Saturday, 31 December 2011

A writers co-operative

Black Hound has launched their writers co-operative, starting in earnest in the New Year. The idea arose at about the same time as I began writing this blog, which was inspired by an article, a cutting from a magazine handed to me by a colleague at work. I won't revisit the details as this is covered in previous posts but, the basic idea that presented itself arose from the news that Kindle books via Amazon had, for the first time, outsold their paperback sales in the U.S.  Readers can now avoid high-street book stores completely and download titles directly from Amazon. This in itself is not new, but, and this is the single most important factor, writers can now upload their work directly to Amazon thus eliminating the need for   a conventional route to market vis agents and publishers.

The intention of forming a co-operative is to capitalise on the ability to get an e-book directly from edited and formatted text to the store-front on Amazon. By forming a collective, a group of authors with various skills and experience, all editing, formatting, artistry and distribution can take place 'in house' and as such the financial returns can be maximised. As all authors within the co-op will, at some time, require the assistance of other members, it is the intention that all help and advice will be either freely given or any recompense pre-agreed and paid when, and only when, monies are received on royalties arising from the publication.

The first thing we need to make this work is to attract members. To help this we are holding a short story competition, with a Kindle as the first prize. So, come on, if anyone is actually reading this, join the co-op and/or enter the competition.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

You can't polish a turd - but you can digitise it!

Ok, so you've finished your magnum opus and sit back smugly as the word count shows a monumental effort of literary genius. Then the thought arises, 'When this is out there in eBook land, how can my potential readers find it?' This is the topic of my ramblings today.
Unfortunately, as it is now so simple for any writer to encode and publish their work electronically and make it available for the world to download it also means that there will be a landslide of uploads to Amazon, iBook and others that will swamp the market. A veritable tsunami of books will make it very difficult to shine above the competition. There will, of course be some very good writing but, alas, there will also be a great deal of average, below average and downright rubbish. This will make the individual author a very small voice in a digital cacophony of those attempting to draw attention to themselves and their work. So how is it possible to rise above the noise floor of available eBooks and make a name for the author concerned?

There are a few options available.

Let us presume that the author has made their work available on line through their own efforts and has not secured a publishing deal with an established, conventional publisher who may or may not distribute hard copy as well as soft.

Firstly, the power of viral distribution. John Locke is a marvellous example of the unpredictable world of social networking. He promoted himself and struck a chord with a great many people and sold over a million eBooks. This is of course possible but hardly typical nor even that probable bearing in mind that every author will be attempting to do the same. But, however, do not discount this method as it should be followed irrespective of whatever additional course of promotion and distribution is used.

Second, an established online distribution package such as Lulu.com. You will pay for this and again will be competing with a great many authors who have taken the same route. Will work for some but not all.

Thirdly, a combined approach through a small digital press. One outfit can bear the promotion and marketing costs for a small band of authors, a collective of common ground, possibly by genre, demographic or even geography. The cost to the individual authors will be tiny compared to running their own individual campaigns. It is early days to comment on this method but it seems the most viable option, to me anyway. The press could, by cherry picking the right authors, create a brand aligned with excellence and attract readers by creating a reputation at screening the content.

I have read a few articles regarding those who have made the big time through self publishing online and on the whole there have been negative connotations to these. It seems that the literary reviewers are finding it difficult to accept that it should be the reading population that decides what is popular not a combination of publishers and reviewers. Again, John Locke was slammed by reviewers in the UK broadsheets but over a million downloads would say otherwise.

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Kindle road test for writers

As promised I put my newly delivered Kindle through its paces over the past few days and have found, surprisingly, that I quite like it.
First of all Amazon dropped a bit of a bollock by using the fantastic carrier 'The Home Delivery Network'...Booooooo! I paid for express, next day delivery and when my package failed to arrive within the allotted 24hours I referred to my tracking number and checked online. The message 'sent to incorrect depot, expect delays' was my reward. The wrong depot was Southampton, 17 miles away. I called Amazon, the Irish lady was charming, polite and (to be honest) a little bit sexy. She was sympathetic and when I told her of my impending trip abroad she promptly arranged an additional delivery on the highest priority. Amazon 1, Home Delivery Network a resounding NIL!! true to the marvellous Colleen's word the device arrived before noon the following day. (as a footnote the HDN took a further four days to get here). I was ecstatic, time to play.
I must say from the outset that as a day job I test software for the military, and as such have no real qualifications to comment on slick commercial offerings. However, the Kindle is not intuitive. It is slick and attractive and functional, but, the menu structure and navigation is akin to an imported Chinese Game Boy. When you read the instructions, simple instructions it all becomes clear, and when you know how to navigate and interpret the screens it is a joy, especially the voice options (more voices please Amazon) and the bookmarks and annotations are invaluable. As a reviewing tool it is amazing. You have the ability to add notes and place holders. The dimensions are just right, for me anyway, and the display is very easy to read. It is very easy to convert and view your work on the device.
Now the negatives. The page indication is a very ill conceived percentage bar giving the reader very little indication of where they actually are in the book and giving the reviewer no way to refer to a particular passage or page. Battery life is a major selling point on the unit , BUT, leave your Wi-Fi on and/or use the browser and MP3 options and this benefit fades like morning mist on the River Dart in Summertime. The keyboard is also a nice addition but the keys are small and more akin to a ten year old mobile phone.
I feel that the positives by far outweigh the negatives and would recommend the Kindle to anyone, especially the 3G version. Additionally the direct, speedy access to the massive Amazon catalogue on Wi-Fi OR 3G makes this the reader of choice, (for me anyway).

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

The blog as a novel format.

Some time ago I was truck with the new formats made available by the internet for writers.

Please note, that's 'by the internet' NOT 'on the internet'.

As a result I decided to write a story, still unsure of the genre, as my alter-ego, Tom Grayson. The result was a reasonable following and the idea that led to my new novel, 'Fighting Spirit', just one chapter away from the finalisation of the first draft, more on that later.

The premise is one of an average family man becoming aware of the supernatural world through an ex-navy buddy who is working on a government project to use the spirits of deceased forces personnel as intelligence gatherers. He is subsequently haunted and targeted by two such 'ghosts' and slowly loses his sanity.

It can be read here:
http://tomgrayson.blogspot.com/

The blog format is entirely new as a novel medium, especially if it released in real time as a daily update following the protagonist as they develop as a character within the story. Much as 'Blair Witch' and 'Cloverfield' have emerged as proponents of a new film genre, the blog should not be underestimated as a means to tell a story.

Black Hound in Winchester

I realise that technically we have relaunched, BUT, this weekend Black Hound will be sharing a stand at the Writer's Conference and Book Fair in Winchester. We will be at the University of Winchester from pretty early until pretty late so please take the time to visit and have a chat.
The aim is to attend more of these events to not only promote the services offered by Black Hound but to offer advice and guidance on the emerging world of publishing in electronic formats. I also hope to learn a great deal as well, let's face it writers are never backward in coming forward so any advice or suggestions will be gratefully received.

Word counts, a thing of the past.

We've all been a slave to the word count; short story,too many; novel, too few. But, very much akin to the out of date BMI that so many of us are also a slave to, the conventional criteria for word counts has had its day.
For a publisher, back in the bad old days when ALL reading was done on paper, the costs involved with getting an author's work to market was very, very high. OK, the costs involved with editing and formatting as well as the time of those readers who recommend a writer's work will always be there but the massive overhead to print and distribute hard copy will not. Marketing and promotion for an electronic volume through social networking sites and a internet promotion campaign can vastly reduce costs to the individual, in fact if a third party can bear these costs it makes the authors return even more lucrative. I, digress. With the above in mind, at least in the conventional sense, it can be seen that the publisher must always consider a pounds per page perspective on their returns. Not any more.
No paper, no pages and no additional overheads. That 30,000 word story that is really a great one but wouldn't get the time of day from a publisher is NOW a very viable and marketable option. That collection of short stories that publishers were always reticent to release is of interest to a very wide reader base. In fact, anything that is written can be made available for a very small price on Kindle, iBooks or direct through a website to the whole world. The geographic distribution headache that commanded so much thought and disdain from the wrinkly, ancient publishing houses has disappeared to be replaced with a single click of a mouse. Novels, novellas, short stories, flash fiction they all command the same respect in the digital realm, they are ALL VIABLE.
Please do drop me a line or comment if you read this as I would be very interested to hear opposing and aligned opinions.

Electronic book formats - Part 3, putting it all together

Once the decision has been made to publish directly to an established online outlet the path from file to market is a reasonably straight forward exercise.

The first thing to consider is how you are going to format your book to a standard appropriate to the chosen outlet, we'll focus on Kindle for now. Sigil is a free application that will allows basic editing and formatting activities and an ePub formatted output. The help files are generally user friendly and easy to follow. In order to import from a word document, for example, the file has first to be saved either as raw text (you will lose all formatting) or more preferably as an HTML document (and retain some formatting). In order for the Kindle eBook to display a cover image one needs to be added at this point. This is a trade off between a smaller file, to minimise the download costs that Amazon will pass on to you, and an image with a reasonable resolution. Mark the image as a cover image and move on.
Next you need to split the document into chapters by inserting a chapter break at the end of every chapter. The result will be that a different file will appear in the left pane for each chapter. Word of warning, be careful at this point as it isn't so easy to remove chapter breaks.
If a Table of Contents is required ensure that all appropriate headings are formatted. The TOC editor in Sigil is as basic as it gets, merely tick the headings you want to appear in your table. When the document is formatted, save as an ePub file and move on to your conversion tool.
For publishing onto Amazon and Kindle the eBook needs to be in Mobipocket format. For this I used Calibre, another free download. Add the book to the Calibre library and make sure all necessary meta data is complete, the more meta data entered the better really. Next, select the appropriate input and output formats and hit the convert button. Voila! The book is ready.
Before uploading it is an idea to view the finished product in a Kindle format, either through an app download on a PC, phone or Mac or on a Kindle device (recommended) . This will help you to see if there are any format issues and also to check the navigation through the TOC.
The constraints traditionally enforced by publishers can now be ignored, word count, genre, short stories are all now fair game. We'll look at that next.