A million pounds or a million readers?

A genie offers a writer a choice.  Would they rather have a million pounds, or a million people read their first book but for no money at all?

It’s an interesting question.  Do we write to be able to keep writing, or do we write because we want to share the story?

To write solely for financial security is a mugs game.

If you have faith in your book, a million people reading it will produce enthusiasts.  Say 5% of people who read it become fans. (By which I mean only someone who is super likely to buy your next book.)  50,000 fans is an excellent base for a career, you might become established.

Conversely, a million pounds frees you to do only that work you want to do.

Of course, in the real world you are not offered this choice.

This was prompted by news that my publisher has remaindered some of my paperbacks to The Works, a company which runs 450 discount shops across the country.  You can currently buy a copy of Our Child of the Stars at £2, less than a coffee.  Three books for a fiver.

It’s a common sense move to shift copies you won’t sell otherwise. I hope the Works sell all these copies to build fans of my work.

Many people think this is the devil, and that my publisher should burn unsold copies in their furnaces. Many book people want to go back to prices fixed by the publisher.  Another debate for another time.

When you look behind this, there are other considerations.

For example, WH Smiths, the Works, and the supermarkets can reach people who rarely use bookshops.

Please share, follow, or whatever

One Year On: The joy of PLR

Wall of books in library
Library: Courtesy zaini izzuddin unsplash

One of the little joys of authorhood is seeing your book in a library, and thinking of people taking it out. It’s also a good retort for those of your friends too mean to buy it. ‘Go to the library.’

I’m a fan of libraries. As a kid, my parents showed me the local library and for years I walked five old books back and took five new books out each Saturday.  I was also tall for my age and allowed free range into the adult section rather too early.  I couldn’t tell you everything I read, the SF selection tended to be collections, and a lot of Andre Norton. Peter Dickinson’s weird fantasy about a UK with apartheid against green skinned Celts.  I’m not sure I remember much fantasy but there were some classics.  (Our school library was also rather good.)

To be a writer is to approve of reading, and to believe that  access to books is a good thing.  But also, authors need to eat.

So the PLR scheme (like a number across Europe) pays each author the princely sum of 9p every time one of their books is taken out.  What is more interesting is that it gives a rough idea of how many people borrowed your book – in the relevant period, around 500.

(I thought every book in every library was connected. In fact, they check a sample and scale up which makes sense.)

500 readers. And a little something in the bank next month. And yay for libraries.

Please share, follow, or whatever

One Year On: Is Our Child a Fantasy?

The British Fantasy Society just reviewed Our Child of the Stars warmly.  I wrote it in part as a love letter to science fiction, but also to fiction in general. I really want to bring in a broad audience, and certainly the audience has been broad, if not vast.

I spent a lot of time worrying about whether I would manage to alienate both SF readers and general readers.  But I had considered less the SF v fantasy argument.  The marvellous pair Sue Tingey and Juliet McKenna who blurbed my books, and in Juliet’s case reviewed it for SF magazine Interzone, are fantasy writers.

Many people like both, and most people accept the boundaries are a matter of opinion. Attempts to produce rigorous definitions flounder, in part because some things like time travel machines and faster than light travel are not currently believed possible but look ‘sciencey’ enough to pass.

Ray Bradbury’s books are full of things which include star ships, Mars colonies, and time travel.  Yet he claimed that all his work was fantasy except Fahrenheit 451.  I’m amused to see genre powerhouse Forbidden Planet list Our Child of the Stars as fantasy, and I can see their point.

I think some of our choices are based on the aesthetic.  Bradbury’s dreamy prose, and limited interest in the nuts and bolts, makes his work more like a fantasy.

Stories exist.  Genres are helpful, by hinting what the ground rules are, and when to shelve it.

Please share, follow, or whatever

One Year On: Still Being Reviewed!

So a week and a year since the e-book first hit the aether and Our Child of the Stars still gets reviews.

A brilliant one on the British Fantasy Society website.

 

‘A heartwarming tale of love, loss and unity set in late 1960’s mid-town America’

The book may not bring peace among the nations but it is an interesting example of a book liked by science fiction fans and fantasy fans alike, as well as non-genre readers too.

 

Please share, follow, or whatever

The Birth of a Bookshop

Written for the ever-active Palmers Green Community blog…

The All Good Bookshop has opened in funky Blue House Yard, a couple of minutes walk from Wood Green Station.

In a few short months, the community rallied round to create this new bookshop for the area. It will be a cooperative, employing Tim West, one of the two men behind the famous Big Green Bookshop. They are seeking people to join the co-op, support, ideas, and customers. And they have ambitious plans.

A great bookshop is more than somewhere that sells books. A great bookshop adds to its community…

https://www.palmersgreencommunity.org.uk/pgc/newsmobile/2291-celebrating-the-all-good-bookshop

 

 

Please share, follow, or whatever

Our Child of the Stars in New Zealand

A lovely group of people called the Bookfairies have been leaving wrapped copies of the book in various places in New Zealand.

This one is from Hamilton and I think must be one of the furthest sightings of the book…

 

Please share, follow, or whatever

Why do I have to wait for the paperback?

 

A friend doesn’t understand the logic behind issuing the hardback, e-book, and paperback in the way publishers do.  She points to all the successful reviews and publicity at the start of the year, then says – will people remember that when the paperback comes out, say eight months later?

Here’s my thoughts.

The book trade is dealing with the effects of various changes

  • Discounting – supermarkets, Amazon, and discount specialists sell books at very low prices
  • The growth of the e-book (sales may have slowed a bit depending on who you believe – still massive)
  • Audiobooks are growing fast
  • Bookshops on the high street suffer the same pressures everyone else does – high rents and combating online retailers (who sometimes dodge taxes)
  • Book piracy, which is stealing.
  • And there is just more interesting content viewable at home than there was

A big publisher must try to juggle different markets.  For some genres, hardbacks are still more likely to be reviewed in print media, and there is a market for big beautiful object books. And the hardback is to some extent the flagship product physical bookshops try to sell. Yet, those who read e-books are likely to read early and to review online.

I’ve seen pundits argue we need to make people see buying physical books is ‘best’.  (Financially for authors, that’s a moot point.)  Most authors of physical books need buy-in from local shops to get visibility.

I’ve seen other pundits argue we should publish the paperback soon after the hardback, riding on its coattails to build a larger market in size for authors.  They argue a bigger push on paperbacks would allow middling authors to reach more readers and more sustainable income.

(Fun fact: With professional authors, on average their writing is only 20% of their household income- ALCS 2019)

I don’t have a simple answer for what strategy publishers should follow.  What I do propose is to let fans of the book know how they can help in the run-up to paperback publication.  Sub to my newsletter or follow me on Twitter etc!!

(Pix annie spratt, Unsplash)

Please share, follow, or whatever

Talk at Quaker Book Centre

There is a long unedited video of me talking to a friendly crew at Friends House in the Euston Rd.   Part one here  It is on Facebook (search for @quakercentre.)   Good event, but we could have covered so much more!

 

Please share, follow, or whatever

Second helpings: the marvel of sequels

Many great books have great sequels, some even surpassing the first book. Yet the debut author faced with a sequel faces some special issues.

The first book may have taken five years to write and a year to edit. The publisher will want to see the sequel within a year. Building on the audience is key – the book must build on what made fans of The First One like it, but not be a mere reheating. Certainly, it needs to be bigger, bolder… Widening it to reach new fans may annoy the existing ones. Fewer people will review the second, and they may have less compunction about being critical.

Sequels can be close or distant. Close sequels flow easily one to another. The Lord of the Rings was written as one book, divided into three by the publisher. Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun follows the same protagonist through his quest with little gaps between books.  Or, sequels can be more distant.  Ursula Le Guin’s second Earthsea book, the Tombs of Atuan, starts in a different country with a different protagonist.  Ged, hero of the first book, turns up half-way through as a foreign prisoner.  In an extreme case, Adrian Selby asked to write another book in his Snakewood world chose to write one set two hundred years before, explaining the origins of a legendary figure in the first one.

Admiring Selby’s gall, there was never much choice for me.  People who wanted to read a sequel universally want to know what happens to Gene, Molly and Cory, in the very different situation facing them after the first book.  And I knew what that was, so I’m happily writing that.

Please share, follow, or whatever

Reading 16 April, Friends House, Euston Rd, London

Please share, follow, or whatever