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.