A time for kindling

There are some things you just have to take on the chin.

Ten days ago we had our annual Dark Angels get-together. John comes up to Edinburgh from London. Stuart and I meet him at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. We plan the coming year and enjoy a good lunch.

‘You’re such a geek,’ they said, as I produced my new iPad.

It’s not quite how I see myself, but from their perspectives I guess maybe it’s true. John cleverly avoids things technological by having an obliging better half to whom he refers from time to time as his IT director. Stuart, the poet, simply scribbles things on the backs of envelopes. Me … well, yes, I confess I enjoy things that do clever stuff. I like to be properly tooled up for the job on hand (unfortunate turn of phrase, I know).

The iPad was a Christmas present to myself, well-deserved of course. That cut no ice with my 20-year-old son. He stole it at once and disappeared on an Angry Birds binge. When I’d retrieved it, I set about downloading the Kindle app (although in truth you don’t set about anything with an iPad; you just tap the screen and whatever it is happens almost instantaneously). In any case, this – Kindle – was the real reason, I’d persuaded myself, that I needed an iPad.

A few weeks before, I’d had an e-publishing tutorial with Edinburgh crime writer, Lin Anderson. Lin has had some decent results on Kindle with her backlist and is now, generously, on a mission to spread the good word to other writers. The good word is this: no writer need ever again suffer the indignity of titles forlornly mouldering in that great literary boneyard known as ‘out of-print’.

This is a revelation. Out-of-print titles, in my case four out of six, are to all intents and purposes dead. No one’s promoting them (not that anyone other than me ever did much for mine, anyway). No one can buy them. No one can read them. All that effort and it’s as if, by declining to reprint, the publishers have locked them away, out of sight forever.

Enter Amazon. Suddenly, with a little bit of formatting I can upload my text and jacket image to the Kindle store, write the blurb, set my own price (having first reverted the rights from the publishers, of course) and the books can carry on selling forever. Now, here’s the really good bit. If that price is more than £1.50, Kindle gives me back 70% (or 30% under £1.50). I can set the price as high or low as I like, and change it every day if I want to test the market. Furthermore, Amazon, with all its clever algorithms, will automatically, electronically do at least as much promotion as my publishers did.

I’ve written in the past about the economics of publishing fiction (see here), but only in respect of my ten percent of the cover price and what it has contributed to my overall income (practically nothing); not about where the rest has gone. One swallows all kinds of things out of habit or convention. In twenty years of being published I’d never really questioned the obvious madness of giving away ninety percent of the income from work that I had sweated blood over. I do now.

Did I really need to help finance a glass-and-steel office at King’s Cross, an editor of whose time I might get a couple of days perbook, a marketing department quite likely to commission a cover I hated, and a publicity department staffed largely by eager but clueless teenagers?

Clearly not, as I now understand. I can’t wait to get my backlist up on Kindle, to bring these books I love and am proud of back to life again. They won’t necessarily be my pension (though nothing’s impossible),but they will at least be there for people to read once more. Perhaps I am a geek, after all. If so, I’m a geek who doesn’t like not being read.

About Jamie Jauncey

Author, writer, blogger, facilitator, musician, co-founder of Dark Angels and The Stories We Tell
This entry was posted in Dark Angels, Kindle, Publishing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to A time for kindling

  1. Neil says:

    Thoughtful stuff, Jamie. It made me think of a book I read last year called "The Gift – How the Creative Spirit Transforms the World".It's rather too long, but the book's central thesis is appealing: people who can write are literally "gifted" (by whom, I don't know); having accepted that gift, they are obliged to make use of it, to give it to others, in this case in the form of stories and literature.Now, that may sound rather fluffy (it does to me), but the author supports his case with some interesting analysis of other cultures in which the giving and receiving of gifts is a serious business. These are places where if you tried to sell something that had been gifted to you, you would find yourself in a lot of trouble (and also out of pocket, as the "gift" item – aka novel – has only minimal financial value). His conclusion, rather sadly, is that there is an irreconcilable conflict between gift exchange and the market: "As a consequence, the artist in the modern world must suffer a constant tension between the gift sphere to which his work pertains and the market society which is his context."Although that probably wouldn't apply to JK Rowling.

  2. Jamie, you know my take on this. Technology is changing the world – and in many cases for the better. Loved this blog. Julian

  3. John Simmons says:

    My IT Director has an iPad. Must investigate for The Angel of the Stories…

  4. Hurrah – I'm so glad your out of print books are going to be reKindled! This composer's now wondering how long we'll have to wait for an orchestral Kindle, so the conductor just loads up his score and 80 musicians automatically see their individual parts for the symphony appear on their stands – now that would be magic! With a bouncing-ball app for amateur orchestras, obviously… 😉

  5. Jane Lewis says:

    Yes!! The more books on Kindle the better for trees. (I still do like the feel of a good book in my hands, but Kindle is such a great way to go)

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