Setting Standards: Is it time for a UK Indie Book prize?

With all due respect to the rest of the world, the UK has a very reasonable tradition of literary prizes, both large and small, from the Booker Prize to the monthly competitions in Writing Magazine. But during a recent surf through the entry guidelines for the Women’s Prize for Fiction (formerly the Orange Prize), it became apparent how very large the gulf is that separates print from indie publishing when it comes to prizes.

Those guidelines make it very clear that in order to be submitted for consideration in the prize:

All entries must be made by an established publishing house. Self-published books are not eligible for the Prize. ‘Established’ is here defined as a house which publishes a list of titles by a range of authors with ISBNs, sells them in pounds sterling, and distributes its books nationally through recognised booksellers and online retailers. For the avoidance of doubt, ‘established publishing house’ does not include print-on-demand services or publishers which publish titles via a commercial arrangement through which they are paid by the author.

It’s a shame that a prize which has prided itself historically on promoting what it perceived as a minority in the author community has decided to marginalize part of that self-same Continue reading

Pricing: less of a luxury, more of a chocolate bar

The most difficult step for allonymbooks in the process of independently publishing our novels has not been the writing, the editing, nor even going up to Kindle-reading strangers on the Tube and telling them about allonymbooks. It has been choosing the price at which to sell the novels.

Pricing of e-books is frequently in the news, from the lawsuit against Apple and leading publishers for colluding over prices, to the consequences of the RandomHouse/Penguin merger. There has been much speculation about what effect these factors might have on the market, and much continued grumbling among the readership about pricing of e-books in relation to their printed counterparts. As Waterstones are going to discover now they have engaged in the Kindle market, the business model is not only different, it has also been blown open by the wealth of independently published material now in circulation.

So here are some questions to consider. And probably precious few answers.

How much is too much?

An e-book is generally expected to cost less than its printed counterpart because it doesn’t require the physical resources of printing, distribution and retail handling, but the index of prices for print-published e-books has been broad and highly erratic. Some of that is caused by the pricing algorithms used by Amazon and Barnes and Noble, as articulately explained by Alex Marshall in a piece for Bloomberg. Some of that is also caused by print publishers themselves, who are clearly extremely uncertain about how much to discount the print price by. They can choose to fix the Amazon e-book price in a way that they cannot control the retailer print price, but it is frequently observed that Kindle versions of print-published books are often surprisingly expensive.

So what figure seems reasonable to pay? Let’s consider Hilary Mantel’s latest Booker Prize winning novel, Bringing Up the Bodies. On Amazon (UK) it is currently priced as follows: Print List Price £20.00; Kindle e-book price £9.99. The print list price is presumably based on the standard retail price of the hardback. £9.99 seems reasonable in relation to that, until you read on and discover that Amazon are selling the hardback for £8.86, and the paperback at a pre-order price of £6.89.  £9.99 for the e-book now looks very expensive, a price Continue reading

Calling a spade a spade?

” If you have a good story to tell and if you write it well, the Universe will come to your aid. Don’t self-publish. That’s as good as admitting you’re too lazy to do the hard work….taking the rejection, learning the lessons, and mastering the craft over a period of time….This is not an [sic] quick do-it-yourself home project. Self-publishing is a short cut….I compare self-publishing to a student managing to conquer Five Easy Pieces on the piano and then wondering if s/he’s ready to be booked into Carnegie Hall.” Sue Grafton interviewed for Louisvilleky.com (7th August 2012)

While  this quote from Sue Grafton will surely have many a temperature rising in indignation across the indie-publishing world, it raises a really critical question about the challenges faced by the electronic bookstore in terms of categorisation, not only of value and quality but also of genre. One of the factors I often come across as influential for indie-published authors is the opportunity to publish outside genres, across them or at minutely precise intersections of genres. Continue reading