The Author Earnings report: point/counterpoint

By now you’ve probably encountered self-published author Hugh Howey’s Author Earnings report – which debuted online yesterday – in some form or another, whether through a direct link or via alarmist headlines such as io9’s ‘This chart ought to make the publishing industry very nervous‘. Superficially, at least, the latter might not seem like excessive hyperbole: extrapolating from his own Amazon sales reports, coupled with the expertise of ‘an author with advanced coding skills who [has] created a software program that can crawl online bestseller lists and grab mountains of data’, Howey reports back some startling figures. Most attention-grabbing: for the top 2,500 genre bestsellers on Amazon (mystery, thriller, suspense, sci-fi, fantasy, romance), 86% of sales are digital. For the top 100, that figure rises to 92%. Self-published genre e-books garner only 24% of total daily earnings, but take 47% of the daily revenue to authors. As for daily unit sales: 39% self-published versus 34% from the Big Five combined. Conclusion: the self-publishing revolution is well underway.

Countering that is author and Guardian columnist Damien Walter, who rightfully points out that Howey’s figures are by no means authoritative (although given that Amazon and the Big Five are in no rush to publish their own detailed sales figures, they might be the best we have). Though Walter concords with Howey that figures like those cited above are astonishing to consider, particularly when contrasted with pre-Kindle sales figures for self-published books, he parts ways with Howey’s interpretation of those figures: where Howey sees an appetite being met for genre fiction amongst mass audiences by self-published authors, Walter instead suggests that the success of those genres has more to do with how abundant and easily accessible e-books are – whether by tablet, phone, computer, Kindle, Nook, Kobo, whatever – and how much of a marketing hook genre can be for people who previously might not have been regular readers, and are now impulse buyers browsing Amazon.

Walter also invokes author Chuck Wendig’s wonderfully-named concept of ‘the Shit Volcano’ of self-publishing: a boom period before the dust settles on the new technology where regularly putting out poorly-written genre knock-offs to take advantage of inexperienced readers can make people a healthy living. Calling the belief that this period will become status quo ‘very naive’, he concludes: ‘As the ebook market matures, it will have to steadily rise in quality or collapse. If the Author Earnings report data isn’t all solid fact, the need for quality certainly is.’ Whichever side you ultimately come down on (and, if you’re regularly reading this site, I think I can take a pretty solid stab at guessing which), Howey’s report and Walter’s analysis are both worth reading and musing over.

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5 questions for Jacks Thomas, Director of The London Book Fair [INTERVIEW]

Portrait of Ann Bissell of Midas PRJacks Thomas is the Director of The London Book Fair and she will be BookMachine London’s speaker on 27th February. I caught up with her to find out what the new plans are for LBF14 as well as getting a bit of an insight into the running of the fair.

1. What’s new for LBF this year that visitors must make a note to see and do?

Firstly, new dates!  This year’s Fair starts on a Tuesday, rather than starting on a Monday as it has done in recent years, which means our Publishing for Digital Minds Conference will now take place on the Monday before the Fair.

Korea is Market Focus country, so there will be a full programme of professional and cultural events showcasing Korea, and we also have bestselling writer Sun-mi Hwang as our Market Focus Author of the Day. We’re very lucky once again this year as our other Authors of the Day are Terry Pratchett and Malorie Blackman.  I would definitely suggest visitors go to their talks on the PEN Literary Salon.

This year we have a brand new academic theatre located in LBF’s Academic & Scholarly zone called The Faculty @ LBF and LBF’s dedicated area for authors has been expanded and re-launched for 2014 as Author HQ, with a three day events programme for self-published writers to learn more about the industry.  We are also launching Gaming @ LBF, a dedicated space for developers and publishers to connect.

Don’t miss the virtual golf tournament either…more on that anon!

There will be over 250 free-to-attend events in LBF’s “Insights” seminar programme, with a staggering range of topics, I would highly recommend visitors attend some of these sessions.

2. Can you give us a bit more detail on the International Publishing Industry Excellence Awards, and why they fill the gaps that other awarding bodies aren’t fulfilling?

I take your point but the key difference with these awards is that they look out from the UK to the rest of the world.  To win, you will be operating outside the UK.  So these awards fill a gap in that they celebrate international achievement across the whole business of publishing and a truly global view of the book world.  The awards will hopefully be simple, slick and celebratory a fab opportunity for the UK publishing industry to recognise and showcase the achievements of their international publishing industry colleagues.

The awards cover everything from digital innovation, translation and copyright protection, through to trade, academic and children’s publishing.  There are 15 categories, and both companies and individuals are eligible to enter themselves, or put forward a nomination. PLUS! We’re really pleased that broadcaster and author, Gavin Esler has agreed to present the evening.

3. How do you ensure there is a balance between exhibiting companies and publishers that have huge marketing budgets – compared to those who are still integral to the industry, but can’t justify the marketing costs to be there (smaller publishers/service providers)?

We try to balance this by offering a number of exhibitor packages.  For example, we always  have Small Press stands which are  ideal for first time exhibitors or smaller companies to have a ‘taster’ of the fair, we have the start-up zone in Tech Central and with the new-to-show industries such as Gaming, Brand Licensing and Comics Pavilions we have very competitive packages in association with the respective Trades Associations Industry partners.

Altogether, a stand can be pretty much as large or small, fancy or simple as the customer decrees.

4. Over the last few years the scholarly, educational and seminar programme seems to have got a lot bigger. Why do you think this is and do you think exhibition events, like LBF, are expected to provide this as part of the overall offering?

In the K12 arena, technology is increasingly ubiquitous in lecture theatres and the classroom and a number of the most exciting digital innovations are happening in the educational sector.  The boundaries between education and what is entertainment are now much less defined, with new ‘edutainment’ initiatives are being launched every year. These new policies and techniques are debated at the IPA Education Conference; What Works on day 3 of the book fair.

In the academic, professional, STM sectors, we know that change is fast and that these  sectors often lead the way in innovation. We very much wanted to get a dedicated show floor feature going to complement the seminar stream in the conference programme, which is why we’ve launched The Faculty @ LBF. We are absolutely delighted with the feedback we have had and that is in no small part due to the partnerships we have with ALPSP and the PA.

5. Once all the hard work is done for 2014, what will you be doing during the book fair itself?  Do you get to participate as an observer, or are you running around on call?

Hopefully – enjoy it!  I always refer to the way it evolves once we are at Earls Court as watching a small village being built. I love seeing behind the scenes. As to what I will be doing, I very much hope to get to the Great Debate, the Faculty, The Children’s Hub, The Digital Theatres, The Bic Bar, at least a dozen of the 240 seminars and, of course, the IPA Education Conference, our new London Writers’ Fair on the Friday and kicking off the week with the Publishing for Digital Minds Conference.  In between all that I will look forward to the Korea Market Focus Pavilion Opening Ceremony, meeting our authors of the day, and getting to talk to our exhibitors and visitors. Hopefully I will also get time to buy guests the occasional drink or two at the Club at the Ivy Pop-Up, which is back for its second year. All of this should help me to prepare for The London Book Fair 2015 which – in case you missed it – is at OLYMPIA!

If you want to hear more from Jacks make sure you’ve booked your BookMachine London ticket!


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Haruki Murakami accused of smearing Japanese town

Residents of Nakatonbetsu, a town of 1,900 people on the Japanese island of Hokkaido, have expressed anger with Haruki Murakami – one of the most influential Japanese writers of his generation, and one of few to have broken through to western audiences – over what they see as a smear on their reputation in one of his novellas.

In Murakami’s Drive My Car – Men Without Women (another Beatles reference from the author of Norwegian Wood), published in the magazine Bungeishunju’s December issue, a character observes a young citizen of Nakatonbetsu throw a cigarette from the window of a car, and thinks to himself ‘Probably this is something everyone in Nakatonbetsu commonly does.’ Neither of these characters are Murakami. Both of them are fictional. RTs are not endorsements.

Having seemingly failed to grasp the concept that Murakami is capable of creating characters whose views do not necessarily reflect his own, because he is a writer of fiction and that’s his job, the town assembly of Nakatonbetsu is now looking for answers from Murakami’s publishers as to why their home has been slurred in such a fashion, with head of the assembly’s secretariat Shuichi Takai telling the AFP: ‘In early spring, the town people gather of their own will in a clean-up operation to collect litter on roads. We also work hard to prevent wildfires as 90 per cent of our town is covered with mountain forests. It is never a town where people litter with cigarettes everyday. We want to know why the name of a real town had to be used like that.’

Nobody as yet appears to have pointed out to the assembly that the person who throws the cigarette from the car window doesn’t exist, so that instance of littering never actually happened and is therefore an unsound basis upon which anyone might form an opinion of the real-world town and its residents, or that to sincerely believe that a writer means every sentiment every one of his or her characters have ever expressed is most likely a sign of madness.

Murakami remains one of Japan’s most popular writers at home and abroad, with his 2013 novel Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage selling a million copies in Japan by the end of its first week of publication and its English translation eagerly awaited in the west.

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BookMachine are getting physical

BookMachine are excited to announce the publication of their first book, Snapshots: BookMachine on digital, discoverability and collaboration. Snapshots is a collection of specially selected posts from the blog, which will be available in print as well as, of course, an ebook.

The book shares practical insights from those at the forefront of innovation in publishing, from traditional publishers to new industry players. In a time of continual change, the collection ‘snapshots’ the publishing sphere today – offering information and inspiration for professional publishers in the digital age.

And in true BookMachine style, this is a project with collaboration at its centre. BookMachine have teamed up with Kingston University Press, who has appointed a production team of students from Kingston’s Publishing MA course. And here’s what they have to say:

Working with BookMachine has been a very exciting opportunity for the team. This is a great project that has already given us lots of practical and professional experience, to help us build our future publishing careers. The group has some great ideas for the book, and we can’t wait to show everyone our finished product! – Rachel LaFrachi, Project Manager

So while we get physical (and digital), watch this space for updates…

Sam Perkins is the editor of
 Snapshots, and also a student on Kingston University’s Publishing MA course.

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Chuck Palahniuk gives more details about Fight Club sequel

Last summer brought news from Comic-Con, fittingly enough, that Chuck Palahniuk is planning to release a sequel to his widely adored 1996 debut novel Fight Club as a graphic novel. In an e-mail to his appropriately named fansite, The Cult, Palahniuk said he had been speaking to artists at Marvel, DC and Dark Horse about the process, and that the book would likely take place ten years after the end of the earlier novel, with protagonist Jack and sometime love interest Marla married and bored in the suburbs, drawn back into the world of Tyler Durden and Project Mayhem when their son is kidnapped. Now, the author has revealed a few more details.

Once again e-mailing The Cult, Palahniuk says: ‘The graphic novel “script” for the Fight Club sequel has gone off to the writer Matt Fraction and to an unnamed publisher for review.  Matt writes his own series, called “Sex Criminals” and does very well.  He’s been my go-to advisor about format and other considerations of graphic scripts.  I’ll be choosing an illustrator based on their response to the script.  The sequel will consist of seven issues, totally more than 210 pages.  Fingers crossed.’

Fraction, as Palahniuk says, is indeed responsible for the ongoing, highly acclaimed comic series Sex Criminals, and is also a prolific writer for Marvel, with his work on The Invincible Iron Man winning him an Eisner Award in 2009 for Best New Series. In other words, when it comes to comics, he knows what he’s talking about, which should reassure any Fight Club fans who remain sceptical about the format of this endeavour, if not of the wisdom of continuing Jack, Tyler and Marla’s story in the first place.

As work continues, however, Palahniuk has promised that both ‘comic/erotic thriller’ Beautiful You and book of short stories Make Something Up will be published in October 2014 and October 2015 respectively, so it may prove to be a while yet before the comic actually sees the light of day.

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Folio Prize announces its inaugural shortlist

It’s been a long time coming – we first reported on it back in 2011, when it was tentatively called The Literature Prize and being mooted as a reaction to a Booker shortlist sniffily dismissed as ‘readable’ – but the Folio Prize is finally due to make its debut award next month, and so has released its inaugural shortlist. Described at its launch near enough this time last year as a companion rather than rival to the Booker, in the manner of the FA Cup and the Premiership (which The Independent memorably pointed out was ‘a football metaphor’), the prize draws its nominees from the suggestions of an ‘Academy’ of writers and critics, and is open to work written in the English language from anywhere in the world, with the winner receiving a cheque for £40,000.

The majority of the nominees for this first year of the prize are, perhaps predictably, American, with five coming from the USA, two from the UK and one from Canada (and yes, this is the reason the Booker is expanding its reach beyond the Commonwealth for the first time this year). Most notable amongst the American nominees is A Naked Singularity, Sergio De La Pava’s debut novel, grappling with America’s War on Drugs, initially self-published online and building word of mouth to become one of the most buzzed about and, ultimately, acclaimed novels of 2013. His fellow citizen nominees are Rachel Kushner’s similarly ecstatically received The Flamethrowers, a chronicle of artistic life in 1970s New York and Italy; Tenth of December, the latest collection of short stories by widely adored master of the form George Saunders; previous National Book Award finalist Kent Haruf’s Benediction; and Schroeder, the third novel by Amity Gaige.

Rounding out the shortlist are Last Friends, the final book in 85 year-old English author Jane Gardam’s “Old Filth” trilogy; Anglo-Irish Eimear McBride’s debut novel, A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing; and the Canadian Anne Carson’s combination of drama, prose and poetry, Red Doc. Rather hearteningly, that means there are five female nominees to three male, which is certainly a fine benchmark to set in a world of literary prizes that too often still seem like a boys club. The winner is announced on 10 March.

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5 questions for Matthew Cashmore [INTERVIEW]


Ahead of BookMachine Oxford on 27 February I posed five quick questions to our guest speaker Matthew Cashmore!


1. Which words would best descibe your approach to your role as Digital Director at Blackwell’s?

Do cool stuff, do it really well, really quickly and make a profit.


2. What’s the most exciting part of your job?

Doing cool stuff with books – which I love and any visitor to my house / library will attest to.


3. What was Blackwell’s greatest achievement in 2013?

Starting a skunkworks for digital development in Shoreditch.


4. Do you have a prediction for the book industry in 2014?

We will continue to sell books, more books, more interesting books and people will continue to read them.


5. Is there any advice you would give to publishing/bookselling professionals that are getting involved with digital?

Digital amplifies what you’re good at AND what you’re bad at – don’t do ‘digital’ if you’re not passionate and great at what you do.


Matthew Cashmore is the Digital Director at Blackwell’s. He has a key strategic focus on finding and executing new opportunities and guiding a digital step change – making Blackwell’s the architects of the digital academic future.

Tickets for the Oxford event are available here.

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Details of Stephen King’s second novel of 2014 revealed

It may feel like Stephen King is never far from these pages, but there’s a simple reason for that: Stephen King is never far from releasing another book, and Stephen King’s books are never far from massive sales figures. Having released two novels in 2013 – the pulpy crime fiction of Joyland and the long-awaited sequel to The Shining, Doctor Sleep – along with the Kindle single non-fiction essay Guns and the book for his years-in-the-making musical collaboration with John Mellencamp, Ghost Brothers of Darkland County, King is set for a relatively more sedate 2014, with only two novels announced for publication (so far).

The first, Mr. Mercedes, is due for release by Scribner in June, and is being billed as King’s first hard-boiled detective novel. It’s been known about for quite some time, with King saying in interviews as early as last May that it was just about finished. More mysterious has been the second, Revival, which King has only really mentioned in passing. Now, some details have emerged: Revival will chase Mr. Mercedes by a mere five months, with Scribner once again publishing and looking at a November release. It will be a typically hefty tome, running 520 pages to Mr. Mercedes’ 496.

The official synopsis reads like a game of Stephen King bingo, encompassing small town New England, a mid-20th century setting, religious fanatics and drifters:

In a small New England town more than half a century ago, a boy is playing with his new toy soldiers in the dirt in front of his house when a shadow falls over him. He looks up to see a striking man, the new minister, Jamie learns later, who with his beautiful wife will transform the church and the town. The men and boys are a bit in love with Mrs. Jacobs; the women and girls, with the Reverend Jacobs — including Jamie’s sisters and mother. Then tragedy strikes, and this charismatic preacher curses God and is banished from the shocked town.

Jamie has demons of his own. Wed to his guitar from age 13, he plays in bands across the country, running from his own family tragedies, losing one job after another when his addictions get the better of him. Decades later, sober and living a decent life, he and Reverend Charles Jacobs meet again in a pact beyond even the Devil’s devising, and the many terrifying meanings of Revival are revealed.

King imbues this spectacularly rich and dark novel with everything he knows about music, addiction, and religious fanaticism and every nightmare we ever had about death. This is a masterpiece from King in the great American tradition of Frank Norris, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Edgar Allan Poe.

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Radio 3 to air unfilmed Dylan Thomas screenplay adapting Robert Louis Stevenson

As part of its spring programming marking the centenary of the birth of the poet Dylan Thomas, BBC Radio 3 is set to air a new production of The Beach of Falesa, Thomas’s previously unproduced screenplay adapting the 1892 Robert Louis Stevenson short story of the same name. The radio play will receive its world premiere on Sunday 4 May, with the following day seeing one Thomas poem read every hour on the same station, including archival recordings of Thomas himself. The poet, of course, has historically strong associations with BBC Radio, most notably his radio play Under Milk Wood, first broadcast with Richard Burton amongst the cast on the BBC Third Programme in January 1954, two months after Thomas, in the words of Nick Cave, died drunk in St. Vincent’s Hospital.

Though never produced, Thomas’ adaptation of “The Beach of Falesá” did see publication as a novella in 1963, a decade after his death. Burton and Christopher Isherwood are reputed to have worked on bringing it to the screen, to no avail, and both Thomas’ script and Stevenson’s short story remain unfilmed (though another attempt was made by Alan Sharp, the Scottish screenwriter of Peter Fonda’s The Hired Hand and Arthur Penn’s Night Moves). Written shortly after Stevenson moved to Samoa, “The Beach of Falesá” marks a shift in his corpus from romanticism to harsh realism, exploring the exploitation of islanders by European colonisers and the ramifications of inter-racial relationships under those circumstances.

The same day as the Beach of Falesa broadcast, Radio 3 will also air a documentary by poet Gwyneth Lewis about the voice that runs through Thomas’ work, drawing from the wealth of recordings made by Thomas in his lifetime.

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Amazon to start just sending you stuff and hoping you’ll buy it

When they inevitably make a Social Network-style movie about the rise of Amazon to full-blown Skynet omniscience, the equivalent of that film’s infamous ‘a million dollars isn’t cool. You know what’s cool? A billion dollars’ will come in the closing months of 2013. Deep into a late-night development meeting, containers of Chinese food strewn across a conference table, someone will finally crack and say what no one else dares: ‘why don’t we just send people stuff they didn’t even ask for?‘ Equal parts excitement and trepidation, the others will gasp, give each other the side-eye and stutter ‘but… but how could we ever get away with that?’ And the Archimedes who cracked this eureka moment will confidently intone ‘because we’re Amazon’.

Continuing the dystopianism evident in last year’s experiments with drones, Amazon has filed a patent for what it refers to as ‘anticipatory shipping’, using shoppers’ purchase history as a means of predicting which items will sell well in which areas and stocking local delivery hubs accordingly. Not only that, in some cases it will even have items ‘speculatively shipped to a physical address’ – which, obviously, might not take if it’s something a customer doesn’t actually want, but Amazon appear willing to take that chance, going so far as to suggest that these unsolicited deliveries be used as ‘a promotional gift’ to ‘build goodwill’.

That ‘promotional gift’ might not even be something related to what you’ve previously bought, with the metrics for anticipatory shipping also taking into account wishlists, previous searches and, most frighteningly, the length of time your cursor has spent sitting on a particular item on-screen. Bet all that time you’ve spent laughing at that canvas print of Paul Ross won’t seem so funny when the neighbours see it drop from the sky to your door.

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