The next post will be on or before Wednesday 21st November
A KINDLE ON AMAZON I MUST GO
Yesterday the 11th November 2018, my comic extravaganza novel The Lawless Book of Love (2018) which has never appeared in book form, went digital i.e. became a Kindle e-book available on Amazon. In case you are impressed not to say puzzled by the sprightly old bugger that is me, aged 68, doing something fearlessly and uncharacteristically youthful, you need to be aware it was not my inspiration but that of my daughter Ione aged 29 who lives and works in Leeds, UK. Ione in the last 4 years has done massive and admittedly much needed make-over work on her appalling default Luddite of a Dad in the form of a) putting me on a dating site and hence after an inscrutable fashion attempting to sort out my love life b) getting me to write the blog that you are reading now (after my wife of 30 years Annie died in 2009 I had no wish to write anything at all for a full 5 years, which was when Ione suddenly and ingeniously got me kick-started) c) Putting me on Facebook with 2 separate accounts no less, which in terms of routing my uproarious prejudices, was the equivalent of the heroic Hercules cleansing the Augean stables (previously I had always genially referred to it as Arsebook, and I wasn’t using arse in the admiring erotic sense believe me) d) Buying me a smartphone whose principal value is it allows me to take nice photos of Kythnos characters (Bulgarians and Albanians as well as Greeks) and slap them on fb with a nifty little biographical cameo perched below. They are very popular on the island and I even had one likeable Albanian lad unashamedly walking up to me and asking me if he might be next. He added that he would need at least a day’s notice to look as spruce as he would wish to be seen on the digital platform.
To put it all in context, my daughter at one stage trained in digital advertising, hence understands a crafty step by step testing the water tactic when doing any promotion. She is also a dab hand at web design and as an automation test engineer and with a partner Ado who is a very experienced programmer, she is decidedly more digital than most. When it comes to promoting my book, and given that she was only 9 in 1998 when we first acquired the internet, Ione is at the opposite end of my historical and increasingly outmoded notion of the publishing and dissemination of, now that the world is growing ever more a a-kindle, that formerly set in stone 3-dimensional artefact called ‘a book’. In the old pre-internet days to publish a book you had first to buckle down by whatever means and then write the bugger/bastard which might take from 6 months to 6 years to 20 years or more, if like the Sicilian Lampedusa it was your lifelong brooding magnum opus. If you were lucky you would already have a literary agent and a publisher, and if the latter accepted your book, you would wait a minimum of 12 months for it to appear, though these days it can often be 2 years, in which period of course you might act in bad faith and inconveniently snuff it. I am not joking when I point out that those pampered and very successful UK writers with their 3-book deals, often have to take out insurance to compensate the publisher should they drop dead and slothfully omit to be there for the Waterstones’ knees’ up launch in the interim.
The sales route afterwards, is that the publisher waits for good and quotable reviews in newspapers and magazines, or possible encomia from someone famous, either literary or a TV chat show host who salivatingly claims to like nothing better than a rattling good book, indeed far more, with hand to heart, viewers, than his more than justified 6-figure salary. Armed with these reviews, the publishers’ reps then go round the bookshops and take orders, and if in addition the author is being interviewed on BBC Radio 4 or a TV Breakfast Show or even local radio or performing at some splendid litfest, all that should help the books to fly. Such a model only ever worked, and not always then, for the big metropolitan publishers, for nearly all the small independent literary presses such as my last one Flambard, had to depend on being repped by idealistic, virtually philanthropic concerns such as Central Books. These principled and kindly distributors might have literally dozens of small presses as their clients, and even literary magazines that they were repping wherever they could, so that if you were just one of 50 such independent publishers, your chances of sales were slim, even with the best of reviews. This was precisely the case a year after I was Booker-listed with Jazz Etc, when my 2004 novel Murphy’s Favourite Channels was reviewed absolutely everywhere, and mostly very favourably. I even got a full page with mugshot in the Independent on Sunday. I even achieved Novel of the Week status in the delightful Shire Tories’ favourite newspaper, the Daily Telegraph. In all I had 10 reviews in major papers and magazines, all of which sold all of 500 copies of Murphy’s Favourite Channels, meaning no more than vanity press numbers. For argument’s sake, had I been with Jonathan Cape I might have sold 10,000 copies or more. The reason was that my publisher did not have the financial means to promote the much-reviewed book, nor did he have a top honcho rep who only handled a handful of classy imprints such as Cape, Faber, Secker and the rest.
Things have gone severely arse-up for almost everyone involved in the book trade, writers especially, in the last decade or so. People have stopped buying newspapers and prefer to read the news for free online. Book reviews such as they are, tend to be a good deal shorter, and the literary editor if there be one, has less money to pay any reviewer, so that in some cases he or she does the reviewing themselves to save money. When it comes to literary magazines, journals that should be getting their act together and reviewing neglected fiction, often review very little, notably the august London Review of Books which discusses one novel per fortnight, and then only of a celebrity bigshot. Outstandingly the UK Literary Review edited by Nancy Sladek manages to showcase about a dozen works of fiction per issue as well as round ups of first novels and thrillers, but it is startingly alone in doing this, and the situation is getting bleaker year by year.
If you are lucky enough to have your book in both print and Kindle versions, then notionally your Kindle can ride on the back of the former, and sell on the basis of any previous print publicity. But many a Kindle only exists in digital form, and the only other place my book The Lawless Book of Love can be read is via another digital source, namely this the blog that you are reading (see the January and February 2018 archive). Between 1985 and 2009, almost a quarter of a century, I published 10 conventionally printed works of fiction, and any sales they had came via newspaper and magazine reviews, which in the old days zealous librarians used to study and then might courageously decide to buy the new unfashionable talents for their library. My novels were also repped in a modest number of bookshops, mostly in London, even though most of them were set in Cumbria and my family and I were living in Cumbria. It is a stark fact that the bulk of UK fiction sells mostly in London bookshops, whatever the novel’s geographical setting. Many Cumbrian booksellers (Steve Matthews of Bookends, Carlisle, with his admirable Keswick outpost, is a wonderful exception) were extremely leery and far from embarrassed about refusing to take on the local lad, should they have to choose between him and Jeffrey Archer or Martina Cole.
But now it is like a Zen awakening for me. With no publisher these days other than my blog, no literary agent, no bookshops, no reviews, no reps, the only way my Kindle book can shift on Amazon is by nifty advertising, by that and that alone. I am lucky inasmuch as I can quote from distinguished critics, namely DJ Taylor and Jonathan Coe, who have both said very generous things about my writing (‘one of my favourite writers’ from Taylor and ‘one of the best comic writers we’ve got’ from Coe). Using digital means, namely Facebook, and with the advice of Ione, I will construct three ads with lively quotes from the novel itself, and with a testimonial from either celebrity critic, not to speak of a prominent mention of my Jazz Etc Booker listing. Ingenious Ione says that we will invest experimentally in those 3 ads, see which works best, and then concentrate on that one, and invest a good bit more. For a modest amount of money, would you believe it is possible on Facebook to reach 100,000 people, a fraction of what it would cost anywhere else. Meanwhile, I never thought that I would end up admiring contentious Facebook much more than I do the hallowed London Review of Books, and those deliriously squawky Radio 4 book shows, not to speak of the venerable Curtis Brown agents, and those peerless Messrs Faber and Faber and the Bodley Head and all the rest.
But believe you me, I do…
Finally, I would sincerely ask you to wIsh me luck. I am in a Brave New World, a benign and I believe an optimistic one in this case, but I am nowhere near as brainy as Aldous Huxley was. The link to my new book is below.