Monthly Archives: December 2011

Author Susie Wild on eBooks

This post is the final of a trio of posts looking at the affect of eBooks on the literary industry.

Susie Wild is associate director for The Raconteur and Parthian Books. In 2010 her first book, The Art of Contraception, was published. This was followed by Arrivals, an eBook novella, which was published this year. With its publication Susie became the first Welsh writer to have her work published as a Kindle Single. These are shorter eBooks, designed especially for eReaders.

The Raconteur is available in print or as an eBook

Arrivals begins as 19-year-old Amy steps off a plane in Los Angeles. She has come to meet Alan, her estranged father and to find some space after the death of her ex-boyfriend Dan. It is split into two parts and the second of these focuses on Amy’s mother Maggie, who remains in England. It is a fast paced, enjoyable read. Events and emotions trigger flashbacks, giving the reader an insight into the mood swings of the main characters, allowing empathy with them.

How long have you been writing for? How has technology affected you as a writer since?

Since I could hold a pen. I still use pens, but my writing has got harder to decipher. I also use a laptop. I can edit on screen but I prefer to print out drafts and take them out of the office to read. Poetry usually starts in notebooks, stories also, but stories move to the screen faster. Journalism is always straight to screen.

What do you prefer? To have your work printed on paper or published digitally?

My preference is that my work is read. I have a Kindle, which is helpful in my line of work as an editor and a book reviewer.

The cover of Arrivals, Susie's eBook novella

I also like to buy individual short stories from the likes of Shortfire Press. Generally though, I still buy physical books and borrow them from the library. I prefer beautiful printed books, there has been a resurgence in popularity of the book as art object.

How has the introduction of the Kindle Single been helpful to writers?

It is good for people who write novellas, short stories or essays. It is helpful in terms of getting topical content out quickly, as many publishers have a backlog in terms of getting printed books out, which can stretch into two years or more. It also increases the reach that a title may have, as distribution becomes less of a problem. Newpapers are certainly embracing similar formats for hot topics.

Which is more beneficial financially, an eBook sold or a paperback sold?

Most writers don’t earn JK Rowling’s salary. That is why most have another job. It works out about the same, but if my eBook suddenly were to become a bestseller I’d make more from it than the paperback, as my terms change in relation to sales once overheads are covered.

Are there issues with eBook pricing and marketing?

I organised a launch for a number of Parthian’s Kindle eBooks and it was a strange event. There were no physical books on sale. People didn’t bring their Kindles and iPads along and buy the book there and then, though there was wifi so they could have done so. Still I wanted to mark the occasion, and we read from our Kindles on the night.

Amazon’s monopoly is another worry. I encourage people to support their local independent booksellers and small publishers by buying direct, where possible or using services like hive.co.uk. Best of all, go to an author event and buy the book direct from the author. That’s often when they make the most money. There are other arguments in relation to eBook pricing to do with the fact that authors don’t get paid much in the first place, a 10-12% cut of sales for new writers – considering that a book can take several years to write – and that though eBooks reduce overheads of printing and distribution, there are still the costs of editing and proofing and for publishers to cover.

Click here to see Susie’s author profile on Amazon

More on the subject: Author Amanda Hocking makes millions from eBooks

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Under the Christmas tree

I hope you’ve had a good Christmas. These are the books which were under my Christmas tree, athough I’ll be adding to the collection after I’ve spent some book tokens.

1.Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy

I’m hoping to see the film version at some point so I’d better get reading if I want to finish the book first.

2. The Tiger’s Wife

This is Tea Obreht’s first novel which won the Orange Prize this year. At 25 she is the youngest person to have won the prize, that’s pretty impressive.

3. Lucky Jim

I’ve started reading this one already, it’s entertaining and has a dry sense of humour. Jim has just got a job as a medieval history tutor. He tries to hold onto his job by bluffing during discussions with students and pandering to his supervisor Welch.

4. Unreliable Sources

John Simpson is the BBC’s World Affairs Editor and his book is bound to be interesting. It covers a large span of history, from the Boer War up to Tony Blair, including several incidents which have been discussed as part of my course at Cardiff.


Dr Anthony Mandal on digital publishing

 Dr Anthony Mandal is the Associate Director at the  Centre for Editorial & Intertextual Research, Cardiff University. Whilst researching for my piece on digitial books I asked him how they were affecting the publishing industry. His answers were so interesting they deserved a blog post of their own.

How have publishers reacted to the effect of the internet and e-books on their industry?

In the main this is still quite traditional, with publishers offering duplicates of the textual content of their printed books. Obviously, for Amazon to claim that e-book sales exceeded those of hardbacks in the US – as they did in the summer of 2011 – then publishers must be taking e-books seriously. There are a few exceptions which try to make more innovative use of the digital medium, such as Faber&Faber’s Wasteland app for the iPad, or for lighter-hearted readers, there are Padworx’s interactive Dracula and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

On another level, publishers seem to be (certainly, in the UK) taking a rather protectionist and reactionary approach to e-books. There has been an outcry among Kindle readers as some publishers have been pricing their Kindle e-books higher than the paperbacks. Surely, the publishers would take advantage of the lower costs of generating e-books than print ones, and retail them at substantively reduced prices to secure further sales from this expanding market? Well, that’s what customers thought. Amazon distanced itself from this by attaching a label in cases where the ‘Price had been set by the publisher’, while customers said that they would buy second-hand copies to prevent the publishers making a profit.

Are publishers prioritising physical book sales?

My feeling is that certain publishers are doing this to protect their physical sales. Book retailers operate on a ‘sale-or-return’ policy, so that if they only sell a small portion of books sent by the publisher for sale, they can return any remaining stock without having to pay. Hence, if a publisher has invested tens of thousands of dollars in a print-run, they will want to ensure that the book sells, as they’ll otherwise be stuck with the unsold copies.

What do you think about the idea of Google Books?

In principle, Google Books was a great idea, and particularly for someone like me, who researches literature that is out of copyright, the access to such a large number of pre-1900 works is a real asset.

However the settlement that Google was obliged to come to with the Authors’ Guild and the Association of American Publishers undermined the public good of such a project, given the monetization that would take place. Libraries that had digitized materials as part of the Google Books project for free would now have to buy back access to the same digital texts. Google might have a monopoly on these digitized works, preventing other similar initiatives.

The ‘orphaned books’ issue is a particularly thorny one. On the one hand, Google Books would make a lot of these out-of-print works available to the public; on the other hand, any income derived from the digitization of these books would be split between the three partners in the settlement, with little redress to authors of orphaned works or their legatees. So, on the whole, I think it represents a rewriting of copyright law and an infringement of intellectual property for commercial gain, which could only be a bad thing for authors.

What do you think about self-publishing?

Self-publishing isn’t an inherently bad thing. Many authors stepped into the literary marketplace by self-publishing. Jane Austen published her first novel, Sense and Sensibility, at her own expense in 1811, paying the publisher the costs and a ten per cent commission. Virginia and Leonard Woolf set up the Hogarth Press in 1917 as a hobby, which turned into a successful business.

Sites like WordPress are popular and easy to use

However publishers perform a gatekeeping function, making sure that what reaches the customer has been through a comparable process of scrutiny. Self-published material does not undergo this, meaning the reader might be misled by what is being presented. This is probably fine in most cases, but in those where facts are at stake, we need to be careful about vesting too much authority in anything that is published. Or conversely, we might be in danger of becoming desensitised to material that should carry authority because of this textual revolution.

At the same time, I think it’s a great thing that through blogging, online publishing and social media, more people are becoming writers. Writing can encourage reflection and make us think more clearly about our society and its values, so the more people who write and engage in this way, the better, I think.


The rise of eBooks in Welsh libraries

Waterstone's will launch its own eReader to compete against Amazon's Kindle next year

“eBooks are still selling well and we will see a surge in eBook downloads over Christmas as people unwrap their new readers.”

Jon Howells, press officer for Waterstone’s.

Earlier this year website figures for Waterstone’s showed eBooks were selling four times as fast as hardbacks. This Christmas book fans could find a parcel with a different shape waiting for them underneath the tree. eBook readers are becoming popular amongst book fans. Books can be downloaded instantly on these portable devices.

The challenge to meet digital demand

Publishers have reacted to digital demand by creating and commercialising online content. Parthian Books, based in Cardigan, has been selling books since 1993. Last October it started releasing eBooks and now sells the work of 30 Welsh authors online. “At the moment we’re trying to get our files to as many different places as possible, from iBook and Kobo to Amazon,” said Claire Houguez, marketing officer for Parthian Books.

But in some areas of England the availability of online resources has been used to justify library cuts, causing librarians to join the public sector strikes on Nov 30. For those like Dr Anthony Mandal, a senior lecturer at Cardiff University, this is concerning. “We need to ask ourselves what kind of world we will be bequeathing to future generations,” he said. “There should be no price and no restriction on access to the cultural capital of a society.”

Library cuts across Britain

Map built using data from Public Library News, click here to see original content.

Digital investment for public libraries in Wales

eBooks loans cannot be downloaded to Kindles as Amazon has no interest in joining the scheme.

Fortunately Welsh investment in libraries has continued and recent statistics released by CIPFA show the number of borrowers in Wales has risen by 8.3 per cent.

Welsh libraries are using the internet to engage with the public. Since the introduction of a new eBook loan system in August, library users can access facilities at home and outside of opening times. This pilot programme will last a year. It is funded by 12 Welsh library authorities and the Welsh government through cyMAL.

Members can download up to four eBooks onto their computers or eReaders. The loans last for three weeks before they are automatically wiped. So far people can choose from over 4,000 titles, 60 per cent of this is fiction, 15 per cent is for children and the rest is non-fiction.

“This is something people have looking and waiting for,” said Elspeth Morris, operational manager for libraries in Cardiff. “The supplier puts up what they have available but we’re still hoping it’s a good choice of books.”

Leah Hayes, from Port Talbot library, was one of the first to use the new system. “It encourages people to use our services,” she said. “Some people have joined the library via the internet after the scheme was introduced, they may have never stepped into a library before.”

  Leah Hayes on the popularity of eBooks

Online archives, digitisation at Cardiff University

New Turning the Pages software allows users to interact with archive material

At Cardiff University’s department for special collections and archives (SCHOLAR) digitisation has also become important. Last year the university contributed £500,000 to the re-housing of 14,000 items in the Cardiff Rare Books Collection at its Arts and Social Studies Library. By scanning pages from collections like these and publishing them online the team can bring them to a wider audience.

The scanning process is a lengthy one, it takes time and expertise and needs funding.“It is difficult at the moment because the university sector does require access to a lot of current information,” said Peter Keelan, head of special archives at Cardiff University. “Our budget goes to paying commercial publishers to gain access to major databases. We have to find additional resources if we want to digitise our materials in house.”

Robert Darnton on the monopoly of academic journal publishers

Robert Darnton, director at Harvard University Library, is one person who is trying to find a solution to this. Last week he spoke in Cardiff about the creation of the Digitial Public Library of America. If librarians pool their resources they could bypass paying for expensive subscriptions and have more money for further digitisation.

“Research libraries everywhere have been digitising their special collections, ” said Professor Darnton. “What we need to do is to find a way to make all these special collections interoperable and easily accessible to users.”

The message from librarians is that the rise of e-books does not replace library services. Shoppers may be spending on eBooks and eReaders this Christmas. But with libraries providing this as part of their service, access to information will remain fair and free.


An interview with William Smith

William Smith is the writer behind King of the Castle, the final film in this year’s BBC2 Made in Wales series. Made in Wales is supported by It’s My Shout, a film production company which works with the BBC to encourage talent in the film industry.

 William currently lives in Cardiff where he is looking for work and volunteering for Radio Cardiff. As part of this he produces and appears on the Monday morning breakfast show. He started writing scripts while studying for a degree in film and video at Newport University.

What happens in King of the Castle and where did the story come from?

The film is about two brothers who have recently lost their father. The younger brother is still at an age where he wants to play. But the older brother is trying to be cool and impress girls, he doesn’t want to be seen playing with his kid brother.

A lot of people asked if the story was autobiographical. I would say only to a small degree in that I am the younger of two brothers. I remember the shift from when me and my older brother would play together, to him growing out of it.

I don’t remember ever playing kings and knights as a child. But after filming had finished I was reminded of a family day out over ten years ago. I was visiting a castle in Scotland with two young cousins. One of them found a wooden sword and spent the day playing with it. Its original owner eventually spotted him and took it back, leaving my cousin in tears. I think some of the ideas for the original script must have come from that day without me fully realising it.

Can you tell me a bit about the setting and the actors?

I wrote the script with a castle close to where I grew up, Loughor Castle, in mind. The story is now set in Bridgend around Coity Castle. I’ve never visited it but it does look good on screen. The other main location is a disused nuclear bunker which is close to Coity Castle. The producer had  hoped to be able to shoot interiors at the bunker as well, but I think this proved too difficult. In the end the filming took place in a bank vault in Cardiff Bay.

In the submission process we were told scripts should heavily feature children, allowing young Welsh talent to be demonstrated. Casting was done by the director, Jon Rennie, but I was pleased with the choices. I was also glad to see the younger brother, Thomas Herbert, win best junior actor at the It’s My Shout awards.

What’s your favourite part of the film?

The middle of the film takes place in the family home and it’s probably my favourite sequence. I think it features the best performances from the actors and I think it’s where I see the most of myself in the dialogue and behaviour.

What sort of response have you had from people watching the film?

So far the only people who have seen the film are the people who attended the It’s My Shout 2011 screening in Porthcawl a month ago. I have a copy of the film but haven’t shown it to anyone yet. I’d consider it more special if people see it for the first time when it’s broadcast on TV. I’m looking forward to everyone being able to see the film and letting me know what they think of it.

What made you apply for the process?

I originally intended to apply last year after friends of mine had been members of crew on the 2009 batch of films. I wrote a story about plumbers but missed the deadline. A friend of mine wrote a script that was selected, which inspired me to enter again for this year’s scheme.

What was it like working with It’s My Shout and the BBC?

I had a few meetings with a BBC script editor who provided very helpful notes, both their own and from other people at the BBC who I never met. Writers were only allowed on set for a maximum of half a day during the 2-3 day shoots. I was only present for the scenes shot at the bank vault in Cardiff Bay, but it was great to see everyone working so hard on something I had written.

I enjoyed seeing my work on screen for the first time alongside the rest of the audience. With all of the student films I wrote I was also  involved in the filming and editing. I tend to find this leaves me unable to see the films just for what they are. I see where the cuts have been made: what’s been left out, what compromises were made during filming and events that happened during the filming. It was a pleasure to be able to hand over a script and then jump forward to seeing the finished version.

What have you learnt from the process?

The script changed substantially after two months of editing. The script which was accepted onto the scheme and the script which was filmed are completely different, apart from the names of the brothers and possibly three lines of dialogue. The story changed half way through the process at the request of others. The editing process for It’s My Shout allows the writer to receive notes and requests for changes. I think a revised version of the original script would still make a good short film, but I understand it was not the type of film which key people in the process wanted to make.

How important are programmes like Made in Wales to writers like you?

Programs like Made In Wales are very important. They give people an experience they might not otherwise get in their area. Each film is made in a different Welsh county. It gives people all over Wales a chance to get involved, on either side of the camera. It also gives writers a television broadcast credit, which is an excellent thing to be able to say.

I would advise all young and aspiring writers to submit their work next year. It’s a great chance to work with the BBC and meet some very helpful people. It’s My Shout have already announced the dates for next year’s script submissions. I’m glad to see it continue and hope it does so for years to come.

What have you got planned for the future?

The writers of this years scripts (myself included) have been invited to work with script editors at the BBC on longer scripts. I’ve just finished the first draft of a thirty page script for a drama pilot. It’s set in Swansea at the end of the last millennium. When the scripts are good enough we will be pointed in the right direction of people who might be able to help our careers. It’s all very exciting

King of the Castle will be showing on BBC2 on Dec 13. It can also be seen on  BBC iPlayer after this.


Eddie Butler @ Waterstone’s

Sports commentator Eddie Butler was at Waterstone’s last Saturday signing copies of his book: The Greatest Welsh XV Ever. This was good timing. Rugby fans were in Cardiff to see Wales play Australia at the Millenium Stadium. Eddie arrived at Waterstone’s at 11.30 am and left at 1 pm. He must have popped across the road to watch the match because he was on air for the BBC by 2pm. Unfortunately Australia won by 24-18.


Do you use an e-book reader?

I’m hoping to write a feature about digital books, so I’m doing some research.

Tomorrow I’m going to a lecture called Jefferson’s Taper and the Future of Books at Cardiff University. At the lecture Professor Robert Darnton, from Harvard University, will be talking about how books are being affected by digital technology.

If you use an e-book reader please help me by answering this poll. If there’s a reason I haven’t covered please leave a comment to let me know what this is.

I’d also like to know what kind of e-book readers people are using. Are you using a Kindle, an iPad or something else? Again; please leave a comment letting me know, thank you!