This is the eighth and final (for now) in a series of interviews with authors about their experiences dipping their toes into the epublishing pool.
Spinetingler Magazine: The short story market has moved over to ebooks pretty quickly. Was there ever any consideration to try and shop around Dirty Old Town and Other Stories?
Nigel Bird: I first sent off a collection of stories to a small press publisher in the hope that they’d be interested about 7 or 8 months ago. They have a collection of novellas to their name and are in the Pulp ball park.
I still haven’t heard back. Not a ‘thanks for sending’ or a ‘we have a big queue’ or ‘it’s not our cup of tea’.
I sent another collection off to another small press publication. Same thing.
Maybe I could have tried further, but the opening experiences made me feel short fiction collections weren’t going to be given a chance. I’m also getting on in years and such long periods of time between submissions don’t fit with my hopes.
What led to the decision to e-publish Dirty Old Town and Other Stories?
The coming together of a number of things.
First off, I suppose, was having a single story accepted by Untreed Reads. It was an old story of mine, ‘Into Thin Air’ a piece I pitched as an existential romance, which is what I think it is. Until I saw the submissions call the story was destined to live on my computer, mainly because I had no idea where such a thing might find a home.
It started me thinking that I could put a strong collection out that people would enjoy.
Next thing was Chris Holm’s wonderful 8 Pounds. I wanted to buy it enough to finally download the Kindle App. It’s a mightily impressive collection and I admire both his talent and courage for getting it out there. It has a great cover a good price and brilliant contents.
It was only a matter of time before I got my own Kindle and so I got one for Christmas.
Early in the New Year I got together with Allan Guthrie. He was excited about the success of his novellas Bye Bye Baby and Killing Mum and they were beginning to get the sales that such a talented writer and pair of tremendous books deserve.
Finally, I had a story back from submission. I’d been waiting to hear for about 8 months. In the end, it was a case of very nearly, but not quite. It was very frustrating to have to wait so long to hear that – it’s not as if it would have taken more than 15 minutes to read and form an opinion. It’s a story I like a lot. ‘Dirty Old Town’ it’s called. Seemed like a good title for an anthology to me.
How did you decide on the price point?
I’m new. I have a growing reputation, but not a huge one. 99 cents seemed like a bargain. People like bargains, especially if they’re buying on impulse, so it made sense.
It also feels easier to get in touch with people asking them to buy it at that price; I give my children more than that to put in the cups of homeless people.
I guess it seemed fair.
Would you like to share and or talk about the sales results so far?
Almost a week it’s been.
Amazon UK = 19
Amazon US = 25
Smashwords = 4
Any feedback from readers?
I’ve had some brilliant feedback from people I respect hugely as writers and as people.
Anthony Neil Smith said:
“My adventures in Kindleworld continue, as I find more and more goddness that you won’t find in your regular bookstores.Such as Nigel Bird’s Dirty Old Town. This is an extraordinary find. The quality of the writing, the stories, everything just got to me. Get in on this for cheap and watch the magic happen. I’d pay more than .99 for this. Like, lots of dollars more.”
so I did some middle-aged man cart-wheels.
Donald Ray Pollock said this:
“He’s a good pal of mine from across the pond and a fantastic writer. I guarantee it will be the best 99 cents you ever spent in your life!”
And there were tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat.
AJ Hayes and Chris Holm put me up a wonderful review on Amazon.com and I was delighted to get their support – they seem to be there for everyone. Now I realise what the purpose of Amazon reviews is, I’ll be offering a lot more of my views when I finish a book.
I’m just at the point now where I can feel less bad about a slow beginning to sales, because Reviews and comments like that are worth all the gold on Earth (didn’t Elvis say similar?). They’ve made me feel special, are things I’ll cherish and might, ultimately, be the best things to come from this experience.
Is this something you will consider doing again?
When I had my first tattoo, I had to have another one. Thankfully I stopped at 2.
Yes, I’ll definitely do it again. I’m already thinking about which stories, of covers and of titles. I’d say to expect more by the end of April, beginning of May.
I’m going to make a book on Monday morning with a class of thirty 6 year olds. They’ve re-told the story of Jack And The Beanstalk. I’m going to talk them though making a cover, getting a blurb and how we’ll do it and hopefully we’ll have it up by the end of the week.
Where I teach is a mixed area with pockets of severe deprivation (it can be rough out there), so getting people to download books and apps and to show interest in the children’s work in this way should be a great experience. I’m also hoping that the children can see what they’re capable of.
Any money raised will go to a children’s charity because the class feel sorry for Jack.
What are your hopes and expectations? Do you hope to create enough buzz to get a print publisher interested?
In the first instance, I thought it would be great to sell 1000 copies. There are many fine novels out there that don’t hit that target. Early figures mean I’ve dropped my sights a little, but if I’m lucky and get support, who knows?
I had this vision about the crime community I’ve come to feel part of. I imagined an unspoken conspiracy amongst the people networked together that would mean enough sales to roll the collection to the top of the hill. After that, I reckoned it would roll itself down the Amazon hill with a little help from the internal workings of the site. And then we’d do it for the next writer and the next till some-one’s noir talent was always in the top ten.
I called my offensive Storm The Charts, something I’ve seen done successfully in music.
Let’s say that 100 had rallied, then rallied next time for someone else, then again and again, I pictured a world where the writers at my level and a little higher would soon be spending more time at the keyboard than at the coalface. Still do. Like a mini, bloodless revolution of the crime-fiction world.
Used to be called a daydreamer at school. Wonder why?
The publishing industry has changed dramatically over the past few years. For you, what’s been the most surprising change? What changes are having the biggest impact?
I was born in the sixties.
Imagine my wonder at being able to pluck stories out of the air. It’s mind-blowing and I have no idea how it happens.
Added to technological progress, there’s the economic downturn and the rise of the book superstores to consider.
I put out a magazine for 5 years and had to walk around the London streets for hours to get to the small book-shops that would stock us. We were also able to get copies into our big stores like Waterstone’s because the managers of departments had some say in what was stocked.
Around 10 years ago, the small shops started to close and the outlets for small presses began to shrink.
At the same time as the main stores became like any other retailer in the sense that it the books seemed to become more of a commodity. They became filled with ghost written biographies of people I mainly didn’t care about and cookery books and there was a gap.
Technology has moved towards filling that gap.
Online communities have been able to communicate their passions. Writers began to put out their own work. Then came print on demand. Now e-books. Terribly exciting.
While agents and publishers are forced into ever narrowing corridors, the e-book world is creating its own agenda. To me, that’s refreshing.
I have nothing against agents or publishers, by the way, in fact ideally I’d like to have one of each, but it’s a big pond and there’s plenty of room for everyone.
The Kindle seems to be a double-edged sword. It’s simplified self-publishing, and hindered predatory presses that exploit aspiring authors, but it’s also helped open the floodgates to unedited works that could deter readers from purchasing self-published works.
Everything’s double-edged it seems to me. Kindle’s no exception.
We all have our taste in books. I imagine we’ve all despaired at the number of badly written works on the shelves of libraries and bookshops at one time or another. The agent/publisher guardians to a good job, but money still talks. Better for a publisher to sell a mountain of manure than a small run’s worth of quality. It’s not that much different, we just don’t have the trademarks to guide us.
Give it time, things will find regulation and identity in shapes and forms I can’t begin to perceive.
This raises an obvious question. For writers starting out today, with few or no substantial publishing credits to their name, what should they do? Is it likely writers who don’t have the prior approval of established publishing houses can make a name for themselves and achieve the level of success some established authors are presently enjoying?
I imagine that some great writers will make their name by emerging through e-books. There will also be some less good writers who’ll succeed because of their business acumen or through nepotism.
People seem to need heroes and the press and the economy need us to have them, so we’ll find them regardless of how they come to our attention.
We’re getting to the point where print-on-demand can mean producing a book in a pretty short window of time, and ordering stock of items one at a time is a possibility with books. Do you see e-readers as a bridge to a future revolution in storytelling that allows for a whole new type of experience that incorporates reading and viewing and other sense, such as being able to hear the wind through earphones as you’re reading text, or hear music or a specific background sound? Or are the differences in the audiences too great?
I guess it will begin with children.
A friend of mine chose to buy a Nook rather than a Kindle because she felt it would be more child friendly.
As for other sensory experiences, I’m sure they’ll be there. Designers will create the technology because that’s the nature of the business world. I say that as if I think it’s a bad thing, but it’s just the way I see things work.
I’m also all for a lot of the changes. In my job I work with lots of children who struggle hugely to access the world of print. It can destroy their self-esteem entirely. Allowing them to learn by enriching their lives with stories and knowledge is a fantastic prospect.
I’ve often thought that publishing was just a bit of technology away from opening the door to publishing companies started by authors, much like record labels sometimes are. We’ve seen a lot of musicians start with a known label and establish themselves, and then start their own label to enjoy a greater share of the profits and artistic control, but they also sign on other artists and the label produces music by other artists. That seems to be more possible within publishing than ever before. For example, what if Dan Brown or James Patterson started their own publishing companies? Wouldn’t that be an enormous blow to their publishers, who make millions off their books?
I think of my music knowledge here.
At various points and especially when I was a teenager, the punk movement had a do-it –yourself agenda. Pretty soon we had the independent music scene and my life was better for it.
In the end, it was pretty much absorbed into the mainstream, but as a compromise the mainstream had to adjust.
Now with You Tube and music downloads and Myspace, there’s another cultural shift. That will be absorbed, too, in the end, but there will be compromise again.
I love the idea of independent publishers or collectives of creative talent (and not just writers) coming together. Bring it on and if anyone out there needs someone new to carry a flag, spread the word or hump boxes, you know where I am.
Are the traditional publishers really as far behind as they seem to be? Do you think that publishers are going to change their percentages and dealings with authors to avoid losing writers? What do you think the publishers have to do to remain competitive and retain their talent over the next few years?
There’s no doubt that they have muscle and they may have to adapt.
I think they’re becoming more conservative just now as an act of preservation.
I’m not sure that there’ll be that much difference in the end. I think that writers are happier as writers rather than promoters, so as long as someone’s offering to do much of the legwork they’ll offer up their slice.
I’m sure it’s possible that at some point, complaints and demands for refunds could become enough of a headache for Amazon to do something. Meanwhile, what do we authors do? What about reviewers and organizations? Let’s use Spinetingler as an example. We’re having an on-going dilemma. Should we run reviews of books that are self-published? Should we consider them for the awards? Behind the scenes, the writers behind such works argue their position. We’ve only opened the e-book door to anthologies, because of the realities of the short story market. What advice would you give us about how to proceed? What would you, as a writer, like to see happen?
Spinetingler. A great example to choose.
Review books that are self-published? Absolutely. They’re available to the readers and in some ways they’ll be providing as much of the very best original material as well as some of the very worst.
It’s unfair that books that are well-backed take the biggest slices of the limelight. That’s not really a Spintingler issue, as you seem to have a great sense of balance, but it is for the bigger picture.
Going back to my magazine days, we were putting out work by the best people around , mixing fresh talent with established names in the British poetry world. Our dilemma as a small-fry with no budget was how much we were prepared to do to spread the word. It horrible shipping books off in the knowledge they’ll be ignored even if they’re better than the ones the publishers despatch.
For awards? Why not? If it’s good enough it deserves to be there. A separate award might be a good idea. It might be one of the signposts people look out for in the future when hoping to separate the wheat from the chaff.
I believe we work as a community when we work best. Each of us does out bit whether it be in our town, at our children’s schools or when we’re online. You can’t do everything and it might be time for others to step forwards and do the same. I’ve only just become aware of Kindle forums. No doubt they’ll be doing some of that. As long as someone is out there looking after the people at every level, I’m happy – in society and on-line and in the writing world.
Maybe you should take on a weekly/monthly slot, or even open it up to guests to see what they come up with.
This series is also a way to keep all those balls in the air. Hats off to you for doing it and for inviting me along.
As long as you keep up the good work, I’m happy.
So many thanks for what you do.
What are your thoughts so far on the e-publishing experiment so far?
It’s hard work. There’s a lot to it. I love it.
Designing the cover was fun, thinking up the title, putting it together has all been time consuming but ultimately very satisfying.
Loading up was simple enough. Even so, it’s a steep learning curve.
Best thing – no one told me what to put out, when, how. It’s me with a little help from my friends.
Next to that, I feel like a published writer. Cool as.
Why should Spinetingler readers go buy Dirty Old Town and Other Stories now?
First of all, a number of the stories were good enough to find spaces at some of the best sites on the planet courtesy of editors who know their onions, their apples and their cabbages.
Second, there’s a blend of work that will explore a range of the readers’ emotions.
Third, the stories really will stick around for a while after they’re read, something I’ve been told by many in the past, like something has been opened and won’t heal up till it’s been explored by the sub-conscious.
Fourth – Allan Guthrie’s, Anthony Neil Smith’s, Chris Rhatigan’s, AJ Hayes’ and Chris Holm’s opinions.
Nigel Bird writes short and long, suspecting he’s more of a sprinter than a marathon runner. Over the past year he has been fortunate to have had work published by people he respects, which has meant a huge amount. He’s also been working hard at his blog Sea Minor. Dirty Old Town and Other Stories is his first collection.