Wednesday, July 17, 2013

What is wrong with the Publishing Industry II: The Author Strikes Back!

A few months ago I wrote a post 'What is wrong with the publishing industry' -  in which I lamented the fact that I was unable to convince my current publishers to put my first novel back into print: even though it was won prestigious prizes, sold 12,000 copies in hardback, and 35,000 in paperback before my editor left, and I switched publishers and that novel went out of print.

Rather than going back over the facts of that particular case, I want to share how I responded to this case, and where, as an author, it has led me. 

But first of all - if you're at all like me - which means that you have stories that are publishable - but which remain unpublished, then read on.

Most important advice first... I don't know David Gaughran, he's not a friend, but if you're tempted - and you should be - then first of all you should go out and get this book:

It's an ebook, so in fact you don't even have to go out and read it.  But I don't have a kindle, I hear people calling.  Don't worry: you just need a computer and an Internet connection, and then you can download this program which allows you to read the book on your pc, or ipad or however you commune with the world wide web.

But I don't like reading books on a screen.... well - devote yourself the hour or so to read through this.  It's well written, practical and clear, and won't take long to go through.  And it tells you why and most importantly how to epublish your own material.

Now, I have to be honest.  I spent five years nagging my editor about putting The Drink and Dream Teahouse back into print because the last thing I wanted to do was to get involved with self-publishing.  Heck!  I barely had enough time to write my new stories, feed my kids, see my wife and then relax at the end of a day never mind dealing with cover designers, picking covers, prices, and places to market the book. 

But as Publishing companies become more profit orientated, and the number of places they sell books reduces in number (Amazon, Waterstones, WH Smith...and - how many of us still buy books from our local in dependant bookstore?) the pressure they're under from book sellers increases.  The market is driven by new, new, new!  My editor is a great guy.  He likes the novel and wanted to buy it first time round.  But - as a Chinese saying goes -  it's a used shoe.  Who wants to wear it?!  Publishing wants an increasingly marketable books.  Square eggs, if you see what i mean, and if not all your eggs are square then you're stuck.

Publishing is great when you have a new book out.  You buy the Sunday papers to read your reviews, watch the first responses on Amazon, do the tour of bookshops, sit at a table stacked high with your book, and sign your way through them.  And then nothing happens for a year - if you're a prolific author - or if you're like me, then there's radio silence for a year or two, or more probably, with 9 month lead times - three years till the next novel comes out.

Which - in the world of instant publishing - this all seems ponderous as a way of communicating with readers, and supplying them with stories.


As a published author with a number of prizes to my name, you might be asking 'Why should I be worrying about self-publishing?' 

I want to be clear: I still see publishing novels through mainstream publishers as my primary activity, but there are ways I can support my novels in a number of ways.

The principal reason is that there are things I've written which are unpublishable in the current book world.  I'm working on a series of novels covering the Battle of Hastings in 1066, and there's a lot of fabulous material there.  Some of it fits well into the novel format.  Some of it doesn't.  So what do I do with the 5,000 word pieces.  Or the 20,000 word novellas which won't fly far in the pitch to the marketing pips, never mind to the Waterstones buyers.  Until now there's been no way to get these stories out.  No magazine published short historical fiction. 

So this is what self-publishing means for me.  Being in control and being able to write what I like and want to write about, as well as providing my readers with the things they like to read.

What does it mean for you?  Are you writing something that has no obvious audience, or an audience that might not necessarily best be reached through mainstream publishing.  Well, go read David Gaughran's book and see how easy this can be. 


I meant to get onto the whole topic of how I've gone about self-publishing today - but will come back to that soon....!  Just to say that - like me - you can be a complete newb, and in a matter of days you can take a mss and turn it into a book that you can put up on Amazon with minimal effort. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Literary Heroine returns to China

You know how wierd it is when different groups of friends meet each other.... well I have the same feeling with characters in books.  The Conquest Series starts within living memory of the end of my second novel, Passing Under Heaven when Hastings was just a twinkle in the author's imagination.   

Its a lovely idea that the main characters - Godwin and Orchid, as I called her in my novel - might have met up.  She would have been an old lady then, so perhaps it would have been better if she met Wulfnoth, or Godwin's grandfather, whoever he was...  A story there perhaps?!  It would of course be much more interesting if they met as youngsters.  In fact, Kendra and Orchid would have a lot in common - though Orchid seemed to tend towards the self-destructive so it might have all ended messily with jade wine cups getting thrown.   

One thing I can be sure of - these characters would certainly have enjoyed a night of wine and poetry.  They also have a lot in common.  None of them know it but they all come at the end of an epoch in thier respective countries: Orchid in the Tang Dynasty, and Godwin at the end of Anglo Saxon England.

Anyway!  Digressions aside.  I'm delighted to announce that Passing Under Heaven has come home and is coming out in Chinese, published by the Anhui Literature & Art Press.  It's been translated by Professor Zhang Xihua, Dean of the School of Applied English, Beijing International Studies University and as soon as I get my hands on a copy I'll post the cover up here.

A English book about a Chinese poetess, translated back into Chinese: now I wonder what that looks like?!


I've had something of a chequered history with my books and China.  My first novel was banned by the Chinese censors back in 2002, so this is a moment of small personal triumph over the book burners and men with black pens.