Thursday, 24 February 2011

Libraries: not life or death, apparently

We're all aware that there's enormous anger about councils up and down the land planning to close libraries to save money. No doubt many of you have signed petitions in protest, or joined in mass book-borrowings and similar gestures. Here in Oxfordshire, 20 of the county's 43 libraries stand in peril - I refer you to my post last month about Philip Pullman's passionate speech in defence of the role of libraries (see also Michael Morpurgo in his recent Richard Dimbleby lecture). Of course, there's some pretty forceful correspondence going on in our local newspapers and even though the County Council has now said they will review the situation (Playing for time? Hoping we'll all go away?), I was horrified by the patronising and complacent tone of leader Keith Mitchell in the letters page of The Oxford Times last week. This is what he replied to a certain Dr Diana Sanders: 'I am only sorry that your love of library buildings, collections, reference books and maps does not extend to the human beings - young and vulnerable, old, disabled, with learning disabilities or mental health problems - who will have to endure extra cuts if we were to exempt libraries. No one will die if there are a few fewer libraries in Oxfordshire.'

I'll give you a few moments, to allow your blood to come down from boiling point, shall I?

Where do I start to describe how wrong all of this is? Why does his tone have to be so sneering? He is a public servant, is he not? I'm sure we're all thinking 'No one will die if there are a few fewer overpaid council officials ...'

Why does he claim that to love books and literary resources somehow makes you misanthropic to the degree that you do not care for the poor and needy? Are the two interests mutually exclusive? Does he view all book-lovers as crouched in candlelit studies, poring over precious manuscripts, pince-nez perched in front of beady eyes, while ragged beggars cluster outside our gates, palms outstretched? Are we saying 'Let them eat vellum?'

The cost of libraries and library services is relatively small in the scheme of things. I'm sure I don't need to reiterate what Messrs Pullman and Morpurgo and many others have said about the value of a professionally managed resource of knowledge, about access to all, about the psychological and cultural importance of books, about our nation's need to take pride in our heritage and its duty to help its people to fulfil their potential. Fulfilling potential and meeting needs is not just about disabled access or council social services (which, by the way, are also taking massive hits, including closures of youth centres in Oxfordshire and the Oxford Carers' Centre), but about hearts and minds, about enriching knowledge, awareness, a connection with the past and with each other.

Ironically, Mr Mitchell had picked on the wrong person. Dr Diana Sanders works for the NHS, counselling the terminally ill. She herself has endured a heart and lung transplant. So she knows about health problems and she knows about empathising with others. He has apologised in this week's Oxford Times, but I do think a more prolonged diet of humble pie would do him some good.

Friday, 18 February 2011

TOC 2011: Margaret Atwood, "The Publishing Pie: An Author's View"

Wise, witty and with great drawings! Margaret Atwood's thoughts on the current and past relationship of author (aka 'primary source') and publisher/agent/reviewer/critic/librarian etc (all sustained by said primary source).

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Latest Quote of Note

I've just posted a quotation by Terry Pratchett and my thoughts on it on the Quotes of Notes page in the Writing Inspiration section of my website so head on over there! Remember also that my Early Bird Booking offer for my spring fictionfire courses runs until the end of this month - full details also on the site.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Joanna Penn Guest Posts on Indie Publishing: What Is It and Why Should You Consider It?

I'm delighted that Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn has agreed to guest-post on Literascribe, discussing her experience of independent publishing, focussing on the benefits and the potential hazards of choosing this route. Her thriller Pentecost is now available - you can buy it on Amazon in print and on Kindle today! It's a fast-paced commercial spiritual thriller in the Dan Brown vein - and I have a particular interest because she's set part of it in Oxford where I live!

Here's what she has to say:  
Indie or independent publishing is the new name for self-publishing. It's a proactive choice and not a last resort. It's a stamp of pride for online entrepreneurs who are at the forefront of new publishing technologies. It's being embraced by more and more authors who want to receive 70% royalties for their writing and are willing to put in the extra effort to make it work.

I published my thriller novel Pentecost as an indie author and have previously indie published three non-fiction books. Here are some of my reasons:

Speed to market. I'm a fast worker and love to see the results of my work immediately. I also like getting paid for my efforts. Once a book is complete, you can publish it on the Kindle and have the book selling within 24 hours. The money is in your bank account the next month and you can see the sales figures every day. It's immediate feedback. You can have a print book selling in the Amazon store within a month of publishing it with Lightning Source as print-on-demand. Compare that to traditionally published authors who may never see exact sales figures or will wait months for them. That's after waiting 18 months for the book to launch.

Entrepreneurship. I've been a freelance consultant for years now and love the control of being my own boss. I know business and like to control my own projects and finance. I also enjoy marketing and have buitl an online platform over the last two years which means that I have an audience to share my work with. I like to blog, speak and sell as well as write. Indie publishing appeals to my sense of entrepreneurial skill. I like to learn things, embrace technology and try new things out. By being in charge of my work, by owning the rights, I can give books away for free or price them how I like.

I'm not ruling out a traditional publishing deal and increasingly publishers are looking for books that break out by self-published authors. But right now, indie publishing is fantastic for me. My books are out there being read and my efforts are focused on marketing and promotion, a positive energy of achievement instead of the negative energy surrounding rejection and chasing agents with work.

That said, there are criticisms of self-published work that indies try to counteract.

Lack of quality. This is easy to fix if you are committed to a quality product. I engaged a book designer, two separate editors as well as proof-readers for Pentecost and all committed indies produce high quality work.

The "stigma" of self-publishing. As more quality indie titles are published and successful, the stigma lessens. Plus we are trying to rebrand as "independents"! It also depends on who you are trying to impress - publishers or readers? Readers generally don't notice or care who the publisher is and on, the biggest bookstore in  the world, my book has the same page space as Dan Brown.

Online sales of ebooks and print books are a huge growth market and it doesn't matter how you publish  now as long as it's a great book and you know how to market. So consider indie publishing if you're willing to invest in building an author platform and you enjoy running your own business! I've found it to be fantastically rewarding!

I'm sure you'll find Joanna's comments really interesting - this is such a hot topic just now and it is very much for every would-be writer to weigh up the advantages of speed and autonomy versus the burden of being a self-marketer. I agree that for indie publishing to work, the books need to have the same level of professional care and concern with aesthetic appeal invested in them as with traditionally-published books. I think would-be self-publishers should be prepared to face some tough decisions: is their work of a high enough quality? Are they prepared to edit and rework their writing? Are they being premature in putting the work out there (that's the danger of 'speed to market')? Are they prepared to invest time and money in presentation and marketing?

For further discussion of this topic, see also my blogpost back in September after visiting the Kingston Self-Publishing Conference.

In the meantime, let's wish Joanna every success with Pentecost! (Joanna is also a blogger at The Creative Penn: Adventures in Writing, Publishing and Book Marketing. You can connect with Joanna on Twitter @thecreativepenn)

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Joanna Penn guest blogs here next week!

I'm delighted to announce that Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn will be guesting on literascribe on Monday 7th February. Her novel Pentecost comes out next week and she'll be discussing the pros and cons of independent publishing, a subject so many of us are fascinated by during this period of immense change in the world of publishing, where alternatives to the traditional routes have never been so accessible or so appealing. Joanna is a hugely knowledgeable and helpful blogger, speaker and adviser on writing, publishing and book marketing so her thoughts on this topic will be of immense interest.

And here's a reminder from me about my fictionfire courses in May: my Early Bird booking fee runs till the end of February, so if you're interested in Essential Story Construction or Creating Narrative Perspective and Voice (or both!), check out the details on my fictionfire website. I'd love it if you could join us!