Thursday, 31 December 2009

So, how about this e-publishing, then?

Paper books. They're nice to hold in your hands. You can take them on the bus, you can read them in the bath, you can easily lend them out to your friends (and never get them back, in my experience) ... and, if news reports are to be believed, they're fucking dead.

In 2001, Apple computers launched the iPod. Until that time, mp3s and music downloading had been the preserve of music nuts, people given to sharing music illegally on sites like soulseek and kazaa. Most people who shared mp3s were music nerds, and used file-sharing to listen to new music and try out new bands & artists without risk. After Apple launched the iPod (and subsequently, the Apple store) everybody was at it. By 2009, even people who don't really like music all that much (e.g. the kinds of people who habitually buy CDs in supermarkets along with the weekly shop... Robbie Williams fans and the like) wanted one. Everybody and their wife / husband / civil partner had an iPod.

Along the way, the swapping and sharing of music had become the property and preserve of the people who made it. MySpace allowed bands to easily manage their own hosted website, distributing their music directly to their fans without the need for tape-swapping or a middle man. Bands no longer needed a record company or a publicist to share their music with others. This way of doing things opened many bands' eyes to a more DIY way of doing things: they owned their music, they didn't need to sign over their rights to somebody else, and more crucially, they didn't have to spend a lot of time trying to get industry attention.

Will we now imminently see the same sort of sea change in publishing? Several e-readers are now available, and bookworms can now purchase e-books on Amazon for as cheap as $1.99. This kind of publishing allows writers to upload and directly distribute their work directly to readers, and to interact with them on the Kindle forums. Rather than losing out on royalties, authors using this method of publishing get to reap the entire profits that their work generates. [There's an interesting post on how this approach worked for one author - whose novel was already available in traditional format - on The Millions.]

I don't know how e-books would work for a reader like me. In an embarrassingly old fashioned manner, I like the feeling of a book in my hands. Equally, in my doddering old age, I'm prone to leaving expensive items in public places. That's two iPod shuffles and a mobile phone I've lost already this year, by the simple expedient of catching a train. Well done, me. So would I ever use one? It's difficult to say until I've held one in my hands. I might really like it, although I'd probably leave it on a bus or something. But it's not use relying on me for predictions. You're reading the musings of a woman who thought CDs would never take off. [Note to self: never take job working in the Futures department of any large corporation].

In theory, for authors, the e-book looks attractive. You can choose how the book's marketed, and what goes on the 'cover'. You get the final say in editing decisions, and you don't have to attract the attentions of a publishing house or agent. But equally, there are so many downsides. The writer becomes solely responsible for the marketing and selling of his or her own book, if he or she publishes this way, and although there's no significant financial outlay, is still essentially self-publishing. Although most writers are more than happy to spend a lot of time and effort publicising their work, how many want to be solely responsible for it? A lot of writers might be left doing the e-publishing equivalent of spending all day on MySpace browsing people's profiles and clicking "add". "Add." "add".

And how might this alternative access to publishing affect the quality of work that's available? If this method captures authors' imaginations, we might see a lot of un-rewritten work out there, with 'authors' who don't bother with the sort of extensive writing and rewriting that fiction needs to be readable. This might leave a lot of e-book adopters with a lot of dross to sift through, and a general loss of faith in the medium as a whole. A lot of the work available won't be going through the extensive professional attention of editing and critiquing process of conventionally published books. There again, it also means that genuinely interesting, good quality books that publishers are currently unwilling to risk publishing, will get into the public domain. We might see a wildly oscillating range of quality of books, but also an explosion in style and genre. It could be an exciting time.

E-publishing is already starting to have an impact on the publishing industry, and it'll be interesting to see how this pans out. Will readers ever totally abandon the paper and ink book? And if they do, how is the landscape going to change for publishers and writers?

Monday, 21 December 2009

Fa-la-la-la-laaa, la-la la la!

So Christmas is coming and the goose is getting &c, it'll be the end of the year before you know it, and before you know that, Winter will be over. End of decade-lists and end of year-lists abound everywhere. The only list I like is a good to-do list, preferably with everything crossed off it, so I won't bore you with one here.

It's been a tough couple o' years, the recession deepening and really getting its claws into all of us. Millions out of work, shops closing down all over, industries closing down, far right groups doing their best to make political capital and gain ground, as they always do in recession-times [scum], people with dark shadows around their eyes everywhere you look.

People often say that economic hard times are always times of great creativity. Like, people are looking for new ways to make things and do things, maybe because lack of cash and resources forces us to work harder. Also, because you haven't got the money to go out, you spend all your time indoors Doing Stuff [no bad thing]. Also, the climate of the times sees us all creating stuff that reacts against the politics of the time [cf. "Stand Down Margaret" by The Beat, "Maggie's Farm" by The Specials, both made in the big recession in the 80s, when 3.2 million people were unemployed...]

One of the big problems with recession for writers is that publishers are unwilling or unable to take risks, and there is a great blog post about this very issue over on the Tonto Books Blog. It's a valuable read for anyone with more than one rejection letter to their name, for example every writer in the world.

Christmas for me is going to mean a break from the day-job, more valuable time spent on the Big Secret Project (now extremely close to being finished), and getting some more short stories done. Merry Christmas, everyone!

Monday, 14 December 2009

In New News (obtained from the Tonto Books blog), the new news is that the Tonto Short Stories anthology will be available in shops from May 2010. In between now and then, it will be available in e-book format (What's best? Amazon Kindle or Borders E-Reader? I'm still very much in the Technologically Backward Granddad Category: "Is that the same as a Tamagotchi?"). It's currently being sold into bookstores, which is good news for readers an' writers alike. The book's more widely available, and it gets picked up by more readers on the strength of the cover. Everyone's a winner.

In my own personal news, I've been working hard on my current big project. I've been pullin' the typewriter up close and personal when I get home from work of an evening, the result of which being that I'm a long way into it. The first draft should be finished by the New Year. (Am I jinxing myself with those very words? - no, I don't think I am).

Boyfriend commented recently, "You're very disciplined". [Also commented, "Do you really need more notebooks?" when I stocked up on travel-journal notebooks in the Paperchase / Borders closing down sale. I will always need more notebooks. Please, send notebooks. Always send notebooks]. "Of course," I answered, primly. "Do you know that Murakami wrote his first novel in the early hours of the morning after coming home from work every night?" Actually, if I'm honest, this was not my first answer. My first answer was, "No talking while I'm busy."

So, the Christmas chunk of time off will be spent with my head anti-socially buried in my laptop (but don't worry, I'll be wearing a seasonal party hat while I do it), knocking off the last 15,000 words before I get to the editing and rewriting part, which I'm am slightly embarrassed to admit, is my favourite part of the process. I'm embarrassingly nerdy about rewriting and editing. It's one of the great joys of my sheltered little life. Other people get drunk, take drugs, and indulge in high-octane, adrenaline junkie life-threatening extreme sports. Me... I rewrite.

In the course of writing this novel, I have so far drunk 137 cups of tea, lost one pair of fingerless gloves (where can they go in a 2-bedroom terraced house?!), used one notebook, worked about 300 hours, invented a whole fictional world of people, surreptitiously asked my friends about their day-jobs in the way of research, and given my boyfriend at least 52 dirty looks for trying to converse with me while I am working. I don't deserve him, really. (somebody is in line for a really smashing new pair of slippers when this is finished).

Friday, 4 December 2009

Assistant Wanted....

In recent weeks I've been vocal (or should I say, 'writey'?) about the advantages of winter for writers. It's cold, it's dark - perfect weather for staying in, and what better to do with your enforced time indoors than getting stuck into the latest project? I've got me a pair of fingerless gloves and a whole bag of mulled wine spices - so I'm all equipped for it.

At last, I've got a perfect routine going. Work is such that I get home early enough, and emotionally equipped and energetic enough to get a bit of work done most evenings. But you know what really grebs away at the time? Things. Stuff. Crap tasks, like going to the post office, and putting the washing in. It's not just that I resent housework for being an instrument of oppression to women (Emmeline Pankhurst didn't chain herself to the railings so I could waste my time vacuuming the stairs, that's what I always say), but also as a drudge, an idiotic waste of time, and worst of all, it keeps me away from writing. And do you know what the worst swizz of it all is? That you have to do it all again a few days later.

I dream of having a maid. Or even better than having a maid, having an assistant: somebody to pay my National Insurance Contributions at the Post Office. Somebody to go to Wilkinson's to buy cat litter. Somebody to cook my dinner! It's days like these when I exist entirely on pasta and noodles - not because I like either food, but because they take under ten minutes to cook. Alright, so it wouldn't be a very fulfilling job, but it'd free up my time to get more done. You ever wish there were 26 hours in a day? That's me.

You'll already know about Borders' financial troubles. They went into administration recently - a friend who works there told me that the branch he works in is staying open day by day on the basis of how much stock they sell each day. They don't know for certain when the store will close for good - could be any day.

Any way you look at it, Borders' closure is bad news for readers and writers alike. Most book fans are first attracted to books by their covers, and decide to buy on the basis of flicking through them in store. Yes, the prices are cheaper on Amazon, but who buys a book without first holding it in their hands and reading sections of the book to check they like the authors' style? Without bricks and mortar stores for people to wander into, to browse the titles, or to be tempted to buy more books than they intended to through 3 for 2 promotions, I can't see how book sales won't be impacted. The scary thing is, if a bit store like Borders can't survive in this climate, what hope is there for independent & locally owned bookstores?

But... onto the Good News. Mslexia's 2010 Short Story Competition is now open! Submissions of short stories by women authors are invited for the competition, closing in January 2010. The top prize is a day with an editor from Virago. This is a prize really worth winning - so good luck, those of you who enter it! There are more details in this quarter's issue of Mslexia.

Also, independent publishers Wild Wolf Publishing are accepting submissions of full length novels. Specialising in dark, brutal and edgy fiction, they accept submissions of any genre, so long as it's dark! [You can't miss their website. It has pictures of wolves all over it].

Until next time.... I'm putting the fingerless gloves back on and heading back up to my study.... x