Sunday, 29 August 2010

Flying Shrapnel, no, I mean, Goods.

August is almost done and all the pieces of Rosa Mira Books are still swirling around me in a (mostly benign) cloud. I pull a few down each day and work on them. Now and then I complete one: this (next, next) draft of the contract; that letter towards finding out how much of a problem it is that eHarlequin have copyrighted and registered 'Mira'; editing this chapter of The (or Her?) Glass Harmonica; re-reading the short stories that have arrived so far, and sending letters to (half of — I'm getting there) the writers — including those letters that say no.

That's my least-liked job. I know about rejection letters. I've received plenty — the rude and raw; the empathetic and helpful — and sent plenty, I'm sorry to say one or two of the former, but I try to write only the latter these days. Every creator deserves respect — although not everything written fits with what a particular publisher means to publish.

However, beyond the traditional model, digital opportunities abound for those determined to put their work out there, from the personal blog or website, to the the all-comers' distribution platform such as Smashwords; sites like Naked Reader which consider manuscripts already polished and proof read, as well as backlisted books; and those sites where selection, editorial input and marketing are part of the deal: Carina Press, Online Originals, and Rosa Mira Books, to name three.

Now, last time I posted, questions were posed about the biggest challenge to any business: reaching the market. With so much still shaking down in the new publishing model, some of those questions can only be answered by trial and error. Beyond anecdote, it's not easy to find out who in NZ is buying reading devices — but we can look beyond our shores for trends. Twelve million iPads are being bought each month — by those at the young end of my target market, but its owners are reputedly eager to use it for 'everything' (and they grow older every day). Kindle's new version 3 is selling at half the price of the original, with Amazon predicting that at current rates, ebooks will outsell paperbacks within a year. I'm counting on those former paperback readers making up some of our readership. I'm watching the prices although no one can yet say definitively what readers are prepared to pay for exceptional ebooks, or who's going to read what on which device.

As for how Rosa Mira's books will be found, beyond search engine optimisation on the site, I believe it's my job to find readers for our particular flavour of ebooks, rather than the other way around, and I'm looking forward to the 'social networking' and learning adventure that promises.

DV, I'm in for the long haul, so if I don't know the answers yet, I'm living the questions until I do.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Brass Tacks

I've been getting down to them this week. Doing the final graft and craft on a contract that's clear, fair, and comprehensive enough for now (who knows what the digital realm will yet spring on us?). Combing back through the business plan. Checking out the benefits of 'sole trader' versus 'limited liability company' status. Visiting the Intellectual Property Office in my slippers (ah, business online). Remembering to breathe. At the end of such a rigorous and efficient week I can't wait to drop to my knees in the garden, or simply get back to some editing.

I've looked again at the new ereaders (about which Grace makes excellent comment after my last posting) — so smart and swift, so plastic and metal — and I've pondered the digital publishing guru's exhortation to get with it, 'enhance', embed media in every ebook text — for example photo albums, songs and newspaper clippings into the novel. Okay, I'm open to some of this: in a biography, excellent. In a travelogue, great.

But. When I read fiction, I don't want a photo of the protagonist. I don't want to see their bedroom furnishings. I seek escape, and quiet: my own imagination entering, inhabiting and making vivid the writer's world. It's to share this experience that I choose to find terrific work and publish it. And this is why I'll go on looking for a quiet, comfortable ereader, devoted to its owner's beloved books.

According to voters on the Digital Publishing Forum, 37% each believe that A) most people will read ebooks on a multi-purpose gadget and B) most will own two or more devices. I'm for the second device. When the little soft book-like reader appears, I'll sell it on the Rosa Mira website.

In this odyssey called 'starting a business', the days are long and the information relentless that begs to be assimilated and acted upon. The future-facing pragmatist in me grows muscles and discrimination and learns to out-manoeuvre despair, but the wishful thinker, the dreamer, the one who'd rather read or write in a quiet corner, is no less demanding. The two have to link arms, dreaming and acting, wishing and accepting what is. They need one another in order to stay on the road, deliver the goods, and to remember what fuels the journey.

Brass tacks? Probably the ones that hold the upholstery onto the chair. Old fashioned things for old fashioned chairs. Growing rare, but kind of lovely, gleaming, strong, and quiet.

Monday, 9 August 2010

How then shall we read?

I'm like most people older than, what, 20? 30? 45? who imagine they would rather read from a book any day than from a reading device. But what if that device closely resembled a book in texture, weight and palpability?

In spite of the fact that I'm intent on producing ebooks, I haven't warmed to any of the devices I've met so far, in life or (more largely) on screen. They seem a bit, well, forgive me, but, blokey. I mean designed by blokes. Unlike the men I know, they are hard, cold and rigid. If you caught them on the corner of the table they'd go clack.

I suspect that in a year or few, most of us will own more than one device on which to read ebooks. Prices will have plunged. One of those (come with me a moment on my small ereader fantasy) is the one we'll take with us to the beach, to the bath, to bed, to the sunny corner or the fireside — anywhere we wish to read undisturbed by incoming emails, skype bloops, or the flicker of the newest blog. It will come to be known as 'my book', and it will be just that, and 'my library'. A thousand books in one.

'My book' will be bendy; as light as a small paperback; of a size to be tucked into a handbag or jacket pocket. The cover (of a firm, fleshy texture) will be perfused with the cover of the novel/poetry volume/biography I am currently reading.  Alternately it will have an imperishable suede-like cover in, say, indigo or crimson.  When you catch 'my book' on the side of the table, it will go thugh.

What do you want, if we say that digital reading is an inevitability? What would be your device of choice? Connected or disconnected? Large or small, hard or soft, personal or impersonal?

If we dream strongly enough and talk longingly enough about the perfect reading device, about 'my book', someone will be compelled to go and create it. Won't they?

Now if it's given you an ache simply pondering the brave new world of ebooks, go and read Tim Jones's poignant little story, ironically online, on his blogsite of the same name, Books in the Trees.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

'Impenetrability! That's what I say.'

    'Would you tell me, please,' said Alice, 'what that means?'
    I didn't take to Alice in Wonderland or Through the Looking-Glass as a child. I found the humour too anarchic. However, I plunge in now, on any page and see that they might be perfect guidebooks for setting up an electronic business. Persistence, I think, is key, and trying to enjoy the way the ground shifts underfoot.
   Alice is asking Humpty Dumpty to give her a run-down on 'the meaning of the poem called "Jabberwocky".' She asks about 'brillig', 'slithy', 'toves'. . .
    And then "mome raths"? said Alice. 'I'm afraid I'm giving you a great deal of trouble.'

   I've tried not to give anyone a great deal of trouble but it's taken me a while to get my head around some of the most basic things. For those of you wondering: The ABC of the eBook.

1. Someone writes a story (it could be you), and sends it to Rosa Mira Books in a Word document.
2. After the usual to and fro, the edited document is converted into a file format or framework eg ePub or PDF (portable document format), page-designed, and given an eye-catching cover. Now it's an ebook.
3. The ebook is made available on the Rosa Mira website in at least two file formats so the customer can choose the one that suits their ereader. Delivery to the buyer will be 'simple, instant and foolproof' (web designer's memo to himself).
4. The ereader is the physical device, whether a PC, iPhone, Kindle, iPad, Kobo, Copia . . . the list is growing and refining itself weekly. A couple are even available in NZ!
5. However some ereaders need a further 'interpreter', called an application or app. Of these ereaders, some (eg Kindle and Kobo) have the app built in; others don't (in which case Rosa Mira will instruct the customer on how to download the one they need).

There. Simple and penetrable. But of course there's more to everything than meets the eye.