Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Testing the e-climate

Publishers are baffled. No one knows what books are going to look like in 20 years. No one knows what kind of dance the ebook market will be doing a year from now. It's hard for traditional publishers to to figure out what royalty share to offer their authors on digital copies.

One major player, publisher of my books, has recently renegged on the 50 percent author rate in our contract (signed before digital books were more more than a twinkle in Amazon's eye) and has come up with something closer to what they consider 'the market norm' of 20 percent. For various reasons I'm arguing, not signing. Here's an extract from my letter:

…  for an author to be contracted ad infinitum for 20 percent of the digital book price received makes little sense in this changeable climate.

As a digital publisher I'm paying 20 percent to our authors until certain fixed publishing costs are met, after which 60 percent. Each contract is renewable after two years.

I go on to request that the span of the contract be shortened from infinity to two years; or that the percentage payable to the author be increased, or that it be increased after a certain number of sales — after all, there will be no reprint, no ongoing production costs once the book has been digitally formatted.

I suggest that, alternatively, I take back my digital rights, format and sell my own ebooks, and offer the publisher perhaps 20 percent of income from sales . . .

My letter concludes: I don't envy you the task of working through these digital knots, but this is the publishing challenge of the time and vigorous discussion is surely called for now when author autonomy is increasing exponentially.

And that's the rub. Not all authors will be content to sit about catching the drips from the sales of their titles when they now have unprecedented access to their readership, and as long as publishers expect them to behave like compliant children, taking their small portion without fuss.

Of course, I run the risk that the publisher won't budge and I'll be left with no ebook and no 'digital' income from it.

I'll let you know what happens.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Yoohoo, a new review!

I love coming upon a new website-and-blog to which I want to subscribe at once. Cassie Hart first came to my notice when she and Anna Caro put together Tales for Canterbury: Survival, Hope, Future, a short story collection from which the profits go to The NZ Red Cross Earthquake Appeal. The collection (still, I''m ashamed to admit, in my to-be-read-file) features some of the same talented writers as in our own Slightly Peculiar Love Stories, which Cassie has reviewed on her site, Just One More Page. (Actually, more than 'just one more page'; there's a generous offering of books reviewed; I like the sound of Compost, but then the compost bin has always been my favourite garden playground.)

Yes, dear readers, she liked it.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Spring at 46 degrees south

Anyone for afternoon tea? You'll think I'm always taking tea or drawing. That's not entirely true. But I've found that drawing (with a nice cup of tea) keeps my 'play' battery charged, and makes every challenging thing look more possible, interesting, and even fun.

(The silly thing is, at this high tea last week, we were all too preoccupied with giving speeches, or with not rustling and crunching while others did, that the whole gorgeous edifice remained more-or-less decorative. I did make the bubbles go down, silently. And the rose-vanilla tea.)

Anyway, as we all wait for the next book to appear on the ebookshelf (as soon as Author and Publisher have signed our contract this week, I'll let you know what it is — although there's a heap of minor editing, proof-reading, design elements yet to be applied before you see the book itself — anyone looking for small skill-swapping-type work?) . . . where was I? . . . while we wait, I thought I'd like to exploit one or two more gadgets on this blogspot and make a blog and website roll, starting with you Rosa Mira followers. Some of your blogs or websites I know well, but I'd be glad for any of you to let me know your URL, and I'll start putting some in place.

Meanwhile, two beautiful ebooks . . . well, languish is, I feel, putting it a little harshly, but heck, anyone who has the means to read them, should be diving into The Glass Harmonica (it's spring in the southern hemisphere; this is a book to get your juices rising apace) or delving into the eccentric wonders of Slightly Peculiar Love Stories.

Not to make anyone feel guilty. The world is full of wonderful reading matter. It's a matter of finding it. But Rosa Mira Books is not a bad place to start.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Once upon a mountain

Sophie (now Bond), my daughter, visited, and drew the house

You don't always know when a seed is being sown, how or when it will sprout, or what it will grow into. Sometimes you have in inkling, though. (Or do I mean a pre-seedling?) In 2005 I left home alone for the first time in a very long time. I made my way to Can Serrat, a writers' and artists' residency at the foot of Mont Serrat an hour's bus ride from Barcelona. There I met Dorothee Kocks, author of The Glass Harmonica.

I wrote about this, and today the story appears on the Can Serrat blog.

Every year Can Serrat offers a full stipend for a month to two writers and two visual artists. For a modest fee, and sometimes for a part stipend, writers and artists are welcome to stay and work at the casa beneath the mountain I came to love.

As I wrote in Digging for Spain: A Writer's Journey:

I have fallen in love with Montserrat. Returning on the bus from the city, my heart goes ba-doom when it floats into sight, always subtly altered since the last viewing. I’m not the first to feel this way. Goethe said, ‘Nowhere but in his own Montserrat will a man find happiness and peace.’ (I wonder if it ever crossed his mind that a woman might in hers.) The other day clouds massed and towered into the blue in the astonishing way I’d only ever seen in Paris ten days earlier. By the time I was on the bus to the city they’d been crushed to a dense slate on which Montserrat’s bulbous crenellations were painted in smoky pink. So, to crown my day as with flowers, I walk up through the almond orchard, over the desiccated herbs, under the pines, until I have a clear view of the mountain and if I can find a good thing to sit on — that isn’t prickly or puffy with dust or en route to the ant colony — I go down and adore.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Slightly Peculiar Love Stories Digested

In case you didn't see it on Beattie's Book Blog, here's a copy of the thoughtful review by author and poet Maggie Rainey-Smith. If you want to find out more about the writers of Slightly Peculiar Love Stories, you can start here.

        This collection has been 'gathered and edited' by Penelope Todd, founder of Rosa Mira exceptional eBooks.  In the foreword, she says that in selecting for this collection she wanted to be 'touched, jolted, teased, stretched and heartened and allowed to feel the weight, breadth and diversity of love.'
        I agreed to review these stories, fascinated by the title, and too, I had a new I pad and I had not yet read an eBook, and a short story collection seemed like a very good starting point. It took me a wee while to become comfortable with the screen, the page turning and returning (as you do with short stories), but very soon I relaxed into the idea of being able to enlarge the fonts, fast forward and back to re-read stories, and forgot about the medium, and began to enjoy the stories.
        What strikes me most about this collection are not just the diversity and the peculiarity of the stories, but a common link of lingering images, rather more than perhaps particular story-lines. These are after all, peculiar and indeed there is a range of peculiarity. There are writers that I know well, such as Craig Cliff, Coral Atkinson, Tina Makereti, Sue Wootton, Linda Niccol, Claire Beynon and not so well-known international names, whose stories are here in translation. What I found in reading to review, is that this collection is not for skim-reading and the stories reward with re-reading and a sinking in, not expecting the expected, letting go just a little.
           I found similarities of themes and ideas too. Craig Cliff wrote a strange erotic Italian fable Statues about a Florentine named Lalo who becomes obsessed with a sculpture of Adonis in the piazza. It works because he maintains so well the style and tone required for this sort of tale 'the folly of Alfonso Dondolio’s dotage was a sculpture'.  I think Cliff is having a lot of fun with this story. Similarly, but perhaps more seriously, Tina Makereti renders a highly sensual  well-known Maori legend, the story of Hine and Tane and anchors it exquisitely, bordering on erotic as Tane creates his woman from the earth.
           Coral Atkinson is terrific at the evocation of historical detail in her writing. Chips of stars  is about the passion of a pre-war romance, the delights of choosing an engagement ring “see the way the stone dances in the light” the excitement of 'wait till the girls at work see it', contrasted with the soldier’s return.   He brings home stockings to his girl that in his hunger for the sensual, he has already unwrapped 'they fell like syrup on the roughness of his hands' but his passion is not well matched.  This story contrasts rather nicely with Maxine Alterio’s Improvement Projects about a counsellor visiting an older woman and having her assumptions about the aged and sexual appropriateness, upturned.   
          There is an interesting pairing of themes with the stories of Sue Wootton and Lyndal Adleigh (not her real name) where the protagonists have strange obsessions, one who collects the business cards of men “her purse is bursting with them, and the other who finds solace in the company of a telephone (like a cat purring) working her way through from A to Z, hoping no-one ever answers, but someone very relevant to her life, finally does.  
          Alex Epstein creates four vignettes, the shortest of which, ‘the Name of the Moon’, really appealed to me.   It’s no more than two sentences but sums up rather well the end of a relationship.
           Salman Masalha’s All Clear  (translated from Hebrew) complete with coupling turtles, the Intifada and the lover’s body as a metaphor for the land, war and politics is an eerie, odd and compelling story about love in a war zone with gas masks completing the climax.
           The story that made me laugh out loud (actually the only one) was Tim Jones’s  Said Sheree, a rather acute satire of two poet same-sex lovers – one is a tier one poet the other a 'tier two  poet for funding purposes' ( and the whole awards and grants backdrop had me grinning with recognition and enjoyment ).  It’s a wry little piece that anyone in Wellington will recognise rather well I think. Miranda, the second-tier poet has a reading in the Hutt Valley at the Angus Inn.  'It was a wet night in the Hutt Valley and some of the locals stayed away.' A morality tale for the upwardly mobile writer perhaps, rather than a sensual fable, but oh, it hits the mark.
           In reviewing a collection of short stories, it is not possible to pay full tribute to all the contributors, but I imagine there is something in this collection for everyone. Brian Walpert’s, Earth-One, Earth-Two superhero story about Martin the taxi driver who thinks he is The Flash, a DC Comics character is quirky and in the end, tragic. Elena Bossi in The Ache writes of lost desire and rather beautifully describes a husband out of love thus... 'He only wishes that his lips would lose their lush appearance and settle rather into the smile of a man who has realised all his plans.'
           Linda Niccol tackles the poignancy of a lost love where the person still exists but not as you remember them. There is a train journey with the aged couple and the husband briefly recalling when he first met his wife.   This story has a cinematic quality. I found the opening paragraph confusing and felt the mention of a train journey at the start was unwarranted as it reveals itself quite adequately later on. I enjoyed it much more on a second reading.
           Claire Beynon’s piece on the trapeze is very much an image, rather than story and an image that lingers. She is a writer, photographer and artist and this piece reflects all of that in its simplicity, thoughtfulness and brevity.
           Janis Freegard’s story Mill, I had already read, and envied when she won the Katherine Mansfield short story award in 2001, and if I recall correctly, she wrote this piece in one sitting over one morning which I think is sometimes how the very best short stories seem to happen – as if they arrive fully formed – good to see the story within a collection. 
          There are twenty writers contributing to this collection and so a review cannot do justice to all of the stories, but suffice to say that they all engage, intrigue, and entertain in quite different ways and take risks, like Space Oddity’ by Angelo R. Laciest a story that I needed to read twice, or experimental perhaps, like Less than half a day by Christos Chrissopoulos...a story that I found a bit more challenging to engage with, but that may well reflect my preference for the traditional form.  He uses Net-vibe with postings over a period of two or more months including numbered 'views' and comments by the two key characters, the same way a story might be written I guess through blog postings, Skype comments or indeed perhaps messages on Facebook.    
          I haven’t spoken of every story and all twenty writers, but can say with confidence that all the stories are interesting, engaging and yes, ‘slightly peculiar’ and possibly the stories in translation appear more so.   What exactly did I lose? By Lawrence K. I. Pun, is a Chinese story translated, that needed a rereading and still left me guessing a little.  I think it was meant to.
          This collection works really well as an eBook, to dip in and out of, between train stations, to and from work or last thing at night, just a story here and there before you sleep, fodder for your dreams, or just enough to startle, tease, surprise and as the editor says, to ‘stretch’ at times as well.  

                  The End                        

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

100 were turned away!

Dorothee Kocks, author of The Glass Harmonica: a Sensualist's Tale has been working hard and having a ball. Last month she read at 'an intimate soirée' at the Portsmouth Athenaeum, which features in the novel. Alongside the reading was a glass harmonica recital of classical and folk pieces, by Alisa Nakashian-Holsberg, one of only a dozen performers in the world today.

Dorothee writes: RiverRun Books, a community force for good in Portsmouth, hosted a signing event the next day during a summer festival. Lots of people came through to see the instrument that once was banned.

And what were they signing? you may ask (an ebook?). In fact, the events previewed the paperback release of the novel, which is officially slated for October but it will be available online soon with links from Rosa Mira Books.

Now, what the girls have been waiting for, an almost full-length glimpse of Dorothee's gorgeous outfit (believe me, her novel is every bit as gorgeous):

 These photos were by Andrew Edgar Photography of Portsmouth.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

More love

Go and boil the jug and warm the teapot. While you wait, open the ANTHROPOLOGIST, make the tea, pour yourself a cuppa, and sit down for 13 minutes and 18 seconds to watch stunningly edited and moving excerpts from a series of longer interviews by photographic film-maker Andrew Zuckerman, of well-known people talking frankly on the subject of LOVE.

The full production is called 'Wisdom'. I think you'll find you want to watch that, too. (Post script: Actually, it turns out this is a trailer for the book which comes with a DVD.)

From there you can check out (as I'm about to) the rest of the Anthropologist site ('supporting the work of inspiring individuals'), including the short film clips Claire recommended (many thanks, Claire!) on the work and ethos of pyrographer Etsuko Ichikawa.

And of course, if you need more love after all this, you know where to find it.

Thursday, 4 August 2011


I've been a bit slowed up since the Slightly Peculiar Love Stories were released. Am having to avoid much keyboard time; find alternative ways to work; appraise.

However, I was blessed with a visit one evening this week by three determined angels: three friends with deep enthusiasm for Rosa Mira Books. We sat around the table and the teapot, and they asked me to outline the Rosa Mira story, from the night I woke (really, I was woken, very gently) and had the idea slid into my keeping, until now: two ebooks released, two in process, and others hovering — possiblebooks.

A remarkable story, they said. And in my best moments, I agree. It still surprises me that no one else in NZ is doing just this: taking original and exceptional work directly to digital publication. The potential remains vast. However, as with any new business, taking off takes a while.

We talked about potential revenue for the fledgeling business; about alternatives and ways forward. (In fact the way forward is simply to take the next step. I remind myself that this method has always held good, and that resources arrive when needed and seldom before. This may not be a model taught in business school, but the school of life imparts its own wisdom.)

And we talked about that old puzzle: marketing. Making the lovely products known. A large proportion of Rosa Mira's resources has been spent on help with media — hard copy and social media. Also, our writers and supporters have shared generously via their own networks.  It's still not easy to see just what makes the greatest difference. Anyway, from our meeting this week, we each went away with a name or two of people we'll contact, who might like to discuss Rosa Mira Books with me on their turf, whether by radio, rag, or blog. And I still have a burgeoning list of websites to follow up for review: on entrepreneurial know-how; improving digital platforms; marketing your ebooks … information is liberally shared on the internet.

Someone whose blog I always find helpful is Dan Blank's. His mission is to help authors and publishers 'create compelling online content'. He reminds me that the magic lies in the passion one has for the work: in my case for seeing rich, zesty, exceptional work find its readers. And that passion, over time, will bring in the necessary ingredients, prove the pudding (in the eating), and bring new pudding eaters to the table.

Then what can be said to three friends who gave up their evening to bring their bracing, practical encouragement to me and to Rosa Mira Books?

(She googles blessings for an apt one…)

"May the frost never afflict your spuds.
May the leaves of your cabbage always be free from worms.
May the crows never pick your haystack.
If you inherit a donkey, may she be in foal.