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Martin Shaw of Readings Monthly described this novel as ‘gutsy, moving, beautifully wrought and utterly compelling’.  In this memoir-as-fiction, first novelist Michael Sala recalls his early life in Holland and his life in Australia after his family immigrated here in the 1980s. In compelling detail, he describes his dysfunctional family: the fragile mother he loves, her penchant for moving house and for picking the wrong men; his glamorous, estranged Greek father, his older brother Con and his relationship with his cruel stepfather Dirk. The family has secrets, things some of the older members of the family did during WWII in Holland to survive.

The first two-thirds of the book are consistent in style, tense and point of view. However, in the last third, which depicts the family’s life in Newcastle, a looser technique prevails. I found myself wishing it had been written in the same consistent style as the first two-thirds. But as the author had to jump many years to when he, himself, is a father, and his mother and estranged father are old, perhaps this did not prove possible.

Essentially, Sala is a painter with words rather than a storyteller. As each scene unfolds, it’s like watching a master painter apply brush stroke after brush stroke to a canvas until the whole comes together.  The sense of cohesion the reader is left with, despite the apparent randomness of the third part of the book (the timeline is disjointed, there are flashbacks and changes of tense and point of view), is due to Sala’s deeply felt emotion and the high level of technique he employs in describing these emotions and the interactions between family members.

Sala’s prose is impeccable. I note that Chapter 9 appeared previously under the title ‘The Men Outside My Room’ in The Best Australian Stories 2011 and Chapter 10 appeared under the title ‘Like My Father, My Brother’ in the anthology Brothers and Sisters. This is no surprise: Sala has a wonderful ability to write between the lines and is a master of the fine detail so beloved by the Australian literary establishment. At present, he lacks the polish of a Thomas Shapcott and the strong storyline structure we have come to expect from Tim Winton. But that will come.

An interesting read, though perhaps not traditional enough in form for some. I found myself looking forward to his next book – one that has a simple timeline and is, perhaps a little less ‘literary’.

Make no mistake. Sala is here to stay.

Readers can purchase a copy of The Last Thread from almost all independent Australian bookstores, as well as A&R and Dymocks etc. The e book is available from Booki.sh and Kobo.

Danielle de Valera

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A range war is brewing on the e-book front as a result of Amazon’s pre-emptive strike in introducing Amazon KDP Select, a 3-month optional contract operating above and beyond the normal Amazon KDP program available to authors. If an author hits the Select button, for the time their book is enrolled in the Select program, they must agree not to distribute or sell the book ANYWHERE ELSE! This includes their own personal blog or web site. Their title must be 100% exclusive to Amazon.

Before Amazon KDP decided to introduce Select, self-published authors had the opportunity to distribute their books across a large number of platforms — Amazon itself, Apple iBookstore, Barnes & Noble, Sony, Kobo, Smashwords, Books a Million and others. This was good for the writers, good for the e-book publishers and distributors. A nice competitive industry.

 To retaliate against Amazon’s pre-emptive strike, Barnes & Noble, the other distribution giant, has decided to withdraw from its lists all titles published by Amazon. It would seem, at this stage, that even if a book is published on some other platform and merely distributed through Amazon, Barnes & Noble will withdraw it. Books a Million and the Canadian Indigo have followed B & N’s lead.

E-books are the new cash cow of book publishing, and indie e-book sales are rising at a phenomenal rate. In the US, in the last three months of 2010, Amazon’s sales of e-books surpassed that of paperbacks for the first time, and self-published e-books are beginning to appear in bestseller lists. But self-published authors are about to lose their freedom of choice and the wide distribution platforms their books enjoyed in the past. Because B&N and Amazon deliver the greatest volumes of sales, a self-published author or a small press will be forced to choose between these two giants. Going with only one distributor, however large, carries potentially huge risks for the user for the distributor can change the conditions at any time.

Range wars never benefit the peons. In this case, it’s the writers and small publishers who are caught in the crossfire. Is Amazon breaking the law with KDP Select? Should some kind of legal safeguards be put in place to prevent monopolistic practices in the young e-book industry?

 For more details on Amazon KDP Select, see my previous post:  Amazon KDP Select – a poisoned apple?

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When online bookstores began to take off, Amazon quickly established itself as the biggest dealer in the field. Sure there were other bookstores, for example, Fishpond, but they paled beside the giant Amazon. We’re talking hard copy here.

When Amazon saw the trend towards e-books, it hopped right in and again established itself as the biggest retailer. Sure, there were other e-book distributors — Apple iBookstore, Barnes & Noble, Sony, Kobo, Smashwords and others — but Amazon was the biggest. A huge industry sprang up. Writers could self-publish their books and put them on many different distribution platforms.

Looking good. Good for the writers, good for the e-book publishers and distributors. A nice competitive industry.

Then Amazon produced the Amazon Kindle, a series of e-book readers that enable users to shop for, download, browse and read e-books, newspapers, magazines, blogs and other digital media via wireless networking (source: Wikipedia). Amazon has now launched what it calls Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing  or Amazon KDP. With this, a writer can get his book published by Amazon and have it go directly to Kindle, which is grabbing a large share of the applications market with the introduction of its Kindle software for use on various platforms such as Microsoft Windows, iOS, Blackberry, MacOSX (10.5 onward, Intel only), Android, webOS and Windows Phone (source: Wikipedia).  The most recent refinement of all this is Amazon KDP Select.

Amazon KDP Select. This sounds good — until you read the small print in Amazon’s Terms and Conditions: https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/help?topicId=APILE934L348N

To paraphrase this small print: While or the time your book is enrolled in the program, you must agree not to distribute or sell your book ANYWHERE ELSE. This includes your own personal blog or web site. Your title must be 100% exclusive to Amazon.

If you violate this at any point during the 3-month enrolment period, or you remove your book from the program so you can distribute it elsewhere, you risk forfeited earnings, delayed payments, a lien on future earnings – or getting kicked out of the Kindle Direct Publishing program altogether.

After the obligatory 3 months, your enrolment in the KDP Select continues unless you go through the process of opting out. Forget, and you’re up for another 3 months.

This forces the author to remove the book from sale from the Apple iBookstore, Barnes & Noble, Sony, Kobo, Smashwords and others, thereby causing the author to lose out on sales from competing retailers.

By withdrawing a title from any retailer, the author destroys any accrued sales ranking in their lists, making their book less visible and less discoverable should they reactivate distribution to competing retailers.

Do authors want to be totally dependent upon Amazon for sales? New writers are desperate; they will do almost anything to sell their books. And they know that with Amazon KDP, more customers are motivated to go straight to Amazon since Amazon has this exclusive content.

It’s a clever ploy on Amazon’s part. As Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords says, The new Amazon KDP Select program look s like a predatory business practice (ref: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-competitive_practices). Pretty soon, Amazon can use the opportunity to leverage their dominance as the world’s largest e-book retailer (and world’s largest payer to indie authors) to attain monopolistic advantage by effectively denying its competing retailers (Apple, B&N, Kobo, Sony, etc) access to the books from indie authors.

Indies are the future of book publishing. In the US, in the last three months of 2010, Amazon’s sales of e-books surpassed that of paperbacks for the first time.

Think about this. It might pay indie authors to recognise that their long term interests are best served by having a competitive global ebook retailing ecosystem. Mark Coker recommends an author distribute their book to as many retailers as possible. Many ebook retailers, all working to attract readers to books, will surely serve indie authors better in the long run than a single retailer who can dictate all the terms.

But whoever thinks of the long run? The long run is everyone’s poor relation, doomed to be steamrollered by the bullies of expediency and money.

The contents of this blog are based on a blog by Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords. The original, more comprehensive article can be found at: blog.smashwords.com/2011/12/amazon-shows-predatory-spots-with-kdp.html

Next Week: A review of Australian author Michael Sala’s debut novel The Last Thread published by Affirm Press.

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With the rise of digital technology, mainstream publishers became deluged with manuscripts. Today, more and more emerging writers are taking to self-publishing as a way of getting their work out there. Below is one writer’s journey into publishing with the UK Arts Council funded site Youwrite on.  It’s a happy story.

Self-publishing with Youwriteon by guest blogger: Louise Forster

After 11 years I’ve finally cracked it, I’m published. Okay, not in the usual sense with an agent and publisher, but as a self-published writer. I’ll cut to the chase and give you the facts.

I published with YouWriteOn, a UK Arts funded site that anyone can join. Basically it works on a bartering system. You read someone’s work and, at random, someone reads yours. You receive reviews from cold readers who don’t know you. The down side is, sometimes you’ll get a reader who’s not familiar with your genre. Then you need to shrug and say to yourself, what the heck. Of course there are times when a reviewer will say, ‘I wouldn’t normally choose this genre and I almost deleted your piece, but I’m glad I didn’t because I really enjoyed it.’ Check them out at www.youwriteon.com. If the above doesn’t appeal to you, they also offer publishing without peer review at:  www.FeedARead.com

Nearly 2 years ago I paid £58.99 (A$89.77). With this fee I’m published, and printed by Lightning Source, who have Print on Demand (POD) facilities all over the world, including Melbourne (important for me, as I’m in Australia). My book is beautifully presented in paperback, glossy cover, good quality paper and lovely, easy-to-read font. Recently I paid £34.94 for 6 of my books in hard copy; that comes to about A$5.50 per book, and that includes postage!

My book is available on as many online stores you can think of and some you wouldn’t know existed, like www.flipkart.com  in India — I’m waiting for an Indian director to read FINDING VERONICA and love her so much he wants to turn it into a Bollywood movie! (Bring it on.)

INFO BELOW TAKEN FROM THE FeedARead SITE:

• It’s free to set-up your book for sale through FeedARead.com
• You set your own book price and royalty
• Full bookseller distribution service. You can also choose to make your book available via the major online outlets, including Amazon, and for major bookshops to order. The fees for this are as follows:

BOOKSELLER DISTRIBUTION SERVICE
UK Authors: £88
US Authors: $79
Australian Authors: $140
European Authors: E100
All other authors: £88 UK.

FeedARead’s distribution service places your book into the world’s most comprehensive distribution channel. With over 30,000 wholesalers, retailers and booksellers in over 100 countries your book will gain the maximum exposure possible in the market today. This includes your book being available to order through all of the following: Amazon and Barnes & Noble (US); Amazon, WHSmith and Waterstones (UK); Amazon Europe; and TheNile.com (Australia).

My book is also available on Kindle through Amazon. On 18 December I joined Amazon’s new program for Kindle users called Prime. It was a little scary, but looking into it, I discovered that subscribers to Prime pay $78.99 annually. This enables them to borrow 12 books per year from the Prime Kindle list. Why would readers want to go this library route when it actually costs more per book? It saves the reader from making PayPal transactions every time they want a new book. Amazon currently sets aside $500,000/month for distribution to authors. After the 90-day trial period, my book continues with Prime for another 90 days, and so on unless I inform them that I don’t want to continue. Every 90 days, I am given 5 days for promotion, during which your books are available for free, and I can choose the dates — which is most useful if you want to coordinate it with your local book launch and local PR. I had one on the 18th another on the 21st of December.  (Normally, the ebook sells for $2.99; I receive 70% of this. )

Your share of the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (KOLL) Fund is calculated based on a share of the total number of qualified borrows of all participating KDP titles. For example, if the monthly fund amount is $500,000 and the total qualified borrows of all participating KDP titles is 100,000 in December and if your book was borrowed 1,500 times, you will earn 1.5% of $500,000 (1,500/100,000 = 1.5%); that is, $7,500 in December.

https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/KDPSelect

The sudden rise in sales happened AFTER I joined the KOLL. I believe that, had I not joined Prime, FINDING VERONICA would have been lost among the millions of books available. However to be fair, I have to say that I also began tweeting a few weeks ago as part of my PR program. Whether the suddden rise in my sales was due to twitter or to joining the KOLL, it’s simply too soon to know.

Whatever it is, it seems to be working!

 

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Ah twitter, what a waste of time. It’s got to epitomise the worst of the social media – frivolous, banal, no use to anyone. Certainly not to a struggling writer like yourself.

Think again.

I’ve only been investigating social media for six weeks and twitter for two. What I’ve discovered might amaze you. While it’s true that twitter and Facebook have a lot of rubbish in them, twitter is also doing something else.

It’s broadcasting. In real time — assuming you have a phone that will take the app. I don’t have one at the moment, but after what I’ve seen in the last two weeks, I can see that, as a serious writer, just as I once had to have a computer rather than an electric typewriter, now I’m going to have to buy a phone that will take a twitter application.

For those of you as innocent as I was of twitter and how it works, the basis is this:

On twitter, you choose to Follow certain people. Other people may choose to Follow you. How did these followers find you? They found you on other social media sites. The tweets from the people you are following come up on your screen. Your tweets only appear on the screens of those who are following you.

I currently have 6 followers. Right. So what use could I possibly get out of twitter?

Twitter acts as a broadcaster. A recent survey, whose figures I can’t exactly remember, so puleese don’t quote me, said that 40% of twitter is banality; 30% is self-promotion and the rest is information — which, if you have chosen Who to Follow carefully is information that might be relevant to you. For example, last week, Pier 9, an Australian publishing house in the Murdoch empire, advertised that they were looking for an editor with 2-3 years experience in the trade.

As far as I know, THEY DIDN’T PUT THE AD IN THE NEWSPAPER, THEY PUT IT ON TWITTER.

Agents, publishers, editors are putting stuff out that might be relevant to you. And you can follow them.

Meanwhile, back in the jungle, you can broadcast your own stuff. Wot stuff? Well, recently I had a short story scheduled to be read out on BayFM, the radio station in Byron Bay. It’s not every day I get a story read out on radio, I wanted people to tune in and listen, so I tweeted this to my 6 followers.

You tweeted it to six followers! What possible use could that be to you? I mean to say, 6 people are going to hear about it this way, you’d have been better off texting them. Wrong. Because I was also a member of that powerful social media site Ecademy (the first on the scene in 1998, BTW, compared with Facebook’s 2004) I had been lucky enough to meet Sam Borrett, one of the highflyers there. I became one of his followers, and he graciously become one of mine. When I tweeted to 6 people, he retweeted my message to his followers who number around 5,000. Some of those followers have 20,000 followers.

Are you getting the picture now?

Working on the old six-degrees-of-separation theory, even if you’re not fortunate enough to have a powerful follower at first hand as I had, you can bet your boots that somewhere down the track, one of your followers’ followers has. If you’re thinking of putting out a book in the future, get onto twitter. When your time comes, you’ll have a following, who also have a following, who also have a following, and that’s how something can become viral.

Let’s suppose you don’t use twitter and you have a book coming out. You go for newspapers and a bit of radio if you’re lucky.

How many people do you think will hear about your book?

[More in a fortnight on the social media scene in general, and why, as a writer, you need to be in it.]

Follow me on twitter: http://twitter.com#!/de_valera

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This isn’t going to be a blog about the meaning of life, a discourse in which I try to sell you my philosophy, all wrapped up in The Wonder of Me. Rather, it’s an overview of how and why I’m currently upping my profile on the web.

It’s all about book promotion.

As you might (or might not) know, I’ve a little freelance manuscript assessment business, specialising in the novel and the memoir. What I began to notice was that it was becoming so hard to get your first novel published by a large company in Australia that more and more emerging writers were taking to e book self-publishing or going with very small e book publishers who also had Print on Demand (POD) facilities in Australia. Urged on by cries that the internet was the coming thing, what with Kindle, etc. they were excited. Think of the size of the web! they said to me. Millions of people will see my book.

Hmmm, said I to myself. (Perhaps this is the place to admit that I have a streak of cynicism in my makeup. Well hidden, but it’s there.) Back to the point. Most of these writers had little coverage on the net, and the results of their digiPOD publishing ventures were extremely disappointing, to say the least. As the assessor/mentor, the one who had held their hands through all the rewrites, and who had kept in touch with them afterwards to see how this wondrous new digiPOD sally turned out, I was one of the first to hear the cries of disappointment and disillusion.

I felt for them. What to do?

I’m so old I can remember the time in Australia when all you had to do was write out your novel in longhand on a block of foolscap, pay a typist to type it up for you, send it off to a publisher and Bob’s your uncle — you’d be a published author in no time. This doesn’t happen anymore. But the ease and low cost of digiPOD publishing with such sites as the UK Council of the Arts funded Youwrite on, is persuading emerging writers that this is the new, modern book explosion. Just put up your website, and watch the sales roll in.

Ho.

As I was pondering this dilemma, the flyer for Sam Borrett’s social media networking seminar fell into my letterbox. I’m now sallying forth into what feels to me like The Wilderness of Zin. (This phrase, which I’d give my eye teeth to have written, is the name of a paper written by Leonard Woolley and T E Lawrence for the British Museum in 1914 — Lawrence later achieved fame as Lawrence of Arabia, for his part in raising the Arab revolt against the Turks during WWI.) The wails of the disappointed writers have woken me from my happy delusion that all the internet was good for was research and email, and putting up pictures of you with your new hair colour. So here I am, floundering about the wilderness, trying to discover things I can take back home to help those emerging writers.

Will I find anything that can help them? It’s too soon to know. But tell you what: I’m fascinated. There’s definitely something out there.

Wish me luck.

Danielle

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Before we go any further, I suppose it would be a good idea to let you put a face to this writer, let you know who you’re dealing with, as it were.

This is one of the few photographs I have in which I look even halfway presentable. It was taken in Brisbane in 2010 (I know it’s almost seven years ago; I’m harder to photograph than a yeti) at the 50th reunion of agricultural scientists who graduated from Queensland University in years in ’58-’62 approximately.

What’s a person with a B. Agr. Sc. and a major in Plant Physiology doing writing fiction and editing/assessing manuscripts? It’s a l-o-n-g story …

For more, click on the About section above. For information about manuscript assessments or editing, please see: http://patrickdevalera.com

and click on Manuscript Development Services in the menu bar.

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Hi, I’m not really a blogger, I’m an old manuscript assessor, assessing mostly fiction. What I’ve noticed is that a lot of the things people in the game take for granted writers starting out simply don’t know – how wide should your margins be? Should you use double spacing or single? Where’s the best place to put the page numbers? What spelling should I follow? Oh and lots more.

So I thought I might lay out a few tips for those writing their first long work (and those writing short stories, let’s not forget them), be it fiction, non fiction or memoir. Every Sunday, I’ll try to put something here that I think might be helpful.

You want more information? Okay. (Sorry about the change in POV.)

DANIELLE de Valera’s father swore she was related on her mother’s side to Eamon de Valera, the controversial Irish politician — but he told some tall tales in his time, and this could be one of them. What we do know is that she was born in Sydney, 1938, educated Brisbane and Townsville. In 1959, she obtained a B Agr Sc. from the University of Queensland, worked as a botanist for a couple of years and later, as a copy-editor for The Jacaranda Press. A freelance manuscript assessor and fiction editor since 1992, she runs the Patrick de Valera Manuscript Appraisal Agency, where she helps aspiring writers to hone their work and ultimately get published. As well as this blog, she has another, more airy-fairy one at http:www.ecademy.com/blog/danielledevalera

A published author in her own right, in August 2011 her 108,000 word fiction manuscript SOME KIND OF ROMANTIC was one of 4 shortlisted for the Byron Bay Writers’ Festival Unpublished Manuscript Award. In 2012, it was short-listed in the UK for the Impress Prize. In 2001, with former client and cowriter Lucy Forster, whose rom-com novel FINDING ELIZABETH has just been released, she won the Australia & New Zealand-wide Emma Darcy Award for Romance Manuscript of the Year 2000 with FOUND: ONE LOVER. She has also won numerous awards for her short stories, which have been published in such diverse publications as PENTHOUSE, AUREALIS and the AUSTRALIAN WOMEN’S WEEKLY, and are currently in six Australian anthologies. She is now revising her 70,000 word novel set in Mullumbimby and surrounds in 1986 — Byron Shire became the epicentre of the Australian dropout movement of the late ’70s, early ’80s, following the Nimbin Festival of 1973.

Most recent job: editing Allan Staines’  TO VANISH IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT, soon to be released by Pinedale Press.

If you know someone who’s struggling with a long work, or even a short one, she can help them hone it to publication standards. If there’s no hope for it, she’ll tell them that, too, but in such a way that they won’t have to be scraped up off the floor and put together again by understanding friends and family. Her clients come from all over Australia, plus the UK and USA. You can email her at patrickdevalera@gmail.com, phone her at +61 0266803073, or text her at +61 466 013 199.

And remember: as the character Larry says in THROW MOMMA FROM THE TRAIN: ‘A writer writes, always.’

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