Tuesday, 20 November 2012

"Ghost Lit" becomes a Genre

On yesterday's Guardian blog, the esteemed literary commentator, Robert McCrum, analysed some of the "genres" in the book publishing market. Astonishingly, one of the genres he identifies and labels is "Ghost Lit".

"A surprising number of successful books," he writes, "(bestselling memoirs especially) are written by ghost writers. But there are also ghosted novels, too. By definition these wraith-like creatures have no names and are known only to their fellow spooks – and the publishers who depend on them."

Well blow me down with a feathered quill; from being publishing's "guilty secret" we have been catapulted to having our own genre. We are even openly represented on the Management Committee of the Society of Authors. The closet doors, it seems, have been flung well and truly open!

Does this mean, I wonder, that I need to purchase myself a suitable tuxedo, get a haircut and start preparing to mount the rostrums of the great literary prize ceremonies? Will I live long enough to deliver the first great ghosted acceptance speech? Do I hear the bell tolling on a life spent dodging the many onerous responsibilities of proper authorship?







Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Cameras Roll on Steffi McBride




This week the cameras started rolling at Twickenham Studios on a pilot episode of “Steffi”, a dramatisation of my book, “The Overnight Fame of Steffi McBride”, which is destined to be broadcast over the internet and then go on to television through a maze of deals involving a variety of major sponsors and agreements so complex they make your head spin. In fact, I haven’t even tried to understand them, having total faith that the producers at Emerald Films know what they are doing in this “multi-platform” world.

The cast are a mixture of established television actors, pop stars, internet stars and Jasmine Breinburg, the young actress who won "overnight fame" herself in Danny Boyle's opening ceremony for the Olympics. The producers have been working on the whole package for a couple of years since first expressing interest in the original book.

In that time the print version, published in the traditional way by Blake publishing, has pretty much sold out and there are negotiations under way for them to produce an e-book version.

Blake Publishing has always been one of the more fleet-footed, broad minded and innovative of publishing houses, so I suppose it should be no surprise that they have also been open minded enough to give me the go-ahead to put “Steffi” up on Wattpad, (where her mother, “Maggie de Beer”, is about to pass the 300,000 hits mark with her memoir “The Fabulous Dreams of Maggie de Beer”). I have commissioned a new cover from the talented Mr. Elliot Thomson, making this the fourth cover he has done for me.

What an interesting new world we are living in.









Monday, 1 October 2012

Writing is Just Gardening for the Mind


There’s been a great deal of discussion lately about how writers, (and publishers), can market their books in the same way as mass-market commercial products, all of it leading to disappointment as inevitably as the purchase of a lottery ticket.


Most recently there has been the “sock-puppetry” controversy, the most startling element of which is that major publishers have been revealed to be writing glowing Amazon reviews for their own books under false names; (a) is this really surprising? and (b) is this really what publishers mean when they tell authors that their “marketing skills” are one of the reasons why they can do a better job of publishing than we can?


I’m wondering if it would be helpful to put forward an analogy for writing that looks less like the marketing plans of Mr. Heinz, Mr. Coca Cola or Mr. Simon Cowell.


Imagine that instead of deciding to write a book you decided to create a garden. You might have visited a few stately gardens, either in the flesh or in the company of on-screen gardeners such as Monty Don. These inspiring public gardens are mighty commercial ventures, bringing joy to millions – they are, in other words the “blockbusters” of the gardening world. I doubt that you would imagine for a moment that your efforts would ever be seen, (or paid for), by the same numbers of people, but I also doubt that that will put you off for even a single heartbeat.


I suspect that once you have decided to create a garden you will happily labour for many years, investing time, money and back-ache into the project to the point of obsession, with no financial motivation beyond a vague idea that you might be enhancing the value of your property or saving on your bills at the green grocer, (both of which are probably delusions). You will be delighted to share your garden with friends and family and maybe you will even open it to the public for charity. You might go in for local horticultural prizes, fill the house with cut flowers or sell a bit of produce at your front gate. Mostly, however, you will either be working till you ache or gazing contentedly at your achievements.


I am willing to bet that at no stage will you decide that you have been hard done by because the general public is not beating a path to admire your dahlias or singing the praises of your green-fingered genius, you will simply have enjoyed the process and the result of creating something beautiful.


If, however, you were to decide that you wanted to make a living from gardening, as opposed to doing it simply for pleasure, you would go looking for jobs that require gardening skills, (just as writers who want to earn a full-time living usually have to turn to journalism, ghost writing, copywriting or writing for genres that are popular but not necessarily their own favourites).


Is it possible that writing is really just gardening for the mind?






Thursday, 2 August 2012

If It Worked for Dickens...



Since Wattpad is proving to be such a fruitful source of readers I am now putting up a new book, one chapter at a time, (serialisation worked for Dickens after all, so …)

Secrets of the Italian Gardener is a gripping, emotional and inspirational story set inside the palace of a dictator about to be overthrown in the Arab Spring. The story is told by a ghostwriter who, while inside the palace writing a book for the dictator, meets a wise, elderly Italian gardener who gradually unravels the story of who really holds the power and wealth in the world. He literally discovers "where the bodies are buried". As the rebels draw closer to breaching the palace walls the ghostwriter is also struggling with his own breaking heart.

The inspiration for the story comes from the times I have spent during my ghostwriting career amongst the dictators, politicians, arms dealers and billionaires who hold the reins of power and control the wealth of the world, visiting their lavish palaces and heavily guarded compounds in the wildest parts of Africa, Asia and the Middle East as well as in tax havens like Monaco and Bermuda.

The cover is once again by Elliot Thomson at http://www.preamptive.com

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Nine Million Readers Ready and Waiting to Read Your Book





I have now had my book “The Fabulous Dreams of Maggie de Beer” up on Wattpad for two months. Initially things were slow and then the number of readers started to speed up. The ultimate aim of any writer is to have their work read and http://www.wattpad.com/ allows you to see actual numbers, chapter by chapter, and provides a new addiction just as time consuming for an author as the compulsive checking of the Sunday Times and Amazon bestseller lists.


Maggie de Beer is divided into eighteen chapters and 100,000 readers have now opened individual chapters. That total is currently rising by over 6,000 a day, which means that around 250 people are reading a chapter of the book every hour of the day somewhere in the world.

Closer examination reveals that nearly 11,000 people have read the first chapter and just over 5,000 have made it all the way to chapter eighteen, (some presumably are still working their way through at any given moment). It seems therefore that half of those who open the first chapter to browse decide they would like to read the whole thing. Does that reflect the number of people who decide to buy a book in a shop or on Amazon after browsing an opening chapter? It doesn’t sound impossible, although of course with Wattpad there is not the barrier of having to ask the reader to pay, so maybe it would be better to compare these conversion figures with those of library users.

Wattpad, which is most easily described as being “YouTube for writers and readers”, currently has around nine million people who are actively and enthusiastically reading chapters of books on their phones or computers. I’m guessing that compares pretty favourably with the numbers of people taking books out in public libraries, and I am also guessing that they are a much younger age profile. They are, in other words, the future of reading and writing.

I am still a beginner. There are some books which have had up to ten million chapters opened by readers. They provide a clear picture of what sort of stories it is that most people want to read - vampires, werewolves, high school romances, fantasy, thrillers and sci-fi – much as in the traditional publishing world. There is, however, a variety of other material starting to make its way into the “Featured”, “What’s Hot” and “What’s New” sections, and Margaret Atwood – always one who likes to experiment with new technology – has joined in with a book of poems. As the good reviews and comments for Maggie de Beer start to pile up the rate of hits seems to rise and I am feeling optimistic that within a few months I will be able to report even more dramatic growth. Fingers crossed.



Friday, 29 June 2012

Possible New Business Model for Authors?


It’s boom time in the world of self-publishing but in the vast majority of cases the creation of any book is a team effort, not a solitary one, however much some of us might wish to the contrary.


Traditionally writers have recruited valuable team members by persuading an established publishing house to join in the creative endeavour, providing financial backing, editorial, design and marketing assistance all in one package.

If self publishing writers want to gain the support of a similarly experienced team they either have to call in a lot of favours, or they have to hire the necessary editors, designers and publicists themselves. The flaw in the argument there, of course, is that without the “financial” contribution of a publisher, not many writers can afford to do that. The result can then be the badly edited texts and badly designed covers which the enemies of self-publishing continually draw attention to, and the low levels of “discoverability” that beset us all.

Everyone is searching for alternative ways forward such as “crowd-sourcing” or “co-operatives”. So, here’s another imaginative business model that has been thrown into the mix of possible ways forward: What if everyone on the team was taking the same speculative risk – like asking actors to work for nothing on the promise that they will own a slice of the box office if the play/film they are being recruited for turns out to be a hit?

The website, http://netminds.com, is the brainchild of Tim Sanders, a charismatic and persuasive business guru and former Chief Solutions Officer at Yahoo. The site is a network of authors, editors, designers and publicists. When an author has an e-book they would like to publish they circulate details around the network, announcing what sort of help they are looking for. If you need a cover designed, for instance, you ask any designers who might be interested to pitch for a place on the team. If you find someone you would like to work with, you then agree a percentage with them. Once the manuscript is ready to publish Netminds takes the project forward, (for their own pre-agreed percentage), and if the book starts to earn money the financial splits are worked out and distributed amongst the various parties by an independent contractor.

It seems to me that once Netminds has a decent sized pool of talent to choose from, the chances of these self-selecting teams scoring a success with a book are much the same as with a book produced through a traditional publishing deal. It is, after all, the same mix of people who will be working on the project, just freelancers rather than salaried employees. The disadvantage is that no one gets paid up-front. The advantage, however, is that the writer remains the prime mover in the game, retains the copyright and should earn more from a hit than would be the case with the traditional publishing model.

It seems like a model well worth thinking about.



Tuesday, 22 May 2012

An Amazon Superstore in Every High Street - Called Waterstones


On January 30 I blogged about the possibility of "An Amazon Superstore in Every High Street", (I reproduce the text below). I can now see how it will happen, although it looks as if their stores are going to be called Waterstones, at least for a while.

"An Amazon Superstore on Every High Street": (first blogged 30/1/12)

Despite the fact that millions of us love to avail ourselves of its extremely efficient services, Amazon has taken over from the supermarkets as the “hate figure” of the publishing and bookselling world, apparently responsible for the genteel but inevitable decline of the traditional book shop that we all profess to love but not enough of us support.



Maybe Amazon should make themselves more accessible and cuddly by expanding into bricks and mortar themselves. (I know there has been talk of them creating “Argos-style” pick up points for their products, but I am suggesting something with a little more vision).


If they want to become more loved by the public – and if they are sitting on piles of cash which I assume they are or so many people wouldn’t hate them as much as they do - why not open Amazon stores that are as cool and beautiful as the Apple Stores?


There could be authors talking from big screens or available via headphones like in the record shops some of us remember so fondly. There could be live talks going on by anyone from Jonathan Franzen to Dan Brown if the “footfall” was large enough to attract them. There could be coffee houses that Samuel Johnson would have been happy to hang out in, and reading areas where new models of Kindles can be tried out and newspapers read like in the public libraries we all want to save, (and in the more up-market coffee shops of today where book group denizens already meet and chat). There could be editors, designers and printers available to turn e-books into beautifully printed and bound limited editions.


The underlying elephant in the room of publishing and traditional bookselling is that there simply isn’t enough money in the business to make it viable and buzzy enough to attract the crowds, but is that true now that people buy kindles and iPads and download at the press of a button?


We need to re-invigorate the nation’s town centres and high streets and if Amazon are the people with the money should we not be looking to them to fill the empty spaces with imagination and flair? If they are moving into traditional publishing, why shouldn’t they move into traditional bookselling as well – only with some 21st century style?


Many will hate the idea of course because it is potentially brash and vulgar and might even prove popular with the sort of people who do not usually grace the older style of bookshops – but aren’t they exactly the people most authors want to reach? If the concept is fantastically successful then of course that will lead to Amazon being even more all-powerful and rich – but who else in the words business is rich enough to take the chance of the whole thing being an absolute disaster?







The Information Tsunami

An article in today’s Times attempts to create a controversy about some books being pushed into storage at the Bodleian Library, while others are being touched by students who might, (or might not), have fingers covered in burger-grease.


The paper cites the cause of the whole problem as being the £100-million which James Martin has donated to Oxford University. Apparently it is the expansion of his Oxford Martin School which has caused this domino effect amongst the archives.

It appears to be a concocted non-story but it set me thinking as to what is going to happen to the tsunami of information that is now being stored digitally as well as in print form?

We are all happily pouring out billions of e-books and self-published tomes on top of the products of the existing publishing industry, but who is actually going to have time to read all this stuff? Who is going to have time to study and catalogue it? Is it possible we are all going to drown in our own knowledge?

The Bodleian Group already cares for some 11 million items on 117 miles of shelving and Lord alone knows how many books are already resting on Amazon’s virtual shelving.

I don’t know what the solution is going to be, but I am quite sure that no blame should lie with James Martin and his extraordinary generosity in the cause of studying the things that matter for our future, although of course the Oxford Martin School will undoubtedly be contributing its fair share to the future knowledge tsunami - and so the wave continues to grow higher.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Exploring Wattpad's Library


Exploring a little further on the Wattpad campus, (see yesterday’s blog), like some wide-eyed Hogwarts newbie, I came across their library of classics, (supplied, I believe, by The Gutenberg Project). I have now spent an entire afternoon wandering around the virtual shelves picking up and dusting off books, some of which, like The Secret Garden, I probably haven’t read for half a century. From Jeeves to Tarzan, Darwin to Beowulf, it was like stepping back into my grandfather’s library and letting Serendipity be my guide. Was there ever a more glorious way to while away a rainy afternoon?






Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Could Wattpad be the Greatest University of Writing Ever?



As well as being a showcase for indie books, could http://www.wattpad.com/ be the greatest University of Writing ever?

The site is designed to be a sort of YouTube for authors, a glorious, great, free bookstore in the sky, but it seems to me that it could be providing something else even more important than that.

Anyone can put their writings up there and anyone can read them. The books tend to go up one chapter at a time and some of them are read by millions – literally – mainly on phones and other mobile devices. Wandering around this campus in the clouds it is obvious that the majority of participants are young adults, with the odd greybeard amongst them. Millions of young people writing and reading; dispelling the fears of all those Jobs prophesising the death of the written word.

Readers leave comments, just like on YouTube, and the tone seems to be almost uniformly positive and encouraging, like a giant, friendly, creative writing group.

This is a campus filled with enthusiasts for the written word, potentially every English-speaking person in the world who wants to read stories and all those who want to write them, brought together in one place. How brilliant is that?

The books are divided into categories, with genres like romance, fantasy, historical fiction and science fiction receive the most attention, just like in any earthly bookstore. There are also some very useful texts on how to write, (the equivalent of lectures and seminarsif this analogy can be stretched a little further).

The Wattpad people single out the odd book to be “featured”, which is a bit like having your book put on the front table at Waterstones, but apart from that everyone seems to be equal, distinguished only by the number of readers their work has attracted.

Could this be a rather cheery glimpse into the future of books and reading?



Monday, 30 April 2012

What Would George Bernard Shaw be Campaigning for Today?

The Society of Authors has kindly nominated me for its Management Committee. If all goes smoothly and I join the other distinguished committee members I thought it might be useful to have a clearer idea of what it is that we would all like the Society to be doing for authors in these exciting times.

What, I wonder, would George Bernard Shaw, (an early and active member of the Society), be campaigning for if he was around today? What would his views be on e-books and self-publishing, for instance? Would he be championing Amazon for making books so accessible or criticising their monopolistic and capitalistic tendencies? Would he be sympathetic towards struggling high street independents or would he see them as the architects of their own downfall?
If you have any ideas on ways in which the Society should be making itself useful to its members please email me at CroftsA@aol.com.

Below is a short biography which the Society has published in The Author to support my nomination.

Andrew Crofts is a full-time author and ghostwriter. He has published more than 80 titles, a dozen of which have spent many weeks at the top of the Sunday Times best seller charts.
As well as using traditional publishers to reach readers, (including Arrow, Blake, Bloomsbury, Century, Ebury, AndrĂ© Deutsch, Hamish Hamilton, Harper Collins, Headline, Heinemann, Hodder, Hutchinson, Little Brown, Michael Joseph, McGraw Hill, Orion, Pan Macmillan, Penguin, Pocket Books, Sidgwick & Jackson, Sphere and Weidenfeld & Nicolson), he has also experimented with e-books, publishing “The Fabulous Dreams of Maggie de Beer”,(a prequel to his traditionally published “The Overnight Fame of Steffi McBride”), on both Kindle and Smashwords, and has guided a number of international clients successfully through the minefield of independent publishing.




Monday, 23 April 2012

Are Electronic Authors’ Co-operatives the New Force in Publishing?



Marketing books has always been a grand lottery. Millions of titles are hurled out into the market in the hope that enough will catch on to support the majority, which inevitably sink due to weight of numbers and the lack of reading hours in anyone’s lifetime, breaking the hearts of their authors as they go down.

Now publication is accessible to anyone with a computer and broadband connection, but there is still no magical solution to the great marketing dilemma – how do you get your book talked about and heard about when there is so much competitive din going on all around?

One growing trend is the rise of electronic author cooperatives, where groups of writers combine forces to get one another’s, (and of course their own), work in front of potential readers.

“Do Authors Dream of Electric Books?”  (http://authorselectric.blogspot.co.uk/ ), for instance, is a group of twenty eight authors, all experienced in different genres. We each blog on an assigned day each month and a diligent core of this band also works tirelessly, and extraordinarily successfully, to promote the site and the books therein and to advise and support one another on the technicalities and tribulations of e-publishing. Guest bloggers fill the other days.

“Awesome Indies” (http://awesomeindies.wordpress.com/ ) is the brainchild of fantasy and magical realism author, Tahlia Newland, where she selflessly reviews and recommends other indie books and authors who she thinks will appeal to her followers. (Here I must declare another interest since Tahlia has given a glowing review to my own indie e-book “The Fabulous Dreams of Maggie de Beer”, which is the vehicle through which I have been discovering this magical world of mutually supportive authors).

At the beginning of June three authors who are involved with the hugely successful on-line writing magazine “Words with Jam”, (www.wordswithjam.co.uk), Gillian E. Harmer, JJ. Marsh and Liza Perrat, are launching Triskele Books with three of their own titles.

Is this not how many of the oldest and most venerable publishing names first started out, with groups of writers huddling together for warmth in a vast and chilly ocean? Is it not a hugely encouraging and inspiring model for the future?







Monday, 26 March 2012

Independent Food Producers Are Widely Admired - So Why Not Independently Published Books?










Authors who dare to consider self publishing are still viewed with considerable suspicion, despite a growing number of notable successes. Author Susan Price, however, made an extremely interesting point in her monthly contribution to the writers’ blog Do Authors Dream of Electric Books? on Sunday 25th March, (http://authorselectric.blogspot.co.uk).



Susan compares self published writers to food producers who prefer to sell direct to discerning customers through local markets rather than selling in bulk to the giant supermarkets.



Big publishers won't like being compared to Tesco and Asda, but the image has a certain resonance. The demands they make of writers are not dissimilar to the ones food producers complain about whenever they try to sell to the chains, (books that have to be pigeon-holed into “marketable genres” are not that different to potatoes or bananas which have to be the right sizes and shapes to make it onto supermarket shelves).



But whereas the brewers of “real ale”, the independent bakers of bread and makers of cheese and chocolate are all applauded for going out to sell their products direct, even seen as providing goods of higher quality than the mass producers, authors who do the same are still deemed to be second class, missing the necessary stamp of establishment approval.



One publisher was recently quoted as saying he turns away when introduced to any self published writer, which sounds like the sort of “posh people versus trade” scene that Julian Fellowes is currently doing so well with on television.



In the past I have compared writers without big business publishers to artists who do not exhibit at famous West End galleries, but I think I like Susan’s analogy better.







Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Are we on our way to Utopia or Back to the Dark Ages?






“James Martin: The Change Agent”, is now available on Kindle as an e-book – a highly suitable format for a text which provides a dramatic view of what the future holds for all of us.


The story started when I received an urgent invitation to a mysterious private island in Bermuda from an old friend who had recently donated more than £100-million to Oxford University.


The island gradually revealed its labyrinthine secrets as the host, futurist James Martin, explained the choice that faces us all: to create the greatest Utopia ever, or plunge ourselves back into the Dark Ages, maybe even destroying Homo sapiens completely.


At the same time he explained how a shy boy from a poor family in Ashby-de-la-Zouche had come to be Oxford University’s biggest ever donor, (bigger even than Sir Thomas Bodley), and the founder of the extraordinary Oxford Martin 21st Century School. He is basically investing in ideas. The School’s many interdisciplinary institutes, and more than a hundred fellows across the collegiate university, are studying potential global catastrophes like climate change, bio-engineering, pandemics, mass migration and the possibility of human extinction before the end of the 21st Century. At the same time they are trying to harvest the incredible opportunities arising from new technologies and innovations, as well as studying social change and striving to improve our understanding of how to deal with systemic risk.


Along the way Jim has encountered people as varied as Bertrand Russell, and David Bowie, Bill Gates and Lee Kuan Yew. From prime ministers and presidents to cold war spies and business leaders, he has been called in to advise them all and his books have been read by millions.


"The Change Agent" also reveals the extraordinary secret history of Agar’s Island that he uncovered beneath the rocks and rampant vegetation and tells the story of how he has restored the underground labyrinth to its former glory and turned the entire island into his own eccentric, ecological, private paradise. Above all, however, it is a gripping conversation about the man’s ideas, which are the reason so many millions of people read his books and attend his lectures.










Falling out of Love with Physical Books










Last month in my allotted space on the "Do Authors Dream of Electric Books? blog ( authorselectric.blogspot.com ) I bared my soul regarding difficulties in my relationship with my desktop. This month I had to confess to the even more traumatising discovery that I might have fallen out of love with an even more long-standing soul-mate.


When I was first introduced to my pretty young iPad a year ago I imagined that it would merely widen my horizons, offer me more options and some lively entertainment. I stumbled into the relationship like some wide-eyed old fool who fails to realise he has been targeted as potential sugar-daddy material, never thinking it would make me question my relationship with the printed books who had been part of my life ever since I first met Paddington Bear. But suddenly I find myself irritated by features of my old love that I once found endearing or was totally blind to. I am impatient with physical shortcomings that I would once never even have noticed.


This realisation dawned when a book I needed for research purposes was not available as an e-book. So, the first annoyance came from having to wait a whole day for Amazon to get a physical copy to me. Imagine! A whole day! Most of that time, I tried to tell myself, was actually night, but already the seeds of discontent had been sown.


The book arrived and I carried it off to one of my favourite reading places, only to find that we now do not have bright enough lighting for anything which doesn’t have a back-lit screen, (a result of energy-friendly light bulbs and aging eyes). There was no facility for increasing the size of the print to compensate, which my obliging little iPad would have been happy to provide for me. When I did eventually find enough light I discovered that the print ran too close to the edge of the pages for me to be able to keep the book open without either contorting my fingers uncomfortably or cracking the spine back in a way that would once have seemed like sacrilege. With one spiteful jerk I snapped its fragile spine, immediately feeling like I’d kicked a kitten.



This book is perfectly well published by a highly respected house and in the past I would have accepted all these annoying little features without a second thought – just as I once accepted that a television needed to be “warmed up” and that Radio Luxembourg’s signal would fade whenever my favourite song came on. I have been seduced away from a long-standing and faithful love and I think I may just have to get over it and move on. When I was first permitted to use ink rather than pencil at school I had to dip the nib in an inkwell every few words, (an inkwell which was invariably clogged with old blotting paper which then stuck to the nib and …. I digress). I felt no guilt about the abandoned pencil, nor did I later feel guilt when I was allowed to move on to a fat, shiny, garishly coloured floozy of a fountain pen which held a decent supply of ink, (we were never allowed to use biros, that would have been taking technology too far), so I think I must now try to muster the same pragmatic approach to this latest betrayal of an old friend.


photo of author by Louis Leeson











Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Writing Books is Tennis for the Brain

So, Jonathan Franzen fears printed books are going to disappear and Ewan Morrison predicts an e-publishing bubble that’s going to end somewhere between sub-prime mortgages and tulip fever, ruining lives and crashing banks – I exaggerate, but then so do they.



Let’s think of writing books as being more like tennis for the brain, or maybe even golf for the brain. Millions of people join golf clubs and take tennis lessons in order to enjoy the sport, get fit, amuse themselves or socialise. Some of these enthusiasts are able to hire personal coaches, others join expensive clubs, maybe even build their own private tennis courts. Many fantasise about winning Wimbledon or the British Open, others are lucky enough to become coaches themselves or work in sports shops.But just because these enthusiasts sometimes dream of becoming Rafa or Tiger doesn't mean they actually expect it to happen. They know in their hearts that these champions are born with something special and then dedicate their lives to improving themselves in ways that most people cannot possibly hope to achieve, and would not wish to do.



Where once the manuscripts that people wrote for a variety of personal reasons ended up languishing in their bottom drawers, they are now able to languish as e-books, a little bit further along the publishing food chain, a little bit more visible, a tiny bit more likely to be spotted by someone who might be able to lift them to another level. One or two of them might even make it all the way to championship level, up there with the works of Franzen and Morrison. The fact that most of them will get no further at all hardly turns e-publishing into a confidence trick, a bubble or a pyramid selling scam. Some people who fail to reach the giddy heights of a Franzen or Morrison will still be able to take pleasure from the act of writing, from seeing their words coming into existence on a page or a screen. They might even continue to hold onto dreams of one day “breaking through” into the big time. Or they might decide to teach writing instead, or dabble in journalism or blogging or just get on with something else, (tennis or golf perhaps, painting or child rearing).



Very few of the crowds who start out with hopes of becoming successfully published writers get as far as they first dreamed they might, but isn’t that the same in any walk of life? And is it a reason to make doom-laden predictions about bursting bubbles and the death of the book? As long as there are people wanting to buy printed books there will be publishers and authors wanting to supply them and the cyberstore of e-books can grow as wide as the blogosphere without causing anyone any terrible financial pain. I think Messrs Franzen and Morrison can relax a little



Monday, 30 January 2012

An Amazon Superstore in Every High Street






Despite the fact that millions of us love to avail ourselves of its services, Amazon has taken over from the supermarkets as the “number one hate figure” of the publishing and bookselling worlds, apparently responsible for the genteel but inevitable decline of the traditional book shop that we all profess to love but not enough of us support.


Maybe Amazon should make themselves more cuddly by expanding into bricks and mortar themselves. (I know there has been talk of them creating “Argos-style” pick up points for their products, but I am suggesting something with a little more vision).
If they want to become more loved by the public – and if they are sitting on piles of cash which I assume they are or so many people wouldn’t hate them as much as they do - why not open Amazon stores that are as cool and beautiful as the Apple Stores?


As well as being able to see and handle, sample and sniff the books before ordering them, customers could be immersed in the whole publishing experience. There could be authors talking from big screens or available via headphones like in the record shops some of us remember so fondly. There could be live talks going on by anyone from Jonathan Franzen to Dan Brown if the “footfall” was large enough to attract them. There could be coffee houses that Samuel Johnson would have been happy to hang out in, and reading areas where new models of Kindles can be tried out and newspapers read like in the public libraries we all want to save, (and in the more up-market coffee shops where book group denizens already meet and chat). There could be editors, designers and printers available to turn self-published e-books into beautifully printed and bound limited editions for customers to carry proudly away with them - imagine the christmas gift potential of elegantly published family histories!


The underlying elephant in the room of publishing and traditional bookselling is that there simply isn’t enough money in the business to make it viable and buzzy enough to attract the crowds, but is that true now that people buy kindles and iPads and download at the press of a button?


We need to re-invigorate the nation’s town centres and high streets and if Amazon are the people with the money should we not be looking to them to fill the empty spaces with imagination and flair? If they are moving into traditional publishing, why shouldn’t they move into traditional bookselling as well – only with some 21st century style?


Many will hate the idea of course because it is potentially brash and vulgar and might prove popular with the sort of people who do not usually grace the older style of bookshops – but aren’t they exactly the people most authors want to reach? If the concept is fantastically successful then of course that will lead to Amazon becoming even more all-powerful and rich – but who else in the words business is currently rich enough to take the chance of the whole thing being an absolute disaster?




Friday, 20 January 2012

Most Glamorous Ghostwriter






As if Ewan McGregor, (in Roman Polanski’s “The Ghost”), wasn’t enough, we now have a new contestant for “most glamorous ghostwriter” in Charlize Theron, (huge movie star and also the golden lady who strides out and sheds her golden clothes and golden jewels on television every Christmas in order to sell us J’adore perfume). In “Young Adult”, a new film just out in America, she plays the anonymous writer of “Young Adult” fantasies who is also, co-incidentally, devoid of any “moral compass”. Oh well, at least she looks good. Any other nominations for "Most Glamorous Ghostwriter"?