Saturday, 20 August 2011


JuliaM, on Orphans of Liberty, writes about the electronic jiggery-pokery that has beset the publishing trade. I left a little comment but you know me, I just can't shut up once I get started on something complicated. This is so complicated one post can't cover it all. Here's a bit.

It's a matter that has become of particular interest to me since getting that first novel published. I've started taking the writing a bit more seriously now that the tax man is involved, although it'll be some time before he gets anything worth having. You don't get rich from one book, unless you're God, and even he actually did two - the Old and New Testaments. Technically, those are collected works involving lots of books so even God couldn't stop at just one. I picture the day he taps the Gideons on the shoulder and says 'Ahem. Royalties?' But I digress.

It seems to me there are two ways to make a living writing. Either you take the Stephen King route and take two years to write each huge tome, but do it so well that it sells in huge amounts and every one gets turned into a film, or you take the Michael Moorcock route and pump out a small book a month for a niche audience. Lots of income per occasional book sounds harder than small amounts per frequent book. But writing frequent books isn't easy either unless you take the full Moorcock route of devising a fantasy world and writing everything within that world.

Well, I could try that, but it's not scary enough. I prefer to research, in fact I was trained to do that and can't help it, and to use things you can look up in the real world. I prefer to stay in this world and make the innocuous scary. There's also the Catch-22 of writing - you can't get known until you have quite a few books out, you won't make any money until you're known, so you have to have a day job that limits your writing time and therefore impedes progress and no publisher will take you seriously until you're already popular. Oh, for a small lottery win!

Anyhow, this new electrobookery. It's a good thing and a bad thing. Electrobooks are much cheaper than print ones, and they don't cost postage, and you can get them in under a minute. Nothing is printed so publishers have no print costs and the percentage coming back to the author is better than with paper.

However, it is also easy to copy most formats of electrobook and pass them around. It's also fairly easy to convert from one format to another. So one person buys a copy of this, for example, and makes copies for their friends. You can't do that with a paper book unless you have a photocopier, your friends are happy to read from a pile of loose pages and you're happy to pay as much, if not more, for the rough photocopied version as for the original. Digital copies don't suffer from degradation on subsequent copying. Good for those getting copies, not so good for those whose work is getting copied.

On the plus side, electrobooks can't appear in second hand shops. Authors and publishers make nothing from second hand book sales. Then again, someone might risk a few pennies for a copy of this one when they wouldn't pay the full price plus postage for a new one. That can be thought of as advertising, especially if you have the sense to put a page in the back of the book headed 'By the same author'. Of course, you can do that with the electronic versions too.

So both second hand shops and electropirates can be unwitting advertisers for you. There's sod all you can do about either of them, realistically, so you might as well turn that non-income spread to your advantage.

In either case, it only works if you have lots of books out and that takes time. Unless you are this guy -

Mr Patterson, the creator of Alex Cross, the crime-solving single father, is also a prolific writer of children's stories and writes online film reviews in his spare time.

Spare time? He has spare time? Doesn't he ever sleep? How can one head contain so many words? I haven't read any of his books because they aren't in my field of interest, but there is no denying he is extraordinarily good at the whole writing game and must have worn his fingers down to little nubs by now. I bet there are no letters left on his keyboard, but then he probably doesn't need them any more. This is a literary Chuck Norris, you could give him a keyboard with no letters at all and he'll still type a 100,000 word novel in ten minutes. With no spelling mistakes.

Maybe he doesn't have an Internet connection. I have to stay offline to get anything done these days which is why my visits here are rationed and why I'm often slow at responding to email. Once a story gets stuck, clicking on the newspapers or the blogs or Web Sudoku is just that bit too tempting.

When I started out I heard, often, 'Oh you'll never make as much as Stephen King or JK Rowling' but the truth is, I don't need to. Nobody does. If James Patterson made 84 million last year, think how much he paid in tax. Why bother? All that money will attract hangers-on and thieves and worse, the government. What does anyone do with it all?

If you give me 84 million quid, I am never going to do a stroke of work again and will have drunk myself to death by the middle of next week, in style, with the most expensive malts available. The cremation fire would burn for a month - alternatively, archaeologists would dig up my corpse in five thousand years and marvel at the pickling technology of our day.

I could never spend it all. If I can make enough to live on, and that is well below the 40% tax level for me, it's enough. Why knacker yourself to pay for this or any government's idiotic projects?

So while I find the illicit copying of electrobooks irritating at this early stage, in later years it might not only be irrelevant but actually useful because the later books will advertise all the others. I don't care if someone passes copies around their friends. I'm only going to get stroppy if someone is selling it on eBay - and that's already happened.

A few years back I wrote my first novel. It was called 'Samuel's Girl' and it was crap. It was nearly two hundred thousand words of crap. The problem was that I was still thinking like a scientist and explaining absolutely everything in minute and tedious detail. Now I have developed multiple personality disorder, it's much easier to switch between science and mad dream stuff but that first attempt, oh, it was dire.

I cut it in half. I have enough out-takes for another book (an extremely dull one) and the meaty parts eventually made a decent story that is being considered by publishers now. It was a lot of work so yes, I'd be miffed if it was copied, but that's not the story here.

That book introduced a fractious, self-important sod called Romulus Crowe. I set up a blog for him, and he wrote a book. Yes, someone I made up wrote--and sold--a book before I did. He is that much of a bastard and since I invented him, it's my own fault. I put his silly little book on Lulu for fun. He's a ghosthunter and the idea of a non-fiction book by a fictional author made me laugh. Besides, it cost nothing. It was also a response to all those idiot ghosthunting books that insist you have to be tooled up like Batman while dragging yourself around ruined castles. Oh, and orbs, especially orbs. There are none so gullible as those who photograph dust.

On that character's blog, a commenter mentioned that the book was on sale on eBay. I had a look. Some little shit had downloaded the PDF version, printed it and was selling copies.

Financially I cared not a jot. That book was a laugh. I had never publicised it, pretty much forgotten about it and had never thought anyone would buy it, and was astounded when that first (very small) royalty payment appeared. In fact, I was a little flattered that someone thought it worth stealing. But the little shit had stolen other people's books too, people who were really serious about the writing game (it was a hobby for me at the time) so I was in the bizarre position of having to contact eBay as an entirely fictional character to complain about the pirating of a book.

I even bought the domain to do it so I'd have the email. Yes, I found it that funny. One day I'll do something with that domain, especially if the book he came from is accepted.

It's not just file copies. If you have the machinery you can get a PDF for a few dollars and then print-on-demand. Which means you can set up as if you're selling 'used' books and print the ones that get ordered. I suspect you'd soon pay for the machinery if you did that. So it is far, far easier to pirate electrobooks than it is to photocopy real ones. You can produce a professional-looking copy for not too much outlay.

So it seems electrobookery is taking over. Authors still make money, publishers still make money, only the printers really lose out. I have a Kindle and well, I like it. It's excellent if travelling by plane because you can load a hundred books into it and its weight does not increase. The screen doesn't burn like a computer screen and most of all, it's a gadget.

Well, it's time to get sinister. Polish up the tinfoil hats because it's spookytime.

The Kindle once had Orwell's '1984' as a download. They had to pull it for copyright reasons, fair enough, but the sinister part is - it vanished from everyone's Kindle at the same time. Kindles update themselves. Most computers do, we're all used to it and take no notice. This is where the deletion of 1984 looks significant.

Say you get the Times downloaded to your iPad. Suppose you saw a story you wanted to go back to, and it didn't read quite as you remember. What can you do? If you had paper copies you could see the unedited version, but your iPad has updated...

Winston Smith's job was to 'correct' past issues of newspapers. He had to do it with paper. It would be so much easier to do it digitally. Everyone's copy would change on command.

For fiction it really doesn't matter. It's just a story. But when you have the ability to change past news, past announcements, even past scientific reports, then it doesn't look so encouraging.

Electrobookery has some great advantages. It has some terrifying disadvantages too.

Still, all it takes is one solar flare in the right direction and the problem just goes away.


subrosa said...

I'm a Patterson fan Leggy, but I notice these days he now works with co-authors mainly. Auch he'll have a gang of willing secretaries to type up his thoughts don't you think?

I read about Kindle removing 1984. Now, about iPad. Don't take this to be completely accurate, but iPad will only update if you physically update it (sync) with your computer. Save means just that.

Aren't you impressed by my technical knowledge?

Someone is sure to come along and knock me off my perch no doubt.

Night night.

JuliaM said...

You're absolutely right, SR, you can only update the iPad and iPhone operating system (OS) via iTunes, by synching with your PC or Mac.

It's a good idea to check regularly, updates are quite frequent. Amnd it helps to back up apps and books you may have bought in the meantime.

shuggie said...

"You don't get rich from one book, unless you're God, and even he actually did two - the Old and New Testaments."

Even that is open to debate. Jews say he only wrote the first one. Christians say both. Muslims and atheists say none.

sixtypoundsaweekcleaner said...

Ages ago, I downloaded some stuff from YouTube, all perfectly legal at the time, though they have changed the rules now. What surprised me was that sometime later, some of the stuff disappeared from my computer, whereas some stayed put.

I can only surmise that certain artists complained louder than others to the management.

Angry Squaddie said...

I too own, and am very happy with, a Kindle. To prevent Amazon from removing any of my books, I immediately break the DRM and back them up. I don't and won't share them unless they are public domain or given away free by the author.

Henry North London 2.0 said...

I'm confused Call me a luddite I prefer books I can turn the pages manually

Leg-iron said...

SR, Julia - I own no Apple products and won't. Some time ago they declared their warranty invalid if the customer was a smoker. They might have changed their minds but I haven't.

Shuggie - I'd argue that Muslims would say he wrote three, the third one being the Quran.

Actually He didn't write any of them. Well, he'd invented humans, they can write, why keep a dog and bark yourself?

So he just told them what to write. The only things God actually wrote himself were the ten commandments and the writing on the wall in a temple (I've forgotten where).

And He was fine with smoking. He even burned a bush which I like to think was really a tobacco plant.

Leg-iron said...

£60aweek - was that the RealPlayer download route? It used to work for me but since Firefox updated it doesn't work any more.

I backup to CD or DVD, the non-rewritable ones. Can't be messed with once it's done.

Leg-iron said...

Angry Squaddie - there are those who get mightily upset about copying of ebooks but I'm not one of them. Sharing them around your friends is no different to lending a print book. We pass books around at Smoky-Drinky all the time. Yes, we're becoming a library service too ;)

As for the big pirates, unless they can be caught actually selling copies there's not a thing anyone can do about it anyway so I don't lose sleep over it.

I just make sure each new one has ads in the back for the older ones.

Leg-iron said...

Henry- I prefer print too, but I cannot deny the convenience of the electronic reader gadget. No matter how many books you put into it, it takes no more space.

These days you can't get far as a writer if you don't offer the electronic version as well as the print version. It's there, I have to deal with it, and it's actually not too bad.

It just doesn't quie smell right.

SBC said...

Actually God only wrote 10 words in the Bible (ie the 10 commandments), his Ghost Writers and staff hacks did the rest.

Although if you believe in the doctrine of the trinity then you can add to those ten words another couple of words that the deity while wearing his patented Jesus costume wrote in the dust at some point in the NT.

Chalcedon said...

Pratchett and JK are some of the few authors who make a living writing. Or a fortune in one particular case!

opinions powered by