Tag Archives: books

Ebooks, Publishers and going full circle

Electronic publishing began in earnest long before social media really existed and when many people weren’t online. Twenty years ago we relied heavily on egroups – mostly Yahoo groups to find each other and share books. Tiny publishing houses proliferated, and sold books directly to readers. Some of those houses grew enough to be able to afford artists for book covers, which is how Tom and I met.

When Amazon got into the ebook market, it was because that market already existed. Their early policies made it hard through to impossible for small houses to keep publishing via their own websites. Of necessity, we had to all sell through them, accepting a loss of control and lower income on each book in the hopes of reaching a wider audience, and of not being made obsolete. 

Many of the more successful ebook houses at that time were selling smut, and the kind of material you couldn’t get elsewhere. I watched Amazon have rounds of shutting down kink authors, shutting down queer authors, changing the rules, changing the rules again. Mostly as a company they seemed torn between the desire to make as much money as possible, and the censoring urges of the occasional Puritan they’d somehow employ. It was not fun being part of a small publishing house while that was happening.

Things evolved. Amazon got into print on demand. Other sites become more open to small houses, although that has everything to do with distribution now. One of the key things for a small publisher is to be able to get in with a distributor so that your books show up in online stores and can be ordered through physical bookshops. At this point, this is one of the major differences between self publishing and being published. As a self published author you may not be able to manage getting your print books distributed, at which point doing print on demand books with Amazon can make a lot of sense.

At this point, there are enough ways of getting your book out that Amazon can’t afford to have policies that entirely lock authors into working with them. And so it is that we’re coming full circle and seeing publisher websites offering both ebooks and hard copies. Even the bigger publishers are doing it. This is a reaction to the mess the publishing industry is in, which is in turn about the attitudes of publishers to not growing authors and not investing in marketing. Books do not magically sell because someone has published them and I really wish more publishers actually understood this. A staggering number of people in publishing seem to think that books just sell by magic.

Diversity is good, and massive corporations are problematic in so many ways. If you like an author, it is worth buying directly from the publisher if you can. Authors are usually paid a percentage of what the publisher gets, and when the publisher gets the full cover price, that really helps the author. When you see a book on sale in a supermarket for a few pounds, the author will be getting pennies for each copy sold. It’s just another bit of modern capitalism that really doesn’t work and there are parallels in many industries.

John Hunt Publishing has started selling directly, so if you’re looking for my traditionally published Pagan titles, do please have a look.  https://www.johnhuntpublishing.com/moon-books/authors/nimue-brown

Publishing and the environment

Publishing isn’t a terribly eco-friendly industry. Trees are felled for making paper, inks are full of damaging toxins. Big houses doing enormous print runs can end up pulping books they don’t sell, which is incredibly wasteful. Like anything else, printed material can end up in landfill. Just because it can be recycled doesn’t mean it will be.

I’m also a big fan of books, and this is the industry I work in so obviously I have mixed feelings. I think books are a valuable part of our culture and they can and should be dealt with in more environmentally friendly ways.

If you know you’re only likely to read something once, get it as an ebook. If you also buy a dedicated e-reader, you only need to read about a dozen books on it for it to have a lower environmental impact than buying those as physical books. It’s not just the book production, it’s also the impact of shipping them around and dealing with them once they are read. 

If the author is dead, buy their book second hand – they don’t need your money. If the author is so deceased as to be out of copyright the odds are good you can find their work online and read it for free, and entirely legally, as an ebook. 

If you buy a physical copy of a book, keep it in use. If you don’t want it, passing it to a friend is a good choice – authors actually benefit from this more often than not as it’s an effective, word of mouth way of gaining new fans. People passing physical books around like this doesn’t really hurt authors, not in the way that pirating books and giving them away online does.

The second hand book market – especially as it exists around charity shops – is known to have undermined the sales of new books. This has not gone well for authors. However, there’s still a lot to be said for keeping books out of landfill and supporting charities by buying from them. Not everyone can afford new books, which is also a consideration. There are no clear cut answers on this one, navigate as you see fit.

Libraries are a good choice in terms of getting free reading material while not disadvantaging authors. In the UK, authors can get small payouts for library loans, and borrowing from the library encourages libraries to buy that author’s books, so that can be a good thing.

While there are a lot of things wrong with Amazon, one thing it offers is print on demand publishing. That means books are only printed when someone wants one. Many self published authors and small publishing houses use this resource. It radically reduces waste and means books aren’t taking up space in warehouses, which occupy a lot of land. I wish the whole industry would switch over to print on demand, it would save so much waste and the energy of long distance transportation. We could eliminate warehousing for book storage – which isn’t a good use of land. There would be no excess books getting pulped.

Author incomes are dropping at all levels of the industry. Increasingly it’s the case that to write, you need an independent income source, the willingness and energy to work a second job alongside writing, or support from someone else. If writing isn’t going to be just a nice hobby for the affluent, then supporting authors matters. I really don’t want to live in a world where only the comfortably well off and able bodied can tell stories, I think we’d be culturally impoverished if that happened.

The reviewing of books

As book reviewing is a sem-regular thing for me, I thought it might make sense if I talk about how that works.

I read far more than I review. When it comes to reviews, I focus on small publishers and self-published authors because these are the books that most need support around getting attention. Usually I already know either the publisher or the author, but not always. Sometimes I jump in for things I’ve seen online.

If I don’t like a book, I don’t review it. I probably won’t read all of it, either. I’m quite fussy about how I spend my time. Also, I don’t think anyone benefits much from me reviewing something I didn’t get on with. I don’t enjoy it, the author won’t enjoy it, better all round not to go there. Also there’s the thing that I’m often reviewing people I know and it’s often the case that I know them *because* I like their work.

On very rare occasions I have done shout outs for music and other things that were not books. I’m most confident when reviewing books. It’s what I’ve done most of.

I’ll cheerfully read most genres, fiction and nonfiction. The single most important consideration for me is how I get on with the author’s voice – which is really subjective. In nonfic I require books to show their workings out to a reasonable degree, especially around anything historical. I’m totally open to nonfic based on personal experience and experiment. With fiction, I like to be surprised without having my ability to suspend disbelief stretched to breaking point. I need engaging characters I can care about so I don’t get on with things that are excessively cynical.

If you’ve got something coming out that you’d like me to review, you’re very welcome to drop me a line – brynnethnimue at gmail dot com.

Beyond Sustainability

What does it mean to go beyond sustainability? As the title makes clear, it’s a concept I explore in my next published title from Moon Books. 

Much of the talk around climate chaos focuses on sustainability – which makes some sense. As a species we aren’t acting in a way the planet can sustain, and if we don’t get on top of that quickly, the prospects are grim.

The issue with this perspective is that it encourages us to see humans as only really capable of being a problem. We need to be able to imagine ourselves as being able to go beyond that. Getting things back on a more balanced footing isn’t really enough. If the current culture continues it would likely mean trying to live up to the edges of what’s sustainable, with a lot of non-sustainable things being greenwashed as somehow good. Just look at how we’re using the term ‘sustainable development’ at the moment for a sense of how this works.

Humans are capable of moving beyond the idea of being sustainable. We should be thinking about what it would take for us to be restorative. This applies both to our relationship with the planet, and to how we treat each other. So much of what humans are doing to each other right now is toxic. What would it mean to regenerate? What would happen if we started looking at the things we can do – in any area of life – to make things better than they have been.

Sustainability is mostly shooting for being adequate. What if we went further?

Beyond Sustainability is available from the 28th April from the Moon Books website https://www.johnhuntpublishing.com/moon-books/our-books/earth-spirit-beyond-sustainability It’s up for pre-order on most book selling websites now, and can be ordered from bookshops.

What some people think I do

Ah, the arts life, just swanning about doing nothing while people give me vast sums of money to support my decadent lifestyle.

I find it really curious how some people think the arts work, and all the recent commentary around AI has made it obvious just how many people out there think that creative people are elitist and lazy and don’t deserve to be paid for their work, or even allowed to work.

I wish with all my heart that the people who feel this way would sit down and write a novel, or an opera, or paint someone’s portrait, or go on stage and perform a play. It would be obvious to them fairly quickly at that point that there would be effort, skills and knowledge involved.

Whether a book is fiction or non-fiction there’s usually research involved, as well as planning and structuring. I prefer to make novels up as I go, but I do a lot of world building ahead of that, and I spend time on themes. I prefer character-driven stories, and it takes a while to create complex characters who can make that work. Then there’s the writing, the redrafting, the editing and the promoting. These days even big publishing houses expect authors to do most of the marketing. 

If all I did on this blog was try and sell people books, many of you would not show up to read anything – and rightly so. Relentless sales pitches aren’t interesting, and this is also true for social media. And so, in order to engage people, I end up creating and giving away a lot of content. This has worked as a strategy for me, but it does take time and energy, and not everyone can afford that. My fabulous co-writer David has massive health problems, leaving him with the option of writing or promoting, but no scope to do both. For those many creative people working full or part time jobs, the way marketing your own work also needs to be a full time job makes this whole industry really challenging.

We (The Hopeless, Maine team) do a lot of events because selling books directly works for us and because it’s a way of raising the profile of what we’re doing. Events are also work, performing at events requires rehearsing, being at events means promoting the event. I wish I could spend more time at events just being glamorous and floating about, but in practice, you’ll also find the better known musicians at events working their merch tables when they aren’t on stage, and putting in a lot of effort engaging with people.

Developing ideas takes time. I don’t want to write the kind of obvious, derivative fiction that could easily be replaced by an AI. So there are limits on how fast I can churn things out (5k words a day is my upper limit) , and how much time I need to spend just thinking about things. Unfortunately we have a culture that prizes looking busy, and is much less keen on people thinking about things. What you can do by rushing around trying very hard to look busy as a kind of performance art is not the same as what you can do with focused thought, but one of these things looks more convincing than the other, for a lot of people.

Music takes time, too. It takes hours of work to learn a piece and get it up to performance standards. It takes a lot of time to learn a script and to be able to perform it on stage. Art also takes time and isn’t created in a brief flurry of being magically talented. The image I’ve put at the top of this post is a Hopeless, Maine take on The Death of Chatterton. Drawing that image took Tom at least a day – which he can only do because he’s spent years honing his skills as a visual artist. Colouring it will have taken at least four hours, and that’s four hours of intense focus. 

Being creative is an excellent thing, and I want everyone to have time and resources to create whatever they want. Being a professional creator is actually quite a lot of work, and has a lot of the same work aspects of other jobs – we have admin, and tedious stuff that just has to be slogged through, and all the rest of it. The vast majority of people working in creative industries are paid poorly, no matter what their economic approach to the work is.

Book News

My Pagan publisher has a sale on at the moment! Moon Books is quite a diverse house, with titles from many different paths, authors and perspectives so if you’re looking for Pagan material, there’s a very good chance of finding something that will suit you. And of course half price ebooks make it easier to take a gamble and try a new author.

Buying directly from publishers and authors is a great way to support people. By the time a book has been through one of those big, third party sites, what returns to the author is small. Self published authors actually do better in terms of percentages on Amazon than authors at big houses. Most famous authors will only see pennies from each book sold.

So, if you’re looking for ways to make your purchasing more effective, going straight to the publishing house in search of books by your favourite authors is often a good choice. I’m seeing increasing numbers of houses getting into direct sales, and this will help publishers and authors alike.

While I could say highly critical things about the big publishing houses, it is usually the case that small publishers are lovely people who genuinely care about books. There’s a lot to be said for buying directly from them when you can.

If you fancy picking up any of my Moon Books titles at half price, start here – https://www.johnhuntpublishing.com/moon-books/authors/nimue-brown

Moon Books – Small Press Big Ideas

This month I’m joining in with #SmallPressBigIdeas. I’m going to be blogging about some small presses, starting with Moon Books.

Moon Books is the Pagan imprint of John Hunt Publishing. I’ve had books there since 2012 when my first non-fic came out with them – Druidry and Meditation.

Moon Books publishes a broad array of Pagan titles, some broad and aimed at a wide Pagan market, others gloriously niche. Titles focus on individual deities, different paths, traditions modern and old… Authors contributing to Moon Books come from around the world, and represent many different ways of being human, as well.

For me, Moon Books has been a community as much as it’s been a publisher. Through Moon Books, I’ve met a number of people I really like and who have become part of my life in other ways. This year I was at Halo Quin’s Goblin Masquerade. Laura Perry sauntered over to Hopeless, Maine and designed a tarot deck for us. There are also friends at Moon Books I’ve known far longer than this imprint has existed – Robin Herne, Cat Treadwell, Elen Sentier, Brendan Myers. There are many authors at the imprint who I think of as friends, even if we haven’t met in person. That’s too long a list to type!

My experience of small publishers is that they tend to be far better at taking care of their people than big houses are. If I need to talk to the boss – Trevor Greenfield – about anything, I can count on hearing from him within the week. Usually quicker. Smaller houses don’t have vast sums of money to spend on promoting books, but a lot gets done through clever use of the internet, and mutual support. Rather than seeing each other as competitors, authors at Moon Books look out for each other, share opportunities, and we all keep an eye out for books we can support. No one is ever leaned on to support a book that doesn’t align with their thinking, and there’s quite an array of opinions within the books so we aren’t all comfortably coming from the same place all the time. The support happens where it makes sense, and thanks to that, you’ll see me reviewing titles from other authors here and there. Only the books that appeal to me.

Publisher website – https://www.johnhuntpublishing.com/moon-books/

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/MoonBooks

Twitter – https://twitter.com/MoonBooksJHP

Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/moonbooksjhp/

Youtube – https://www.youtube.com/c/MoonBooksPublishing

The trouble with series

Committing to a series is a risk. Sometimes the creator dies before it’s finished, or loses interest and gives up. Sometimes the creator isn’t capable of handling the setup in a satisfying way, or turns out to be awful in some unexpected fashion. Sometimes the whole thing gets cancelled and there’s no proper conclusion. Sometimes the thing is so successful that people keep making new instalments long after they’ve run out of ideas and it all gets a bit sad and repetitive. You’ve been there. We’ve all been there.

However, if people don’t take a risk on a series, you can be sure it won’t work out. Publishers ditch authors with low sales. Netflix cancels shows that merely do ok. It’s incredibly frustrating for audiences and creators alike.

Which leads me round to the Hopeless, Maine graphic novel series I’ve been working on for the past ten years or so. It was written with a plot arc from the start. While I’ve tinkered with that, it’s basically the story I intended to tell all along. We had a false start with a crappy American publisher who messed us about a lot. However, we’ve got a secure home with Sloth Comics, and a strong relationship with Outland Entertainment who are doing hardcover editions. The penultimate book came out with Sloth this year, and we’re talking about 2023 for the final instalment.

That final instalment is most of the way to done and handed in. Over-penciling, scanning and doing the lettering remains. These are the smaller jobs. And then it’s done, the series is finished and the story is complete. If you were wondering about having a look but don’t enjoy the uncertainty attendant on reading a series, I think it’s safe to say that this is no longer an issue for Hopeless, Maine graphic novels.

This is the last graphic novel we’re going to do. It’s a labour intensive form, and doesn’t give us much time for anything else. We want to explore other kinds of storytelling more – in film, on stage and on paper. It’s not the end of the Hopeless, Maine project, but my intention from here is that everything we do should stand alone so that you don’t have to have read the whole thing to have a shot at it.

Hopeless Optimists

Hopeless, Maine – Optimists is the fourth book in the Hopeless Maine graphic novel series I create with Tom. At time of posting it’s available for pre-order in all the sorts of places that sell books. My publisher for this – Sloth Comics – tells me there have been a happy number of pre-orders places already, which is cheering.

Sloth is not a big publishing house, and in normal years has depended a lot on direct sales at comics events. These have not been normal years, and many events haven’t happened. The creative sector has been even more precarious than it usually is. With the cost of living rising, people will, of necessity, cut their budgets for fun things first. Throwing coins at people makes a huge difference.

Of the covers we’ve done so far, this one is my favourite. I’ve only been involved in creating some of the covers, having taken on the colouring part of the work after several books had already been put out there. 

Hopeless, Maine graphic novels are generally available from places that sell books, including book shops – although you’ll probably have to order them. Optimists is, at time of posting, available for pre-order and due out at the end of March.

As Sloth isn’t huge, we don’t have much distribution outside of the UK for these editions BUT we also have an American publisher bringing out hardback editions, which makes it easier for people to get copies should they so desire.

How to be brilliant and successful

I’m always fascinated by the advice writers hand out to other writers, as though there really is a magic formula that will get your book written and published.

There really isn’t.

If something feels weird and uncomfortable, probably don’t do it. This is advice that holds up in most situations, not just writing. The exception may be around medical checkups. 

Of course it’s tempting to think there are easy answers and things that are bound to work. But honestly, if that’s what floats your boat, get into something where doing what you’re told to do actually gets you results. Whatever those things are. I can bake a cake by following instructions. I can make a granny square. What I can’t do by following other people’s rules is make something original and also be guaranteed to sell it for a lot of money. 

When you start out doing something you have to put in the time to find out how it all works. No one would expect to win a baking contest with the first cake they’ve ever made. I find it odd that many people have entirely different expectations for their first book. 

Being brilliant takes time. It means going beyond whatever natural gift you have, and finding out how to work with it. Putting in the work is essential – just dreaming about it doesn’t lead to success. However, being brilliant doesn’t lead reliably to success either. In the creative industries, luck, privilege and nepotism count for a lot. These are not meritocracies.

Most authors do not earn enough to live on and either work other jobs, are supported by other people, have resources available to them or accept being poor. Or exciting combinations of those things. Anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is probably trying to sell you something. It may be a book. Perhaps it will turn out to be a book about how to teach people how to write books. 

You have every chance at being brilliant. Find out how you do things to best effect and keep doing it. Brilliance has everything to do with time and determination. You probably won’t be successful economically, because that seldom happens. Other measures of success exist. Joy matters. Being able to share with people is good.