HUZZAH! Books on Shelves of Stores!

For those of you who wish to fondle before you purchase, copies of Terribilis and Dirk Danger Loves Life are now on shelves of select locations of Chapters/Indigo/Cole’s Bookshops across the Dominion of Canada! 

For those of you desiring photographic evidence, behold the images below!

This represents a personal first: never before – as far as I am aware – have books published by me been on offer in a bookstore anywhere in the world. Yes, they’ve been available on ‘virtual shelves’, as well as being available for order through ‘bricks and mortar’ locations of stores, but not actually sitting on shelves waiting for people to discover them for immediate purchase. This is a happy thing.

Also, for those of you who love all things old – both books in paper form and stop-​​motion animation without computer generated imaging, for example – here is a short animated film of such accomplishment I cannot begin to comprehend the amount of work involved in it.

This Week's Fish-Wrap №45: This Daft Publishing Life (A Primer)

Early last week, the Canadian Distributor of Atomic Fez titles – Author’s Choice – received an order from Chapters /​ Indigo /​ Coles for a substantial number of copies of Terribilis and Dirk Danger Loves Life. Huzzah! Exposure in shops at last!

Metrotown location of Chapters/Indigo
Metrotown location of Chapters/​Indigo

Well, actually, possibly not; plus it might not be the best time to break out the champagne and caviar and dispense with the beer and hot dog budget either. You see, this isn’t anything quite like a “guaranteed river of money” situation. In years past I’ve sometimes been surprised at the seniority and years of experience which authors and readers alike might possess, yet they’ve not much idea of the business specifics of the retail selling of books. So as to further the understanding of all, here’s how things come top play in this daft publishing life thing. Besides, it’s something that I have to remind myself of in order to keep in mind how insane this whole notion is to begin with.

Also, please note that all Atomic Fez books have been in the Chapters/Indigo/Cole’s catalogue since the agreement with Author’s Choice about a year ago (click here to see the titles). Due to the same agreement, you can also locate Atomic Fez books in the Amazon.ca (click here to see the titles) and Amazon.com catalogues (click here to see the titles). So, this isn’t a change, except for the actual quantity of copies ordered.

Here’s how these things work: Chapters calls the distributor in Ontario with orders for books they’d like in the warehouse, and then either the distributor tells me to ship them a big shed-​​load of boxes like last week, or – more frequently – the distributor parcels-​​up the four copies of some title and those get sent to Chapters’ warehouse. Typically Author’s Choice has no more than one box of anyone’s book in stock, as they are only a small distributor, and not a warehousing or storage firm. Once the books head to the warehouse of Chapters/Indigo/Cole’s for their inventory, anything can happen and I’ll not know a thing about it. Yes, copies could be sent to some of the 247 Indigo, Chapters and Cole’s stores across Canada, or they could merely hang-​​on to them in the warehouse to supply their on-​​line orders through Chapters.Indigo.com (the same as I do through this site’s ordering), or they could do a little of both. Again, I have no idea what they’re doing, and I won’t ever know until either someone stumbles across copies on a shelf and tells someone, or I stumble across an inventory entry on their web-​​site (and that would take a concerted effort of experimentation with searching through the item’s status using major population centres). So, basically, if someone sees some copies, they really ought to take a picture of them, then send me a copy.

This is the first time – as far as I know – that a shop has ordered copies ‘on spec’ of an Atomic Fez title. I’ve sent occasional copies to wholesalers and shops both in the UK and in North America, but as they’ve been very small amounts, they’ve probably been ordered by customers. I’ve never, never seen any book I’ve published on a store shelf, either in person or even in a photo, with both outfits I’ve worked with. So this is an excellent thing.

WH Smith Train Station shop (c. 1933)
WH Smith Train Station shop (c. 1933)

But.

Here’s where things get stupid with this publishing industry thing.

All 268 books that were just sent to Ontario could very well be returned to me come April. Because all Atomic Fez books are “returnable” by retailers (as most publishers do), shops are more interested in carrying them, because their risk having them is eliminated. Likewise, their costs are further reduced by the fact that I pay for the shipping there and back, plus they get charged 40% or so less than the RRP so that they can sell at a profit (which is a business-​​like idea, obviously). Likewise, shops pay when they’ve actually sold the books; although not by design, but due to the delay in paying happening to fall outside the point at which they’ve returned the un-​​sold ones.

now keep in mind that I’ve not only paid for those books to be printed months ago, plus get them shipped from the printers to the house here, I’ve also just paid about $300 to ship a bunch of them to Ontario to the distributor. the distributor will now get those boxes to Chapters/Indigo’s Distribution Centre, at a cost which will be deducted from any sales earnings. Once the books are decided to be “too old” and the remaining amount is sent back, once again the cost of transport is borne by the Distributor and Publisher. Yes, I get to pay for shipping in both directions, and that’s an industry standard arrangement for a large chain. You should hear the sorts of things that Amazon.com fully expect to be done at a minimum for them by the bog houses like Random House, Simon & Shuster, and so on. It’s a wonder there’s not sacrificing of pets and virgins involved sometimes, given the lengths of demands.

It used to be that books could prove themselves on the shelvesas being “something that sells” through a three-​​month period or longer, which would permit reviews as well as ‘word-​​of-​​mouth’ to drive sales, plus the staff would get to know the book at least by reputation. Early this year Chapters/​Indigo changed their period to only 46 days, which doesn’t even give books a chance to actually gather dust. Honestly, the notion that this is enough time for someone to read a review, decide they want a copy for their birthday/​Christmas, tell a relative, the relative then gets time to go to the store, then remembers the name of the book… it can easily be out of stock in the store. This is another reason why the on-​​line reviews excellent people do works wonders, as the text on various web-​​sites – Amazon, Goodreads, LibraryThing, and many of the new Canadian public library sites – acts as further advertising and proof that ‘someone actually read this book’, thus encouraging others to try them out.

Bottomless pit of books
Bottomless pit of books

The reason Chapters/​Indigo changed the length of the shelf-​​life for titles, in my opinion anyway, was due to reduced floor space for books when they switched to being a Home Design Shop as well as a book store. Thus, inventory they haven’t invested money in building themselves (as all the rugs, clocks, pillows, candles, etc. are designed and created by Indigo) needs to work harder to keep their space, or ‘earn their space’, if you will.

And therein lies the under-​​pinning problem of the whole thing that really needs a re-​​think in not just publishing, but just about any manufacturing industry. Publishers pay authors, artists, printers, distributors, shippers, eBook formatting people, and everyone else in advance of even taking a single order, never mind making a sale. The best comparison here is the lottery: you buy some quantity of tickets and hope that one will return more than the amount you spent, but there is no guarantee of any return. I publish books with the hope they will sell, but I front the cost of printing as many copies as I can spend money to get, and then do what I can to ensure people will part with their cash so that I can then publish some new titles, with exactly the same principle guiding the manifestation. That’s fine, really, and it’s the same as if you were paying the ante for a poker game, and that is another good comparison to this. 

But, when the big retail stores get involved, it’s even more serious an ante, as the combination of shipping charges and wholesale discounts on large orders (which may not ever sell a single copy) mean that I not only pay for the production of the books that never sell, I get to pay for moving them all over the place because they didn’t sell, thus losing even more money than just the cost of manufacturing. Remember, once a massive order is placed by Bob’s Big Book Box, say 1,000 copies (which is insane compared to my situation), then those thousand are tied-​​up in the warehouse of the store, leaving me with whatever I got printed over and above the thousand I just sent to Bob’s. So, do I run another 250 or 500 copies of the books, and gamble the thousand at Bob’s won’t all return to me in a few months’ time so I then have 1,500 books filling the basement, or do I run the risk that a bunch of people will order copies from me direct and I’ll not have any more left because I didn’t order a new run of copies? Besides, those thousand copies  Bob’s won’t pay me for any sooner than about four months from the day they take delivery, and even if they did pay me for the whole lot immediately, if they all get returned un-​​sold, then I have to return those funds as they were for “books sold” which didn’t happen in the end. See?

Books heading for the trimmer at MPG Biddles
Books heading for the trimmer at MPG Biddles

The entire thing is a daft notion. Lord knows why anyone would want to even try this, never mind keep at it, which is obviously why I need to get a day-​​job. The ‘cost of doing business’ is always something that makes or breaks a business, but it really feels like the book trade has it staked against itself even more than others do.

This is another reason that the entire supply-​​chain of books needs a complete re-​​think, as well as who knows how many other manufacturing cycles for goods. As far as I’m concerned, the eBook is perfect to replace the obscenely wasteful production standards of the Mass-​​Market Paperback, for which many publishers pre-​​determine the amount of copies in a run which will be pulped at numbers typically around 33% and 45%. Yes, they actually budget throwing away nearly half the run, knowing that they’ll be damaged on shelves, and then not be bought, or they’ll get dinged in transport to and from various distribution centres and warehouses. the additional reason is that the price for running ten-​​thousand copies of a title can actually sometimes be less than printing 7,500 copies (or at least it’s often a good third or more per unit to run the larger figure), thus making the throwing away of part of the run actually cheaper than printing less of them in the first place.

There’s so much in this industry which works on the basis of the economics of supply and demand of the late-​​1800s, as well as the levels of available resources of that period, it’s a wonder that books are even still available in the same form as that time.

But, we continue. Onwards!

“This Week’s Fish Wrap” is an on-​​​​​​going series of posts summing up the news of the previous seven days in the publishing industry, and/​or announce the latest news Atomic Fez has about the publishing house, and appears here each Monday. It’s also quite possible that the posts merely serve as a dumping ground of links so that Atomic Fez Proprietor Ian Alexander Martin can find articles later to include in his occasional rants about how ‘EVERYONE ELSE IS ENTIRELY WRONG’ about various things.

This Week's Fish Wrap (№44): Free Fiction for Folks!

Not so much of an ‘up-​​date’ as a “here’s something you’ll like” sort of post this week.

Lobby of Atomic Fez HQ (or JFK’s Terminal 6, it’s tough to tell the difference sometimes)
Lobby of Atomic Fez HQ (or JFK’s Terminal 6, it’s tough to tell the difference sometimes)

Carol Weekes, the author of Terribilis, has posted a couple of short stories on her blog. This gives you the chance to read some of her other work either after you’ve read her novel, or as an “enticer” for it.

The two tales are:

  • Neurosis”, which first appeared in 69 FLAVOURS OF PARANOIA, Issue #4; and
  • Snowfall”, which first appeared in THE EDGE, Issue #7, edited by Greg Gifune

Also worth noting is that her novel is available on Kobo at the sale price of $499 as part of their “Great Reads for $4.99 or Less” category. HEAD HERE to locate that on their site.

ONE FINAL NOTE ABOUT 'THAT HOLIDAY'

Deadlines for ordering of printed books from the North American Shipping Depot in time for the 25th of December are as follows:

  • INSIDE CANADA: December 10th
  • TO THE USA: December 6th
  • UK & OTHERS: November 29th (although much of this last category is covered from the UK Centre; those dates to come soon)

Thank you all for your continued support and interest.

“This Week’s Fish Wrap” is an on-​​​​​​going series of posts summing up the news of the previous seven days in the publishing industry, and/​or announce the latest news Atomic Fez has about the publishing house, and appears here each Monday. It’s also quite possible that the posts merely serve as a dumping ground of links so that Atomic Fez Proprietor Ian Alexander Martin can find articles later to include in his occasional rants about how ‘EVERYONE ELSE IS ENTIRELY WRONG’ about various things.

This Week's Fish Wrap (№43): We're Not in Kansas Anymore, Toto

Oddly enough, this hasn’t been the expected result of being born in British Columbia of two parents who were both also born in the province, and two of whose parents in turn were born in Canada (one of the other two being born in Newfoundland, which at the time was a British Colony; the other in Northern Ireland), and as far as I can tell there’s more English and Irish than anything else about me, but what can I do when the facts of the matter are clearly delineated?

Atomic Fez Publishing, apparently, is a Welsh outfit, and is part of a cabal bent on promulgating the Welsh agenda of dominating the world with the literature of the country “where the land meets the sky”: Cymru. From Bro Morgannwg to Ynys Môn, from Sir Benfro to Wrecsam, around here it’s all about the “land of my fathers”, even if it doesn’t happen to have anything to do with any of my fore-​​fathers or mothers (see above).

Baner Cymru
Baner Cymru

Some of you might be wondering what I’m blethering about, and the rest no doubt are merely reading this far in order to discover if there’s a new sale price on something or a contest, or whatever.

I’ve occasionally joked about being secretly Welsh, or that I only have dealings with Welsh people. This was usually after someone had pointed out the number of Welsh authors Atomic Fez has published. Given that the books Wicked Delights and Twisthorn Bellow by John Llewellyn Probert and Rhys Hughes (and with names like that, what else could their Country of Origin be?) formed 50% of the initial catalogue, who could blame people for the confusion?

The thing is, it doesn’t stop there, you see. The covers of Twisthorn Bellow, Ponthe Oldenguine, and The Terror and the Tortoiseshell were all done by Steve Upham, who runs Screaming Dreams and was both born and raised in South Wales, where he continues to be quite Welsh. The cover for Dirk Danger Loves Life was done by Terry Cooper, who lives in Cardiff Bay (the area; he doesn’t actually live in the bay itself). This brings the number of book covers being designed in Wales to four out of the seven total titles.

Carrying on, any order placed by people in the United Kingdom (which is comprised of Wales and the bits on the other side of the Severn River [England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and various tiny islands around it]) or Europe receive their book(s) thanks to the continuing packaging and posting efforts of one Christopher Teague, who runs Pendragon Press from a teeny-​​tiny post office box located in Maesteg at the northernmost end of the Llynfi Valley, close to the border with Neath Port Talbot; and its name, plus the names of the other locations – plus their singular shortage of vowels – ought to tip you off about the country it’s in.

Now, with all of that, you’d think we were done. But no.

It turns out that the winner of the signed copy of Dirk Danger Loves Life happens to live in Newport (or Casnewydd), a city and unitary authority area in Wales, which stands on the banks of the River Usk, is located about 12 miles (19 km) east of Cardiff, and is the largest urban area within the historic county boundaries of Monmouthshire and the preserved county of Gwent. Plus, as if that’s not enough, they are a distant relative of the author of the book, Chris Rothe, and that side of the family has substantial roots in Wales. Thus, three of the books in the catalogue of sent titles are written by Welshmen.

Later this week I’ll be meeting and signing a publishing agreement with an author whose book will not likely be released until the spring of 2013. Their novel is based in and around the country of Wales. He lives in Wales, and a few months ago lived in a part of the country which was so very Welsh that one couldn’t get any further from other countries without the need of a dory. His girlfriend is not only Welsh, she speaks Cymraeg and is fluent, fer Pete’s sake!

Thus, I give-​​up. Yes, there’s Terribilis by Carol Weekes, the story set in and around the Ottawa region where she is born and bred; certainly there’s The Beautiful Red by James Cooper, who lives in Nottinghamshire; absolutely there’s The Terror and the Tortoiseshell by Wakefield’s finest John Travis; without a doubt Andrew Hook, author of Ponthe Oldenguine, lives and set his book in the area of Norwich… these are nothing but an artifice covering the truth of the matter: in actual fact Atomic Fez is run specifically for the betterment of those who know that while it’s true mae na orsaf petrol yn Yr Orseddond mae does dim byd yna i weld yno (there is a petrol station in Rossett, but there’s nothing to see there).

If you wish to experience the Welsh tongue [pauses for someone near back to chortle with filthy intent] there are a number of places on the web to gain some language skills. You would be wise to be careful about the matter, however, because one site providing a list of phrases in the native language disturbingly provides something akin to a run-​​down of dialogue during an encounter with a particularly unsatisfactory result:

Croeso I Gymru!!
Croeso I Gymru!!

I can’t speak Welsh [well].
Alla i ddim siarad Cymraeg [yn dda]. (Alh’a ee thim SHARad kym-​​RYE-​​g [uhn tha])

Do you speak English?
Ydych chi’n siarad Saesneg? (UD-​​ich ch’een SHARad SAYES-​​neg?)

Is there someone here who speaks English?
Oes rhywun yma sy’n siarad Saesneg? (Oyss RHEEW-​​in UMma seen SHARad SAYES-​​neg?)

Help!
Help! (Help)

Look out!
Hendiwch! (HEN-dyoo’ch!)

I’ve not changed a thing with that order, nor left anything out. HEAD HERE to confirm this (scroll down a teensy bit to locate its start).

I can only conclude in the obvious way: Cymru am byth!!!

“This Week’s Fish Wrap” is an on-​​​​​​going series of posts summing up the news of the previous seven days in the publishing industry, and/​or announce the latest news Atomic Fez has about the publishing house, and appears here each Monday. It’s also quite possible that the posts merely serve as a dumping ground of links so that Atomic Fez Proprietor Ian Alexander Martin can find articles later to include in his occasional rants about how ‘EVERYONE ELSE IS ENTIRELY WRONG’ about various things.

WINNERS: Signed Copies of Two Different Titles

Back a ways, we announced two contests for copies of the two September titles below. Two copies of each book are to be signed and personalised to the winners, one copy of each for “North America” and “UK and Others”. In the case of Terribilis, both winners receive a copy of the book in the ‘hardback binding’ (which is not available in North America).

The winners are:

Dirk Danger Loves Life
Dirk Danger Loves Life
Terribilis
Terribilis

 

Dirk Danger Loves Life

 
Christine Taylor
Newport, UK
 

Renee Johnston
Tweed, Ontario, Canada

 
Terribilis

 
Patricia Esposito
St. Charles, Illinois, USA
 

Renee Johnston
Tweed, Ontario, Canada

[owing to a shortage of valid UK entries, North American
entries were included in the drawing for this title]

Congratulations to those three people (and extra congratulations to Ms. Johnston for her win which defies normal rules about ‘standard variations governing probabilities of occurrence’), as well as sincere thanks to everyone who ordered copies of these titles and others as well.

A Warm Fuzzy Feeling

Twitter Page showing Ellis' RT
Twitter Page showing Ellis’ RT

The combined excitement of The September Sell-​​A-​​Bration and the two contests for signed copies of Terribilis and Dirk Danger Loves Life among those ordered all comes to an end on Sunday.

Now, now, stop sobbing like that… you still have a little time.

In the meantime, let’s all give Uncle Warren a big hug for the encouragement he extended to Atomic Fez. Have a look on either side of the screen for two versions of the same thing: him tweeting a copy of the original one – the kids call it “Re-​​Tweeting” or “RT-​​ing” I’m told – to his crowd of followers numbering 418,978 souls.

Twitter Page showing Ellis' RT
Twitter Page showing Ellis’ RT

Sometimes it’s the littlest thing which can too easily be over-​​looked that can be so very affecting.

I recommend highly his slim novel Crooked Little Vein: A Novel (also available in Kindle Edition) as being quite mad and highly entertaining, but you can pretty much find just about anything he’s written is damned good (even if he’s not published by Atomic Fez… yet).

Enjoy your week-​​end.

Things You Missed Last Week (№42): Competition is Competitive

For about a couple of weeks now, I have been predicting my own demise. Not too surprising, the usual estimate for each human being’s chance of death is 100%, after all. However, I’m speaking of ‘me’ as a publisher.

Scribner’s submissions readers deciding what to do with latest arrivals (Parker Brothers Ouija Board advert, Dec. 1969)
Scribner’s submissions readers deciding what to do with latest arrivals (Parker Brothers Ouija Board advert, Dec. 1969)

No, no; I’m not making some heavy-​​handed statement of portentous variety regarding lack of sales, quality of submissions, or the economy in general. I’m thinking in realistic terms about the likelihood and viability of publishers as ‘literary gate keepers’ or ‘curators of quality books’. I don’t foresee this as being something which either the reading public or the creative authors considering as tenable in the years to come.

Ever since someone said to Homer (no, not the yellow guy, the ancient Greek poet) “that’s great writing, but I don’t think we’ll be making copies of that story for people… try Demonites down the road, maybe he’s got room in his catalogue”, the Publisher has had control over what the public can read. Yes, there have been some notable exceptions to this power – DH Lawrence’s Lady Chatterly’s Lover, TE Lawrence’s (no relation) Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph, and James Joyce’s Ulysses–but mostly due to either “unprintable words” or the fact that publishers thought no one would like to read a book about people living in Arabia. Publisher’s aren’t alone in making foolish oversights: the man at Capital Records, UK must still bemoan his note stating “people no longer are interested in Rock & Roll bands” after listening to the audition tapes for The Beatles, to the great gain of EMI.

As a side note, the nasty aspect of this attitude of “only we can declare what is ‘worthy’ of your reading time” manifests itself in murmurings such as the recent decrying of “readability” as something the Mann Booker Prize Jury considered as part of their deliberations. Apparently when deciding what is good fiction one isn’t supposed to ask questions like “is it fun to read?” and one should limit oneself to “is it good for you?” Poppycock, say I, and so does Graham Joyce, the currently Acting Chairman of the British Fantasy Society (but then, he would, wouldn’t he?) in his piece titled “Don’t Confuse ‘Readability’ with ‘Dumbing Down’ ”. As much as I’d like to take a piece out of the attitude that “fun” is akin to “low brow” or even “sinful”, the real problem here is that it’s thought to be ‘of reduced quality’. I’d be hard-​​pressed to locate a musician who can play much of the music of King Crimson, Queen, or Steely Dan, but it sure is fun! Complicated, complex, intricate, and brilliant, absolutely! But don’t confuse it’s “fun quality” with it being ‘easy’, or ‘popular’ with being ‘sub-​​par’!

Just after the start of the millennium, there was a big resurgence in the “why can’t we just print copies ourselves?” school of thinking, and three things resulted directly from this:

  1. small press formed in the vein of the Bloomsbury Generation style where everyone ran their own house and acted as launderers of literary works by their friends, or published works they truly believed in and nurtured them to perfection
  2. people truly self-​​published (sometimes using an editor but frequently not, more’s the pity)
  3. unscrupulous bastards started “author’s fulfilment houses’ which basically sucked every single cent out of the authors who innocently handed over all their worldly assets in order to see their name on the front cover of a book

I don’t see this as a bad thing (with the exception of the third, which is all bad plus a bag of chips). Some suggest that “it’s good for people to release crap that ought to have been edited, never mind proofed, as then the readers will understand just how valuable the publisher is!” This is the argument of the grumpy, self-​​important, and bitter. The reading of low-​​quality writing isn’t anything but harmful to everyone who writes, for this can only lead in the long term to people being ‘turned off’ to the joys of reading. I decry this situation and those who see it as good even in the short-​​term. Self-​​publishers should be encouraged to use editors and proof-​​readers for the simple reason it makes their work better in the same way it improved the works of  Dickens, Joyce, Christie, Atwood, and every other writer you can think of.

The principle that I see being served is that of “providing an increased choice of material”. There are only so many books I can publish, no matter my desire. There are only so many books Simon & Shuster or Random House can put out each week. The more books which are made available, the greater the selection available.

Around the same time as the above three points came to pass, there was a common view that a narrower and narrower variety of books were being released; especially in the UK bookshops. There were oodles of new books coming out, have no doubt! But they were all of a piece: homogeneous in style, length, story, and often even in their cover art. The notion that “fantastical fiction” (SF, Fantasy, Horror, or amalgam of all three plus some other things as well) might see the surface of a shelf in a store was anathema to the large-​​house publishers, as the Big Boys® were of the opinion that ‘people aren’t buying those sorts of books any more’ and then they’d chuckle in that superior way of someone who had all of the answers.

However, obviously the large houses’ eschewing of SF&F titles was correct in one simple way. People such as Orion, Spectra, and Del-​​Ray were keeping things going as well as they could, but if you don’t release lots of SF&F titles, then it’s quite difficult for anyone to buy lots of lots of SF&F titles. QED.

So, a large number of people who loved ‘those sorts of books’ decided to do something about it and started small presses in the UK and North America so as to release either their own work, the work of others whose writing was in many instances excellent, as well as long out-​​of-​​print titles which couldn’t be found in anything but the rarest editions. Things were furthered by word-​​of-​​mouth and the development of superior “digital printing techniques” which made the printing of books in quantities as small as 200 the same wholesale cost per unit as doing a run of eight hundred or a thousand using traditional lithographic /​ offset techniques. Hooray!

Fast forward to today, and the matter gets a great deal easier for the author or “hobby” publisher to release works, as well as those such as myself who make this a full-​​time concern.

The main benefit to the author or “hobby” publisher is Amazon for various reasons, but they all come down to being a single source of solutions to every imaginable problem: electronic books (Kindle Direct Publishing, née “Digital Text Platform”), as well as paperback and hardback books (Create Space) can be had easily as well as providing a place to sell them to the world (Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.fr, Amazon.de, Amazon.jp) and the author/​publisher can keep a piece of the retail action if they set-​​up their links correctly (Amazon Associates Programme).

The side-​​effect of this is that Amazon has essentially destroyed the necessity of the “bricks and mortars” store, especially the independent book shop. There is no conceivable way for even a ‘big box’ book retailer to have close to the selection of titles that Amazon has on its sites. Even Chapters.Indigo.ca has a far larger selection than the biggest location you can walk into. The average small– or one-​​location bookstore owner has to compete in the only way they can: by specialisation in a particular content type.

There are other ways, obviously, as WH Smith has started to do recently, as their deal with Kobo looks far more to the future than simply making space in their stores for the hardware and their site for the eBooks by connecting with the largest eBook catalogue in the world. Again, the approach here is the re-​​gain the customers both through their stores as well as individual homes or offices (or wherever they’re using their computers).

In addition to adding eBooks to the shop, the other way a ‘high street’ operation can compete with the vast selection of titles offered on line is to install the Espresso Book Machine, something which has been around for a number of years now, and seems to arrived at an iteration which offers both decent-​​enough quality and reasonably good value for reader, store-​​owner, publisher and author alike. Next week I’ll babble about that here.

Next week will also see the announcement of winners in the two “get your book signed to you by the author!” contests, so head over to order your copies of Dirk Danger Loves Life and Terribilis today! This week is also your final opportunity to get both printed editions and eBooks on sale, so head to the Book Catalogue to fill your basket. 

“This Week’s Fish Wrap” is an on-​​​​​​going series of posts summing up the news of the previous seven days in the publishing industry, and/​​or announce the latest news Atomic Fez has about the publishing house, and appears here each Monday. It’s also quite possible that the posts merely serve as a dumping ground of links so that Atomic Fez Proprietor Ian Alexander Martin can find articles later to include in his occasional rants about how ‘EVERYONE ELSE IS ENTIRELY WRONG’ about various things.

Things You Missed Last Week (№41): The Ever-Changing Retail World [UPDATED]

Before we get into anything ‘newsy’, let’s have a look at what’s been consuming me nearly steady for a couple of weeks or more on the main site: “platform compatibility”.

There were a few things I didn’t like about the main site, but didn’t much feel like trying to hard-​​code the HTML and so on. There are ways to do just about anything on a site, but unless you want to have nested tables galore, complicated style-​​sheets with floating location specifics, and a shed-​​load of other things I can’t even spell, it wasn’t easy. Possible, yes; but not easy.

Then an old friend of mine said “you know, I think we should re-​​do my site again”. So, I poked around a bit trying to find some way to do what I knew had to be easier now that HTML standards have actually become more… well, standardised. Heavens be praised, things have gotten far easier and more compliant across various browsers. No longer do Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Safari make things look so different you wonder if you’re looking at the same site sometimes!

The new headache: multiple viewing devices with screens anywhere from a mobile handset all the way up to a Cinema Display. Something that looks great on your 28″ wide-​​screen monitor isn’t going to look great on a 3 1/​2″ phone. Plus, even if it does look decent, there’s a hell of a lot of scrolling to be done on that tiny screen to find the bit on the page you want.

So… after a steep learning curve shoving the knowledge of multi-​​media aware style sheets into my tiny brain, he’s got his site, and I’ve got the same sort of stuff going on here as well. Hooray!

All of that sounds quite geeky, but what it comes down to is that, no matter how you’re looking at the main part of the site (as opposed to this blog; I’ve still got to sort this part out), it’ll adjust to the screen you’re looking at it with, and the site will look pretty as well as be practical.

Here’s how things looked on the three major screen dimensions originally (using a post from a week ago as an example; click for embiggenization):

Full-Size View of Page
Full-​​Size View of Page
Tablet View of Page
Tablet View of Page
Smartphone View of Page
Smartphone View of Page

Basically, what you have is an increasingly smaller section of the top left corner.

Here’s how it looks on the three major dimensions now (again, click for embiggenization)!

NEW Full-Size View of Page
NEW Full-​​Size View of Page
NEW Tablet View of Page
NEW Tablet View of Page
NEW Smartphone View of Page
NEW Smartphone View of Page

Quite an improvement! Now the navigation buttons adjust where they are as the screen narrows in, plus the header graphic changes to take-​​up less space. When you get small enough for the smartphone, everything turns into a long, single column arrangement, no longer requiring things to work much wider than a single picture (because that’s all the width we’ve got really).

With 16% of traffic to the site identifying itself as a tablet (to say nothing of monitors using resolutions near tablet-​​dimensions), it’s important for any site to have these things in mind, but especially when you’re selling eBooks which some people want to read on their tablets, iPods, or smartphones.

In theory, it should be so easy to use now you shouldn’t notice any change has happened until it’s pointed out to you. However, I hope you find the site easier to use as a result.

   

Electronic Sales v. Retail Sales v. On-Line Retail Electronic Sales

Apparently, WH Smith and Kobo have teamed up to provide equipment for the people to read their eBooks on. Kobo supplies the back-​​end to the WH Smith site, plus possibly arranges for re-​​branding their wi-​​fi touch-​​screen readers (which will be the first in the UK) with the high-​​street shop’s logo. It’s the second time Kobo has scored a European deal, as they announced a deal in France just the week prior to the UK deal with WH Smith, and only a few days after the announcement of the Kindle France Store opening.

The move is a smart one for both the UK and French firms, apparently. According to Bloomsbury executive director Richard Charkin speaking to delegates at Frankfurt Book Fair as part of a Google panel about e-​​books, if retailers are to compete with Amazon, they have to create their own devices to sell to people, presumably to keep the customer inside their particular garden. It’s worked quite well for both Apple and Amazon, as both companies have found ways to not only sell equipment to people, but the content to go on that equipment as well. “One stop shopping”, if you will. Add to that houses such as Hyperion as well as Macmillan Bellow and others finally realizing they can make people happy by re-​​releasing their back catalogues and actually have people buy the stuff that’s been out of print and un-​​available for years (and it’s about bloody time, say I), the sooner the shops get wise to the ways of the Big Companies Who Are Beating Them At Their Own Game, the better.

It’s a bit of a losing proposition, though, as the UK has been seen as the worst nation to protect the chains. Some might see that as a damned good thing. Maybe there’s a point there, too. However, the independents flourish by being able to point at the major shops and say “we deliver something they can’t: speciality in selection”. Thus, if all the big stores up and disappear, then the independents will suddenly have to make a go of it without the large stores to do their constant barrage of advertising which serves to remind everyone that “books is good”. It seems a bit odd, suggesting that the little guys are served well by the big guys plastering their 3-​​for-​​2 sales everywhere, but there is a give-​​and-​​take relationship where both sides benefit from each other more than is apparent initially. Certainly it’s a more balanced relationship than the competition between high street shops and the Sainsbury’s of the world (and there’ll be a digital edge to that one soon), and one which John Lecarré now admits he was part of the push that opened to the door to.

Granted, if the big publishers and the large distribution corps keep slapping DRM all over everything, the more electronic reading devices there are out there, the faster and more frustrating the arrival at “but I can’t read my book now” will be. If you buy a book through Amazon, then try to read it on your iPad using Amazon’s app, you might find that book’s digital lock isn’t iOS 5 compliant. Or, possibly, the book you bought at Penguin’s site might not be something your Sony Reader wants to open for you. Why not? Well, it’s the Digital Rights Management that prevents you “trying to do something that’s not allowed”: basically, anything they hadn’t thought about two years ago. Even if your eBook file opens on your Samsung tablet today, who’s to say the next Android operating system up-​​grade won’t do something ever-​​so-​​slightly differently than it used to, the file’s pre-​​programmed settings have a look at things, don’t recognize the way things are done as “correct”, and then shut the door and refuse to open it again.

This is why Atomic Fez sells all its eBooks clean of DRM. You should be able to read that eBook file on whatever equipment you’ve got today, tomorrow, and in the next decade. People basically are honest. You’re not going to try to sell CDs of the books on a street corner next week. Publishers have more trouble getting people to buy any books these days, and really ought to stop worrying about people buying books “the right way”.

Price eBooks fairly, skip the DRM rubbish, drag out the books that have been out-​​of-​​print for a couple of decades and do the same, and everyone’s happy.

Seems simple, doesn’t it?

UPDATE: Over on FutureBook (part of “The BookSeller”), there’s a post explaining how Kobo’s recent in-​​roads in Europe actually demonstrate how it’s better at market penetration than both Apple and Kindle. Mostly, it’s because of the minimum of DRM-​​control and lack of “you buy from us, yo0u read with us, you are owned by us” approach to things, thus completely contrary to the other two big players.

  

“This Week’s Fish Wrap” is an on-​​​​going series of posts summing up the news of the previous seven days in the publishing industry, and/​or announce the latest news Atomic Fez has about the publishing house, and appears here each Monday. It’s also quite possible that the posts merely serve as a dumping ground of links so that Atomic Fez Proprietor Ian Alexander Martin can find articles later to include in his occasional rants about how ‘EVERYONE ELSE IS ENTIRELY WRONG’ about various things.

Hooray for JLP! (or "Promo Proberto: Sound Use of Your Time")

This Saturday John Llewellyn Probert can be seen at The Dracula Society’s autumn meeting in London, who are hosting “An Evening with JLP (and puppets!)”, where he shall read, be interviewed, and then the Lord & Lady Probert shall perform their little stage show again (which explains how the puppets got involved).

For those of you not in London (aka: “the Centre of All Known Culture”) that particular evening, herewith is a videographic record – complete! with colour! and sound! – of the Brighton performance of Blood on Satan’s Claw (The Pantomime), presented for your entertainment by Theatro Proberto! Thanks to Martin Roberts for his mad skillz with video production (not the least of which is his ability to shoot live on-​​stage insanity with nary a clue what’s about to happen).

Those ‘in the know’ regarding Mr. Probert’s writing will recognise this is not the first time he has attended an event of the Dracula Society’s creation. No no! He won the “Children of the Night Award” in 2006 for his collection The Faculty of Terror, which is a dashed good read (even if it was published by some other house [judgemental sniff])

But wait! There’s more JLP fun! You can also revel in his genius by reading THIS INTERVIEW over on the web-​​site Read Horror. It’s a bit of a shock, one realises. “JLP reads… [gasp!] horror?!? It’s too much to take in at once!” Yet, he does. He obviously also writes horror, watches horror, and even performs horror. Rumours of him eating and sleeping with horror have been found to be just that: baseless rumours.

JLP reads Horror!
JLP reads Horror!

I admit to finding the title of the blog Read Horror a tad counter to its aim, frankly. There not being a conjugated verb there, one takes the initial word to be presented in the imperitive, thus we are ordered to rush from the screen and locate something by Poe, Wilkie Collins, or Bram Stoker. If we are to to infer that the site itself presents horror, then we are destined to run from our computers screaming in terror. Adding the pronoun “we” at the front of the title would go a long way to explaining the people responsible for the content are afficianadoes and enthusiasts of the genre.

But, I digress…

In the future, we can look forward to more about Mr. Probert, as the chap at Professor Gruntsplatter’s Spookatorium wants Mr. Probert to read a story and provide a few comments on it. Specifically the good Professor – whose real name is Scott E. Candey, apparently – wants to hear the author “The Iconostasis of Imperfections”, which you can read along with by ordering a copy of Wicked Delights.

Meanwhile, he continues to work on his first novel (which Atomic Fez will publish), and write horror-​​film reviews which you can read on THIS BLOG (see, I told you he watches horror!).

To keep up to date with all things JLP, head to his official site RIGHT HERE.

Things You Missed Last Week (№40): The British Fantasy Society

Well, well, well. The British Fantasy Society (of which Atomic Fez is a member) has got itself in the newspaper again, as well as the Daily Mail and Sunday Express *. Oddly, the last time they were given space in the press resulted in a huge push to publish more female authors of horror, fantasy, and of other forms of ‘speculative fiction’, so it’ll be interesting to see what comes of this in the end.

The Logo of the British Fantasy Society
The Logo of the British Fantasy Society

I wasn’t going to say anything about this, but it all seems to be coming to a resolution, and for me not to have some sort of acknowledgement of the existence of the matter as part of this supposed “wrap-​​up of the publishing news” dog-​​and-​​pony show of mine seems a tad remiss. So, now that we can see the end of the thing, let’s whip though the main points.

It all got started when the ‘Short List’ for the British Fantasy Awards was announced and there was a great deal of space taken up in the list by Telos Publishing’s output as well the partner of one of the directors of Telos: David Howe. So far so good, except that he’s not only the chair of the BFS, which oversees the awards, he’s also the Acting Awards Administrator and thus is directly involved in the awarding of awards to winners. The votes are all tallied using a web-​​based spreadsheet, and everyone’s votes are registered using their BFS membership number and/​or their e-​​mail, so there’s no chances of his having done anything untoward at this stage.

Indeed, the BFS’s President Ramsey Campbell stated yesterday the following:

[I]t is our firm belief that no corruption or wrongdoing took place during the administration of the British Fantasy Awards, and that in this respect all awards should still stand as presented. We confirm that the summation of the votes cast was performed electronically and once the results were checked they were confirmed and verified by another member of the committee.

So, we’re all fine there; in retrospect, you understand.

During the awards, as well as right after, there was entirely a different tone to the vox populi. Given that five of the dozen awards – every single award for which they were nominated – went to either the publishing house of the Awards Admin or the lady the Daily Mail terms his “live-​​in lover” (as though the only thing that she does is snog the man silly), grumping was probably bound to occur. It just seemed a tad ‘too perfect’ for some people’s liking.

This is where Stephen Jones’s article on his web-​​site come Tuesday starts making the wheels of things turn, the title alone sufficient to getting eyebrows raised: “Putting the ‘Con’ into FantasyCon”. I urge you to read it, as there are number of excellent points to consider made within it. Note, however that “diplomatic” is not a frequently used word to describe the noted Editor and long-​​time BFS mover and shaker who is Stephen Jones. I have a great deal of respect for Mr. Jones and his accomplishments. His tastes and business acumen are excellent, and – though his selections for stories to include in his anthologies are occasionally at odds with my own – he certainly knows what he’s doing. He’s not known for the most politic in ways of expressing his views, however, and this is something I can certainly nod my head at in complete understanding, as I possess the same trait.

Anyway, the point here is that even though Mr. Howe didn’t do anything at all wrong, everyone agrees that the appearance of something possibly have been fiddled with isn’t something one should permit to exist, as it then permits someone to rightly ask the questions posed by Mr. Jones. For deeper examination of that in this situation, head over to Pádraig Ó Méalóid’s LiveJournal ENTRY HERE, as he’s got a fairly good run-​​down of the ‘optics’ of the matter. Also good is Simon Morden’s entry RIGHT HERE examining both the time line of the decisions as well as a fairly good neutral examination of both sides of ‘the saga’.

As a result of the above: Mr.Howe has resigned as Chairman of the Society; Samantha Stone has returned her “Best Novel (2010)” Award; the next FantasyCon which was to be in Corby now might not be anywhere as the organizers have backed out, there’s no definite replacement for them, and it’s not east to find a venue for 500-​​or-​​so people for a week-​​end event in an Olympic year with a great deal of ease; and Graham Joyce has agreed to take on the position of ‘Acting Chair’ until such time as an Emergency General Meeting can be held in about six weeks’ time or so. Here’s Mr. Joyce’s statement, in which he says the following to put all of the above to rest (hopefully once and for all):

Meanwhile I will charge the committee with a priority agenda, which will include overhauling the Awards system; identifying and recommending new committee members; ensuring that proper records of meetings, decisions and accounts are transparent to all members of the society; and seeking  to enfranchise a wider “Fantasy” base for the Society.
     The proposed Corby FantasyCon will not now go head and we are looking for an alternative for 2012. The situation at this moment is fluid and we will attempt to keep members informed.

Something to keep in mind at this point is that the BFS is a dashed-​​fine organization and has had far more influence than it’s often given credit. The terms “horror” or “fantasy” fiction cause people to either picture a giant, blood-​​covered chainsaw; or a dragon flying above an impossibly-​​magenta mountain peak. Both images are incorrect for about ninety percent of the literary form. The UK is especially downwards in their glance when considering the genres, seeing either of them as ‘not actually literature, you know’, yet will happily praise Edgar Allan Poe, Jules Verne, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Mervyn Peake for their Great Works of Literature. To form a society which aims to promote those sorts of works is quite brave, really. To continue to do this for so very many years is laudable, and hopefully the world of the ‘legitimate literature’ will re-​​welcome them to the fold.

If you need any more convincing of the worth of the BFS, have a look at THIS ARTICLE on the aforementioned site of Mr. Jones, and perhaps you’ll get a deeper understanding of the importance the Society has had in his career as well as the careers of others over the years. Another view on the same subject is THIS POST on the Theaker’s Quarterly and Paperbacks blog of Stephen Theaker which goes a long way to explain what effect the BFS can have on those who are less involved in the ‘pointy-​​end of the stick’ when it comes to creating or publishing ‘fantasy’, and simply like reading the stuff.

Atomic Fez is proud to be a member of the BFS and to play a part in supporting it both financially through that membership and adverts, as well as supporting its goal of promoting ‘weird’ and ‘fantastical’ fiction in all its forms.

LINKS FROM THIS ARTICLE

“This Week’s Fish Wrap” is an on-​​​​going series of posts summing up the news of the previous seven days in the publishing industry, and/​or announce the latest news Atomic Fez has about the publishing house, and appears here each Monday. It’s also quite possible that the posts merely serve as a dumping ground of links so that Atomic Fez Proprietor Ian Alexander Martin can find articles later to include in his occasional rants about how ‘EVERYONE ELSE IS ENTIRELY WRONG’ about various things.

* Non-​​UK residents ought to know that the Sunday Express is read by people who think they run the country, the Daily Mail is read by the wives of the people who actually do run the country, and the Guardian is read by people who think they ought to run the country. Those who read London’s Sun don’t care who runs it as long as she’s got a good-​​sized pair of “fun bags”. [Full credit to the writers of Yes, MinisterRETURN ↑