Sunday, 14 December 2008

Harbingers of Doom or Balanced Media Coverage?

By Darren E Laws

You have to love the media's ability to embrace all consuming bad news.  It would appear to someone looking at the coverage of the latest global economic news from a truly objective point of view that good news is extinct.  High street stores are closing, banks are going under, the car industry is close to collapse, the stock market is in meltdown and if you are British, the value of Sterling is teetering on a precipice.

Redundancy is the new buzz word and don't companies love it. They embrace it like an old friend, because it is an old friend.  Many companies are using the current situation to trim the fat in preparation of a downturn, and others whose profits will be affected are using it as a tool to keep shareholders happy. The media reports on all of this with what appears to be apparent glee, which is surprising considering the desperate situation a lot of the media finds itself in.

Unwilling or perhaps unable to adjust to the arrival of the Internet, the media has seen an erosion of advertising revenue that is unparalleled in recent years.  Let's face the Internet is such a new medium they have hardly had time to react, I mean, the rise whilst being spectacularly fast is no overnight success.  The net has been growing in the popular sense since 1993 and it appears that only now with the widespread popularity of broadband, has the threat been taken seriously or the opportunities explored by a media that is now almost on its knees.

So, we have a scenario where the media that is reporting the current financial situation (and it is an extraordinary situation) is not exactly reporting from a media neutral point of view.  Talking down the economy is damaging, spreading fear and uncertainty is also less than positive but this is the position we find ourselves in and at the mercy of a media that is smarting with many newsgroups looking set to follow the banks, high street stores and the car industry. 

With such an uncertain future ahead of us we need to have balanced reporting and trust what is being written and broadcasted.  If we can't trust the news being reported in in these trying times to at least be balanced then they may just become the harbingers of their own doom as we abandon the trusted media for a fresh and more positive approach from the new media. 

Thursday, 4 December 2008

The 'F' and the 'C' word

By Darren E Laws

Steel yourself because this posting is going to be peppered with words that it seems the world is not prepared to hear at present.  Namely the 'F' and 'C' words. These words are not popular at all at the moment and have seemingly slipped from the vocabulary of traders and people working in the financial industries.  I know, it's hard to imagine that, especially as during the past decade we have automatically thought that their language was peppered with them and that almost every sentence was filled with one or the other word. 

I am talking about 'Faith' and 'Confidence'.  Our financial institutions were built upon these attributes and somehow seem to have forgotten the meaning during these past turbulent months.  It would appear that every piece of bad news, no matter how small or trivial has them running for cover.  The last time I heard of something so spineless it was crawling from the primordial swamps as an invertebrate before evolution. 

Unless these institutions get a grip or 'grow a pair' real soon there is a very good chance that we face a downturn that will make the crash of 1929 and 1987 look like a financial blip.

Faith and confidence are two key components that can make the difference.  Our Governments need it, our banks need it, our industries need it, our media especially need it.  We are all suffering from the inbuilt skepticism and cynicism of the media who, so it would seem, thrive and feed off of the misfortune of others.  The parasitical nature of the reporting trend currently in the media is depressing.  I believe they are so used to telling bad news they no longer understand the impact this negativity causes.  I am not for one moment blaming the media for starting this malaise, merely of fanning the flames and throwing a little gasoline over it.  Nor am I suggesting we turn a blind eye to the news, but we now need more than balance to restore the 'F' and 'C' words back into the vocabulary.

Today has been hailed as one of the worst days in the history of publishing with the announcement of job losses which show the impact into what has often been thought of as a bullet proof industry. We need our Governments to realise that industry and business need support.  Cutting interest rates is fine in a scenario which reacts in the normal way.  This action would achieve growth through increased spending and stimulate the housing market.  But these are far from normal times.  We need action that restores 'F' and 'C' in business so that it filters through the economy and increases 'F' and 'C' in the beleaguered workforces who fear that with every passing weak they are one step closer to redundancy.

We can all play our own part in restoring 'F' and 'C' by adopting a policy of positivity and trying to banish negativity from our thoughts, so that unlike our morbidly obsessed media we do not drown in bad news.  Don't talk down the situation, don't become obsessed with the bad.  Negativity is a virus sweeping through the world, positivity along with immediate action for business is the cure.   

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Turtle Island promo video

Gripping, disturbing,

The Trees Are Falling...

Surviving the next year is going to be a major challenge for many publishers and businesses in general, small and large alike.  There are no longer any guarantees of safety for anyone.  Many household names have been shaken to their foundations and some have tumbled into the abyss. Lehman Brothers in the US, HBOS in the UK, GM, Woolworth, Citigroup, all of them going, going, gone!

Book sellers are undoubtedly going to feel the squeeze, and this will probably be reflected in reduced sales which in turn will lead to reduced orders.  So what are you going to do, how are you going to react?  By reducing prices to make yourself more competitive, by toughing it out or by raising prices in an attempt to claw back some of the lost ground. 

Often companies react by slashing their marketing budget, a senseless move that leaves a company weak and vulnerable when their is an upturn and a move that also has an immediate impact on its current products.  It may be that the most pro-active thing you can do is to raise the amount of PR and advertising you can do to capitalise on the weakness of your competition.  As with houses, cars and retail in the high street, in the world of media a position of strength can be gained by negotiating a bargain. 

Many publications and media outlets are in the same position of taking the best offer or reducing their prices.  Take advantage of your competitors misfortune or its inability to react ,and maximise your opportunities where possible and when appropriate.  There are no guarantees as I said earlier.  I dare say not one of the major banks ever considered for one moment that they would be where they are now, but their failure to act and respond to a situation crippled them.

If you listen very carefully you can hear the trees are falling

Monday, 3 November 2008

Tell it like it is - The Power of Local Marketing

By Darren E Laws

The other day I was reminded of the power of excellent local marketing when a leaflet popped through the door from a pub trading about a mile from my home.  The leaflet was a folded A4 newsletter, it had spectacularly bad design.  In fact its lack of design was part of its genius or rather the simplicity of it was.  There was no graphic design, just a few sectioned areas that related activities the pub was undertaking through November, some samples of the food sold in the pub, and special offers.  

A simple message told without any distracting graphics.  The result of this naive missive was that it grabbed my attention.  I knew of the pub in question and of its perceived reputation, but one A4 sheet had told me more about the establishment than 13 years of hearsay. 

When I said genius, I meant it.  Had the pub tried to fill the publication with images or even dabbled with some graphic design it would have weakened the achievement it accomplished.  This newsletter, printed on the cheap, undoubtedly delivered to every home within a two mile radius managed to get its message clearly and succinctly to thousands of houses.

Like all good marketing initiatives it delivered news to an audience that was unaware of its product.  If the pub is really astute it will follow the process with a further newsletter before Christmas. I am not for one moment suggesting that we all follow the footsteps of this pub and abandon good graphic design to deliver whatever it is we are selling (hopefully books), but what we can learn is never to forget the message we really need to tell.

No matter how good our images and design is, it is the power of the written word that really sells.  Spurred on by my local public hostelry I have decided to run a test experiment within my local neighbourhood and produce a simple newsletter backed with a nicely designed postcard with some Caffeine Nights Publishing titles and target around a thousand randomly chosen houses.  This will take time and effort but I think it will be interesting to monitor the response especially on the run up to Christmas.

Sometimes it is so easy to spend time looking at the bigger picture that we forget our own back yard.  If nothing else I am sure this form of marketing will raise the profile of our books and publishing company at a local level and this is an audience that should never be neglected, because with it comes loyalty and local pride. If this sounds hokey it might be time to reevaluate your own core values.  If it sounds like something you have been thinking of doing but never got around to, now might be the time.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Be very afraid

By Darren E Laws

Halloween is almost here, the Frankfurt Book Fair has just finished and six months after the end of the London Book Fair it is sad to report not much progress has been made by the publishing world and its eagerness (or lack of) to embrace the digital future of publishing.  Paul Coelho makes some very interesting observations that the industry is still struggling with the Internet.

Coelho says there is "a lack of understanding of the web on the part of the industry", which could mean they end up travelling the same path as the film and music industries.

"Instead of seeing in this new media an opportunity to invent new ways of promotion, publishers concentrated on creating micro sites, which are totally outdated, and a few of them complained about the 'misfortunes' of the other cultural industries, perceiving the web as the 'enemy'," he said.

Coelho's answer is to give his books away in electronic form on his blog site The Pirate Coelho.  He says openly that for the industry to survive content must be shared freely.  This is a similar challenge faced by the music and film industries both of which are investigating forms of digital rights management.

Coelho is experiencing a growth in sales even though he is giving his electronic content away.  The music industry has also survived despite the messengers of doom that foresaw the end of the industry.  The majority of young people who get their music now from the net instead of a record shop balance paying for downloads with using peer to peer (P2P) torrent sites.  Though the majority of free P2P torrent sites share illegal content young people do not consider the actions they take to be breaking the law.  In fact many bands are now joining the actions of Coelho and either giving away their content on controlled sites or allowing it to happen because 'word of mouth' from these downloads actually lead to increased legal sales.

Tackling how to produce a working model that maximises web exposure while generating income is obviously important to all artists.  Without income, artists will be severely hampered.  MJ Rose today launched her novel The Reincarnationist as a time limited free download because she knows the value of word of mouth and of giving potential customers something of value to help generate a sale.  I tend to agree with this approach and it is a subject I have been trying to come to terms with as well. 

From the perspective of an independent publisher who appreciates every sale, the decision is do we follow the trend and give away eBook versions of titles and if we do will this hamper printed copy sales.  Personally I do not think sales of physical paperback or hard back copies will be affected.  With that in mind we have decided to give away eBook versions of my next novel 'Dark Country' direct from our web sites - and on its publication day for a limited period to monitor the impact on sales. 

Is giving away digital content an act of madness, altruism or simply recognition that the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.  Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails, and Coldplay among many other bands have given away content and seen exponential growth in actual sales.  Nobody believes for a moment that because they gave their content away it was of a lower quality or worse still, worthless. 

Free can be a good thing, it scares the establishment. Quite apt for this time of year.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

'How to get a lot of money out of desperate authors...

while making a very nice living as failed author!'

How many 'How to write a successful novel' or 'How to become a published author’ novels have you seen advertised both on the net and in bookstores from authors you have never ever heard. Surely if someone was to be an expert on the subject they should have a modicum of success. Often when you delve a little deeper into the background of the authors of these 'successful' authors who put their names to the 'How to' brigade of books you find that their only publishing success has been the publication of the 'How to' book in the first place. Is this not a little misleading? One thing is for sure though that there is a lot of desperate writers out there who gobble up these books and their words of wisdom without stopping to check the credentials of the author or indeed have no measure or yardstick to digest what they have to say.

A quick search through Amazon shows that this is a growth market with little or no signs of it being impacted by the current credit malaise sweeping through the world. It would appear that there are a lot of would-be writers keen to know the secrets to quick success and the riches it brings. If this was the case and the authors of these books were making their wealth through their own creative writing ability rather than suckering people wishing to lean the trick of the trade then surely we would be reading a lot more 'How to' books from famous authors and not unknowns capitalising on the dreams of the desperate. Furthermore, these authors by the very nature of practicing what they preach would be successful.

So the next time you're tempted to buy a shortcut to success, at least stop and look at the resume of the author.

P.S. This is NOT an extract taken from my latest book. How to become an incredibly successful author in only 10 days or you money back…

Thursday, 28 August 2008

The Death of the Internet

Believe it or not there are publishers and book sellers out there who dream of the death of the Internet. They see it as an annoyance which has eaten into their margins rather than a tool to extend their boundaries. They view the onset digital media in the same fashion. The only thing that puzzles me is why mobile content is not more popular. The current buzz for the Kindle may the start of something exciting but somehow I don't think the Kindle is going to be Amazon's iPod. Though as a publisher believe me I would love it to be. Having just experienced a trip to the US, I managed to devour a book through the seven hour flight and looking around the flight deck found many other travellers engrossed in hardbacks, paperbacks, magazines and good old newspapers. There was not one electronic reader in sight. A few things struck me almost immediately:

  • Though there was a decent onboard entertainment system, printed matter was still an option taken by near 100% of those able to read, at some point during the flight
  • Convenience - The ability to open and close a book, read between naps or the sumptuous in-flight meals without having to power down to conserve batteries
  • The ability to read during take off and landing for those with a phobia of flying. The Kindle would at present have to remain safely stowed away with your hand luggage
  • My book was never under the threat of running out of power
  • During turbulance spilling coffee over my book only dampened a few pages the Kindle would not have faired so well
I mention this not because I am one of those technophobes merely that the current practicalities of owning an electronic reader make it less desirable than holding a three hundred page novel. Maybe ten years down the line I will look around the plane to be greeted by readers holding a Kindle V9.0 who are actually downloading content by plugging into the aircraft entertainment system. That would be cool. Even cooler would be the onboard POD machine turning out paperbackes. Either way there are two things which will remain constant the printed page and the Internet. The only thing that will change will be how we access both.

Friday, 25 July 2008

Why are publishers so bad at advertising on TV?

By Darren E Laws

Book videos. Great to look at sometimes, but do they generate sales? Large established publishing houses occasionally dabble with TV commercials for established authors such as James Patterson, Penny Vincenzi and Stephen King but rarely do they place their advertising budget for such adverts in the hands of lesser-known authors. One has to ask is this because market research has shown that the book buying public is not persuaded by such a straightforward message, or is it solely due to expense. If expense were the issue then surely we would be seeing more low-cost options adopted by the big five, such as those embraced by smaller independent publishers using the net. Though not a new phenomenon, the book video as a sales marketing tool remains extremely popular especially amongst mainly independent publishers using the Internet. Many of these videos are inventive, entertaining and if targeted to a book buying audience should generate sales, but despite a proliferation of authors and publishers willing to invest part of their marketing spend on the production of these videos there appears to very little evidence that they generate sales at the moment.

Maybe the failure of larger publishers to explore TV and cinema advertising to its fullest extent is due to its approach when it has dabbled. Having seen the occasional attempt by various publishers one can only groan at the clumsiness of it all, and maybe it is the confusion of publishers to define a successful advertising model that works that has caused this reticence. How many adverts for novels can you remember? Now subtract those that you can remember for the right reasons…not many, eh?

Most independent publishers using ‘You Tube’ and various other Internet video outlets are showing a level of creativity that matches the efforts of its bigger brothers who have much larger budgets. How can it be that ‘John Doe Publishing’ can produce a video advert for under £200 ($400) that matches the creative output of one of the leading publishers in the world? The problem could lay with the fact that many publishers keep their advertising and marketing spend in-house, often refusing to employ outside agencies for a little creative input.

It strikes me that the joining of the written word into a visual medium for advertising novels has long been an uncomfortable fit for the established publisher. Maybe the injection of fresh ideas from independent publishers will help map a route that will drive readers to the bookstore in search of lesser-known ‘authors and publishers’ at the expense of the clumsy attempts of the publishing conglomerates. I also think the approach by the large publishing house can often reflect the arrogance of an established industry that thinks it knows best, even in the face of adversity and lack of success in terms of return of investment on its advertising spend. If at first you don’t succeed don’t give up, but for heavens sake, don’t keep repeating the same mistake and then blame the tool. The jury is still out on the success of using film or video to sell books but the net has allowed us all to play on a more even playing field and hopefully it won’t be long until a slick, inventive home produced video promoting a book captures the imagination of a vast audience, leading to those all important sales.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

The Kindle Swindle or a Myriad of Iliad?

By Darren E Laws

Nick Hornby this week raises a perfectly valid point by highlighting the exorbitant cost of electronic book reading machines. Whist the Kindle has some pretty neat built-in technology with the capability to fetch content from Amazon’s website (though not in the UK as of this moment) and a version of the Iliad (Kindle’s main rival) can also hook up to Wi-Fi to fetch content, these machines are coming in at the cost of more versatile computer hardware and lower-end laptops, all of which have greater versatility and the ability to deliver multimedia content. So the question has to be asked, is the industry serious about the delivery of ebook content or is has it misread the market. Let’s face it, given the choice of having a multi-functioning media delivery machine such as a laptop or PDA that can deliver ebook content in a legible form that is convenient; or a lump of plastic the size of a trade paperback with a dull colourless screen, which do you think would appeal most to the technically savvy readers of today?

Price as well as a little user-friendly redesigning has to be the issues that will begin to level the playing field and make the delivery of this electronic content more appealing to readers, and more importantly to engage and encourage new readers to use these machines. At the moment the Kindle and Iliad have the appeal of a 1980’s home computer, designed by geeks for geeks. There is little sophisticated or sexy about the bodies of these machines and I can honestly say there probably is not one person under 25 (maybe even 35) that would want to be seen using one in public. These machines are just not cool.

Countries like Japan already seem to have caught on to the fact, and this is born out through the uptake of mobile media content with novels being delivered directly to mobile (cell) phones that are quick to download through Bluetooth or via the Internet. Why buy a machine to read a novel when one is probably already in your pocket? Mobile phone technology is everywhere and increasingly more and more phones have Internet access. You may think it would be an unpleasant experience reading a novel on a standard mobile phone screen but most distributors of content use advanced font technology to east the strain on the eyes and make the whole experience pain free and enjoyable. A full novel can be downloaded in seconds from anywhere you can receive a mobile phone signal or through a Wi-Fi or Bluetooth portal making ease of access and sheer convenience a real plus point for mobile books.

If Nick Hornby, who let’s face it can probably afford to buy a Kindle or Iliad, thinks that they are overpriced then these machines are never going to take off and will remain piled high gather dust and awaiting a recall. I do applaud both Amazon and Irex Technologies though for making the machines in the first place. Now if only they could improve the design and make them cheaper we may all be tempted to read an ebook now and then.

Friday, 20 June 2008

False Hopes and Expectations...Is it Time for a New Business Model?

By Darren E Laws

The current dilemma facing the publishing industry of an increased market base in the form of an enhanced global platform called the Internet, against an evolving audience which requires its fiction (and non-fiction) delivered in many different forms is challenging an industry that is pretty much set in its way. Publishing has been operating quite successfully (thank you very much) using the same business model for the past century, and now faced with a radical re-think it is struggling to come to terms with change. In the old days authors expected and received (quite deservedly in many cases) a nice fat advanced payment on the expectation that their hard work and toil would meet the expectations of their audience, who would in turn reciprocate equally by diligently going to the book store and buying copies of the said work in their thousands. This utopian arrangement existed quite happily for decades.

Now though, one has to question these ideals on the basis that technology and the internet is revolutionising and democratising publishing. Sure, every author dreams of receiving a good advance offset against royalties, but can this model be applied throughout publishing, especially when the industry is reporting increasing returns and often bad judgement of 'future' publishing stars actual earning ability. Note I do not mention potential as I am sure each author that receives a large advance does so on the basis that he or she will fulfil that potential.

Ghost written media celebrity novels and 'misery lit' (mis-lit) are the order of the day and publishers are falling over themselves to part with hefty sums, often before even checking the validity of the author or the story. Trifling matters as far as some publishing houses are concerned; so long as the celebrity stays flavour of the month long enough to see the book hit the shelves and some investment return. Watching this trend in publishing is like watching Hollywood remake classic movies because it no longer has the judgement skills to determine originality. Believe me, Hollywood nor the mountains of unpublished manuscripts sitting within publishers actually lack depth of quality, just the ability have a reader with faith in their own skills at sorting the wheat from the chaff. And so we are left with this current situation where money that could be spent in investing in new talent is handed willy-nilly to what they assume is the easy mark, the quick return. Sadly the only quick returns come from the book stores as the public becomes tired of over-hyped, over-marketed fodder made for the non-discerning. But if you are using a machine gun to hit a single target you are going to hit something every now and then and as long as the mainstream publishers have enough bullets to keep spraying and there is enough new fodder out there waiting to have their names attached to the latest celebrity novel or biography, then I guess they hope the status quo will remain.

So what is the answer; what can open the market and untap new riches of talent? Maybe the changes are already happening. Imagine for a moment a new world where the author writes a book and only gets paid for the amount of copies he or she actually sells. Imagine a world where a marketing budget is used to create demand but the books are only printed to meet that demand, and not printed by the hundreds of thousands and splurged into every book store regardless of actual demand, only to be returned six weeks or months later to be pulped. Imagine not paying hundreds of thousands of pounds to an author in a bidding war where he or she has done little to establish themselves in a market, save for looking pretty or having attended the correct schools. I am not for one moment denigrating all of the practices in place, it would be great to be in the position the large publishing houses find themselves in, of having a rich vein of new talent arriving on their desks every day. I applaud all the great work they are doing in bringing fantastic new talent to the fore, I am just questioning some unsettling practices that certain publishers seem to be adopting because they are the easy option. Remember, it is easy to choose the easy option but consider the longer term implications.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with appealing to the mass markets or even the lowest common denominator. We would all love to be in the position of selling thousands of titles, but you should at least create demand and fill demand first rather than putting all of your proverbial eggs in one basket and finding they are rotten. Are the days of huge advances, huge print runs, celeb-lit and false expectations over; sadly, not just yet, but the warning signs are there and hopefully the industry is taking heed.

Monday, 2 June 2008

Goodbye Printed Page, Farewell Bookstore...

By Darren E Laws

Mobile content will be the new book. Digital format is, like it or not, going to
have an impact on the traditional form of a physical book. While many people reading this will undoubtedly choose not to believe that this metamorphosis is occurring and for many there is nothing that beats the romanticism of holding a book and feeling the pages turn between your fingers, the change is happening.

Future generations are facing up to the fact that there are many things that are having an impact on the world they live in and amongst these will include the mass printing of millions of books only to be returned and pulped. The carbon footprint cannot continue and sooner or later this will be frowned upon by a population that looks at the sheer amount of energy the industry wastes in a most unfavourable light.

Mobile and digital content already exists and will be seen increasingly by younger audiences as the natural way to consume content. Their minds are already being trained to deal with the problems facing them. While their parents struggle with the concept of recycling and the $4 gallon (or if like me you live in the UK £2.00 litre), they are being born into a world where natural resources are dwindling, terrorism is the new cold war, Christians are the new infidels (though I believe they were the old infidels as well) and the ice caps are melting.

So how can the publishing industry continue to sustain such a flagrant waste of energy and resources? The simple answer is it can't. Alternatives have to be explored and pursed if the new world is not to become a place that sees any form of literature as pointless and future generations turn to the XBox and wii as their only hope of cultural salvation. Digital content is the language this generation understands. They download music, software, films. They socialise on-line, meet new buddies and find old buddies. Their world revolves around digital content being fed down a wire.

Bookstores will close along with a host of other retail outlets. I am not for one moment suggesting the complete closure of the shopping mall or high street, but a commercial market that is radically different to the one we take for granted today. By this I mean the world that is happy overstocking, over-printing and using huge amounts of energy transporting product only for it to be returned and literally burned or pulped.

The new consumer will get the majority of its physical wares from an on-line portal or download it directly in the form of 1's and 0's. Not a leap of the imaginations is it? The publishing industry has to wake up and sniff the java. The methods employed today cannot continue and will not be viewed favourably ten years from now.

Print-on-Demand will help allay those fears over the next decade by producing physical content only when it is actually demanded, but the new world will embrace methods that place less stress on the environment. Currently we have the eBook, mobile phone downloads, the Kindle, various other electronic book readers, and direct web site downloads as alternatives to the printed page. I am sure as the web develops these will evolve and some may even be laughed upon as anachronistic, but the future of how we consume content will change through necessity and through the evolution of the reader.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Publish and be Damned

By Darren E Laws

There are many different disparaging terminologies used to describe the current trend of authors and publishers embracing print-on demand (POD) and independent and self publishing, most of them instigated by an industry that sees little, if any, worth in the product being produced. Is this a valid judgement on the actual merit of each of these titles, be they fiction or non-fiction. Or is it the reaction to the democratisation of publishing. Like it or not the advent of new technology and the internet has levelled the playing field, but only marginally. Yet to hear the braying, antagonistic bashing it receives you could be mistaken for believing it was the cause of all the publishing industry’s ills. Let's not kid ourselves, independent authors and independent publishers are viewed as a blip on the landscape; the ugly pimple on the backside of a beautiful butterfly. So terminologies such as 'vanity publishing' exists to denigrate all who choose to tread what can at best be called a truly exciting experience and at worst a lonely and extremely difficult path.

But this path has been walked down many times before, proving that the industry is often apt to ignoring talent, or at the very least, not always recognising it. You may know of some of these names, John Grisham, Robert James Waller, Ezra Pound, Zane Grey, Deepak Chopra, Mark Twain, George Bernard Shaw, Marcel Proust, Margaret Atwood amongst a few; all of these people reached a point in their career where there was no option but to self-publish. How vain were these people?

Of course it would be foolish to suggest that each new POD title is worthy of mainstream attention and should reach a large audience. Many only reach sales that would preclude any form of career as an author, but this should not prevent them from reaching whatever audience they do attain, using whatever means possible. Is it not for the audience and market to judge one’s validity? How many times have we seen mainstream publishers handing out large advances like candy to authors who fail to produce that illusive best-seller, even with the backing of a huge marketing budget or the kudos of a prestigous award. I saw DBC Pierre’s follow up to the Man Booker prize winning novel, Vernon God Little, ‘Ludmila’s Broken English’ sitting on the shelves of ‘Poundstreatcher’. DBC Pierre, a winner in 2003, clearly struggled to retain the sales of his prize winning début. This is not a reflection of DBC Pierre at all, but clearly an indication of how the industry works and at times fails to work.

The question needs to be asked though; at what point though does a self published author become respectable in the eyes of the industry? Jhumpa Lahiri is the latest self-published author to make the industry sit up and take notice. Her latest collection of stories, 'Unaccustomed Earth' recently topped the US book charts and is in the running for the 35,000, Frank O'Connor International Short Story prize.

Yet the publishing industry appears to be ready to jump into bed with any celebrity, regardless of talent and ability to write (and one may even speculate, read) to publish not only their memoirs, but now the increasing trend of the celebrity novel (Usually a book so ghost-written that it would take a team of mediums to trace the actual author.). Often the only time a 'celebrity' would have written anything constructive in the book would be when they hastily scribble their moniker inside for an adoring fan who probably does not know or care what involvement the 'star' had with the work, as long as their picture adorned the cover. If ever the term vanity could legitimately be used in the industry with absolute accuracy then surely it is here. At least those tarred with the stigma of vanity publishing have had the tenacity, gumption and love of writing to have applied themselves to their work and actually written it themselves, regardless of the perceived quality.

So who’s fooling who, the author that for one reason or another might not manage to get their manuscript to the top of the slush pile with a mainstream publisher and decide to have the gumption to at least tackle the market head-on, or the publisher who commissions an army of ghost-writers to churn out fodder for the masses and endorse it with a ‘celebrities’ name? While you ponder that question think about this short list of authors who did not find instant success.

Norman Mailer - The Naked and the Dead - Rejected 12 times

Richard Bach - Jonathan Livingston Seagull – Rejected 20 times

Joseph Heller - Catch-22 – Rejected 22 times (Wouldn’t you know)

Robert Persig - Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – Rejected 121 times, and of course John Grisham - A Time to Kill - 15 publishers and 30 agents before publishing it himself. It makes you wonder what the world of literature would be like if it were not for the tenacity of many authors willing to go that extra mile and not take rejection by the mainstream industry that for one reason or another could not see worth in the work being presented. These authors took that leap of faith, a leap of faith in their own work, skill, ability, tenacity and talent. They did not listen to the voice of rejection they said “Publish and be damned”

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

The Dark Days Aren’t Coming, They’re Here

In a week which has seen a growing upsurge against traditional industry practices and a realisation by retailers and publishers that we cannot continue running the book publishing industry the way it has traditionally ran for the last 50 years, calls have been made from established figures for a change. The failure to embrace new lines of production and new printing methods and formats is hardly news in the publishing world, but now it would appear hands are being forced through other issues such as the rising cost of paper and escalating fuel prices. CEO Carolyn Reidy at Simon & Schuster has been reported as saying that the escalating prices have made Simon & Schuster “take a fresh look at the way we do business. Our basic costs are up dramatically." With estimates of rises in costs between 10 and 40% this year (so far) it is obvious that something will have to give. The question is what. Will these lions, these demigods of publishing finally address the way they do business or will they take the easy route and pass the charge down the line to the consumer.

Robert Miller, the founder of Walt Disney’s ‘Hyperion Books’ now heads up a new imprint at HarperCollins, he sees an area that is the bane for publishers, which is not only crazy but in this day and age, unacceptable environmentally mental. Figures from the US show that in 2005 there were approximately 1.5 billion books published and distributed to retail outlets. Out of these a staggering 465 million were returned as unsold. What does this tell us about the industry? It tells us that there is a cartel between publishers and the retail industry that is willing to absorb a system of waste and that something is drastically wrong with the process of buying books. Just for a moment stop and think about the sheer amount of energy spent in producing the books, transporting the books, having them sit around in stores being heated and cooled with air conditioning for months on end and then being returned unsold due to little or no demand. Sadly the story does not end with the books being returned. From this point books can then be shipped off to remainder outlets or pulped, both are practices which expand a heck of a lot of energy and resources.

Interestingly this week Faber also announced that it was going to reprint its ‘Classics’ line using Print on Demand (POD) technology. Is this a dry run for the shape of things to come? POD is certainly a leaner and greener method of getting books into store. Congratulations Faber, but what of this archaic returns policy. Why do retailers overstock and spend so much of its buying power leaving precious little left to experiment with indie publishers and small publishers. It is partly this short-sightedness which is leading to many shoppers turning to the internet. April Hamilton, author and publisher, describes the lamentable situation in the USA in her latest blog post – No,Mr. Murdoch : that was a movie, this is a book. “Thanks to over two decades of consolidation, the U.S. publishing industry is now lorded over by just six media mega conglomerates, Viacom, Time Warner and News Corp. among them. If these names sound familiar, it’s because they belong to the artistic visionaries who brought us The Moment of Truth TV show, virtually every Adam Sandler movie ever made, People magazine and much more of the same. They’ve made a lucrative science of cranking out the media equivalent of junk food: over-packaged, over-hyped, disposable distractions that never turn out to be quite as satisfying as they looked in the ad, and sometimes even leave you feeling a little guilty.”

Hamilton’s point is that this is an industry that refuses to face some harsh realities that it should be addressing. At present it is happy to churn out a billon point five books and see nearly 500 million returned and then bleat about rising costs. The responsibility lies with every single area within the industry to address over-stocking, address over-printing and address itself, before owning a book becomes a dirty habit, something to be ashamed of. Imagine, you are the owner of the latest hyped blockbuster, but in this green world word gets out about the carbon footprint, the waste of resources due to mass production, the gallons of fuel spent driving those books back and forth to the retailer only to see millions of copies burned or pulped in the greatest funeral pyre since the dark days of the Second World War. Maybe you would turn to an eBook rather than be seen holding a copy while sitting on a bus or travelling on a train, or you would open a Kindle and sneer at the person sitting opposite holding a carbon relic of the past. Books are a thing of beauty, a physical bond develops between reader and storyteller, but can the world and the industry continue to afford such a waste. POD provides a book on demand; it is as simple as that. If there is no demand there is no sales, which is sad but at least there is no waste.

Monday, 28 April 2008

Word of Mouth or Word of Pen...Has the Internet killed the Book Review?

Twenty years ago the power of the book review was the difference between a best-seller and a place in the obscurity bin with a sale sticker slapped across the front. Book reviewers held a position of power and high respect in the industry, but over recent years the need to obtain reviews from the mainstream press has diminished.

The arrival of the Internet has broadened the market for publishers and opened hundreds of new channels for small publishers so their books can gain recognition against the established market. Internet portals now specialise in areas of fiction and non-fiction, and many readers turn to these channels before opening ‘The London Times’ or ‘The New York Post’. The word of the new reviewer is 'Word of Mouth' (WOM) and the new reviewer can be you or me. The interesting thing is the influence and position of power is shifting and becoming more democratic.

A recent report showed that traditional book reviews only counted for 5% of sales, of course there are obvious exceptions. But if you look at the phenomenon of 'WOM' and see how powerful it can be, it becomes clear that a change in how people disseminate information and trust what friends, colleagues and even complete strangers are saying over traditional reviewers has occurred. WOM played a huge part in the success of JK Rowling and the Harry Potter series of books. I am sure reviewers from the traditional press would love to take claim for her success, but in reality it was WOM and children passing the word to their friends and family and via sites such as Amazon and social networking on the Internet that made this series such a worldwide success.

Now with the development of Web2.0 and social networking playing such a part in surfers daily net habits, authors and publishers alike would be mad to ignore the possibilities open to them. The term viral was coined on the web long ago and it is as apt a word as any to describe how quickly something can become hot on the web. Sites such as Shelfari, Goodreads and MySpace provide a platform for independent authors and publishers to get their product known and create a buzz. Chatrooms, forums, and messaging add a further dimension that gets people talking about books.

Publishers are also getting wise to the existence of You Tube and other video portals to make video promos. Many of these films are creative and appear to have a higher budget than the minuscule amounts of money actually spent. The book industry has traditionally ignored using film or video to promote its books but now new publishers are embracing every new method to get books in front of people and talking.

The Weblog or Blog is now one of the key ports of call for many readers wanting to know about their favourite author or genre. Many bloggers have taken on the mantle of the ‘new reviewer’ and their word is often trusted beyond that of established journalists. The reach of the blogger is global and for an author to receive a favourable review on a respected site can translate to not only sales but also that all-important WOM.

So where does the traditional reviewer sit in this new world of opportunity. Has he been consigned to the equivalent of the bargain bucket in terms of usefulness? No. A good review in a traditional magazine, newspaper or journal still translates into sales, maybe not as many as in the past but there is still the kudos element which all authors and publishers want associated with it. Believe it or not though, it is not all about sales, though they are important. It is all about word of mouth, which is no more than today's buzz word that encompasses 'product and brand' profile. WOM gives authors and publishers recognition. For the small, independent publisher this can be achieved with more frequency, through more channels and with greater scope on the net. After all, and here is the challenge; are the New York or London Times going to review the latest novel from Darren E Laws or will they stick with the established authors such as Stephen King. No prizes for guessing.


Wednesday, 16 April 2008

The London Book Fair 2008…Talkin’ bout an Evolution

If there was a buzz sweeping through the London Book Fair (LBF) it was the quiet gentle hum of indifference. I was expecting to attend an invigorating and lively event in a industry that is being challenged with new technology, communication and delivery methods but there was scant evidence of an industry even beginning to address these issues. Or if there was the industry was talking behind closed doors or within the hallowed and expensive closeted rooms above the main exhibition in the seminar rooms. Unlike many industry fairs, the publishing industry not only likes to charge a premium for entry to the exhibition but add a surplus tax to attend many of these industry talks, which is a great shame as I am certain that behind the closed doors there must be something of interest happening. What I did find on the main exhibition floor was an industry comfortable with itself. There was very little in the way of emerging marketing tools or the cutting edge technologies that are going to play such a prevalent part in the industry in the coming years.

Microsoft was plugging its 'Live Search' technology and Print On Demand was given a passing nod with Lightning Source occupying a busy stand, but I was pleased to find one stand bringing book content to a new and younger market via mobile phones. This technology is already big in Japan and is coming to the UK via Austria. The reason for its success in Japan could be that fiction is currently having a hard time with the established core groups of male readers in particular who are favouring business titles. Mobile downloads of novels through Bluetooth applications is a way to introduce fiction to a younger more net savvy audience. The technology uses special fonts to make reading on a small screen easier with less eyestrain. Having downloaded a trial copy of Edgar Allen Poe's 'The Black Cat' and read a few pages on my Nokia 6300, which does not have the world's largest screen, I can say the technology works and provides publishers and authors a new route to market. Okay, so maybe a reader may or may not read a whole novel on their mobile phone but teaser chapters and the ability to read a novel in its entirety may lead new readers into bookstores or onto the web to purchase a physical copy.

Speaking with Jorg Hotter from Black Betty Mobilemedia, who specialise in this mobile phone technology it is clear that if the industry embrace this method of delivery then there is a cheap and viable alternative to deliver fiction to market using existing hardware and not reliant on purchasing expensive equipment such as Amazon's Kindle. The Kindle is without doubt one of the more exciting developments in the industry, though at present a costly investment for the average reader and currently unavailable in the UK. Mobile phones are ultimately portable and a piece of equipment that virtually everyone in the UK has access too. Mobile digital rights are going to be a growth area and certainly something literary agents will be brushing up on.

There can be no denying the usefulness of the fair; it is a great place to meet industry insiders if they are prepared to meet with you. This is easier said than done however, and using the LBF online diary system to pre-book meetings even months in advance can draw no response from the invitee. Which is a shame when the whole system is electronic and it takes nothing but a little time to respond with a polite ‘no’ rather than keep a person hanging on for months in the hope of a positive answer; but as you know the book industry is well-versed in doing that. So the large area on the second floor becomes home to literary agents holding meetings with existing clients and excluding any interlopers from the outside world. The café areas on the fringes (which is an apt metaphor) appear to be the place where the real meetings happen. Maybe this is the transition area for new talent; if they survive here they progress to the inner sanctum.

To the casual observer the UK publishing industry still appears to be run by Oxbridge, there is nothing wrong in that if they are best qualified to do so, but one senses that the air of exclusivity which is so common in the industry, is also the thing which could be its downfall. Anything that changes or challenges the safety of this world is looked at with sceptical eyes. If something is not equal too or on par with its ideal, education or prejudice it is deemed a threat.

There are many exciting things happening within publishing and I draw parallels with what happened to the music industry in the 1970's when a small but significant core of people grew tired of the same old record being sung by supergroups, such as the Eagles or Queen. From the streets came what at the time many thought was a revolution called punk rock. History though shows us that there are few, if any, real revolutions in art or entertainments just evolutions. Sometimes the leap is a little large, maybe it misses out a generation and that is what can be frightening to the establishment. Are we in the midst of a revolution…no, but the industry is evolving and the leap ahead of it looks big.

Monday, 7 April 2008

Amazon – The Great Dictator. Is Robert Mugabe in charge at Amazon?

What is going on at Amazon? The Internet behemoth suddenly seems to be turning the screw on publishers. Last week it was Print-On-Demand publishers whose turn it was to feel its wrath, with its outrageous behaviour demanding that POD publishers use only Amazon's 'Book Surge' POD service or face putative measures. This week it is the publishing world in general. Amazon is turning its attention to publishers who sell their books cheaper on their own sites than at Amazon. Amazon say they will assume that the price on the publishers website will be the new rrp. An example of this is if a book is sold on Amazon for £20 and £10 on my website, then Amazon will only return £5 for a sale on their site after they take their 50% mark up. Surely it is the prerogative of the publisher to sell at whatever price they are comfortable with on their own site. After all they are not sacrificing at least 50% to Amazon and can afford to pass on a little more discount to the customer. Where does Amazon stop with this line of thinking? I can't help but think though that in both cases it is the small publisher that will feel the brunt of Amazon's bullying.

It seems that Amazon has woken up to the fact that it is the dominant retailer and holds an extraordinary position of power on the Internet. It is now beginning to flex its muscles and see how far it can go in intimidating the book world. Publishers, especially small publishers are resorting to all means to stay in business and if Amazon has a problem with them selling a very small amount of titles through their own websites to help balance the books (no pun intended) then it is a very sad day. So why is Amazon behaving this way? Does it foresee a threat coming that we do not know about. Is its margins being eroded by new online retailers or is it just greed, power and a failure to accept that there is a democratic world out there...oops sorry back to Robert Mugabe. Maybe Mr Mugabe is at the helm having negotiated a way out of one jungle into another.

Amazon's behaviour of late, should in all rights be a public relations nightmare for its PR team, or is its arrogance such that it blithely ignores such matters, much the same way it appears to be treating the book industry. The publishing world has enough problems facing it and everyday is seeing an erosion of profits and margins. One can only wonder what Amazon has up their sleeves for next week.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Crystal balls or no balls at all…The future of publishing.

The London Book Fair is one of the most highly anticipated events in the calendar year for publishers, authors and anyone connected with language and the ability to write captivating prose. As the event draws near the industry faces many new challenges, one thing that can be certain is that the Internet and digital technology is going to claim a bigger share of our thoughts and occupation. Sales of cut-price fiction in supermarkets, Amazon’s dominance of the book selling world on the net, digital technology, emerging markets, POD, e-Books, The Kindle and Internet piracy are all going to claim a stake for your attention. How the industry begins to tackle issues such as these often depends on the reaction of the leading players. The publishers, the retailers, the distributors, the movers and shakers – those 5% of authors who earn the lion share of the profits and royalties; these are the people who should be addressing the issues first. Why? Because their voices can be heard. The interesting thing when you look closely at this elite band of people is that while they control a large percentage of market they do little to embrace new technology, often choosing to view it as a threat rather than an asset. Many publishers have not even begun to embrace e-Commerce yet or provide websites for its artists. There are one or two that are exemplary but in the main they are positioned somewhere in 1998 rather than 2008.

If smaller publishers had the same income to invest in new technology or the resources to embrace podcast, vodcasts, email marketing and full-on public relations activities as these mighty giants, than I am sure the book industry would be a different game altogether today. Is it change that the established players fear? I don’t think so. I believe it is a mixture ignorance and arrogance. The upshot for the small guy though is that many of these new marketing and promotional tools can actually cost nothing more than time and intelligence. Many publishers have not even embraced blogging yet…why? Opinion matters and the Internet has enabled small and large alike to influence and help change opinion through argument and constructed thought.

It’s time to shape up and step up because the future of publishing does not always need a crystal ball, companies such as Amazon is already catching on that POD is becoming big. In its recent approach to digital printing and distribution, has recognised that there is ‘gold in them thar hills’. Obviously the decision has nothing to do with the fact that Amazon owns Book Surge and will reap vast profits from storing and printing titles from a digital catalogue publishers have to buy into. Amazon’s spin is that by making POD customers use Book Surge or its Createspace service, it actually serves customers quicker. This is a backhanded compliment paid by Amazon to the testimony, power and quality of both POD and many of the publishers using the technology. The problem with this line of thinking is that it stops major publishers from embracing POD. Why would large publishers want to relinquish their back catalogues (for instance) to Amazon/Book Surge to store in its digital catalogue and sacrifice the huge margin smaller publishers do to Amazon, to sell their books. Though the cynic in me thinks the big guys will get a far better deal and much more lenient terms.

One may rightly question whether this is a restrictive practice by Amazon, but Amazon do give the choice of continuing to use your existing POD company, there are, as always, caveats attached though. Publishing is changing; the future looks interesting if not maybe a little uncertain. POD gave the little guy a fighting chance, a chance to be heard, a chance to be read. Small, canny publishers then utilised the new tools available, to punch above their weight and gain valuable market space. Amazon’s move could be an attempt to castrate the small guy in favour of the big guys. Whether you are a large or small publisher or an author with a vested interest, you cannot simply ignore what is happening.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

The Times They Are A-Changin and the Publishing Industry Better Be A-Listening

In 1963 Bob Dylan wrote ‘The times they are a-changin’. The lyrics in the second verse are the most poignant today for writers and the publishing industry in general.

“Come writers and critics

Who prophesise with your pen

And keep your eyes wide

The chance won't come again”

I don’t think Dylan could foresee the coming Internet explosion, and if he could I am sure his lyrics would, as they did then, preach a more powerful sermon than the publishing industry being revolutionised by Print-on Demand (POD) technology. Dylan would, I hope, fully agree with the democratisation of the written word through POD's insurgence. POD and the coming arrival of the espresso book machine to a shopping mall near you, is going to send waves of anxiety to book stores, and by that very act to the established publishing industry. With the increase in technology storage capacity and wired and wireless information exchange these machines could begin to level the playing field for small and independent publishers, especially publishers who already embrace the technology.

As the industry begins to become conscious of environmental matters such as carbon footprint, recycling and waste, POD will more and more been seen as the logical next step. The average 300-page novel produces approximately 1.4 kg of carbon dioxide emissions per copy. Who knows, maybe the bookstore of the future will have several portable POD machines with digital catalogues working away printing novels as they are demanded by the public, rather than published titles sitting on shelves awaiting the recall back to the publisher for expensive and un-environmentally friendly pulping or return to landfill. POD machines in-store could also reduce delivery and collection. The downside? Who wants to wait seven minutes for their 300-page novel to be printed? This wait may not be so bad if accompanied by a cup of coffee or beverage of your choice. But the fact is that if these machines are currently capable of making a book from a digital file in under 10 minutes then who knows what that wait might be in two or even three years. Publishers such as Ken Arnold Books and Caffeine Nights Publishing among many others are waiting at the door for this technology to be rolled out into the coffee shops, libraries and high streets in towns near you, while at present many mainstream publishers continue to ignore the technology, hoping it will go away.

At the moment critics, some authors and many publishers dismiss the idea and notion of POD, but the technology is here and believe me no one ever un-invented the wheel. If the established publishing industry does not want the technology and it appears many don’t, then there is a line of publishers eager to embrace it. The same disdain is held for small publishers who want no more than to stand on the same playing field and have an equal chance at finding an audience for its product. Many publishers know how much of a closed shop this industry can be. Is this a form of snobbery? I could argue strongly that it is. The decade after Bob Dylan foretold that the times were a-changin, the punk explosion rocked the music industry. Punk rock made it possible for every talented and musically challenged individual to form a band, start a record label and find an audience. In some respects social networking sites such as MySpace are helping promote new talent in similar ways. The comparison for the publishing industry is that revolution cannot be ignored. It always starts in the streets and works its way through society, eventually shaking it to its knees.

It is curious that the publishing industry is virtually alone in its contempt for the independent artist. Recent breakthrough artists in the music industry have found their audiences without the need of backing from the establishment and there are also cases of established artists leaving the mainstay record labels to go it alone. Radiohead’s recent experiment where it offered its product as a free download leaving fans to pay what they felt was a fair price for the album proves a point. The experiment had record executives at the major labels both curious and quaking with fear. The project was a resounding success. Even after offering ‘in rainbows’ virtually free of charge, the album still managed to shoot to number one when released, giving the band its first UK number 1 album in years. You may recall Stephen King experimented with a similar trial on the Internet a few years back. Offering individual chapters of 'Riding the Bullet' and leaving fans to decide what to pay. King’s venture in this market may have been premature and he may have tested an audience which was not as sophisticated as today’s net user. Sadly Mr King's effort was deemed a failure.

While artists, musicians and even filmmakers are respected from coming from an independent platform it appears that authors are treated with suspicion and disdain. When was the last time you read an article slamming a 'vanity filmmaker' or 'vanity musician. I dare say rarely if ever. The terminology 'vanity' is only left for authors. Why? I feel the future of publishing is changing and democratising the industry for authors and independent publishers.

Aptly closing with Mr Dylan, he goes on to sing:

There's a battle outside

And it is ragin'.

It'll soon shake your windows

And rattle your walls

For the times they are a-changin'.

With thanks to Mr Bob Dylan for writing the fabulous lyrics to ‘The Times they are A-Changin’ Bob Dylan

Copyright © 1963; renewed 1991 Special Rider Music

Monday, 10 March 2008

Swimming with the Sharks – Fighting the myths about POD

Being a start-up company in the world of publishing is certainly an exciting time at the moment. Print-on-Demand (POD) is a filthy word akin to being disrespectful to a religion or God; or so it would seem. But POD is one of the most environmentally friendly forms of publishing in the trade today. We are not responsible for printing thousands of unwanted titles that get recalled and expensively scrapped or pulped. We only produce when there is a demand or when an order is generated. What POD can bring the trade is a form of intelligent ordering and smaller quantity ordering from large and independent bookstores willing to try something new.

There is also a myth generated that POD means a no returns policy. Our policy is to make firm sales as this allows us to work with larger discounts and places more onus on bookstores to actually sell the books and offer them equal placement with the big boys of this publishing world. But if a store wants to return unsold stock then we are willing to do that but not at a price where there is no incentive to the store to actually promote and sell titles. We will support books stores with book signings, posters, pre-signing publicity, PR and POS. I think that is more than fair to gain a little shelf space in a store. Especially when the store will probably earn more money per copy than the author who slavishly spent part of his or her life writing the darned thing, or even the publisher who had the brass ones to publish it. And then, you know what, if the store doesn’t shift the book they get the right to return it and get their money back…no questions asked.

The way the book trade operates, everyone gets a slice of the cake. Printers, distributors, bookstores, designers, photographers, agents, authors and yes, even publishers. That slice gets to be incredibly thin for small publishers once everyone has taken their cut. The author unless he/she sells phenomenal amounts will take home an average wage that is bordering on, and in some cases less than, minimum wage. The publisher will only get a small percentage of what’s left to keep searching for new talent and investment.

Some bookstores want at least 50% off the cover price and force small publishers to commit to quantities that they must know are not viable in terms of sales. Online giants are no better, and while some like to promote themselves as the saviour of the small presses, they have no problem asking for 60% plus. These figures are mad and clearly unsustainable to companies operating on miniscule budgets. There is an option to return to running off thousands of books to reduce the overall cost per copy and wait a year for the books to return to be pulped, but surely POD is a far more sensible approach. It also offers readers greater choice.

The book industry has to start adjusting to life in the new age. It is clear to see why the big publishing houses have such a strangle hold on the retail market, and why there is restrictive practices stopping little minnows from swimming with the sharks. It is also clear that times are changing and unless the media adopts a less snooty attitude to POD and bookstores learn to embrace what should be an exciting opportunity for them then the sharks may become dinosaurs while the minnows evolve and exploit new markets and technologies such as the Espresso Book Machine. Now may just be the time for small and independent publishers to band together to gain market share in the coffee shops with our product and digital catalogues because you can be sure that this will be the one area the major publishers will cream their coffee beans to suddenly back this technology, which we are currently berated for championing.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Caffeine Nights Publishing announce launch of its first crime thriller ‘Turtle Island’


Ref: 0008

Date:04 March 2008

Caffeine Nights Publishing announce launch of its first crime thriller ‘Turtle Island’

Caffeine Nights Publishing is proud to announce the launch of its first crime fiction novel, Turtle Island, by Darren E Laws. Originally published in 2003, the novel has been re-edited by Darren after fans of the book asked for a sequel. The rights having been obtained by the Kent based publisher means it can proceed to publish the whole series of books in the Georgina O’Neil trilogy.

Author, Darren E Laws originally published the book with an American publisher and was keen to expand the novel into a short series of crime fiction books. “I have spent a good part of this year working on a re-edited version of Turtle Island. It strikes me that software developers and even film makers are always modifying and improving their product and I do not see why authors cannot do the same.”

Originally Turtle Island was penned as a stand-alone novel, but due to pressure from fans to find out what happens to various characters in the novel, Darren began to draft a sequel ‘Dark Country’ (due for release by Caffeine Nights Publishing late 2008).

“Various elements in the original publication had to be re-edited to allow me a little more scope for the sequel. There are some subtle changes in the novel, and I would like to think that I have upped the tension; chemistry and horror to make TI V2.0 not only a better novel, but also one that makes the readers want to find out what happens in the sequel ‘Dark Country’.”

Turtle Island (ISBN:978-0-9554070-1-7) will be published on the 4th February 2008 by Caffeine Nights Publishing and retails at £7.99.


Limited number of review copies available now.


Caffeine Nights Publishing

Based in Kent, publishing contemporary and crime fiction. We aim to make you laugh, thrill you, scare you, have you on the edge of your seat with your fingers gripping the pages tightly, but most of all, we want to entertain you with fiction aimed at the heart and the head…

Author Biography

Born in East London, Darren E Laws now lives in Kent with his wife, Natalie, numerous goldfish and a hamster. Currently sampling every form of Whisky available, Darren divides his time as a public relations manager and a nighttime novelist.

Turtle Island is the second novel from Darren E Laws. The first novel ‘Tripping’ was a surreal black comedy published in 2007. ISBN: 0955407001

When the body of a man is washed up in the river; Turtle Island, Missouri is awoken from being a peaceful haven and thrust into the attention of the national media. The case is solved rather all too conveniently and F.B.I agent Georgina O’Neil is left with severe doubts - have they caught the right man? A feeling that is justified after case Detective Montoya and his family are kidnapped and a web site is set up promising America its first live execution. Turtle Island is now thrust into global spotlight and the world gets to vote on who the killer will choose next. As O’Neil digs deeper she finds evidence of a paedophile ring that could run into the heart of the police. No longer sure who they she trust, O’Neil and case partner, Detective LaPortiere, have to find the Montoya’s and save them before an 8pm deadline. The clock is ticking…

Friday, 29 February 2008

Kent author’s chilling past inspires new crime thriller

Kent based author Darren E Laws drew on some real-life grisly experiences for the inspiration behind his new novel ‘Turtle Island’. The 45-year-old novelist, who lives in Medway, remembers exactly what it was that led to him writing the first in a series of crime thrillers featuring his lead character, Georgina O’Neil.

“I used to work in Tonbridge and spend my lunch hours’ running parallel with the River Medway from Tonbridge toward Maidstone. One particular wet summer’s day I ran past some items that were abandoned by the river’s edge. What was curious was that it was raining and left out in the open was some clothing, an open packet of cigarettes and an almost empty bottle of whisky. I though this was odd. So I investigated further and found a heel mark where the water met the bank of the river."

Darren ran back to work and contacted the police where the next day a team of police divers sadly found the body of a man. “The experience made me inquisitive, especially as it was in such a tranquil and peaceful setting.”

A few months later the experience repeated itself again, when on another run to town the following winter, Darren saw the body of another young man who went missing over the Christmas break. The body had floated to the surface after the frozen river thawed. These macabre incidents stayed with me and got me thinking about how life in a peaceful environment could be unsettled by such incidents and the seeds to Turtle Island started to form.

"Obviously I have not drawn on anything form either tragic event in the book in terms of any of the people involved. Instead I explored the emotions the incidents invoked in me, and used the ideas to form the basis of this novel. Though Turtle Island is set in Missouri, the book has its roots in Kent."

“This is not a case of only the names have been changed to protect the innocent. Turtle Island is a work of fiction inspired by true events. I know people always ask authors where they get their ideas from and the truth is they come from everywhere. Just because my story and characters are based in the United States does not mean to say that the book is not aimed at readers here in the UK. Turtle Island is very much a British book.”

Turtle Island is published by Caffeine Nights Publishing on February 4

Review copies are available and Darren is also available for interview.