April 30, 2013 § 1 Comment
Sometimes you can’t help but look around a library, a bookshop or a charity shop and wonder who all the authors of the shelved books are. Who are they? Why have they escaped our notice?
Over sixty years ago, George Orwell estimated that 10,000 books were published a year in the UK; now that figure is closer to 200,000.
Who are all these authors?
Some names are so familiar. On the literary front, to mention a few, Ian McEwan, Graham Swift, Rose Tremain and, more recently, Tessa Hadley. The same authors are reviewed by different broadsheets. Will no one take a chance on an obscure author?
How often do these names crop up in bestseller lists: Lee Child, Clive Clusser, and Martina Cole. Their thick-spined books can’t be missed. Yet I haven’t read a book by any of them.
Would we ever get to know about most of the Man Booker prize contenders, if they did not make that shortlist? It is so hard to become known, to have a name that means anything to the browser in shops and libraries.
Then there are other award-winning writers from abroad, who we become aware of long after they have become famous in their own countries, (Claire Messud and Richard Russo).
And what about those other authors who are described as distinguished, who have won awards and who have written a number of books but their names mean nothing to us? Where are they now? Do they still write? Do they live off the proceeds of their writing? Perhaps they have a loyal following: readers who await their next book with impatience.
And we must not forget about the vast legion of unpublished writers. Are they like the characters in Tama Janowitz’s short story ‘Physics’: Most of the people, I know were doing one thing but considered themselves to be something else: all the waitresses I knew were really actresses, all the Xeroxers in the Xerox place were really novelists, all the receptionists were artists.
April 26, 2013 § 1 Comment
Where should we begin Mel Sherratt’s story?
We could start it here. In December 2011, Mel Sherratt published Taunting the Dead on Kindle. In one month, she sold 40,000 at 99p a copy.
It went on to be a number 1 Kindle bestseller, in three different fiction categories, and ultimately a number 3 bestseller in fiction. Not bad at all. However, when this one month comes after 12 years of writing, part time until 2010, it’s not such a great story for those seeking instant success.
Mel Sherratt nearly secured a traditional publishing deal. She had an agent, and her book Taunting the Dead had got to acquisitions stage: then everything fell through. What had she to lose by publishing Taunting the Dead on Kindle?
Publishing on Kindle was not Mel Sherratt’s first choice, nor would it be today. In a way it was a last resort, or perhaps the only way she could see herself being published quickly. And despite her success, she still wants to be published traditionally. Why? Because that was her goal when she set out. All the same, she would rather self-publish on Kindle than not publish at all.
Three books of Mel Sherratt’s ‘Estate’ series (psychological suspense) are also available on Kindle.
Before self-publishing, Tim Cooke wrote for television. Tim Cooke published Kiss and Tell in October 2012, and his second book Defending Elton this month, April 2013. Although Kiss and Tell was the first to be published, it was not the first to be written. Tim Cooke wrote a draft of Defending Elton first. So no, he did not whizz off a complete novel in six months.
Three top literary agents had worked with Tim Cooke. Yet even with their help, Tim Cooke did not secure a publishing deal. His books had been professionally edited (by agents). Like Mel Sherratt, he had gone far down the road to a publishing deal.
We, unpublished writers, know how hard it is to interest agents. Is it comforting to know that getting an agent will not necessarily lead to a publishing deal?
For neither writer did things happen quickly. And it seems likely that neither of them would have been as successful on Kindle if they had got to it sooner. In the time they were waiting to secure publishing deals, they were able, with the help of their agents, to improve their books.
More than once, Tim Cooke said that a book should be as good as it could be, before you self-publish it.
Mel Sherratt found, after hours of searching online, an image, a rose for Taunting the Dead. Before Taunting the Dead was published on Kindle, a writer friend of Mel Sherratt’s put the finishing touches on the cover.
The designer that Tim Cooke asked to do the cover for Defending Elton agreed because he had liked the book. He also designed the cover for Kiss and Tell; he did not charge his usual fee. Tim later learnt that the designer had done covers for Irvine Welsh and Stephen King. (Books will advise you that knowledge is power, but if Tim Cooke had known of the book-cover designer’s prestige, he probably would not have asked for his help.)
Taunting the Dead had been structurally edited but not copy edited when it was first published. So there were mistakes. Mel Sherratt has had her other books copy edited as they were published (she’s since had Taunting the Dead copy edited too). She wouldn’t recommend that any writer omitted this step. You can’t copy edit yourself, she told us.
Publishing on Kindle appears easy. You can self-publish, but will your book sell? Buyers of ebooks seem to look for the same things as buyers of hard copy books, a well written book, and a good cover.
We hear great success stories in self-publishing, of ebooks that have not been edited and of readers who (happily?) point out all sorts of mistakes to the writer so that she can correct them. Collaborations between readers and writers? How long can that last for? We can only presume that such writers are lucky. If becoming an ebook bestseller were that easy, who could resist self-publishing a book?
I heard Mel Sherratt and Tim Cooke speak at the Authorlounge (The London Book Fair on 15th April 2013).
April 11, 2013 § 1 Comment
When I look for detective fiction in crime sections in charity shops, I glance at the spines of books. If the spine is thick, I conclude that the book has been printed recently and it will not be one of the classic crime titles which I am looking for. The modern printed book is a chunky affair. Often spines impress themselves on my vision as being an inch thick and more.
The following two paperbacks have a cover size of about 10.8 cm x 17.7 cm (4 1/4 x 7 inches)
Harlan Coben’s Tell No One (Orion 2001) seems to be a representative size for a current best seller (crime fiction) and Edward Grierson’s Reputation for a Song (Penguin 1955) for a crime novel of its time.
Tell No One (210g) has a total word count of 80,272 (232 words per page) and is 346 pages long.
Reputation for a Song (110g) has a total word count of 104,808 (397 words per page) and is 246 pages long.
Tell No One is chunky not because its story is longer than that of Reputation for a Song’s but because fewer words are printed per page. So a thick-spined book will often contain significantly less words than a slim-spined book.
If there is no need for the book to be chunky, why are they made so? Have publishers concluded that people will buy chunky books sooner than slim ones? Do readers feel they are getting more value for money? Do they feel a glow of pride when reading a thick book? Do they believe they are reading hundreds of thousands of words? And do they scorn those who seem content with their paltry thin-spined book?
Perhaps that is nonsense. Why then are books so chunky?
* I make no claims for absolute accuracy but for aimed-at accuracy. To get an average word count, three pages of full text were counted and then divided by three.
April 9, 2013 § 3 Comments
Consciousness about respecting the environment often seems to be detached from any true principle of thrift. Although more books are printed on papers that come from sustainable forests, such books seem to be getting bigger. Are stories getting longer?
A look at four books which have a cover size of approximately 51/2 x 8 inches*:
1. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen (Penguin Classics 1995)
Weight: 250g; Total word count: 135,040; and story pages 320 (422 words per page)
2. The Land of Green Plums by Herta Muller (Granta Books 1999)
Weight 250g; Total word count: 73,890; and story pages 242 (305 words per page)
3. Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami (Vintage 2003); paper from sustainable forests;
Weight: 270g; Total word count: 128,152; and story pages 386 (332 words per page)
4. Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada (Penguin 2009); Forest Stewardship Council Certification;
Weight 430g; Word count: 202,270; and story pages 565 (358 words a page)
If the following three books had been typeset as Sense & Sensibility:
Alone in Berlin 479 pages, instead of 565
The Land of Green Plums 176 pages, instead of 242
Norwegian Woods 289 pages, instead of 386
To get an average word count, three pages of full text were counted and then divided by three. In all cases, the total word count will exceed the actual word count. However, the discrepancy will be greater with The Land of Green Plums, as many paragraphs were preceded by a number of lines of blank space.
Both Sense & Sensibility and Alone in Berlin had a number of explanatory pages. These additional pages were not included in the story word count but do add to the weight of the book.
Although a domestic weighing scale is not 100% accurate, we may still safely conclude that too much paper is being used to produce books.
*I tend to think in the imperial system but find weights easier to write in the metric.