Ist July was publication day for Princess Ellie’s Perfect Plan, the much requested 13th book in my Pony-Mad Princess series. So I’ve had a double celebration recently – the publication of the new book and the 10th anniversary of the series itself. To mark both occasions in an appropriately horse way, I sponsored the first ridden pony class at the Royal Isle of Wight County Show and invited Anne Finnis (the person who originally thought of the series) to come down from London to watch the event with me.
Anne and her husband arrived on the Friday evening, so we started celebrating with cake and champagne. I’d baked the cake myself and, although I’m not the world’s best cook, it tasted okay.
We had to be up early on the Saturday because I was giving Princess Ellie books to the competitors in the leading rein class which started at 8.30. I really admired them for managing to look so smart so early in the morning. This is the young lady who came second. For some reason horse and pony classes at the County Show gives blue rosettes for first and red for second, although most places do it the other way around.
Next in the ring were the two competitors for the First Ridden Pony class. Everything went well until a tractor starting up near by and frightened one of the ponies so much that he misbehaved and dumped his rider on the ground. Luckily she wasn’t hurt and I gave her a book to cheer her up. That left the one remaining pony as the winner, but he was so lovely that I’m sure he would have one even if there had been a dozen other ponies. His name was Huey and he also won the leading rein class too so he ended up with a championship rosette as well. You can see it on Jack’s jacket.
His sister rode Huey in the first ridden pony class and you can see her rosette on her jacket. It had “The Pony-Mad Princess” on the ribbon tails because I’d sponsored the class.
After the two classes were over, I’d finished my official role of handing out prize books so we went to explore the rest of the show. It was a lovely event, full of animals and country activities. The falconry display was fascinating – one of the birds flew so low over my head that its wing brushed my hair.
We thought it would be good to try some of the activities but pole climbing looked much too scary. I felt much safer milking a cardboard cow.
My publisher, Usborne, had asked us to post pictures of the day on Twitter, but it’s difficult to look at photos on a mobile phone in full sun. In the end, we solved the problem by hiding under my coat which earned us some strange looks from passers-by.
Tweeting in sunshine
Amazon and Hachette are currently locked in a dispute over how they work together and, as part of that dispute, amazon.com has increased delivery times and reduced discounts for Hachette books. No one outside the two companies knows the exact details of their negotiations, but there is no shortage of articles complaining about the way Amazon is behaving. Many of these are presenting the situation as a David and Goliath battle and painting Amazon as a monopoly that acts against the interests of authors and literature in general.
These articles ignore a few basic facts:
- This is not a battle between David and Goliath. This is a negotiation between two multi-national companies and Hachette is definitely not a David. It’s one of the five huge companies that dominate traditional publishing, and it’s as capable of cut-throat negotiations as any other business. In fact, it’s already been pulled up once by the US Department of Justice for illegal collusion to raise the price of ebooks.
- Amazon is not a monopoly. We can all buy books from a multitude of outlets, and anyone anywhere can start their own online bookstore whenever they like. Amazon’s power doesn’t come from a monopoly situation. It comes from being very good at what it does so customers like to shop there.
- Like all shops, Amazon can choose what it sells and it is under no obligation to stock any particular product. Supermarkets sometimes drop lines because they don’t like the terms from the supplier, and Amazon is allowed to do the same. So they don’t have to stock Hachette books at all if they don’t want to.
- Similarly Hachette is under no obligation to sell their books through Amazon. Not all publishers do. If they can’t agree terms, Hachette can withdraw their entire list, although their authors might be a bit peeved if they do.
- Amazon is not anti-author. On the contrary, it has opened up the possibilities of profitable self-publishing and freed authors from the dominance of big publishing companies like Hachette.
- Amazon is not anti-literature. It enables readers to enjoy backlist titles they may never have discovered any other way, and it risked its own money to develop the Kindle and the resulting ebook market.
- Amazon has not raised the price of Hachette’s books – it has stopped discounting them. This may sound a nit-picking difference but it’s not. The price Hachette is complaining about is the price that they themselves set. If that price is so high that people don’t want to buy the books, that’s Hachette’s fault, not Amazon’s.
- Publishers have complained for years that Amazon’s discounts devalue books, but they are now complaining that those discounts have stopped. So it looks as if Amazon is always wrong whatever it does, at least as far as publishers are concerned.
Hachette can muster many people to support their side of the dispute, but that doesn’t mean they are right. It just means they can shout louder. This is just a business negotiation so let’s allow them to get on with it without taking sides.
If you’re interested in writing and self-publishing, visit my Help with Publishing site.
Like most authors, I have stories that are hidden away in a drawer or on my computer. Some have never been published. Others have been published in the past, but are now out of print.
Self-publishing provides a wonderful way to give new life to stories, and I’ve done so successfully with Perfectly Pony - a collection of pony stories and facts for readers of 7+. But it’s much more difficult to do with picture book texts because I only have the words, not the pictures.
So I set to wondering who might appreciate pictureless picture books. The first group that came to mind were sleepy children, lying back on the pillow with their eyes closed. They could listen to my stories and make their own stories in their heads.
Then I realised there was another group who might want them even more – would-be illustrators who wanted to try bringing a story to life with pictures. Why not make my stories available for them to practise on at college, school or home? And maybe they could also be used by teachers who wanted to trigger their students’ creativity.
That’s the idea that triggered Stories for Illustration – a selection of five of my picture book texts complete with tips on illustration and permission to copy them and use them in class and in portfolios. I’ve put gaps in the text to show where the page turns might go and added tips at the end of each story that look at particular issues the illustrator needs to consider. And of course, they are still fine for reading aloud to those sleepy children.
I’ve no idea how many I’ll sell and I don’t really care. What matters to me is getting my stories out of the drawer and back into the world where they can be read.
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I’m always keen to try different marketing techniques so I’m currently experimenting with a Kindle Countdown deal for There Must Be Horses.
To do this, I first had to put the book on Kindle Select which involved taking it off the Kobo shop so it could be exclusively on Amazon for three months. This wasn’t a big problem as I only get a tiny proportion of my sales through Kobo and I’m still cross with them over the way the dealt with the WH Smith crisis.
Once I’d done that, I just had to set up the Countdown deal. I chose to run two simultaneously – one in the US for 99c and one in the UK for 99p. I also set up a promotion on ebooksoda which is a new promotional site and newsletter that seems well run and is free at the moment.
The Countdown system works well. It’s easy to use, and it provides useful statistics to help you see how well the promotion is going. Plus the countdown ticker on the book’s page gives potential customers an incentive to buy immediately.
I’m now on the fourth day of the promotion and sales are definitely up, with the majority of the increase in the UK. The numbers aren’t huge, but the extra sales are having a welcome effect on the sales ranks. (The book is currently number two in two categories on amazon.co.uk.)
Here’s the course photo. I’m the one in the blue top.
Last week I spent an enjoyable day on a course in London organised by Usborne, who publish my Pony-Mad Princess books. There were only four authors (including me) working with Justin Somper and Phil Norman from AuthorProfile so we all got plenty of individual attention. And I needed that when it came to deciding on my author brand.
The other three authors were all on their first book so the themes of that story helped decide their brand. But I had a trickier task because the range of books I’ve published is so wide. There are more than forty so far including picture books, early readers, chapter books and a novel for older readers plus non-fiction books on subjects ranging from rainbows to special effects.
Justin encouraged me to focus in on the core of my writing to see if I could find a common theme in my fiction and, to my surprise, I did. I now realise that all my stories are about family, friendship and the power of love. So that was the first part of my brand sorted out.
The other part involved thinking about me rather than my writing. As soon as I started focusing in on myself, I immediately came up with the animals I love most – horses. But Justin encouraged me to think more deeply, asking lots of searching questions about my relationship with my favourite animals and how that relates to my writing. By the end of the session, he’d picked out three important phrases for me to remember. So I am:
- the little girl who never got a pony
- the author who bought a horse to help research her novel
- the author who deliberately chose an imperfect horse
So I was able to come home confident that I now I know who I am. Thanks Justin and Phil for a great course. I loved every minute.
It’s now well over a year since I blogged about Penguin taking over Author Solutions. At that time, I was wondering if the takeover would improve the way Author Solutions treats authors. It hasn’t. If anything it’s made matters worse by giving the company a sheen of respectability. But at least there has been progress on one front – the Bookseller has decided to stop taking advertising from them.
Congratulations are due to The Bookseller for acting ethically and to David Gaughran for highlighting the issue in the first place.
You can find out more at David’s blog.
I love getting letters and emails from fans of my Pony-Mad Princess series, and many of them ask when I’m going to write another book. Until recently, I’ve said that the series was finished. I’d run out of ideas so there weren’t going to be any more Princess Ellie stories. But I was wrong. There’s now another book on the way – Princess Ellie’s Perfect Plan comes out in the UK in July.
The first Pony-Mad Princess books were published in 2004 so 2014 is a very special year for Princess Ellie. To mark her 10th Anniversary, Usborne are re-issuing all twelve books in the series with new covers and extra pages at the end that we’ve filled with quiz questions and pony facts. They also persuaded me to write a brand new story – a special Anniversary book will be published in the UK in July.
As soon as they explained what they were doing, I was keen to write the book. The only problem was deciding what it should be about. I’d used so many ideas that it was difficult to think of something completely fresh and different. I had long conversations on the phone with my collaborator, Anne Finnis, who came up with the original idea for the series. We thought about having an anniversary celebration in the book, but I’d already done that in A Surprise for Princess Ellie. Then we thought about having a royal baby, but it was difficult to work the ponies into the story and Will and Kate got in first by producing their own royal baby.
Finally, we decided to give Ellie a real problem to solve. The first book in the series brought Ellie and Kate together. Maybe this one should threaten to pull them apart. Desperate not to lose her best friend, Ellie would need to find a perfect plan to stop that happening.
You can tell from the title that this is the storyline we chose to develop. But I’m not going to tell you what happens. You’ll have to wait until the book comes out. If you want to be one of the first people to read Princess Ellie’s Perfect Plan, you can pre-order it from Amazon now.
It’s eight years since the Authors Guild first sued Google about scanning books and displaying snippets. During that time, the Guild claimed to be representing all authors, not just their authors, and attempted to sell us all down the river by entering into a deal with Google that would have given them permission to produce and sell our books without the copyright holders permission and would also have prevented us suing Google ourselves. The Google Book Settlement was over 200 pages long, hard to understand, very one-sided in Google’s favour and a nightmare for authors. It took a great deal of effort and hours of time to fight but fortunately we won.
The judge who threw out the dreadful Google Book Settlement was Denny Chin – the same judge who has ruled that Google’s scanning and display of snippets is “fair use” under US copyright law. Judge Chin listened carefully to authors comments on the Google Book Settlement, even those like me who wrote him ordinary letters because we couldn’t afford to pay lawyers.
I’m sure Judge Chin was right in his decision over the Google Book Settlement so I’m happy to accept that his decision on the “fair use” issue is equally right.
When Kobo was faced with accusations that explicit books about incest and rape were showing up on the same searches as children’s books, they had several options available. They could install a filter so that books with adult content only showed up if users opted to see them or they could stop selling books in categories that might cause trouble until they’d been checked to see if their content was suitable for general viewing.
Instead, they opted to take all self-published books off their UK site – an action that chucked out a deluge of babies amid the bathwater. Gone were perfectly innocent children’s books like mine and other books by authors who had conscientiously followed Kobo’s own guidelines. Still in place were books about incest and rape published by traditional publishers. Lolita, for example.
Although many of the books that followed the rules are now back on sale, the effect on their authors is still there. The way Kobo and their partner, WH Smith, have put all the blame for the problem on self-publishing has damaged the good reputation that independent authors have been working hard to develop. It has also highlighted our vulnerability to random and unfair censorship and has persuaded me that relying on Kobo as the sole outlet for my epub books is no longer a good idea. Although they still claim to support self-published authors, actions speak louder than words and I, for one, am now looking for other outlets for There Must Be Horses.
If you are interested in self-publishing, you’ll find plenty of information to help you on www.helpwithpublishing.com.
This morning I had an email from Kobo telling me they had changed the payments section of their agreement. I clicked the link and was horrified to see exactly what the changes were.
In order to continue to qualify for 70% of the sale price, the price of my book had to meet a set minimum for each country in which it’s for sale. That doesn’t sound so unreasonable until you realise Kobo wants me to charge at least £2.99 for There Must Be Horses in the UK although it’s happy for me to charge the lower price of $2.99 in the US.
I was upset and took my books off Kobo as a result. But they have now contacted me and told me there was a misprint and the price should have been £1.99. That sounds much better and shows why proof reading is so important.
If you are interested in self-publishing, you’ll find plenty of information to help you on www.helpwithpublishing.com.