‘As they rose, the sun rose with them as if they were racing for the top of the sky. Its warmth welcomed them, turning the dark skin of the fiery balloon a beautiful midnight blue. They flew straight up. Above them, the sweet, clear music of the lonely pipe, the only sound left in the whole world, drew them on until they prepared to hit the very roof-top of the sky itself. Then the smooth sky puckered into cloth-of-blue and drew aside for them, like curtains parting. The music called again, and they passed straight through.’
This is Bonnie, the heroine of my novel, Midnight Blue, passing from one world to another, leaving behind her old life. And today - launch day for Midnight Blue’s 21st Anniversary edition - I feel much as she might have done, wondering what lies ahead, what I’ve let myself in for and why.
SO WHY AN E-BOOK?
Twenty-one years ago, Midnight Blue was launched into a very different world where Amstrad computers were the latest thing and e-books were little more than a dream. E-books –who’d want one of those when they could have the real thing? Midnight Blue was available in shops everywhere. It had a brightly-coloured jacket to catch the eye and was well displayed, you could hold it, turn its pages - it looked good.
But it doesn’t look so good now. Twenty-one years later, and the Midnight Blues on my bookshelf are yellow with age and what once was a nice, papery, bookish smell has taken on a slow but inexorable mustiness.
Recently on Amazon I saw a first edition hardback Midnight Blue retailing for £101. Looking for something cheaper, I found the original paperback, unused, going for £70. This, as you can imagine came as a shock. It certainly makes my new crisp e-book, which will never turn yellow and begin to smell, a bit of a snip at £2.99. Sure, there were cheaper Midnight Blues for sale on Amazon too. But they weren’t new. Whatever their condition, all of them were used.
So, three reasons in one go as to why an e-book: 1] It isn’t going to rot, 2] It’s cheap, and 3] The buyer always gets it brand new. And there’s a fourth reason too - the one which appeals most to me personally; 4] like Bonnie in her smoke-filled, magic hot air balloon, Midnight Blue is launching into the unknown. It can go anywhere. It isn’t tied to the fads of reviewers, the whims of booksellers or the fashions of the day. It doesn’t have to fight for bookshelf space. It doesn’t have a print run, a shelf life, a cut-off point. For as long as I want, it will be out there somewhere in the wide world, finding its own readers, making its own way.
What author wouldn’t want that for their book?
SO, WHY FOR KINDLE?
A number of articles I’ve read this year have described 2011 as the Year of the Kindle, and I tend to agree. With free downloadable Kindle software, Amazon is making e-books from the Kindle Store available not just on their own reading devices, but on Macs and PCs, iPads and iPhones too. At the press of a button, I already have the Kindle version of Midnight Blue available to read on my iPhone. Soon I hope to have Midnight Blue for sale in the Apple Store too, but the answer to why Kindle is that it appeared to me the quickest way to get my book into the greatest number of places in one go.
SO, WHY NOW?
Midnight Blue has had a wonderful life, translated into a string of languages and published all round the world. Only recently on a school visit, I met Chinese children who had read the book in their own language back in their schools in Hong Kong. Twenty-one years after its publication, there certainly are things to look back upon and celebrate – and they go right back to Midnight Blue’s November 1990 Smarties Grand Prix win.
All those years ago, I stood on a platform at the Barbican, trying to put into words how it felt to beat Roald Dahl, Andrew Davies [Middlemarch, Pride & Prejudice – you know, that Andrew Davies], Gene Kemp and all sorts of other amazing, established authors, with my first-time novel about a frightened child who runs away in a hot air balloon. There were no words to do justice to my feelings back then, and there aren’t many more now. But it’s great to see Midnight Blue engaging with a new generation and finding new ways to be read.
But there’s another answer to why now, which has nothing to do with the past and everything to do with the world we live in now and the need to take control. Midnight Blue isn’t just being launched today as an e-book. It’s being launched by me. There’s an incredible freedom about bringing out my own e-book. I’m the one who makes the choices, not anybody else. Increasingly over the years my freedom as an author to determine my own direction has been taken away. Marketing is king, and any attempts by me to do the best for my books have been lost in the rush.
But not this time. This time it’s just Midnight Blue and me. This has been my chance to step back, take stock, make the right decisions for my book and put them into practice. Every aspect of Midnight Blue’s new e-life, from content and artwork to marketing and PR, is in my hands. If I fail, I’ll be the one who has to take the rap. But if I succeed, and Midnight Blue finds a whole new generation of young readers, I’ll be the one who made it happen. And I’ll have done it my own way.
MIDNIGHT BLUE’S ONLINE BOOK TOUR