An Haiku for You

Remember a typical English summer? No, neither do I. These days we seem to follow the pattern of a few hot days followed by a storm, a few drab days, rain, sun, rain, drab, maybe some sun, and expect another storm. Nevertheless, people are taking breaks and flowers have struggled into bloom. I don’t write much poetry but while I step back for a few days and until I post again I thought I’d leave you with a Haiku.

Why order direct?

On a weekend when I’m removing my Loose Id books owing to the publisher closing, a post on book sales is timely.

Sales are down. Not just my sales. Author sales. Book sales. There’s been many recent reports revealing the average income for a writer to be low. This one from the Guardian dated 2016 reports British authors’ annual income below minimum wage. For many it’s much lower, and nothing has improved. Dear Reader, if you thought writers were in this for the money, you’re mistaken.

What can help is in-house sales, but they are down the most. Print books tend to go out to distribution, a.k.a. shops. I’ll be simplifying here so figures will not be accurate but to provide a basic idea, let’s say the author gets a usual 7-10% on a print book. Often that’s not even on the cover price; not unless sold through the publisher. (Don’t forget possible taxes but that’s another subject I won’t throw into the equation for this post.)

As a rough example, let’s say we’re walking into a high street shop that sells printed books. In my imaginary store I’m setting the cover price of all the paperbacks at a cosy £5. Now if the shop takes £2 of a book’s cover price of £5, this means the profit (£3) shared by the publisher and writer is 90% to the publisher and 10% to the author. My maths may not be wonderful, but even I can say that’s £2.70 and 30p respectively.

To many this likely sounds like a lot less per book than they were expecting, but what if we’re talking about an £18 hardback? These figures get a lot larger as does the discrepancy between them.

If my father were alive, he would say a million x 30p is a lot of money but he was under the mistaken assumption authors automatically sell books in these kinds of numbers. In reality, many books never sell more than 500 copies or fewer.

I’m not saying don’t buy from bookshops. I’m saying do. I’m one of those who hates the disappearance of the high street bookshop, and these shops may well take £6 (often more) of an £18 book, but they have heavier overheads and can’t discount the same way as supermarket chains.

Electronic books tend to earn the writer a larger cut, anything from 25 to 50% is average with some markets. For our purposes, let’s set the author’s cut at the highest end of the scale at 50%.

If sold in-house this means on a £5 e-book the writer and publisher split the price so a nice £2.50 each. A big difference for the writer, though maybe not so great for the publisher, but, don’t forget, on a lower percentage, the split might be £1.25 to the writer and £3.75 to the publisher. A big difference to both. Still, don’t overlook the fact, if electronic books are sent out via a distributor the company will still take their cut the same as any bookstore would, and this can vary tremendously.

On an e-book the online retailer may take 35% or more. £5 – 35% = £3.25. Divided by 2 = £1.60 each to the writer and publisher. Right away both parties have lost 90p profit on a book had it sold in-house.

If the percentage taken by the retailer is higher, the potential ‘loss’ on the cover price to the writer AND the publisher can spell disaster, particularly when you take tax and other expenses into account. I know I said I wouldn’t mention those, and I won’t, but I will add books sold abroad will also be subject to the potential loss of earnings based on the exchange rate. For me, a book sold in dollars has on occasion suffered another hefty 50% chop on exchange.

In that scenario, you’ve got 100% minus 35% to the distributor, equals 65% divided 50/50 between writer and publisher, equals 32.5% to each, minus the exchange means my 50% is down to 19 to or 16% of the cover price.

Switching dollars over to pounds to make this more accessible: $5 – 35% = $3.25 divided by 50% = approximately $1.62 each to the publisher and writer, with a 40 to 50% lost on exchange = 97p to 81p earned by the author on say 500 copies means the writer may earn approximately £400 on one title or less. Divide that by the amount of man hours put in to write the book let alone go through the editing process and the hourly rate is pitiful.

To those who say e-books cost nothing to produce, they are wrong. To those who question why many writers at least consider ‘going it alone’ (not without its problems) there are reasons I’ll address another time.

Almost all e-book sales going to a certain one-click online retailer is putting publishers out of business. Buying direct helps keeps these publishers and writers afloat.

And here is where it becomes necessary to point out to anyone who owns a reader suitable files are available direct from most publishers now for all types of readers and tablets, and you receive the actual ‘file’ rather than rent it. Please bear this in mind next time you reach for your reader and buy with a ‘click’ because sales are down and in-house sales the most. This is why Loose Id and many other mid-range publishers have closed or are set to. For many, in-house sales are a sweet memory of a better past.

Watch out, he’s behind you!

It’s just as well only my husband is present during our recent binge ‘catch-up’ watch of The Walking Dead. Like a participant in Gogglebox — a show that invites the audience to watch people watching television (though I’ve only seen adverts for it, some reactions can be to great comic effect) — I’m not a silent viewer.

This is a trait that once drove my relatives to gritting their teeth with irritation, much as I do when an inconsiderate cinema-goer persists on talking during a film, or won’t put their phone away. I appreciate the frustration; however, in the cinema I restrict myself to a few gasps or loud laughter when appropriate. It’s an entirely different experience with an unspoken rule of no talking. I’ve paid a ticket and want to be submersed. I have never, unlike when a grandmother of mine went to the cinema, made not only a public faux pas, but done so twice in the time it took to run through a single showing.

The film was The Time Machine, the classic version starring Rod Taylor made in 1960. She went with her husband and her adult children, and they arrived just as the film started. Although only the opening credits were rolling, my nan, intent on not missing a minute, gaze glued to the screen, fumbled her way along a line of people already seated. I heard the story of how she stopped one seat short of her own chair and plopped herself down on a bald man’s lap. I’m unsure as to the significance of his being bald other than that being the way she forever thereafter described him amidst general hilarity, but I am confident he was as surprised as she. My nan made everyone switch seats so she could sit as far away from him as possible and then sat hidden and, she hoped, forgotten in the darkness…

Until the moment when ‘George’ makes his way into the Morlock cave and we see their gleaming eyes. While the hero tries to creep around and the Morlocks brace to launch an attack, my grandmother gasped, put her hands to her face and shouted out, “Watch out, he’s behind you!” The cinema audience on this occasion met my nan’s outburst with a round of laughter adding to the collective enjoyment.

I once worked with a woman who never understood this. When I referred to laughing or crying over stories — viewed or read — she always shook her head. Strange from someone who read all the time and professed to be a bookworm.

“But…but…but…” I stuttered, “how can you not cry over a sad scene?”

“But it’s not real,” she said.

As one who understands that stories are our way of examining and learning how to deal with reality, I beg to differ. As someone who has had to put a book down in a crowded train carriage owing to the risk of a tear or two escaping among strangers with no easy-to-explain reason, I fail to understand this lack of emotional attachment. Thrill seekers get on roller coasters looking for that up and down ride of a lifetime; book lovers take more tight turns and steep slopes lasting far longer than your average amusement park ride. Our pulses speed up, our stomachs grow tight, our throats close, we cry, and scream, and shout…with anger, with pain, with frustration, and with joy. Even when it hurts, we consider ourselves lucky.

Watching a beloved character’s harrowing death the other night (even though through reading the graphic novel I had a sense of what was coming), make no mistake, I was vocal about it. Feel free to share whether you experience a story without emotion or find it next to impossible not to laugh when something is funny, cheer when the outcome is good, or scream when it’s the end you were dreading.

Will Snow Angel ever see print?

Two announcements this week. First, I’ve signed a contract with JMS books for a brand new work entitled Flowers for the Gardener. It should be out in April. Also, Christmas Angel makes it to print.

One question I heard numerous times over what had to be ten years was would Snow Angel ever see print but I had no satisfactory answer to give. At this time of writing, it has. With Snow Angel, the sequel Angel Heart, and the new Christmas Angel (the last book completing a trilogy), now out in print, I can at last say a big thank you to those who requested print copies. Before now the only reply I had to give was…maybe. A simpler answer was yes because if all else had failed ‘one day’ I would have self-published. The trouble with that (discounting the fact I’m not currently of a mind to take the self-publishing route), I couldn’t state how far away ‘one day’ would be.

It’s official and Snow Angel became a best-selling book, doing better than many conventional printed paperbacks, with its sequel closely following in the rear. So why didn’t the first publisher take the initial titles to print? The reason a predominantly ebook publisher produces a print book is long and convoluted, and as easy to answer as the length of a piece of string. There is one answer I could give, and that was because both books fell out of the range of that publisher’s ‘accepted length’ for a printed book — one too long, the other too short, and together being impossible. So I knew the first publisher would never print the book.

The print option in the contract had long since run out and there was nothing to stop me trying to find a publisher that would print the book separately, but this was difficult and unlikely. The markets most willing to print the book would no doubt want electronic rights, too. Fine, if I could find someone to take it on as a whole package, but then I would have had to negotiate with the then current publisher to remove the book — a thing I could only do when the original contract came up for renewal. When a title is still selling, it’s a fine balance to know when to pull a book from the existing market. Once upon a time books were forever, but nowadays many have a more immediate shelf life — a commodity just like a loaf of bread.

The right moment came when I decided to add a third title. I asked fans of the book what they wanted and should put out as is or whether to re-edit the original titles. I was told my style had improved and the new book would jar with the older titles so the votes came in for re-edit. I did so with success. My trilogy has a home now with JMS books and with everyone who took an anti-hero to heart.

Update December 2017

I missed blogging last week because I was too busy with edits. I’m pleased to announce I’ve signed contracts and finalised about everything for another foray into the life and times of one Lethbridge-Stewart. More on that shortly. For now you might like to pop along to the new Lethbridge-Stewart website and dig around.

I’ve about caught up with work in progress and have some new plans for 2018, with projects spanning several genres, some studying, and other things. I’m even ‘having a go’ at plotting, interesting for a general ‘pantser’ of a writer as in fly by the seat of. I won’t be surprised if I end up doing a little of both. As for this month, though I’ll likely be back with an end of year message or two, for now I’m taking a break, and a much-needed holiday. Best wishes to you and yours at this time.

I’ve rather sadder news to mention before I end on a more upbeat note. Many of us were informed this weekend that my main publisher, Loose Id, is closing. It’s hard to hear as I had hoped to write for them again this coming year and was working on finalising a submission. I’ve had a rough four years, which included two moves and other issues. Problems that seriously interfered with and finished off my hoped-for writing schedule. I had at last hoped to return to working with Loose Id as I had next to nothing new out with them during that time…a time now finished but unforgettable.

Loose Id gave me my first full-length publication. They helped me step from the realms of publishing short stories in magazines to writing longer length work. Though not my only guidance they were there at the beginning, and I’ve managed to take that learning process, add to it, and use it in other genres. Those I’ve worked with will always have my gratitude. Such closures have almost become part of the publishing industry backdrop but on this occasion, for many, it truly feels like the end of an era. My books will be available with them until the end of May 2018. As to the future for those titles…I’ll let you know as when I make a decision. There’s no reason to re-release without at least tidying these titles.

On a better note, the last book in the ‘Snow Angel’ trilogy released on 2nd December in ebook form with the print copy available soon. Books 1 and 2 are already available (those ordering from the UK may be best to do so from Amazon) in re-edited and even extended editions. Don’t forget I also run separate Dark Fiction and Romance Sites if you want more extensive information.

Book 3: Christmas Angel

True love’s path seldom runs smooth. Can love change a man who doesn’t even understand himself?

Available from JMS Books and many good outlets.