Digital imprints: the apple falls close to the tree?

Earlier this week, over breakfast with a well-respected American sportswriter and journalist, allonymbooks met someone else who ‘writes fiction in their spare time’. This journalist has been chewing over ideas for a series of mystery novels based on his long and intriguing career in television and newspapers, and asked allonymbooks for their advice on entering the e-book market. A recent article in WiReD by Graeme McMillan sprang to mind, for its reminder that print publishers never stray far from what they know.

In his article, McMillan drew attention to the growing interest print publishers have in certain segments of the e-book market. Random House and HarperCollins have recently launched or announced e-book imprints focussing on very specific generic branding including scifi, mystery, romance and ‘adult’. RH’s VP Alison Dobson suggests that audiences who have made the move to e-readers want different things from their reading experience than those who read print copies, and that ‘difference’ centres around genre fiction in particular. Likewise her opposite number at HC, Liate Stehlik, agrees to some extent, claiming that people who read a lot of genre fiction were quick to pick up the e-book format because they are voracious readers, “reading for entertainment, reading multiple books in a month across multiple genres.” Continue reading

Indie Publishing: A Study in Modern Manners?

One of the themes of Evie Woolmore’s novel Equilibrium is the breaking down of boundaries, particularly social ones. In the novel, whose Edwardian setting reflects the very great tension between the public and the private, not only does Martha masquerade publicly in very few clothes as an inviting spirit from the other world, but the spirits themselves abandon appropriate privacies to speak their secrets directly. More than one character ‘says something they shouldn’t’ and the blurring of upstairs and downstairs, the movement of protagonists between front of house and back and between class environments fragments the natural order, and the proper codes of behaviour.

In an era of social media, we are constantly examining and questioning what those codes are, and in a climate of free speech and the ubiquitous mobile phone, the concept of privacy seems increasingly fragile. We know the details of countless strangers’ private lives, we could see the Duchess of Cambridge’s baby bump if we chose, and we can watch Oscar Pistorius cry in court. But the column this week is going to discuss three instances of how fragmentation of definitions of ‘appropriate behaviour’ has impacted indie publishing.

Twitter is constantly under scrutiny for the role it plays in freedom of speech, but an aspect of it which has become Continue reading

Never judge a book… by a cover you can’t remember?

What was the last book you read on your Kindle? And the one before that?

Now, without looking at either your Kindle or Amazon, what do you remember about the covers? Did you even look at the cover again once you’d downloaded it?

On a train the other day, two friends were overheard discussing what they had read during Christmas. One could not remember the title or the author of one particular novel, though they gave a very compelling description of it which made both the other friend and this eavesdropper want to read it.

“Are you sure you can’t remember what it’s called?” the friend asked. “Tell me what the cover looks like and then I can look on the tables at Waterstones.”

“Oh,” replied the reader. “I don’t think I even saw the cover. I downloaded it to my Kindle.”

Those advising indie authors in the blogosphere frequently stress the importance of ‘professionally designed’ covers in marketing a book, suggesting indie authors compare theirs with those of high-selling print-published books in their genre, and there are both awards for good covers in the online indie community. Yet while it is very common that as readers we use the way a book looks to assess its genre, content, style and potential for quality, the conversation above implies that while this Continue reading

The Story So Far…

The last few months since the first allonymbooks blog was published has been a period of slow but distinctive change in the arena of independently published books. British book chain Waterstones have embraced the technological shifts by stocking Kindles in their stores, though still show no sign of having the capacity to embrace the indie book market. A leading British newspaper, The Guardian, has begun to publish reviews of indie books, though some work is still to be done by them to define how they can most effectively explore that category of published material without getting ensnared in some preconceptions about the quality and content of the books they will be reviewing.

And allonymbooks has become part of an ever-expanding debate about quality, process, benefits, pricing and promotion of indie books, joining with other authors to challenge assumptions about how these books and their authors should be received and considered by the readership and the publishing marketplace.

So what have we learned?

All fur coat and no undergarments?

A non-publishing acquaintance said the other day they were in awe of how much wordage allonymbooks had generated in the process of publishing and promoting Evie Woolmore’s books. On the contrary, however, in terms of the unfettered stream of tweets and posts emitted by other authors, allonymbooks has been rather mute in comparison, Continue reading

James Daunt, are you ready for the indie authors?

The announcement by James Daunt, the Managing Director of the UK’s largest bookshop chain, Waterstone’s (sorry, but I am an apostrophe pedant), that he would be stocking Kindles in his stores from 25 October has already been met with outrage, confusion, acclaim and criticism by the reading, publishing and business communities. Mr Daunt’s decision may seem to sound a deathknell for the printed book – indeed, he is quoted as saying “Do we have an awful lot of books in our shops that don’t frankly sell?…Yes, and they actually shouldn’t be there. I do think the shops will have less books, but they will remain absolutely first and foremost physical bookshops.” – but this blog considers what options are open to Mr Daunt in embracing the world of independent publishers and their novels.

As the arrangement has thus far been described, one of the key additional services that Waterstones will provide is the ability for shop visitors to browse recommendations made by the shop’s staff, just as they do now, but on Kindles as well as in print. As Daunt puts it, “You are in a bookshop, you can pick up any of these books – you haven’t bought them yet – you can browse them. Until you leave the shop you don’t have to pay for them, and that same principle should apply to a physical device as well as a digital e-book.”

What isn’t clear is whether this browsing will be made available via the standard Kindle sampling technique as it stands on Amazon at the moment or whether, as many of us have done, you will be able to flick right through the book, possibly even to the end, engaging in a compact but complete browse-reading experience. Waterstone’s are doing what they can to enhance the experience of the shop as an environment in which to enjoy the experience of reading as well as shopping, by introducing more seats and the cafés, but what will they do to embrace, manage and promote the far greater sphere of published material available on Kindle as opposed to in print?

If Waterstone’s have made a truly open arrangement with Amazon in terms of allowing access to all their stock, then one strategy for independent publishers would seem to be to approach the Marketing Department at Waterstone’s, or indeed individual stores and store managers, just as publishing houses have done for years. There have been myths and tales long told of how much it Continue reading

A matter of point of view: experiencing agent rejection

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

Pseudonym, allonym, anonym, username…

allonymbooks posted last week on The Guardian‘s new ‘Authors, tell us about your work!‘ page, and was interested to see that a debate had begun over whether it was appropriate for individuals who don’t normally post comments to The Guardian‘s pages to sign up simply to promote their novels. Contributor kushti had said, ‘Oh my, what a lot of writers have appeared on this site all of a sudden. I shall continue to stick with my policy of keeping to my secret identity and not promoting my books here, but thanks for the offer and good luck all.’ Contributor R042 observed, ‘This is where clicking on peoples’ [sic] usernames is useful; it tells apart those who registered to use this forum, and those who already contribute regularly to the site on subjects other than their own work.’

There are echoes here of the awkwardness I discussed in an earlier blog about self-promotion, but also of a somewhat more critical position I am becoming increasingly aware of as I trample through the ether: that the more blatant and frequent self-promotion that swoops on any and all opportunities on the internet and social media is considered crass by some authors who are choosing their opportunities more selectively. What can be interpreted from the comments above is that a pre-existing presence in the Guardian’s online community is a pre-requisite for being taken seriously when you promote your novel on that page. This implied equation of ongoing contribution being a function of value and credibility is common in other places – the UK Amazon Kindle Forum on Goodreads is a very cheerful place to talk about books, and is very welcoming of indie authors, but the moderators are clear that it is preferred that authors do not just “drop a promo and run”.

This ties in inevitably to the recent ‘sock-puppet‘ revelation concerning RJ Ellory’s penning of complimentary Amazon reviews about his own work and less generous ones about others and it proves, if nothing else, that the internet is a Continue reading