Not London Book Week ~ reflections on the book industry (part one)

Not London Book Week ~ reflections on the book industry (part one)

I didn’t go to London Book Week.

I didn’t go to the Indie Fringe event, either, though I made half-hearted plans to go and meet friends. I wavered so long I missed the window of opportunity to get cheaper rail tickets that might have made the whole thing a little less harsh on the wallet. Then, on April Fool’s Day (of course) I yawned, stretched and forthwith popped my shoulder out. It popped back in again, leaving me with enough pain to warrant the Big Guns of pain control that mean I don’t dare leave the house for fear of wandering aimlessly into oncoming traffic, or of seeing giant scorpions in alleyways. If I stay home when I take them, I can at least ask family if what I am seeing is real and if it is, I can valiantly sacrifice myself to save them because I can’t run as fast as they can. It took the best part of a fortnight for the pain to recede enough to return to normal levels of baseline pain, and the idea of using sparse energy to trog all the way into the capital to an event that (apart from meeting friends) simply failed to thrill me, was not one that seemed appropriate.

I did however go into an actual book shop during that time and I bought a few actual books. Go me, eh? I was in Lincoln for the day, and having bought a selection of fossils and minerals in a rather wonderful shop, I found the new independent bookshop Lindum and bought two books. I then managed to leave them behind just as the shop closed and for a short time, felt it was perhaps a small sacrifice to atone for my sinful use of Amazon to buy books. You see, while talking to the very nice store owner, I used the taboo A word a couple of times, and we briefly discussed it. That’s to say, she told me how Amazon was basically responsible for destroying book shops, and I (too much of a coward) listened and nodded in an understanding way.

You see, while I love books, I don’t actually love bookshops any more. Even the excellent independent ones like the one in Lincoln or the even more wonderful Book Hive in Norwich. The rot set in really when the supermarkets started selling books. Books heaped up like so many rectangular apples and oranges in pyramids of paper, pile ’em high and sell ’em cheap. Good, I say. The arrival of the paperback was heralded as the end of books, but it actually made books accessible to readers previously unable to buy highly priced tomes. Books are a luxury when you struggle to feed the family. Most books sold this way aren’t ones that will change your life, but they might give you an escape from reality for a few hours or days, depending on the length of book and how fast you read. And some of the time, that’s all anyone wants of a book.

However in response to the perceived threat of online stores like Amazon, many bookshops have gone into what I call “precious mode” where books become something with a mystique, the province of the special something, magical, almost elite, and it feels as if they have forgotten that they, just like Amazon, are purveyors of a PRODUCT. Their piles may not be of common apples and oranges, but of exotic dragon fruit and pomegranates and acai berries and so on. And the prices reflect this too. They remind you that you are here in this temple of Bookishness to partake of superior fare to the cheap and cheerful sold by Amazon and supermarkets. You can’t have it both ways: bookshops of all kinds, real and virtual, are ALL aiming to persuade the punters to purchase something, whether it’s for a penny plus post and packing (I buy a lot of second-hand books that way) or brand new, in a sumptuous dust-cover inscribed in gold ink and promising glories within.

Would you like to know what books did tempt me to open my purse and part with hard earned cash?

There wasn’t anything on offer that I felt I could justify the £15 or more for the rather lovely looking but totally unfamiliar book on bee-keeping, or on the history of herbal medicine or the thousand page novel in hardback, (its name and the author’s name now escape me). I wanted a book to sit and read while I waited for my coach home; I didn’t want to buy into a literary extravaganza that might well have been more smoke and mirrors than substance. So my selection for just over a fiver were two Wordsworth Classic paperbacks: Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and Dante’s Inferno.

Sisyphus’s rocks ~ when is it time to give up and stop pushing?

Sisyphus’s rocks ~ when is it time to give up and stop pushing?

Last week, this blog passed both its five year anniversary and 150 thousand ‘hits’ in that time and I failed to blog about either milestone. We were away for the anniversary but I could have written a post and scheduled it for the 9th, the day itself. A few days later, I watched as the numbers on my stats page ticked up to and past the 150k mark, and while I mentioned it here and there, I had no real sense or feeling of achievement.

When I began blogging I had no idea where it would take me. Very few of my earliest blogging friends still blog; some have vanished utterly, some have deleted blogs and some seldom if ever add new posts. But there are millions of new blogs, across the various platforms, and from a brief glance, the ones that tend to be the most popular are the food blogs, the parenting (Mummy) blogs and a few massive writer blogs. Mine is insignificant in the greater scheme of things. I’ve seen my average daily number of visits fall steadily.

It’s not the only thing to fall steadily. Book sales have diminished too. This time last year I had begun to believe I might be close to making a small living out of writing. Now I can say no such thing. There are conspiracy theories abounding, suggesting underhand and dishonest dealings from the biggest of the e-book retailers, Amazon, and while I am tempted to believe in such theories, the truth is probably far more prosaic. E-book growth has slowed in the last year, despite the proliferation of titles and the emergence of many new authors. Amazon itself has responded to the slowdown with new promotional ideas such as Countdown, and Matchbook as well as the Select programme. I hear constantly of other writers who had been doing really well, seeing steady growth of their book sales, finding that their sales numbers have fallen and nothing seems to halt it. While in my worst moments of depression lately I have feared that my personal decline in sales is down to me being a crap writer (and I don’t dismiss that entirely, because we can all delude ourselves), the fact is that the market share for every mid-list author is getting smaller the more books there are out there, and the harder it is to be visible. Yet those who have paid for advertisements report diminishing returns for their outlay, just as those who used the Select programme find that using their free days has been less and less effective in getting visibility and subsequent sales.

There’s also the fact that with the bonanza of free books (as well as extremely cheap ones) many people with e-readers may never finish reading all the freebies they have amassed. There are plenty of folks who declare they will never BUY another e-book again. While some of the free books are certainly going to be dross, it’s FREE dross, and if you don’t have any particular taste for reading except as a way to pass time, it matters very little what you read. It’s depressing to think that there are readers who care little about the work and thought and sheer heart that goes into writing a good book, and who only look at the price. I reduced the price of The Bet, in the hopes that bringing it into the same range as my others might entice new readers.

I’m told that the best way to gain readers is to bring out more books, which is fine and dandy, except I am far from convinced that this will work any more. I know of authors who bring out several (or many) new books every year, and who are also seeing falling sales. I believe that the wonderful readers I already have will be very pleased when I bring out a new book (and I have had requests to know when the sequel to The Bet is coming out) and for those I say, soon. Yet this brings me to the other thing.

If you have been following this blog, you will know I have been diagnosed with a parathyroid tumour. I’m waiting for a date for surgery to remove this non-cancerous growth, but it’s still uncertain when that will be. But Dexter (my tumour) is causing huge physical and mental health problems. I’m in pain constantly despite pain relief that itself causes problems. I’m suffering from low mood that makes staying upbeat VERY hard, despite my best efforts to keep positive and to be thankful for the good things. Even the fact that I try and fail makes me feel horribly guilty; am I so weak and ungrateful that I cannot overcome my feelings when so many around me are suffering so much more and despite all the many blessings I have? No. I’m fighting an unseen enemy that upsets every system in my body, from hormones to muscles to bones and kidneys.

The esoteric side of this tumour needs a mention too (bear with me if you can’t cope with the woo-woo aspects) . The throat area is seen as housing an energy centre (usually referred to as a chakra) and these energy centres are referenced in many systems from Tibetan Buddhism, through Kabballah and on to Hinduism. Jung himself worked through the theories of kundalini yoga and examined the chakras in detail: http://www.dedroidify.com/kundalini.htm

The throat chakra is known as Vishuddha: “Vishuddha may be understood as relating to communication and growth through expression. This chakra is paralleled to the thyroid,(1) a gland that is also in the throat and which produces thyroid hormone, responsible for growth and maturation. Physically, Vishuddha governs communication, emotionally it governs independence, mentally it governs fluent thought, and spiritually, it governs a sense of security.[37]

In Tibetan buddhism, this chakra is red, with 16 upward pointing petals. It plays an important role in Dream Yoga, the art of lucid dreaming.”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chakra

The vishuddha chakra allows full self-expression. The first four deal with more basic human functions, but this energy center is where individuality shines and you can become your own person, freely expressing your opinions and truths regardless of other people. Lying to ourselves and obstructions from our own happiness that we accept into our own lives is what prevents us from maintaining a healthy throat chakra, so any lies such as these must be eliminated in order to fully open this chakra. This is a very important chakra, and without it, none of us would show any signs of what we consider to be humanity, so it is vital to keep it opened to allow our inner selves to flow.

  • Summary: Expresson

http://psi.wikia.com/wiki/Chakras

  1. The parathryoid glands were not known either in antiquity or until relatively recently, so they are seldom mentioned. I’m getting a little fed up of explaining that PARATHYROID is totally different to thyroid, because most people assume the terms are interchangeable. Their function was not even known until 1925 when research began to investigate their possible  role in the body.

The possibility that the presence of this malfunctioning and tumorous gland in the area of my throat chakra is responsible for the emotional distress I am feeling, this sense of my expression of self is blocked, is not to be discounted. Body, mind and spirit are closely tied. Some might suggest that it has been my blocked self expression that has caused the malfunction. I would find such a suggestion pretty offensive, because it pours a whole vat-load of blame on me. I also don’t think that until this began (and I have no accurate date, just a suspicion that it began around 7 years ago) I was blocked. I’d written 7 novels in 3 years, and beginning this blog was the start of a more intimate form of self expression, confessional rather than fictional.

This brings me back to my title and Sisyphus. Sisyphus http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sisyphus was condemned to roll a rock up a hill and have it roll back down for eternity. That’s what I’ve been feeling like these last years. Every good thing I have done, have worked at, struggled to achieve, has been the result of momentous effort, and yet which has failed to reach a pinnacle, and has begun to roll back down to the start. Over and over again, often crushing me as it plummets down the mountainside.

I’m wondering at what point can I, a mere mortal, just stop, and instead of pushing that damned rock, can sit on it and refuse to go on with what feels like a fruitless and depressing path.

First Impressions of the Kindle ~ the good, the bad and the downright ugly

 

First impressions of the Kindle ~ the good, the bad and the downright ugly!

   I’ve held off from the commitment to an e-reader for a number of reasons. Sitting on the sidelines, listening to the debates about whether the advent of the e-reader would mean the death of print, I’ve sat firmly on the fence and watched as the battle raged and wondered what the fuss was about. I’ve heard people praise their personal e-reader to the high heavens, I’ve heard some bewail the intrusion of yet more technology into their lives. And I remained sceptical and unsure. The more I read about the e-readers, the more I became convinced that the technology was still too intermediate to satisfy my own complex requirements.

So why, when my father asked what I’d like for my birthday did I put a Kindle on the list?

   Simple answer? Convenience.

   I travel quite a lot for both my jobs and on a five day trip, I will often have time on my hands between activities, where I am just sitting waiting for groups to return. I’ll have time at night to unwind in my hotel room. Now, for me this presents a problem. I read extremely fast. I might be able to consume an average length novel in a few hours. This means that for a five day trip I need to pack at least two, probably three books. And in addition to that, I can be moody and find a book boring that I thought I wanted to read. When you’re living out of a suitcase, you can’t afford to carry spares. So the idea of having a complete library in an item smaller than a paper back is very attractive.

   This Saturday, I squealed with delight on opening my parent’s present. There was the mythical Kindle to be explored. I downloaded a lot of classics and a few modern novels, plus some phrase books and so on and played around a bit. After a few days, I can report my findings.

 

Things I like: 1) the neat appearance 2) the light weight 3) the capacity for thousands of books. 4) the relative simplicity of use. 5) the internet access that also means you can have a book delivered instantly 6) the no-glare screen.

 

Things I don’t like: 1) the screen is too small. I’m a fast reader, and the small screen is off-putting because I like to be able to see both pages spread out. It feels like peering through a letterbox. 2) the judder as you change pages; it makes me think I’m getting a migraine. 3) the fact that it is an electronic device and yet is resolutely black and white 4) the experimental music facility only plays mp3 files and has no menu for contents so you have to play things in the order loaded and move them on. 5) the internet is slow and is in black and white; it makes me feel depressed when I am used to colour. 6) there is no option for back-lighting, which means you can’t read in the dark without a separate light; I know this was found to drain the battery quickly but it would be an option I’d find good. 7) the keyboard is so tiny that it’s hard to type.

 

   I was disappointed especially in the music feature as I had hoped to use that instead of an mp3 player, but the hassle of converting all my music files to mp3 is simply not worth it. I think part of me is looking for a single gadget to minimise the amount of stuff I carry; I had intended to wait until there was a write facility included so I could use it when away to work on stories , but that seems unlikely now. I shall have to continue to take my net-book on longer trips for that, as well as get a new mp3 player as my old one is not staying charged long enough.

 

   Another concern over e-readers is one that applies to all the gadgets we deem essential now, from mobile phones to laptops: instant obsolescence. I tend to keep a device until it actually stops working but most people change their mobile phone or pc as soon as a new model comes up. What happens to all these electronic gadgets when we’ve finished with them? Some can be recycled but most end up being dumped. When it comes to the end of life for a traditional book, the final resting place is seldom final. Books rot and they burn and they can also be pulped to make more paper or card. The fact that all e-readers whether Kindles or Nooks or whatever are intermediate technology means that there is going to be an ever increasing pile of obsolete ones to add to the mountain of discarded technology.

   The last and most nebulous of my objections to e-readers is the clinical and non-sensual aspect. They hold nothing of the organic world in the way that a paper book does; the folded down ends, the finger marks, the scent of paper and leather, the personal ephemeral memories like a four leafed clover from a summer meadow. I found a book for my daughter from my university days a few weeks back; the margins were littered with my pencilled in notes and comments and indeed those of the person who owned my book before me. While the Kindle allows you to annotate and highlight and indeed, see which parts of a book others have done that to, there is a coldness about this that for me at least would not bring back the memories my scribbling in a Latin poem did. Reading my notes, I was instantly back in a lecture theatre and could picture who I was sitting with and even feel for a second my ancient and decrepit old jeans that were disintegrating around me. The Kindle is too clean for that sort of memory to stick.

The e-reader is a boon for book-lovers and for authors but it is not going to totally replace the traditional book. The two are far from being mutually incompatible, and I intend to buy books I have enjoyed in either medium. Whatever means a book is delivered by does not change the book in its essence but may alter the experience of reading it.

Once more, horses for courses. You pays your money and you takes your choice.

A book review

I just had a lovely review over at : http://creativebarbwire.wordpress.com/2010/06/24/book-review-strangers-pilgrims-by-vivienne-tuffnell/

I am really rather chuffed!

My New Book

As the observant among my readers have already noticed, and some of you already knew, I’ve just launched my first novel. First to be published, that is; I’ve been writing a long time.

I confess I feel a bit awkward about this post because I’m someone who finds the process of self-promotion excruiatingly uncomfortable. I wasn’t brought up to “blow my own trumpet”, to sound my own praises. I’m old-fashioned British, if you like. But the world moves on, and uncomfortable as it is, the author needs to do some book promotion, even when she’d rather just shove it at you all and squeak, “There it is. Enjoy!” and run away, crimson with blushes.

I’m glad you can’t see me now, for that reason. Beetroot meets tomato, if you like.

The central premise of this book is that even strong, able people break down beyond the power of their own recuperation, due to the hand Life can deal them. I’ve been there. You probably have too. But have you ever sat at the computer, in the small hours of the morning, thinking, you really can’t go on, that “My heart is broken and I am dying inside”? Each of the six protagonists in the book come to this point, and in this space of despair, type those words into an internet search engine, and start the strangest and most powerful journey of their lives.

This is a book for a seeker, a book for those who wonder “What if?”. It’s a book that draws you into the world of each of the six characters and keeps you there. J said he wanted those six as his friends, and didn’t want the book to end because then that time with them would be over.

It’s not chicklit, it’s not murder mystery, it’s not vampires, it’s not spies or cops and robbers and it’s not romance. In fact, it’s quite hard to categorise because it doesn’t fit into any easy genre slot. It is itself and that’s probably the best way any book should be. If you’ve been through or are going through major life challenges, this is the book for you. It might be fiction, or it might not; there’s an ambiguity about the events that you need to make up your own mind about. But fiction or not, it’s also true in ways that go beyond literature.

The book is available as a paperback from Amazon, but it’s also available as a download, if you prefer that: http://www.lulu.com/product/strangers-pilgrims/6169550

I’d appreciate feedback if and when people read it; and if you like it, add a review at Amazon. Every little helps!