Monday, August 22, 2016

Real Publishing, Real Books

An ebook is a book in what may be, for some, an unfamiliar format. This necessitates the reader to get used to different methods of reading and storing books, but the end product is still that of a story. The writer has other differences to consider between electronic and print markets.

First, there are seldom advances. Some publishers have introduced a small advance but generally, this is not the case and don't expect the type of up-front payment as the 'big six' might offer if they feel a book has the potential to be a bestseller. To be fair, many mid-stream print publishers aren't so free with initial payouts. When offered, these prepayments aren't always as large as they once were and based on a number of books a publisher 'expects' to sell. I've heard of huge advances withdrawn if an acceptable manuscript isn't delivered and, in some instances, if books simply don't retail well and meet expectation. Advice is, don't spend an advance -- bank it for a good while.

Print books are often also released electronically now whereas predominately electronic books aren't going to make the shelf in a local bookstore, not unless they eventually go to print, or the shop has the facilities to offer electronic books as part of its 'stock'. Maybe not even then. Many printed books never make it to local shops, either, and require ordering, but let's not forget technology is advancing. Predictions are one day a book 'shop' may consist of a catalogue and a screen from which to order, the books appearing 'magically' as some sort of electronic download or almost instant POD (Print on Demand. While this sounds like science-fiction such scientific applications are being considered and in development.

The good news for the writer is royalties on ebooks are higher and here's where the ebook author has a difficult choice. Print books are wonderful and many writers will say they long for their titles to be in print. They may read ebooks themselves and love them, but the writer wants to hold their work as something 'solid'. Touch makes something feel more actual. It may be why many mistakenly conclude the electronic markets aren't real publishing, while others love being able to cart a library around on a small device that fits into a pocket. In context, there are those who say emails aren't real letters but the technology still transfers information effectively. However, the writer also needs to consider he or she can earn approximately 25, 35 or 50% in royalties from an ebook. From a print book, royalty payments can be as low as 7%. Let that sink in for a minute before I add a writer can earn more in royalties from an ebook but these titles may not have such a wide distribution, so the potential to sell fewer copies, though this has improved through distributor networks more recently. As more mainstream titles appeared in electronic formats so more companies became distributors just as they would with print, and even printed works can have the same problem with limited markets and outlets.

Now we move to why ebooks cost so much. After all, they skip the printing stage. Yes, they do, but this is another matter for those who scorn ebooks to consider. Printing is the ONLY element that the ebook skips. This is a rough guide only based on experience but consider the levels a story goes through before release.

When submitted to a publisher the submission goes to a reader. A reader may be an editor at the publishing house or a reader only, but either way, from a synopsis and first three chapters, a reader will decide whether to ask for the entire manuscript. If the reader likes the draft, they'll pass it on, discuss it with others in the publishing house including management, and a team will decide whether to offer a contract. This is especially true if the writer is an unknown name to them. An editor is assigned and the work goes through the editing process. Some publishers allow a writer to work with a single editor for all work submitted. Sometimes, publishers simply hand the next book scheduled for editing to an available editor. I much prefer building up a relationship with an editor, to learn how we both work, and where we can trust each other. This can make for less friction and time wasted. Depending on how much attention the work needs, it may go through one, two, three, or more edit rounds before the line-editing department provides a fresh 'set of eyes' to look the story over. This time, the book is specifically checked for punctuation errors, house-style etc., and even obvious story problems. When one or two line editors are finished, the work is returned to the main editor who will look at the changes before sending them on to the writer. The writer and editor collaborate and, once happy, send the work to the proofing department. A final effort is made to spot any errors before the book is formatted* and ready for release. The writer may or may not get to proof the final galley. (*Some formatting is often left to the author, but I'll not go into that this time.)

While this sounds like a leisurely process, it isn't. I've grown used to "Can we have this yesterday?" It's often a fraught time. Think of all the effort that goes into this editing procedure. As much as I love my books when I've gone through all the revisions I do prior to submitting and all these edits, and considering that I try to re-read at every opportunity, by the time the book is published I'm feeling a little sick of it. Also, keep in mind most writers work part-time if not full-time as well as write. Many editors do likewise. In some instances, so do the publishers. Many companies, with the exception of extremely large publishing houses, are run as secondary businesses. Management, editors, line editors, proofers, and the authors all give of their so-called 'spare' time -- a phrase that quickly becomes an in-house joke. When considering the number of man-hours, it makes the financial rewards paltry.

There's also the cost of cover art. Early on the writer may be required to submit a cover art request to provide an idea of the book's subject. Providing the artist with enough details takes considerably more thought than many expect. Some publishing houses ask the writer to 'okay' the cover, some don't. I've heard of some authors being extremely upset by their book covers. I'm sure there are good and bad examples in all markets but, so far, my comments have almost always been taken into consideration. Covers can range from quite cheap to expensive.

Wait. We're not finished. Who writes the blurb? That's the short teaser on the back cover of a printed book to get the reader interested in buying. Often, that's the job of the author, too. A publisher may change the blurb completely or simply tweak it, but the author has to provide an original and full blurb. The writer also has to submit a new story with a synopsis and usually needs to maintain a website. The author needs to promote, though if with a good publisher the company will do at least of a portion of promoting, too. Some now request a whole marketing strategy along with a manuscript. I'd be wary if the publisher asks for this without any indication of what they will do in return, but it is a part of modern-day publishing. A writer's best ability is to be accomplished at marketing.

Promotion shouldn't be left entirely to the author but any 'wannabe' needs to know they are expected to play their part. For the writer who envisages the romantic image of sitting at a desk tapping happily away, one work after the other, nothing could be further from the truth.

This still looks as if I've not answered why ebooks can cost as much to produce as print. One reason is the difference in those royalties, but we're not talking millions made by the writer or publisher. Not these days. What this means in terms of actual money, I'll cover another time, but in brief, an ebook goes through the same or similar process as most printed books. Only the final stage -- the format it's produced in -- differs, and this can take 'more effort' because there are many types of files available now. Glitches can happen. Returns for errors create more work and cost.

As for whether to read much as choosing what book to read is about choice, so should choosing the format in which one wishes to read be an act of free-will. I'd be devastated to see print books disappear, but I like to own a collection of both if for no other reason than much-needed space. Something else to consider is that I made my decision to write for an e-publisher based on what I could see happening to the book market in general. Although erotic publishers were at the forefront and the mainstay of the e-publishing market for a long time, books face strong competition. Many people struggle to find the time to read. The way ALL books are produced is changing, with even large mainstream publishers turning to POD technology and electronic formats. I own the works of Poe both in print and ebook. When considering publishing I decided not to turn my back on what might happen to the future of books. I could see many who sneer being taken by surprise. The author who turns their back on the idea of change could risk being left behind, and may miss out on some wonderful opportunities.

Monday, August 15, 2016

A Blast from the Past

It's April 2007 and I'm watching Night at the Museum. Mickey Rooney is in the cast. I'm experiencing a blast from the past, but one of those synchronous moments, a weird coincidence. I've recently lost my father. The connection -- as tenuous as it can be between people and families at times -- has been severed. When grief is fresh, it's often difficult to invoke a good recollection and, depending on the relationship, sometimes those are scarce. Seeing the thespian conjures a welcome memory.

Many years ago, I booked tickets for Sugar Babies at the Savoy Theatre in London; the performance starred Mickey Rooney and Anne Miller. I don't know why but at the last instant, I instructed the agent to add an extra ticket. I didn't check with our friends whether they minded, or if my father were free. I took a spur of the moment chance. Our friends didn't mind, and I told him to make sure he was available. I did not tell him where he was going except to see a show.

Sugar Babies is a musical revue, a tribute to the era of burlesque. Some might have thought it strange that our age group wanted to attend, but many of us had grown up watching musicals airing on a Sunday afternoon. The production was as nostalgic for us as for someone of my father's generation.

A fabulous evening was had by all, though if you were to ask me now to note the songs sang, or the skits performed, I couldn't. I can remember the moment Mickey came onto the stage too soon then had to stand pretending to be invisible until he could step in on cue, much to the entertainment of the other actors and the crowd. That Anne still had those fabulous shapely legs, which I rightly knew my father would enjoy viewing for real and not just on the television. That the saying not to work with children or animals, applies, at least when TV and stage is concerned: namely, a sketch where a woman had to stand covered in birds; the enactment went well except for the 'little presents' left on the floor, which created more laughter in a scene that should, and otherwise did, look beautiful.

We all had a wonderful night, but my father enjoyed himself most. He laughed his proverbial socks off and watching him laugh added to our amusement. I spent the evening sitting by his side while he chuckled, grinned, clapped and whistled. He did these things to the point of embarrassing, was the last one to stop, the last person to leave his seat -- wonderful! Not only do I have this recollection, he took pleasure in a marvelous evening during a hard working, stressful and, at times, painful life. My impulsive decision gave him enjoyment. For a few hours, he was able to set everything else aside.

This reveals a routinely overlooked truth: entertainment serves more than one purpose. A good book, a film, a play, music... Such things are part of our lives to a greater extent than we realise. The books I read as a child, many of which I still own, are friends, much as the people who remain a constant presence, and are as priceless. Not only do these things entertain, sometimes providing us with a much-needed escape, the moments they create shape our future, present, and our past.

The format doesn't matter. What makes us laugh, gasp, cry, jump or stare in wonder -- all these are markers, our companions along the way, part of the journey from birth unto death, and they form the blasts from the past that help our loved ones recall those happy moments once we are gone.
I owe a thank you to the creators, organisers, and performers for a precious memory...and to the writers, without whom such shared experiences would never happen.

Monday, August 08, 2016

Lisbon and Obidos

Whenever there are claims that a place may be the most beautiful capital city, I’m skeptical. I admit this is largely because I’m not much of a city person. Whenever we visit a capital I tend to like to pass through as quickly as possible, and often it’s amazing I visit any at all. While Lisbon is still too much ‘city’ for me, it is a place I won’t hesitate to return to if the opportunity allows.

We weren’t there for more than a few hours, and I was more taken with the tiled buildings, and the view of the river than anything else, so am unable to report what the city has to offer. I would recommend a trip on the water to fully appreciate the expanse of the bridges.

The most famous of these is the one modelled on San Francisco’s Golden Gate bridge. 230 above the water, it is possible to view the cars passing overheard and it’s a good opportunity to make use of a camera with a good zoom function.

The bridge was originally called Salazar. These days its official name is the 25th April Bridge after the 1974 revolution, but some also refer to it as the Tagus Bridge (the waterfront lying along the River Tagus), or more simply, ‘The Bridge’.

On one side stands the towering statue of Christ, resembling the one in Rio de Janeiro, this one paid for by the women of Portugal to give thanks their men were not involved in the Second World War. The plinth is 270 feet high served by a lift and steps and a promise of a good view. The statue is 90 feet high. I struggled to get this shot of the statue, bridge and boat, taking several and hoping for the best. I got the shot I wanted.

Thought to have been found by Ulysses, during its history Lisbon has been occupied by both the Romans, and the Moors, taken by English Crusaders who assisted the King of Portugal. This history is far more complex than I’m stating in a couple of sentences but is useful to bare in mind when viewing much of the architecture.

There’s much to see and do beyond Lisbon and I can think of several places we heard about that tempt us to return. We had the chance to visit only one outlying area and so chose Obidos.

Though busy with tourists if you’re looking for a picture postcard it’s a good choice. With it’s towering 12th century castle ramparts around a walled city of bright colours and cobbled streets, it’s a romantic spot.

One word of warning we were given -- there’s no one ‘policing’ people going on the wall and many like to walk around the city from the top. However, we were told that they’d already had several accidents this year as they do every year. Tourists taking photos forget there’s a drop to one side, step back to take a photograph, don’t need me to explain the rest. If unsteady don’t make the attempt and don’t become distracted!

We went in a few of the seemingly tiny shops and discovered they extend far back room upon room in some cases. There's plenty to find for the browser or shopper. Having cleared much from my house in recent months and having a couple of pieces of Portugal pottery all I bought home was the photographs.

Seems two passengers can get in the back of these and the driver gives a little guided tour. Didn't get a chance but wouldn't mind one of these to use in some of the country villages we often visit in the UK.

And so as not to leave you with this as the final image, here's another beautiful example of Portuguese tiling, and the wonderful countryside around Obidos.

Monday, August 01, 2016

A quick stop at Fuerteventura

This week’s hop takes us to what was our least favourite stop on our five island tour: Fuerteventura. This is just personal taste. It’s a beautiful place in many ways and, having considered a holiday there many years ago, we were delighted to finally see the sand dunes. However, we’re not beach people and find the typical tourist spots unappealing.

Fuerteventura is closest to the African continent, second in size to the largest, Tenerife, with Lanzarote being the nearest of the other islands. Fuerteventura is part of Las Palmas province, a self-governing collective of Spain. The original inhabitants likely came from North Africa.

Few attempted to settle permanently moving on to more hospitable areas. The island has seen its share of conflict, conquered, disregarded, considered to be of little interest, the populace sold into slavery, and the island raided by pirates during a turbulent history. The island’s fortunes didn’t change eminently until the 1960s with the introduction of mass tourism.

We decided to head to Corralejo, the largest area of dunes. The full stretch runs 10 kilometres along the coast, reaching as far as 203 kilometres inland, the area--know as Parque Natural de las Dunas de Corralejo--being a protected region.

The harbour is pleasant and there’s plenty of available shopping. Touts attempting to drag tourists into restaurants or to attend presentations were easily ignored (I suspect more easily and less aggressive than on some islands), but this was still too much of a typical tourist trap for us.

The dunes are impressive and beautiful, but for people who don’t like to sunbathe, a walk and a few hours were good enough.