The Cost of Reading
I have always read a lot of books, even when I was working full time at the Bar, but unless you have time to spend at a library and want to wait for that particular book you want to read to be available they do cost quite a lot of money. Amazon has done a lot to make my addiction to books affordable, but it looks to me as if there is a shift in the cost of reading.
I have been puzzled for some time as to why the Paula Hawkins’s novel was for sale as a hard back at £7.99 when it was first published. I thought about it again when I received and email from Amazon about a book by John Fairfax called Summary Justice. I was interested in reading the novel as it is set in England and within the Criminal Justice System. I looked at the price of the book and to my surprise, the hardback was £11.89, the paperback £8.99 and for Kindle £8.99 as well. That seemed high to me so I decided to do a bit of research using the Amazon charts for best sellers in crime. This is what I found.
War Cry by Wilbur Smith
Hardcover £13.00 Paperback £7.99 Kindle £12.99
The Fix by David Baldacci
Hardcover £11.89 Paperback £6.40 Kindle £9.44
The Black book by James Patterson
Hardcover £13.60 Paperback £7.99 Kindle £9.99
The Girl Before by J P Delaney
Hardcover £4.99 Paperback 7.99 Kindle 6.49
Into the Water by Paula Hawkins
Hardcover £10.00 Kindle £9.99
So what is going on? Well, that second Paula Hawkins novel is not available in paperback yet and the price difference between the hardcover and the ebook is 1p. Which is the reader going to buy? Is the publisher trying to push the reader into buying the hardcover because the number of sales to reach the bestseller list is fewer than for a paperback? Why are these popular authors books being priced at either the same or more for the ebook than for the paperback? Are traditional publishers trying to push sales of ebooks down? I assume as there is no printing cost, no paper to buy ebooks should be cheaper. Am I wrong? Or are publishers prepared to take the reading public for a ride and screw them for as much money as possible? Any thoughts?
PS I didn’t have time to look at literary fiction in the same way but Dear Amy by Helen Callaghan shows the same difference in pricing policy.
Holidays and All That
It is some months since I posted anything on this blog apart from a few photographs of my trip to Australia. I have been very busy editing my new novel The Fatal Step, with the help of my beta readers. A little way to go yet. I’ve also been working with a designer on the cover of the new book and hope to have a final version ready soon
But I have started more stories from My Life at the Bar, which I will begin posting next week.
Just to keep my readers interested here is a photograph of a Koala Bear taken at a wild life sanctuary in Tasmania.
Sheep and Literature
If you have ever wondered on why a book is the size it is, other than something you can hold easily in your hand then you are not alone. When I first qualified as a lawyer, long before the days of the computer and A4 sized sheets of paper, we used a paper size we called ‘brief size’. The secretaries had typewriters, (remember those ) with elongated carriages to take the paper. When is was folded in half it was roughly the same as the current A4. Instead of typing along the short side, briefs to counsel were typed along the other longer side and then they were folded in four and tied with pink tape. When a solicitor was preparing the bill for a case in which they had instructed a barrister, one of the items on the account was the number of folio’s in the brief and that was arrived at by counting a certain number of words, I think it was 72. Of course, the word is used to define a piece of paper folded in two giving four pages in total. But why is a book clearly made up of many folio’s the physical size it is? The answer lies with the size of a medieval sheep.
Paper was first invented in China, but it was the Egyptians that brought it to the west and they used papyrus to make it, which is where the word paper comes from. There wasn’t any papyrus plants in the UK so they used something medieval Britain did have plenty of – sheepskins. Once the skin has been treated and cut into a rectangle, and then folded in half, the ‘pages’ are the size of a modern atlas and that is called a folio. Folded in half again; this is the size of a modern encyclopaedia and is called a quarto. Another fold gives the size of most hardback books and is an octavo. One more fold would give you the size of a mass market paperback. But it does depend on the size of your sheep.
I am grateful to Mark Forsyth for his explanation in his wonderful book The Etymologicon of how and why books are the size they are and where the words to describe them came from.
The Fatal Step
This is the working title of my new novel and so far I am about half way through the first draft. Some how the summer has not been conducive to writing – who wants to be stuck in front of a computer when the sun is shining outside. I think too, I am rather daunted by the task I have set myself. I didn’t think about it with Crucial Evidence. I’d started that as part of my dissertation for my MA and I just kept going until I’d finished. Then I drafted and redrafted without thinking, each time telling myself that this time it would work and when I sent it to agents someone would love. They didn’t and I began to realize that it wasn’t my writing that was the real problem but the type of book I wanted to write. Also talking to agents at places like Winchester Writers’ Conference and at The London Book Fair I knew any publisher would want a series of novels and I didn’t want to be tied to writing a book a year. In the end I decided to publish the book myself. In the process I’ve learnt at lot about writing and publishing, but that makes the mountain I have to climb much higher and harder than the first. I know how long it takes and how difficult it can be.
But you have to begin somewhere so this is the first page of my second novel. It follows the career of barrister Cassie Hardman as she gets her first leading brief in a murder case.
‘As Cassie hurried along the driveway from Snaresbrook Crown Court towards the tube station, she turned on her mobile phone. Amongst the emails from fashion houses, department stores and restaurants, there was a message showing the subject matter as Paul Sadler. He had been the defendant in a rape trial, who she had successfully defended at the Old Bailey the week before last. She didn’t recognise the name of the sender, Malcolm Delaney. Normally she was very careful about opening emails from unknown people but it was from someone who knew about her involvement in the Sadler case. She clicked the message open and read, ‘Miss Hardman, I wanted to congratulate you on your representation of Mr Sadler. Your cross examination was very effective and your closing remarks were obviously persuasive. Clearly they carried the jury along, as you know from the verdict. I would like the opportunity of congratulating you in person, and would like to invite you to have lunch or dinner with me. We can arrange a time and place later. I look forward to hearing from you. Malcolm’
The email gave no clue as to how Malcolm Delaney, knew she had represented Paul Sadler or what Delaney’s connection to the case was. Was he a police officer, a member of the court staff or just a spectator from the public gallery? She knew there were a number who came regularly to watch the proceedings at the Bailey; the staff described them as ‘groupies’ and she had been told by one of the ushers that some of them would ask which barristers were appearing in which court and make a point of watching their favourites’ cases. The wording of the message was a little old fashioned so perhaps it was one of them. The thought that one of the men from the gallery wanted to invite her to dinner amused her, but nothing more.
Back in Chambers, the senior clerk, Jack, summoned her into his room and closed the door behind her. On his desk were four lever arch files, tied with pink tape, the front sheet bore the title R v David Winston Montgomery. Jack beamed at her. ‘I’ve managed to get you a leading brief in a murder at the Bailey. I assume you’ll want to apply for silk in a couple of years. This is a good one; you’re ready for it, even though it’s a murder. None of the silks want this. Scared they’ll get tarred with a racist brush, I dare say. A woman won’t of course. Judge Crabtree is in a bit of a panic thinking the defendant might want to represent himself. I said, to Colin in the list office, my Miss Hardman can handle it. Spoke to Tim. Didn’t take long to persuade him you could do it. So there you are a leading brief in a murder.’
Any comments to make about that so important first page.
So many books are published every month that getting your book noticed by potential readers is a problem for any author. I have just managed to prise the sales figures out of my publisher, (why are they so reluctant to give them?) because I wanted to look at how sales had been effected by the publicity I have been given. I was rather disappointed with the overall figure of 190 to mid June. It is also quite difficult to analyse the figures in relation to the individual pieces of publicity I received, however I have tried to make some sense of it.
Crucial Evidence became available as a paperback on 14th February 2014, five copies were sold before that date which I think were probably review copies, although I was a guest on the blog CMashlovestoread on 29th January. Amazon ordered ten copies on 13th February again I assume to have some in stock, although to begin with they were showing a three week wait for the book to arrive. Between 14th February and 20th February Amazon bought twenty-three books. Again I have to make the assumption that these were sales to friends and family who bought the book as a result of my emailing them about its availability.
The Western Morning News, a regional newspaper in SW England with a distribution of over 20,000, did a two page spread in their Magazine section on 22nd February and on 28th February an on line magazine AfterNyne broadcast an interview with me. Sales during the last week of February were quite low; one through the distribution company Bertram Books, two through Amazon in the UK and two Amazon US. My ex sister-in-law I think.
I had a book launch at The White Hart in Moretonhampstead on 8th March for my friends in Devon- a fantastic cream tea – and sold 20 copies to the those who attended.
At the beginning of March the novel became available in the ebook formats and by March14th thirteen books had been sold by Amazon Kindle. During that period I did a Giveaway of two books on Goodreads, which finished on March10th. Over 100 people put it on their ‘ to read lists’ but it is my impression this has not resulted in many sales.
I had been asked to do an interview for TalkRadioEurope and that was recorded in February but not broadcast until 27th March and on 3rd April the Exeter Express and Echo which has a distribution of 20,000 had a two page spread about me and my novel. Between 14th March and 14th April two copies were sold through Bertram Books, sixteen were ordered by Books on Demand and eleven sold for Kindle.
Books on Demand are a German company who my publisher New Generation use for printing copies in Europe. I don’t know that many people living in Europe so I assume these sales were a direct result of the radio interview. TalkRadioEurope broadcasts to English speakers in Spain and Portugal. I guess sitting out in the sun by your pool means you read a lot- so quite a good market. Indeed sales in Europe continued with another sixteen being sold by Books on Demand on 16th April.
The novel is set in London and I wanted to have a launch party for people we knew who lived in the city and that was held on 10th April at the Slightly Foxed Bookshop on Gloucester Road. It was a lovely evening, there are some photographs on this blog at Celebration Party and Publication Party, and the shop sold twenty three copies.
I did a talk to a local Ladies Group and sold a further sixteen copies of the book.
So what conclusions can I draw from this. I think I can say the following
1. Doing talks is the best way of selling books.
2.Two books for a ‘giveaway’ on Goodreads is not enough.
3. Some publicity is better than no publicity but only just.
4.Your own email list is a good source of readers.
5. Launch parties are good fun but can be expensive – I did feel like a writer when I was reading excerpts from my book in a bookshop.
I reduced the price for the Kindle version as I felt having looked at the top 100 books the price was too high but as yet the sales figures since are not available. t may be that it’s too late but it was worth trying.
My next publicity stunt is booksontheundergound.tumblre.com who are placing ten books on tube lines. These are books I have bought and I think having some books available as giveaways should be part of any sales campaign. I would be interested in any ones opinions on marketing, giveaways and pricing.
John Grisham and class actions
I’ve been away and out of contact with the internet again, but at least it has given me enough time to read some books and to do some thinking about my next novel. I’ve written the first 22,000 words so a long way to go on that. As far as the reading, I found a copy of The King of Torts by John Grisham and read it in a couple of days. It’s an awful title but seems to derive from the way class actions are brought in the USA. The protagonist is Clay Carter, a youngish lawyer working for the Office of Public Defender in Wasington DC. He is assigned the case of Tequila Watson who, inexplicably, has become a killer and murdered an acquaintance known as Pumpkin. Carter begins to explore Watson’s backgound and is puzzled by the lack of motive and the absence of any history of violence. Watson is a drug addict who has been in a rehabilitation program and when Carter makes enquiries at the project he is not convinced he is being told the whole truth.
Overworked and underpaid, Carter is ripe pickings for Max Pace who tells him a major Drug Company is willing to pay compensation to Pumpkin’s family and his legal fees if he is acting on their behalf. The secret he must keep is that Watson along with others were treated as guinea pigs with a drug that ‘cures’ addiction but has a side effect in about 8% of the addicts that makes them a killer. Carter quits his job with the Office of Public Defender and earns himself about $15 million. He justifies his actions to himself by arguing that Watson has no defence to the charge of murder. I don’t know if that would be the case in the US but I think under English Law he would have a defence to murder of not to manslaughter. If the drug that turned him into a killer was given to him by the staff at the rehabilitation project as part of his care program then he would be able to claim his mental state was not self-induced and therefore he was not responsible. I had a similar case when Diego Cogolato killed the dress designer Ossie Clark, under the influence of a combination of illegal drugs and prescribed drugs that made him believe Clark was the devil and he heard voices telling him to kill.
Carter is then told about another drug that is widely prescribe and has the side effect of causing growths in the bladder. He files a claim against the Pharmaceutical Company and advertises for other users to contact his law firm so that a large number of complainants are joined in the same action against the company, a class action. These actions enable lawyers involved in the proceedings to earn large sums of money. The novel describes the way these proceedings take place and the dangers in them. I won’t say anymore because it will spoil the story. In the UK these type of actions are rare although the courts can give consent for what is called a Group Litigation Order but the proceedings are controlled by the Judge. Also cost capping orders are made which limit the amount lawyers can earn. There are no juries in civil cases of this type in England so exemplary damages are rarely given. Although there are proposals to have this kind of collective action in certain cases at the moment any move towards that is very slow.
This book perhaps under scores why American writers of legal thrillers have so much more to write about as the US system provides more drama than the UK one. I was certainly told that it was very difficult to sell a legal thriller/mystery to the publishing industry and that only John Grisham can write them. Are there any writers using the English Criminal Justice System as Grisham uses the US one?