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26 July 2017 at 15:33

An interesting article in the Bookseller's Futurebook about the ebook, which 10 years ago seemed to represent the future of publishing and has so spectacularly failed to deliver - at least for traditional publishers. 

Simon Rowberry makes some excellent points about why this has happened, and why the picture is rather more complicated than you might first think. 

First there's the fact that nobody can tell the size of the iceberg below Amazon's waterline: 

'The ‘ebook plateau’ argument also ignores emergent sectors of digital-only sales, including self-publishing, where new genres drive a vibrant and divergent market. Amazon facilitates most self-publishing sales, and the company steadfastly refuses to provide sales data for books published exclusively on the Kindle. So a potential increase in sales for emergent digital-only genres is hidden by the headlines about traditional publishers.'

Second, he reminds us of the startling fact that ebook technology hasn't really changed much in the last two decades:

'Both EPUB and the Kindle’s proprietary format are based on 20+ year old technology in an age of rapid technological obsolescence.'

He raises the interesting vision of ebooks migrating to browser-based content, but admits it's hard to see how they'll survive in that format: 

'How will books cope in the complex attention economy of web browsing? Given the scope of the format, digital books will become just another type of publication to use PWP and as a consequence, the standard will not just serve the needs of publishers, a core design element of EPUB despite its limitations.'

25 July 2017 at 21:40

Mostly, my business is online. I talk to people via email, Facebook or Skype. I'm more connected, to more people, more of the time, than I've probably ever been in my life, but it's not that often that I'm physically sharing a space with them. 

Today was one of those days, and I need to coin a new word to describe how I'm feeling at the end of it: exhilarausted. 

A full day with my Mastermind group, working through each member's business and specifically how their book is working to build it. Which is something I do one-to-one with clients all the time, but there's something magical about a small group like this working face to face, with all the trust and mutual respect (and the laughs) that we've built over the months. 

Exhilarausting. 

24 July 2017 at 15:44

In this week's Extraordinary Business Book Club podcast episode I interview Orna Ross, head of ALLi, the Alliance of Independent Authors. But Orna didn't start off as an indie author. She went the traditional route, posting off her proposal to publisher after publisher. Finally, on the 55th submission, she got lucky. I asked her how she coped with what must have seemed like endless rejection. 

'I had a method, which was to expect rejection, and... I had two or three of the next people that I was going to contact lined up, so when I got the inevitable rejection, as soon as it came in the door, I just put it in the drawer where I was collecting the rejection slips, and sent off the next one. I didn’t think about it. I didn’t let it depress me. I just sent it off.

Every Monday afternoon, for two hours, I used to call it Marketing Monday: I would look at who might be interested in a book like that, doing all the research myself. I was just determined. I was going to find somebody. I was reasonably confident that the book was getting better with these rejections as well, because sometimes, I would get feedback from somebody, and they would say something, and at the beginning, I was changing in response to that.

As time went on, I was feeling more and more confident that the book actually stood fairly solidly as it was, and wasn’t changing it, and yeah, then suddenly I got a call from, as I said, a fabulous publisher, and a very nice offer, and I really felt I’d won the literary lottery.'

I think that's an amazing and inspiring approach to what so many authors find utterly soul-destroying. I remember Tibor Fischer, author of Under The Frog, the first debut novel ever to be shortlisted for the Booker prize, had a similar experience before he was accepted by Polygon. 'I was going to try Gay Men's Press next,' he told me, 'and it had absolutely no homosexual content in it whatsoever.'

So if you've had a knockback or two, take heart. 

But also, don't let the rejections get you down. As Orna goes on to say, these days, you have options. 

'There’s no excuse today, sitting around, saying, “Oh, I can’t get a publisher.”... You must do the most creative thing that’s possible for you for that book, so you can keep moving.

Because one of the things that happened to me was, even though I did have this method of dealing with it, and I was moving on and writing the next book, and I would have gone on to write the third book, there is no doubt that your energy, your enthusiasm, is leaking away, no matter what you do to try and keep yourself bolstered, and stay resilient, and all of those kinds of things. It does have an effect.

I can’t think of how many wonderful books we’ve lost, because people just became disheartened.'

Indie publishing - whether you go it alone or with a partner like me - might just be the most creative thing possible for YOUR book, too.

You can hear the full interview here

23 July 2017 at 13:59

I'm not quite sure how I missed this (this would never have happened in the old days, pre-internet and pre-children, when Saturday morning meant a leisurely breakfast and all the many sections of the Guardian spread across the table amongst the coffee and the toast), but Rober McCrum has been running a series in the Guardian and Observer on the 100 best non-fiction books. Apparently he began it back in January 2016 (here's one of the posts that kicked it off), and it followed directly on from his attempt to put together a similarly definitive list for fiction. 

The most recent post covers Mary Wollestonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), one of the earliest works to articuate the beginnings of feminism, from the woman who died at the age of 38 just days after giving birth to her daughter, who would become Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein.  

It's a reckless underataking, and leaves me feeling quite dizzy: I can't decide on the same favourite book two days in a row. The list is also restricted to books written in English by a single author, although it does range widely over a number of genres. There are many I agree with (including last week's), others I've never even read, to my shame. Definitely worth a look, if only to remind yourself of the remarkable power of the book to shape the world. 

 

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22 July 2017 at 18:40

A couple of weeks ago I interviewed Practical Inspiration author Louise Wiles for the Extraordinary Business Book Club podcast. Louise was one of the winners of the first 10-day Business Book Proposal Challenge back in June 2016, but she revealed in the interview that she nearly didn't send it in at all, even though she'd done all the hard work of putting the proposal together over the 10 days. 

I remember Sunday evening I sat down, I thought, “I haven’t sent it in. Am I going to send it in? Oh, I’m not sure.” And my husband was around, and I said, “Look, I’ve done this, and I’m really not sure about it,” and gave it to him. He is my worst critic, he really is. But he’s also a very good at looking at stuff, and he looked at it, made a few suggestions and went, “Yeah, that’s really convincing. Send it in.” So I did and thought nothing more of it until I saw your email... I just didn’t think there was any chance that we would win. 

Which I thought was hilarious. I mean, what a great opportunity, the chance to win a publishing deal, why WOULDN'T you submit it? And of course Thriving Abroad is now published, and working hard for her business.

And then I was nominated for an award, and invited to complete a form to tell the judges about my business. I must have carried that simple job over to the bottom of dozens of to-do lists, and somehow it never got done. And then it was too late, and I took it off the to-do list with a mix of relief and annoyance. Until I had an email saying that the date for applications had been extended, and I thought, 'Screw it, let's do it,' and banged out the application in approximately 5 minutes flat. And, like Louise, thought nothing more of it. 

Until I had an email yesterday afternoon that read: 'The initial judging of the Forward Ladies National Awards is now complete. The judging has been extremely difficult with exceptional applications being submitted. I am delighted to announce you have been shortlisted as a regional finalists! Congratulations!'

Which is a lovely thing to read, and at the very least means a great day out with inspiring, interesting company, a nice lunch and a glass of bubbly, and the excuse to buy a new frock. And I do realize that's probably all it means but hey, if I hadn't finally submitted that form it'd be someone else enjoying it. 

What IS that thing in our heads that mumbles: 'Don't bother, there's no point, who do you think you are, you haven't got a chance, you'll just embarrass yourself....'? 

Until I find out how to switch it off, I'm going to practise my 'Screw it, let's do it' attitude. And I suggest you do the same. Because who knows what other amazing things it's cheated us of, and will carry on cheating us of if we let it?  

 

21 July 2017 at 10:55

I've just been talking to one of my authors, who never fails to energise and delight me when we speak - she is so full of passion and energy for her subject, and it's been wonderful to watch her step up and out over the last year or so as the book's taken shape. It's currently being copy-edited and will publish soon. 

This morning she was telling me about another high-profile connection she'd made through her research and the new project they were working on together, and I was congratulating her and pointing out how far she'd come, and how much further she could go. 

'It's amazing,' she said, 'It's like it's an enormous ball, and all I did was give it a little push, and now..... wow!'

She's being modest, of course: she's phenomenally good at what she does. But it's true that until she started pulling the book together, the 'ball' was all about potential and not much about movement. Writing her book, reaching out to key thinkers in the field as part of her research, starting to talk about her ideas within her own institution and now beyond it, becoming known as the expert, that was what got it moving. And the impact has gone WAY beyond the book, rippling out into promotion, funding and her own developing business. Those who first got excited about it in her own network have brought in those known to them who care about this subject too, and so on. 

And it's not even published yet.

This is, for me, one of the most exciting aspects of publishing business books. It's about so much more than the book, but the book is the focal point. It channels all that passion and deep thinking and creativity, and it gives it a form and structure so that others can look at it - or even just the idea of it - and say, 'I'm in.' 

20 July 2017 at 19:01

Paddington BearOn my way back from London yesterday I caught the Reading train from Platform 1 at Paddington Station and, risking the wrath of the guard waiting to close the doors, I snapped a picture of its famous statue of Paddington Bear, raising his brass nose hopefully to seek someone who will take him home. It's a beautiful statue of one of children's literature's most iconic characters, and there's always something poignant about his perpetual hopeful shabbiness. Following the death of Michael Bond last month, though, it now seems almost unbearably (pardon the pun) sad.

There's a message from the station staff beside it with a picture of Bond and an assurance that all the good wishes from those making the pilgrimage to the statue will be passed on to his family, a postcard of London, some treats for the sweet-toothed bear and a variety of different types of honey. And a handwritten note which reads: 'Orphaned again! Please look after this bear. Sticky kisses xxx'

It seems incredible that a character now so universally beloved could have been turned down by so many publishers (Bond said he could have 'papered a room' with rejection slips) before HarperCollins finally knew a good thing when they saw it and published it in 1958. 

My favourite quote comes from Michael Hordern, who narrated the Paddington cartoons of my childhood, and who was quoted in Bond's Guardian obituary as saying that 'his most challenging roles had been God, Lear and Paddington Bear.' 

Why is he so loved, and why was he so hard to voice? There's something simultaneous innocent and wise about him, and his curiosity, optimism and enthusiasm for life perhaps show us how we'd like to be. 

Michael Bond himself said of Paddington:

'He isn’t me, but I wouldn’t mind being him – he’s never put down or deflated. He has the naivety of a child and the sophistication of an adult.'

This is the very best kind of children's literature: characters that stay with us and grow with us until we understand finally as adults what they're telling us about life and about ourselves, what we always knew as children but couldn't articulate. 

19 July 2017 at 12:03

Any publisher will tell you that audiobooks are big business these days: the increase in digital audio is the only thing propping up digital revenues for most of the big publishers as ebook revenues continue to fall off a cliff. 

But making an audiobook is expensive, and requires a skillset well beyond that of most indie authors and even many publishers. Until now the only option beyond the fully featured professional audiobook producer has been Amazon's ACX, but as you'd expect from a player with that level of market dominance, the terms aren't exactly favourable. Even if you opt to pay the full production cost of your audio file up front, Amazon will take 60% of the revenue - or 75% if you dare to sell it on any other platform other than Amazon-owned Audible. 

So I'm watching the launch of Findaway Voices this week with interest. It's basically a dating site for authors and narrators: you tell them the kind of person you want to give voice to your book, and they'll recommend a selection of possible narrators at a selection of different price points. You choose the one you want, they create the audiobook, you pay the bill, you own the rights, and they distribute on your behalf across a range of channels with a range of royalty agreements in place. (I'm guessing that last bit isn't quite as simple as they'd like it to be, but them's the breaks in a market like this.)

As a rough guide, it looks like you could comfortaby get a 45,000-word book created as an audiobook for $1000. That's GOT to be interesting. 

 

18 July 2017 at 08:48

We've been discussing the 'best' way to make notes in the This Book Means Business Bootcamp - in quotes as of course your best way may be very different to my best way, and frankly my best way one day might be different to my best day on another. 

One of the bootcampers brought up the concept of the 'commonplace book', a charmingly antique idea, you'd think: commonplace books - scrapbooks, essentially, compilations of whatever bits and pieces the compiler found interesting - started to become popular in the 17th century and in the 18th century no scholar worth his salt was without one. They're usually thought of as writers' tools, but in fact their use was much broader: yes, John Milton and Michel de Montaigne used one to collect quotations and ideas that appealed to them, but scientists such as Linnaeus used one to help him form his system of species classifications, even Sherlock Holmes used one to help solve mysterious crimes. 

This isn't journaling or keeing a diary, valuable though they are: it's clipping and collecting. It's not the output of your thinking, it's the raw input. 

And if you think about it, online tools such as Evernote and Pinterest are effectively commonplacing for the 21st century. They allow you to collect material from others, but to transform it into the raw material for your own creativity through the process of selection, curation, combination and original thought. 

Mark Levy spoke in the Extraordinary Business Book Club about the importance of collecting your 'fascination pile' as a starting point for your book, and this is perhaps another word for it. Collecting all these unrelated elements, and then going back through them to pick out the patterns and relationships between them to create something new and significant. 

There's nothing commonplace about this kind of curious curation, sadly. But getting a sytem in place, creating the space for it, is a good first step. You might prefer to write it out, since that act triggers deeper memory and commitment, in a notebook, scrapbook or index cards. Or you might prefer an online space such as an Evernote file, Pinterest board, even a private blog. 

Then go about your day knowing that when you hit upon gold, you have a place to keep it. 

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17 July 2017 at 09:20

Recognise this thought process?

‘I want this to be more than just a book you read. I want people to engage with it, to be able to reflect and scribble down thoughts and answer questions as they go: I know, I’ll put space for them to write in the book!’

It’s a good thought process, except for one big logical flaw: people don’t like writing in books.

It’s partly cultural: books have a certain status in our society (that’s partly why you’re writing one!), and it feels inappropriate to deface them. It’s partly future-proofing: a book is an economic unit, we might want to sell it one one day, or give it to a charity shop, or someone else might if we go under a bus tomorrow, in which case we’d rather it didn’t include our honest self-reflection. And it’s partly practical: traditionally bound books don’t lie flat, which makes them hard to write in unless you’re prepared to break the spine. (And if you are, we can never be friends.)

From the publisher’s perspective – and that’s you if you’re paying the production bills – there’s another problem: it makes the book longer without including any more useful content and that makes every single copy more expensive to print.

And finally, the killer punch, if your reader’s reading the ebook rather than the print edition, they’re going to hate you for all these blank lines they can’t use.

So if you’re now convinced that leaving space for people to write in your book isn’t such a great idea, consider a workbook instead.

A workbook has no cultural pretensions. It's just so many sheets of paper. It screams ‘Scribble all over me! Make me your own! I’m a workbook, so work, dammit!’.

You don’t have to pay to manufacture it (unless you want to), because the simplest and usually best route is a PDF that can be downloaded from your site, optimised for a standard A4 printer.

And perhaps best of all, it brings the reader from an offline experience of reading your book into your online orbit, which means you can start a conversation.

Glenda Shawley, author of Founded After Forty, created a superb, beautifully designed workbook to accompany her book. It’s effectively a blueprint for the reader’s business, and it’s gone down a storm. She’s also had a quantity printed and bound and sells them at events and from her website for people who don't want to take the hit on their own printer ink and paper stocks.

I asked her for her advice to anyone considering a workbook when we spoke in Episode 62 of The Extraordinary Business Book Club:

'Try to keep it quite simple and to be clear about where the link is between the workbook and the book. Are you going to put extra instructions in the workbook or are you simply going to use the book and expect people to have both open side by side?'

Founded After Forty has a ‘workbook’ icon to show where there are exercises to complete, but she’s designed them so that both can stand independently. And even though the workbook’s free, don’t fret about people downloading and sharing that rather than buying the book. Brand the heck out of it, include your URL, big up the book, provide other touchpoints (Glenda has a Facebook community, for example), and see it as marketing, not piracy. 

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