Obstacle or Opportunity?

Three interests converge in one place. Having many interests and little time is not an obstacle but an opportunity.

Many interests and little time, an obstacle or an opportunity?

In 2003 I published my first short story Gnaw in a literary journal called Southword. The story was shortlisted for the Seán Ó Faoláin competition by the late David Marcus. It was a big deal at the time and still is. I never met David Marcus but I hope he’s drinking fine wines in heaven. Today the story sits in on my shelf, dust gathering. The story is what I’d call in work a ‘legacy title’ or what the industry calls ‘backlist.’

One of my tasks in my day job is to make ebooks out of a ‘backlist’. I adore this work. It’s the closest I get to campaign on behalf of the author, an out-of-print author sometimes, while at the same time make-good the digi-archive I’ve worked meticulously on for years (in a previous life I was an archaeologist which explains my love for preservation). It also gives me fuel to re-imagine an author’s content in a digital context. This may also mean re-purposing their content to suit how Generation X/Y, Millennials and upcoming ‘Digital Natives’ expect to engage with content.

So to recap, in my job I get to extend an author’s shelf-life, potentially make sales for them where sales would never happen, in territories previously inaccessible and in ways that a 2k-plus print run with a finite life-span could never do. All this without the horror of returns, pulping and the inevitable ‘OP’ = Out of Print.

A recent study showed how the Indie/self-published authors were holding their own against the ‘Big Five’ publishers when it came to non-fiction category in ebooks (ref to follow). We already know how powerful the self-pubs can be in fiction in this area. They campaign rigorously, they don’t have a hundred different authors on their list, and they are genuinely part of their product’s sales ‘DNA’, they ARE the business. The Indie publisher too with a smaller list and possibly being a ‘one-man-band’ has less diversity and more incentive to sharpen digital tools. In short, self-pubs and digi Indies are possibly more focused and opportunistic than med-bigger publishers when it comes to digital because they have no choice not to be.

From a production/editorial POV, my particular bread and butter, the indie/self pub crowd are enviably more innovative, self-empowered and by now have a better handle on technology. They understand serialisation of titles, agile publishing, smaller bite-sized content that can be consumed by people who read on device. In digital marketing too, they may have the edge because digital marketing goes hand-in-hand with data analysis; something traditional print publishers are new to. When you look at a svelte publishing model like Orchard Wall Publishing you realise that the hands-on for an ebook publisher is very different to that of a hybrid/print publisher who ends up unwittingly and through no fault of their own in a ‘Jack of all trades, master of none.’ situation. The question for med-large publishers is not only how to sell books online as a discipline in its own right using intelligent metadata and data analysis, but also how to harness, or simulate, the ‘neurotic power of the individual’ (term supplied by author and metadata specialist Ian Flitcroft).

Going back to the ‘killing three wild boars with one stone’ dilemma in my last post I asked myself: How can I as a person working in a medium-sized publisher harness the neurotic power of the individual on behalf of that publisher, on behalf of the authors, on behalf of myself who walks a fine-line between author, producer and publisher? There are only so many hours in the day. Plus I need to write my own book and study at the same time to keep up with the changes in the industry.

It occurred to me that that fine-line was not an obstacle but an opportunity. What if I was to do my own digi indie/self-pub ‘start-up’ beginning with the story Gnaw I mentioned above? The content is peer read, copyright owned by myself. It’s a cheap, time-efficient way to test the waters. What if I ran it through the KDP process, or…took the other model for a different learning curve ie published outside the Amazon ecosystem? If I could do this I could be asking the questions I have as a producer, publisher, editor AND writer and getting more answers.

Can it be done? I think so. Three wild boars with one stone? Yes. Time? Well, put it this way, some colleagues spend a good part of the weekend on the golf course. I don’t do golf. I do THIS, and the bonus is I can do this at odd social hours so I still get to hangout with my family on a Saturday. And that is a bonus that can’t be valued in currency.

…The One-eyed Man is King

Janet Cameron’s intriguing whirlwind of notes. Note the slashes to indicate the incidence of the repetition of words like are not unlike the marks a prisoner might make on the wall of a cell. Note also the shortcuts to the action. These historic notes go with the prize.

Janet Cameron’s intriguing whirlwind study notes on ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ Note the slashes to indicate the incidence of repetition are not unlike the marks a prisoner might make on the wall of a cell. Note also the shortcuts to the action. These historic notes go with the prize.

Normally I’ve to work hard for my rewards so you can imagine my pleasant surprise when I turned up at the Central Hotel in Dublin on Friday night and was presented out of the blue with a prize. The presentation was given by a small group of writers consisting of 1) Hennessy Short Story finalist and crime-writer Colm O’Shea 2) Eye-surgeon and writer Ian Flitcroft the creator of the thoroughly enjoyable ‘The Reluctant Cannibals’. 3) Novelist Janet Cameron of ‘Cinnamon Toast And The End of The World’ fame, blog writer with the gift of the gab and a scathing sense of humor. It was Janet who presented me with the prize, the prize being a copy ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’.

A new take on the perpetual trophy? One copy of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ up for grabs, the next winner will be the third owner.

A new take on the perpetual trophy? One copy of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ up for grabs, the next winner will be the third owner.

Now, I’m no literary snob but I did read an extract of this title in the national newspaper a while back and made a decision that I wouldn’t prioritize it as a read. Not that I’m against erotic fiction. I admire the intense prose of Anaïs Nin for example and the sexual tension in Nabokov’s Volshebnik (‘The Enchanter’), is a gem read. But if the writing slips, the content becomes porn and that tires quickly. But, the tongue-in-cheek backlash (‘scuse the pun) against EL James from the educated classes bothers me too. ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ is a benchmark book, it’s a positive example of self-publishing, it’s a digital-first title only going to print when earned its stripes as online bestseller proving that publishing globally online is a very different thing to the traditional gatekeeper type-publishing with its neat print runs. I commend this title if only for shattering some obstructive legacy thinking. But I really did not want to buy it. Or borrow it from the library, or have it on my ereader or what not.  Nor did I want to put it on the  ‘to be read’ list in the Goodreads list alongside Munro and Franzen. The lurking snobbery of that bothered me.

All four of us in of the Central Hotel crew had reasons for not reading it but our reasons were dubious. Mine, apart from snobbishness, was that I might find myself crippled with writers’ block jealousy that I hadn’t written it first. Ian Flitcroft was the most open-minded saying that at least it opened up reading ‘at all’ to a group of people who ordinarily wouldn’t go near a book. Colm O’Shea, to be fair, confessed it wasn’t his genre at all, but perhaps if it were more gritty with a bit of murder thrown in? Maybe. The book bothered Janet too. Here we were, bitching about something we hadn’t read, it felt that the time had come to read the thing. So being excellent delegators and knowing that time is precious, much like a study group, we nominated one person to read for all and report back. Janet Cameron was nominated as reader for all. She would keep us updated via her blog and ‘just for fun’ she decided also to throw in 50 pages of ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ and 50 pages of a lesbian biker novel called ‘Satan’s Best’ so we could get a balance on ‘pure trash, great literature and middle-brow trash, all concerning sex.’ What emerged was a very concise report that will not only make you laugh but is clearly a solid draft for the “For Dummies – Fifty Shades of Grey’.

Ian Flitcroft’s culinary obsessive ‘The Reluctant Cannibals’ is a treat to read. The writing is meticulously researched, the passion of subject is irresistible and touch of the macabre gives it a unique fleshy edge.

Ian Flitcroft’s culinary obsessive ‘The Reluctant Cannibals’ is a treat to read. The writing is meticulously researched, the passion of subject is irresistible and touch of the macabre gives it a unique fleshy edge.

An advantage of Cameron’s report is that she wades through the surplus flesh (sorry!) and points out the pages where serious action occurs. You don’t even have to bother with the thin plot if needs be. When the going gets tough, Cameron casts Ana as Cillian Murphy, which sort of helps keep it interesting. Cameron spotted a failing of imagination in the book as follows: Despite all the spanking and follow up penetrative sex, Grey’s order for Ana (aka Cillian Murphy) to be ‘on first name terms’ with his ‘considerable length’ is never fully realized. A star without a name? So Janet opened up a competition. The challenge was to name Grey’s favorite body part. The winner would get a ‘used’ copy of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey.’ Naturally I rushed to enter the competition. The naming of the part (or parts – for they are, to my holistic mind, inseparable) fired up my imagination but more importantly IF I won it would solve the snobbish dilemma re how to have the book without buying or borrowing it. I confess when presented with the prize publicly I did blush and ask for a bag to take it home in, concerned that I might encourage unwanted chat with some drunken langer on the last bus. As to what Grey’s dong and associated parts are now called? Go to Janet Cameron’s website Part III to find out! Spot the dearth of imagination. Could it be that I was the only one who entered? So it seems, as they say, in the land of the blind…

To spread the love I now open the competition to find a new name for the ‘member’ he (or she) who wins gets the printed book posted or even better presented to them in public, only after I’ve read the interesting parts