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Tuesday 28 February 2012

Self-publishing, digital books and a cautionary tale

Anthony Horowitz was on today's Guardian blog asking, "Do we still need publishers?" If you happen to follow any of the blogs that are proliferating like tribbles in the bow wave of the self-publishing explosion, you probably felt your heart sink a little at that news. But, unlike the vast majority of those, Horowitz's piece is actually worth reading.

Partly that may be because he's a proper writer, with multiple successes to his credit including Alex Rider, the Power of Five, Foyle's War and - if your memory goes back that far - even a few episodes of Robin of Sherwood. (Actually, forget those - he was just starting out, and had the impossible task of measuring up to the legendary Richard Carpenter. But the other stuff more than makes up for it.)

And, instead of just asserting a position and backing it up with hectoring bloggadocio, Horowitz considers the various possible futures of publishing and leaves us with some interesting questions. Thus, where many self-pub bloggers come across like doorstepping Jehovah's Witnesses, he's bringing the persona of an intelligent dinner party guest. Anyway, I urge you to pop over to the Guardian website and read the piece for yourself. Regular FL readers may be particularly interested in what he has to say about digital books:
"I'd love to write a murder mystery where you could actually tap on a bit of dialogue you mistrusted and discover that the character was telling a lie. Where the reader actually had to become a detective and where the last chapter, the reveal, had to be earned. Or how about a book with different points of view, where you could choose which of the characters became the narrator?"
The second of those ideas certainly did well for Ellery Queen eighty years ago, incidentally, so why not now?

I have my own story about self-publishing. I ran into a well-known author who wrote a very successful novel. It came out almost twenty years ago, but even so I'll bet you've heard of it. He saw me with an iPad and asked, "Do you think these ebooks and things will catch on?" It turned out that he still owned the digital rights in his novel, as those hadn't entered the picture back in the early '90s. The publishers wanted to do a Kindle edition and were offering him 25% of net receipts.

"Email me the book," I said. "I'll turn it into a Kindle file this week and you can have 99% of net."

"Isn't that like vanity publishing?" he worried. It isn't, in fact. Vanity publishing is where somebody runs off a limited print run and makes money by selling the books at a high price to you and your friends. But his point was that self-publishing still carries a stigma - and, of course, there'd be no publicity.

He should have done it. The book is already famous, and everyone knows he's a proper writer. But instead he went and signed with his print publishers, who must have been aching from the strain of holding back their Cheshire Cat grins as they walked him to the door. Ah, so foolish - but so many authors are still a bit befuddled by the digital age. Annoying, too. That one percent would have paid for me and Jamie to write a dozen books!

Sunday 26 February 2012

A fiend in need

It's this week. The second Dirk Lloyd book, A Fiend in Need, goes on sale on Thursday. In the first volume, which was picked as a Sunday Times book of the week, the Dark Lord of the Iron Tower of Despair, the Nameless One, the World Burner (etc, etc, you get the picture) was banished to our world in the body of a 13-year-old kid. That first book, Dark Lord: The Early Years, ended with a ritual that was supposed to return Dirk to his realm, but the ritual went wrong and sent his sort-of Goth girlfriend, Sooz, in his place.

So now Sooz is stranded in the Darklands, where the White Wizard Hasdruban (so good he's bad, if you see what I mean) has been subjugating the last of the Dark Lord's valiant (though evil) forces. It's up to Sooz to take Dirk's place and lead the resistance while Dirk and his friend Christopher try to find a way to get through from modern-day Earth to help her.

I reckon this book is the best thing Jamie has ever written. There isn't a single page that won't have you laughing out loud and gasping in amazement at his wacky imagination. It's one of those kids' books that appeal to the kid in all of us, so certainly for grown-ups too. And as a bonus it's filled with brilliantly mad pictures by Freya Hartas, daughter of Leo.

And, just to add to the unstoppable juggernaut that is the Dirk Lloyd bandwagon, NBC have commissioned mega-talented comedy writer Iain Hollands to pen the pilot for the Dirk TV show. Iain's first original drama, Beaver Falls, transmitted on E4 and it has already been recommissioned for a second season. Iain is also writing Kool Aid and Apocalypse Slough, two original projects for Working Title Television. (I was born in Slough so I know that one will work. No need to bring on the apocalypse there.)

Thursday 16 February 2012


I recently answered a bunch of questions from three Mirabilis readers at Wilberfoss School in God's own country (Yorkshire, for those outside the UK). James T, Dylan and James W came up with some very interesting questions, and if you're at all interested in the creative process - whether for comics or other types of story - then why not click over and take a look?

In other news: I'm still immersed in Frankenstein, on the final stretch now, which meant that yesterday's meeting about new Fabled Lands adventures had to be taken by Jamie on his own. And whatever he said must've done the trick, because it is looking like those might very well happen later this year. These would be solo adventures set in the FL world, at least to begin with, though we are still hoping to continue the main FL series from book 7 onwards. More news as I hear it...

The illustration btw is one of Leo's preliminary sketches for Mirabilis book 3, due out later this year.

Friday 10 February 2012

Our Valentine's present to you

These Kindle giveaway offers (for Frankenstein's Legions and Abraxas) have been proving popular, and I'm still too snowed under with work on my Frankenstein interactive novel to be blogging regularly, so here's a new free promo. The Kindle book in question this time is The Lost Prince, a fantasy adventure novel for 8-12 year-olds by Jamie Thomson (author of the best-selling Dark Lord: The Teenage Years - as if you needed to be told that).

The Lost Prince is set in the world of Harkuna and closely parallels our Fabled Lands books. You can find it on Amazon UK here and US here, and it's free from Saturday Feb 11 to Wednesday Feb 15 inclusive, starting midnight LA time. Here's an extract:
"Gasping back tears of horror and anger, Varren shimmied his way down the well. In the circle of light above his head three ugly, scarred, war-bitten faces appeared, staring down at him. One of them was readying his crossbow. Varren released his grip and fell straight down into the water. A crossbow quarrel whooshed into the water next to him. He hauled himself out, and into a side tunnel just above the water level. He’d used this way in and out of the castle for years. He hurried off down the tunnel, the sounds of battle fading away behind him."
Other news in brief: I've been reading the first part of Frankenstein on iPad, and a very beautiful piece of work it is by developer/design outfit Inkle Studios, who we're planning to do more with in the very near future. I'm also told by Spirit Entertainment that their version of The War-Torn Kingdom will be out on Android, Kindle and Kindle Fire in a little over a month's time, and there should be more platforms following after that. And Jamie is currently going through the proofs for the US edition of Dark Lord, coming out from Bloomsbury later in the year. They changed cricket to baseball, would you believe? (Dirk's favourite ballgames are head hurling and scythe hockey, so he probably won't mind.)

Monday 6 February 2012

The opal altar and the golden spire

There was such an enthusiastic response to our special free offer on the ebook edition of Frankenstein's Legions that we thought we'd do it all over again this week with Abraxas, the science fantasy world that Jamie and I devised for an MMO back when we worked at Eidos.

In fact Abraxas has been free all along right here on this blog, but now you can get the Kindle edition for nothing too. It's on Amazon US here, UK here, Germany here, and... well, if you live elsewhere, just change the suffix in the URL to your local Amazon and you'll find it.

The offer lasts all this week, Monday to Friday inclusive (Pacific Standard Time). You don't just get the Abraxas world background, fauna, exotech items and Russ Nicholson's concept drawings, you also get a rare poem by the king of ancient world fantasy, Robert E Howard himself. Crom himself wouldn't give you a sweeter deal.

Wednesday 1 February 2012

It's alive! (And it's free.)

Just to let Kindle owners know that we're having a promotion for Frankenstein's Legions, the steampunk sequel to Mary Shelley's Gothic SF classic by award-winning author John Whitbourn. You can pick up the Frankenstein's Legions ebook from Amazon US or Amazon UK and if you grab it this week it's free. Yep, free as air, free as lightning, free as a mad hunchback without a care in the world - but only for the rest of this week, so act now. The promotion starts Wednesday February 1st (Pacific Standard Time) and runs till midnight Saturday.

This is nothing to do with the Frankenstein app Jamie and I are currently writing for Profile Books, by the way. That's just one of those coincidences. We'll have more on that Frankenstein in a few weeks, but I can tell you: it's a book app (coded by highly evolved Cantabrigian lifeforms Inkle Studios), it's interactive, it's not a game, it's not steampunk, it's first person (mostly), it's not like anything you've seen before. Here is a picture by Lisa Gray that is one of my mood board inspirations for the work - quite a different vibe, as you can see, from Martin McKenna's awesomely in-your-face visuals for Frankenstein's Legions (above). One day, Martin, we'll get that videogame version done.