Category Archives: Trade Publishing

The rise of digital publishing and the death of the author

On seeing The Guardian‘s article on digital publishing and the death of the author, I was immediately reminded of my English BA days when I wrote about Roland  Barthes’ essay on ‘The death of the author’. Despite the differences in context, it appears that appealing to readers is more important to authors than writing titles that make a lot of money.

Digital Book World (DBW) surveyed 1,600 self-published authors and only 20% of those claimed it was “extremely important” to “make money writing books”. On the other hand, 56% said that publishing a “book that people will buy” was more important. Of course, in this day and age, social media/online platforms make it far more easier for authors to distribute their works. What’s more is that this also allows them to find audiences for their work. While digital publishing has indeed proved an advantage to authors in some instances, the DBW survey also stated that 54% of traditionally published and 80% of self-published authors earn less than £600 each year.

While the surge of self publishing combined with digital means that discoverabilty of literature is easier online in particular, it also means that the definition of an author is almost being devalued as a result. This is emphasised by Hugh Howey’s statement (Howey actually sold thousands of copies of his book, Wool, on Amazon prior to finding a publisher):

the self-publishing revolution has allowed “hundreds of thousands of voracious readers with a dream of writing a novel” to write books “out of love and passion, just like a kid goes out and dribbles a basketball for hours every day or kicks a soccer ball against a garage wall”. But over the past few decades we wouldn’t have called these people “writers” any more than we would call that kid in the back yard a footballer. If all it takes to be a writer is to stick your work online then we’re all writers now.

Howey further states that self-publishing is currently going through a “renaissance”. Today’s new authors do not have the same amount of experience  and “market maturity” to go up against the 1% of authors who have had numerous years of experience.

I guess if I was to link in some criticism here, I would use that of Michel Foucault’s What Is An Author? (1969):

The idea of the author is not a timeless figure: the figure and significance of the author varies across time, and from one culture to another, from one discourse to another and so on.

Drawing from what Howey states, and Foucault many years prior to this article, is the death of the author an actual occurrence? Or is it simply going through yet another change?

Picture by Donald D Palmer, 1997

Picture by Donald D Palmer, 1997

Image comes from: http://suewatling.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk/tag/death-of-the-author/ [Accessed: 27.01.14]

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Man Booker: to go Stateside, or to not go Stateside?

That is the question on everyone’s lips as newspapers and bloggers speculated whether or not the Man Booker Prize will be extended to American authors in 2014. Whilst the decision will remain undecided until Wednesday (18th) of this week, it hasn’t stopped the likes of The Guardian and The Bookseller reporting the possibility of the rule change to one of the world’s most prestigious literary prizes.

For the past 45 years, the Man Booker Prize has recognised the works of authors in the UK, Ireland and other countries of the Commonwealth. Extending the Prize out to authors across the pond has received mixed opinions. Writer/broadcaster Melvin Bragg compared the possible change to “a British company being taken over by some worldwide conglomerate”. The main concern is that allowing American writers to be a part of the prize will drastically diminish the award’s identity and its link with Britain.

On the other hand, allowing the Booker to go Stateside will ensure that the Prize receives more recognition internationally. Scott Pack, Me And My Big Mouth, wrote a good piece outlining 10 points about the move and pointed out that the USA is the only English-speaking country which isn’t currently included in the Man Booker. Pack also suggests that the Man Booker could end up stealing “some of the Baileys Prize or Orange Prize’s thunder” as they already include writers from the USA in addition to other worldwide authors.  Michael Bhaskar has also written a piece on The Bookseller: Keep it special‘ speculating his thoughts on the possible change.

I have mixed feelings about the possible change. I can see how it could be beneficial to the Prize itself in terms of promoting writing from undiscovered authors and small independent publishers. But on the other hand, the Man Booker Prize creates a sense of identity in British literature. The world is so inundated with global products, corporations, organisations etc. that I feel they can sometimes become disenfranchised to the point where people may actually lose interest. I personally believe that people like to find the undiscovered and I feel that the Man Booker Prize could still appeal to new people without the help of American authors.  Moreover, there are already other prizes (such as those mentioned previously) which credits American authors and their writing, so why not keep the Man Booker the way it is?

More on this on Wednesday when the decision will be finalised… In the meantime, here is a list of this year’s Man Booker Prize shortlist and reasons why it’s the best shortlist in a decade…

  • NoViolet Bulawayo We Need New Names (Chatto)

    Photo from The Guardian

    Photo from The Guardian

  • Eleanor Catton The Luminaries (Granta)
  • Jim Crace Harvest (Picador)
  • Jhumpa Lahiri The Lowland (Bloomsbury)
  • Ruth Ozeki A Tale for the Time Being (Canongate)
  • Colm Toibin The Testament of Mary (Viking)

A ‘digital-first’ future for publishing?

Whilst carrying out my regular scouring of the internet for anything publishing related, I came across the term digital-first. On looking more into the term, it appears that many publishers are looking to release new titles in digital format only, in order to predict as to whether the book can sell well in print format. Some of the first publishers to trial this new concept are HarperCollins and Harlequin.

The former announced earlier this year that mystery line, Witness Impulse, would be one of the first lines which the publisher would release digital-first. The first ten titles shall be released in October under the imprint, William Morrow.

Dan Mallory, the man behind the line noted that digital-first publishing was the most effective way to market unknown books and authors. He also highlighted that the launch involved libraries as they aim to deliver titles through ebook loans. Shawn Nicholls, marketing director for Impulse (an imprint of Morrow), mentioned that digital-first is ‘part of a larger branding campaign to build sales for midlist authors overall and to help readers discover’.

As  my previous blog entry suggests, discovering books through digital formats, i.e. the internet in particular, will become easier with apps such as BookVibe. Integration with digital is increasingly becoming a part of everybody’s daily life. Should ‘digital-first’ be embraced by more publishers in the future, it can be suggested that browsing for books online will become easier. (Now don’t even get me started on what this will mean for bricks-and-mortar booksellers!)


‘What’s in a name…?’

97814087039912The Guardian has today published an article stating that JK Rowling has been writing novels under pseudonym Robert Galbraith.

The crime novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling, was released in April of this year and received outstanding reviews. It was, however, due to these reviews and the novel being ‘too accomplished’ for a debut novel, that led the investigation into who actually wrote the book. JK Rowling said that:

“I had hoped to keep this secret a little longer because being Robert Galbraith has been such a liberating experience. It has been wonderful to publish without hype or expectation, and pure pleasure to get feedback under a different name.”

Of course the big reveal has led to a wave of criticism and debates through social media sites, as well as comments on The Guardian‘s page. I find it very hard to agree with some people’s comments, particularly the ones who state that the author’s true identity has only been revealed so that Rowling can earn more money. (Has everyone forgotten the millions which she has made through the Harry Potter series?!) The article reported that the novel has sold 1,500 copies. For a hardback novel, this is a fine achievement for an author we believed to have been making his debut.

It did make me wonder though… can the quality and success of a book be undermined according to the name on the front cover?

Well of course in most instances – yes! Let’s face it, publishers don’t have big branding campaigns and it is no lie that they use the authors’ names to sell their products. Of course a book is going to sell well if it is by an author which is already an established bestseller. People already know what to expect. On the other hand, there is also an argument that no, the name on the cover of a book doesn’t always determine the quality and success of the book. As the article states, The Cuckoo’s Calling has already experienced great success, despite the author not being known. In essence, you only have to think about every bestselling author out there; there was a time when (s)he was not known, yet the quality and success of their book was not undermined because of this.

I think it’s safe to say that in this instance, like those words uttered by Juliet and penned by Shakespeare: ‘that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet’ is a statement which, undoubtedly, can be applied here. 

 


‘Internet English’ destroying language?

The Guardian published an article today which piqued my interest. It posed the question: Is internet English debasing the language?

It got me thinking that with the evolution in internet technology constantly changing, what does this mean for the English language and is it being devalued as a result? And with the digital era in publishing, does this also devalue the English language in e-publications?

Robert McCrum, former editor-in-chief at Faber & Faber and current associate editor for The Observer, stated his concern over ‘the abuse and impoverishment of English online’ and what he perceives as ‘the overall crassness of English prose in the age of global communications (being blogs, emails, etc.)’

He did also mention the fact that depending on various websites and blogs, there is bad and very good writing all over the web. McCrum stated that ‘there’s just more writing at all levels of quality’. It can be argued that more people have access to the internet in this day and age and people are communicating through a multitude of mediums, therefore English is likely to be written in different levels of quality. With social media having a vast presence on the internet, today, and different generations using the sites, the quality of English language will undoubtedly vary. Take Twitter, for example. Twitter users base their entire communication messages on 140 characters or less, therefore creating a different level of English, for example, some people may choose to use ‘text’ language in which to get their full message across.

It has already been seen with the rise of ebook technology, that some ebooks may be published with grammatical errors which poses the question as to whether the English language is devalued in e-publications. There is no denying the surge in ebooks being published over the past year, and particularly with the many options available for people to self-publish their works, the quality of what is being published may not be to as high a standard as ebooks which might have been published by a publisher. In addition, many academic publishers are enhancing people’s access to journals through online access, and with the introduction of Open Access, does this mean that the English language could be devalued? In particular for academic publishers, I feel that the standard of publishing is too high for it to be thwarted by the internet.

So, as publishers continue to adapt to the digital age, it will be interesting to see how ‘internet English’ will continue to change the way in which we write over all aspects of the internet.

Do you think ‘internet English’ is destroying language?

Another article which may be of interest: George Orwell’s critique of internet English


Bloomsbury Spark – new e-book only imprint for Bloomsbury

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Bloomsbury Publishing has launched a brand new imprint called Bloomsbury Spark. The imprint will be for Young Adult novels and will be one of the first imprints in publishing to publish ebooks only. The first set of digital books will be released in September 2013.

According to the article in The Bookseller, Bloomsbury Children’s head Emma Hopkin said:

“We’ve seen a great increase in our digital sales in both the US and UK, in particular for YA titles, and we realised there was no YA-dedicated digital list, and Bloomsbury can offer local marketing around the globe for these titles.”

Bloomsbury has offices all over the world. Most notably in New York, New Delhi, Sydney and of course, London. By having such a vast presence in some of the world’s biggest cities for publishing, it will be interesting to launch the imprint and see where it is most successful. It is thought that the imprint will aim to publish 40 titles per year once the imprint is launched this autumn. With bestselling YA novels such as Twilight and The Hunger Games having been released by Atom and Scholastic, in the past, it shows that there is a massive potential success for the imprint when it launches.

Little, Brown already has an ebook only imprint, Blackfriars. With new electronic devices being launched and the potential of smartphone technology, digital will continue to rise. I think the main question is, which publishing houses will follow suit, next? Although Little, Brown and Bloomsbury appear to be some of the first publishers to adopt digital imprints; academic publishers such as Cambridge University Press and their Cambridge Books Online – a digital ebook platform which was launched in 2010 – show that are also adapting to the digital world.

Does this pose a danger to print books? Personally, I don’t think so. I don’t think that the public have fully embraced digital just yet. It’s all still quite a new concept and there are still issues with pricing, as well as a danger of the market being too saturated with products for people, publishers and other companies, to have fully taken everything digital on board. People still like the comfort and beauty of having a physical book in their hands.

Having recently attended a book talk in which Audrey Niffenegger talked about her new book, Raven Girl, (more on that, later!) I had the amazing opportunity of getting my copy of Raven Girl and The Time Traveler’s Wife signed. How would authors sign a digital copy of a book? There are still small matters such as this which prevent the book dying out completely. (Ok, so this obviously wouldn’t be one of the only reasons why print books wouldn’t die out, but it is definitely something to consider!)

Moreover, another recent article by The Bookseller  where print sales hit a 2013 high, shows that print is doing better than ever. The article mentions that in the week leading up to 9th March 2013, £25.2 million was spent on print books and was up from 1.2% the same week, last year (figures from Nielsen BookScan). So, after look at this evidence I think it’s safe to say that print books are here to stay. It must also be noted that the future is extremely exciting and unpredictable for publishers, regarding digital. It will be interesting to see the success of Bloomsbury’s new digital imprint, and whether the venture will encourage other publishers to do the same in the future.


Fan Fiction Forever?!

Bookselling giant, Amazon, is set to launch a publishing platform called Kindle Worlds in June 2013, which will enable fan fiction to be sold online. The news was announced on The Bookseller recently.

It has been thought that licenses have been obtained from the Warner Bros Television Group, Alloy Entertainment, for popular television programmes such as Gossip Girl, Vampire Diaries and Pretty Little Liars. Kindle Worlds will permit writers to publish any stories associated with the programmes, to be sold online. Rights holders of Kindle Worlds alongside authors of stories over 10,000 words will receive royalties of 35%, whereas a trial will be set up for works of 5-10,000 words, where authors will receive 20% of royalties.

With previous bestselling novels such as the Fifty Shades trilogy, which started off as fan fiction, it would enable popular, well-known television shows to be evolved as people write different interpretations of stories, enhancing characters in different ways and enabling readers to view parts of the stories they love in a different way.

As previously mentioned with the Fifty Shades trilogy being a success due to fan fiction, it proves that fan fiction has the potential to enhance trade publishing in the future, and potentially create more bestselling fiction. I think it will be interesting to see how many fan fiction novels are in the bestselling book charts this time next year.