Category Archives: ebooks

The future of the Novel – The Long and The Short Of It

There have been a few rumblings on the interweb and on the airwaves that I have picked up on in recent weeks along the lines of “what will technology do to the way we read and write?” 
First I came across a fascinating experiment on the Guardian Books website called Twitter Fiction where they asked well known authors to write a story in 140 characters or less. I then listened to an interesting debate on BBC Radio 4 with someone talking about the future of literature and how technology may change what is written and how it is read. Unfortunately, I can’t find the item on the (brilliant, by the way) BBC Radio website, but I did find this debate about ebooks which I haven’t listened to yet, but will do, as it sounds fascinating. Last night, a similar debate was had on Radio 4’s Front Row about new ways musicians and record labels are finding to release digital albums (from Beck’s online sheet music to Dave Gilmour’s album app) which sounded very similar to the questions facing books and publishing. Then, when Melissa Foster from WLC posed the question on Facebook this morning, “How many years will it take until our society stops writing 75K word novels and everything published is a short story, which will then be accepted as the new novel length?”, it got me thinking…are we becoming too obsessed with how technology is changing the way we read and write? Is technology having that much of an effect? And if so, does it actually matter?  
The Guardian’s Twitter Fiction challenge was a very interesting experiment, but nothing more than that. Some of the results were enjoyable (Geoff Dyer’s was tragic, Ian Rankin’s gruesome, Hari Kunzru’s thrilling and Charlie Higson’s funny…and also gruesome). But let’s face it, Twitter isn’t built for storytelling, is it? Is Twitter really going to be the go-to place to find your fiction? I doubt it. I use twitter, and plenty of authors use twitter – authors who will happily tweet away in 140 characters or less to their friends and readers then shut down their browser and churn out thousands of words for their new opus on the same computer. Are they worrying that if they can’t fit their 90,000 words into 140 characters by this time next year then their careers will be over? I doubt it! Of course, many authors think Twitter is the go-to place for people to find their fiction, in a completely different sense, but that’s another blog post entirely…
Nah, tweeting isn’t the new novel, and never will be. But Twitter does have ancestors. Centuries ago, as many fantasy and historical novelists will tell you, if you wanted to get a message to someone far away, you sent a messenger on a horse or a boat with a sealed scroll. Then, in the 19th century, some bright spark invented the electric telegraph, a way of getting a simple message across large distances in the fewest characters possible in a matter of moments. Sound familiar? The fact that the sender had to pay per character meant that messages were more often than not short and to the point and the senders often had fun with the new form of communicating (“Arriving Saturday (stop) 8.15 train from Euston (stop) Love you will never (stop)”. People still wrote letters to each other and authors still wrote novels when the telegraph arrived, and some people still write long letters to each other now (they just send them electronically rather than by post) as well as “texting” each other. When you think about it, Twitter is the natural successor of the telegram, not the novel. 
So was Twitter Fiction a waste of time? Of course not, some of them were very amusing. But I have to be honest, very few of them felt like finished articles to me. More like initial thoughts to be built upon and expanded (although admittedly, Charlie Higson’s did actually have a beginning, a middle and an end, even if the middle was only hinted at). These weren’t so much stories as pitches for a story, straplines even. Fun, but I didn’t feel satisfied by any of them. Give me a meaty, wordy novel, any day. 
The guest on the radio debate (which I am really peeved I can’t find – if anyone else remembers it and has a link, let me know!) seemed to argue that the fact that the method of delivery had changed, that we can get gratification from downloading book upon book instantly and relatively cheaply will mean that readers will be more inclined to ditch a novel (or writer) much more quickly and move on to the next. But don’t we do that already? Is there really much of a difference between browsing the shelves in Waterstones and having a click around Amazon? (Ok, ok, I know that browsing an actual, real bookshop is way more enjoyable, but again, another argument, another day.) 
While it’s true that there is a linear path to be drawn from the first etchings on rocks of our forefathers many thousands of years ago to today’s tweeting and posting, I wouldn’t say its the same path that telling stories has taken. I’d say that the modern novel (and ebook, I think it’s time to add that link to the chain) is a direct descendent of the nomadic storyteller – the wizened old man who would travel from village to village and be paid to tell his stories of times gone by, of adventure and intrigue. Eventually, these storytellers took advantage of technologies to start writing their tales down instead of passing them from generation to generation. 
These stories became novels, the novel flourished and changed and adapted, not only to the technology of the day, but also to the lifestyles and attitudes of the day, too. Yes, some of the stories became longer, but others remained resolutely short and sweet. Eventually, mass production made it possible for books to be made available to the general population, rather than just the elite. Writers of the time jumped on the mass market bandwagon and provided these new readers with the stories they wanted. The same thing is happening now, with the latest technology. The ebook is to a paperback what the paperback was to the hardback – an evolution of the method of delivery.
Of course new technology will have an impact on how and what people write, and will have an influence on what they read. After all, the advent of the ebook has been a game-changer for self-publishing. But I can’t see the death of the novel-as-we-know-it in the near future, and as for the new technology reducing readers’ attention spans and therefore the length of the average novel, I’m not convinced. Too many people download too many lengthy books (think Game of Thrones, or dare I mention it, 50 Shades of Grey) to their Kindles to make that argument stick. Whether or not it’s the ebook that has changed or will change literature remains to be seen. I believe any effect the method of delivery has on books will be negligible compared to the way society has changed in its attitudes and what it wants to read. To what extent the two are interlinked and affect each other is a philosophical debate I don’t have the brain cells for right now. 
For what it’s worth, I think if a writer writes a novel and it ends up being 5,000 words or 500,000 words, if they’re good words, words which readers will enjoy reading, then there’s no need to worry. 
So, what do you think? Is Melissa right in pondering whether or not the novel is doomed to be truncated to a mere footnote in someone’s busy day? Or should writers stop worrying about it and write the book they want to, safe in the knowledge that there are still readers out there with long attention spans who will want to read it? 

Are Kobo finally taking on Amazon at their own game?

Much has been said about Amazon and how their Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) platform has allowed so many more authors to publish their works with ease, and the positives and negatives that have ensued.

I myself, having used KDP to publish Pegasus Falling, have been very happy with the results. I didn’t use KDP select at the time of launch because I didn’t want to restrict sales to just Amazon (although I’m not ruling it out for the launch of part 2 of the trilogy).  My philosophy has always been to get William’s books in front of as wide an audience as possible, so instead I launched it on as many platforms as possible, mostly through the Smashwords premium catalogue, and also via Kobo.
I set up an account with Kobo books to distribute the ebook to them directly (you can also go via Smashwords). At the time, the sign up process wasn’t exactly arduous, but it was much more long-winded than Amazon and KDP. Instead of a few web pages in which to add all the metadata and upload the files, there were application forms, spreadsheets and FTP servers to contend with. Like I said, not arduous, but it all felt a bit steam-powered compared with Amazon’s whiz-bang offering. Nevertheless, I got through the process and Pegasus Falling is now available to buy on, as well as But I couldn’t help but think that the journey could have been made a bit easier, and I’m not surprised that so many writers just use KDP and don’t bother with other platforms. It’s just so ridiculously easy!
And that’s a shame, because I’m all for choice – not everyone has a Kindle, so why should I just release the books for one platform? Sales are much lower than on Amazon, but they’re sales none the less.
This is why I was very excited to receive an email from Kobo yesterday announcing the imminent launch of their new Kobo Writing Life publishing platform. Currently in Beta testing, it’s due for release at the end of June and I’ll be very interested to try it out when the time comes.
You can read more about plans for the platform in this article from publishersweekly.combut here are the highlights which interest me the most:
1. An easy to use self-service portal which will provide writers with, “a variety of marketing and sales tools and help connect them to readers”. If it’s as easy to use as KDP, then hurrah! The extra bits on the side will only be a bonus.
2. Use of the open-platform epub standard. This is already the case with Kobo, but I welcome the commitment to keep things open and allow the use of books on multiple devices.
3. Automatic conversion from Word, Text or Mobi files. Although personally I prefer to do the conversions myself (you have a lot more control over the finished product), this will be a welcome benefit for a lot of authors who are not so tech-savvy.
4. Sales tracking dashboard. At the moment, Kobo provides authors with an Excel spreadsheet every month, which can be a bit of a handful to navigate. This sounds a lot more user-friendly, and possibly more in depth than Amazon’s offering, although theirs isn’t exactly bad.
5. Non-binding agreement. Now this sounds like the most refreshing aspect of Kobo’s proposal – you can publish your book at Kobo, then sell it anywhere you like without any ties, even taking the epub file with you!
6. Free pricing option. Authors will be allowed to set their own price, with no restrictions, and can even price their work for free.
This all sounds extremely promising and I can see the bods at Amazon may have some head scratching to do. The truth is, though, that Kobo are still a very small fish compared to the great white shark that is Amazon, and they have a lot of catching up to do to keep up with their competitors, but I wish them all the luck with it. I really do hope that Writing Life is a success. After all, choice is good, and some serious competition in the market may just make the self-publishing world that little bit more interesting. 

Ebooks vs. Tree books

This post was originally published on on 9th March 2012

The debate is well and truly raging – what’s better? Digital ink and the handheld device? Or a good old fashioned paperback?

When we published The Cypress Branches back in 2009, digital books were still in their infancy and I never really gave the idea of releasing a digital version any thought. But now, E-books and digital publishing is definitely a force to be reckoned with and we simply can’t ignore them.

The whole E-reader revolution has somewhat taken me by surprise. In only three years, they’ve gone from a relative novelty to a must-have accessory. According to research, astonishingly, 1 in 40 adults in the UK received an e-reader for Christmas last year – that’s over a million E-readers. And just as interesting is the fact that they appear to be more popular with the over 55s than they do with younger age groups. It therefore makes perfect sense to make Pegasus Falling available in digital format and that’s exactly what I’m working on at the moment. In fact, I’m thinking that digital copies will far out-sell the print version.

The quality of the reading experience aside, I believe the key to digital publishing’s success is the cost. Amazon reported to be selling its devices at below production cost, no doubt in an effort to get them into as many homes as possible and therefore sell more E-books. They are, in retail terms, a loss-leader. And the books themselves tend to be cheaper – best-sellers from established names aside, most commercial E-books tend to be in the region of £1-2. That’s no doubt a big sell, and it has made the traditional publishing industry sit up and think.

This time around, I’ve always had the digital version of the book firmly planted in the back of my mind as I’ve prepared Pegasus Falling for print. And a lot of people have asked me why I’ve even bothered printing hard copies when it would be easy enough (and a lot cheaper) to just release it online.

Personally, I still prefer paper to plastic, and I know a lot of people out there feel the same. I also think that there is still a stigma attached to “digital books”. There are millions of books which are published exclusively online every year. Pegasus Falling could have been one of their number, fighting for recognition in a very large and crowded field. But I believe there is still a desire for people to own the actual book and publishing it in physical form as well as online lends a book a certain legitimacy. It also gives people a choice – it’s there if they want to buy it, in which ever form they wish.

This morning, Channel 5’s The Wright Stuff held an interesting debate on this very issue, and thankfully, it reassured me that we’re on the right track in terms of making the books available in both physical and digital forms. Matthew Wright’s guest, children’s author Michael Rosen, appears to be a fan of E-readers, as do the callers and audience members asked – but there were also murmurings of that desire to hold and interact with a paper book.

One question which always pops up is whether E-books will kill off the printed book altogether. I’m with Rosen on this one – I doubt it. There’s no reason why the success of one means the end of the other and I think they can both live alongside each other. There will always be a wish to own books and after all, doesn’t the saying go, “a home without books is a body without soul”?