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Genre is as genre does

Posted February 17, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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Recently, there has been a flurry of scandalous debate about a report and analysis into the changing world of publishing by Wool author Hugh Howey. Howey’s exceedingly detailed report suggests that – based on an analysis of Amazon sales – genre authors are much better served by going the independent and self-published route, as this will offer greater yield financially for their efforts.

Howey admits aspects of his analysis are speculative and inferential, as data on raw book sales is often undisclosed or incomplete. This, admittedly, offers the first point of interest. While box office on films, and sales and downloads on music and television are all widely available (allowing for elements of bias), figures on book sales remain obscure and coded behind veils of good intentions. There is the suggestion that book sales are undisclosed for our benefit, the implication being that perhaps we wouldn’t read what we read if we knew what everybody else was reading.

The report concludes with Howey wishing for greater transparency, greater understanding of how traditional publishing models lead to a benefit in sales. Others have criticised Howey’s lack of understanding in data analysis, and that he is offering a post hoc inference about data that wilfully ignores its limitations.

Regardless, the report comes at a time when many are looking and questioning the cost benefit of writing for a living. This recent surge of attention in demanding payment, and demanding transparency in the finances of writing suggests that writing as a profession has until now existed (and subsisted) on a level where we feel it lives beyond daily wages. How do we measure writing? Per word? Per hour? Per book sold? What constitutes a financially successful career as a writer?

And is that different from being a good writer?

Do we regard certain writing as ‘good’, even if it doesn’t make money? And does writing that makes money necessarily qualify for public recognition as ‘good writing’?

Howey directed his report at genre writers – mystery, thriller, science fiction, fantasy, romance – as categorised by Amazon.  The suggestion is that the rise of self-publishing, and the rise of digital publishing, is seen as an opportunity for genre writers to earn more from non-traditional publishing pathways.

What I find odd is that this categorisation places genre as a money-defining result. That the genre – the label prescribed upon the writing upon publication (on Amazon) – is all important, and is placed as a premium ahead of any other qualities the story might contain.

And here we have the tricky problem of genre – as it currently is the dominant way we categorise the stories we read and the stories we write. Bookshops, real and digital, organise their shelves according to genre. But this is an imperfect system. Stories often defy genre, or alternate and transcend; stories combine and manipulate genre and set it upon the reader via subterfuge. How would Kazuo Ishiguro feel if Never Let Me Go was shelved in science fiction, given the very late and shocking reveal of that element within the story? The genre here is one part of the book, not the whole, and certainly not the label.

To follow further examples in my favourite field, this genre categorisation becomes even trickier when looking at an author like Stephen King. Once upon a time, in the world where Borders still existed, Stephen King books could easily be found in the horror section. He practically was the horror section. And while many of his books, particularly the early ones, are horror, this is again an imperfect system for categorisation.

Of his recent books, 11/22/63 is listed under fantasy, where it places #3 in a subgenre of fantasy. However, it is also listed under horror, placing at #92. And yet the book is clearly not a horror book. In fact, it relies really on only one element of fantasy to even qualify as that type of story. His earlier collection of short stories, Different Seasons, is also listed under horror, and yet is the collection that spawned the films The Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Me. Again, clearly not horror. So do we make excuses for writers who cross genres, but still define them (and their books) by the genre they started in, or dominate?

If we follow the idea of using genre to define stories, then we will end up with a never-ending spiral of subgenres upon sub-subgenres, to serve every whim of the reader, and every style of the writer. I would hazard that writers rarely view genre as a defining boundary on their imagination – so should genre be the label that prescribes expectation to the reader on what type of book it is? Should it explain exactly what it is?

Will we end up with a Science-Fiction>Alternate-Reality>Victorian-Gothic-Robotics>Anthropomorphised-Rabbit>Western>Young-Adult subgenre?

Obviously we do need some method of organising, and at the moment genre works – to a degree. But as a financial imperative? What about all the books that don’t fit genre? Why does Howey not include literary fiction as a genre itself?

There are many questions that come from the report, and many that suggest our way of viewing books, writing, and sales is imperfect at best, and fundamentally flawed at worst. The most positive take away for me is that everything’s changing very rapidly – how we write, how we publish, and how we read – and this can hopefully lead to a future where we can write and publish and read with greater ease, and freedom, and enjoyment.

 

For more on genre, Momentum authors Nathan M. Farrugia and Luke Preston, and Anne Treasure and myself are discussing Genre In The Digital Age for the Digital Writers’ Festival tonight at 6:00pm.

As it’s a digital festival, you can attend via the magic on the internet, and watch us all talk at digitalwritersfestival.com

 

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Going negative on ebooks

Posted August 12, 2013 by Anne

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Over the weekend someone on twitter asked me what I thought about this blog post regarding the flattening of ebook sales in the US. On his blog ‘Rough Type’, Nicholas Carr wrote the following:

In a post on the first day of this year, I noted the surprisingly rapid decline in e-book sales growth over the course of 2012. The trend appears to be continuing this year. The Association of American Publishers reports that in the first quarter of 2013, overall e-book sales in the U.S. trade market grew by just 5 percent over where they were in the same period in 2012. E-book sales in adult categories fared a bit better, rising by 13.6 percent, but that also marks a continuation of a sharp slide over the last two years. The explosive growth of the last few years has basically petered out, according to the AAP numbers*:

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E-books are still taking share from printed books, sales of which declined by 4.7 percent in the quarter, but the anemic growth of the electronic market calls into question the strength of the so-called “digital revolution” in the book business. E-books now represent a bit less than 25 percent of total book sales. That’s a healthy share, but it’s still a long way from dominance. The AAP findings are backed up by a remarkable new Nielsen report indicating that worldwide e-book sales actually declined slightly in the first quarter from year-earlier levels — something that would have seemed inconceivable a couple of years ago.

There has been so much written about this apparent slow down in ebook sales that rather than engage in a detailed discussion over twitter (which I adore, but is a less than ideal platform for a nuanced and extended conversation about the state of digital book publishing in 2013) I was able to refer to a post written by Sam Missingham on the Bookseller’s FutureBook blog earlier in the year. Basically, Sam points to the huge amount of self-published ebooks that are not accounted for in the AAP data, up to 30% of the market, and the fact that 43% growth year on year is hardly something for publishers to be worried about.

Sam rounds up her post with six main points;

i)              A market that has gone from zero to conservatively 706m ebooks in 5 years in the US is not plateauing.

ii)             The area that has seen revenue growth rates reduce (again, not the same as plateauing at all) comes from data provided by 1953 traditional publishers. (A subset of the entire market).

iii)            The fact that print book sales have remained strong (actual plateauing) tells us very little about whether readers prefer e, p or e+p (absolutely no stats to back purchasing behaviour)

iv)            No consumer market has exponential growth year on year in a maturing market (including ebooks). BUT the growth year on year is still mind-blowingly HUGE.

v)             There is a growth in the number of books bought across e & p. Print books $ and units have plateaued whilst ebook units have grown rapidly. More books.

vi)  The number of self-published authors will continue to grow, in general their ebooks are cheaper; we will see more rapid growth in unit sales here.

The Rough Type post buys into the negative narrative about ebooks that Sam posits, and is emphasising the figures that support this negative standpoint.

Yes the rate of growth is down, but it is down on book sales across the board, including print. With a -4.7% change in all book sales from Q1 2012 to Q1 2013, that ebooks still grew by 5% means digital has surpassed other book format sales significantly.

And when it comes down to it, that is the story that reputable outlets are reporting: US ebook sales grew by 5% in Q1 2013. Let me repeat that: digital book sales grew. In the first quarter of this year. And that’s not including sales of self-published titles. So don’t buy into the negative narrative that some people enjoy spouting about books and the book industry (and digital in particular). Let the numbers tell the real story.

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Merchandising Momentum

Posted June 19, 2013 by Anne

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I think I’ve just solved the “but how do I get my favourite author’s signature in the age of digital books?” problem.

Rather than using the fancy software that has been developed specifically for the purpose, or getting out the engraving equipment, I have a much better solution.

Author merchandise. Why not? Everyone else in the entertainment business does it, why not authors? So here are merchandise suggestions for some of Momentum’s authors.

Kylie Scott – for post-apocalyptic romance novels Flesh and Skin

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It has to be a range of Kylie-endorsed shotguns doesn’t it? The opening lines of Flesh say it all;

53 days post-apocalypse

Daniel looked down the barrel of the shotgun all set to blow his brains out and grinned. These days, even a gun-toting, trigger-happy female was a delight to behold, and she was perfect.

Sunlight streamed in through the kitchen window. She all but shone with it, like an angel or a princess or something. Something a little overdue for a bath and a lot on edge, but something very good just the same. The feeling of sweet relief rushing through him nearly buckled his knees.

Tall and curvy, around thirty at a guess, and uninfected, she was by far the best thing he had ever seen in jeans and a t-shirt. Not even the dried blood splattered on the wall behind her could diminish the picture she made.

 

Nathan M Farrugia – Fifth Colum series The Chimera Vector and The Seraphim Sequence

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Bakery treats, starting of course with Red Velvet Cupcakes. Okay so the re-sale value on these might depreciate fairly rapidly but you could always replenish your stocks regularly.

The General raised an eyebrow. ‘You intend to redeploy malfunctioning operatives into the field? Are you begging for a repeat of yesterday?’

‘Sir, operatives are programmed so they are unable to inflict self-harm, which includes removing their RFIDs. The fact that Sophia was able to remove hers and thereby remove the others’ strongly suggests it’s her programming that has malfunctioned. The rest of her team were simply following orders.’

Denton wouldn’t know for sure whether Sophia had removed Damien’s and Jay’s RFIDs as well as her own until he questioned them during reprogramming. But the General didn’t need to know that.

‘Like you said,’ he continued, ‘collateral damage. And at 200 million apiece, I know you wouldn’t want to waste them.’

The General might have smiled ever so slightly, but Denton couldn’t be sure. It was good enough. He lifted the small paper box from his lap and placed it on the desk.

‘I baked them this morning,’ he said, and opened the lid to reveal half a dozen red velvet mini-cupcakes piped with cream cheese.

The General glared at him, but reached over to inspect them. ‘Just one.’

He didn’t eat it, but placed it in his topmost desk drawer—a drawer already populated with cupcakes Denton had brought on previous visits.

 

Jane Tara – the magical Shakespeare Sister series including Forecast and Trouble Brewing

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In Trouble Brewing Calypso is renowned for her cocktail-mixing prowess – a line of Shakespeare Sisters spirits would be ideal. We’d start with gin, vodka and tequila, and branch out from there.

Calypso Shakespeare’s green eyes gazed deep into his brown ones. “What is it you want from me?”

“I just need you to give me what you gave the others.”

“I can’t do that. Everyone is different.”

He looked at her with such despair. “My heart … it’s …”

Calypso reached out and touched his arm lightly. “It’s okay. You’ll get through this. I’ll make sure you do.”

She was still for a moment, her skin translucent in the dim light; those incredible cat eyes intense as she searched the ethers for the answer.

She turned to him. “Her name was Mary.” A statement more than a question.

His eyes nearly fell out of his head. “Yes … Mary.”

“Bloody Mary! How dare she treat you like that!” She sprang to life and began to mix: vodka, tomato juice, a splash of Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco. She grabbed a lemon, deftly sliced it in half and gave it a quick squeeze. Her hand slipped into a jar and returned with a pinch of something that smelt of August rain. Her lips moved slightly, an incantation, as she sprinkled it into the glass.

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Let me know if you have any author merchandise suggestions for your favourite authors. Perhaps a line of Jonathan Franzen spectacles, or E.L. James-endorsed whips?

 

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A new form of DRM? Oh please.

Posted June 18, 2013 by Anne

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A recent article in the The Guardian discusses a new form of DRM being proposed:

“The new ebook digital rights management (DRM) system would, reported PaidContent, change certain words in the text of a pirated ebook – “invisible” could become “not visible”, for example, and “unhealthy” become “not healthy” – so that an individualised copy could be traced” 

All of our books at Momentum are DRM-free, and we made this choice because as ebook readers ourselves we want our books to be as accessible as possible, meaning that legitimate users should be able to read the books they have paid for on whatever device they choose to read on. DRM restricts valid use of property, and we respect the reading community too much to put in place obstructions to an enjoyable book experience.

Tor dropped DRM around the same time we did last year, and Tor UK’s Editorial Director Julie Crisp recently announced their findings one year in, saying that not only did they not see an increase in piracy, but also that it helped to establish Tor as a publisher that listens and understands their readers, and that “we’ve gained an amazing amount of support and loyalty from the community”.

Proposing a new form of DRM for books, particularly one that directly interferes with the words of a text, is utterly redundant and out of date. As John Birmingham says, “Every book I’ve ever published in electronic format has been pirated. Every single one. And they all had DRM. It didn’t protect me from piracy and it won’t protect publishing in general. The best protection is to make your work as easily accessible as possible, everywhere, all at once, at the same, reasonable price. Is it possible? Nobody really knows, but we’re gonna give it a hell of a shake to find out.”

Other authors echoed Birmingham’s sentiments in the Guardian article:

Lloyd Shepherd ”believes the only ways to tackle book piracy are cultural and economic. “You address it culturally by banging away, year after year, on how creators are people earning a living who should be compensated fairly – authors have a big part to play in that, by being present in social media and book forums, by being very obviously human beings capable of being damaged and not faceless entertainment ‘brands’,” Shepherd said. “You address it economically by taking a long, hard look at issues like ebook availability in international markets – the old geographic rights model has been fatally undermined by international data networks, and the licensing regime has to react to that.”

The award-winning Nick Harkaway, author of Angelmaker, was less concerned about textual changes, suggesting that it would be “pretty simple” to find words which could be switched, “unless you’re talking about a work of staggering poetic precision”. His problem would be “much more visceral”.

“I hate with a fiery passion the idea of making the text spy on the reader,” he said.

Harkaway called the new system “a clever technical fix and “a very silly idea”.

“The whole concept is forlorn because filesharing – piracy is a crime of violence and horror, filesharing is more like fly tipping – may not actually do any harm, and some evidence suggests it helps sales,” he said.

“The criminalisation of the reader is probably not the best model for the publishing industry generally, and it creates an adversarial relationship which increases the likelihood of copyright infringements; what one program can do, another can inevitably undo, and this particular version of the system raises the possibility of a ‘scrambler’ filesharing program which randomly alters additional words so that any subsequent court case must acknowledge the possibility, however faint, that the text did not, in fact, come from a given person but merely looks that way because of the scrambler – producing ever more garbled versions of the text.”

Momentum author Nathan M. Farrugia agrees, “if pirates are better at distributing your ebooks than you are, then you’re doing it wrong. The best way for publishers to fight piracy is with convenience.”

The only way to limit book piracy is to make your books as accessible as possible; globally available at a reasonable price. DRM is not the answer.

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And thank you to Craig Hildebrand-Burke for bringing the Guardian piece to my attention.

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Serial (myth) killing

Posted June 12, 2013 by Anne

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When people talk about serial novels, they often refer back to Dickens as the first and last guy who ever tried this format. Publishing in regular episodic instalments may have peaked in popularity back in Dickensian times, but the form didn’t disappear with the 19th century. Print serialisation declined in the early and mid 20th century thanks to a rise in the popularity of radio and television, but it’s back thanks to the relative easy and speed of digital publishing, and set to be more popular than ever.

Here’s a quick history of the serialised novel in nine books.

1836 – Pickwick Papers – Charles Dickens

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First released as The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, this was to be Dickens’ first book, originally published under the pseudonym ‘Boz’.

 

1851 – Uncle Tom’s Cabin – Harriet Beecher Stowe

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This novel first appeared as 40 weekly instalments in abolitionist periodical National Era. It was contracted to be turned into a novel after the huge popularity of the weekly serial, and Stowe was reportedly skeptical that anyone would want to read it in book form. Uncle Tom’s Cabin went on to be the best-selling novel of the 19th century.

 

1873 — Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy 

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Published in periodical The Russian Messenger, the series of instalments ran from 1873 to 1877. However the final instalments were not published in the periodical after Tolstoy clashed with the editor, and the first time Anna Karenina appeared complete was in book form.

 

1900 – The Ambassadors – Henry James

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Initially published as a serial with several passages and three chapters missing in the North American Review periodical, the complete novel was finally published in full in 1903.

 

1984 — Bonfire of the Vanities – Tom Wolfe

download (21)Wolfe was paid $200,000 to write the 27 instalments against a 2 weekly deadline in Rolling Stone Magazine in 1984. The text was fully revised before being published in book form in 1987.

 

1996 — The Green Mile – Stephen King 

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Published in six monthly paperback instalments from March to August in 1996, The Green Mile was then published as a single volume in May 1997. It has since been re-released in serial format.

 

2009 – Machine Man – Max Barry

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Originally serialised a page a day for five days a week as Barry wrote, it is still available “as it was meant to be” from his website. The page a day serial began in March 2009 on Barry’s website, and ran until December of that year. Machine Man was published in its entirety in book form in 2011.

 

2012 - Positron – Margaret Atwood

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The first instalment in this series I’m Starved For You (2012) was meant to be a stand-alone short, but was so popular that Atwood decided to extend it into a series for Byliner. The first three instalments have been combined into one ebook, but it is also available as single shorts, and is ongoing.

 

2013 – Dark Child - Adina West

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Adina’s novel was the first book that Momentum released in episodic form, in five monthly instalments from February to June 2013. The Dark Child Omnibus is now available, or if you’d prefer the serial format experience you can start with a complimentary copy of Dark Child Episode 1 right now.

 

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So what did I miss? Any notable books that were first published in episodic form, particularly in the early to mid 20th century, would be helpful to fill in the gaps in my knowledge. Suggestions in the comments would be most excellent. 

 

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Digital-first publishing goes hardcore (er, hardcover)

Posted May 31, 2013 by Anne

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The first print review of John Bailey‘s new book Jefferson’s Second Father is in!

“Bailey manages to distil a daunting amount of research into an intriguing tale. It’s a warts-and-all accounting of historical figures and a worthy demolition of the fake idols created today for patriotic or religious adoration.”

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To read the full review, click over to the Byron Shire Echo.

To read the first chapter of Jefferson’s Second Father, read more about John Bailey, add it to your Goodreads shelf or buy the book, you might like to visit the book page here.

The book is available for purchase in both digital and (for the first time in Momentum’s short history) hardback. Let’s be honest, we’re pretty excited about digital books but a Momentum hardback? Wow.

 

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Who Wants to Read this Stuff? The Business of Storytelling in a Digital World

Posted November 21, 2012 by Joel

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It’s often said that writers write for themselves. This might be true, but as a publisher it’s my task to be the reader’s advocate. The first question I try to ask when considering a new project is to consider the audience: “who wants to read this stuff?” 

In the digital realm, particularly at the experimental, pointy end of digital, this question of audience is, I think, rarely considered as a first step. The excitement of shiny gadgets and new software overwhelms our puny publishing minds. So instead, the first question is often – “what can it do?” and the second question is “what else can it do?”

The answer to that question is – “pretty much anything”. There are bog standard ebooks, of course, but it goes much further than that. There are transmedia stories, geo-located stories, multimedia enhanced stories and fully interactive pseudo-gaming experiences. We can serialise books, we can release short stories and we can make apps and games.

In other words “What can it do?” is an exciting question and it’s full of potential rather than limitations. But it’s my contention that when it comes to the business of storytelling – whether you’re trying to entertain, educate or inform people – it’s not a very good question. To put it indelicately, there’s a very short distance between asking the question “what can it do?” and disappearing up your own arse.

My argument is basically this: the colourful and exciting part of digital publishing innovation is – for the most part – not something that readers actually want. Pushing the boundaries of what a book is – whether it’s by blurring the lines between different kinds of media or questioning the linear nature of traditional narrative – is not something that people are looking to book publishers to provide. Too much of what we call innovation is basically turning our content into a showroom for device manufacturers – and we do it to the detriment of more important and more useful innovation at the back end of the publishing business.

This is not to say that every example of a book app or interactive book-like experience is bad. Consider The Waste Land or The Sonnets that have been released by Faber & Faber. Both of these apps successfully meld critical annotations, video, audio and multiple text versions into a unified whole without distracting from the fundamental purpose of the text. It’s interesting that poetry, perhaps because it’s so dense, seems to lend itself quite naturally to this kind of enhancement. There’s a lot to unpack in poetry. Poetry itself isn’t necessarily linear and it’s often intended to be performed rather than read so it seems the marriage of technology and literature is a happy one in this instance.

However you might not want the pace of your Lee Child novel interrupted by a quick video of the author reading a couple of paragraphs or Tom Cruise running about in the trailer for the new movie. That would probably somewhat lift you out of the story.  And yet publishers return – again and again – to cheap gimmicks and unnecessary tricks to try to enhance what doesn’t need to be enhanced.

The real experiments that will actually help publishers make books that people actually want to read – for a price they want to read them for – are distinctly lacking in sex appeal. They aren’t books – they’re improvements to things like workflow, content management systems, metadata optimization, distribution efficiency and rights management.

For example, a digital-only, format independent workflow drastically improves the speed and quality of ebooks and other digital content production.

Metadata – the information about a book like price, category, the book blurb and author information – is essential to making a book discoverable in an online retail environment. There is now solid evidence that improving the accuracy of metadata increases sales for books.

Distributing our content in a global market is a new challenge that needs some creative thinking and a lot of resources to get right. We need to get better at working with our overseas colleagues to make sure our content is available simultaneously or as quickly as possible. 

I won’t go on about rights management too much as it’s a bit of a bug bear for me, to the point that Momentum has now removed these controls from our books. Suffice it to say that digital rights management is bad for readers in the same way that awkward user interface design in book apps are bad for readers. It interferes with the purchasing and reading experience in a non-intuitive way.

These are the kinds of invisible improvements to a modern publishing business that have helped Amazon to become the biggest single bookstore in the world – and allowed them to single-handedly take on publishers at their own game.

More than a few publishers are steadfastly refusing to make some of these changes. Among those that are making deep systematic changes – and there are plenty – many are moving so slowly that they are risking losing the race.

Meanwhile, many modern publishers are distracting themselves with experiments that do nothing but provide a nice press release and show-off the latest capability that Amazon, Apple or Google have built in to their newest device. And it’s not just publishers. I’ve been on a number of panels with industry pundits who love to talk about the death of the book and how technology is going to radically alter our sense of what narrative is and how we are going to consume stories in a completely different, non-linear and interactive way.

What an utterly exhausting proposition.

Nothing I’ve seen in the past year of running an experimental digital imprint has led me to believe there is a voracious horde of early adopters out there who want this type of content and that publishers are failing to deliver it. I’m not saying it won’t ever happen, but it hasn’t happened yet and I see no indications of it coming other than the fact that it’s technological feasible.

The next decade is inevitably going to provide some creative re-imagining of the boundaries of what a book is. And that is a good thing. Technology can and already does help us deliver content around the world for a fraction of the cost that it did only a few years ago. The self-publishing revolution means that there are now very few roadblocks for authors to get their content read by audiences. There is now an audience for serialised content and short stories that seems to have sprung out of nowhere. This is the actual revolution at the foundation of the publishing business. The boundaries of what publishers can and should do have already shifted while we weren’t paying attention – there’s no need for us reinvent the wheel when it comes to storytelling and narrative. We must remember what it is we’re good at – looking at that manuscript, whether it’s delivered by horse and cart or email – and asking the question “who wants to read this stuff?”

This post was adapted from a speech delivered at The Future of Writing symposium at Macquarie University on 14 November.

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Podmentum: the one where we discover “bathetic” is a word

Posted November 9, 2012 by Anne

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Second podcast! We’re totally on a roll. In this episode we discuss the epic Genre versus Literature battle to the death in the wake of the inaugural GenreCon Australia, then we make fun of Joel for being such a gadget nerd. Also Mark outnerds himself in the recommendations. Enjoy.    

Topic  1 - What we read: Genre v Lit

Arthur Krystal’s Easy Writers: Guilty pleasures without guilt in May in The New Yorker laid down the theory that the divide between genre and literary fiction is becoming less clear, and some genre fiction is now being afforded “literary” status.

Lev Grossman in Time April 2012 responded with an article entitles Literary Revolution in the Supermarket Aisle: Genre fiction is disruptive technology, challenging the idea that literary fiction should be regarded as “superior” to genre fiction. He basically lays down the theory that literary fiction is itself a genre with certain tried and true tropes that every book identified as such follows.

Krystal then responded to Lev Grossman with It’s genre, not that there’s anything wrong with that! in October, which had Joel absolutely apoplectic with rage, and convinced us that it was worth discussing.

Interesting look at horror in The Guardian recently with Horror: a genre literally doomed to hell? 

*note – The Ian McEwan novel that was released the year before he won the Booker for Amsterdam was Enduring Love, not On Chesil Beach (which was actually released a decade later). To my enduring shame, I completely forgot about Enduring Love, which is actually one of my favourite McEwan books. Golf clap.

Topic 2 - Devices: how we read

Joel got his new Paperwhite last week and now that he’s had enough time to fall completely and utterly in love with it, it is probably time to talk about reading technology.

Amazon Paperwhite

 iPad Mini 

Recommendations

Joel’s Recommendation The Silent History – Eli Horowitz The Victory Lab – Sasha Issenberg

Anne’s Recommendations January First – Michael Schofield Life in Publishing Tumblr

Mark’s Recommendation Star Wars Expanded Universe

This episode of Podmentum was brought to you by Stalin’s Hammer: Rome by  John Birmingham, and Drive Me To Distraction by Caitlyn Nicholas 

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Release day. Stalin’s Hammer. Sort of.

Posted November 1, 2012 by John Birmingham

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So, today is the day that Stalin’s Hammer: Rome drops into the e-book shops. Or at least it does everywhere but America. I found out about two weeks ago that my US publisher wants to hold on to the title until January or February next year. Originally they were even looking at holding it back until midyear, but my sad face changed their mind.

It’s still not ideal. When we sat down to plan how we’d approach the e-book market, the guys at Momentum and I agreed that there were a couple of minimum conditions we needed to meet. A price so low there was no barrier to purchase. At $2.99 I think we’ve done that. No DRM so that readers could store and carry their copy of the book however they damn well pleased. Tick. And simultaneous global release, so that somebody sitting on their couch in, say, Kansas City, Missouri, would have no reason to be pissed because they can see the book is available, but not for them. This is one of the main drivers of piracy.

“Well, I wanted to give those assholes my money, but they refused, so…”

This was originally posted on John Birmingham‘s Cheeseburger Gothic. To read the rest of it, head on over there.

To buy Stalin’s Hammer: Rome, click through for your choice of retailers via the book page.

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Tasting Vanilla through magic realism

Posted August 9, 2012 by Emilia Bresciani

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I wrote The Raw Scent of Vanilla as a memoir through the lens of magic realism. In Latin America, where the genre of magic realism originated, daily life is imbued with what many would call ‘raw magic’. It’s all a product of sacrifice and sorrows, Catholic ceremonies, Andean mysticism, Amazonian animism and, an spicy imagination that come to affect daily reality. In the end, the view of life becomes almost multidimensional. Spirits are alive, the dead become companions, curses cause diseases and shamans work their magic. In other words, magic realism is not only a genre of literature, but a way of viewing life. As a writer born in Peru, it is natural for me to also look at life under such colourful lens.

But what is magic realism, the literary genre? It has a number of definitions. For me who learned from Gabriel Garcia Marquez, author of One Hundred Years of Solitude, magic realism is simply realism with a twist. In the genre of fantasy, the world is created with different rules; in realism the world is shaped by conventional wisdom. In magic realism however, one or two elements in the story break the rules and disrupt the fabric of realism. The rupture is the result of imbuing reality with added meaning or symbolism. It also occurs by creating a twist in the reality. How we present the twist is up to the writer as I did with this memoir

It may be that some people believe that a memoir cannot be written with the plume of magic realism because it deals with facts. True, a memoir is a collection ‘real’ moments in life experienced by an individual who has a story to tell. But this factualism can be done through a narrative that reflects feelings, dreams, conflicts and aspirations. Our dreams can add colour to our narrative. Our feelings give meaning to our life allowing us to interpret it. For example, I chose to give meaning to my pain by looking at how my ancestors’ culture dealt with tragedy, and how this view affected my reaction to it. In the process I learned how tragedy was transforming my life. Time of course helped. It was the effect of time that allowed for the transformation to occur. Time provided the distance, and distance revealed the meaning.

Maybe not all of us need to find meaning in life. And that is fine. For me, writing the way I did was beneficial because I could make meaning of my ancestors’ story. Interpreting their story the way I did allowed me to deal with the painful events that took place in my life. At the same time, writing under the lens of magic realism allowed me to unleash my creativity and reach planes I never thought I could. The process filled me with excitement and delight. This, I believe, is the magic of life.

 

Emilia Bresciani was a television journalist before her husband was tragically killed, and she became the prime suspect in the murder investigation. Her memoir is an account of her life around the tragedy. Read more here.

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Bringing Back Pulp Fiction Cover Design

Posted July 19, 2012 by Anne

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I’ve recently become utterly obsessed with old pulp fiction novel covers thanks to this website, and am now on a mission to convince Joel that all of our book covers should resemble pulp novels from the 1950s. So in the spirit of my crusade, here are my purely hypothetical suggestions for some of the existing books on our list.

Casting Couch Confidential

The White

Okay yes I know this is from the opposite pole but just pretend that polar bear is a penguin.

Painting Naked

The Power Within

Flesh

The Last City

Willie’s Bar and Grill

The Beginning of Everything and the End of Everything Else

Chopper 1: From the Inside

Thanks to Andrew Nette for the inspiration. You should follow him on twitter, he is tops.

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Ebooks should look like print books (a curmudgeon’s view)

Posted July 12, 2012 by Joshua Mostafa

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Following a heated discussion on Twitter over whether ebooks should follow the form and function of their print counterparts, Joshua Mostafa and Mark Rossiter agreed to a battle of ideas on our blog with the question “Should ebooks look like print books?” 

Ebooks? I’m not sentimental—spare me the drivel about the smell of old books—but I am a curmudgeon and a pessimist. Storing all one’s books ‘in the cloud’ is just as safe as keeping them on shelves, apparently; because hard drives don’t crash, and technicians always remember to do backups. Since the average e-reader stores approximately seven gazillion books, you can defer choosing which one to take on the train by taking your whole collection with you, which frees you from the onerous duty of reading any of them. If you’re anything like me, you’ll spend a third of the time dithering between several titles, another third trying to download reviews to help you make up your mind, and the final third fiddling with all device’s so-called features, all of which fall into the general category of Things You Can Do Instead of Reading.

Grudgingly, though, I have to admit that ebooks have some big advantages over their physical forebears. Search is probably the biggest one. This was borne home to me recently when trying to find an obscure passage in an 800-page monster of a hardback. Like the baby distressed that magazines don’t work the way iPads do, I found myself looking for the book’s ‘find’ function. What was that we used to use? Ah yes, that quaint thing called the index; great, if and only if the editor is an oracle, able to predict every search topic in the minds of all future readers.

Search is the ebook’s killer app, and prevents my inner Luddite from dismissing the whole format out-of-hand. But the idea of ebooks is not coterminous with its current incarnation, which leaves a lot to be desired. It’s not a clear-cut question of digital versus paper. Some formats, like PDF, are similar to printed books in that they are relatively static. There’s a set number of pages, specific text is allotted to each page, and the layout with which they were created is reproduced exactly for the reader: margins, number of columns, typography and so on. This is what makes some books a pleasure to look at, and others cramped and nasty. It’s also what visually differentiates the experience of reading one publisher’s books from another’s. On my Kindle, if I switch from Los Angeles Review of Books Vol. 1 to a free copy of Middlemarch, I see no difference in how the text is laid out. Every book looks like every other book. A single, mediocre font is deployed for all purposes; at the same time, a barrage of supposedly reader-empowering configuration options get in the way of reading. It’s the worst of both worlds, as if the commissar in a Soviet bureaucracy of Literary Regulation is making the decisions in committee with a Silicon Valley techno-utopian individualist.

What’s missing from this picture is the publisher. Someone with skin in the brand differentiation game. I might not be consciously aware from a glance at a page that I’m looking at, say, a Routledge textbook, but on some pre-cognitive level, I recognise the brand. When the text of a book goes into the giant sausage factory of the Amazon store, it comes out without the beauty or utility of clean, professionally laid-out pages. That doesn’t just hurt the reader; it hurts the publisher. I can only guess at the reason publishers agree to cut their own legs from under themselves, and produce books in these lowest-common-denominator formats. Maybe they are intimidated by a load of techno-babble about minimising production costs and maximising platform compatibility. More likely, they’re anxious not to get left behind by digitisation, and don’t feel they’re in a position to dictate terms to the behemoth astride the networks.

The current, dismal one-size-fits-all approach cannot be the last word in digital ebooks. In a sea of beige, there’s an opportunity for digital books with colour and flair to stand out. Would it really be so hard to produce a few different editions—one for phone, one for tablet, one large print—and lay out by hand, PDF-style? I could then contemplate ebooks with a less jaundiced eye. Right now, the promised ‘whole library in my pocket’ looks more like a one-volume anthology of the kind that tend to stay on the shelf and gather mildew: The Complete Works of Everyone Ever. Typeset by robots.

Josh divides his time between the Blue Mountains, Sydney, and the train, where most of his writing takes place. He has worked in digital publishing and arts journalism; now he’s writing mostly prose narrative. Library (of real books!) here; tweets there.

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Models and their stories

Posted June 26, 2012 by Bessie and Geoff

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Every day, somewhere in the world, a young girl or boy is experiencing one of these stories for themselves, almost word for word.

Since we wrote the book we have had hundreds of models ask if we were writing ‘their story’ in the chapters of this book.

Whilst we have changed dramatically, the model industry remains very much the same, for better or worse.

To some, a wonderful experience full of adventure, glamour, excitement and fun. But to others, a soul sucking self indulgent hell that systematically chews them up and spits them out at the end of their used by date.

We experienced both the highs and the lows and to be honest we wouldn’t change a thing.

Love it or hate it, the modelling world may be superficial, but the people in it are real and have feelings just like the rest of us. This book is their story, and the thousands who have gone before and will come after.

You can find the book, Casting Couch Confidential, here.

 

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Top 5 Future of the Book Clichés

Posted June 13, 2012 by Joel

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I’ve been writing blog posts about the future of books and publishing for a while now. I’m by no means one of the first, and by no stretch of the imagination one of the best, so I’m painfully aware of how I often tread on the same ground as those who have gone before me (and usually done it better). However, reading yet another article on the future of books over the weekend nearly caused me to claw my own eyes out with frustration (and probably a healthy dose of shame) as yet another bookish pundit gleefully wheeled out cliché after cliché as if she were writing them for the first time. Thus this list. If I ever commit any of these sins again, please feel free to point them out and/or punch me in the face.

 

1. The Book is Dead, Long Live the Book

This one works extremely well as a headline for a piece about the death of the book, and it makes you seem both worldly and progressive (acknowledging both the inevitable death of the paper book and the regrettable truth that digital books are still books). Originally from the French Le Roi est mort, vive le Roi! (the king is dead; long live the king), the expression was probably popularised in pop culture by Shakespeare. Always a bad sign.

2. A Lot of Ink Has Been Spilled About the Death of the Book

The temptation when writing a blog post is to make grand statements in the lede. When you know the story you’re writing is completely unoriginal, it helps to point out that you do, in fact, know it. One way to do this while also making a clever pun at the same time is to claim that so much ‘spilled ink’, ‘miles of newsprint’ or ‘column inches’ have been wasted talking about the issue, thereby slyly indicating that the article you are about to write is, in point of fact, not a waste of anyone’s time. If you’re being especially clever you can say ‘countless screens of pixels’.

3. Are Paper Books Going the Way of the Dodo?

See also: Going the Way of the Typewriter, Going the Way of Vinyl, Going the Way of Video Tapes or Going the Way of the Album.

4. The Singular Pleasure of Solitude

Almost every post (particularly in the last twelve months) on the future of reading makes nostalgic claims about the pleasure (and importance) of reading alone in solitude for hours at time and conflates this experience with paper book reading and literacy. Let’s get this straight – whether you make the time to read for great stretches of a time all by yourself has less to do with your reading format of choice and more to do with how you choose to spend your time, how busy you are and the available alternative choices to reading.

5. Complain About People Complaining About the Smell of Books

It’s long been a cliché to talk about how you don’t like ebook readers because they don’t smell like ‘real’ books. That’s old news. The newest trend is to ostentatiously point out that the argument about the smell of books is moot, because obviously it doesn’t matter. See also: claiming that the smell of books is actually the smell of death.

 

Got any of your own clichés or pet hates about digital book blogs and articles? Sound off in the comments below.

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The Comfortable Rising of Shorts

Posted June 4, 2012 by Sam Cooney

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In Australia in the past few months a new publishing trend has emerged: that of digital shorts. Such branded shorts programs are fairly self-explanatory in name, in that they are a) wholly digital, with standalone pieces being offered only as ebooks; and b) short, being typically 8,000-15,000 words (more concise than a novella, longer than your conventional short story) in length. This concept of digital shorts — also known as ‘singles’ — has quietly drifted over the oceans from the United States and the UK (although one could make the argument that with ongoing advent of e-publishing this development was inevitable, no matter the influence of these larger markets) and local publishers have waded in quickly in order to have at the plunder. At a quick glance, Penguin, Random House, Scribe, Allen & Unwin, and Momentum (under the auspices of Pan MacMillan) are just some of the larger Australian houses branching into digital shorts.

In the past there were few avenues for selling work of the digital shorts length. Only the top few magazines could justify the ongoing publication of long stretches of text, mostly because of issues to do with page-space and advertising revenue, and because print book customers always want their money’s worth in terms of reading time. Yet electronic publishing has no such limits; indeed, the digital shorts format is perfect for tablets and mobile phones, and the time to read one could well fit into a lunch break, public transport commute, or professional’s waiting room. Joel Naoum, publisher at Momentum Books — a digital-only imprint of Pan MacMillan — believes that “there’s always been a readership for shorter work, but the means of distributing that isn’t cost-effective with paper”. Now that paper and ink is discretionary and that all the other costs and impossibilities of publishing short standalone pieces on their own have vanished, this type of shortish-long work is not only being published, but it is also finding an audience. A large and burgeoning audience.

Although in Australia right now it is works of fiction that occupy the emerging realm of digital shorts, the concept’s foundation and initial success is in non-fiction. Long-form journalism, the likes of which can be found in such venerable and varied publications as the New YorkerEsquireHarpers, and Wired, appeals to the broadest audience, and is more marketable. Two enterprising US-based non-fiction digital shorts publishers, the Atavist and Byliner, whose online presences are impressive in that unostentatious way, have reported a positive reception for the new format. The Atavist reported earlier this year that it has sold well over 100,000 copies of its 14 e-single titles, and Byliner’s sales of its 20 original stories have also surpassed the 100,000 mark. And now we’re even seeing publications like National Geographic get in on the act: they recently released the first title in their new shorts series, a piece called Titanic: Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Greatest Shipwreck. Nat Geo has already lined up four other planned digital shorts to be published this year, all in the vicinity of 8,000 to 15,000 words.

The benefit to digital shorts programs is the time to produce and market the work has been dramatically reduced. Whereas a full-length work can easily take as long as two years to reach bookstore shelves under a traditional publishing model, ebook-only shorter works means that period time can be as short as two or three months. And the shelf life of digital shorts is potentially infinite (or at least a very long time). As Elizabeth Weiss, publisher at Allen & Unwin, explains: “standalone short stories are generally published in literary journals, and disappear after a period of time. A standalone short ebook can be offered on an ongoing basis.” And it’s no secret – publishers love products that keep selling. Digital shorts — especially an e-library or e-bookshelf filled with them — might prove to be such enduring merchandise, what with their modest price points and low-entry barriers to reading (assuming that it’s much easier to for a reader to get cracking on a short work than a longer one).

Authors of digital shorts don’t generally receive the same kind of initial financial compensation that they’d get from a magazine or journal, but they get something potentially better – a cut of the profits. It is now fairly standard for e-book shorts authors to receive royalties of 30-40% of sales. This might seem measly, especially when the pieces sell for a couple of dollars, but the potential for earnings is much greater. If a digital short happens to touch a public nerve, or if it receives the championing of a few gatekeepers — and/or thousands of social media users — then that 30-40% cut starts to pay off, and even handsomely. Thus, a journalist can make a living by covering – in depth – the stories that interest him or her, and a fiction writer can spend more time on a single story they genuinely believe can gain traction with readers, and if said story reaches enough of the marketplace, significant sums of money can be made, especially over a length of time.

Some have commented on the apparent irony that the web, and media gadgets such as mobile phones, computers and other e-reading devices, are going some way to saving the very thing naysayers thought it would kill. Technological innovation and creative thinking — as it should and probably always was going to (despite the clamberings to announce the death of reading) — is helping authors and publishers to reach readers. As Random House marketing and publicity directory Brett Osmond told me, “The ebook supply chain has overcome the many issues of traditional book making — how to print, distribute, promote, price and merchandise something so slim when perceived value is small — thereby allowing new experimentation. Our experimentation and combined consumer research is demonstrating to us that there is indeed a market full of readers who, for various reasons, like buying and reading short stories digitally.” Publishers experimenting! It still happens! And triumphantly too, even at the largest publishing houses, who are typically more conservative. Ben Ball at Penguin Australia is “excited about the capacity of the digital world to make relevant some of questions that have previously been determinative in publishing, mainly length, and turnaround time”. Sure, he’s not at all certain “whether an author’s digital short will take people to the longer work or whether the longer work will pique people’s interest in the shorter”, but like all published writing, digital shorts are already taking part in the wider conversation that occurs between books, books both by the same author and by all writers everywhere.

Ian See, editor at Scribe, also sees shorts as having a dual quality, as both publishing products in their own right, and as supplementary works that may lead readers on to the larger works by the same authors. “Certainly in our Summer Shorts ebook,” he says, “we were conscious of including links to the authors’ novels, for readers who are interested.” Naoum views the shorts he and the team at Momentum are offering in the same vein as See, believing that shorts “work most successfully as part of an array of content by an author at different lengths and price points.” Momentum are manoeuvring their way into the shorts market with an essay on women and ageing by Liz Byrski, and a piece of fiction by one of their regular fiction authors, Greig Beck, which is a prequel story to one of his novels. In early 2013 Momentum will also be publishing a series of fiction and non-fiction shorts by authors it sees as indicative of the future of Australian writing.

Elizabeth Weiss is adrenalised by the digital shorts movement, but not with a measure of wariness: “One of the things to be conscious of is that with the internet in general, we are in an age of abundance. Most of us suffer from information overload. As a publisher, just putting something out there in age of abundance is not good enough. We have to find a market for these shorts. We need to find readers. That is the real challenge.” Every reader knows this, knows that every book – even absorbing and quick reads like most digital shorts prove to be — is competing for their time with Draw Something, with Angry Birds, with YouTube and RSS feed readers and with the lurching, unstoppable behemoth of social media. Weiss continues: “You’ll find that publishers must have a solid strategy behind their particular digital shorts programs. Ours is that we are working with high profile authors – that’s our strategy.” She’s not wrong – the first five shorts from Allen & Unwin are by some of Australia’s most well-known and best-loved authors: Christos Tsiolkas, Charlotte Wood, Tom Keneally, Alex Miller, and Peter Temple. Osmond at Random House is also enthusiastic about working with bigger name authors; he sees “genuine benefit in scheduling the release of shorts in the lead-up to the publication of a new book as promotional tool to generate awareness for the new book”, and also recognises that “fans enjoy reading something from their favourite authors when the author is between books”.

Digital shorts might simply represent the natural progression stemming from the combination of too-fast technological advancement and the waning of contemporary attention spans. Or it might be a case of the publishing industry finally being able to cater to writing that has long existed, or wanted to exist. Whatever, I reckon. Right now, it’s simply rousing to see digital shorts as a new manifestation of the author-reader experience, one that is performing the time-honoured literary parlour tricks: providing measures of enlightenment and pleasure through the arrangement of text.

(First published in issue 203 (June-July 2012) of Newswrite, the NSWWC publication.)

Sam Cooney is an Australian writer/editor/publisher/literary man about town. Find more from him here.

Click here for more information on Liz Byrski’s Getting On.

 

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We heart FutureBook

Posted May 16, 2012 by Anne

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Did you catch Joel’s post on the FutureBook blog last week? The Bookseller deputy editor Philip Jones had some comments of his own to add in the latest FutureBook newsletter.

“Are traditional publishers starting to realise that publishing first, and perhaps only, in digital format is a legitimate business practice? Possibly. A few of the big publishers have announced digital only lists recently, usually in genre fiction or wrapped around some kind of self-publishing initiative.

There’s also a good deal of experimentation happening around publishing e-book exclusive shorter novels and non-fiction off-cuts, and of course a welter of digital imprints focused on re-discovering the backlist. But even so these still seem to be exceptions to the rule. The general view  seems to be that proper publishers should focus on proper print books, and while they are happy to use digital to reach some other destination (build sales, break a new author, road-test), it is not yet the goal in itself. But a high profile digital list backed by a big publisher with some big titles could radically re-write the landscape.

For starters, removing the safety net of print will sharpen publishers’ digital skills. As Joel Naoum, who runs Pan Macmillan Australia’s digital-only imprint Momentumsuggests in this blog, being digital-only will allow publishers to demonstrate an expertise in an area otherwise dominated by Amazon and those attention-grabbing indie heroes. It will also allow publishers to tap into that growing body of authors who appear to work better in e-book format than print. Most importantly, though, it will demonstrate that we are focused on the content rather than the medium, and the most effective ways of getting that content to readers, rather than how that content fits our perception about how a publisher publishes.”

Sign up to the FutureBook newsletter here.

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Ebook Egalitarianism

Posted April 23, 2012 by Anne

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Over the weekend the lovely Stephanie from Read in a Single Sitting posted an interview with our publisher Joel Naoum – all the way from Argentina, no less. We thought it was so comprehensive that it deserves a special mention here.

Part I

“Publisher Joel Naoum says that this risk-taking approach is exactly what underscores the imprint’s market position: Momentum provides an opportunity to “try something a bit bold” in an industry that is known for being reactive and risk-averse.

Read more here.

Part II

Joel on ebooks and genre:

“But though Naoum emphasises Momentum’s progressive editorial approach, a quick assessment of its current list shows that this approach stems from some solid market research. The imprint’s titles largely fall into genres that have a tradition of strong sales in the ebook market: romance, fantasy, and biography, for example.

“These are all genres that readers actively seek out,” says Naoum. “These aren’t hobbyist readers who might only read a book or two a year.”

Of course, there’s more to it than the bottom line: Naoum is very clear that Momentum is working with projects that it believes in rather than cynically chasing budget dollars.

“Fantasy is something I love, but I’m in the happy situation where it also sells well online,” he says. “We do also have some autobiographies of well-known people–Chopper Read’s books, the Lindy Chamberlain autobiography, but they’re timely and a part of the Australian culture.”

Naoum adds that these books will resonate with the audience, rather than being a book for a book’s sake.

“They’re books that people want to read, so I don’t think we’ll be flooding the market with crap just because we can.”

Momentum is also seeking to fill some notable gaps in the Australian market, with romance in particular being a focus.

“There’s a very vibrant romance writing scene in Australia. At the moment these authors are getting snapped up by overseas romance publishers, some of which don’t even have a presence in Australia.”

Read more here.

Thanks to Damien Kelly for the post title inspiration!

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I’M IN UR WRITIN MAKIN IT MOAR BETTR – Part II

Posted April 19, 2012 by Nathan M Farrugia

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What types of edits are there?

Phase one is the structural (or content) edit. This phase involves the editor working with the author on the structure of the manuscript: the plot, the characters, the setting, the pacing, the logic of the world in which the story is set. To ensure that all the shit makes sense.

Xavier, my agent, once said to me, ‘So many manuscripts land in my inbox where the plot hinges entirely on the stupidity of the characters. At all times this is what you should be working to eliminate.’ Unfortunately, many writers storm off in a huff, never to be heard from again. But a rare few (too rare unfortunately, in Xavier’s opinion) swallow their pride, acknowledge that their draft currently sucks [no more suckage. Really] and needs work.

I know this because I was one of them.

He was of course talking about plot holes. And phase one is where you make your plot holes your bitch. And iIt can take several rounds of going back and forth between the author and the editor before phase one is complete. Sometimes this can take place before a contract is even signed.

And in Sometimes Land there is an in-between phase known as the line edit. This is when the language, sentences, repetition and pacing are cleaned up line by line. (Here in Australia, this is often merged into phase two.)

Phase two is the copy-edit. Once everything is structurally sound and the story does not suck balls [you can have balls, just no more sucking. Do something else with them] or other ball-related objects, the manuscript is passed on to the copyeditor like a game of pass the parcel and the copyeditor will look at language, style, sentence structure, expression, spelling, grammar, punctuation and your underwear drawer. The copyedit is the nuts and bolts of the editing process, it is intensive and detailed and did I mention intensive?, aAnd it is what gives the manuscript a professional finish.

The editorial report

But what does an editorial report look like? Well I’m glad you asked (you didn’t) because here is mine:

Dear Nathan,

Well, the time has finally come for the editorial report. Again, my apologies for taking so long to get this done. This has been a pretty big couple of months, but I wanted to make sure that your work got the attention it deserves, and that has meant stealing time when I can.

And it certainly has felt like stealing time. Every time I get to dip in to reading The Chimera Vector, I’ve been utterly absorbed by the story. Your pacing and action scenes are taut, exciting and visual. The novel barrels along at breakneck speed and barely allows you to draw breath. However, you’ve also managed to create some quite touching human relationships – particularly with Sophia and Adamicz and between Jay and Damien. Real characters and a totally unreal story are a great combination – and you’ve nailed that balance for the most part with real panache and stellar prose.

However (there is always a however) there is a lot that can be done to make The Chimera Vector even better. Your strength in carving out spare prose to create action is sometimes to the detriment of scene and setting. Your commitment to plot sometimes leaves character arcs and motivations unclear. The problems with The Chimera Vector put me in mind of the iceberg theory of narrative, which states that – just like an iceberg – 20% of your story must poke out of the water, suggesting the other 80% of the story beneath. In your book, there is plenty of story above the waterline, but it doesn’t imply that there is enough going on below. This isn’t to say that there isn’t more going on beneath, but the story depth hasn’t been effectively communicated to the reader.

Keep in mind as you read through that this is not meant to be prescriptive. All suggestions really are just suggestions. Not all of them are going to resonate with you, but I hope that at the very least they help you identify the issues and come up with your own solutions to some of the issues with the manuscript.

Notice that last paragraph. “All suggestions really are just suggestions”. Some writers think the editor will change their work and force them to produce an entirely different story, which makes them reel in horror. Well, that might be true in Hollywood. E.g. LOL I Am Legend.

Side-note, this can in rare cases make a better movie, such as The Bourne Identity, which was loosely based on Robert Ludlum’s book of the same name. And The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum, which were completely unrelated to the books and yet are among the best action thriller spy movies of the last decade.)

Where was I? Oh right. The editor, whether contracted through a publisher or hired directly by you, is more likely to pull a Bourne on you (hopefully without the shaky-cam bullshit) than an I Am Legend. So fear not. How much the author decides to take on the editor’s advice is up to the author. Obviously, the more advice the author takes on, the better for the book. And if the author decides to ignore most of the advice then the book will suffer — although the publisher has due cause to terminate the contract before that happens. Hopefully though, it won’t come to that.

So moving along. My editorial report gets down and dirty, into specific issues. Here is one example:

PLOT

The plot of The Chimera Vector races along so quickly that I could, at times, literally feel my heart beating faster. That takes some damn fine writing skills, and I applaud you for it. However, there were a couple of plot points that felt a little bit undeveloped, as if perhaps they were added in and then forgotten. This may not be the case, especially given you are planning to write more books in the series – but I’ve detailed them here for you to review.

Sophia’s Synesthesia

I really like Sophia’s synesthesia, especially early on. However, as the story develops it becomes a bit distracting – taking away from the descriptions of the places and people she sees, and I couldn’t help wondering why it was added in – as it doesn’t seem to serve the plot.

One thing about the first phase of editing, the structural phase: the editor does not actually do the work for you. They are not the co-writer. But their report and their suggestions will help you to make the changes yourself. Why? Because you’re a big boy/girl/hermaphrodite [I believe gender non-specific is the PC term] now.

Anyway, here are some more annotations for your viewing pleasure.

(Sidenote: my blog editor got distracted by The Muppets on YouTube, so no more red text from here on out.)

Oh look, an unwelcome cliché:

And a point of view suggestion:

A suggestion to cut an entire scene:

Or write a new one:

Remove some cumbersome language:

Edit Like A Boss:

And in case you’re feeling inundated with the negative annotations, a nice sprinkling of praise to keep you going:

 

Scrivener

While all of this work would ordinarily be done in Microsoft Word, I actually did something completely different. I knew there were a few scenes that needed to be swapped around, shuffled, moved earlier or moved later on, and some scenes written completely from scratch. To do all of this in a word processor is a bit of a nightmare. Jumping back and forth, getting confused as to what I put where, losing track of the overall flow of the storyline, all the stuff that brings a writer to their knees, weeping tears of despair into their gin. But not so. Not when you have something like Scrivener at your disposal. Shuffling stuff around in Scrivener is so easy. SO EASY.

LIKE PLAYING MINESWEEPER IN GOD MODE.

I imported my entire manuscript as an RTF file into Scrivener, complete with comments. I did the in-line editing in Word first, because I wasn’t sure if Scrivener could handle that. And then I broke the manuscript up, chapter by chapter. This was a bit tedious, but once you know the shortcut to create a new break (command + K), you can break up 100 chapters in under 10 minutes. I named each chapter, mostly to make it easy on myself, and color-coded them according to the character’s point of view. LOOK SO PRETTY.

After I was done shuffling the existing scenes around, I thought I may as well take advantage of Scrivener and write the new scenes while I’m here. I’ve already used Scrivener to plot Book 2, but this is the first time I’ve actually written a new scene in it. I was a bit excited and maybe peed my pants a little. GOD IT WAS EXCITING.

And before I knew it, the structural editing was all done and the manuscript was whisked off to PHASE TWO for the copyeditor to work her magic. And if you’re curious as to what this magic might look like…

COME AT ME, BRO

Think of your manuscript as a really good head of hair. The editor is your hair wax. Wow, that’s my worst analogy ever. OK, let’s try again: think of your manuscript as a computer program and the editor as the debugger. They will test and discover every flaw, bug and error in the manuscript they can find.

Because no one wants you to release Windows 98 again.

 

 

 

Want more Nathan? Head over here to pre-order The Chimera Vector at the special introductory price of $2.99.

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I’M IN UR WRITIN MAKIN IT MOAR BETTR – Part I

Posted April 18, 2012 by Nathan M Farrugia

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Where I talk about editors, iPads and the INTERNETS

In today’s post, I’m going to share what it’s like to have your novel edited. By a publisher. Or what it’s like to wax your inner thighs. No, just kidding. The editing is much more fun. And I never waxed my inner thighs, I don’t know what you’re talking about.

 

Because I’m with a digital-oriented publisher, it’s only fitting that my editing be delivered to me through the INTERNETS. Not only that, but you can say goodbye to making corrections by hand, on a mountain of paper. It’s all digital now, baby. Which means the joys and torments of Microsoft Word’s track changes. (To be fair, as much as I laugh at Microsoft, their word processor is pretty solid. And yes I’ve tried OpenOffice’s Writer, Adobe’s InCopy and Apple’s Pages — didn’t like ‘em. And I’ll get to the awesomeness that is Scrivener in a minute.)

Digital publishing is — whether you like it or not — the future. As much as paper books will always be around, its the children of this world who will dictate how we experience storytelling. And I can tell you one thing, they won’t be picking up a hardcover.

How to edit on an iPad

Rather than print out the manuscript and edit by hand, my structural editor took a more digital approach. He drops my manuscript into Dropbox as a PDF, then annotates on his iPad. Once he is finished with the structural edit, he converts it back to a Microsoft Word document with all annotations intact and emails it to me: the author jittering with nervous anticipation on the other end of the Interwebs.

Traditionally, editors will do precisely what I described above, only on paper. Or they might write them as haiku and deliver them in gluten-free fortune cookies via genetically enhanced messenger pigeons.

Having had no prior experience with an editor, I must say I was impressed with the thoroughness that goes into the editing process. Many authors underestimate the role of the editor, and some — eager to self-publish on Amazon — skip it entirely, or substitute it by giving it to friends to read instead. If your friends can give you honest, blunt feedback, great! But they aren’t editors and unfortunately can’t substitute for one.

As I discovered, editors don’t just read your manuscript once. They read it three times. In each pass, they write more comments and adjust their initial comments. My 450 page Word document came back with 425 comments.

What does an editor do?

I thought it might be fun or annoying or annoyingly fun to have this blog post edited. Before your very eyes. Like real magic. See the red text, highlighted text and crossed out words? That’s one part of the editor’s job: the “line edit”.

So to do this properly I’m going to share with you my editorial report and some annotations my editor wrote in my manuscript. While this means you get to see all my mistakes and sloppy writing, it’s also a great way to see the insides of the book making process! [I’m giving you one exclamation mark for the whole piece. And that’s generous.] And this is why I think there aren’t many blog posts about this. Because writers are a bit reluctant to reveal their pre-perfect writing.

Oh noes, no one can see my book before it’s perfect! ­- author of Twilight

[To be accurate, the author actually said she was "too sad" to continue work on the book and said she was putting its completion "on hold indefinitely". But I like your quote better.]

What if they find out how much I suck? – Paranoid vampire

“The first draft of anything is shit” – Ernest Hemingway [fact check: quotation]

Almost every author will go out of their way to thank their editor in the acknowledgements of their book because they know just how much the editor has helped complete it. But does anyone else really know what goes on behind closed doors?

Unless you work in the publishing industry, you probably don’t know just how closely involved the editor is with each book. And you probably figure editors are well paid too. Unfortunately that’s not the case. If we I could change the industry with a magical wave of Harry Potter’s wand (and I can totally mention Harry Potter and not have everyone question my sexuality) the first thing we’d I’d change do is tripling triple the editor’s salary. They are after all the most crucial element in the recipe of book-making [yo, this is predicative. So no hyphen]. Unless you write about glittery vampires.

But what exactly does an editor do? Well, what they don’t do is change the author’s style of writing (unless it sucks) [use a different word. Too much sucking and vampires already] or babysit the author’s children or nurse their insecurities or send them Farmville invites on Facebook. Well, I hope not.

What they do do do do do (sorry got carried away there) is explore the manuscript and analyze what is and isn’t working. And most importantly why. They tease out the weaknesses and help the writer make their work the best it can possibly be. And then it’s up to the author to decide whether they want to make those changes.

But gone are the days where an editor will work intimately with the writer on twenty, thirty or even forty drafts. These days, there is pressure to publish more books more quickly [awkward phrase]. If you want your manuscript to even be considered for publication, it should already be 99% perfect by the time it lands on the editor’s desk, or the slush pile/recycle bin, intern’s in-tray or Hogwarts. If it’s 98% ready, then it just might be considered too much work. And no, I’m not kidding. Publishers in this day and age don’t have time to mess around with extra work.

That’s your job.

Tomorrow in Part II: Messing around with structure and Scrivener.

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Harry Potter and the Digital Rights Management

Posted March 28, 2012 by Joel

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So JK Rowling finally made her ebooks available for sale last night. It’s about time. It’s been described as the ‘Beatles moment’ for ebooks. The Beatles moment they’re referring to is when the Beatles finally acquiesced to selling their albums digitally on the iTunes store.

The Potter ebooks are a bigger deal in book publishing circles than the Beatles going on iTunes for a number of reasons. Imagine that instead of making their music available on iTunes, the Beatles had set up their own website and payment system and forced all the retailers to link through their site in order to purchase their content. Imagine, too, that all music being sold at that point by major retailers was sold with restrictive DRM (digital rights management) and the Beatles were the first major brand to sell without it.

JK Rowling and the Pottermore project (led by ex-HarperCollins head of digital Charlie Redmayne) have done something with ebooks that has never been done before. They’ve effectively forced Amazon to list the books without actually selling them directly. That means JK Rowling and co. get all the sales (and I mean all of them – there’s no commission being skimmed off by paying via PayPal or anyone else). They also get all the customer information that Amazon would ordinarily collect. And they’ve done it by making their books available without DRM.

The screenshot above is the only DRM that Pottermore is including on the books sold through the site. It sits on the copyright page, and identifies the user of the ebook. If you were to post up the unaltered version of a Pottermore ebook on a file sharing site (or email it to a friend, who then shared it), you could be identified with this code, and presumably you could be sued or blacklisted from Pottermore if Ms Rowling was so inclined.

This kind of watermarking, also known as ‘social DRM’, doesn’t restrict the user from doing what they want with the file, but it does make the user think twice about sharing (particularly with someone they don’t trust). As far as I can find by opening up the EPUB file this code doesn’t exist anywhere else in the book except for on the copyright page, so it would be relatively easy to remove it (but not much easier, it should be pointed out, than removing normal DRM from an ebook).

The power of this kind of DRM, though, is that it can be applied by anyone, not just a book retailer, and it costs (virtually) nothing to implement. Importantly, it also means that ebook readers of any platform can buy your book and put it on their device without syncing, linking, three different logins or any other issues. It allows sharing among friends and family that you trust, and it passes the Grandma test (my grandma would understand how it works).

Amazon has been forced to list the books to avert serious leakage from their platform. If Amazon had decided not to link and list the Potter ebooks via their site, then Pottermore would have sold them to Kindle customers anyway. And those Kindle customers, who may have never bought an ebook from outside Amazon before would all of a sudden know that it was possible and how to do it. And Amazon doesn’t want that.

This opens up a massive opportunity for publishers to use a brand like JK Rowling to get some more leverage with Amazon. The Pottermore purchasing system may not be the smoothest around, but it works and it’s certainly not beyond publishers or their intermediaries to set up something similar. Publishers have tried to do this before – but they haven’t done it with a brand like Harry Potter.

There’s more than one way to skin a cat, and Pottermore has demonstrated one way that publishers haven’t tried yet. Amazon’s chokehold on the distribution of digital books is not as watertight as it seemed just yesterday morning.

For its part, Momentum is making our very first debut author’s book available without DRM. The Chimera Vector is available for pre-order right now from your retailer of choice for the early bird price of $AU2.99. Go on, you know you want to.

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