Monday, June 05, 2006

Monday morning

Just in case you missed them, here are a few bits that cropped up over the weekend.

Sarah Waters

The Guardian had an interview with Sarah Waters (link from Bookslut). This is a longish piece, and if you don't know Sarah's work it's a good introduction; and it acted as a reminder to me to get hold of her latest, The Night Watch. Interview by Lisa Allardice, by the way, who clearly knows what she's doing.

The future of bookshops

The Waterstone's/Ottakar's thingy has prompted all sorts of think pieces in the press.

There's an article by Iain Dale, on the Guardian comment-is-free page, which predicts the closure of virtually all independent bookshops. 'I foresee that within 10 years, apart from a very few run by retired individuals with money to throw down the drain, the independent bookshop will have disappeared from our town centres.'

This has generated lots and lots of comments, including one from Andy Laties which is definitely worth reading.

Another article appeared in the Independent. Perhaps because of the paper's name, this was a bit more hopeful, and it at least offered a few reasons as to why small bookshops might survive.

The Guardian piece really annoyed Clive Keeble, who reckons that the indies are the only assured survivors on the UK high streets. Clive also sent me a link to an American article, in the Village Voice, which suggests that the battle between big and small bookshops is not new. And at the end of a longish, thoughtful, and well researched article we get the following: 'Strange to say, someday superstores may be the historical curiosity that indies are now in danger of becoming.'

Tip of the week

Here's a useful tip. If you are thinking of starting a new career as a novelist, at the age of 70, as Mary Wesley did, you should equip yourself with two things: (1) a full life, particularly on the sexual side; and (2) a son who is a literary agent. In Wesley's case, the son was Toby Eady, of (not surprisingly) Toby Eady Associates. It never hurts for an embryo novelist to have a close relative who is a known name in the book business.

I was reminded of this by an article by Toby Eady in yesterday's Sunday Times. The article was a short profile of his mother, who is written about at book length in a biography of Mary Wesley, just out: Wild Mary, by Patrick Marnham.

Investing in books

The Sunday Times also had an article, in the Money section, about investing in books. I'm not going to dwell on that, because I would never advise anyone to buy a book for investment purposes. Buy a book because you want to read it, and possibly keep it, by all means; but if you're buying in the hope that you can sell it in n years' time for a profit, you deserve all the trouble you get.

Only one point caught my attention in this article: it was a statement that the print run for the very first Harry Potter book (hardback) was 500 copies. (Such was the confidence of the publisher.) Hence copies of that first edition are in short supply, and sell for a small fortune.

I also remember, though you'd have to dig into the archives of the Bookseller to find the details, a complaint which was made soon after Harry started to become really popular. It was a complaint made in connection with, I think, the third book in the series.

A bookseller wrote in to say that she had been collecting first editions of the Harry Potter books from the beginning. And so she had wanted to have a first edition of this latest book. But when she opened the packages with supplies of the book for her own shop, she found that none of the books was a true first edition: they were all marked Reprinted, or Second Impression, or some such. I forget the exact phrase.

Someone, the bookseller sourly remarked, had evidently realised that there was going to be money in these things, and had ensured that true first editions weren't even available to booksellers who opened the packages straight from the printers, in advance of the publication date.

All of which is another reason for not buying books for investment purposes. Not to mention the fact that there is a cottage industry in forging J.K. Rowling's signature and selling the 'signed' books on ebay.

Graze anatomy

Before we leave the weekend's papers, it's worth noting that Saturday's Times had a review of a book translated from the German: Three Bags Full, by Leonie Swann. It's been a bestseller in Germany, and foreign rights have been sold all over the place.

Three Bags Full is a detective story with a twist. The twist being that the murder victim was a shepherd, and the detectives are his sheep. It's set in Ireland.

Well, some very odd things happen in Ireland, and this book sounds as if it might be fun. Then again, it might be all postmodern and lit'ry.

Breakfast with Pandora

At the Breakfast with Pandora blog, DF concentrates mostly on ancient and modern mythology, but he also covers the craft of writing. He recently took time out to disagree with my assessment of To Kill a Mockingbird, and to demonstrate that it genuinely communicates with young people (his post of 31 May). Well, yes, indeed, I don't doubt it. It just didn't do a lot for me.

Kipp Fenn

You won't remember, but back in November last I mentioned Paul K. Lyons, who was running the Diary Junction and other things, and plugging a novel in the process.

Well, he's still at it, and now his novel Kipp Fenn is available online, in full.

Sand Storm offer

As I have said before, many and various are the ways in which writers seek to get themselves into print. For example, the ever-energetic Steve Clackson is trying a new offer to interest publishers in his novel Sand Storm. Steve says that they can have it royalty-free, provided they make a donation, for each copy sold, to the International Red Cross. Meanwhile he is working on the next one.

Death of 'Connie Sachs'

Most people who have read John le Carre's thrillers will know that he worked, at one time, for the UK's intelligences services, MI5 and MI6. Hence it was not surprising that, when he came to write espionage stories, Le Carre based some of his characters on real people.

One of Le Carre's minor characters in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy was Connie Sachs, a woman with an encyclopaedic memory for information about even the most obscure corners of Communism. In the 1979 TV adaptation, Connie was played by Beryl Reid.

This character was widely believed to be based on Milicent Bagot, a spinster who was something of a legend in MI5. Well, now Milicent has died, at the age of 99, and the Times has an obituary of her.


Anne Weale said...

Thanks for the link to the Toby Eady piece which I've printed out to paste in my copy of the Mary Wesley biog which was on sale in an independent bookshop in Guernsey last week when I went in to order it.

Hope it hits No 1.


Peter Jackson said...

The first edition thing is interesting. Looking around the house for things to sell, I discovered I had a first edition of Terry Pratchett's fourth novel, Equal Rites. Only 2,850 copies were printed, and his original publisher - Colin Smythe - had to do a deal with Gollancz to get that number out. So, a nice price for me on eBay; all later printings were Gollancz only.

Shame my daughter has all the first editions of Philip Pullman's Dark Materials trilogy, really. I bought those for her because they looked good rather than seeing an investment opportunity...

Peter L. Winkler said...

Steve Clackson has no understanding of the economics of publishing a book. The advance or, in lieu of any advance, the royalties paid on the average book (with sales of around 1,000 copies according to a BookScan VP) is the smallest part of the cost of producing the book.

Years and years ago, I read that it costs min. $40,000 to publish a book, not including what the author receives.

Clackson's offer to publishers isn't really a choice for them. Call it a royalty or a donation, it's still money out of their pockets.

What Clackson refuses to acknowledge is that his writing isn't good enough to convince publishers they'd recoup their investment in printing his book, even if he agreed to forego payment of any kind.

kitty said...

Could not locate Three Bags Full here in the US, but I did find it in the UK. No bother. My husband gladly ordered it for me as a belated birthday present.

Thanks for the info!

Francis Ellen said...

"Clackson refuse to acknowledge that his writing isn't good enough..?"

Perhaps, Mr. Winkler. And you refuse to acknowledge that you are a nasty, tiny man who seems hell bent on spending his time rubbishing writers just because they are not famous enough to register on your scale of worthiness.

I hope Mr. Clackson gets a deal. Then, no doubt you will have to find some fresh meat to apply your grubby opinions to.

Being able to "convince publishers that they'd recoup their investment..." is not the same as writing a book that can recoup its investment. Your statement assumes divine and perfect knowledge on the part of 'publishers'. Most of them could no more 'spot' market potential than you could hide your ugly character.

Please, spare yourself the skullwork of a reply. The last time you applied your 'critical skills' to me I ended up going off at someone else, thinking it was you.

But I suppose it's nice to keep you occupied. At least you can't physically harm anyone when you're dripping your poison onto blogs.

SAND STORM said...

WOW Francis!
Thank you but don't let Winkler get under your skin, people who have accomplished little seem to like to take shots at others for trying to get their work noticed.
It makes no sense to me but they seem to think their opinion is required.
I was going to answer Winkler's comments but in a game of wits I would have to use half of mine to make it fair.
It is what it is I'm afraid.

Peter L. Winkler said...

Here is Steve Clackson’s offer to publishers:

“Here is your chance to publish a Thriller for FREE!
Pay No Royalties, No advance!
Sand Storm will be 100% yours.
Publish 1,000 copies, 5,000 or 100,000 it’s up to you.
You publish it, market it and keep all the money!
The catch.
One Caveat.
To acquire the rights you must donate $5.00 from every book sold…”

The offer is ridiculous and misleading if not fraudulent. Publishers don’t get the right to publish the book for free. You say no advance and no royalties, but the publisher must still pay out $5 per book. The $5 may not go into your pocket, but it still comes out of the publisher’s pocket, so it is the functional equivalent of a royalty.

As further proof that you have no understanding of the economics of publishing, your $5 figure is higher than even a generous 15% royalty of the retail price of a $25 hardcover book.

If a publisher issued a modest 10,000 copy print run of your book and sold every copy, they would be out $50,000.

Wow, that’ll have them flocking to your door.

SAND STORM said...

Just like I said on David Thayer's blog you didn't do your homework I had changed the amount by an update later that day.

It appears from the comments and e-mails I've received that $5.00 is too steep a price for publishers to consider. I set it as a starting place with the idea that it would probably result in a negotiated rate. That said I will restructure the donation to just $1.00 per book, so that the publisher can make some kind of return for their efforts.
¶ 6/01/2006 05:00:00 PM 8 comments

What a shmuck.