I’ve always thought the best part of an adventure comes with the telling. That’s when myths and legends are born – out of the ordinary actions of ordinary people. In a way, it’s the story that really is the adventure, not the events at all. It’s the story-teller who collects the incidents, shapes them, colours them, decides which to keep and which to discard. He can make a hero out of a bystander, a villain out of a man acting under orders. He can make the trivial significant, the accidental planned, cowardice an act of bravery. The wonderful thing is, it’s all true – just because he tells us so, and the story is his invention.
A fictional character reflecting on myth-making. I guess that makes it untrue.
But a myth doesn’t need to be true; it needs to be Truth.
On a more serious note today, I’m going to introduce a new scheme – Author Associates, intended as a model to strengthen the relationship between writers and enthusiastic readers. I want to look again at Andy Woodworth’s eBook Reader’s Bill of Rights, and suggest how we could give our readers real ownership of the eBooks they buy (which Amazon denies at the moment). And I want to show why Smashwords is one of the indie writer’s most important tools.
First, let’s recap. In my last post, I explained (well, narrated really) why I’m increasing the price of my e-novel – to $5.95 in the US and £3.75 in the UK (plus all the various delivery charges and taxes that eBooks so unfairly attract). The reason was to change reader expectations. At $0.99, the expectation is probably low, and I may be damaging my book’s prospects in two ways: first by not attracting the right kind of reader; and second, by attracting the wrong kind of reader.
‘Right’ and ‘wrong’ is not a value judgement – it’s not the same as saying ‘good’ and ‘bad’. In the book market, there’s plenty of room for both fast-food and fine-dining. Both have their place. But you’d better be sure that if your customers are expecting McDonalds, you don’t offer soft candlelight, an expensive wine-list, discreet table-side service. Or vice versa. You’ll just get them confused – and probably unhappy.
What sort of customers do I want? I’m looking for discriminating readers – people who’ll come to the table with high expectations. They want a good yarn told with craftsmanship, artistry, polish. By increasing the recommended retail price, I hope I’ll be able to find them.
The Value of Sharing
Yet in earlier posts, I’ve often promoted the importance of sharing and the value of free. Not long ago, I wrote:
‘If I look at the books and the authors I love best, almost without exception I started reading because of the recommendation of a teacher or reviewer I respected, or a friend or a family member. In many cases, I was a borrower, then a convert, then a purchaser.’
Look at the copyright notice on The Lebanese Troubles and you’ll see that I’ve encouraged readers to share the book with friends and family, instead of insisting (as most eBooks do) that each reader must purchase a separate copy. It’s not because I don’t need the money: like most writers, I need to make enough to support my habit. But I’m taking the long-term view.
Will readers really recommend? If my work’s good enough, I believe they will. Our libraries and music collections define us: they show our friends who we really are. That’s why Goodreads is so popular. And if we spot a new talent, so much the better: we can claim credit for being one of the first to notice. Yes, people do talk when they find a writer or a musician they really enjoy.
So What’s The Pitch?
Here goes our schizophrenic writer again, raising the price on the one hand while advocating sharing on the other. How can this make sense?
The recommended retail price sends my value signal to the market – and that’s where the price will settle in the long run. But at this point in my writing career, volume sales are far less important than winning the support of key ‘influencers’ – people who care enough about my writing project to become participants themselves. I need readers to post thoughtful reviews on the key reader sites – Amazon (US and UK), Smashwords, Nook, Goodreads. I need them to recommend my work to friends. And not least, I need direct feedback.
Where am I going to find these people? Right here, on this blog, if I use it properly. By investing the same amount of creative energy and care into the blog as I would into a novel, it becomes an interactive showcase for my writing. I hear some writers complaining that blogging takes time away from their real writing. For me, this is real writing, and it’s the place where I can interact best with my readers – putting on a series of live gigs. If you enjoy the gig enough, chances are that you may start buying the published material … and hopefully you’ll tell your friends too, so they can catch up with the next performance.
The Author Associates Scheme
It’s because this core group of influencers is critical to my success that I’m launching my new scheme. This is how Author Associates works.
If you enjoy the blog, or already have a copy of ‘The Lebanese Troubles’, you are invited to register. Then, as an associate, you may:
1. Purchase your own copy of ‘The Lebanese Troubles’ for just $1.99, via a discount coupon that will allow the eBook to be read in any format. This offer will expire after 200 coupons have been issued.
2. Apply for a batch of 5 gift coupons, allowing friends and family to get the eBook free of charge on your recommendation.
3. Apply for up to 20 discount coupons, allowing members of your reading-group to purchase the eBook at half-price.
4. Register your TLT purchase. Then, if you have purchased for one e-reader, you will be able to view the eBook in any format. You will also be entitled to a free replacement copy, should your original copy become inaccessible, for whatever reason.
5. View and comment on draft chapters of my next novel, scheduled from August 2011 onwards.
Reader Rights and Redundancy Marketing
Before we look at implementation, let’s just pause for a moment on clause 4 – being able to view the book in any e-reader format, and getting a free replacement copy if your original copy is lost or broken. My thinking here has been greatly influenced (again!) by Andy Woodworth’s e-Book Reader’s Bill of Rights. Here’s his complaint.
‘Digital Rights Management (DRM), like a tariff, acts as a mechanism to inhibit this free exchange of ideas, literature, and information. Likewise, the current licensing arrangements mean that readers never possess ultimate control over their own personal reading material. These are not acceptable conditions for eBooks.’
I wholeheartedly agree with Andy’s stand. In the digital age, equipment manufacturers and content providers have profited enormously from built-in redundancy. If you’re old enough, you’ll remember the Betamax/VHS divide in the early days of VTR. When VHS finally won out, my whole investment in Betamax videos was wasted: if I loved a film, I had to buy my Betamax version all over again to watch it on my new VHS machine. And then again when DVD swept in to replace video. And then again when I moved back from the Mid-East to the UK, only to find that my DVD player wouldn’t work with European disks, and that my new European player read my existing collection as a series of question-marks. It happens with printers as well. I’ve been using my trusty printer for years, but now they’ve stopped issuing the ink cartridges for that model. And how many times does Microsoft want me to buy their operating system? It’s just an operating system, for goodness sake! I don’t care!
We’re going the same way with eBooks, unfortunately. Yes, there’s apparently an industry-standard – ePub – and the ePub version is fine for the iPad and the Nook. But not on the Kindle. And if I publish via Amazon, using the .mobi standard, that’s fine for the Kindle, but not anything else. I worry about closed systems. I worry even more when I see, in the small print, that the purchase I thought I’d just made is only a license: the eBook doesn’t really belong to me, as a printed book does. If the only concern is to maximize sales and profitability – to sell the same product again and again as hardware is updated or replaced – then all this makes perfect sense. But for anyone who feels that the customer’s interests should come first, redundancy marketing is repugnant.
The good news is that – because I’ve taken the indie path to publishing – I can take a stand and offer my readers a much better deal. With a little help from Smashwords.
Smashwords To The Rescue
Smashwords is a very popular digital publishing platform, but I hear the occasional criticism from authors who say they never actually sell anything there; readers flock to Smashwords looking for free books, but when they want to buy, they go to Amazon. That may be true at present, but it’s a misunderstanding of the Smashwords mission. The site has been built by a writer for writers, and it’s a place where the writer’s interests always come first, where we can truly exercise our freedom to publish, price and market in the way we choose.
When I publish there, my eBook is automatically converted into 10 different formats. So no matter which e-reading device the reader prefers – Kindle, iPad, Nook, the Sony Reader, the PC or laptop, a mobile phone – one of the Smashwords versions is going to do the job (- not necessarily perfectly, but we’ll come to that another time).
The second huge Smashwords benefit is that it gives me complete control and authority over any discounts that I choose to offer. It gives me the flexibility to offer gift vouchers and discount coupons via Author Associates; better still, it has a reporting system that allows me to relate a coupon number to an individual associate, so that I can track coupons already used, and monitor the effectiveness of my scheme.
Getting Started As An Associate
There’s still work to be done to perfect the new scheme. Smashwords doesn’t tell me who’s purchased my books. Nor should they. I personally wouldn’t want to be pursued by every writer whose book I’d downloaded just to take a look-see. It’s important that Author Associates should be an opt-in scheme for readers who are genuinely enthusiastic, and that no-one should feel pressurized to participate. But that means I’ll need to build a special sign-up tool here on the blog. (Don’t be surprised if you see scaffolding here in the next few days.) I’m going to need a good database too, to keep on top of the interactions with associates. Luckily in another life, I’m a web/database designer – so I’ll be able to cope. No doubt there’ll be other teething problems…
But to get started, there’s nothing like starting. So if you’re interested in joining me as an Associate, and taking advantage of any or all the benefits of the scheme, just let me know right now in a brief comment, and I’ll get back to you by email with more details.
I’ve got to hand it to Marketing. They’re smart. Even if they screw up sometimes.
A few weeks back, they suggested a new campaign for the novel, all based on price. People will buy anything if you price it cheap enough, they told me, passing across the latest best-selling fiction figures. I scanned the list – John Locke, Amanda Hocking, Heather Killough Walden – each of them notching up thousands of $0.99 Kindle sales a week.
That could be you, Alain. Look, readers don’t even like the books much.
They had a point:
‘messy and predictable’
‘I would recommend this book for some mindless poolside reading’
‘a book that contains less than two dozen truly dirty words’
‘Too bad you can’t pick zero stars for the rating.’
If they’re selling thousands, you could be selling millions. All you need to do is come up with the right pitch.
And that’s how my Potato Campaign was born. “Buy my book because it costs less than a large potato.”
But my advisers were wrong. I didn’t sell millions. Or thousands. Or hundreds. Not even tens. It was time for a re-think. So last night, I called a team meeting. Marketing, Editing, the Publisher – they were all there. It wasn’t going to be easy. Marketing was already looking defensive.
- Guys, the Potato Campaign isn’t working.
- Says who?
- Says me. Here, look at the figures.
The Publisher took off his glasses, polished them carefully, put them back on, and read again. Editing sat low on their chairs, wishing they weren’t there. But Marketing came right back at me, bristling. They weren’t going to take this sort of thing from an author.
- Not in the title, no. But I certainly mentioned potato in the post.
- How many times do we have to tell you? It’s all about keywords. People don’t read posts. They read headlines. You gotta have your keywords in the headline.
- But people don’t care about potatoes.
- They might not care about them, but they eat them, right? Millions of potatoes a day. A potato doesn’t need love. It just needs to be affordable. It needs to be nutritious. And it needs to be there, right there in front of you, every time you step into the food-mart. So where was the potato in your food-mart, Alain?
- I’m sorry?
- How many times did you even mention potato in your blog?
- What, after the first time?
- After the first time.
- I didn’t.
- Well there you are. How do you expect us to help you?
He snapped a pencil in two between his fingers and slammed the pieces onto the desk. No-one breathed. But he wasn’t finished with me yet.
- The problem with you, Alain, is that you give us nothing to work with. We need something that people care about, something they think is important.
- What, like a potato, you mean?
- Forget the friggin’ potato. Like I said, that was just a pitch. No, what we need is less of that Look-at me-I’m-an-author-This-is-literary-fiction bullshit. We need believable characters – American preferably – a detective, a hero, a love interest. And maybe you should think about a rewrite for the YA market.
Someone in Editing was trying to catch my eye. There was an almost imperceptible shake of the head. So at least I had their support. I rallied.
- There is a love interest.
- And how does that turn out?
He didn’t even bother to reply. But then a thought came to me.
- Listen, I’ve been reading …
- Oh you’ve been reading again, have you? Sweet.
- Yes. Seth Godin.
With those two magical words, the initiative swung back to me. Show me a marketer in the world who can resist Seth Godin. They snapped to attention, leaned forward across the table, waiting.
- Seth said …
- Seth said: ‘It’s probably true that a low price increases the negative feedback. That’s because a low price exposes the work to individuals that might not be raving fans.’
- ‘Price is often a signalling mechanism, and perhaps nowhere more than in the area of content.’
We paused to absorb the impact of the words.
- So that means ..?
- That means that if we sell the book at the price of a large potato, readers may come to associate it with a large potato. That’s how we’re signalling it. Useful, convenient, but not an object of desire.
Still Marketing wasn’t convinced.
- But I thought the aim was to maximize the sales of your book. Who said anything about desire? You’re not trying to tell me you want people to read the thing as well, are you?
- That’s exactly what I’m saying. Seth says: ‘Mass shouldn’t always be the goal. Impact may matter more.’
That was the turning-point. Mistakes were forgotten, hostilities put on ice, and we were back working as a team.
- So we need to use price to trigger a different expectation. Not a potato, but …
- Two potatoes?
By this time, we’d clearly left the Publisher lagging some way behind, but our minds were racing.
- An object of desire with a price proposition to match, something our reader wants, longs for at the end of a busy day. Who is this reader, Alain?
- An adult. Gotta be an adult, male or female, probably mid-twenties upward.
- And this adult gets from your book? Remind me, Alain. What do they get? Gimme the words.
- Well … mystery, adventure … a hint of the exotic … humor … excitement … sex … danger … retro …
- I see it! I see it! I think I’ve got it. You know that ad they’re running on TV for the beer … you know the one – Triple Filtrée … a Smooth Outcome.
- Yeah, I see where you’re coming from. Sixties setting – the beautiful bored wife – the suave debonair hero sweeping her away from her husband – the sexy French overdub. That’s brilliant.
- But guys. My hero’s not suave and debonair.
- No matter. This is advertising. Nothing has to be true. D’you think when you drink the stuff you’re gonna turn into the guy in the ad? Or the girl? It’s not about truth. It’s about aspiration.
- Where are we going with this?
- It’s the price-point, don’t you see? Not a large potato. We sell it for the price of a large beer. And – God, this is amazing – that’s our campaign too.
- Go on.
- Triple filtrée. You ever seen a book promoted like that before?
- No, never. Er … maybe, I’m slow but I’m not getting it.
- Triple filtrée. So you say the book’s been edited three times. Not once, not twice, but three times … and now it has less than 3 really dirty words. We might even make it into the YA market, who knows?
This was getting exciting. Next we had to work out how to handle the Smooth Outcome, and we were all busy swapping ideas – when my wife suddenly popped her head round the door.
- Have you any idea what time it is?
- I’m sorry … were we too loud?
- Oh, is there someone with you?
- Yes. Have you met …
But as I swung back round to the table, they were gone. Every last one of them. Only the broken pencil remained on the table.
- Er, no. It’s just me.
- I worry about you. Don’t you think you should be coming to bed? It’s 2:30.
By daybreak, the new pricing was set, the campaign was in place, and we were ready to go.
That’s the thing about being an indie writer. You can make decisions quickly, change your mind if you’re getting the strategy wrong, implement immediately, call meetings any time of the day or night.
But if you’re doing it at night, just try to keep the noise down.
# # #
The Lebanese Troubles is now available for the price of a large beer. ‘Triple Filtrée … No Smooth Outcome.’
If you’re thinking about buying the book, DON’T. Marketing came up with a few other ideas, which we’ll be announcing here tomorrow. If you can’t wait to get started though, you can now download the first 50% of the novel free at Smashwords. Works on any e-reader or your laptop/PC.
I’ve never been the most disciplined of writers. The characters I choose for my novels, I tend to give them a pretty free rein. I pass out a storyboard and a few lines to get things rolling, and then I leave them to get on with it. During rehearsals I tend to stand at the back, barking orders now and again if they start overcomplicating a scene, or if someone tries to hog the limelight. But by the time we come to the final draft, I’m out of it: my books are a performance where you never see the conductor.
It’s a method I’ve never regretted. Most of my best ideas have come from my characters.
But yesterday, with a jolt, I suddenly realized that I’ve been giving them too much freedom. Without warning, one of my characters just walked off the pages of my novel and into real life.
I wouldn’t have noticed it but for Twitter. There, trending in the UK, was the name Moussa Koussa. A double-take. Yes, Moussa Koussa. In translation, Moussa the Courgette (for US readers, that’s ‘Squash’). Just a minor character in The Lebanese Troubles. Had someone started reading my novel?
I checked the references. No, neither of my readers was responsible. Moussa Koussa, the reports said, was ‘the Libyan Foreign Minister who had just deserted Gadaffi and defected to the UK’.
A likely story! Did you ever hear of him before? Nor me. And with a stupid name like that? Flying into Farnborough Airport, recently featured in a Bond film. Just the sort of thing you’d expect from a novel character! I groaned.
More digging. Plenty of news stories for March 30-31. But anything before that? You’ve guessed it. Hardly anything. Just a few articles and a hastily cobbled-together Wikipedia entry in French and English, enough to throw researchers off the scent. But readers, I’m warning you right now: Mr Courgette is just a figment of my imagination.
I shouldn’t have been surprised – it’s not the first time it’s happened. If you’re familiar with the work of Jasper Fforde, you’ll recognize Moussa as a …
PageRunner: Name given to any character who is out of his or her book and moves through the back-story (or more rarely the plot) of another book. They may be lost, vacationing, part of the Character Exchange Programme or criminals, intent on mischief.
(Lost in a Good Book – Jasper Fforde)
And just this week, writer Stefano Boscutti wrote to me:
“in a networked world, immovable text is history. We need to somehow liberate and network the stories we write. Characters appearing in one story then popping up in another. I’m trying to do that in my stories where I make a cameo in every one … It’s essentially the shift from an analog step-by-step media to a digital asynchronous-everywhere-all-at-once media.”
Where the writer plays God and exercises proper control, these exchanges can work well. Characters tend to remain ..er.. in character, and not cause too much damage in their parallel world. In Fforde’s work, for example, the Cheshire Cat is entirely believable as the Jurisfiction librarian; romantic hero Rochester saves the life of Fforde’s heroine, Thursday Next; and the shopper who tries to stand in the way of the Red Queen at the book-sale had better look out for her head. Miss Havisham, although ‘erratic and bordering on homicidal’ behind the wheel of a Porsche – and still a committed misandrist – learns to have fun in her new existence and emerges from her new book with great credit.
But with Moussa, it’s different. A few weeks ago, I wrote about the trouble I was having with some of my characters. But none of them actually broke out of the book before. Let me be honest – I fear he’s a loose cannon – that he may be intent on mischief. He’s dived straight into the murky Libyan affair, knowing how politicians and newspaper editors lap up a good fiction with a credible villain. My characters told me they wanted a higher profile. Looks like Moussa’s going for gold.
There are lessons here for us all. Writers, remember that – as my old headmaster sagely advised – “Liberty is not the same as license.” Give your characters freedom, by all means, but make sure they’re clear about the rules so they don’t step too far out of line.
And readers. Be sceptical. Be very sceptical. Question everything that claims to be true. Remember that for all you know, I may be a creation of fiction.
For all I know, you may be too.
Notes and References
To find out more about the real Moussa Koussa, here he is in ‘The Lebanese Troubles’.
And here’s the post where I originally reported trouble brewing with my characters.
OK – so not Jasper Fforde? Something shorter? Then sample Stefano Boscutto, for free on Smashwords. Here Stefano tells you how to write a best-selling novel … or part of a best-selling novel, at least … a very small part.
Last time, we discussed how different the novel might become – for writers and readers – if we start thinking in terms of writing for digital media instead of the printed page.
I’d be astonished in this didn’t result in a whole new way of entertaining people with stories eventually. Which way will it go? Some writers will surely work with creators of other digital content – artists, musicians, programmers – combining their creative skills. Another route will be writers who exploit technology to create a new kind of interactive experience with the reader. And then there will be the wordsmiths, people who still rely on old-fashioned tale-telling, but find ways to do it differently in digital form.
There’s also likely to be a much closer bond between writer and reader. As I wrote The Lebanese Troubles, I was privileged to work with a group of writers – some very experienced, some just beginning – at the author workshop site, The Next Big Writer. When we completed a chapter, we posted it for others to read and comment. Some reviewers acted as editors: they trapped errors and inconsistencies. Others read and left just a brief comment. But what I loved best of all was the group of fellow-writers who became emotionally involved in the story.
Emotional response became my litmus test. I wanted my readers to forget editing because they were having so much fun with the story. I wanted to know which characters they loved, liked or hated. I wanted to see if I could make them switch allegiances. When they guessed what might happen next, I wanted them to be wrong – but never to hear that the story was unbelievable. When I experimented with style, I wanted them not to notice. And I wanted the word to get around – that here was a story worth reading – to keep the readership steadily growing.
This incredible experience was like performing at a live event with the crowd’s support ringing in your ears. What you’re hearing is gut reaction. Applause for a great pass, a gasp as a character takes a (metaphorical) crunching tackle. Catcalls when you screw up. And pandemonium when there’s a touchdown.
Print writers never have any of that. They just get to read the match report the next day. Usually dispassionate, measured, analytical. I’m not saying that reviews aren’t important too, but when you’re a performer, you never forget the passion of the live audience.
But let’s remember this was a special circumstance. It wasn’t such a large crowd: we were playing behind closed doors at TNBW. Is it possible to maintain this rapport between readers and writer in the real world? Honestly? I don’t know – and won’t till I have a few more thousand readers. We certainly wouldn’t be able to use the TNBW way, where I responded to each individual reviewer.
But what we’re going to do – if you’re OK with this – is to try a live exercise now. In a moment I’m going to direct you to an extract from The Lebanese Troubles. It’s a scene where I’m deliberately experimenting with style, trying to take advantage of digital presentation and formatting. I’m not going to tell you any more than that now, but I will ask a few questions at the end of the extract, designed to get you thinking.
In the course of the next few days, I’d love you to post at the end of the extract any reactions or questions or complaints or criticisms you have. Anything that spurs you to write a few words. Let’s see how this develops into a conversation between readers and writer. And in about a week’s time, let’s take stock and consider what we’ve learnt – me included.
Are you ready for the jump. Here we go! (Or you can click on Writing Samples => The English Language Teacher.)
The worst of my week on the web – and the best Politics, poetry, and a call for compassion
Imagine. You’re a perfectly harmless despot who’s ruled the ‘island of happy smiles’ for several years. You’ve been generous to a fault. Just a month ago you gave $3000 to every family in the land .. and who can forget that you allowed your poor old uncle to purchase the prime commercial development site in the capital for just $3? There was economic freedom: no taxation! You let businesses hire cheap labor from anywhere in the world. And when the people asked for a voice, you gave them a parliament. You exercised your wisdom of course, to ensure that this did not mean the rule of the rabble. Your chosen advisers, wise and trusted friends and family members, continued to choose the right path for the country.
And yet, no matter what you gave, your ungrateful people wanted more. More freedom. More power. Jobs. The ouster of your uncle as prime minister after his 40 years of unselfish service in the job.
For weeks, they gathered around the Pearl Roundabout in their tens of thousands, chanting their demands and disrupting traffic, stopping those who had jobs from going to work. There were mistakes of course, but you were the first to admit them. For example, when someone gave the unfortunate command to fire on the demonstrators, killing three of them, you immediately faced the nation, expressed your condolences and promised a full investigation.
But still the demonstrators massed around the Pearl, calling now, unthinkably, for your removal. And finally, this week, your patience was exhausted. It was time to put an end to this madness. So you ordered the army to disperse the protesters with whatever force was required, accepted the kind offer of military support from your nervous fellow-rulers in the Gulf, arrested the ring-leaders, and put the country under curfew. No more Mr Nice Guy!
And then you decide to fix the problem once and for all. What was the cause of all this turmoil? What was the focal point? What else could it be but the 300-foot high monument, the Pearl itself? So you order it smashed.
When lives are lost and a nation’s iconic landmarks are destroyed in a wanton act of violence, the empty space left behind becomes the focus for rage. Ask New Yorkers. I fear this is not the end of the story. The Pearl lies vanquished and scattered on the ground like the Hydra, and my guess is that two heads will grow for each one cut off.
Why should I care? I’m not Bahraini and though I lived there for ten years, I don’t any longer. It’s none of my business.
And yet it is my business. Why do I write? Because I love wordcraft. Because I love to tell stories. Because one of life’s great pleasures is the stimulation that comes from sharing ideas and experiences with readers and other writers. But also because I want my stories to make an impact. I write about the dangers of closed minds and sectarianism and the futility of war.
As events have unfolded in Bahrain, I’ve been reliving my experiences in Beirut some 35 years ago when civil war was brewing. Protests by a majority underclass against a minority ruling-class: it always seems to start with jobs and money. Marches, a few deaths, clashes, protests intensify. The expats certain that everything will be back to normal by the weekend. They’re right: there’s a lull. But then it starts again, heavier weapons are mysteriously provided and Religion sweeps onto the scene. She’s disguised as Justice, blind, but carrying a book instead of scales, and her sword is not there to defend but to attack. Barricades are erected, check-points are set up. The cry goes up: ‘If you don’t kill them, they’ll kill you and everything you treasure.’ Trying to restore control, the government sends in the army, calls for military assistance from its neighbour. History retells itself.
And I started blogging and tweeting for all I was worth, to anyone who would listen. Read my story, I pleaded – and I directed them to this extract from The Lebanese Troubles. Do you really want Bahrain to be another Lebanon, with endless civil war? And guess what. Nobody listened. Or if they did, they sent messages like this:
I should have listened to Yeats:
I think it better that in times like these
A poet keep his mouth shut, for in truth
We have no gift to set a statesman right.
On Being Asked For A War Poem
It was poetry – via Twitter – that lifted my gloom. Angela Scott, tweeting as @whimsywriting, had posted the single word ‘Doubt’, with a link. Well Doubt was certainly what I was feeling – so I could only take a look. And this little gem was waiting for me, bringing a big smile back to my face:
Doubt’s Big Hairy Behind
Doubt tiptoes its way inside.
Before I know it,
Doubt blindsides me,
Takes me down,
Pins me to the ground
And flops its big hairy behind
On top of my chest.
I can’t move. I can’t breathe.
I spit in Doubt’s eye—my only defense—
But Doubt only grins through its pock-marked face,
And green-tinged smile, and swipes the spittle away.
He’s experienced worse.
Doubt’s got me
And he knows it too.
My gnat-like strength is waning.
My belief is gone.
I shift a little,
Make adjustments to carry Doubt’s weight.
He’s not going anywhere.
That’s perfectly clear.
So I may as well get comfortable.
What a brilliant image! Showing me that writing really can make a difference – at least if the reader’s in the mood for listening. If this inspires you to find out more about Angela, there’s a link to her blog at the end of the post.
And then another wonderful discovery, this time thanks to Sheri Brissenden (@SHBRISSENDEN) who’d ‘followed’ me on Twitter after I’d vented about the hatred coming out of Bahrain. There’s a huge amount of guck on Twitter, but when someone follows, I always make a point of checking out their last few posts to find out who they are. I could see immediately that Sheri was my kind of Tweeter. One of her messages immediately caught my attention: “The wonderful Karen Armstrong discusses the Charter for Compassion.” I’d never heard of Karen Armstrong. But I was up for compassion.
20 minutes later, I’d thrown Doubt off and was up for the struggle again, inspired by words like these:
The Golden Rule: Do not do to others what you would not like them to do to you.
Any interpretation of scripture which leads to hatred or disdain is illegitimate.
We’re living in a world where Religion has been hi-jacked.
We have a talent as a human species for messing up wonderful things.
The cause of all our present woes is political, but religion is a fault-line.
A lot of religious people prefer to be right rather than compassionate.
It’s time that we moved beyond toleration to appreciation of one another.
I leave you with Karen Armstrong herself. Here’s to a better next week.
Revolution, it seems, is all around us. Last time I talked about a publishing revolution, led by writers. But not to be left behind, readers are getting into the act too. Led by a fiery librarian, Andy Woodworth.
His blog post begins with a banner headline – “START A REVOLUTION”. Goodness, Andy, where did you get that typeface, with it’s dagger T’s, arrowhead V’s, and battleaxe L’s? This revolution promises violence.
But fear not, gentle reader. Andy’s not calling for blood – not yet, anyway. All he wants is a perfectly reasonable eBook User’s Bill of Rights. Essentially, these are the four demands:
eBooks should not be locked or limited, preventing readers from taking back-ups, or allowing publishers or writers to remove them at a whim. In others words, readers want to buy and own books, not receive a version under license.
When you purchase an eBook it should be available to you in the format of your choice. You should not need to buy a new copy if, for example, you decide to move your library from an IPad to a Kindle – or any new electronic reading device that may appear in coming years.
Readers should have the right to annotate, quote passages, print, and share eBook content within the spirit of fair use and copyright.
The eBook purchaser should be able to share and resell the book.
Is that a sharp intake of breath I hear from my friends up in the gods – the writers – after that last demand? What did you say? Something about a ‘dead body’?
Well, I’ll come back to demand four in a moment. But let’s look at the first three. From an independent writer’s standpoint, there’s nothing too outrageous here. I’m sure I speak for most writers when I say that I don’t want to lock my e-words away. I want them to float freely through the ether, available to potential readers at any place and at any time, unencumbered. And where my book seeds take root, I want them to grow. Sure, I want to make a fair living from my writing – a good living if possible – but unlike some operating system providers I could mention, I’m not interested in making my readers pay for an ‘updated’ version of the same book every couple of years.
I guess it’s different for the publishers and hardware suppliers. No soft and fluffy approach for them. There’s not the same emotional attachment to readers. They’re in business, they have stakeholders to satisfy, and in these straitened times, they need to make money every which way. Licensing, digital rights management, these are inventions hatched by the commercial folk, not by the artist.
The beauty of independent e-publishing is that authority remains in the author’s hands. We can choose, even when we publish with Amazon these days, not to lock our books with DRM. And we have a very important tool at our disposal. Smashwords.
Smashwords deserves all the recognition and support it can get, both from readers and writers. Smashwords may not yet be the sales powerhouse that Amazon is, but founder Mark Coker is clearly committed to the principle of author control. By following clear guidelines, our Smashwords books are available in all formats, for all readers, including PC readers. We can choose to distribute to any of the major outlets (except Amazon – I needed to make a separate version for them). We can sell at any price, including free. It’s easy to generate discounted or free vouchers.
And with this degree of control, here’s a way that we independents can meet Andy’s first and second demands. If we ask those who purchase to register their copy, then if their current copy is lost for whatever reason, or their hardware changes, we could issue a voucher via Smashwords for a replacement – in the format of their choice. It’s not quite as simple as it sounds. We need to think this through and perhaps develop a common approach or a simple tool … but it’s do-able. It’s on next week’s task-list.
Sharing ebooks would be word of mouth on steroids for authors since it means making a recommendation and the ability to put the book almost instantly in the (virtual) hands of another. Sharing is not a lost sale, but a new marketing foray into a previously unrealized potential fan.
OK, sharing, but what about re-selling? Even Andy admits that ‘I do not have a perfect answer on this point’, and flounders a little, suggesting a ‘limited DRM’.
Writers will have different views about this – likely formed by where they stand in the market. Those who have already made their fortune from books will probably be perfectly happy to lend. Mid-market authors struggling to make a living will probably resist.
Where do I stand? I’m perhaps a rather unusual writer: I’m not intending to publish paper editions of my current novel because it’s been designed as an e-book: my approach to dialog for example, would work less well on a printed page with its spacing limitations. But no print copy means no bookshop displays, no book signings. For that reason, word of mouth recommendations, viral marketing, reader reviews are essential. Even more so because of The Lebanese Troubles‘ genre. If the novel has to be categorized, it sits on the ‘literary’ shelf. And that’s not exactly where readers are massing.
So for me, Andy’s advice is a no-brainer. It’s all about engaging with readers, gradually gaining their commitment and support. So yes, I will encourage readers to share, and even to sell on their copies – and I’ll be making changes to the copyright notices as soon as Read an Ebook Week is over.
And nothing would please me more than offering my book through libraries. Andy, are you listening?