Thursday, 31 October 2013

GUEST POST: Singing in Spanish by Katherine Roberts

Katherine Roberts
Once upon a time - not that long ago - there were no university courses or blogs to teach you how to write, find an agent or get your work published. I learned my craft by writing short stories for little magazines produced in people’s garages, in the process getting valuable feedback from other subscribers (who were also new writers looking for feedback, too). So in a way, I suppose it was a bit like a writing course – only cheaper, and with the students scattered across the country.

One of the short stories I wrote back then was called Death Singer, a fantasy tale set in a vaguely Greek temple that trains young Singers to give song therapy to criminals sent up from the city below. This story was published in 1994 by Xenos - a small SF/Fantasy magazine, which also published the early work of authors such as Rhys Hughes and Cherith Baldry.

If anyone had told me, back when I wrote Death Singer, that it would grow into my first full-length novel Song Quest, which would go on to win a prestigious children’s book award and become a trilogy (The Echorium Sequence) edited by the man who discovered Harry Potter and be published in America by Scholastic, I would probably have laughed at the whole idea. But that's exactly what happened.

Branford Boase Award and original Element hardcover edition (right)
You can’t read the Echorium trilogy in ebook format yet, since I have been waiting for the publisher who re-issued Song Quest in paperback last year (left above) to bring out the digital version. But I hope to make the other two titles Crystal Mask and Dark Quetzal into ebooks before Christmas. And meanwhile, another exciting thing has happened to my original short story Death Singer, which I’d quietly slipped into an ebook collection back when I was experimenting with Kindle publishing in 2011.

Ana Posada

One day I had an email out of the blue from Spanish language student Ana Posada, who had chosen to translate Death Singer into Spanish as part of her university coursework. Since my story contained fantasy elements, she needed to ask me a few questions so she could translate these properly, and I was more than happy to help. After she sent me the translation, I had the idea of publishing the two languages side-by-side in a single ebook for people who might be learning English or Spanish as a second language. Ana was agreeable to this, and so we produced the dual language ebook Death Singer / La Musa de la Muerte.

Now, I don't know very much about the Spanish language ebook market, so at the time I was unaware of any other similar dual language short story titles, though I felt certain there must be some. And, sure enough, after having the ebook on a free run with Amazon Select, I noticed other dual language titles coming up in amazon’s 'also bought' section. A few clicks on my Kindle later, and I came up with a whole list:

La Mujer Alta / The Tall Woman – one of the titles published by Doppeltext (who also publish dual language editions in other languages)
The Crown of Fire / La Corona de Fuego – traditional Spanish short story
El Principe Oso / The Bear Prince – Mexican folk tale
Brothers Grimm Green Book / Hermanos Grimm Libro Verde – collection of Grimms’ fairytales
If you keep following the ‘also boughts’, you can quickly grow your own list!

I downloaded La Mujer Alta to see how our ebook compared, and noticed the Doppeltext book contained an interesting version of the story with the English and Spanish texts mixed sentence by sentence, along with some clever hyperlinked cross-references. Despite having some Spanish blood on my mother's side, my Spanish is certainly not up to anything fancy like cross references, but I liked the mixed text approach. So I created a third version of Death Singer/La Musa de la Muerte, with alternating English/Spanish paragraphs rather than sentences, preserving some of the original story flow.

Readers now have the choice of reading the complete story in English, the compete story in Spanish, or paragraph by paragraph to compare the two languages - all for just 99 cents (or the equivalent local currency). Ana and I hope you find it useful!

Death Singer / La Musa de la Muerte is suitable for readers aged 10+ and is available from:


Katherine Roberts writes fantasy for young readers.

Her latest series is the Pendragon Legacy quartet about King Arthur’s daughter, published in hardcover, paperback and ebook by Templar for readers aged 9-12 (and if you know a young reader with a Kindle, today is the last day you can download the first title Sword of Light for just 99p!)

Katherine's backlist titles, including her Seven Fabulous Wonders series, I am the Great Horse, and Spellfall, are now available as ebooks from Amazon, Apple, Nook, and Kobo. The Kindle edition of Spellfall is on special offer for the Halloween weekend at 99 cents / 86p.

More details on her website:

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Guest Post: E Publishing in India - Jaya Bhattacharji Rose

E-publishing is going to change publishing and change always evokes excitement in some and worry in others. There are challenges to it being successful in India, but its adoption will happen, primarily due to the growing popularity of smartphone and other electronic platforms. To illustrate it I would first like to share some anecdotes.

One: A well-known TV journalist and blogger has been writing miniature stories within the 420 character spaces allowed by Facebook wall posts. His stories are serialised. Every time he posts a new episode in the story on his wall, it is lifted as is and published in Hindi dailies around the country. He is then sent a cheque by the newspaper for having printed his story. Although the payment is minuscule, it is a continuous and steady relationship, illustrating how a social media space can be monetised effectively.

Two: A school principal from a small town on the outskirts of the capital, Delhi, told me recently how excited she was at the introduction of smart classes. They get regular visits from the vendors insisting on how well these models work in delivering the “latest” content relevant to the syllabi. (It is immaterial whether it is accurate or the content is legitimately gained.)

Three: At the last World Book Fair held in February 2013 in Delhi, a publisher told me they get visits every hour from a new e-books vendor introducing themselves and soliciting business. Then the publisher laughed and said, “Who knows this market? It is set to grow but for the moment it is not an easy terrain, the infrastructure is poor and it is impossible to discern the correct price point.”

The e-publishing milieu in India is a mixed bag. A senior production person with over 20 years of experience in the industry mentioned in a conversation recently that electronic publishing is growing exponentially in the metropolises of India and it will continue. With one-third of India’s population under the age of 30; 25 per cent of the youth read books. E-book sales comprise only 3-4 per cent of the Indian book sales, in sharp contrast to the US where e-books comprised 29.5 per cent of the total sales in one month (Feb 2011, Publishers Lunch).

Akash, Kindle, Google e-reader, and the 90+ odd platforms existing in India today are making it easier for the consumer to access content. (Though for the moment these continue to be purchased as a fashionable gadget, rather than as a book device.) Publishing houses such as Penguin Random House began to publish all of its titles simultaneously in e-book and physical format, and have been doing so since Amazon launched their Kindle store for India in 2012. They also retail their titles through online retailers such as Flipkart and Overdrive.

However, the other side of e-reading is that irrespective of much of this content being digital rights management (DRM) protected it is becoming easier for readers to share the books that they absolutely love. It is not uncommon to receive circular letters with the e-books attached, usually of the latest titles. An alarming fact is that at times it is easier to access a book by this method than getting it from a bookshop or even the publisher directly! (It is common knowledge that DRM is easily hacked into.) Perhaps this is the reason why Apple has not made books available through its iTune store in India. But this opens the Pandora Box of piracy and its related issues.

All though India does have a fair number of home-grown eplatforms, it is probably the entry of the “branded” devices like Amazon’s Kindle that reading patterns are going to be transformed in India, at least in English. For the other languages, it is as yet not very clear if the Indic scripts are to be introduced in the ereaders. In October 2013, Kobo announced a collaboration with Crossword Bookstores, again a partnership that will introduce a range of ebooks into the Indian market.

The book market in India is growing. There is no doubt about it. It is happening across languages and genres, though the adoption of plastic money as a mode of purchasing the books still remains a challenge. Indians, culturally, prefer to see the product before buying it, and many prefer to make a transaction in cash. A challenge, but is being addressed by online retailers and vendors like Flipkart (the Indian answer to Amazon).

Of the ebook genres that are popular there is no doubt that it is romance for adults and horror for young adults that holds sway. Earlier this year a new website was launched that focuses only on romances for people from the Indian subcontinent, spread across the world.  It was launched by Naheed Hassan. A familiar and popular YA writer is Mainak Dhar. He self-published titles like Alice in Deadland, Through the Killing Glass, Herogiri, Vimana and Zombiestan as ebooks on Amazon. It was later that he was noticed by traditional publishers such as Duckbill, Puffin Books and Random House India. He's extremely popular as his sales on Amazon show. He ousted his hero Stephen King as 'Most Popular Author' in the horror genre on Amazon, for a few hours on 20th March 2013. Sonar Entertainment has licensed rights to the Alice in Deadland series of dystopian novels, which it plans to adapt for television.US-based Sonar picked up rights to the books from Barcelona-based Pontas Literary & Film Agency. For the younger age group of readers—toddlers and early learners, Mango Reader created picture books with audio for children and it is slowly establishing itself in the local market and internationally.

There is definitely a growing market for ebooks in India, much of it also being fuelled by self-published books. It is seen as being “easier” than the traditional route of publishing, especially from the point of view of waiting for editors to accept manuscripts. Also with it being convenient to open social media accounts and service providers offering Twitter and Facebook browsing free on smartphones, adoption for these platforms will grow exponentially. It will be easier to exchange information, at an affordable cost. (Indians, traditionally, are particular about price points and are always searching for the best deal.) Inevitably it is those books that are promoted by word-of-mouth or by instant messenger chats or Facebook status updates that are bought first. Given that 40% of India’s population is below 35 years old, even a small handful of them—internet savvy, English-speaking, comfortable using plastic money—would make up a substantial size of the market. But to access them requires more than creating book trailers, Facebook pages or writing reviews on websites like Amazon since this a new generation of readers, who are also confident about their reading sensibilities and sharp about how to spend their money. They appreciate novels written in conversational English, have an appetite for commercial fiction, romance, horror and plenty of non-fiction titles too, but buy these books online only after assessing their worth. Confirmed orders for books that happen impulsively are still low. As corroborated by successful self-published authors such as Rasana Atreya, who say that most of their customers for ebooks reside abroad, whereas locally the preference is for printed books.

So yes there is a market for ebooks. Yes it is growing. How it is growing and how it can be accessed, only time will tell. For now it is best to enter it confidently and begin selling or watch.

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose is an international publishing consultant and columnist. Her website is . Her blog which is on publishing and literature ( ) has had over 4,20,000 visitors in 14 months.
Twitter: @JBhattacharji
Email id:

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

AUTHORS ELECTRIC HOW TO DAY - RSS Feeds – How to find your RSS URL - Chris Longmuir

Authors Electric recently dipped a toe into Triberr. This was followed by screams of anguish about the mysteries of RSS, and how to find the correct URL to enable the RSS feed.

So, first of all what is RSS, and what is it needed for. Well, I’m no expert, but I’ll share what I know.

RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication, and is an easy way for web sites to share headlines and stories from other sites. For the purposes of Authors Electric it is needed to ensure that the members who have signed up for Triberr, can share their blogs with all the other members and their followers.

It is immensely time consuming to search for and visit each blog in turn by traditional methods using search engines, however, by using Triberr, the blogs come to the members through this portal reducing the need to go searching for them. By visiting Triberr once a day, or once a week, or whatever schedule suits, you will find all the other members blogs are gathered together in a list. This list can be inspected so that members can choose the blogs that interest them and be taken there immediately with one click of the mouse, or they can simply share them. But in order for this to work, Triberr has to know where to find the blogs, and that is what the RSS feed is for. Once you have found your RSS feed URL, it needs to be added to the blog details under My Blogs in your Settings, on the Triberr site.
My Blogs in Account Settings

This is the point some people give up in despair because they don’t know how to find their RSS feed URL.

How to find your RSS URL
1. The easiest way is to look for the RSS icon on your blog. It is an orange square with a white dot in the lower left hand corner, and two white curved lines above it. Click on this square and it will take you to a page which is completely white and will say in the top left side, “Not Found”, however, if you look in the address line of your browser you will see the RSS URL. Copy this URL and paste it into the Blog Details in Triberr. You’ll probably have to click +Add Blog to get the proper place to paste your URL
RSS Button
2. If you don’t have the RSS icon on your blog page then all you have to do is add a little bit onto the end of your blog address:

Wordpress - the extra bit is /?feed=rss2
So if your blog address is you would add this extra bit to make it
One website I consulted said that all you need to add onto the end of your blog url is /feed/ which would make the address I haven’t tried this one though so not sure whether it will work.

Blogger – the extra bit is /feeds/posts.default?alt=rss
So if your blog address is you would add this extra bit to make it

You would, of course substitute your own blog name for “blogname”.

Once you have copied your url from your blog and pasted it into Triberr, there is a button to test the feed. If you have done this successfully all your new blogs will appear in the other members live stream so they can visit or tweet it.

You must then assign your blog to a tribe. To do this click on the “Assign Tribes” button which sits immediately below “Blog Details” and next to “+ Add Blog”. A window will open and you simply click the down arrow of the tribe you want to assign your RSS feed to. You are only allowed one feed to a tribe. If you only belong to one tribe and only have one feed this is not a problem, likewise if you belong to several tribes but only have one blog RSS feed you simply assign that blog to each tribe. However, if you have more than one blog you need to think which blog you want attached to which tribe. Once you assign a specific blog to a tribe you cannot change it for 30 days. If you look at the diagram you will see I have my own blog assigned to “Love a Happy Ending” and “Red Herrings”, but I have assigned the “Authors Electric” blog to the tribe of “Authors Electric”. This means my own personal blog will not appear in the “Authors Electric” tribe stream for sharing.
Assign Tribes under Blog Details

The other place you can add your RSS URL is your Amazon Author page. Go to Amazon Author Central, but it must be not, once you are there you can add your blog feed to to your author page using the same RSS feed you used for Triberr. However, for some reason the UK site does not have the facility to add a blog it must be the US one. The blog feed goes on your Profile page.

I hope that this information is helpful to you.

Chris Longmuir

Monday, 28 October 2013


The long-promised launch for my first (published) picture book, "...and Nobody Noticed the Mouse" took place at my local, and highly regarded, Children's Bookshop, in Muswell Hill, North London, last Tuesday.

The last book launch I had was at the turn of the century, and a very different affair. This was for my Young Adult novel: "For Maritsa with Love". Set in Paris in the 80s, it's the story of a Romanian gypsy girl who's a professional beggar on the Metro, and Simon & Schuster thought it was going to be a best seller, so they pulled out all the stops. The launch happened in a very grand central London hotel, and the wines came from a prestigious French wine merchant who sent along an expert to introduce them. The nibbles were far more than that, and prepared by a chef. There were even small chocolates with the letter 'M' embossed on them. My lovely David was there with me, thoroughly enjoying the whole thing. And me? I was both elated, gobsmacked and terrified.

This time was very different. The wines were supermarket, and so were the nibbles, which were mostly crisps (my current publisher does not have Simon & Schuster's budget). We put sugar mice on the table, which made it look festive and relevant. Local friends and neighbours (with their children) turned up, and also, touchingly, my publicist from that previous launch, who is a local man. Again I was terrified, but this time, terrified of doing the whole thing alone, without the guy who'd meant so much to me. I was pleased to get the publicity for the book, and my publisher's approval, but elation was absent. My daughter, son and grandchildren were all there rooting for me, but it wasn't the same, and my inner turmoil produced physical symptoms which stress so often does, and which lasted for the rest of the week. The book shop owner, who is also a personal friend, was fantastic, though, and I believe she sold lots of books that evening.

"For Maritsa with Love" went out of print within less than two years. I'm hoping my 'mouse' will have greater longevity, but who knows? I want to re-issue 'Maritsa' as an ebook, but I'm holding back, because I feel it's an important work, and there has been a tiny breath of film interest. I'm also disenchanted, at present, with the ebook scene, because I sell very little (none at all so far in October), and these are all traditionally published books, with impressive cover images. While I still had David, we often spoke of self-publishing some of my work which never made it publishing-wise, but without his expertise, and with the knowledge that my eleven professionally edited and well presented children's books don't seem to be getting anywhere, I'm reluctant to even attempt to do this.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

A Decidedly Truncated Education - Andrew Crofts

“You must have been here a hundred times,” the young woman from the Society of Authors said as our guide ushered us up to the boardroom of the British Library for a privileged peak behind the scenes of one of the biggest municipal building projects ever undertaken in the world. Priceless literary treasures had been brought up and laid out for us to wonder at. “Never been here before,” I said, surprised to see how shocked she was by this confession. “What, never?” “No,” I said, “honestly. It’s never occurred to me.” “But what about research?” “I think I must just write very superficial books.” She rejected this suggestion with all the politeness one would expect and when I later made the same confession to another member of the party, an extraordinarily distinguished biographer, he kindly pretended to be impressed that I had managed to write so many books without recourse to the many subterranean floors of material that lie beneath the building. There is close to two hundred miles of shelving under the library’s piazza, and almost the same again somewhere up north in Yorkshire. Was it arrogance that had led me to think I didn’t need the help of these people in tracking down stories and following threads of truth? Our guide took us out onto a balcony high above the floor of the reading room. The room had the proportions of a cathedral, the rows of desks filled with hundreds of readers and researchers poring silently over books and screens, lost in labyrinths of thought and information. When persuading our son that he should go on to further education, despite the fact that he had no particular vocational path in mind, my wife and I had always glossed over the fact that neither of us had been to university, telling him that “not so many people did in those days”. My wife tells me she regrets that she went straight from school to the world of work, but I have never regretted it for a second and that puzzles me because I love reading and I love thinking and I love writing, all of which should be available in spades during a university education. Seeing behind the scenes of possibly the greatest library in the world was fascinating, but it still did not make me want to join the hordes on the reading room floor. It actually made me want to escape back into my own world and to go in search of a restaurant where I could maybe read a book but more likely just watch the world go by and daydream. Daydreaming was the thing I got into the most trouble for in school classrooms. It was my greatest pleasure but also my downfall. I think daydreaming finally gained the upper hand over educational endeavour when I was about fourteen and from then on I found being confined to a classroom or the effort of being forced to read a book which did not catch my imagination almost intolerable. I had agreed to stay at school until I had at least taken some A levels and so I kept myself distracted by spending hours in the art room and the drama department. Being able to draw and paint pictures, perform and create scenery absorbed me because they allowed my mind to wander most of the time. I started tapping away at my first novel when I was fifteen and I was writing sketches for school reviews as well as appearing in them. Most of the time during those years, however, I sat around for hours on end smoking cigarettes, talking nonsense, listening to music and staring into space. I was waiting impatiently for the moment when the whole ordeal would be over and I could take full control of my life and head for London and from there to the rest of the world, breathlessly reading “Room at the Top”, “Of Human Bondage” and “Keep the Aspidistra Flying” as I tried to work out what the coming years were going to be like. The thought of having to spend three more years in an institution where I could not daydream as much as I wanted was not attractive. By the time the envelope containing my pitiful exam results arrived at my parents’ house I was already renting a room in a shared flat in Earls Court and was starting the long struggle to support myself from my writing. I earned my daily bread in any way I could, including running a modelling agency in Bond Street and learning the dark arts of marketing and public relations. Never for a second was I tempted back into any classroom until people started inviting me to be the one on the podium doing the talking.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

If They Haven't Heard It, You Haven't Said It

How to get more people to read your blog posts using Triberr

Over at Ruby Barnes my blog has been running for two and a half years. In that time I’ve had around 183,000 page views across 161 posts. After a hesitant start I found my pace with several different posts about life observations, the writing process and first experiences with social media. But my carefully crafted posts fell upon deaf internet ears. I was shouting in the wilderness, like a mad preacher. Big excitement when five people looked at my blog in one day. It seems like a lifetime ago.

A man named Harvey Thomas once said “If they haven’t heard it, you haven’t said it.” (He was the guy who advised a budding politician named Margaret Thatcher to lower her voice by an octave. What if he hadn’t?) Harvey's truism was shared before the internet was widespread but it summarises what social media is all about i.e. sharing messages you consider to be worthwhile is necessary to reach your audience.

At time of writing 500 page views is an average day on the Ruby Barnes blog. I’m not talking about selling books here (for example The New Author), rather about the effective broadcasting of readerly, writerly and I’m an interesting person blog posts. At the beginning I tried a lot of things to attract people to my blog. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) was effective but I’m a non-expert and some posts attracted a lot of people looking for elephants. My real-life writer friends weren’t interested in some old blog by the class joker. I had a very small facebook circle and less than fifty RubyBarnes twitter followers. Blog visits were hard to come by. But like my protagonist, John Baptist, I’m evangelical in everything I do (though, unlike JB, I’m not a serial killer preparing for the Second Coming.) Determined to drive traffic to my musings, I persevered with facebook posts and tweets. Those had some impact but it was short-lived. With a day job, young family, active sports and music hobbies, and several writing projects on the go, I was going crazy and spreading myself too thin. Then a fellow writer suggested I join their Triberr tribe. WTF?

It took me a while to understand what Triberr was about and that’s why I’m going to try and explain it here for those who are interested in getting a wider blog audience for free. The idea is simple. You join a group of people who also have a blog. Ideally you’re all like-minded with similar blogging interests. There are a few settings to go through which will connect your blog and social media (usually twitter but facebook and LinkedIn can also be connected - I recommend to just use twitter) to the group. When you next post something on your blog it will appear on Triberr for the other group members. When they approve your blog post it will automatically go out on their twitter (or facebook, LinkedIn if enabled). Okay, nice bunch of friends. Tribemates, as we say on Triberr. You might get, what? Half a dozen people sharing your blog post? Big swinging Mickeys, as we say in Ireland. Well, there’s more.

A Tribe has up to thirty members. A good Tribe will get you around fifteen shares of your blog post. Each tribemate has their own twitter followers (there will be some overlap between members). Your blog posts will be tweeted by your tribemates to their twitter followers. I’m in 9 tribes with 96 tribemates. Between us we have 856,000 twitter followers. My blog post will be tweeted to some proportion of those 856,000 twitter followers and some of them will visit my blog. Those twitter followers are global, different countries, different time zones. This has to be better than just me tweeting my blog post to the 6,600 Ruby Barnes twitter followers. And guess what, it is.

The importance of making your blog post title work well as a tweet

A masterpiece of a blog post, expounding ground-breaking theories. A brilliant book review wrapped up in masterly SEO. A tempting snippet from your latest piece of fiction. All worth visiting the blog and reading, but no one will do that unless you tease them in with your blog title. This applies in general but in particular to blogpost sharing on twitter. And when tribemates share your blog post the title should entice them to do so. Regarding length, a blog post that fits on one line of your blog is about right. Triberr will add a shortlink to the title and your twitter name e.g. Serial Killer Makeover for The Baptist via @Ruby_Barnes. You could also include a hashtag in the blog post title if relevant e.g. #bookreview #Goodreads #free.

The added benefits of Triberr
As well as getting global shares in different time zones for your blogposts via twitter, there are a few major additional pluses.
1. If you reduce your blogpost to a title that works really well as a tweet then it will get favorited, retweeted and even replied to on twitter.
2. New people will start to follow you on twitter. These will be people who are interested in your tweet and your blog content.
3. Of course you will get more page views for your blog post - that’s the whole point of Triberr - but you can leverage this for giveaways, mail list sign-ups, book launches etc.
4. It can be a major challenge to find good content for your twitter. Folks will soon get fed up if you send out the same tweets all the time with just one or two new blog posts every month. Triberr really helps with this and will save you a lot of time and effort. Your tribemates’ blogposts can make great twitter content for you. Just check them occasionally and you will soon start to trust their content. This can give you newsworthy, interesting tweets that add value for your twitter followers. You’ll also find new info through these tribemate blogposts if you read them yourself - writing advice, special offers, advertising opportunities, industry news, all kinds of insights.

So how do we do it?

Just a few simple steps. Here are some screenshots to open up a new account (caveat - these things change from time to time), but first log in to your twitter account before you get started on Triberr.

Step 1
Go to and click top right to Register.

Step 2
On the pop-up screen enter your name, email and blog address, and click Sign Up.

Step 3
Click Login top right of the screen and then click, under Member Login, on Sign in with Twitter.

Step 4
Your Twitter avatar will appear top right of the screen. Click on Account > Settings > My Blogs > Edit and check your RSS Feed URL is in the box. If not then add it (more about details of your blog feed will be added in another post).

Step 5
You need to find a Tribe to join. If a tribe has been suggested by a friend then follow any link they send you. Otherwise you can search through the different categories of Tribe. Find one you like the look of, follow it and ask to become a member.

Step 6
Go to Account > Settings > My Blogs > Assign and assign your blog to the tribe you have joined.

Step 7
Go to your Triberr Stream every day (or whenever you can manage it) and you will see recent blog posts from your tribemates. (If you can’t see a Stream then Triberr has logged you out, so login again with Twitter.) If you hover over the green Share box then that blog post will automatically be fed out to your Twitter followers.

There are various other settings, including frequency of sharing to your twitter, changing from hover to click to Share, but you have the basics above. It’s well worth the initial effort. Things will never be the same again for your blog.

I’ll leave you with this thought. 

If someone stands alone in a forest and shouts, are they (a) not looking for an audience, (b) crazy or (c) angry with a tree?

Friday, 25 October 2013

Sterkarm! - by Susan Price

     Frances Thomas, writer and reader, said:  "No! You must publish! Ebook if you have to. You have two readers waiting in this house for starters, and I'm sure there are many many more. A bas les publishers! We want Sterkarms!!!"
           Jenny Alexander, writer and reader, said: I feel the market is really pushing us to self-publish by being so 'narrow and risk-averse.' Feedback for the dream-book I've been working on for two decades has been entirely positive about the book but the killer-strike is that it's 'too niche' for the market. I'm so sorry to hear you've taken the same hit, Sue. At least if you self-publish you should sell to everyone who's loved the first two Sterkarms, as well as new readers. And having been doing it for a while now, I personally don't think anything's wasted in the writer's life xx."
          Mary Hoffman, writer and reader, said: "That is so ridiculous! Yes, an ebook please and maybe print on demand. I'd demand it."

         They are all responding to the FaceBook post I sent out a few days ago. I said:
     I haven't posted anything here for a while - but I finally heard from my agent! (One agent having retired and another taken over since last I wrote here.)
      No dice. Nobody wants to touch the Sterkarms with a barge-pole. The market is 'narrow and risk averse'. The verdict is that, relaunching such an old brand would be too hard.
      Something new is wanted from me. But not Sterkarms. So that's three years wasted on unpaid work. The writer's life, eh?
          I expected a couple of replies from friends, maybe. Saying, Hard luck, best wishes, that sort of thing.
          I was amazed by the response and sympathy. Thank you to everyone who took the time. It was very encouraging - in the old sense of 'providing courage.'
          Penny Dolan, writer and reader, said: "Waly, waly indeed! (I posted a link to a recording of the lament, 'Waly Waly' along with the news.) This kind of "market thinking" is so short-sighted and niggardly. Sound points being made here!"
          Jennifer Sullivan, writer and reader, said: "Oh, tell me about it. I've almost decided self-pub is the way to go. I've done that with the first two parts of my Welsh historical series (that got me a PhD incidentally, and which no Welsh publisher would touch) and it's going well."
          Joss O'Kelly, reader and librarian, said: "Grr! We want Sterkarms!"
          Catherine Johnson, reader and writer, said: "Subscription. I'd pay."
          Mary Hoffman responded: "Yes! Crowd-sourcing."
          Annie Dalton, reader and writer, said: "I'd pay too."
          Lynn Huggins-Cooper, writer, reader and crafter, said: "I am *desperate* to read this! I'd pay x"
          Katherine Langrish, writer and reader, said: "FFS!!!! I'm DYING to read this story! Strewth! You are one of the BEST writers in England today! (Excuse me while I go and explode.)"

         While Kath explodes, and I blush, we'll take a break to explain a little more. I published The Sterkarm Handshake as long ago as 1997, but it is probably my best known book, and certainly my best seller. It has been translated and sold world-wide: Germany, Japan, all the Scandinavian countries, America, France, Italy, Poland... I lost track a while ago.
          It's an every-day tale of murderous 16th Century Border
Reiving folk, who, via a Time Tube, 'declare war on the 21st Century.' Or, at least, they raid it, and gallop back through the Time Tube with stolen tea-trollies and curtains. There are 16th century characters, and 21st century characters. The reivers believe the 21st Century people to be Elves - although, being reivers and Sterkarms, they remain just as difficult as if they thought they were dealing with mere humans.
        There is a lot of galloping about, fighting and bloodshed. There is cross-dimensional, cross-time romance.
        A lot of people liked it. Although originally published for Young Adults, it always seems to have been read as much, if not more, by adults. I was once a speaker at the re-opening of a Waterstones children's department. There were several rugby-shirt wearing men in the audience, who I took for attendant dads - until it came my turn to speak, when the 'dads' charged forward, barging children out from underfoot. Each of them held out his copy of Handshake to be signed.
          I followed Handshake by A Sterkarm Kiss, which ends on a cliff-hanger. My readers were stroppy about this from the outset. (They accost me at talks and by e-mail. I remember Celia Rees striding up to me at one event, and the first words out of her mouth, before even, 'Hello', were: "How dare you do that? How dare you?")
         My readers have been hanging off that cliff for 16 years.
         It was partly because I had set myself a very difficult third book to write: - three dimensions, and two sets of Sterkarms, who are the same individuals, but with differing life experiences. And I was somewhat daunted by my readers' expectations. - And then my agent and I couldn't agree with my publishers on payment. So the writing of the book was put aside.
         Until three years ago, when it was so hard to crowbar any kind of contract out of publishers, due to the rise of e-publishing colliding with a recession. I put it to my agent that perhaps now was the time to tackle Sterkarm 3. She agreed.
         Employment as a Royal Literary Fund Fellow - thank gods for the RLF, the writers' Guardian Angel - gave me a breathing space to tackle the book. Still, it was three hard years of difficult writing and rewriting, research, more rewriting, more research and research trips... And, at the end of it, no payment. (And let's be clear, the RLF weren't paying me to write. They were paying me to be a writing consultant at a University, working with students.)
          This is why I am so entirely opposed to the idea that all living writers' work should be 'freely available for free download on the internet.' If you believe that, then I hope you're consistent enough to also walk out of every shop and supermarket without paying, to drive away from every petrol station without paying, to heat your house without paying, to watch films at cinemas without paying...

         Kath Langrish again: "Sue, I will buy a Kindle expressly to read Sterkarm Three."
         Lyn Huggins Cooper: Me too.
         Joan Lennon, reader and writer: "That is the pits. Apply whisky immediately." (Joan, I always apply whisky to every set-back and emergency.)
         Polly Shearlaw said: "We've been WAITING three years for the next Sterkarm tell them. Don't these publishers realise that you've got people checking progress regularly on Facebook ? Yes, we'd buy the third however you publish it."

         I don't think we should be too hard on conventional publishers, though. In following up suggestions about crowd-sourcing and subscription, I came across Unbound - a new kind of
Unbound Books - publish by crowd-sourcing
publishers, run by writers. If you want Unbound to publish your book, you pitch for subscribers via their site. One of the founders of Unbound, Justin Pollard, writes in The Author, Summer 2013:

          'When we looked into the problems in publishing, we found a number of surprises. First, it wasn't the publisher's fault. Authors often like to blame publishers for not selling their books into shops better. I certainly used to. But modern publishers are caught in a profound quandary. They pay non-returnable advances up front to authors. This is only fair, as we all have to live, but most of these books don't earn their advances back. What keeps publishers afloat is that breakout book which does make money, and so covers or at least cushions them from the other losses...
          'But the situation is actually much worse than this. There was a time when the Net Book Agreement meant that retailers - who are the publishers' customers - had to sell titles close to the printed price on the book. In return they got the security of a guaranteed refund from the publisher on any books they didn't sell. Now there is no price regulation, yet the returns policy remains... The risk is heaped up on the publisher. The result is smaller revenues for the publishers (and hence authors) and a greater need for huge genre successes... The result is a less diverse range of books, less choice for the reader, fewer professional authors and diminishing incomes for the few who survive who are not household names...'
          And let's remember who got rid of the Net Book Agreement. It was John Major's government, folks, in March 1997. That's right, it was the last real, destructive Tory government before this one - you know, the destructive Tory government before the Tory-Lite one. The Market always knows best, remember.  Taking away regulations and letting the Market do as it likes always improves matters. Just look at how an unregulated Banking system improved the economy. Just look at how improved our transport system is, now the one we owned has been sold from under us to competing concerns.

          Madwippet, writer and reader, says: "This is total bollocks. Excuse the Scottish ... it is a rotten thing to deprive readers who have been waiting years to read it. S3 is brilliant - I know, I have read it and I wouldn't lie if I thought it was pants! It needs a bit of tweaking but it's not far from being done. Ebook it..."
          Catherine Czerkawska, reader and writer, said, "Publish it yourself, Susan. As an eBook and then POD. Don't waste any more time thinking about it. (Writing time is NEVER wasted!) You could shelve this and spend another year or two on the 'something new' they're after only to have them tell you that it isn't what they want either. You can get this work out there and earning money - AND work on something new at the same time if you want to - and even go the traditional route with that as well if that's what you want to do. But you have options. "
          Valerie Laws is a reader, writer and reiver descendant. The blood is so strong that, even now, she can't go for a night out without driving off the neighbour's cows on the way home. She said, "Absolutely Susan, Catherine is right. you are in a great position to self-pub - you already have an established readership, masses of kudos and awards etc. you will do better and make more money that way anyway. Rotten for you I know...but now you can move on and take control of your darlings! x"
          And Catherine again: "I haven't read these, I confess, but have just spent a little while reading ABOUT them and now I want to. But only second hand copies are available. They sound like my kind of books. But not only that, they sound like the kind of book which is selling in large numbers in the US right now. Since the paperbacks are well out of print, and there are no eBook editions, can't you get the rights back? Then you could relaunch the whole series. It might be hard for them to 'relaunch an old brand' but it's exactly the kind of thing that a lot of fine novelists are doing all the time."

          Catherine - I already have the rights back to the whole series. It wouldn't have been worth writing the third book if I hadn't. So - do I republish Book 1 first - or do I begin with Book 3? And it needs editing. One of the things I hoped for from going the conventional route was the opportunity to work with a professional editor, since I only trust my own judgement so far. (About three-quarters of the way.) A couple of friends have read it - Madwippet (AKA Karen Bush) was one of them - and their comments were very, very useful and encouraging, and I'm very grateful to them both (Elizabeth Kay was the other.) But you can't expect your friends to be as brutally honest as a pro-editor, or to put in as much work. (They have their own writing and lives to worry about.)

     Lee Weatherly, reader and writer: So sorry to hear this, Sue! I for one would LOVE to read the third Sterkarm book and can't believe that the series wouldn't fit in perfectly with the current market. Still remember how I lost a day's work because I couldn't put the first one down. It's an amazing series, and I hope that it's time will still come someday.
     Fiona Dunbar, reader and writer: Late to this. All together: WE'RE MAD AS HELL AND WE'RE NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANY MORE. This sucks. Sterkarms are epic. This is great storytelling, amazing stuff, and publishing is making an ass of itself. Makes no sense. DOES NOT COMPUTE.
     Nicky Mathews-Browne, reader and writer: I love, love, love the Sterkams - please don't give up on them.
     Then Madwippet gets stern: " Do you really need to be reminded that publishing history is littered with bestsellers that were rejected on multiple occasions by publishers who didn't know nowt? Come on, what are you waiting for? Look at these comments! You don't have to rely on a publisher any more, you can do it yourself these days!"

     I'll leave it there.
     But thank you to all those who took the trouble to leave comments. And the Sterkarms will ride again! - As soon as I can complete the projects I have in hand, and get my brain in gear to decide on things like editors, and which book first, and ISBNs and - aaaargh!
          But is great to be facing these problems in company with all the other Authors Electrics, who are always ready to help, advise or lead the way.

          You can read an extract from the first book, The Sterkarm Handshake, here
          You can read the first chapter of the unpublished 'Sterkarm 3' here. 
          There are reviews of the books here.