Who are all these authors?

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And we must not forget about the vast legion of unpublished writers.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.


Mel Sherratt and Tim Cooke talk about self-publishing on Kindle at the London Book Fair 2013

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).

Are Bookstores Here to Stay?

April 17, 2013 § 1 Comment

Two days ago on 15th April 2013, at The London Book Fair, Authoright’s Gareth Howard conducted the discussion entitled ‘Are Bookstores Here to Stay?’ between Sam Husain (C.E.O. of Foyles) and Philip Jones (Editor of The Bookseller).

On the whole the word bookshops was used rather than bookstores. We, in the United Kingdom and Ireland, tend to use the word ‘shop’ more than the word ‘store’.

In recent years many independent bookshops and some large chains have closed in the UK. Can bookshops survive? Both Sam Husain and Philip Jones agree that they can but not as they are now.

It must be remembered, Sam Husain said, that a bookshop is a business, but it is a business that must do more than merely sell books to people. Bookshops must add value. In other words, the bookshop must create an experience for the book buyer. How is this done? To a degree, by training staff. Foyles invests resources in educating its staff. If staff are knowledgeable about books, they can sell them better. And to survive, Mr Husain believes, bookshops must become better at selling books.

Philip Jones buys books from bookshops that he did not know (when he went into the bookshop) he wanted to buy. Trained staff can open up the world of books to buyers, can introduce unknown writers to buyers. But there is no staff to guide Philip Jones online. Who can advise him there? What has he to go on? Only, if anything, the purchase patterns of other buyers. For him, buying online is a narrowing experience. He is unlikely to discover books he did not know about before going online.

But knowledgeable bookselling is not enough. Bookshops, like everyone else in the publishing world, must expand their remit. Bookshops, Sam Husain believes, must create a cultural space. The era of ‘curating’ a bookshop has dawned.

Now, in bookshops a broader range of events (than the traditional book signing) is emerging. Such events must pay for themselves. Should there be a fee? Or should the admission be the purchase of the author’s book in hardback or paperback? So far, it appears, audiences find it more acceptable to buy an author’s book rather than pay an admission fee. Clearly in different parts of the United Kingdom, there will be different attitudes about what is an acceptable admission charge. Booksellers are finding out, by trial and error, what works best in their area.

It was also suggested that bookshops should be involved earlier in the product (book). It is an interesting idea but it does make the bookshop’s job a more involved one.

Some time ago (perhaps in The Bookseller) I read that 75% of books sold in bookshops are from display stands near the entrance. Therefore, many books on shelves do not get a look in. Sam Husain is developing his backlist: another area to be exploited.

Philip Jones sees no reason why there would not be room for all, for the bookshop and for online purchases. But he does feel that bookshops need help: the government, to encourage their growth and to preserve a high street, should introduce financial incentives. After all, bookshops enrich our culture. The more informed and supported booksellers are, the more enriched we book buyers are.

After listening to this discussion, a member of the audience quibbled about the price of books. How, he wondered, could bookshops justify charging so much more for books than an online shop. He suggested buying a book (or was it renting a book?) for five pounds and returning it after a month. Sam Husain’s response was that such a transaction, not being a purchase, would not work in a bookshop.

The question surprised me. The seminar had just provided answers. Bookshops charge more because they must pay enormously high rents, certainly in London, train staff and discharge all the usual overheads of a high street business.

Is it simply that people baulk at paying a reasonable price for books? Is it still the case, as George Orwell found it to be, that people prefer to spend money on cigarettes than books? Alison Baverstock in The Naked Author came to a similar conclusion. People appear to have less trouble paying for a round of drinks than a book.

Perhaps bookshops need to educate the reading public about book pricing: what exactly are they paying for? The better buyers understand and experience the process, the readier they will be to pay for it.

In the book world, things are changing fast. There are unexploited opportunities for bookshops. But bookshops, like literary agents and writers, must do more and be more to survive.

Authoright curated the Authorlounge at the London Book Fair 15th -17th April 2013

At the AuthorLounge, The London Book Fair 2013: How to get a literary agent

April 16, 2013 § Leave a comment

The publishing industry is changing fast and the role of everyone in it is changing too. Everyone has to do more. The writer must do more than write, and the literary agent must not only prepare a book for showing to the publisher but a package also.

What is the package that the author must sell? Henry de Rougemont, media manager, of The Hanbury Agency considers that the package consists of the book, the author, author profile and the author’s media presence. (Media Manager is a new role in a literary agency.) A novice writer can establish a media presence on facebook, twitter or in the blogsphere.

The book should be good, as good as the writer can make it. And even so the literary agent is unlikely to simply re-parcel your submission and send it out. He must work on it too. Charlie Brotherstone of AM Heath particularly enjoys nurturing authors. He helps authors realise their potential.

What will Charlie Brotherstone look for? Initially, a good cover letter. If the author can write a good cover letter, he may well be able to write a good book. One attendee asked how important an MA in Creative Writing was. An MA would indicate that the author was serious but would not be crucial. Ultimately, a well written cover letter might prove more important. A writer must be able to write. And despite all changes, the most important thing for a writer to do remains: the writing of a good book.

Is the literary agent the first door to knock on? My own view, increasingly, is that you might be well advised to seek some editorial advice before you submit to an agent. It is not at all easy to get an agent.

Of course, agents are not essential. However, agents, Charlie Brotherstone says free up the writer’s time, for writing. It is hard for a writer to wear so many hats. As it is, he must wear more than one. It seems we must all be prepared to face challenges we would rather not. We must be less passive. We must take control.

Writers, come down out of your ivory towers. It may no longer be enough that you write a book, you may have to become something of a performance artist too. Even writers themselves have adopted the language of live performance, usually reserved for musicians: they talk about doing gigs.

The times are changing. And many of us will have to change with them or be left behind.

Authoright is curating the Authorlounge at the London Book Fair.

The Authorlounge in Earls Court 2 at the London Book Fair

April 16, 2013 § Leave a comment

My first taste of the London Book Fair, yesterday, 15th April 2013 was the wrong one; I went in the Earls Court Entrance that was visible from West Brompton tube station (there was no train going to Olympia that morning). I went up the escalator into an area that was largely filled with rows of tables. Was this the extent of the London Book Fair? It was a little dim and bleak. Of course it wasn’t! I was soon looking down on the illuminated ground floor, filled with hundreds of stands.

As a visitor, I should have gone through the West Brompton Entrance which is just a hundred metres or so up from the Earls Court Entrance. Then I would have orientated myself better. Of course, you can plan your day in advance by looking at the London Book Fair site. I had done a little of that but not enough; I never thought there would be so much.

The London Book Fair is divided into Earls Court 1 and Earls Court 2. If you have navigation skills like mine, you may well find that your allegiance to one of them proves to be permanent. If you start out living in North London, you may never venture to live in South London.

For a first-time visitor the London Book Fair is overwhelming. What business does an unpublished writer have at it? Where is she to spend her time? She has no need yet for international distribution solutions or much to say to the hundreds of stand holders.

Having been given The Love Learning Onsite Guide by the London Book Fair team, I thought I would start the day attending seminars. As seminars were being given in the AuthorLounge (Earls Court 2) that lasted for three quarters of an hour and, with fifteen minute intervals, went on throughout the day that seemed a good place to start.

I was there before ten and was able to secure a seat in the second row easily enough. But by the time the first seminar was underway, the lounge was filling up and there was soon only standing room. If you wanted to keep your seat, you needed to stay on it. The audience overflowed the lounge. Some had to be content with standing outside the booth.

There were other events at the Pen Literary Café (Earls Court 2), and other seminars too in Earls Court 1 that I would have like to have attended. However, unless you are blessed with powers of bi- or tri-location, you have to plump for something and hope it is the right thing. Do you really want to stand outside the AuthorLounge when you can sit at the front and ask questions? At the end of each seminar was a question and answer session.

The seat, after three hours, became increasingly uncomfortable. When I left it at lunchtime, I lost it and had to be content to listen to some parts of seminars from without.

For the seminar on ‘How to Get a Literary Agent’, I was back in the lounge but not on a seat; my seat was on the floor which I discovered was more uncomfortable than the seat I had deserted. People hovered, ready to pounce when a seat became vacant.

For authors of any kind, published and unpublished, who want to find out what is happening at the moment in the world of books, the AuthorLounge is the place to be.

One attendee commented that even as recently as two years ago the AuthorLounge was not much of a draw. It was evident to her that authors were more important today.

All speakers at the AuthorLounge made it clear that there is a revolution or renaissance (as one speaker called it) in the world of books, and no one quite knows the direction to take. But few would deny that all concerned must adapt, change, and evolve to survive.

Authoright is curating the Authorlounge at the London Book Fair.

Judging books by the Spine

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.

Do Granta, Vintage and Penguin weigh their words?

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.

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