For those of you who don’t know, i.e. anyone not based in the ever-extending and loosely defined Eurozone, Eurovision is a huge annual song contest for European nations plus a few friends to join in. It began in 1956 as a way of strengthening the ties between countries in Europe, which was still recovering from the ravages of the Second World War. It’s grown and grown since then and as far as I’m concerned is an unmissable spectacle of national pride, fun and lots of talent. As ever, I was watching last night and enjoying every minute.

Now, a lot of people love to rubbish the Eurovision Song Contest, saying it’s naff and amateurish, so that immediately suggested a link to me with indie authoring. Too many people, including a lot of mainstream publishers, are all too quick to denounce all self-publishing writers in the same condescending way. And when you start to look, there are a lot more similarities between this joyous, optimistic musical event and today’s enthusiastic indie authors.

ryannolanLast night, poor old Ireland came last. That was tough, and was felt strongly in our Anglo-Irish household. Ryan Dolan gave a brilliant performance – polished, professional, pleasing – but didn’t pick up the popular vote. That happens so often with indie authors. They do absolutely everything right and have a good product but can’t seem to find readers. Ireland had plenty of points in common with the winners, Denmark, namely a good looking singer, catchy music, a prominent role given to drummers and a well-choreographed stage show. Similarly, an indie author can produce a book that is every bit as good and worth reading as one by a best-selling paperback author but can’t get the recognition it deserves. However, Ireland will dust itself down and try again next year, and that’s what indies do. They don’t give up.

Some countries go for a safe approach in the Contest and jump on the current popular bandwagon. Germany’s song was very heavily inspired by last year’s winner by Sweden, ‘Euphoria’. A musical version of fanfic perhaps? In their case it didn’t win, but they didn’t do disastrously. For some writers, following the trend is enough. Think of all the erotica that’s appeared in the wake of 50 Shades. It may not be what the authors really wanted to write, but they knew it would probably sell, so they had a go. That makes commercial sense, if not artistic sense, some might argue. And by all means, be like Azerbaijan and Georgia and play safe; go for something a little predictable and non-ground breaking but still thoroughly commendable and enjoyable.

Other countries don’t want to fit in with the herd. They go for originality and dare to be different – extremely and dramatically different in Romania’s case yesterday! You don’t get many male contraltos in vampiric oufits. Cezar had incredible talent and an astounding vocal range, as well as showiness, and really shook things up. Fabulous. This is precisely what many indies do, and is why they’re indies in the first place. Their books will never fit in with a conservative ‘traditional’ publisher so they take the responsibility for launching themselves and their unconventional ideas. But they have to write is well worth reading and makes us think. Who wants to be stuck in a reading rut?

Greece gave an energetic performance that defied any categorisation. What else would you expect from a group of men, each dressed in what looked like a sports shirt and a pleated skirt (a traditional podea, I believe)? Many indies are like this. The appearance of their books may be a little unconventional and not very slick, but there’s a lot of heart and soul inside. These authors give you their all, and you can take it or leave it.

Which brings us full circle. Take it or leave it is the Eurovision Song Contest’s robust attitude. And that’s shared by indie authors. Love them or hate them, they don’t care, but at least give them a fair chance. Like the Song Contest, they’re here to stay. They make a valid contribution to culture with their genuineness and the fact that artists who might never make it in the mainstream of their art form get a chance to surprise, shock, baffle, delight, horrify and maybe gobsmack, but above all to shine.

 

The Prix Goncourt is reckoned to be France’s most prestigious literary award. It’s not the most generous. The prize is just €10, which compares very unfavourably with other prizes such as the Man-Booker which is worth over €57,000. And only one winner has ever cashed their cheque for €10. It’s seen as symbolic. The award guarantees fame for the author, although not necessarily international fame. Not all winning novels are translated into other languages. For example, 2005 winning book Trois jours chez ma mère by François Weyergans wasn’t spread overseas.

Edmond de Goncourt got the prize going, although not till after his death. In his will in 1896 he left money to establish the Académie Goncourt to choose the best French book each year. The first award was made in 1903 to John-Antonie Nau for his book Force Ennemie.

There are a few spinoffs, namely the Prix Goncourt des Lycéens (to a book chosen by lycée students and theirs rarely matches the choice of the Académie Goncourt who tend to be much more highbrow) and the Goncourt de la Poésie.

The winner of the Prix Goncourt is chosen over lunch, of course, this being France. The jury meets every month during the year in fact to select the shortlist and the winner is chosen on the first Tuesday in November.

This year’s winner was Alexis Jenni L’Art Français de la Guerre. Now, I’ve read a couple of articles about it in French and I’m still none the wiser as to what it’s actually about. They’re all verbose and vague. One goes on about how writing is like doing a Rubik’s cube – creating harmony with words. Hmm. Somehow I don’t think this book is my cup of tea.  The book is availabe for Kindle price €16.80  paperback €19.95. This Kindle price is ludicrous and highlights that the French don’t get the Kindle yet really, at least the publishers don’t. I’ve blogged about this before. It also gives you an idea of how expensive printed books are in France.

The rest of the shortlisted books are equally pricey, both in ebook and printed format:

Des Vies d’Oiseaux by Veronique Ovalidé is €18.05 paperback only. You can get ‘fiche de lecteur’ for €3.99 on Kindle = reader’s guide, not actual book itself!

Retour à Killybegs by Sorj Chalendon is Kindle €15.99, paperback €18.95.

Tout, Tout de Suite Morgan by Sportès Kindle €15.99,paperback €19.86

Les Souvenirs by David Foenkinos Kindle €15.70 paperback €17.58

La Belle Amour Humaine by Lyonel Trouillot  €13.99 Kindle, €17 paperback.

Du Domaine des Murmures by Carole Martinez €13.50 Kindle, paperback €16.06

Rien ne s’oppose à la nuit by Delphine de Vigan €14.99 Kindle, paperback €18.05.

I’ve saved a lot of paper since I got my Kindle. Not just in physical books that I haven’t bought, but in all the pages of MSs I haven’t printed out to proofread. I find it hard to proofread totally accurately off a computer screen. More errors tend to slip through. This is mainly because you’re so familiar with your own writing that your brain cuts in and says ‘yeah, yeah, that bit’s OK’, and stops you seeing any typos.

Previous the solution was to print the piece of writing out. This isn’t always mega practical. My first draft of Something Fishy was 180,000 words (that’s now become two books of a slightly more realistic size!) and that was a heck of a lot of paper. Even using draft print quality, it must have used a fair bit of ink. And draft is kind of hard to read so that was a false economy.

But now, instead of printing out pages and pages of MSs, I use my Kindle to proofread them. How? First I convert the work into .prc format using Mobipocket creator. This program is a free download, and it’s fantastic. Once I’ve got that file, then I email it my Kindle using my personal @free.kindle.com address. Alternatively, I could transfer it via cable. I could also read the .prc file on Kindle Previewer, another free piece of software that simulates how a book will appear when Kindle-ised.

Using Kindle to proofread gives your piece of writing a new appearance so that you’re focusing sharply on it and will pick up those annoying little mistakes that try and hide. And there is the added bonus that you can do your proofreading on the move (on the bus, at the hairdressers, waiting for the kids) and flag any typos or areas where you need to do some reworking by adding a note. Or, when you’re at home, do what I do and have Kindle next to computer and make the adjustments as you go.

I’m not alone in using my Kindle this way. Prolific and well known author Markee Anderson does the same thing.

The Kindle is already green and this extra use of it is making it even  more so. A report by Cleantech Group on the carbon footprint of the Kindle stated: “…the second-generation Kindle represents the same emissions as 15 books bought in person or 30 purchased online. That would yield a range of between 60.2 to 306 kg of CO2, or an average of 167.78 kg of CO2 during its lifespan.”  Now, other green groups have challenged this and estimate that the figures are more likely to be actually twice that i.e. around 30 physical books and 60 ebooks. (See here, for example.) However, that still makes me a lot greener. I’m getting through several books a week on my Kindle. I imagine most Kindle users are fairly heavy book consumers and so generally there’s an overall benefit to the planet in using ereaders.

Today is Super Thursday, the day when publishers launch their best hopes for the Christmas market. According to the BBC, more than 500 books in all formats, amongst them 200 hardbacks, are being published today, including a good helping of comedians’ autobiographies, and of course a Jamie Oliver cookbook, Jamie’s Great Britain. This latter is the hot favourite to the Christmas bestseller.

Getting the Christmas books out today gives publishers and authors enough time to do lots of promotion and for word of mouth to kick in and the power of reviews to kick in. The next best day will be in a fortnight, October 13th, so if you were hoping to make it big this Christmas, get your skates on! Looks like I’d better get a move on with my two non-fiction ebooks.

Last year, nine of the books released on Super Thursday sold more than one million pounds’ worth of copies. Not bad. In the 12-week run up to Christmas, a total of 69 million books were sold, with a value of 567 million pounds. This is serious money.

Ebook publishers will be looking to take a share of the public’s book budget this year. You can’t put an ebook in a stocking, though, which will work against them during the festive season. However, you can put a Kindle or other ebook reader in, and with the new Kindle priced at 79 dollars, that’s in normal spending parameters for family and special friends.

It will be very interesting to see how ebook sales fare over the next three months. I’ll be watching closely.

Back in March several French publishers were raided, including Hachette Livre, Gallimard, Flammarion and La Martinière. It was all to do with ebook pricing. Many of the publishing companies under scrutiny have only recently got into ebooks and haven’t setup a proper pricing policy yet. For now, they are going along with a temporary agency model for pricing, and this is what is causing the problem. Agency pricing is very like the net book agreement that used to hold sway in the UK and Ireland. Under this, publishers set the price at which a book was to be sold, and that was that. Booksellers couldn’t sell it for less. The net book agreement was brought down when supermarkets and the big chains of bookshops challenged it.

A statement from the Directorate General for Competition read: “The European Commission can confirm that on 1 March 2011 Commission officials initiated unannounced inspections at the premises of companies that are active in the e-book (electronic or digital books) publishing sector in several Member States. The Commission has reason to believe that the companies concerned may have violated EU antitrust rules that prohibit cartels and other restrictive business practices (Article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union).”

At the moment France adheres to the Lang Law for physical, i.e. paper, books. It establishes a fixed price for books sold in France and limits the discounts that can be offered on them by booksellers. But it doesn’t apply to ebooks. So publishers are fixing the price in stone and EU officials don’t like it, even though the French Competition Authority said in 2009 that the agency model was “a possible solution” for pricing ebooks. However, by restricting booksellers from offering discounts to promote some of the titles they stock, this goes against some of the objectives of the culture ministry in France.

Recently both houses of the French parliament gave their approval to a law that replaces the Lang Law, and goes further to now encompass ebooks. Under the proposed scheme, French publishers will set a single price for their e-books, and distributors must follow it, no matter where they are based. The EU won’t like it, that’s for sure.

It seems odd that publishers are reverting to this old practice of price fixing and making books more expensive than they need to be. Some pro-electronic publishing forums have suggested that, like cigarettes, ebooks produced by the publishers adopting the agency model should come with a warning along the lines of: Warning: buying this book will support a publisher who wants to increase book prices for all.

Gallic's big summer read for 2011

Five years ago Jane Aitken set up the publishing house Gallic Books with fellow Francophile Pilar Webb with the aim of introducing British readers to French literature. A bold move in a country where works by foreign authors make up less than 3% of the market. But it seems to be a gamble that is paying off.

Every year around ten French books make it across the channel and end up on Britain’s bookshelves. The publishers specifically look for books that will make the transition well. Amongst the first books they published were detective novels and historical fiction. However, now anything contemporary goes, after the runaway success of The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. Books have to prove themselves in France before Gallic Books will consider taking them on.

Marketing is of course extremely important, and Gallic Books uses all the tool it can lay its hands on – including Spotify, posters on the Tube, postcards, and tours by authors. It all works closely with book bloggers, book clubs and indie bookstores. And they are beginning to produce Kindle editions of some of their books, very reasonably priced, so that gets a huge thumbs-up from me!

This is the perfect publisher as far as I, a British expat in France, am concerned. I’ve been wanting to read French literature but have struggled with it in the native language and quickly given up. I’m a French speaker, rather than a French writer and reader. I will start with Armand Cabassson I think, in paperback since his Quentin Margont books look like being exciting reads. And in the meantime I  may succumb to a Kindle book too, probably one of the Hector’s journeys series or Anna Sam’s Checkout – A life on the tills. Décisions, décisions !

 

 

40K publications have lively, in-your-face covers

40K began following me on Twitter. But before I returned the compliment, as I usually do I had a look to see what they are all about. 40K describes itself as an epublisher that specialises in publishing original short works. By ‘short works’ it means novelettes and essays, things that take 40 minutes to an hour to read. This has arisen because short stories and essays tend to get overlooked by traditional publishing houses, but they an equal right to be read.

I studied the short story as an undergrad at Oxford and I have to confess I never warmed to the genre. I felt such works of literature had hardly got going before they stopped. Too much was left unsaid. Now, I have as good an imagination as the next person so I was quite capable of filling the gaps, but that sort of DIY literature didn’t appeal.

But essays are a different matter. These don’t leave large holes. These are short because they’re strongly focused and concentrated. You may not agree with them, but you can admire the tight writing that has gone into them.

40K sells books in the following genres: essays for creative life including Any Fool can Write a Novel but it takes a Real Genius to Sell it, which is one I have to read; essays on authoring in the digital age, and fantasy, literary, sci-fi and steampunk short stories. Steam-what? Steampunk is a genre of sci-fi writing. It’s essentially Victorian sci-fi. The best description I’ve come across of it is here. Gibson and Sterling’s The Difference Engine is a prime example of the genre.

The publications have a very distinctive, modern look to them, as the cover at the top of this post shows.

So, this looks like an interesting publisher. I will definitely try out a few of their books. I’m open to reassessing my views of short stories. Who knows, maybe I’ll learn to love the novelette after all.

 

http://www.40kbooks.com/