Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Technological Scary Biscuits by Susan Price

Technology. How can you not love it? Space-craft on meteroids -
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Ghost-Drum-Book-World-Sequence/dp/0992820421
The Ghost Drum in paperback
even if it did fall over. And - an even greater achievement as far as I'm concerned - my book, The Ghost Drum, available in paperback again, after years out of print.


I knew when I finished it that it was the best book I'd ever written - though now, having re-read them all as I turned them into e-books, I think that its successors, Ghost Song and Ghost Dance, are, in some ways, better. Ghost Song is, I think, more lyrical and poetic, while Ghost Dance is altogether darker, with a more complex story. They were originally published for children but none of the books are particuarly childish.

Although they're 'fairy-tales' of a kind, they're based on the often bitter and cynical older stories, which were told by adults to adults, and reflected a kind of magical-realism response to often hard lives.

All the books were published in America, as well as the UK. They've been translated into Danish and Japanese. They have, at various times, had film-options on them - Ghost Drum is under option at the moment. They were reviewed well, and have been called 'classics.' But they were allowed to go out of print. (I'm becoming quite used to people saying, and writing, to me: 'Why on earth did publishers allow a book like that, a Carnegie winner, a classic, to go out of print?' Well, I don't know any more than anybody else does.)

My agent clawed back the rights, and we offered them to publishers again. I wrote another book, as yet unpublished, called Ghost Spell, and we offered all four as a package. My agent was sure she could sell them - but there were no offers. Publishers said it would be too expensive 'to get the franchise up on its legs again.' I had no idea my books were a franchise. Or that franchises had legs.

So I turned the first three books into e-books. There's the first cheer for technology. And for Amazon which, for all its many faults, not only saw that this was possible, but went ahead and made it possible for anybody to sit on their sofa, upload a file and publish their book as an ebook - at no upfront cost. And for other people, anywhere in the world, to sit on their sofas - or lie in their beds - or sit in a hotel lounge or on a train - and download that same file into their e-readers.

Amazon, a predatory business shark - let's never forget that - nevertheless saw a sharkish advantage in throwing open their website, with all its advertising and distribution machinery, to anyone who wanted to use it, virtually for free. And we seldom stop to think just how amazeballs - how gobsmackingly amazeballs - indeed, how scary biscuits - this is. It's all down to the technology - technology changing the shape of business and the world as surely as the first stone tools, and then the first Bronze tools, did.

Some people believe that Amazon is making fools of us all - that we are all silly little minnows gambolling into the mouth of the shark, and we will be sorry, oh yes, very sorry, by and by, because
Vandals, loitering. Well, Huns actually.
our foolishness will result in the downfall of culture as we know it. The vandals, in fact, are at the gates - where they've been loitering about, smoking and up to no good, whenever any great change has occurred, for centuries.


These people may be right. I have no idea how the 'e-book revolution' will eventually pan out. Neither has anyone else. Maybe it will all end in disaster. But, in the meantime, I have to say: What Chutzpah! What audacity. To see that it could be done - and to go ahead and tear into all the vast organisation that must have been necessary to make it work, and just do it. To ignore all the doubters, all the nay-sayers, all the despairing and warning howls from the wilderness, and just do it.

Amazon went further. They set up the machinery to make it possible to turn the file sat on your computer - the same one you turned into an e-book - into a publish-on-demand paperback book. At no upfront cost to the author. And then made it possible to sell it, world-wide, through Amazon's warehouses and website. I was
The Wolf's Footprint, paperback cover
slow to take them up on this - but when lots of teachers started contacting me to ask where they could find copies of my OOP book, The Wolf's Footprint, I started thinking about it.


First, I made it an e-book. But then I tackled the mountain - well, it's at least a small, steep foothill - of learning how to turn my e-book into a paperback. As always, I hauled in my brother as cover artist and illustrator.

It was harder than doing an e-book - or is it just that I've forgotten how hard I found producing an ebook when I first tried? I think it may be. I remember texting my younger brother, after midnight, with exclamations of despair. He replied, 'You'll get there. Goodnight.'

Anyhow, The Wolf's Footprint has been on sale as an e-book since early this year, and it sells well. But once the paperback was on sale, I found that it sold as well, if not better, than the e-book. We Authors Electric are all so keen on ebooks, we sometimes forget - I certainly do - that there are still whole town's-worth of people who never use computers, don't have e-readers, and want to buy paper books. So it occurred to me that I also ought to publish the Ghost World books as paperbacks. And preferably before Christmas.

But I was busy with workshops and it slipped my mind - until I realised, with a shock, that it was already November. So I set about getting the job done, downloading templates and getting on the brother's case.

I sat with him the other day, witnessing another staggering piece of technology in action. He had his cover for Ghost Drum on his computer, divided into many layers. He slid layers aside, or laid them over one another. He changed fonts in an instant, changed colours, increased transparency or opacity. He took up a tablet and a stylus and used it to sketch in a new outline and to erase others. He added the book's Carnegie Medal as a 'button' on the back. And then we uploaded it to the CreateSpace site in less than a minute. We've come to take this for granted, but it's staggering. It is euphoric gravy.


And Ghost Drum is now on sale on the Amazon site, as a paperback, less than a month after I set out to turn it into one. It isn't a careless rush-job either, because I was using a file that had already been proofed and edited when it was made into an e-book.

With conventional publishing, you couldn't even get a publisher to tell you that they were turning the book down in less than four months.

So let's hear it for technology.


Find the Carnegie Medal winning 'The Ghost Drum', in paperback, here.              UK                    US

11 comments:

Mari Biella said...

I agree, Susan – in all the discussion that surrounds Amazon’s success, there’s curiously little mention of the fact that Amazon is willing to think outside the box, take risks, and try new things. I think that alone probably accounts for at least part of its success. I too have my doubts about certain Amazon policies and practices, and I’m not naïve enough to be pro-Amazon no matter what, but you have to give credit where it’s due. I often hear people complaining about the tide of rubbish that self-publishing and e-publishing has supposedly unleashed, but this post illustrates a neat counter-argument: what about all the great books that would either be forgotten or would never see the light of day if not for self-publishing?

Good luck with The Ghost Drum, and indeed with all the books!

Susan Price said...

Thanks, Mari!

Catherine Czerkawska said...

A very cheering and inspirational post! The books look wonderful. Getting my indie published books out in paperback is part of my business plan for 2015 as well. I've been resisting having the 'Amazon' argument on Facebook over the past few days because it's Scottish Book Week and there's been a lot of fear and loathing out there. My publisher has several of their books including The Physic Garden, on a 99p Kindle special this week. It's selling well, but I saw a bookseller who hates Amazon with a passion verging on the deranged, remarking that people would be better to 'ask a highly read (sic) bookseller for a recommendation.' Not that I dislike bookshops, although I have to say, at this time of the year in particular, wading through slews of 'franchised' tat gives you some indication that trad publishing isn't quite the keeper of culture it fondly imagines itself to be. But avoiding an organisation that 'might' do you some harm in the future, while trad publishers are teaming up with the kind of Vanity Press sharks for which no boat would ever be big enough - seems misguided at best. Amazon is at root a tech company which explains a lot. I love the new technology, think it's amazeballs as well, but I think many publishers (and writers too) don't understand it and haven't begun to come to terms with it.

Bill Kirton said...

All I can do is reiterate what Mari and Catherine have said. Sometimes, when I give talks, people ask about publishing and each time I hear myself describing how ridiculously easy and quick it is to make a book available to readers world-wide, I find it hard to believe it. I'm not sure younger writers appreciate how much smoother nasty old Amazon has made the path to publication.

Oh, and I want to adopt your brother.

Dennis Hamley said...

Yes, Sue, a wonderful post - and a wonderful book which I'm buying at once in PoD. How I remember the general shock and awe when The Ghost Drum came out and what choking envy, along with admiration, I felt. Luckily, Catherine. I haven't met many booksellers, round here anyway, who are so insensately anti-Amazon as your fellow. In fact, most seem very supportive. Though sadly one of my best friends, with whom I often worked in schools, on courses and with books, including an abortive publishing proposal (long before Blank Page Press - we should have just done it and not asked for the approval of the big boys), has this same visceral hatred and I can't argue him out of it. I have the perpetual feeling that with Amazon I may be dancing with the devil but what the hell, he has all the best tunes and by the time it all blows up in our faces we may all be dead anyway. At the moment, though, the experience remains liberating.

Lesley Cookman said...

Liberating indeed. I'm trad published, but many of my friends are indie or hybrid. And I point out to anyone who asks, and frequently to those who do not, that Amazon pays my bills, bought me a new conservatory and lends [sic] my children money. It's a comfort to me that if I'm dropped, the means to keep going is still there.

Susan Price said...

Lesley, well said! - And Dennis, thank you! Thank you to Catherine, too, for being so cogent, as usual.

Bill, which brother do you want to adopt? I have two, so one going spare. We may be able to come to some arrangement.

Elizabeth Kay said...

I scaled the paperback mountain, and found it not too hard going. But I have to say, it's a steep climb initially, and the second attempt was better than the first. And I have a lovely independent bookshop that will stock them!

Lesley Cookman said...

Thanks, Susan. And I'll adopt the brother Bill doesn't want. I haven't got one at the moment...

Lydia Bennet said...

A lovely post Susan and timely too with furious fb posts demanding we all boycott Amazon because they don't pay taxes - it's up to our govt to make companies pay tax, assuming they legally have to. It's also because they treat their workers poorly, though getting them laid off at Christmas seems a strange way for boycotters to help them - I wonder how many of these indignant people know the appalling work conditions of their local servers, bar staff, etc, all encouraged by our government. Anyway, to see your books emerging victorious from the unaccountable neglect of the publishers who regard themselves as keepers of culture, is heartwarming and inspiring.

Dennis Hamley said...

Ghost Drum arrived this morning. A very handsome publication: brilliant cover - the artist will have to prepare for a queue round the block of hopeful adopters - stout binding, very clear font; what's not to like? There's one thing bothers me. Is it a regular feature of Createspace? The page numbers for each chapter are faithfully recorded on the Contents page but the pages themselves aren't numbered, or if they are I can't see them. But its clear that stupid, myopic Faber threw away a pearl of great price. The Ghost Drum is a classic and could have earned them and you a steady income throughout this last quarter of a century. But wonderful to see it back with us.