This week Evie Woolmore posts her first round of reviews of indie-published books. Continue reading
Tag Archives: novels
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
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
Indie Book Review Sites (1)
As part of our quest to promote allonymbooks‘ novels to a wider readership, and as part of engaging in The Guardian’s quest to find independently published books for review, this week’s blog surveys some of the organisations and websites which offer a quality review process. Definitions of quality in the review are naturally dependent on the quality of the reviewer as much as the book, and a review generally says as much about the person reviewing as it does the subject of the review. But in this context, a quality review process is independent, generates a review of reasonable length and depth, and has no requirement for payment in exchange. Like independent publishing itself, the review process is a work in progress, but here are some suggestions of good places to find reviews of independently published books. Rather than cover ground already covered for alternative and science fiction by Dan Holloway in his Guardian blog, here are some sites which focus on other genres.
The HNS has been in existence for around 15 years, having been set up initially in the hope of reviving interest in what was perceived at the time as a declining historical genre. The Society publishes a printed review magazine, The Historical Novels Review, and its website includes all its more recent print and online reviews, including an Indie section, which is expressly for ‘electronically-published, subsidy-published or self-published historical novels’ where ‘historical’ refers to a setting that is at least 50 years in the past. Reviews of indie books are made on the basis of selection by a dedicated editorial staff and their reviewers are drawn from their membership, of authors and readers of historical fiction. Submitting an indie book for review is very straightforward – fill out a form of information about the book, and await a response from the editorial team who will contact you if they want to review your book. The reviews Continue reading
Equilibrium by Evie Woolmore: an epitomising epigraph
This week, allonymbooks author Evie Woolmore discusses the background to her novel Equilibrium.
After reading the comments which followed Dan Holloway’s recent discussion of effective ways to promote independently published novels, where it was suggested that authors could use the first 100 words of their books as a promotional tool, I considered using this blog entry to explore this approach. So here they are, around one hundred words from the start of my novel Equilibrium.
May 1903. There is surely no more fitting place for a disgraced housemaid to take her life than on the hidden stairs that slide beneath the Wapping wharves into the Thames. Out of sight they plunge into the lower reaches of the river, flights of stone and wood that at low tide lead to quiet shores but, when the business of the river is in full flow, pass utterly unseen beneath significant exchanges played out on grand piles above. The tide is on the turn but Martha cannot see that in the darkness. What she sees is the detritus of a day’s unloading as it smacks and scrapes in waves against the warehouse walls…
But then it occurred to me that if an effective sample is intended to provide a good flavour of the book, then is it really possible to do that with just the first 100 words? Or any 100 words? After all, did you ever see a film trailer that only showed the title sequence? Did you ever go into a bookshop and just read the first paragraph of a book before buying it?
One solution could be to bring together several 100 word extracts from throughout the book – perhaps half a dozen – rather in the style of a trailer, though hopefully not a selection that either leaves you not bothering to go on to read the book, or leaves you knowing how it ends. But as I was leafing through the 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
Guardian Books: A step in the right direction
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
Reading instead of writing (2): on the bookshelf @allonymbooks
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
A paradox of independent publishing?
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
Is the (self-)Editor dead? Not here, she isn’t
“As an aspiring novelist and current student of an MA in creative writing, I dream of working with an editor. Not just any old editor but one assigned to me by a publishing house. For me, this is the holy grail of writing. That’s why I’m against self-publishing a book. I feel it circumvents the real business of writing, which is editing. Any writer worth their salt knows that a book goes through several drafts before it’s fit to be read.” Tasha Smith’s blog ‘Is the Editor dead?’ in the Huffington Post
The quality of editing in contemporary fiction has reportedly been in decline for some years, and a New York Times article as long ago as 1998 bewailed the knock-on effects of the massive increasing commercial pressures on editorial staff in the major publishing houses. Not only were publishing house editors failing to find sufficient time to devote to the activity of scrutinising a manuscript for mistakes, inaccuracies and typographical errors, but they were also unable to devote the time to being what the NY Times described as the author’s “romantic ideal of an editor as a confessor and critic”. Increasingly, the article described, authors were proactively employing their own editors not only to help identify mistakes, but also to shape manuscripts to prevent rejection or cancellation. Now, there may be a confusion here between activities more traditionally associated with proof-reading (typos, poor grammar, accuracy) and more stylistic attention to flow, pacing, unnecessary elaboration and so on, but it is the notion of the editor as critic which stands out.
Two years ago, Salman Rushdie publicly criticised JK Rowling’s editors for not being more ruthless in the fashioning of her longer Harry Potter books, saying “editors let J.K. get away with too much because no one wants to challenge the ‘goose that lays the golden eggs….The long books started to have long passages that any editor would normally have the courage to cut'”. What is being suggested here? That Rowling’s books would somehow have been less commercially appealing had they been ruthlessly edited for length and her detailed descriptive style? That Rowling’s literal Continue reading