Monday, May 21, 2018

A Review: Reapers are the Angels

Below I re-post a review for a book I read some years ago. Though my opinion of the story was mixed, it remains on my shelves and something about the tail must have resonated because I remember it well. Once, Vampires were the beloved creatures to terrorise us and seduce us, whether in their seductive forms or by revealing their more parasitic natures as preferred by writers like Stephen King. For the last several years zombies have become the new vampires in the popularity poles and it’s likely easy to see why. Most horror favourites associate with current events.

Vampires were popularised by Hammer Horror and such notaries like Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing when the sixties liberation, and cultural changes were rife. Woman, in particular, had more sexual freedom, which was one attributing factor which helped path a way for their social independence, and vampires represent not only the stalking horror but, in much the same way as dancing is often declared a vertical expression of a more horizontal performance, vampires have for so long associated with seduction and the thought of living forever, possibly with the one we love.

Zombies have gained popularity during a time where terrorism is rife, and much of the world seems ever more out of control. The popular monsters of the hour are an analogy for the genuine ‘monstrum’ of reality.

In THE REAPERS ARE THE ANGELS by Alden Bell we invited into the story of a fifteen-year-old teenager called Temple and her journey across America where she encounters other survivors of a post-apocalyptic zombie outbreak. Temple has never known a world any different — the outbreak happened so long ago there are people born after the disaster. The slugs, as she calls them, still inhabit the earth, but the art of existing in a world of zombies is only one small step on the road to survival. Constantly running from responsibility, preferring to be alone, and accountable for and only to herself in a brutal world, Temple stumbles across others who affect her life in myriad ways. Some she struggles to leave and doesn't always succeed.

I liked this book but didn’t love it even though I wanted to. The Young Adult tone categorised this book for teenagers, but raised even one of my eyebrows at a fifteen-year-old girl having sex. Fine, these things happen, and should zombies ever roam then perhaps we won’t concern ourselves with such things too greatly, but in a book whose tone seems to fit younger readers the content seemed a little off-key. Either that or it is aimed at an older or more diverse readership, yet doesn’t come across that way. Don't mistake me — if underage sex makes sense and is a necessary part of the story then I don't feel it should necessarily be avoided, and at least it's well presented and used acceptably, not gratuitously; however, the fact the writer got this by the publishing censors surprised me. Another problem is that some confrontations are predictable although there were a few unexpected turns.

My main issues with the book, though, involve grammar and style. The story uses an omniscient voice that led it to feel as if I was sitting down being told Temple’s adventure by someone sitting around a campfire. Unfortunately, it left me somewhat cold as if the fire wasn’t lit. I can also forgive the use of ‘of’ in place of ‘have’ in speech (as in “I could of left yesterday”) but not in narration. And last, there are no speech marks. Not a single one. The entire book is ‘told’ including all the conversations. I’ll be the first to say it’s nice to find a writer pushing barriers and breaking rules, but I could see no need to avoid the use of speech marks, particularly if this book is YA, which surely calls for the best use of punctuation and grammar. I can only give the book a three, maybe three and a half out of five. It’s not bad — it just rather perplexed me. I can see many will love this story, but for me the style never quite gelled.

Despite these faults, as I’ve already stated, it’s a book I remember and haven’t yet given away. Alden Bell appears to have written only one other novel, Exit Kingdom, which I may check out.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Why buy direct?

On a weekend when I'm removing a selection of books owing to the publisher closing, a post on book sales is timely.

Sales are down. Not just my sales. Author sales. Book sales. There's been many recent reports revealing the average income for a writer to be low. This one from the Guardian dated 2016 reports British authors' annual income below minimum wage. For many it's much lower, and nothing has improved. Dear Reader, if you thought writers were in this for the money, you're mistaken.

What can help is in-house sales, but they are down the most. Print books tend to go out to distribution, a.k.a. shops. I'll be simplifying here so figures will not be accurate but to provide a basic idea, let's say the author gets a usual 7-10% on a print book. Often that's not even on the cover price; not unless sold through the publisher. (Don't forget possible taxes but that's another subject I won't throw into the equation for this post.)

As a rough example, let's say we're walking into a high street shop that sells printed books. In my imaginary store I'm setting the cover price of all the paperbacks at a cosy £5. Now if the shop takes £2 of a book's cover price of £5, this means the profit (£3) shared by the publisher and writer is 90% to the publisher and 10% to the author. My maths may not be wonderful, but even I can say that's £2.70 and 30p respectively.

To many this likely sounds like a lot less per book than they were expecting, but what if we're talking about an £18 hardback? These figures get a lot larger as does the discrepancy between them.

If my father were alive, he would say a million x 30p is a lot of money but he was under the mistaken assumption authors automatically sell books in these kinds of numbers. In reality, many books never sell more than 500 copies or fewer.

I'm not saying don't buy from bookshops. I'm saying do. I'm one of those who hates the disappearance of the high street bookshop, and these shops may well take £6 (often more) of an £18 book, but they have heavier overheads and can't discount the same way as supermarket chains.

Electronic books tend to earn the writer a larger cut, anything from 25 to 50% is average with some markets. For our purposes, let's set the author's cut at the highest end of the scale at 50%.

If sold in-house this means on a £5 e-book the writer and publisher split the price so a nice £2.50 each. A big difference for the writer, though maybe not so great for the publisher, but, don't forget, on a lower percentage, the split might be £1.25 to the writer and £3.75 to the publisher. A big difference to both. Still, don't overlook the fact, if electronic books are sent out via a distributor the company will still take their cut the same as any bookstore would, and this can vary tremendously.

On an e-book the online retailer may take 35% or more. £5 - 35% = £3.25. Divided by 2 = £1.60 each to the writer and publisher. Right away both parties have lost 90p profit on a book had it sold in-house.

If the percentage taken by the retailer is higher, the potential 'loss' on the cover price to the writer AND the publisher can spell disaster, particularly when you take tax and other expenses into account. I know I said I wouldn't mention those, and I won't, but I will add books sold abroad will also be subject to the potential loss of earnings based on the exchange rate. For me, a book sold in dollars has on occasion suffered another hefty 50% chop on exchange.

In that scenario, you've got 100% minus 35% to the distributor, equals 65% divided 50/50 between writer and publisher, equals 32.5% to each, minus the exchange means my 50% is down to 19 to or 16% of the cover price.

Switching dollars over to pounds to make this more accessible: $5 - 35% = $3.25 divided by 50% = approximately $1.62 each to the publisher and writer, with a 40 to 50% lost on exchange = 97p to 81p earned by the author on say 500 copies means the writer may earn approximately £400 on one title or less. Divide that by the amount of man hours put in to write the book let alone go through the editing process and the hourly rate is pitiful.

To those who say e-books cost nothing to produce, they are wrong. To those who question why many writers at least consider 'going it alone' (not without its problems) there are reasons I'll address another time.

Almost all e-book sales going to a certain one-click online retailer is putting publishers out of business. Buying direct helps keeps these publishers and writers afloat.

And here is where it becomes necessary to point out to anyone who owns a reader suitable files are available direct from most publishers now for all types of readers and tablets, and you receive the actual 'file' rather than rent it. Please bear this in mind next time you reach for your reader and buy with a 'click' because sales are down and in-house sales the most. This is why yet another publisher of mine is closing and many other mid-range publishers have closed or are set to. For many, in-house sales are a sweet memory of a better past.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Dragon #1

I make no secret about the fact I love dragons and own a few. Some would say more than few but they fill only one cabinet so it's far less than I could own if I let myself buy every one that caught my eye. Buying dragons began a while back. If I saw one that 'spoke to me', as such objects do, while on holiday in the UK I would bring take it home with me. In that respect my dragon collection has taken many years and hasn't grown all that fast. I bought another the other day, people cried out to see it, and so I decided to share the occasional post featuring my dragons.

There isn't much of a story to go with this one except it's a garden ornament I have no intention of putting in the garden. It's metal and no matter how many years it's designed to last, invariably the elements will wear it down. I'll set him by a window in the hope the light will work but, if it doesn't, I didn't buy it for the light. I loved the colours. When my other half first saw this his words were, "Is that a garden ornament?" to which I replied yes. "I wouldn't put that in the garden," he said so there is some method to my madness.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Not so Warm Bodies

The other week I read a post by Isaac Marion. He’s the author of the best-selling WARM BODIES, made into a film. He’s a success. A writer who has ‘made it’ in the world of the book industry, right? With a film (somewhat based) on one of his books, how could he not? Alas, being a writer is rarely that simple.

As I had already discovered, Warm Bodies is now the first in a trilogy. I read the second title, THE BURNING WORLD, this year after discovering its existence. I include my thoughts on both books below but what I didn’t know until more recently is that the third title, THE LIVING, is burning a hole in Isaac Marion’s hard drive, the author having finished it almost a year ago.

Although the first book was on the NYT bestseller list, book 2 hasn’t done so well, and, unless it does, there may be a no go on the third title. If it comes to that, I can only hope the author will find another publisher or go the route so many writers have to and self-publish (if contracts allow, mind). I won’t go into the pros and cons of that in this blog but I’m using it to illustrate one of the many reasons ‘why’ authors turn to self-publishing and why the perception that indie is purely amateur hour is false.

Not everything is as elementary as writers or readers would like to believe. This is a perfect example of the struggle writers face, of how ‘every’ book is as good as starting from scratch. Akin to an actor reading for a role, writers audition every time they submit a manuscript, and, if expectations aren’t met, the writer may have to climb a proverbial ladder again even if they’ve notched up a bestseller on any of the rungs close to the top.

That’s the truth, a simple, not-so-pretty fact about publishing. Unless the writer is a huge, well-known, consistently best-selling name (brand) often seen in the top 10, their next title will not automatically get snapped up. Even if under contract ‘to be published’ it may get pushed back or off a publisher’s list and, depending on the contract clauses, end up in limbo with the writer in purgatory. And I've known more than one writer to be in this position.

One thing I have to add is that I hadn’t heard a thing about the release of the second book or that even one existed. This leads into one of the biggest battles writers deal with every day — the need for marketing, something too often left to writers in the present climate. Most publishers do not have huge marketing budgets; many have none. Writers have even less but the expectation falls on them to get the word out. I only came across the second title because the question, ‘I wonder whether Isaac has written anything else’ popped into my head.

As to those books: I first read Warm Bodies about 4 years ago. With my hands on the novella prequel and the novel sequel I dipped in again. First, a word on the film of the book. It's not bad, but it uses the more humourous parts to convey the author's much more visceral idea in a too-light way. When I first saw trailers I imagined the book to be a Young Adult 'popcorn' story, a jokey hoot. Do yourself a favour; if you've seen the film, regardless of whether you liked it, DO read the book. It's a decidedly different experience.

With the characters of 'R' and Julie, the setting is a modern twist on Romeo and Juliet set in a dystopian future where zombies outnumber the living. Even many of the survivors seem dead inside, imprisoned as they are behind their safety barriers. Like many zombie books this is a story that questions and reflects society, but in a skillful way. An unexpected read the first time around, and no less pleasurable the second. The book contains threads of something dark and disturbing, yet enlightening, will speak to some people though not all; I hope it speaks to many. This is not a gory horror novel, not a teen rom-com spoof. Hidden within its pages the tale celebrates life in all its messiness. The story is a metaphor for so many things, the state of the world, the meaning of life, civilisation out of control. It imparts the essence of almost every zombie story and life itself. It's a book about living.

Where Warm Bodies stopped, the Burning World continues, and the story seems to speak on a wider basis reflecting society, the way we view authority and vice versa, the way countries are run. Maybe because Warm Bodies felt like a complete read I didn't enjoy this as much, which isn't to say I disliked it. It's definitely a worthwhile read, earns maybe one star less than the full score of the first title. I'll be interested to see where the author is going with this series. Warm Bodies is a book about living. The Burning World reflects more on ‘how we live’, on the quirks of society and how it's governed.

If you read Warm Bodies and are interested in following further chapters in R’s world then it’ll be worthwhile to help Isaac out by buying The Burning World (and no, I do not personally know the author before anyone asks, but I loved the first book, enjoyed the second, and long for the third).

Monday, March 05, 2018

Look out, he's behind you!

It’s just as well only my husband is present during our recent binge ‘catch-up’ watch of The Walking Dead. Like a participant in Gogglebox — a show that invites the audience to watch people watching television (though I’ve only seen adverts for it, some reactions can be to great comic effect) — I’m not a silent viewer.

This is a trait that once drove my relatives to gritting their teeth with irritation, much as I do when an inconsiderate cinema-goer persists on talking during a film, or won’t put their phone away. I appreciate the frustration; however, in the cinema I restrict myself to a few gasps or loud laughter when appropriate. It’s an entirely different experience with an unspoken rule of no talking. I’ve paid a ticket and want to be submersed. I have never, unlike when a grandmother of mine went to the cinema, made not only a public faux pas, but done so twice in the time it took to run through a single showing.

The film was The Time Machine, the classic version starring Rod Taylor made in 1960. She went with her husband and her adult children, and they arrived just as the film started. Although only the opening credits were rolling, my nan, intent on not missing a minute, gaze glued to the screen, fumbled her way along a line of people already seated. I heard the story of how she stopped one seat short of her own chair and plopped herself down on a bald man’s lap. I’m unsure as to the significance of his being bald other than that being the way she forever thereafter described him amidst general hilarity, but I am confident he was as surprised as she. My nan made everyone switch seats so she could sit as far away from him as possible and then sat hidden and, she hoped, forgotten in the darkness...

Until the moment when ‘George’ makes his way into the Morlock cave and we see their gleaming eyes. While the hero tries to creep around and the Morlocks brace to launch an attack, my grandmother gasped, put her hands to her face and shouted out, “Watch out, he’s behind you!” The cinema audience on this occasion met my nan's outburst with a round of laughter adding to the collective enjoyment.

I once worked with a woman who never understood this. When I referred to laughing or crying over stories — viewed or read — she always shook her head. Strange from someone who read all the time and professed to be a bookworm.

“But...but...but…” I stuttered, “how can you not cry over a sad scene?”

“But it’s not real,” she said.

As one who understands that stories are our way of examining and learning how to deal with reality, I beg to differ. As someone who has had to put a book down in a crowded train carriage owing to the risk of a tear or two escaping among strangers with no easy-to-explain reason, I fail to understand this lack of emotional attachment. Thrill seekers get on roller coasters looking for that up and down ride of a lifetime; book lovers take more tight turns and steep slopes lasting far longer than your average amusement park ride. Our pulses speed up, our stomachs grow tight, our throats close, we cry, and scream, and shout...with anger, with pain, with frustration, and with joy. Even when it hurts, we consider ourselves lucky.

Watching a beloved character's harrowing death the other night (even though through reading the graphic novel I had a sense of what was coming), make no mistake, I was vocal about it. Feel free to share whether you experience a story without emotion or find it next to impossible not to laugh when something is funny, cheer when the outcome is good, or scream when it’s the end you were dreading.

Monday, January 29, 2018

A Very Private Haunting

Shipping soon, what Candy Jar call my 'spooky opener' for series five. Yeah, I guess it is. Even when a foray into the world of Lethbridge-Stewart I couldn't help that dark side peaking out.

Get your orders in for this limited edition (with extended short story) before it sells out!

A Very Private Haunting sees Arthur Penrose finally take ownership of a Scottish manor house that's been in his family for generations. There are many secrets in the house, but what connects them to the mysterious shadow creatures that Lethbridge-Stewart and his men are investigating?
 

For a reduced price you can receive the following three books before general release in 2018:

A Very Private Haunting by Sharon Bidwell
The New Unusual by Adrian Sherlock & Andy Frankham-Allen
The Man from Yesterday by Nick Walters

Monday, January 08, 2018

Want to play Chicken?

Living in the countryside is not all joy. One thing I've had to come to terms with is the degree of roadkill, most of which are pheasants. Trust me, they are not the brightest of creatures. A friend once hit one and rang to tell me the accident had killed the car's radiator and decapitated the bird. Said friend stressed his unhappiness. My reply was, "I'm sure the bird wasn't too happy either."

At the time I didn't understand how they 'pop out' onto the road. It's amazing and heart-stopping. Blink and you'd miss it, might not even know you'd hit something or what. If you make eye contact, the bird blinks back and ignores the tonnage of metal bearing down on it as if its never been startled and has the assurance of immortality the like of which humans only dream.

Yes, I've visited the countryside many times, but when it's a holiday, we choose the best of weathers; maybe we never came when there were many pheasants about, or maybe we never stayed where they were so prevalent. In one small stretch of road a few weeks ago we counted at least 10 dead pheasants, all recently killed. While I believe many drivers need to slow down and stop over-taking (particularly on blind spots — I never realised how dangerous driving in the countryside can be, road-wise, until living here), there are moments when killing an innocent animal going about its business cannot be avoided, of course. This happens in towns, but it's the sheer number of dead things we've seen that's eye-opening. We slowed for a pheasant the other week and had drivers staring at us as if to ask why. My question is, why not? Accidents happen but if we can avoid an animal without danger to ourselves or anyone else, we will. It's called compassion and respect, a thing lacking in all society. Quite a few pheasants owe their continued existence to my husband's keen driving. The closest we've come was to push one along as it tried at the last second to fly away. We stopped; it continued across the road...though I'd be surprised if it didn't have a bruise or two.

As for the tradition of the Boxing Day hunt, we're told by laughing locals that's an excuse for those who take part to have an annual 'p***-up'. Before anyone objects and contacts me to dispute this or in anger, these are not my words but the words of those whom I don't know, have lived here far longer than I have and were likely even born here. Doesn't throw a better light on the hunt even if it alters perspective. I'm also informed by these same folks that the 'rule' with pheasants is if you do run one over, you can't stop and go back to pick it up, but the person behind can have it. I'm guessing this is to stop people running them down on purpose.

And as for altering viewpoints, let's link back to the friend and the radiator. To those who are in so much of a hurry that the risk of hitting a wild animal doesn't make the driver take it just a little bit slower…the damage and expense to the car proved extensive; all because of a pheasant. Imagine what the damage could be if it were a deer. Might be an accident from which nothing walks away. Now does anyone want to play chicken?