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 →
Like many indie-publishing authors, allonymbooks was delighted to read Alison Flood’s blog last week in the Guardian newspaper, announcing that not only had she read her first self-published novel (Kerry Wilkinson’s first Jessica Daniel novel, Locked In), but that she was now looking for more. It is to her credit that she acknowledges some of her assumptions: that she was “expecting little”, that she expected the book had “only been through the filter of one person’s brain”, and that her instinct says that if a book is free, it probably isn’t much good. As readers of this blog will know, the issue of editing for content was discussed in a recent column, and it is a rather generalised preconception about the process of self-criticism that indie-publishing authors put themselves through.
Nonetheless, what cheers us is that the key points of Ms Flood’s blog were these. What is she going to read next from the indie-published realm? And how on earth is she to sift through the possibilities to settle on something that will be equally worth her time?
To begin with, her strategy is based on the Kindle free chart, which as she notes is a guide only to people reading the books, but not to their quality. But that too is of course a flawed assumption, as any reader of the Kindle self-publishing forums will know. The Amazon option to price your books for free from time to time is one that many authors employ simply to rocket their books up the chart and, as was noted two weeks ago on this blog, there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that a book that is downloaded is a book which is then read, Continue reading →
Another round up from the bookshelves of allonymbooks. This week some new reads and an old favourite.
Firstly, on the Kindle two lovely books by Alice Hoffman, The Ice Queen (UK, and US where it is apparently not available on Kindle) and The Red Garden (UK and US).
Hoffman is well known for infusing her novels with a magical realist quality, indeed many reviewers describe her novels as modern fairy tales. But while both of these novels are not in some senses magical realist at all, they are suffused with that feeling magical realism and fairy tales share, of a subtly distorted view of a familiar world, as though through very old glass. What Hoffman does so well in both of these novels is to draw on elements from the natural world (lightning, animals, gardens) which in another context would have the reader question whether what she was writing was ‘true’, but in these novels one believes everything she says, Continue reading →
Since our recent post about the decision by Waterstone’s to bring Kindles into their stores, allonymbooks has shed the writing pyjamas and dressed like a professional to hit the branches and find out what staff in-store have been told about the plans for promoting the Kindle and its content. Responses varied widely. In one large central London store the day before the launch, a staff member told me that managers were just that afternoon meeting to discuss fundamentals about the launch and store logistics for the product. He looked surprised and a bit baffled when asked what Waterstones might do to adapt their book review cards for direct-published Kindle books, and clearly the idea hadn’t occurred to him at all before it was mentioned. He nodded a lot, thought about it, took some allonymbooks promotional material and agreed to ask his managers about it.
Ten days later allonymbooks went to a much smaller London branch and tried again. The woman behind the counter was honest and direct. She explained that the chain is still fathoming out how it is going to put the Kindle dimension into practice via its website, and she thought that was going to be a huge job to accomplish before they could even begin to consider new ways to look at readership, or reading content. She was also friendly and interested and, having an e-reader herself, was curious about the writer’s experiences of e-publishing. But the net result was the same. Waterstone’s are not ready to capitalise on the situation they have created.
allonymbooks has also been covertly swooping through the forum-verse over the last few weeks, investigating how other ‘literary’ writers are reaching their audiences. A discussion on Amazon’s own KDP forums initiated by literaryladynyc entitled ‘Can self-published literary fiction ever be successful?’ gave promise of a fruitful discussion. But when our audiobook voiceover artist Kate Daubney posted suggesting literary novelists might join together to advance the cause of quality fiction on Kindle collectively, her suggestion was met with silence. The discussion meandered on regardless with concerns about how to measure quality, definitions of what constituted literary, whether there was an elitist aspect to literary fiction or its readership, and so on. But the Continue reading →
The dramatic story of the attack on California literary agent Pam van Hylckama Vlieg by an author whose manuscript she rejected shone a light once more on the complex relationship between authors and agents, particularly those who are not in business together. While this attack was clearly unacceptable, it is likely that many rejected authors would have understood in some way the frustration that burned inside this rejected author, whose actions took on a violent physical dimension. For it is rarely the response of a single agent turning down our books that brings us to our collective knees, but the cumulative effect of rejection after rejection.
Ms Vlieg was quoted after the incident by the Huffington Post as saying, “It’s hard to be rejected — just as it’s hard for agents to be rejected by publishers on the books we’ve acquired.” That latter hardship is arguably genuine, but where does it stem from? Is it from sharing the author’s personal disappointment that a book an agent genuinely admired has been rejected? Or is it that they regret that their market judgement was flawed in putting that book forward in the first place? When an agent has worked closely with an author on manuscript development in order to bring their expertise to bear on the content and style in order to make it as sellable as it can be, that ownership is feasible: one can see a grain of truth in the phrase agents often use with new authors, that they “absolutely love” their book, because they have a right to be proud of their part in its creation.
But to read, as many of us have, that an agent “just didn’t love your book enough to represent it” is a curious statement. Isn’t that like saying “Darling, I’m sure you’re terrific, but I just don’t love you Continue reading →
Once in a while, allonymbooks will round up some of the reading material that has been providing distraction from other (more lucrative) activities. The best of the magical realist novels will also go to the new webpage for the blog, drawing together a sort of ad hoc reference point for magical realist novels that don’t fall obviously into other genres. Suggestions for reading are always welcome.
This week on the Kindle:
Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch (Available at Amazon UK for Kindle and paperback and US apparently only in paperback as Midnight Riot)
This is a clever, fast-paced crime novel which might very precisely also be described as magical realism, if only because it juxtaposes very effectively the daily grind of the Metropolitan Police of London with a magical dimension in which extraordinary things occur. Our hero is Constable Peter Grant, whose brief interview with a ghostly witness to a murder results in him being apprenticed to a senior officer with magical insight and powers, within a Met that, at least at some quite senior levels, acknowledges the presence and influence of magic in the city. Aaronovitch weaves an almost geeky delight in the history of London, in this case focussing around the rivers that flow through it, with a clever plot that draws out very realistic aspects of Continue reading →
With the new season of ITV’s Downton Abbey beginning any day now, thoughts here at allonymbooks recently turned to the popularity of all things Edwardian, not least because both Evie Woolmore‘s novel Equilibrium and our soon-to-be-published Young Adult saga The Strattons by Flora Chase are set in that era. With the BBC’s current stunning adaptation of Ford Madox Ford’s Parade’s End continuing the trend, albeit from a darker, more intense perspective, we asked Evie and Flora to discuss why they chose the period to set their books, and what they think makes it so interesting to contemporary audiences. Continue reading →
This week’s blog is the first of a series by allonymbooks author Evie Woolmore. You can find out more about her novels on the Evie Woolmore page.
I’m quite a fan of the Guardian Book Club, a virtual and real book club for readers of the (British) Guardian newspaper. Run by John Mullan, a professor of English at a leading London university, the club engages both authors and readers in dialogue about recent and older novels, culminating in an interview with an author in front of a live audience. So it was really interesting to me to hear the best-selling author Robert Harris say, “I enjoy recreating the concrete details of a society or a city or a country or a structure and then playing around with it. I’ve no taste at all for fantasy, or for magic realism. That’s garlic to a vampire as far as I’m concerned.” Continue reading →
” 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 →