The Gambler’s Fortune – Livak’s back on the road with old friends and new enemies.

By the end of The Swordsman’s Oath, it was apparent that now the initial mystery of those eerie artefacts had been solved, people were going to want to know a lot more about the ancient magic, Artifice, which had created them. People meaning both readers and the characters in this unfolding narrative; the Archmage and the Tormalin nobility in particular. Livak certainly wouldn’t pass up the chance for whatever profit was to be made doing this. Ryshad on the other hand, would surely be recalled to serve his sworn master’s interests. Was there a way they could do both together? Or would it be more interesting to have them go their separate ways, not least to discover whether the lure of their former lives would be stronger than their attraction to each other? I decided that would be much more interesting, for the readers and for me as a writer.

So where would Livak find some ancient lore that learned wizards and scholars in a mighty prince’s pay would overlook? One thing that’s long interested me is the way odd fragments of knowledge are carried down through the generations in oral traditions, from Homer to English folk songs. Since I’d already mentioned Livak’s father was a travelling minstrel, that was a plausible thing for her to notice – while mages and Tormalin archivists would doubtless dismiss the idea as readily as former generations of Oxford dons. Furthermore, this would give me an opportunity to look more closely at the Forest Folk, to challenge some unrealistic conventions of epic fantasy about merry life in the greenwood, and to explore Livak’s relationship with her father’s people. Would she be accepted if she found them, or was she going to be caught between the two sides of her heritage, neither one nor the other?

Would she set out on this quest alone? Hardly. While Livak is determinedly independent, she has never been a loner, relying on a network of friends and allies across Einarinn. So who would she call on now that Halice isn’t at her side? The obvious choice was Sorgrad and his brother Sorgren (commonly called ‘Gren to avoid confusion and a lifelong lesson to authors not to give characters inconveniently similar names in a throwaway line in a debut novel). For one thing, as Mountain Men themselves, they would be the ideal people to introduce her to the upland culture. For another, exploring why the two of them had left their homeland behind would add another level to this story.

They’re also interesting characters in themselves, and yes, like Livak herself, Sorgrad and ‘Gren had been adventuring in our D&D group long before The Thief’s Gamble was written. My husband Steve played them both with a cheerful amorality which I’m thankful to say he keeps strictly for the gaming table. He and I had a good many long conversations about adapting those characters into the far more complex personalities required for a book. As we did so, I realised the brothers offered me the chance to look at male heroes from a sideways perspective, in much the same way that I was reimagining female roles in epic fantasy through Livak. They are mercenaries, so let’s look at all the implications of that lifestyle. Sorgrad enjoys making money by whatever means necessary while Gren genuinely relishes the violence that goes with robbery and dishonesty. When push comes to shove, they can both be utterly ruthless. That’s not very nice, is it? So how come they’re friends with Livak? It’s because on a personal level, they are great company, loyal allies and skilled fighters. Exploring those tensions in the notion of an epic hero (and Livak’s blind spots about her friends) offered all sorts of possibilities.

So far, so good, but I still didn’t think that would take this story far enough. What more did it need? Well, conflict is the essence of drama but setting up someone to oppose Livak’s new quest directly would essentially repeat the plot of The Thief’s Gamble. Okay, what else could I pull out of the Big Bag of Writerly Inspiration? How about the tragedy of good men in opposition? That was a useful starting point but I’d just been writing from a good man’s point of view in The Swordsman’s Oath, and I already knew I’d be doing that again in The Warrior’s Bond. Besides, looking at Sorgrad and ‘Gren got me thinking about contradictory characters. How about considering an epic fantasy hero who really had feet of clay? A man leading an unquestionably noble cause whose personal character is reprehensible? Enter Jeirran, who divides opinion among my readers more sharply than any other individual in my writing…

Weaving Livak’s quest into the inherent conflict between uplanders and lowlanders with very different aspirations gave me exactly what this story needed – especially once I’d added in this new (old) magic. I’d already established how the Archmage’s authority governs elemental magic. With this story focusing on aetheric magic’s potential, now I could explore this very different power’s potential uses, the restrictions on its use and how and why someone might be tempted to abuse such enchantments… and what happens then…

Okay, that’s about as far as I can go without risking spoilers for new readers – and it’s about as much as I can recall of my thinking back in 1999 when I was actually writing this story. Now I’m eager to learn what those coming new to the tale make of it!

So head on over to Wizard’s Tower Books to buy it in your preferred format, DRM-free Purchasing for Kindle, Nook etc will come online in a few days.

GF-ecover

Further reflections on the writing life from Judith Tarr

After my own recent piece for Fantasy Cafe reflecting on changes in the UK book trade since I was first published, I have naturally been fascinated by this series of articles by Judith Tarr, hosted on Catie Murphy’s blog, considering the changes she has seen over her much longer career. Thoughtful writing, well worth reading, for all of us interested in book trade issues whether as readers alone or readers and writers.

Escaping Stockholm Part One

Escaping Stockholm Part Two

Escaping Stockholm Part Three

Eastercon down, Clarke Award to go… meantime, here’s something to read.

So, that was a tremendously successful Eastercon, thanks to the dedication and hard work of a great many people before and during the weekend. I will write more fully about it all later – when I have completely got rid of the truly vile cold that I came down with last Friday. I’m over the worst but the post-viral fatigue is proving particularly vicious. Fortunately my main responsibilities this week have been addressing the Clarke Award shortlist and that can be done from the sofa without too much physical exertion. The cat approves.

Meantime, you will recall me mentioning Aethernet, the ebook serial fiction magazine I’m writing a story for. That was successfully launched at Eastercon and you can get a taste of the story which Adrian Tchaikovsky is writing here. Er, unless you’re an arachnophobe – it is called Spiderlight…

You can also read interviews with and extracts from the stories by other contributors – and there’ll be something from me coming soon.

Aethernet – The Magazine of Serial Fiction

On 30th March, a new ebook magazine will be launched, offering you the first instalments of stories from an intriguingly varied handful of science fiction and fantasy writers. There will be ‘Gela’s Ring’ by Chris Beckett, the sequel to his 2012 novel Dark Eden, which has attracted much well-deserved praise. Philip Palmer is writing ‘Murder of the Heart’; a contemporary and spooky tale, and that sounds intriguing since his versatility as a writer includes detective fiction for radio and screen alongside his SF novels. ‘Spiderlight’ by Adrian Tchaikovsky promises a completely new epic fantasy, humorous in places, deadly serious in others, by way of a deconstruction of the traditional prophecy-journey-dark lord narrative.

Ian Whates is contributing ‘The Smallest of Things’ while I’m offering ‘The Ties That Bind’, an extended story set in the River Kingdom where I’ve written three (or possibly four) short stories in the past few years. Subsequent editions will see the start of ‘Bartholomew Burns versus the Brain Invaders’ by Eric Brown and ‘Cosmopolitan Predators!’ by Tony Ballantyne, who has set this whole enterprise in motion. You see, not all the stories will have the same number of episodes. Some will be longer, some will be shorter but all aim to prompt pleasurable suspense as you wait in between instalments to see how a story unfolds, to learn if your expectations will be fulfilled or confounded, to see if the characters you’re learning to love or to hate will face triumph or disaster.

Aethernet Magazine will run for 12 issues. The first issue will go on sale on 30th March 2013, and subsequent issues will be on sale on the first of the month from May 2013 onwards. Individual issues will cost £3 and a full year’s subscription for all 12 issues will cost £20.

So why did I have a good long think and then say, ‘Okay, interesting, yes, count me in,’ when Tony Ballantyne contacted me? Firstly, that’s a roster of authors with whom I’ll be very proud to share a Table of Contents. Secondly, serial fiction isn’t something I’ve written before, and I’ve lost count of the authors over the years who I have heard advise never passing up the chance to do something new. Constantly challenging ourselves as writers is how we avoid stagnating.

Thirdly, as a reader, I’ve always really enjoyed serial fiction. When Tony Ballantyne first explained the plan, like most bookish types, my thoughts immediately turned to Sherlock Holmes’s adventures in The Strand Magazine, and to Charles Dickens’s novels first appearing in various Victorian periodicals which no one but Dickensian devotees can now name. More recently, some of SF’s greatest names from Asimov to Clarke, Le Guin to McCaffrey published serial fiction in genre magazines such as Analog and Astounding Stories. And let’s not forget that this tradition of episodic story telling woven around cliff-hangers and tantalising anticipation goes all the way back to Schehezerade and The One Thousand and One Nights, one of the foundations of our epic fantasy tradition.

At the same time as those classic pulp SF magazines were on the news-stands, Buster Crabbe was on cinema screens as the original Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon in those wonderful black-and-white space adventures with rocket ships apparently driven by sparklers and stories driven onwards by weekly last-minute betrayals and revelations. With a wonderful sense of the wheel turning full circle while moving forward, the advent of the DVD boxset and online streaming has seen TV drama return to serial formats after years of weekly reset-button writing, now that missing a scheduled broadcast isn’t the disaster for an ongoing narrative which it was in pre-VHS days.

In similar circular yet progressive fashion, ebook technology now offers us, readers and writers alike, new opportunities to enjoy the varied and shorter forms of fiction so popular in the past which the current costs and logistics of hard copy publication and distribution now make unfeasible for the most part. Not entirely, mind you. It’s worth noting that Alexander McCall Smith first publishes his ‘Scotland Street’ novels as daily serials in The Scotsman newspaper. Daily? How on earth…?

That would be a challenge too far for me to contemplate but the notion of putting together a story over eight monthly episodes is an intriguing prospect. Not least because once an episode is in print (or pixels, in this case) I am committed. There will be no going back to the beginning and rewriting, as there is with a novel, until the final draft is delivered. How will that work out? At the moment, it’s an unknown quantity, especially since I’ve already found my ideas changing between my first episode’s draft outline and putting fingers to keyboard. On the other hand, I will have the chance to adapt what I have planned for subsequent instalments in response to far more immediate feedback. Dickens used to do that a lot, apparently. Will I? I honestly don’t know. For one thing that will depend on what feedback is forthcoming.

So have a look, have a think, and if you’re as intrigued as I am, sign up at www.aethernetmag.com

Serial SF and Fantasy Fiction

The Swordsman’s Oath. ‘Oh, it’s not Livak telling the story!’ No, and here’s why.

Today sees the ebook publication of The Swordsman’s Oath, thanks to the dedication and endeavors of my partners in this project, Wizard’s Tower Press and Antimatter ePress.

I’ve decided to mark the occasion by considering the most frequent comment by people coming new to The Tales of Einarinn when they open The Thief’s Gamble’s sequel. So why didn’t I simply continue writing this unfolding narrative from Livak’s point of view? There are several interlocking answers.

As I devised the plot for The Swordsman’s Oath, I was conscious of the infamous Second Novel Hurdle. Having been disappointed as a reader when I’d found follow-ups to debut novels lacking, I really, really wanted to avoid retreading the same story. I wanted to go further, both in story and scope. Fortunately I had plenty of promising leads thanks to questions left unanswered at the end of The Thief’s Gamble. What exactly had happened in Tormalin recently, to prompt the noble D’Olbriot family’s suspicions? Come to that, what had really happened in the last days of the Old Tormalin Empire? How could anyone, wizard or thief, find the truth about events so long ago, lost in myth and chaos?

I already knew a good many answers, even before I wrote The Thief’s Gamble. I had been working on the background for the world of Einarinn for a good few years. I’d previously written a massively detailed heroic epic which I now refer to The Definitive Blockbuster Fantasy Masterwork, with irony as heavy as the laboriously dot-matrix-printed manuscript which went the rounds of agents and editors to garner a file of rejection slips. No one is more grateful than me that it never got published and I’m even more indebted for the professional feedback which showed me what I was doing wrong and how I could capitalize on the strengths elsewhere in my writing.

As I considered how to draw on that material for The Swordsman’s Oath, it soon became clear that telling the Tormalin side of this story from Livak’s point of view simply wouldn’t work. Having Ryshad tell her about events, recent and long past, would mean an awful lot of explanatory, static conversations which threatened to be as dull to write as they would be to read. That wasn’t the only problem. I’d already decided to tell the Old Tormalin story through someone directly involved, after blending two narratives together had proved so useful in The Thief’s Gamble. But Livak’s outlook simply wouldn’t mesh with the second viewpoint I had in mind. She’s an independent woman relying on her quick wits, with no allegiance beyond her close friends, whose motives for pursuing a quest are a world away from any clichéd epic fantasy battle between Dark and Light. The story of the Old Empire’s fall was going to focus on Temar who’d been the DBFM’s youthful protagonist; privileged, naïve and idealistic with the greatest tests of his character still to come.

But now I had Ryshad to work with, the confident, well-established swordsman who’d found himself caught up in Livak’s adventure. He would make an excellent counterpart to Temar while their common Tormalin heritage would give the overall story a far deeper coherence and unity. Better yet, I could now focus on Temar’s youthful inadequacies rather than trying to brush them aside; doing that had caused the most significant flaws in the DBFM. Between them, these two characters could uncover many more facets of being a hero, to further the exploration which I’d begun with Livak, a female hero rather than a heroine essentially defined by her relationships with men.

What sort of hero is Ryshad? He’s an honourable man with responsibilities and obligations which he is determined to abide by. So he’s definitely a good guy, and that’s a particularly interesting writing challenge. Villains and anti-heroes can be much easier for the author. The lure of the ‘bad boy’ is long established in fact and fiction while virtue is so often, unfortunately, rather dull. Consider Han Solo’s appeal compared to Luke Skywalker.

But was the anti-hero going too far, in the increasingly brutal protagonists I was seeing in film, books and TV? Is a man really a hero if his success depends simply on becoming more violent and more brutal than the bad guys? Some might let slip a troubled vulnerability afterwards, but that never stops them beating the next bad guy into a pulp. Then and now this rings false, set against my experiences of real life, in particular of the martial arts I’ve observed and studied. The strongest men I’ve met, physically and mentally, are comfortable in their own skins, much preferring to think their way through problems rather than battering opponents into submission. Such men only resort to violence when all other routes to a solution have been blocked, and then only use the necessary force, swiftly and efficiently. My bookshelves hold biographies and autobiographies telling plenty of such real-life heroes’ stories. These men are anything but dull, particularly under pressure and in peril. I wanted to offer readers a hero like that.

Telling the story from Ryshad’s point of view also set me the challenge of writing in an authentically masculine first-person voice, and keeping that voice and perspective distinctly different to Livak’s outlook. It also offered me the opportunity to see Livak herself from another person’s perspective, along with Ryshad’s opinions of her friends and allies like Halice. Wasn’t that an intriguing prospect? It’s hard to be certain, fifteen years down the road, but I think that may have been the clincher. I can be quite sure that he was definitely the right choice.

The Thief’s Gamble is now an ebook!

You can find it at The Wizard’s Tower Bookstore in mobi and epub formats, as you prefer. We’ll be rolling it out to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo etc, next week. The prices will be the same but buying from Wizard’s Tower puts more pennies in my pocket, just so you know.

There’s a brief intro to the book there and a link to the first chapter for you to read by way of a taster. You can also find out a lot more about the book and this series by clicking through on The Tales of Einarinn link in the right-hand column here.

For all those of you who’ve been waiting so patiently, thank you for your, er, patience. For those of you curious as to why it’s taken so long, the first blog of a three-part explanation of the complexities of ebooking a backlist can be found here. One final delaying factor has been preparing my latest book, Defiant Peaks, to go to print, so I’ve been head down and concentrating on copyediting and proofreading over the past few weeks.

This means that my first book, written in 1997, and my fifteenth written in 2012, are going to be available as ebooks within a month or so of each other. I have an interesting sense of things coming full circle since key elements of The Hadrumal Crisis trilogy’s storylines go all the way back to The Thief’s Gamble. Most notably, that was where I first explained why wizards don’t get involved in warfare. Back then, that was simply to draw a line under one possible ‘but why don’t they…?’ question from test readers. Through the intervening books, I’ve explored more reasons why that principle is so solidly enshrined in Einarinn’s wizardly edicts. I certainly didn’t expect to find it… what’s the right phrase here? Being tested to destruction? Proving the rule? I’m not sure. You’ll have to read Defiant Peaks and make up your own minds. Either way, this is a prime example of the way casual elements of world-building continue to inspire fantasy writers long after the immediate need for something in a particular story.

I’ve found myself revisiting characters from that very first book in this latest one, particularly Archmage Planir and other senior mages, like Kalion and Troanna, in the wizard city. As I wrote The Thief’s Gamble, like most debut novelists, I didn’t really think much beyond that first story. Getting one novel published was the summit of my ambition a decade and a half ago. As a consequence, while writing that first book’s climax, I committed myself and these wizards to some awesome demonstrations of magic. So I’ve just spent the last couple of years working through all the implications of precisely how and why wizards might do such things and what everyone else outside Hadrumal is going to think. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that if you’re actually living in a world where magic of that magnitude is possible, rather than just reading about it, your first reaction really isn’t going to be ‘whoa, cool!’

Alas, some characters from The Thief’s Gamble and the other Tales of Einarinn are only getting a brief mention in Defiant Peaks, even though I’ve worked out where they are now and what they’re doing, while thinking through where those who have come back are now and what’s happened in the intervening years. I would have dearly loved to go off on a few tangents to tell those particular stories. Unfortunately, their points of view would have been all wrong and those digressions would have badly slowed and disrupted the narrative flow in The Hadrumal Crisis. Very frustrating.

So now I’m looking forward at the 2013 calendar and trying to find some time where I could write up those episodes as short stories, for an ebook supplementary anthology for Defiant Peaks. NO PROMISES. More immediately to the point, looking back, I didn’t have the least idea that the people I was creating for The Thief’s Gamble would take on such depth and substance that I’d be so eager to be writing about them again, fifteen years on. Perhaps that was a bit dumb of me. Part of epic fantasy’s appeal for me is the on-going relationship I develop with characters as a reader. I should have realised the same would be true for me as a writer.

Characters from intervening books have also re-appeared as I’ve considered who the Archmage might call on as he needs something in particular doing or seeks out information from somewhere problematic like the Aldabreshin Archipelago. This has presented some interesting writing challenges. For the purposes of The Hadrumal Crisis trilogy, these are new characters and their previous exploits are simply back story, in the same way that Livak’s early life was back story in The Thief’s Gamble. But referring back to Livak’s previous adventures didn’t risk spoilers for other books. I’ve worked hard to make sure that all four of my series can be read independently of each other, regardless of the ongoing timeline. So working out how people might mention significant events in The Thief’s Gamble or Southern Fire without giving away something crucial has been tricky as well as fun.

Because it’s been an eventful decade in Einarinn. Although I’ve been writing these books for fifteen years, I didn’t realise until I was checking some timeline issues, a full ten years have passed for these characters from The Thief’s Gamble. So I’ve been thinking how I pictured them while writing that first book and how I picture them now. As a rule I’ve always been content to admire the artists like Geoff Taylor who’ve done such wonderful covers for me over the years, without envying their skills, each to their own etc. Just at the moment though, I would dearly love to be able to sketch these characters as I see them in my mind’s eye, then and now.

So these are a few thoughts as I consider what this ebook release means to me. What it means to you will depend on what else you’ve read of my writing. If you picked up Southern Fire or Irons in the Fire or Dangerous Waters, here’s your chance to go back and see where it all began. If this offers you an affordable and convenient opportunity to revisit Livak and her adventures, enjoy! Meantime, together with my invaluable partners, Wizards’ Tower Books and Antimatter ePress, we’ll press on with preparing the ebook of The Swordsman’s Oath.

The Thief’s Gamble – ebook edition – artist Geoff Taylor

So what’s it worth to you? What’s it worth to me? Some thoughts on the ebook price debate.

Price is the final debate to be had over ebooks. I really do have a great deal of sympathy with those readers who resent the notion of having to pay a second time for an electronic version of a book which they’ve already bought in hard copy. I wouldn’t want to do that myself, no matter how much I might prefer the convenience of having all my favourite titles to hand on an ereader when I’m travelling. The sooner the publishing industry takes heed from recent initiatives in music and video products and starts bundling electronic versions or a licence to get one with the physical product, the better.

Where I don’t have much sympathy is when I’ve heard people muttering that it’s somehow reprehensible/selfish/greedy for authors to profit putting from their backlist into ebook when they’ve already been paid for the original publication and hey, the books are still in the shops, so they’re still earning their cut that way. Why aren’t the ebooks free? Since they should be, why not find a free download?

As with so much in life, I think you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that.

Personally, one reason I’m epublishing my backlist is to try and recover some of the losses I’ve sustained over the past five years as hard copy sales of my early series have fallen off a cliff. Not only for me and not because people have stopped enjoying our books. Because these days, backlist titles by the majority of authors are simply not in the shops for a browsing reader to find and buy.

That was always a crucial element of the traditional publishing model; the way in which writers acquire new readers and any writer constantly needs to attract new readers because no series of books keeps all the people happy all of the time. Online retailing is simply not the same; it’s great when you know what you’re looking for but no amount of ‘other customers also bought’ and ‘look inside’ features replicate that browsing experience.

But some years ago, publishers stopped sending backlist books to shops on a sale or return basis, hoping to reduce both their costs and losses in an increasingly hostile economy. Booksellers responded by no longer stocking backlists, using their shelf space and promotions tables instead for the frontlist and best-seller titles, piling them high and selling them at a punishing discount for all concerned, hoping to retain some of the market share which the supermarkets were taking away.

And of course, there are far fewer bookshops for people actually go and browse in, especially after the demise of Borders. The cumulative effect of this for me and many other writers has been a significant loss of income. The past few years of financial turmoil have also had a significant impact on the foreign rights markets, where translation deals for midlist books are now increasingly hard to come by, once more reducing authorial incomes by noteworthy amounts.

Don’t mistake me. This isn’t whining or special pleading. The world doesn’t owe me or any other writer a living. This is just the way things are now. So if writers are to be able to afford to continue writing, we need to adapt. One such strategy is making money through epublishing backlist titles. That means not selling our titles for stupidly low prices, purely for the egoboost of being ‘An Amazon Top-100 Seller!’. At 99 cents a copy, that’s not such a big deal. Remember what I said about 100% of not-very-much still being not-very-much.

It’s also not in anyone’s interests to see the ebook price become fixed at an unsustainably low level. Apart from those shareholders in Amazon who don’t actually care about books or indeed any of their other product lines but who are only interested in gaining market share through predatory pricing, looking to cash out and retire with no great concern about the decline of a healthy market economy.

But I’m not interested in those people. I’m concerned about books and readers’ interests, since I was a reader before I was ever a writer and I’ll continue being a reader whatever the ups and downs of my writing career.

We’re in a period of transition and just at the moment, yes, it can reasonably be said that most of the income is profit for a publisher putting out an ebook for a backlist title that has long since earned out its advance. All the up-front costs, the author’s initial advance, the editing, copy-editing, proofing and production have been covered. Well, yes, and that would be the same for paper editions of that book, less the ongoing expense of printing and shipping the physical books. This is how publishing has always worked, with the publisher bearing those initial costs and hoping that enough of their titles earn out that advance payment and head into significant profit to cover those titles which don’t.

Bear in mind that most books take years to turn a profit, including in all likelihood titles here and there by a good many of your favourite authors, especially if your tastes are for writing somewhere off to either side of the mainstream bell curve. It’s the mega-sellers at the central peak of that bell curve which bring in the bulk of the revenue which gives the publishers the leeway to allow their editors to cut a writer some slack if a particular title hits the market at a really bad time or some other factor entirely beyond their control affects sales.

Why is this relevant to ebook pricing? Because books are books are books, whether you’re reading them by way of pixels, paperbacks or hand-illuminated parchment. There are up-front costs in producing them. Beyond the core of established best-sellers, there are no guarantees that the publishers will make their money back. If you as a reader want to continue to see a broad range of books for all tastes, well-edited, accurately proof-read and competently produced for ereaders and other platforms, the ebook price needs to become fixed at a point where doing all those things remains economically viable for publishers. Then publishers can support a broad midlist, where those writers who will emerge as future best-sellers learn their craft and build their readership through word of mouth recommendation, in person and online.

Ah but, I’ve heard it said, market forces will see best-sellers naturally emerge from the brave new world of independent epublishing, free of the dead hand of the past. Really? Like the Fifty Shades of Grey books? I have no opinion on the literary merits or otherwise of those particular titles because I have no intention of reading them, having no interest in that particular genre. I have no interest in quite a few things that are tremendously popular. I have never watched any of the X-Factor type talent shows or ‘reality’ TV (beyond a very few historical re-enactment things). Cookery, home-makeover or real-life-struggle programmes bore me rigid. I’d rather read a good book.

I have friends and family who love some or all of the above TV shows and that’s fine; I don’t pass any moral judgement on them, any more than they do on me for watching the SF and crime series which they would loathe. Fortunately there is still a sufficiently broad range of viewing for us all to enjoy the telly. As a reader I want to live in a world with a similarly broad choice of reading, where publishing professionals can offer me books to my taste, rather than being faced with a narrowing selection of titles determined by mob rule.

This is not to say that things should just stay the same, with ebooks simply priced like paperbacks. Not when the publisher is most definitely making a saving on warehousing, transportation and the other costs associated with physical books. The reader should see that reflected in the new economic model – and speaking personally, I’d like to see the authors’ share of revenues adjusted upwards as well.

Ebooks also offer publishers potential for using pricing intelligently to everyone’s advantage, their own as well as the readers’, with special offers, introductory discounts and so on. Although as some independent authors have already discovered, the dumb automated price-matching algorithms used by the likes of Amazon can cost them dearly, literally. An author offering an ebook directly at a lower cost, even temporarily, will see their Amazon prices cut, sometimes to zero, and it can take a long time for Amazon to put that price back up, if they ever do. As I said, Amazon are not interested in books. They’re interested in market share.

Then there is the problem of pricing for different markets where purchasing power is very different. Let’s not forget that half the world lives on less than $2.50 a day. That makes even a 99-cent ebook a non-trivial purchase. Especially if Amazon adds a surcharge for buying some ebooks depending on where the purchaser’s credit card is registered – or simply refuses to sell the ebook to that particular customer in the first place. For more on this, do read Charles Tan’s highly informative blog post

This used to be covered by the different rights and territories granted in publishing contracts, ensuring that publishers could set prices suited to local conditions and no one else could come in and undercut them. That worked reasonably well, at least from a First World Publisher point of view, when books were physical objects, and is still one of the arguments advanced for Digital Rights Management. Alas, that particular argument, and indeed that particular traditional publishing model, now only stands for as long as it takes for someone to crack a book’s DRM and these days, that’s measured in hours.

On the wider issues of DRM, incidentally, you cannot do better than read this post by Charles Stross (and the earlier post on Amazon which he references is well worth a read as well).

To return to the question of price, this becomes an area where questions of piracy definitely become complicated. I remain vehemently opposed to elooters – the likes of Pirate Bay who steal other people’s intellectual property and offer it up solely to enrich themselves.

But what about people in the 3rd World for whom ebooks could be a game-changer in terms of the education and access to information that they so urgently need to improve their own conditions? I’m not talking about access to the latest crime or SF best-sellers. I’m talking about textbooks and academic papers and journals and the like. Isn’t insisting that they pay American or Western European prices as morally indefensible as insisting they buy life-saving medicines at similarly unrealistic prices for local purchasing power? But a realistic price for a text book in West Africa or Indonesia would be an economically unsustainable price for that same product in the US or UK, if author and/or publisher are to stay in business.

As I say, it’s complicated. I don’t know what the answers are but answers need to be found, in everyone’s interests, readers, writers and publishers alike – and a free-for-all is not the solution.

For the moment, thankfully, finding those answers is not down to me. What I need to decide is a realistic price for my own ebooks, to see me and my business partners rewarded for our work without gouging readers. Then it’s up to the reader to choose whether or not to buy. In that sense, the unspoken contract between story teller and audience remains the same as it has always been.

To market, to market… in which territories and do you even have the right(s) to sell your own book?

As I’ve explained in my previous post, turning a backlist book into an ebook is nowhere near as straightforward as some folk might like to think, especially for titles more than ten years old. Once that’s done, more work, decisions and potential complications remain.

An ebook is no use to anyone unless potential readers know it’s there to be bought as simply and as widely as possible. So once again, I have decided to contract this part of the process out, specifically to Wizard’s Tower Press. I’ve known Cheryl Morgan for a good few years now and have the highest regard for both her technical skills and her commercial acumen – and when it comes to ebooks and the so-rapidly changing world of books these days, a publisher really does need both.

Once again, this is a commercial transaction with Wizard’s Tower taking their percentage as per the contract we have signed. If I were getting the books to market myself, I wouldn’t be giving up that share of the revenue but once again, money=time+convenience applies. Moreover 100% of not-very-much is not-very-much. I would much rather have a somewhat lesser percentage of considerably-more, trading theoretical income off against benefiting in very real terms from someone else’s skills in getting my ebooks to market far more effectively than I could myself, via Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and (ideally from my point of view, if you’re thinking of buying) through the Wizard’s Tower Bookstore where you’ll find a good many other excellent titles.

Ready to go? Not at all. The first conversation Cheryl and I had revolved around rights. Specifically, did I actually have the ebook rights to the works I proposed to publish? Specifically world rights because the aggravation of trying to manage geographical restrictions on ebook sales for Wizard’s Tower is simply not to be contemplated. The short stories and ‘Turns & Chances’ were straight forward enough but what about The Tales of Einarinn?

Referring back to my contracts with Orbit, there was no mention of ebooks at all. There had been a few addenda here and there over the years as Little,Brown and its various corporate overlords discussed what ebooks might mean in the short, medium and long term. The only certainty over this past decade has been uncertainty. Not so long ago, a solid case could be made for ebooks only ever being a sector of the market akin to audiobooks, only worth doing for the front-list bestsellers. Now it’s looking quite likely that ebooks will actually replace the mass-market paperback – though there are still debates about that, not least as to whether that will only apply to English language publication, with much slower uptake in translation. How territorial and language markets will be managed, with all the complications like unequal purchasing power dependent on local currencies remains a puzzle.

So amid all this uncertainty, in what has been a punishing decade for book sales for all sorts of other reasons, publishers have been scrambling to shore up their position, ideally securing ebook rights as widely as they can. In some cases this has led to authors being frankly bullied into giving up ebook rights retrospectively. In other cases, publishers simply haven’t bothered to ask, just putting out ebooks on their own initiative.

There have also been some extremely creative interpretations of clauses in contracts going back decades, as with the Harper Collins US vs Open Road lawsuit which hit the New York court system and the trade press back in December 2011. I won’t recap the whole complex case here but Harper Collins US claimed rights

to “exploitation” (counsel’s word) of the Work “through computer, computer-stored, mechanical or other electronic means now known or hereafter invented.”

In other words, even though that contract had been signed in 1971, when ebooks really were the stuff of Science Fiction, that interpretation was claiming ebook rights forty years later…

My own position with Orbit was thankfully straight-forward. When I had started considering epublishing my back list myself, I got in touch with the relevant people in the rights and legal departments and we established that insofar as limited ebooks rights had ever been granted in addenda to my existing contracts, all those options had long since expired, giving me control of any and all ebooks, and indeed, we began the process of reverting all other rights in my backlist.

Except… the US editions of The Tales of Einarinn are published by Eos, a division of Harper Collins US. These contracts remain in force. While there’s no mention of ebooks, there is a sub-sub clause granting them the right to ‘record, transmit and display’ the works by electronic means. Did that give them a claim on ebook rights, as with the Open Road case? Would we, at very least, need to put everything on hold, until there was a judgment in that case? What if Harper Collins US won their case?

I took legal advice through The Society of Authors, establishing that the clause’s wording had been explained to me as only granting the publisher the right to keep my work on their computer systems for editing, production and promotional purposes relating to the physical printed books. We also discussed the final line in that sub-sub clause explicitly excluding any grant of permission to create any multimedia product from my work.

I’d insisted on that line, reading that contract back in 1999, when the rising popularity of computer games had seen some less than ethical rights grabbing going on. Not that I have ever had any reason to consider Harper Collins US anything other than upright and principled but having worked in personnel management and dealt with employment contracts, I know exactly how important precision in contract language can be. Far better to avoid any misunderstanding from the outset.

There’s considerable discussion in trade circles at the moment relating to such matters. Is an ebook merely another format of a book, like hardback, trade paperback, serial or magazine publication, all of which rights, and more, such as audiobooks, were covered in the contract? If so, rights issues could remain complicated. Or are ebooks software and thus a multimedia product specifically excluded by that line? They’re licensed in the same way as software after all and taxed as such here in the UK.

More emails went back and forth and happily, the conclusion was reached with goodwill on all sides, that I do indeed have worldwide ebook rights to The Tales of Einarinn. Harper Collins US will continue to sell their print editions and hopefully we will both benefit from cross-promotion once the ebooks are available.

So we’re ready to get those novels on the road to epublication following Turns & Chances! Once we’ve decided on a price… more on that tomorrow.

“Put out your backlist as ebooks? Oh, it’s easy!” A few thoughts on that…

Today sees the epublication of Turns & Chances, the Lescari novella that leads on to the Chronicles of the Lescari Revolution. You can find it at Wizard’s Tower Books through the link below and over the next few days, it’ll be available for Kindle, Nook, Kobo etc.

And as more and more writers are epublishing their backlists, with more and more keen readers eagerly awaiting them, I thought I’d mark this publication with what’s turned out to be a series of blog posts about just what this whole process involves.

That line, “Put out your backlist as ebooks? Oh, it’s easy!” came from a fellow writer some years ago when we shared a platform at a convention, just as the first ereaders were coming on the market.
“I simply make pdfs of my final drafts and sell those!” she blithely explained.
I remarked on the often significant differences in plot and character between my final own drafts and the eventual copy-edited text as printed.
“Oh yes, that’s the same for me but nobody minds,” she said cheerily.
Actually, the stony faces I was seeing in that audience made me think different, even back then…

Since then such conversations have gone; “Oh, just run your final electronic version through this particular software. It’s easy—”

Let me stop you there. What final electronic version? My first book, The Thief’s Gamble, was written in 1996, sold in 1997 and while yes, I typed it up on a computer, I still printed out and posted hard copy to my publisher. Everyone did in those days. Just as copy editing happened with paper and pencil. Cut and paste for revisions honestly meant getting out the scissors and glue. There really, truly is no final electronic version anywhere near close enough to what’s on the printed page.

So that’s the first step. How to get the book as printed back into a computer. I could sit down with the hard copy and revise that final draft file which I have carefully transferred from computer to computer. Doable but time consuming and demanding very close concentration for umpty-hundred pages.

Rekey the whole thing? That would actually be faster for someone like me who touch-types but still time-consuming and with the added danger of introducing new errors. That final text would still need proof-reading.

On the time-consuming aspect, could I contract either of these approaches out? Yes, I could, but the cheapest quote I could find for all that work was around £750 pounds a book. I have a nine book backlist to deal with so that’s one hell of an upfront cost to take on.

There are illegally scanned pdfs of some of my books out there on the Net. I know authors who have successfully downloaded those, to give them a starting point for this sort of project. Entirely valid but not an option I decided to pursue. There’s the very real danger of malware piggybacking on such downloads. File-sharing is how the majority of Trojans and viruses spread now and please don’t think that’s limited to music and video. Then you still have to export that pdf text into some word processing software, so it’s only a first step.

Which brings us finally to taking a scalpel to a book and scanning the pages in. Thankfully you can now get bulk-feed, double-sided scanners and OCR software these days produces much, much better results than in the gobbledegook days of yore. (Yore being ten years or so in this Computer Age.) So that’s the option I decided to go with, looking at budgeting to buy one of those bulk-feed scanners as well as working out how to find the time I would need to set aside from my actual writing schedule to scan the text, proof read the results for OCR errors, to re-establish all the correct formatting for such things as bold text and italics, scene and chapter breaks, so on and so forth.

Seeing online dissatisfaction with some of the early ebook backlists rushed out by publishers who didn’t pay sufficient attention to such detail makes it very clear that readers expect – and make no mistake, they deserve – the same quality of text in an ebook as they would get in a paper edition.

At this point, I had one of those serendipitous chats with Elizabeth Campbell, a long-standing fan of my books and as it happens, a capable and energetic woman looking to offer her text-conversion services to authors in my position. Having taken to ebooks early herself, Elizabeth had gone looking for her favourite authors’ backlists. When they were nowhere to be found, she had contacted those writers, to learn pretty much what I’ve already said here. Well, as far as Elizabeth is concerned, any problem exists to be solved and she has now set up Antimatter ePress.

So I have been absolutely delighted to contract out the dismantling, scanning and proofing of the Tales of Einarinn. I apply that universal equation of life: money=time+convenience. I could do it myself, not for free but for the cost of that bulk scanner. Or I can pay for that work to be done by someone else while I spend my time writing the book currently under contract for which a publisher has already paid me an advance.

While all that got under way, we decided to test the waters with an ebook short story collection, offering shorter fiction featuring characters from that series, to be titled ‘A Few Further Tales of Einarinn’ and to follow that up with an ebook of ‘Turns & Chances’, the novella that kicked off the Lescari Revolution.

So far, so excellent. Since I did have the final versions of the ‘Further Tales’ stories on my hard drive, we soon had an electronic version of the text, proofed and checked. Then it needed turning into the requisite format for ereaders, which is to say .mobi and .epub format, checked and tweaked to suit the Kindle, the Nook, the iPad, Kobo, other devices and softwares. Let me tell you, that is nowhere as easy as it might sound, with the usual erratic and inexplicable glitches that arise whenever you’re transferring something from one platform to another. Any author doing their own ebooks will have exactly the same issues and if they’re like me, not computer illiterate but in no sense expert, learning how to solve those problems will be incredibly time consuming.

Ready to go? Not nearly. What about cover art? Yes, I know, it sounds bizarre when you’re talking about ebooks but you still need cover art. For ‘Further Tales’, I was fortunate enough to have the artwork I originally commissioned and paid for to go with The Wedding Gift portfolio project, including copyright. Matt Brooker’s coloured version of Jock’s illustration of Livak was perfect. Indeed, we decided we would use all those splendid black and wide drawings to illustrate the short story collection.

For ‘Turns & Chances’, I contacted Les Edwards/Edward Miller and for the ‘Tales of Einarinn’ novels, I contacted Geoff Taylor. Both were willing to licence their original artwork to me for ebook use and on very generous terms, but please note once again, these have been business transactions. Then of course, artwork presents its own quirks with successful transition between formats and devices. And so do maps, perhaps even more so than straight-forward pictures.

So far, so good. Phew. But now what? How do we get these ebooks to the readers? Uploading to Amazon for the Kindle? Uploading to Barnes & Noble for the Nook? Do I want to tangle with iTunes, especially when they will want a separate ISBN for each of their geographical territories. Where do I get ISBNs anyway – and they cost how much bought separately? Am I going to run my own author web-bookstore as well? What do I plan on doing about DRM?

Once again, the independently ebooking author can find answers to all these questions and take on all the tasks that follow but once again, depending on their level of internet skills and tech savvy, this part of the process can turn out to be incredibly time-consuming.

Okay, that’s enough to mull over for today. Details of my next steps, and the further complications still to be dealt with, will follow in my next post.