Monday, 30 June 2014

99c Boxed Sets: The New ‘Free’ - guest post by Chrystalla Thoma

For those of us who are self-published authors, flexibility and control over every aspect of our product (the book) is one of the best things ever. Speaking for me, control over pricing, publishing, cover art, and the possibility of changing all of these at a moment’s notice may well prove the reason I’ll never visit the traditional publishing model again.

In these past years of self-publishing, we have seen many promotional models come and go as the field expands and develops. A few years ago, the self-published or “indie” authors were few and every new strategy they devised was fresh and successful. When Amanda Hocking published her books, setting the first one at 99c and the rest at slightly higher prices, she changed the publishing world. Her books sold like hot cakes, and a new model was born. 

Soon after, 99c wasn’t drawing enough readers, as the market was flooded with 99c books following Hocking’s example. More and more authors saw the benefits of self-publishing new works or their backlists. They put out their books using the 99c strategy either for new releases or for the first book in a series to draw readers who had been up to then used to the much higher prices of traditionally published books.

The next step was the freebies. Not that offering products at a low price or free are new strategies as such, but what I am talking about here were huge trends where thousands of authors rushed to join the bandwagon, mimicking what others were successfully doing – and for a while that was offering free books. Amazon solidified the “free” trend with the Select feature which allowed authors to offer their books free for a few days per trimester. Initially, giving away a book in the thousands brought back many paid sales on the same book or others by the same author. 

Then the model changed once more. Free didn’t bring as many paid sales as it used to, although many authors decided to set the first book in their series permanently free to attract readers. 

A new model emerged: the 99c boxed set. Authors came together and bundled up anything from four to ten or even more of their novels. They selected the lowest price possible – 99c – for their boxed sets and advertised the heck out of them. For readers, these new amazing offers have proved irresistible – at least for now. Getting ten novels for the price of a lollipop isn’t something to sniff at. I admit I have one-clicked many such boxed sets – and even if one of the novels included pleases me, then I’ve made a super bargain and I’m a happy customer, plus I’ll go and buy more books by that author. It’s a win-win.

How long will this new trend last? 

Who knows? The market is getting flooded with cheap boxed sets as we speak. Many authors choose to put the first books in their series in such a boxed set instead of offering them for free, to attract new readers. And it seems to be working so far.

Seeing the trend, I decided to give it a try as well. I write Young Adult Dystopian science fiction and I asked around for other authors interested in participating in such a bundle. I checked their books, their ratings, tried to judge how well our books would fit together, and what came out is Shades of Chaos, which contains six novels by six authors of Young Adult Dystopian, plus three new stories set in the same worlds. 

Only 99c! I think it’s a very good deal. ;) 

And readers seem to think exactly the same thing… Until a new trend appears!

Chrystalla Thoma likes writing about bratty, angsty boys and spunky girls in fantasy and science-fiction worlds. She writes mainly for a young adult public but not only (heed the warnings!) and is juggling two series ("Elei's Chronicles" and "Boreal and John Grey").

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Six dystopian YA novels (boxed set)

I AM Alive: I am not my heart rate. I am not my skills. I am not how I look like. My name is Decca Tenderstone. I live in a future America where teenagers are ranked on a scale from 1 to 10 on graduation day. There has never been a 10. Those below the rank of 5 are considered Monsters, a liability to society. The system says I am a Monster. I will not let them kill me. I will survive.

Initiation: Being a Vampire is a crime punishable by eternal servitude in the arena as a Gladiator of the Iron Gate. Mira, a newly turned vampire, must prove she has what it takes to survive in the human's world. It's kill or be killed. Immortality is not guaranteed.

Dissension: In the aftermath of the great cataclysm, vampires are enslaved by humans and used for blood sport as gladiators in the arena. Mira is undefeated, uncompromising, and unbreakable, but when an escape attempt leads her into the path of the city’s Regent, her destiny is changed forever.

Finding Hope: After the death of the one person he called mother, Elei leaves the Trashlands of Ost for the city – looking for other people and for answers. But he soon finds out that people are complicated and answers hard to come by...

Rex Rising: In a world where parasites create new human races, Elei leads a peaceful life as aircar driver — until a mysterious attack on his boss sends him fleeing with a bullet in his side and the fleet at his heels.

Resonant: As the first days of the end of humanity tumble across the City of Las Vegas, turning everyone into vampire-like creatures, April Tate will find out what it really means to survive.

Reign of Blood: April Tate is a seventeen-year-old ferocious vampire killer who lives in the remains of Las Vegas one year after a viral epidemic has left the world decimated. After her family is abducted, her world tilts when she discovers they're not truly alone.

Released: After a demon apocalypse kills everyone they know, 17-year old Abby Phillips, her brother and her friend Max flee their home to travel through the wastelands of America, chasing a radio transmissions of a resistance offering shelter. But soon enough Abby and her companions discover what awaits them is much worse they could have ever imagined.

Burning Bridges: In a world divided between Hunters and Warriors, where prisoners are forced to fight in the arena until death, young Princess Echo must fight to find out who she really is and to put a world that has been swallowed by lies back together again

Saturday, 28 June 2014


Recently I've had some exciting news about my Young Adult novel, FOR MARITSA WITH LOVE, which was first published by Simon & Schuster in 2001, but which went out of print because it didn't make the mega-bucks required by the USA. Although David and I re-published quite a number of my out of print children's books as ebooks, I held back on MARITSA. It had attracted film offers, including one significant one, but film offers have a nasty tendency to fizzle out, usually from lack of funding. I still do have a company expressing interest, so it might still happen.

Now an enterprising new publisher is proposing to take it on, both as an ebook and print on demand, and since I know its owner and like the way she's going, I think I may run with it - but not without my agent, the lovely Sophie Hicks, on board. Mega-bucks are irrelevant (although - who knows? - they might yet happen). We just want this book read.

Author, and friend, Frances Thomas also wants her work read, and deservedly so. At present, she's working on a trilogy based on some of the women in Homer's Odessey, and aimed at Young Adults. I'm over halfway through the first - HELEN'S DAUGHTER - and if this is anything to go by, I shall be reading all three. The cover design for this one is exceptional.

Miracle Theatre in Cornwall has opened its summer season with a production of 'THE TEMPEST', re-structured, if I know Miracle (and I do!) in ways that Will Shakespeare might never have thought of, and with costumes and sets by my amazing daughter, Jude, and her partner, Alan. Please forgive me for showing her off, but I'm so proud of her.

Once again, a curious little chain of events has come out of an Early Reader book I've been working on. It's for a series called Twisty Tales, published by Franklin Watts, and the challenge was to re-tell and 'twist' a selection of traditional stories. One of mine was the story of the enormous pancake, and considering how I might place it in a current setting, I thought chefs/high-rise buildings, because a couple of close friends recently went to eat in the Shard. In my version of the tale, the enormous pancake was tossed out of the window and fell on the head of a passing model, who was being photographed. Wow! What a hat!

That very evening, in my copy of the London Evening Standard, there was an image of a model wearing an enormous floppy hat, just like my pancake. I emailed my editor, joking that we might sue! The following day, a friend came round to tell me that her daughter, who's a fashion student, had designed the clothes in the article, and had actually won a major fashion award as a result. She works part-time in Paris, and hers is a name to remember if you're into fashion - it's Victoria Smith. Both she, and my pancake, might be going places.

And finally... from time to time I've played with the idea of changing my name, but not too radically, as I have a writing track record. This time, I considered, quite seriously, simply adding the initial letter of my middle name (Anne) and turning it into 'Enida', which sounded rather exotic, so I googled it to see if there were any real 'Enidas' out there, and yes, there are. They turn out to be a genus of marine gastropods, or sea snails. Erm....


Friday, 27 June 2014

Queen Christina, (Foyle that is) - Andrew Crofts

When I arrived in London in 1970, a wide-eyed seventeen year-old, Richard Nixon was in the White House, Edward Heath was taking over from Harold Wilson in Downing Street, the Beatles were breaking up and Foyles was the pre-eminent London bookshop by far.

It was huge, rambling and scruffy and so old fashioned Dickens would not have looked out of place in any of its shambolic departments. The shortest route between floors was via a bare concrete stairwell which surrounded a clanking lift shaft. It had the most ridiculous payment system ever invented, involving queuing two or even three times at different counters, and a reputation for treating its employees as virtual, if willing, slaves.

Hovering over all this was a penthouse, the London home of the fragrant Christina Foyle, (she had a fantastic, peacock strewn country house as well), who had been working in the shop since 1928. Her father had opened the store in 1904. Her biggest claim to fame was the founding of the “Foyles Literary Lunches”; vast, glittering affairs held in the grandest hotel ballrooms of Park Lane, bringing “writers and thinkers” together with their readers. Virtually all the most famous names of the twentieth century ended up at one of these lunches eventually, either as performers or as guests on Miss Foyle’s high table.

A few years later I was commissioned by a magazine to do a series of profiles of interesting London figures. Having just published my first novel, (the publisher was a magnificently eccentric Nigerian by the name of Dillibe Onyeama, who had shot to fame with his own autobiography controversially entitled “Nigger at Eton”), I had personal reasons for wanting to meet this woman who ruled London’s literary landscape. I made tentative enquiries to the bookshop staff, who were obviously puzzled by the very concept of something as vulgar as press relations but promised to pass my request on.

Eventually summoned to a conservatory in the penthouse for tea, I met a woman who seemed to me to be exactly as the Queen herself would be in such circumstances. Later, when Margaret Thatcher came to power, I realised I could also see elements of the same steely, handbag style of charm. It was like being granted an audience with a very grand great aunt, the sort of tea-party conversation I had watched my mother indulging in throughout my childhood. We sat amongst the palms, gazing out across the rooftops of Soho, sipping from wafer thin china cups. She asked me gracious questions about my novel and politely assured me she would make sure it was well stocked in the shop. The interview ended and I wrote the piece.

A few months later an impressively stiff invitation arrived at my bed-sit in Earls Court, inviting me to sit on the high table at the next Foyles Literary Lunch. The format of these lunches was always the same. There would be one or two main speakers, who were usually people with potentially bestselling books to promote, and the rest of their long table would be filled with invited guests who tended to be people who Miss Foyle knew or who she was grooming for future events. All the other tables were filled with the paying customers, who came to eat, listen, buy books and have them signed. The people on the high table would all sit along one side and in my memory they were raised slightly higher than the rest to afford better visibility to the masses- but my memory may have become confused by artists’ depictions of the Last Supper.

All of the denizens of the high table were famous and all of them were, conservatively speaking, at least three times my age. High table invitees were assembled in an anteroom first in order to be greeted and introduced and we made more polite small talk before being wheeled out to the adoring paying public. It was glorious, like stepping into the teachers’ common room at Hogwarts; part of the last great hurrah for publishing elitism before the much-needed tidal wave of democratisation hit books and education and life in general. The age of deference was teetering on the brink of extinction, although it would prove to be a long, drawn out demise, and a whole new world was arriving through the doors which had been thrown open by the pioneers of the sixties.

I received several more such invitations from Miss Foyle and I confess I accepted every one of them because it was a magical kingdom to visit, albeit a suffocating one to live in as a young man trying to break into what seemed like a closed and elite world.

Nearly forty years later my wife and I received an invitation to one of the Queen’s summer garden parties at Buckingham Palace.

“This’ll be a bit of a test for all your wishy-washy republican opinions,” she said when I showed her the invitation.

I didn’t bother to struggle with my conscience for long. For so many years I had been forced to walk all the way round the giant slab of a building and its walled gardens whenever I wanted to get between Victoria Station and the West End that the temptation to see inside the walls was too much to resist, as it has been in any of the other palaces I have managed to infiltrate around the world over the decades.

As the Queen and her family descended the palace steps to mingle with the guests on the lawns I was struck by the fact that she was still dressed pretty much as Miss Foyle had been that day at tea. It was like being transported to a pleasantly landscaped time capsule, rolling green lawns filled with top hats, brass bands, tea tents, officers and bishops. Maybe not as much has changed as I would like to think.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

A New Breath of Life by Ruby Barnes

About five years ago the depressing odds of mainstream publication were clearly explained to me (the following “facts and figures” are plucked from memory and this was just before the real advent of e-publishing). If your submission letter to a literary agent is one of the handful picked out of several thousand they receive each year, if your manuscript is considered worth taking on, if the agent manages to secure a publishing deal, then any advance you will receive from the publisher will be unlikely to run to more than a few grand (unless you’re the Next Big Thing!) Writing novels isn’t a get rich quick scheme. Don’t give up the day job (so say people who’ve read my books).

When a new title hits the shelves it has a few weeks to make an impact and a share of the sales proceeds will be offset against your advance. If the book stops selling before the advance is paid off then it will have failed to earn out and that’s the end of the road for that book. Bookshops will return unsold copies to the publisher. Publisher stock will be remaindered (sold for pennies to those cut-price bookstores) or pulped. End of the road, the title is effectively dead and you will have a hard sell pushing another title on that publisher as they probably didn’t make any money out of you. About 8% of books manage to avoid this ignominy.

So, if your book is one of the 8%, then when sales demand exceeds publisher stock there will be a reprint of the title. Otherwise the stock will lurk on the shelves, in a warehouse or with a wholesaler until the print run has dried up. At some point you will get the second part of your contracted payment, maybe a little extra, minus your agent’s cut. Then the title is, to all intents and purposes, dead. So it’s a big celebrated validation at the start, eighteen months of editing and proofing, launch party and then a year or two later your work has probably disappeared as if it never existed.

That’s the way it goes, traditionally. However, the times they are a changing.

One of my stablemates at Marble City publishing, Jim Williams, had his first novel published in 1983. Those were the days of typewriters, home computers with 2D alien invader games and the first digital watches. Jim had a good degree of success under two different author names, one writing prophetic thrillers and the other scribing historical literary explorations of the murder mystery. Jim’s Scherzo was nominated by his publisher for the Booker Prize. These titles did well in their time but, by the year 2013, were only available used e.g. from Scherzo - Good clean copy with no missing pages, might be an ex library copy; may contain some notes and or highlighting.

Marble City is a micro-publisher that handles new titles and also breathes life into an author’s out-of-print backlist. They took an old paperback copy of Jim’s Scherzo and digitised it, copy edited and reformatted the text, had a new cover designed and re-released the title in paperback and e-book formats. A marketing plan was implemented (including paid advertising) and Scherzo now has forty-seven reviews on The same process has been carried out for other previously out-of-print books on Jim’s backlist and his work (which was dormant) is now in the hands of tens of thousands of readers around the globe.

Marble City isn’t unique in this approach. The industry is busy with micro-publishers, author co-operatives and even literary agents applying their energy to the revitalisation of backlists. But this phenomenon leads me to question how well a book written twenty, thirty or more years ago will be received by today’s readers

Go to the classics section of your bookcase and pull out Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, first published in 1860. The time and place setting is obvious, no one blinks an eye at all those horse-drawn carriages and the threat of hanging pickpockets. But the original publication of Dickens’ work as a weekly feature in All The Year Round was a contemporary affair. Of course everyone knows the story as it has been continuously reproduced in print, film, TV and on stage throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, but did Great Expectations slip into ignominy in the last quarter of the nineteenth century? Was it considered dated by the audience of that time?

The Catcher in the Rye (1951) by J. D. Salinger relies heavily upon teenage colloquial speech from 1940s New York to convey the tone of the era. It was a risky strategy that paid off. Who would be confident of writing a classic today, using the current teenage vernacular? That is so last year.
Digital books (both e and print) allow a publisher and author to keep titles on sale in theoretical perpetuity. How, though, do we manage to ensure their content remains relevant to the continuously evolving readership? Historical novels are an obvious example. Scherzo is an 18th century Venetian murder mystery. As long as the author manages to avoid anachronisms they are on relatively safe ground. Contemporary novels are more of a challenge, particularly if world events or technology are involved. Nailing the bad guy through evidence on a VHS tape. Discovering the evil mastermind’s secret is a custom-designed program on a thing called a computer. Re-release of such novels can work if time-stamped elements are updated, but there are likely to be a lot of style components that will give the game away – slang, dialogue, changes in prose conventions etc. 

Another approach is to give a novel the retro treatment. The Americans (2013) is a popular TV series set in 1980s U.S.A. The time and settings work well as they are consistently authentic and adequately differentiated from the modern day. People are using clunky electronics for surveillance, making calls on landlines, sending messages by telex and driving cars as big as a whale. Would it work so well if set in 2001 with the attendant technology, cars, clothes and hair details, or would it just look out of date? Retro suggests an element of vintage to the time setting. Happening trends and fashions can look very silly in the near future. Even time can’t save them in some instances. Try watching Saturday Night Fever without wondering if it’s a parody.

Digital publishing is a second chance. Do you have a favourite title that could be revived with a new breath of life? Can it stand the test of time?

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Invisible Future by Susan Price

'Going to the Opera in the year 2000' - as imagined in 1882. By Albert Robida

     I was in the pub with some of my favourite people, talking and talking. The topic, this time, was science-fiction we have known and loved, and what it made of the future we're living in now.
     My brother Andrew said, "What they didn't foresee was that the future would be invisible."
     We all turned on him at once, and urged him to explain what he meant.
     "Take that high street out there. Back in the 50s and 60s, they thought it was going to be full of glass buildings with triangular doors that slide sideways to open. All the people dressed in skin tight silver foil - but nobody walking because they'd all be flying through the air in little flying cars. And no pubs, like this, serving food, because everybody would just take pills instead of eating. Big changes, you see. That's what they thought about. When you wanted to make a phone call, there'd be a huge great video screen for you to make a video call."
     "There'd be some people on foot - but they'd be sliding along on moving pavements," somebody else said.
     "Making it hard to run away when Godzilla appears," said Adam, my other brother.
     "But go outside now," Andrew said, "and it looks almost exactly as it did sixty years ago. The same buildings, the same road. Okay, maybe the buildings have bigger windows, some of them. Different signs. But it's not changed much - I mean, look at these photos." (The pub had photographs of the locality from a hundred years ago on its walls.) "Funny old fashioned delivery vans - the people are wearing old fashioned clothes - but it's still pretty much the same - same buildings, traffic in the street, people on the pavements."
     "But you said the future's invisible," I said.
     "Well, where are the giant video phones? Even 'Bladerunner' has one. Instead, it's a pretty safe bet that everybody in this pub has some kind of tiny little mobile phone that's invisible because it's in their pocket, or their bag. And even the very basic phones for senior citizens - " this with a kindly nod to me. " - have got cameras on them, and can text.
'Evening attire in 1952' - as imagined in 1882 - from Paleofuture
     "The science-fiction writers all thought of big changes. They thought of outlandish clothes, and that hasn't happened. There are lots of superficial changes in cut and trimmings, and materials have changed, but we're still wearing pretty much what we were wearing a hundred years ago. We're still eating real food - yeah, yeah, I know you're going to start saying it's adulterated and unhealthy, but what I mean is, it still comes in big lumps that we have to bite and chew. It might be full of poly-this and poly-that, and synthetic and lacking in real nutrition - but it's not a pill. You can't see the change. It's invisible.
     "They imagined wars fought with giant robots or soldiers wearing exo-skeletons - but wars will be fought invisibly by hackers planting code in the enemies' computers, which makes their power stations overheat, disrupts their fuel-supplies and electronically seals all the chocolate up in the warehouses."
     There was general shock and horror around the table at this outrage.
     "Cars have improved," the bro went on, "and they've all become more aerodynamic and more similar in style - no great fins and huge square boxy shapes. But they're still recognisable as cars. They still roll along the ground. You still drive them to airports and catch boring old planes. Nobody's whizzing over the roof-tops in them, or taking off from their back-yard with one of those personal jet-packs they promised us."
From the wonderful archive at Paleofuture

     "Oh, get over the personal jet-pack," Adam said. "Forget it. You'd never cough up for one, even if Amazon was selling them."
     "Amazon! The old writers sussed a lot, but they never saw Amazon in the tea-leaves. They'd be really disappointed - at first glance, anyway - if they could come back and see things now. None of the wonders they dreamed of are here.
     "The really big change is invisible. That's what I mean. They wouldn't be able to see, looking around, that almost every single person they see is invisibly connected to everyone else, almost all the time. They wouldn't be able to see that this pub - and every other shop on this high street - is connected invisibly to warehouses and head-offices. That people are sitting in here, buying things from Amazon on their tiny little phones. Music supplied invisibly. The Isle is full of voices."
     "My new little basic, senior citizen's phone," I said, "has an app you can set up to send SOS messages. You preset the people you want to SOS - and then in time of need, you press the dial key four times. Isn't that brilliant? - And if somebody steals it and tries to put another SIM card in it, it shouts out for help and tells you where it is - like the Giant's harp when Jack steals it."
     This produced a short silence.
     "And the mobile signal can be used to trace where someone is," Patti said, bringing us back from fairyland..
     "CCTV watching on practically every street," said someone else. "And connecting back to a network."
     "Google Earth," someone else said.
     "Big Brother."
     "Well, okay, George Orwell got some things right. But not the giant video screens. The Big Brother of our future won't need giant video screens. He'll control us through tiny implanted chips. Implanted at birth."
     "Nano-bots," Andrew said. "Crawling through your arteries, targeting tumours. Microbial robots. The future's invisible. And you read about it on an e-reader inserted in your retina. Invisible!"

     My personal take on the future, at the end of this link, involves the worship of ancient Norse Gods via computers, and bio domes on Mars.

All the images in this blog come from the wonderful