INTERLOPER by Kim Erin Cowley

I am proud to announce the latest novel from Dandelion Digital:

9781908706300_front_cov_300px.jpg

The main character, Lee Habens is an outsider, never really fitting in, and always feeling like an interloper in her own life.  The time comes when things have to change, and she decides to take radical action so that she can truly be herself, and claim her rightful place in society.  For Lee, this means transforming her body, to become the woman she has always been on the inside.

The novel is set in the 1980s, so for me, it was great to go back to the atmosphere of those days – London’s colourful clubbing scene and the flamboyance of being young in the eighties.  But gender re-assignment was hardly known in those days, so for Lee, there was a lot of research in the library, followed by the excitement of discovering that having a sex change was even a thing.  Not much was known about the science or the medicine behind it, so in the book, the GP learns alongside her patient, as they investigate and start the hormone treatment and everything necessary for Lee to build a new life.

But the book is about so much more than this, it’s also about friendship,  and

The book is a fascinating insight into what it’s like to make this incredible journey from one gender to another.  We see Lee’s wonder at her changing body, alongside her dilemmas about secrecy and her acceptance by other people.  Her emotions are often all over the place, but whatever happens, Lee remains resolute, in her quest for her real self.

But INTERLOPER is so much more than a book about changing gender.  It’s also about the power of friendship and love, as well as the pain of being an outsider; it’s about identity and re-invention, and it’s about living in London in the 1980s.

The book is very definitely fiction, but it’s written by an author with first hand experience of what the main character goes through.  Kim Erin Cowley is someone who has been through a lot in order to “resolve the conflict at the heart of my very existence”.

INTERLOPER is available to order from any bookshop from 1 July 2017.
Large format paperback, 466 pages: £14.99, ebook £9.99.  

Advertisements

Blockchain for Rights

Not long ago, I’d never heard of the Blockchain. Now suddenly it’s being talked about all over the place.  Blockchain is the technology behind the Bitcoin currency.  It keeps track of who owns what ‘money’ and how much it is worth.  This is all recorded permanently in a distributed network around the world.

The Blockchain is a global distributed infrastructure, like the Internet, so it can be used for anything, like the Internet can.  Just like the Internet, it has the potential to democratise power.  Because it’s distributed, it’s possible for anyone to access it and use it, and build applications for it.  One example is peer to peer micro payments for things that otherwise would be too much effort to be worth invoicing. See this thought-provoking video explaining it: Blockchain video

One strength of the Blockchain is recording transactions and ownership  These can be Bitcoin transactions or, it turns out, they can be copyright transactions and rights ownership.

The Digital Catapult, parent to the Copyright Hub, is trialling a way of using the block chain infrastructure for particularly complex rights contracts such as those associated with games development.  This means an ‘immutable’ record is created of who owns the rights to each contribution to the game, whether big or small and in what proportion.  New contributors can easily be added to the contract down the line, as production progresses.   One reason the games industry will benefit is because of the large number of individual creators who need to work together, unlike a novel, where it’s usually only one individual author on one side of the transaction, and one company encompassing all the other contributions on the other side of the transaction, and that doesn’t change over time.

The Digital Catapult has published a white paper about these Smart Contracts, and a prototype is in development.  Some think the technology is too new and immature to be useful yet, but it’s definitely one to watch, as it looks likely to grow up very quickly.

PLSClear Makes the World a Better Place

Permissions come out of the shadows into the limelight

In my first job in publishing, it was down to me to do the permissions.  This meant granting other authors the rights to use extracts from our books in their own publications.  It was viewed as a humble and fiddly job, and one I was glad to leave behind when I got promoted.  Even so, I was proud that the income from my work on permissions always more than covered my salary, which is a good feeling in your first job (or maybe I should have had a higher salary …?).

In the digital age, the humble ‘permission’ is becoming the focus of attention.

There are so many things that can go wrong.  When I received a request to quote from a book, I first had to make sure it actually was our book: have the rights reverted to the author, or is it part of that list we sold to another publisher a few years ago?  If there isn’t a copy of the book in the office, it’s even harder to tell.

For an author applying for permissions, it’s even worse.  How do they find the right person to ask for the rights?  It’s not uncommon for requests to spend weeks going round the houses.

Is this a problem that can be solved by technology?

PLS thinks it is.  The Publishers Licensing Society has a huge database telling them which publisher owns which books, that it uses for distributing photocopying fees.  Why not open this database up to the public, so it can be used to point permissions requests in the right direction?  The result is PLSClear. (www.plsclear.com)

I was lucky enough to work as a rights consultant on the development of PLSClear.  On the way, I met a lot of publishers, and discussed permissions with them.

The frustration was evident: sometimes it feels as if publishers have to spend more time investigating the rights status of the book and re-directing requests, than actually doing the permission.  That’s time that could have been spent doing something more interesting and more profitable – like clearing that backlog …

PLSClear launched at Frankfurt 2014, and gradually more people are finding it, and using it.  My hope is that it will cut out that fruitless cycle of email, hope for the best, wait, repeat.  Authors know their request is going to the right place first time.   And publishers receive a much higher quality of request, filtered through the PLS mill, and can get on with their job, bypassing the frustrations.

Oh, and it’s not just for books.  You can use it to clear the rights to use an extract for anything – film, radio, TV, mugs – anything.

It makes the world a slightly better place.

Kobo steps up

Following my “bold prediction” that 2014 will be the breakthrough year for illustrated books, I am gratified to see ereaders beginning to step up to the challenge. It’s only when all the ebook retailers can sell the same interactive, multimedia ebook format that the illustrated book market will really be able to take off. This article in Talking New Media, about Kobo suggests that Kobo are starting to adjust to the agreed standards for ePub3 hammered out by the AAP last year. Kobo have revised their ereader app for iPhones, so it can read ebooks with audio clips in, and video clips, as part of the text.  I am hopeful that this is in response to the ePub3 white paper, which sets out how device manufacturers (is an app a device?) can take advantage of the new standards, and enable publishers to produce one ebook for all markets.

2014 – a good year for illustrated ebooks

After Frankfurt 2013 I boldly made the prediction that 2014 would be a year of opportunity for illustrated books, like never before.  This year, they will finally get their chance to shine, and find a way to market.

EPub 3 can make a lovely illustrated book with multi-media, interactivity etc etc, but finding a place to sell the resulting glossy beautiful ebook is much harder.  Apple iBookstore can sell them, and people can get the full experience on their iPads, but beyond that, the market is sketchy, and the formats are incompatible.  

That means that to sell the same book on say, a Kindle Fire, you have to re-do the whole thing, because the format that works for Apple doesn’t work for Kindle, and neither of them work for other kinds of tablet.  There is one standard in theory, but it’s customised by each retailer for their own device.  To sell the book for many devices means producing the ebook in many formats.  The problem is, that’s too expensive and complicated to produce – and for most books, the sales don’t justify that level of investment.  

Currently, publishers of illustrated books are left with two choices – steer clear, or dumb down to the lowest common denominator – an uninspiring flat, fixed format that may or may not fit on the reader’s screen – Not Good.

The Association of American Publishers decided to do something about this.  They spent 2013 getting device manufacturers, retailers and publishers to talk to each other, and agree on a set of features from ePub3 that they could commit to support.

The promise is that new devices and software coming out will all display the same set of features.  This means that if a publisher produces a book which makes use of those features, they can be sure that the same ePub3 ebook file will work on all the tablets from all the retailers.  They only need to do one file, and it will be suitable for many markets.  This is revolutionary!  Thank you AAP for getting it together.

You can see the ePub3 standards in the Implementation Paper published by the AAP just after Frankfurt: http://publishers.org/press/117/

 

Which is the Best Publisher for my Ebook?

How can an author evaluate a publisher’s offer for ebook rights? Sometimes an author finds themselves in the lucky position of having three choices.

1 a mainstream publisher makes an offer to put on of their backlist titles into ebook. They offer a standard royalty, but no advance.

2 an ebook-only publisher, perhaps in America, offers a higher royalty, which is nice, but it only kicks in after a certain amount of money has been earned back, to cover their costs.

3 if the author is being asked to subsidise the cost of production themselves, perhaps they should go the whole hog and publish the ebook themselves too? Then they would get to keep all the money received from sales.

How should the author or her agent resolve this dilemma?

This is a question which takes us back to the fundamentals of what we can expect from a publisher, and which one will do the best job. My answer to this question is that the author should choose the route that will give the book the most publicity, because that is what will ultimately lead to the most sales in the long term.

Option number 1 – the mainstream publisher – will start making the author money straight away, in the next royalty statement, with no deductions. The book will be published alongside several others, which will hopefully give it enough ‘critical mass’ to be noticed.

Option number 2 will make more money in the long run, but only after the contribution has earned out – and how many sales will it take to cover that?? Is the level of contribution the author is expected to make realistic for the stature of the book? The ebook-only publisher is likely to have fewer titles, so this one might get more personal attention, but are they big enough to make a splash with it?

Option number 3 is a risky business – after all, publishing is all about risk. Obviously there are the upfront costs of production, which includes proofreading the conversion, a new cover design, and then there is the whole business of selling the ebook around the world. But if the author already has a ‘platform’ with a large number of followers or fans, it could be the best option.

Publishing is all about publicising the authors work and making it available so the best choice of publisher will be the one who can do that most effectively. That may be the mainstream publisher who has well-oiled channels to the market; it may be the ebook-only publisher who understands their niche and has the energy and focus to drive each book to success; or it may be the author herself who is in touch with enough readers to persuade them to part with their hard earned cash in return for a good read.

Publishing is not about producing an ebook, putting it on sale in a couple of places and forgetting about it. That is almost as bad as printing a load of paperbacks and leaving them all in the warehouse. The real work of publishing is telling people about it and enthusing them, and the publisher who will do that is the best one for an author’s book.

Ereader Woes

I saw this article on Book Brunch today: The Ebook Transfer Headache.  In it Nicholas Clee bewails the fact that although he has multiple ebook readers on multiple devices, he can’t swap books from one to the other – his Kobo books won’t work on his Kindle (needless to say) and the Waterstones books that he’s put on his Kobo reader won’t appear in the Kobo app on his new tablet; and he can’t move his Kobo books into another ereader …

The DRM is tying his purchases to the device or app of the retailer he got them from, even though the formats are supposedly compatible, and he’s within his allowed number of copies.  It’s all so frustrating.

But I wonder whether the solution would be, in a way, worse.  The only way that we could all have access to everything we’ve bought on any device would be for the whole lot to be stored in some sort of cloud.  At the moment each retailer, be it Kobo, Kindle or iBooks, has their own cloud, so we can see our stuff on their apps; but a different company’s app is not linked to that cloud, so it doesn’t have access to that stuff.

The alternative would be that instead of giving us access to our books in a personalised area of their cloud, instead our purchases from all retailers are put into our own cloud.  That means that all our stuff would be visible to any of our devices accessing our cloud.

The only way I could have my own cloud would be to rent space from a cloud storage company.  That way all my stuff would be there all the time.  It would be like Dropbox, or Google Docs.

But this throws up two questions:

  1. Would the retailers – Kobo, Amazon et al – relinquish the files to my cloud in this way?  Probably not because of all the valuable usage data they can collect from me, as I dip in and out of my purchases, reading my ebooks in their cloud.
  2. Who would I trust to store my stuff in their cloud?  I hate having all my eggs in someone else’s basket.  Call me old fashioned, but I don’t like Google, or Dropbox or anyone having access to all my digital belongings.  For me there’s a massive privacy issue there – not that I’ve got anything to hide – I just want some privacy.

A partial solution for Mr Clee might be removing some of the DRM from the ebooks.   That would make it easier for him to transfer them from one reader to another, but it wouldn’t make them transfer by themselves.  He’d still have to side-load from his computer, or swap memory cards to and fro as he is already, but once they were transferred, they would work.

This all shows that at the moment the ebooks we buy are still very much tied to the retailer we buy them from.  It’s more than an interoperability issue, and I think it is going to be a long time before retailers sacrifice the valuable market intelligence this gives them in favour of more convenience for their customers.