved could do, or is likely to, that would change the outcome.  Pretty much everyone is coming at this from the point of view of their own individual best interest (personal or corporate), and that’s entirely reasonable and justifiable when looked at at the level of each specific decision, but the overall effect, seen in big picture terms, is … well, alarming just about covers it, I guess.

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