Comic books – bandes desinnées (BDs, or bédés) – are big business in France. French people spend around 350 million euros on more than 35 million comic books per year. This represents a significant chunk of the publishing industry.

At the moment the huge annual BD festival is going on in Angoulême.

It runs for four days and is expected to see a quarter of a million visitors, probably parting with anything up to 50 euros each. The big draw is that authors are there to sign books and to talk to, and all the major BD publishers of Europe will be there under one roof.

BDs began in Switzerland in the 1830s when Rodolphe Töpffer released his first albums. The idea gradually spread round the world, mainly via comic strips in satirical magazines. Then comic books began to be directed mainly at young children, but by the 1930s there were BDs for every age group. In the 1950s Japan entered the fray, although the term ‘manga’ had been around since the early nineteenth century. Today there are BDs on every subject and for every market. They’re more popular than ever. My youngest son loves them, especially the Schtroumpfs (Smurfs). Anything that gets kids reading can’t be bad.

lenty of people knock BDs though, saying that they’re mindless and shallow and have no literary merit. There are reports of grammatical errors in some, quelle horreur! However, BDs are classified as the neuvième art in French culture and thus have ‘official’ artistic status.

Here’s a quick look at 2010’s best selling BDs in  France:

1. Christophe Arleston (46): Lanfeust and Trolls de Troy series – 1,5 million copies sold. Teen/adult fantasy. This author/artist has sold more than 12 million books altogether so far.

2. Jean Van Hamme (72): Blake & Mortimer, Largo Winch, Thorgal and XIII series – 1,05 million d’exemplaires. Thriller, spies generally.

3. René Goscinny et Albert Uderzo – Astérix – 1 million sold, despite this being a ‘bad’ year for Asterix in that no new books came out.

4. Hergé – Tintin – 900,000 copies sold. The release of the film late in the year has given Tintin books a nice boost.

5. Henri Jeanfaivre (42) aka Jenfèvre : Joe Bar Team, Tuning Maniacs, Les Gendarmes – 654,000 books sold. His are mainly humorous.

Simpsons came in 6th, Cédric 7th (a particular favourite with girls aged 6-11 apparently) and Titeuf 9th. A Titeuf film comes out htis year so he’s likely to shoot even higher up the BD ranks as a result.

Piracy is an increasing problem in the BD market, with expert teams scanning books and making electronic copies available illegally. They’re also selling paper copies. BDs tend to be quite dear, usually around €15 or so, so the sale of slightly cheaper illegal copies can be extremely lucrative. This is obviously a problem publishers need to address, and soon.

I got a nice surprise out of the blue last week. I received a letter from O’Brien Press, my dead-tree book publishers from my time in Ireland, telling me that they had sold the rights of my Anna’s Secret Granny to Rageot in Paris.  I’m especially flattered since Rageot, a well known publisher, makes quite a thing about mainly publishing works by French authors, only taking on 20-30% of its market from foreign authors. But I’m one of them! I wrote Anna in 2000 so it really is nice to give the book a new lease of life twelve years later.

The French-language version will be hitting the world later this year. It will mean a boost in royalties too (at least, I hope so!) and exposure to a new market. Rageot has only bought the text so the book will have a lively, fresh look for the French market. French books generally have rather quirky artwork. Rageot will be doing its own translation. I hope they pick up all the humour that’s there.

There are two types of foreign rights sales. One is like mine, where a foreign publisher buys and translates the work, and the other is where a foreign publisher distributes an English title in a country where the book’s original publisher cannot do so. They can consist of a one-off payment or royalties.

Generally, it’s said that France will buy literary fiction from foreign publishers, Italy will buy women’s fiction while Brazil goes for dog and inspirational books!

If the idea of selling rights to a foreign publisher for your book seems appealing, take a look at this interesting article.

http://www.dailyfinance.com/2011/01/30/foreign-rights-how-authors-tap-a-rich-vein-of-royalties/

Here’s a quick look at the most popular fiction writers in France at the moment. They were the best-selling authors in 2011 and it looks like they’re likely to continue at the top of the ranks.

1. Guillaume Musso: this dishy 37-year-old sold 1,567,500 books in 2011, representing 18 million euros of income. Excuse me while I burst into tears – I think I earned about 3 euros in royalties!! His latest French book is L’Appel de l’Ange. The most recent translated book into English is The Girl on Paper. It has to be said that his ebooks are quite pricy.

Website: http://www.guillaumemusso.com/

2. Marc Levy: also dishy, he’s been pushed into second place in 2011 for a change with sales of 1,509,000. Again, at €9.99 his ebooks are way overpriced. French publishers still don’t get ebooks.

Latest book: L’étrange voyage de Monsieur Daldry in French, in English The Children of Freedom

Website: http://www.toslog.com/marclevy/accueil

3. Katherine Pancol: her sales this year of 1,213,000 make her the highest woman in the rankings. Her ebooks are around €17.99, beggars belief!

Latest book: Les Ecureuils de Central Park sont tristes le lundi in French, The Squirrels in Central Park are Sad on Mondays.

Website: http://www.katherine-pancol.com/

4. David Foenkinos: he sold 967,000 books, more than 700,000 of which were La Délicatesse, now also a film.

Latest book: La Délicatesse in French, Delicacy in English

Facebook page: http://fr-fr.facebook.com/david.foenkinos

5. Fred Vargas: archaeologist turned ‘crime queen of France’, she sold 790,500 copies of her books in 2011. Most of her books are about her popular creation Commissaire Adamsberg.

Latest book: L’armée furieuse in French, An Uncertain Place in English

Website: can’t find one for her. Tut tut.

I hadn’t paid much attention to book trailers until very recently. I imagined they consisted of authors either beaming at the camera or looking painfully self-conscious saying how wonderful their book was. But then I actually started looking at some and saw how wrong I’d been. The ones that converted me were some of the ones posted here.

I noticed that several credited Animoto at the end. OK, I thought, I’d better check this out. So I went to the website.

Animoto describes itself as ‘a video slideshow maker with music’. It announces that you can “turn your photos, video clips, and music into stunning video masterpieces to share with everyone. Fast, free, and shockingly easy!” And it’s true. You can make a 30 second video – in fact, as many as you want – all for free. For $5 a month, you can make unlimited full length videos, and there are other paying packages on offer.

Since I’d unleashed Animal Rescue Club on the world via Smashwords that very morning, I decided to have a go and make a free book trailer for that.

So what did I do? First I chose my video style. There are 22 to choose from, and also 6 Christmas styles are still being offered. I opted for Watercolour Seashore.

Next I added some photos. You can add up to 12 for a 30 second video, or a snippet of video that you’ve made. You can also add text. The way the site is designed, it makes you upload the photos before the text (limited to two lines with 22 characters in the top one, and 35 in the bottom). What I didn’t realise at first, which resulted in a very weird first attempt video, was that you can shuffle the order of things around and intersperse your photos and text. To do this click the ‘shuffle’ icon at the right hand side.

Finally you add music. You can add some from your computer (be mindful of copyright if you do this) or use one of their suggested tracks. I went for this option and selected Go Girls by Coppertone. I imagine there is a way to presample the tracks, but I’ve yet to find it! I plumped for this tune unheard but it’s turned out to be fine.

Then you click the button to process your video, and you get a message that you can either keep the browser open or they’ll send you an email. I chose to sit and wait. It doesn’t take long at all.

So now I had my book trailer. I wanted to get it onto my Smashwords page. To do this I had to first upload it onto YouTube. I created my own channel, since this is something you need to do before. Then, by simply clicking the appropriate button on the right hand side of the Animoto screen, my video was sent across to YouTube. As easy as that!

But not quite finished. Smashwords needs a YouTube embed code, not the YouTube url of your video. I was perplexed, but typed ‘YouTube embed code’ into Google and that took me to this brilliant website. I entered the YouTube address in the box and the program, whatever it was, instantly generated several lines of code that I cut and pasted into the relevant area of Smashwords and saved and … voilà! Mission accomplished. You can see the final results here by scrolling down the page a little way.

I have to say I feel immensely proud of myself since I’m pretty hopeless with computers generally but I sorted this out all by myself! Go me! (And a HUGE thank you go all the clever people who write the programs to make this all possible for nulles like me.)

I’ve been noticing that more and more authors are showing word meters on their websites. Word meters are these are those little guys (this one is from Writertopia):

I’m starting to think that they’re rather a good idea. I’m not sure the information is that valuable for visitors to the website, although it’s interesting, but it certainly is crucial for the author. What better way of keeping track of your own writing progress than sharing it with the world. There’s the element of public statement there that means you want to be sure your word meter keeps going up each week. You need to show people you’re committed to your writing and are getting the work done regularly. I’ll be installing some on this website very soon.

But which one? As well as the one above, Writertopia has some featuring cartoons which are quite fun. Here’s an example:

And what’s more this latter one features a mood meter. You can select any of 7 options that range from ‘very frustrated’ at one extreme, to ‘joyful’ at the other, and your cartoon will reflect your feelings. Is that neat, or what!

Check out Writertopia’s meters here.

At http://honorless.net/progressbar.htm you’ll find a progress bar that uses straight HTML code. It’s compact, loads quickly and does a good job.

This  next counter, the NaNoWriMo meter here, can be used for any writing of course, not just NanoWriMo. You can choose what colour you want the bar to be and again it’s HTML based, so very straightforward to use. You can change the 50,000 total word default setting too.

WordPress has a number of word meter plugins that you can use if you have a WordPress site. Progpress is probably the best one to use.

So, a few to choose from there. I think they’re a very handy little gadget and hope you agree.

Finally, here are a couple of sites which use them so you can see them in action:

http://www.magisters-terrace.com/

http://ruthannnordinauthorblog.wordpress.com/

To only use “said” alongside the dialogue in your book is uninspiring and, let’s be honest, lazy. There are literally hundreds of alternatives lying idle in the dictionary. Go ahead and make their day by using them!

I’ve come up with over 2,000 substitutes in my latest eBook offering, and my list is just a starting point. Make your own alternatives up. Be inventive. Employ conversion, which is when you turn one word form e.g. an adjective or a noun, into another e.g. a verb. I’ve do this a lot. There’s no law against it and it makes your language interesting. Conversion is particularly common in English because the basic form of nouns and verbs is identical in many cases. Converting words is a growing trend. For example, Facebook, noun, has become a verb – “I Facebooked Fred yesterday”. Same with text (noun) when it’s used to do with sending messages by mobile phone. “Will you text Suzie about the meeting please?” And my daughter is always Kindling, i.e. reading on her Kindle.

Language is meant to evolve. It’s a living thing.

Even in children’s books you should ring the changes as much as possible. Too many authors in this genre seem to think kids can only cope with “said” and, on a good day, “asked” as well. Crazy! I was talking to some pupils at a school in Ireland about my books. One child informed me that I used a lot of long words in my books, to my surprise, as I have always attempted to use language of an appropriate level for the age group I was aiming at. I asked if that put her off reading them. “Oh no,” she smiled. “Now I know lots of long words too!” So you see, your inventive and creative writing in avoiding “said” both livens up the text and teaches kids new words.

Don’t be afraid to push language to its limits like Larkin, Pound and other poets have tried to do. Enrich your readers’ vocabulary at the same time as entertaining them. Don’t be boring. And PLEASE don’t say “said”!

My eBook of 2,100 alternatives to “said” listed alphabetically, and incorporating both UK and US English spellings, is intended to inspire you to be more adventurous in your use of language. Not all of the suggestions will work in every case. They’re not meant to, but there will be the odd time when each one is the perfect word.

To get your copy, available in pdf and prc formats, go to my eBook-ed.it website here, fill in your name and email address (your details won’t be passed on to anyone) and you’ll receive an email with the link to follow.  I hope you’ll find the eBook useful!

This New Year saw all books being made equal in France. Previously ebooks suffered from a much higher level (19.6%) of TVA (= value added tax), whereas dead tree books were taxed at 5.5%. Now both types of book are taxed at 7%. The fall for ebooks is very welcome, although the overall rise to 7% is to be deplored, but is an unfortunate result of the austerity measures we’re currently having imposed on us.

Hopefully this will have a positive impact on ebook sales. French people still don’t really ‘get’ ebooks. They continue to be stuck on the expensive but always well produced printed versions. Ebooks account for only around 1% of all book sales in France. However, the launching of the Kindle store on Amazon.fr in September 2011 and this new VAT reduction, plus the general buzz about elivres, will work in their favour and I’m sure we’ll see the figure rise soon. People are interested in the whole idea of ereaders and ebooks but still slightly sceptical. Native French suspicion at work! That said, the Kindle was the best selling item at Amazon.fr in December, following the same pattern as elsewhere in Europe. Our Caiti’s Kindle 4 was one of them. She is delighted with her Kindle and takes it everywhere, apart from the bath, luckily! ‘Kindling’ has  become a new verb in our house.

So, the only way is up for the ebook in France in 2012. It has everything going for it now. And a further temptation. Perhaps readers will be tempted by one of the 47 ebooks about Nicolas Sarkozy available at Amazon.fr or the 11 on Francois Hollande in this election year, these two individuals being the main contenders!

 

You probably know by now that I like blovels and serials. I’ve written several posts about this interesting type of fiction. I’m sure we see a lot more coming out in 2012.

First a few words about a new blovel on the block. Check out http://www.somethingfishy.fr for what’s shaping up to be a fun novel by Rorie Stevens, with a spot of fishing thrown in, and we’re promised some spicy action is to come. Do give it a look.

Here are three more sites with serials worth knowing about. First up Fiction Express. This describes itself as ‘interactive e-fiction for tweens, teens and young adults where you control the plot through a weekly vote’. You sign up to the site and then, for just 39p, you read a chapter of the work of your choice, vote on what happens next, and then the author writes it given the majority decision.

Eat your Serial: I love this one! It’s a a new, free website that features ‘up and coming writers and their stories in all genres, both fiction and nonfiction.   The idea is simple –  Monday through Friday there will be five unique stories.  Come back the following week, and you get a new chapter, and so on and so forth.’ There are some good stories currently up there.

Last but not least, there’s Discoverlit. Start out on this page to find out what it’s all about. It describes itself as being for readers who want ‘an engaging experience in literature that fits into a mobile lifestyle’. However, it’s also for writers and publishers of poetry, short stories, serials or any other type of short-form literature. There’s a small charge to read the serials there.

Out with the old, in with the new – give this new form of fiction a whirl. I think you’ll enjoy it.

 

This wonderful new age of indie authors means that there are many first-time book writers out there who aren’t sure what they should do once they’ve finished creating their work of fiction or non-fiction.

Here’s a suggested course of action. I’m assuming you’ve reached the stage where you’re happy with what you’ve written and, as far as you’ve concerned, you’ve done as much work on it as you can.

1. Take a break for a few days, and then read your MS through one last time, no matter how many times you’ve already checked it. (MS = manuscript, i.e. the unpublished work in whatever format.) You’ll almost certainly spot some silly mistakes, typos, inconsistencies etc you’ve missed up to now. Correct them, but don’t start tinkering unnecessarily with other parts of the text. You have to stop the writing part some time.

2. At the same time, get a friend or family member to read the MS through. Ask them specifically to make a note of any errors they find. Don’t ask for general comments – those aren’t necessarily helpful!

3. Get the book edited. This can be the tricky part. OK, it’s not obligatory but it is EXTREMELY helpful. Search online for a freelance editor and do shop around to make sure you’re getting a good deal.

Book editors are professionals who are trained to be good with words. They will polish your book to bring out its full potential. But how do they do that?

To start with, you can expect the editor you’ve chosen to read through the first few thousand words, free of charge. This will give him or her an idea of your standard of writing and how much work they will be having to do to polish up your book. They’ll report back, and may suggest you deal with some of the issues yourself to save paying them to do that. For example, we all have our favourite words and phrases – just, however, could only, in no time at all etc. An editor will quickly spot yours, and may ask you to work through and replace these. At this stage they’ll be able to give you an estimate of what their fees will be to work on your book. I charge per 1,000 words; other editors charge on an hourly basis.

Once you’ve had the editor’s feedback and quote and given the go-ahead, you may receive queries from the editor. For example, possibly you’ve given your hero blond hair in some places, and black in others. The editor will want to know which is your preferred colour. He or she might spot a hitch in the time frame of the story’s action, or pick up a subplot that doesn’t go anywhere, and ask what you want to do about these. Do respond to queries as promptly as you can so your editor can complete the project quickly and efficiently.

Editors should only be looking to do a minimal edit anyway on indie books if they’re tuned in to this market. Remember, you’re only after a polish. You don’t want someone else totally rewriting your book to suit themself, which is something that can happen. An editor’s job is to fine-tune what’s there. They will certainly rephrase and reorganise parts of your text to make it clearer for the reader, or to avoid repetitions, or to correct inaccuracies, but that’s as far as it should go. And let’s face it. Indie authors don’t have much money. You can’t afford to pay for major surgery. A lot of freelance editors work mainly with publishing houses who have a vast budget and can pay a generous fee. Indies can’t. It’s a fact that you’re probably not going to be earning a great deal of money from your ebooks, at least initially. It’s a hugely competitive market out there, with lots of free and very cheap books around at the moment. This is a good advertising ploy but it’s unsustainable. We’ll see ebook prices rise, and with it author income, but for the short term, readers aren’t willing to pay a lot for an ebook. You can’t afford to pay a ridiculous sum for editing.

4. Once you have your edited text back, it’s time to publish. Formatting for Smashwords and Kindle is actually quite straightforward. You can do it yourself if you’re prepared to put the effort in the first time around and follow the instructions on the relevant publishing platforms to get it right. It’s a matter of a few hours’ work. Once you’ve done one book, it becomes quick and easy to do the rest. But ebook editors will take care of this part of the process if you ask them. They shouldn’t charge much for this.

5. Work on your author platform. What’s this? At its most basic, it’s a website, blog, Twitter account and Facebook page. It can be as huge and complex as you like! But that’s for another day.

 

As for my own editing services, I’ve done a lot of research and I’ve matched the lowest going rates out there. More expensive editors will say you pay for what you get, implying cheaper editors aren’t as experienced. Well, I’ve had 25 years’ experience, and I’m also a published author both of print books and ebooks. Knowing the ebook markets from both sides is a huge advantage. Cheaper editors are simply being more realistic, since they’re more in tune with the world of indie authoring.

My ebook editing website is at http://www.ebook-ed.it.