Bookshops: A Retail Bright Spot

Margareta Pagano’s article in the December 12th issue of the Evening Standard contained welcome news, ending with this: “But the best news of all is that people are buying books again in physical book shops, rather than on line with Amazon.  It’s difficult to get accurate figures, but there is a definite shift back to bricks and mortar: Waterstones, which bought Foyles earlier this year, is making excellent profits and opening new stores again.  And, for the first time in years, there are more new opening of book shops this year than closures.”

ResPublica says about Ms Pagano. “(She) is a columnist and the Independent and the Independent on Sunday. She is one of the UK’s leading financial journalists and has worked for the Daily Telegraph and the Sunday Telegraph, the Times and the Sunday Times. A founding editor of the Financial News, Margareta helped turn this specialist newspaper into one of the City’s premier online news services which is now part of Dow Jones. She also writes for the Spectator and the First Post and appears on TV as a financial commentator.”

Margareta Pagano

The article begins: ” . . . here’s as safe bet; you are going to buy or receive from someone in your family either Michelle Obama’s autobiography, Becoming, or The Ice Monster, by David Williams and Illustrated by Tony Ross. . . . To date, Obama’s Becoming is the fastest-selling, hardback, non-fiction title in the UK since Alex Ferguson’s My Autobiography published five ears ago. . . . It is being gobbled up by women of all ages around the country to give to their female friends and relatives.  They also reckon that with two million copies of Obama’s book having been sold worldwide more or less at the full price, Penguin Random House may be close to raking back much of the enormous $65 million (£50 million) advance paid to the Obama couple for their books- the former president, whose biography is out next year, has a job on his hands to beat his wife’s record.

“Like in the jewellery business, December is the Holy Grail for the book trade with u to 40% of all fiction and non-fiction books sold in the Christmas month.

“The latest figures from Nielsen BookScan show that sales for the year up to December 1 are 1.3% up on the year before at £1.3 billion, although volume sales are down a smidgen.  This is still along way off its pre-crash heyday, when sales between 2006 and 2007 hit a record £1.9 billion.  But Tom Tivnan of The Bookseller says the industry is going through a renaissance and reckons that sales this year could be a\s high as £1.6 billion after Christmas is taken into account.

“What is driving this revival? Fewer retailers are discounting prices, digital has opened up new markets and book shops have woken up to the need to host live events with authors and other experiences to attract readers.  Growth is most marked in the childrens’ books market and in audiobooks.  Audiobook sales are up 20% year on year and have created a new market, notably among men aged between 25 and 45, a demographic that traditionally reads the least.  In an era when time is short and the mood troubled, readers are also pouncing on ‘smart thinking’ books and authors who stir debate. That’s quite a contrast to the Ladybird books and adult colouring books which did so well after the crash.”

On a personal note, I should mention that Achieving Superpersonhood: Three East African Lives has been named winner in the Novel category, Pinnacle Book Achievement Awards, 2018.

Review: Washington Black

I went through the short list of candidates for this year’s Man Booker prize, and I selected Washington Black by Esi Edugyan as one I wanted to read.

Esi Edugyan was born in 1978 to immigrants from Ghana and raised in Calgary, Alberta.  She studied creative writing at the University of Victoria and received a master’s degree from Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars.  Her debut novel, The Second Life of Samuel Tyne was published at the age of 24, and despite favourable reviews of it, she had difficulty finding a publisher for her second manuscript.  She was a writer-in-residence in Stuttgart, Germany, where she found inspiration for Half Blood Blues, which was published in 2011 and short listed for the Man Booker.  She has since written a book of non-fiction, Dreaming of Elsewhere: Observations on Home, and Washington Black, which was published in September 2018.  She currently lives in Victoria, British Columbia with her husband, the novelist and poet, Steven Price and their two children.

Esi Edugyan

Washington Black is set initially on a sugar plantation in Barbados in the 1830’s.  An eleven-year-old field slave, Washington Black, is selected by the younger brother of the plantation manager,, Erasmus Wilde, to be the younger man, Titch’s servant.  While Erasmus is the irascible slave driver, Titch is a scientist with abolitionist sentiments, and he needs Washington to help him launch a prototypical lighter than air ship, the Cloud-cutter.   While preparations for the launch are underway, the Wilde brothers’ cousin, Philip, arrives on the plantation.  Philip brings news that his cousins’ father has died, and that their mother requires Erasmus to return to England, while Titch should take over the plantation, an assignment which he definitely does not want.  Philip commits suicide in the presence of Washington, so that the boy becomes a suspect of murder.  Titch and Washington depart hastily in the Cloud-cutter, but the craft is downed in a storm at sea and they are rescued by a ship which takes them to Norfolk, Virginia, where they find passage into Hudson’s Bay, Canada, where Titch’s father, an arctic explorer is supposed to have died.  But he hasn’t died, until later.  Titch disappears and Washington travels to Nova Scotia where he finds work and a Mr Goff, a marine biologist and his daughter Tanna, who becomes his love interest.  Washington travels to London to help the Goffs set up a pioneering aquarium.  Washington has Titch on his mind and he tracks him down in Morocco.

There is something surreal about this tale of achieving adulthood in the midst of tenuous relationships while travelling through a strange and hostile world.  All of the characters, with the possible exceptions of Washington and Tanna, are lost souls: people who have no chance of realising their human potential.   It is not clear to me what Ms Edugyan is hoping I will take away from her novel, except that being black is a life handicap and a being a slave is intolerable.  While the story in intriguing, I found my credibility being stretched now and then.  For example, Washington is uneducated except for some reading lessons from Titch, yet he designs a grand, state of the art aquarium, and aspires to have his name mentioned by the Royal Academy. Ms Edugyan’s writing is interesting, but occasionally it slips away from her as when she describes one character: “His was a small, square face in which the bones sat high and prominent, and the gesture seemed to thrust his skull to the very surface of his brow.”  I had the impression that the skull is just below the surface of the brow in any case.

Washington Black will appeal to those who enjoy the rousing adventures of an ex-slave.

Why Are Book Editors So Expensive?

There is an article with the above title in the IBPA Independent magazine, December 2017, written by Belinda Pollard which is of interest because I often wonder about the size of the bills I receive from editors, both structural and copy.  Belinda Pollard is a writer, editor, and publishing consultant based in Brisbane, Australia .

Belinda Pollard

She says: “In all my years as a book editor and chatting with other editors and authors, I’ve noticed two key misunderstandings about the whole process. First, editing a book takes longer than most people think. Second, an editor’s fee covers much more than their salary.

Good Editing Is Time-Consuming

Wikipedia tells us: “The average adult reads prose text at 250 to 300 words per minute. While proofreading materials, people are able to read at 200 wpm on paper, and 180 wpm on a monitor.”

So, let’s say someone is going to read carefully (not just skim) your 100,000-word crime novel at 200 wpm. That adds up to about 8.5 hours just to read your book once. A quality edit usually involves two readings, at least. At the 200 wpm rate for careful reading, we’re up to 17 hours for two passes through the manuscript.

Editors are not just reading, however. They’re writing, as well—jotting down changes as they make their way through the draft. Editors need to take the time to express themselves clearly in their notes to ensure the author will be able to understand the logic of their comments and have enough information to make well-informed decisions about the recommendations. A good editor will also take the time to express themselves graciously, present options, and show respect for the author. It takes much longer to write thoughtful, sensitive, useful feedback than to say, “I hated this part.”

A content/developmental/structural editor needs to read and think creatively, evaluating the book in terms of where it’s heading and where it could go to make it a stronger book. They can often read quickly because they are looking at the big picture rather than the small details, but the creative side needs some time to breathe.

A copy/mechanical editor needs to read every letter of every word on every page, along with every punctuation mark—no skimming. They might be required to check sources, depending on the brief. While they do all this, they need to think analytically, weighing not only correct versus incorrect, but also OK versus better. This applies to a range of areas, including spelling, grammar, punctuation, and expression.

About how many hours is that? The Chicago Manual of Style (16th Edition, p. 71) says: “A 100,000-word book manuscript, edited by an experienced editor, might take seventy-five to one hundred hours of work before being sent to the author, plus ten to twenty additional hours after the author’s review.”

So that’s averaging around one hour per 1,000 words of manuscript! Has CMOS gone mad? Let’s double-check against the Editorial Freelancers Association. They’re saying 500 to 1,250 words per hour for heavy copy editing. For basic copy editing, they suggest 1,250 to 2,500 words per hour, and 250 to 1,250 words per hour for developmental editing. Seems like they are in the same ballpark.

An Editor’s Fee Is Not Their Salary

The second misunderstanding I encounter is that people often compare editing fees to the hourly rate of their own wage or salary. Only a small portion of a freelance editor’s fee goes to pay their salary. It also has to cover a range of business expenses, and many unpaid tasks that are needed to run a business.

When I first started freelancing back in the late 1990s, I didn’t understand this. I worried that the rates recommended by my national association seemed too high, and that no one would pay them. I charged too little, and ended up working 60 to 80 hours a week for less than minimum wage, even though I had two university degrees and a significant amount of experience.

I burnt out, got cranky and depressed, and got a job at a company. They used to charge out my services to clients for $110 an hour (and this was about 10 years ago, so adjust for inflation). I was astonished. It seemed like a king’s ransom. Of course, they didn’t pay me $110 an hour. I finally grasped that the hourly rate they charged to the client needed to cover the whole cost of employing me.

Freelance editors need to do something similar. A freelance editor doesn’t have the large overhead of a big company, but they also don’t have lots of people to share the costs, or the tasks. Just one person has to bear all those financial burdens, and either do those tasks themselves or pay someone else to do it.”

(She gives a long list)

“For many freelancers this can easily add up to $20,000 a year or more, for someone working at a highly professional level. And if that isn’t bad enough, on average, freelance editors find that they can only spend half of the hours in the week actually doing what are known as “billable hours.” Those are the hours that are charged out to clients. The other half of the week is spent running the business, doing administrative tasks, interacting with clients and potential clients, and building the business.

I’ve had times when it’s taken me up to eight hours just to prepare a detailed proposal for a potential client—without any guarantee of income from it. So, out of only perhaps 20 to 25 “billable hours” per week, a freelancer has to pay their own salary plus many expenses.

If you find yourself thinking, “I shouldn’t have to pay for all those things,” the follow-up question is, “Well, then, who should?” It has to be shared around the freelancer’s clients; that’s the only way.

I’m not going to lie to you—I’d love to get someone to do a great edit on my books for a tiny price. Who wouldn’t? And I have found it a financial burden to come up with the editor’s fees on my own indie books. But, having been on the other side of the fence, I have to show integrity, and try not to be one of those people pressuring an editor to live in poverty. Editors are expensive, yes, but very few of them are overpriced. It’s just an expensive and necessary part of the publishing process.”

On reflection, I think the best solution for me is to find the right freelance editor who will do a more thorough and less expensive job than the workmanship I’ve experienced with agencies.

Re-Releasing a Published Book

There is an article in the December issue of The Florida Writer that i found interesting because some on my older novels could definitely do with a ‘refresh’.  The article was written by Penny Sansevieri, who is CEO and founder of Author Marketing Experts, Inc. and an adjunct professor at New York University.  She is a best-selling author and internationally recognised book marketing and media relations expert.

Penny Sansevieri

She says: “Years ago at a writer’s conference, I met an author who told me about a science fiction book he had published five years prior. “When it comes to book promotion, I wish I knew then what I know now. I think this book could have done considerably better than it did initially.” My advice to him was to re-release his book, updating the cover and modifying parts of the interior. Book lovers are profoundly interested in series, and since his book was 400 pages, I recommended that he split it into four 100-page portions. Turning his book into a four-part series is a fantastic promotional tool and would also provide better exposure on Amazon. The following are just some of the reasons why authors decide to reissue a book, and why it makes sense to your ongoing book promotion efforts.

Your Original Book Promotion Fell Flat
There could be any number of reasons your book marketing didn’t go as planned. Perhaps you picked the wrong type of book promotion or the wrong markets, or maybe you just didn’t have the time to market it. If you believe in your book and want to give it a second chance, then a re-release could revive your title.

Your Book Could Have Been Better
Did your reviews come in less than stellar? Did readers comment on typos? Maybe you targeted the entire book to the wrong market. One author told me that a book that wasn’t intended for the Christian market was pushed there by the publisher and wound up upsetting a lot of readers who voiced their concerns on Amazon.

Current Events, News Items, Seasonal Trends
These days things change pretty quickly. I once spoke to an author who had a book that published five years ago. As luck would have it, her book topic started trending in the news. And while she could have pushed the older title, she thought it could be fun (and better for her book promotion) to reissue it to tie into current events. If there’s a wave of something going on that’s newsworthy, it could make sense to re-release your book to dial into that revived market. The other side of this is that things get outdated. If this is the case, maybe your book could use a refresher, especially if your content is subject to a lot of changes.

Your Brand Has Changed
As our businesses grow, we also evolve and change. Whether we updated our logo, our colors, or our look, perhaps it’s time to refresh our books, too. If your book cover no longer matches the look and feel or message of your business, now’s the time to get them aligned, so everything is consistent and uniform. It can be hard to get a cohesive book promotion message or campaign across if there is inconsistency in the author’s brand.

Your Cover Is/Was Bad
Sometimes we launch a book and think: Well, that cover could have been stronger. Or maybe your book is older, and the cover could use an update. Whatever the reason, a new cover is a great chance to refresh your book—and relaunch it, too.

You Just Got the Rights Back to Your Book
If you published a book years ago with a major house, you might be in a situation where your rights have reverted back to you. In this case, I’d highly encourage you to republish this using the indie publishing model.

What Happens to Your Original Book on Amazon?
If you’ve figured out what, if any, portion of your book needs an update, you may be wondering what happens with your original book on Amazon. Will it stay there? Will it ever go away? And what happens with all of the reviews? Some authors don’t care if the book stays up on Amazon, while others really want it taken down—or want their new book to be published “over” the other title. In other words, the old book goes away, but the reviews stay intact. The answer to that is: it depends. Amazon’s guidelines vary, so I’d suggest giving them a call. However, a rep told me that if the book is updated in excess of 20%, it’ll be considered a new book and will have a new Amazon page. It’s not a consistent rule, because the rep also said if the table of contents hasn’t been altered, or the page count hasn’t changed much, you could have it published over the other, original book. Which means that you essentially retain all of your old reviews. There might be cases where you don’t want to keep these reviews.”

In my case, I would be thinking about my three thrillers, two of which could have better covers. I think I would have to do one re-writing and restructuring, followed by and editorial review, and some further changes before putting it through a final copy edit.  So the costs for me would be:

  • Cover redesign
  • Structural edit
  • Copy edit
  • Printing set up

A fairly considerable expense (~£3k).  Not to mention the considerable time I would have to put into the project.  Probably, it’s not high on my list of priorities!

Four Ways to Launch a Scene

There is a helpful article in the October issue of The Florida Writer with the above title.  It was written by Jordan Rosenfeld.  Her website says that, “Jordan holds an MFA in Creative Writing & Literature from the Bennington Writing Seminars and a B.A. in Liberal Studies from the Hutchins School.  She is a former resident of Petaluma, California . . . who is an author, editor and freelance writer.”  She has written three suspense novels, five writing guides and has appeared in: The Atlantic, GOOD, New York Times, New York Magazine, San Francisco Chronicle, Scientific American, Writer’s Digest, and many more.

Jordan Rosenfeld

She said: “Any story or novel is, in essence, a series of scenes strung together like beads on a wire, with a narrative summary adding texture and colour in between.  You want to start each scene by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Where are my characters in the plot?  Where did I leave them in the last scene and what are they doing now?
  • What is the most important piece of information that needs to be revealed in this scene?
  • What is my protagonist’s goal for this scene?
  • How will that goal be achieved or thwarted?

Character Launches

“It is generally a good idea to get your characters on the page sooner rather than later. . . . If your character isn’t present by the second paragraph of any given scene, you’re in danger of losing the reader. . . . A scene feels purposeful when you give the character that stars in it an intention, or goal to pursue. . . . Scene intentions ought to be intricately tied to the plot, i.e., your character’s goal – and the unfolding of that goal through actions, discoveries, and explorations your character undertakes that drive the story continually forward.

Action Launches

“Many writers believe that they must explain every bit of action that is going on right from the start of a scene, but narrative summary defeats action. . . . Keep in mind the key elements of action: time and momentum. . . . The key to creating strong momentum is to start an action without explaining anything. . . . Here’s how to create an action launch:

  • Get straight to the action
  • Hook the reader with big or surprising actions
  • Be sure that the action is true to your character
  • Act first, think later.  ‘Elizabeth slapped the prince.  When his face turned pink, horror filled her.  What have I done? she thought’

Narrative Launches

“Writers often try to include a narrative summary, such as descriptions of the history of a place or the backstory of characters, right at the launch of a scene, believing that the reader will not be patient enough to allow actions and dialogue to tell the story. . . . When delivered in large doses, narrative summary is a distraction and an interruption.  Yet a scene launch is one of the  easiest places to use a judicious amount of narrative summary . . . so long as you don’t hold the reader captive too long.  Take the opening of an early scene in Gina Frangello’s novel Every Kind of Wanting:  ‘You think you know our story, Nick, but that would imply that I was capable of honesty.  You think our stories are some joint thing, a common narrative on which we, the co-conspirator would agree, but you don’t know anything yet.’  This is almost entirely narrative summary . . . However, we do get the sense of a complicated tale about to unfold, one with secrets and lies – the best kind of story.  Narrative launches should be reserved for the following occasions:

  • When a narrative summary can save time
  • When information needs to be conveyed before an action
  • When a character’s thoughts or intentions cannot be revealed in action

Setting Launches

“Sometimes setting details – like a jungle on fire,or moonlight sparkling on a lake – are so important to plot or character development that visual setting must be included in launch of a scene. . . . Here’s how to create an effective scenic launch:

  • Use specific visual details
  • Allow scenery to set the scene
  • Use scenery to reflect a character’s feelings
  • Show the impact of the setting on the character”