May 7, 2013 § Leave a comment
We all carry notional values for money. A pound or two is not very much, not enough to buy a coffee in most cafés, a second-hand book in Oxfam (average price £2.50) or a large loaf of wholemeal bread (£2.30) in Dunn’s, a fifth-generation bakery in Crouch End, North London.
Yet many self-published books sell on Kindle for 99p. Self-published author Tim Cooke believes that some people would not be too quick to spend even 99p on a book. The sum of 99p is not so inconsiderable that they will buy an ebook without a second thought.
You can search by price on Kindle, and see what is on offer for 99p. I have no idea if the cheapest books sell most. Daniel Cooper ( Head of Kindle Direct Publishing, EU) did not appear to think that the lower the book is priced, the better its sales would be.
When self-published author Mel Sherratt first made Taunting the Dead available on Kindle in December 2011, she priced it at 99p. It quickly became a bestseller and reached number 3 in the Kindle fiction category in 2012. Despite her success, Mel Sherratt has not increased the price above £1.99. Would her readers have baulked at paying £2.99?
Are writers, who have had their books professionally edited, selling themselves short when they price their books at 99p? Will potential buyers assume the quality is poor?
Daniel Cooper informed us that from one year to the next, Kindle sales of self-published books increased from 14% to 26%. Will self-published books continue to make up a quarter of the Kindle market? What percentage of those books was sold for 99p?
In some cases the low price will reflect the fact that the books have been poorly edited and written. In other cases you will be buying a book that has had as much professional attention, perhaps more, than a book that has been traditionally published. At 99p, authors, who have paid to have their worked edited, will have to sell many books to recoup their investment.
In other industries sellers have increased the price of their goods with no adverse affect on sales: sometimes their sales increased (See Yes! by Noah J Goldstein, Steve J Martin, and Robert B Cialdini). Could some writers selling ebooks for 99p, price them at £2.99, and possibly sell more copies?
Mel Sherratt, Tim Cooke, and Daniel Cooper spoke in the Authorlounge, The London Book Fair 2013.
May 2, 2013 § Leave a comment
Tick tock! Tick tock! Over two years have gone by since I started entering writing competitions. About six months ago, I considered giving them up altogether. But I changed my mind and entered three: one in February, and two in March.
I didn’t make the shortlist of either Myriad’s or Cornerstones’. This month, May, the results of Mslexia’s Short Story Competition will be announced.
When I entered these competitions, I told myself that if I got nowhere in all of them, I would have to change my strategy. I could not continue to enter competitions. Competitions take time, and time, once spent, is gone forever.
Initially, when I discovered two afternoons ago, that I had not made the Cornerstones’ shortlist, I remained in a reasonably buoyant mood. That evening, I went to a literary event. There I met a writer who told me that she worked for a literary consultancy. She mentored other writers. In this way, she earned money when writing did not pay. Does it ever?
She talked about writers having sometimes to review their aims, not to make publication their ultimate end. I nodded at this: I was still philosophical. She also said that writers do not always feel as validated by being published as they anticipated. Presumably their sense of validation depends on the critical reception of the book, and its sales. Most writers must feel very validated if their books are critically acclaimed or sell in great numbers.
After returning home, I felt I could not bear the load: the notion that I would write for neither publication nor money. We all have to make adjustments along the way. It is hard enough to accept that writing may not pay as well as stocking shelves in a shop but I could never write for my sole satisfaction. If I wanted to do that, I could keep a diary. I write to be read by other people. For me, a writer or artist must have an audience.
If mentoring were an end in itself, what would I be then? Not a writer but someone with a writing habit. How would I find money to support my habit?
What would Henry James, that most pure artist, say to the idea of writing for writing’s sake? I know of no writer who was hotter after the dollar than James was, or who was more of a conscientious artist. (Flannery O’ Connor, ‘The Nature and Aim of Fiction’). I imagine most writers, great or minor, are with me on this: we want at the very least to be published, and we would very much like to be paid as well.
All the same, I am going to change my strategy. My next step will be to pay to have my children’s book professionally edited.
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).
January 7, 2013 § Leave a comment
One of the most basic jobs in any publishing house—usually reserved for junior editors or outside readers who come in once or twice a week—is sifting through and sampling the ‘slush pile’: that tidal wave of novels and memoirs and diatribes about the pyramids or intergalactic travel and conspiracy theories and poems from the school of Ella Wheeler Wilcox . . . It is, almost invariably, dispiriting and unproductive work, though an essential part of the publishing process: most of the offerings are irremediably bad, and instantly recognisable as such, . . . writes Jeremy Lewis (Kindred Spirits, page 63)
Editors know when they are reading the work of a literary incompetent. Jeremy Lewis (page 65) instances some give-away turns of phrase that herald a hopeless case (‘I’ll never forget the day’ or ‘What a character Jack was!’ or ‘How we all laughed!’).
Slush piles seem such a joke. If editors are so unlikely to come across anything good on slush piles, why bother about them at all? In more leisured days, Charles Monteith read tatty submissions like William Golding’s—what was later called—The Lord of the Flies. Charles Monteith took a tolerant view of the manuscript which was yellowing at the edges and contained, I believe, rejection letters from other publishing houses (see John Carey’s William Golding: The Man Who Wrote Lord of the Flies).
Today, a typographical error in a submission might be excuse enough for the editor to cast it aside. How nervous we, unpublished writers, are when we package up our submissions. We don’t feel we can use an envelope that, although unused, is creased. We certainly can’t send out a submission for a second time because it is slightly dog-eared. Oh no, we have written the editor’s address aslant. Should we write it out again on another envelope?
Never before has so much advice on how to write been given to so many who have paid so much for it. And yet all the advice, the master classes, and the MA courses do not result in publishable material. And these unpublished writers persist in learning nothing and continue to inundate editors with stuff that belongs more on a manure than a slush pile. Can this be true?
Are all these writers really so hopeless and so unteachable? Are there so many of them? If I am competing with people who write: ‘She bit her lower lip and licked her upper lip’*, why aren’t editors delighted to see something as sane as my sample chapters?
Seeing is believing. Would any editors dare to allow me to look at their slush piles?
*‘She bit her lower lip and licked her upper lip’—cited in publishing parody ‘Happiness’ as an example of a typically awful slush pile line. Anna Frame (Acting Head of Publicity at Canongate) on Twitter (@annaframe, 3rd January last)