17 December 2013

Christmas Trees for Literary Fans

Whether you're a reader or a writer, you're happy and grateful that books exist. Most of us have never thought about having anything other than a Christmas tree (real or fake) in the festive season, but some have.

Following my earlier post of the book Christmas tree, Linda Lee directed me to the ones she's found online, which you can see below.

Have you found any others, and what are your favourites?

9 December 2013

Amazon Matchbook - Finally!

I don't own a Kindle. I'm not alone in that, but there's a certain peculiarity for me, as I'm a huge fan of technology and also of reading, so Amazon's marketers would expect me to be first in line.

But I never have been.

Not that I don't understand the appeal or the benefit - in 2011 I spent 6 months in America with my then-girlfriend (then fiance, then wife), and our shared appreciation of books meant we spent a fair amount of time in Barnes & Noble. Buying books. I purchased a few hardbacks and some paperbacks, all of which were quickly enjoyed. Then came the day of packing to board the plane and suddenly those hardbacks didn't seem like such a wise investment - they took up considerable space, but also, worse, valuable weight. Adopting the "We never leave a man behind" military approach I got each book home safely, tucked away into their appropriate places in the bookcase.

Shortly after, I bought my wife a Kindle, as she decided she wanted one. I saw the benefit - especially after that flight - but I wasn't ready to part with real books. I'm still not. Given the choice, I will buy a CD over a digital song purely for the fact that I enjoy the aesthetics and the effort that went into the liner notes and images. Music and books still represent art to me, total products, and increasingly the digital world seemed to be devaluing them to me, reducing the total products to commodities.

Romantic ideals aside, I wasn't ready for a Kindle for other reasons - I like scanning my bookshelf and having a title jump out at me, I enjoy flicking through a book, I like the smell and texture. I like books. The digital copies don't accommodate those facets, and I haven't been ready to sacrifice them for portability and convenience.

I could buy real ones and digital ones

I could, but I wouldn't (I am, however, more open to that now). What I never understood is why there wasn't the same solution for books there is for music and film - buy the physical thing and get the option to have the digital files too. Amazon couldn't do it because of the rights, and it seems publishers were too stubborn and felt it would undermine their business model - which has been eroding beneath them anyway. I'm a strong believer that if a consumer buys a product, they should be able to consume it in the way they desire, and not need to buy it multiple times. I was ecstatic when I bought a DVD one day and found a sticker explaining I could watch it on my electronic devices too, just like we've been enjoying with CDs for years

Welcome Amazon Matchbook

Finally, the publishing world has caught up. I read this wonderful news last week, and if you haven't yet heard of it, the gist of it is this: Matchbook will let you get digital copies of books you already own for up to $3 (and as little as nothing). It's not quite as good as the way it works with music and films, but it's a leap in the right direction. There's now a solution for people like me - buy the physical book, and enjoy the digital version for convenience (or, if you're very particular, read the digital one and keep the physical one in pristine condition. Maybe one day books will be so rare they'll be hugely expensive collectibles).

The bad news is that this is only in America for now, and most books aren't on it. But given that Amazon is behind it, it shouldn't be long before both of those things change. As soon as it hits the UK, my publishing company will be placing our books to Matchbook, so our customers can enjoy the books in both formats without having to pay out for both.

This new development is great for the consumer, and also great for the industry. With any luck it will end the arguments of whether or not 'real' books will die to digital books, and we can get down to what really matters: enjoying the output of the hard-working authors in whatever format we choose. It could also prove to be a big boost to the publishing industry - an indication that it will stop seeing digital books as the enemy and embrace them as a way to sell more copies, reach a wider audience, and increase its bottom line.

As I see it, writers, readers and publishers have a shared interest of appreciating literature, and Matchbook makes it easier for all three to come closer together.

5 December 2013

An Agent Agent? Just Say No

Earlier this week I read an enlightening post at Jennifer Represents, the blog of literary agent Jennifer Laughran. In this particular entry, Jennifer posts a great mock conversation with her and an agent agent (which I won't reproduce her but I urge you to click the above link to read the entry), as well as the following, which I've included here to explain what an agent agent is:

Much more often -- every couple of weeks at least -- I get the same basic thing but in email form:

Hi Agent, I'm Random McNoname, and I'm writing to reffer [sic] my client Author Sapsucker to you. Sapsucker has a pHd in Neurocathology [sic] and 78 followers on twitter so he's the real deal. The manuscript is attached, I look forward to hearing from you by next week.

If you're not quite following, this is the gist: Jennifer is an agent. Authors need agents to send their manuscripts to publishing companies that won't deal with unsolicited submissions. Agents are easy to get hold of - they have to be, because their livelihood depends entirely on having authors to represent. Somewhere along the line, deceitful cunning people have created a new job, that of the agent agent - an agent that an author pays to find them an agent for their book. As if getting published wasn't hard enough...

Jennifer further explains:

These are what I call "agent-agents" or third-party queriers. They convince authors that their "services" are necessary to query (aka spam) literary agents*. Authors who are totally new and/or desperate will take the bait and pay, in the hopes that it will give them a leg up on the competition. 

But it won't give a leg up on the competition, all it will do is frustrate or anger the agent, cost the author a lot of money, and all but guarantee their work is rejected on the basis that the agent agent is causing problems. The agent agent works on the premise of 'if you throw enough mud at a wall, some of it will stick' i.e. hit up enough agents and one may show interest. As such, they don't take the time to research each individual agent and find out what books or categories they represent; after all, a rejection doesn't matter to them, it matters to the author, so they need no qualms about accuracy. Spamming an agent is the quickest way I can think of to alienate an agent - and the very last thing any author wants to do is alienate agents. If they remember the title of the author or the book, that can haunt the writer if they approach the agent directly after ditching the agent agent - we all make mistakes and act in ignorance, but agents can afford to be picky about who they represent and who is going to want to recommend someone who doesn't do basic research into the appropriate steps to take?

Remember, budding authors, agents represent authors. By virtue of that fact, they need to hear from you, get to know you, and communicate with you and you alone. Querying is a step that authors need to take for themselves, and authors are already being represented - by their books.

Querying can be time consuming and tedious, but it isn't hard. It's made much easier by agents, because they post visibly on their websites how to approach them and clear instructions on what to include with a query. Paying someone else to do that for you isn't just expensive, it's alienating.