Copyright: for and against

In my last post I mentioned that I was seeking permission to use two lines from a country and Western song sung by Ernest Tubb in 1959 as an opener for my memoir. I still haven’t heard anything back from the copyright holders, a large transnational organisation which holds copyright on a huge number of songs.

This has led me to further musings on copyright as a concept and practice. There are many countries in the world which appear to have no copyright laws or if they do, they don’t enforce them especially if the writing being used comes from somewhere else. Imagine my surprise a couple of decades ago to find my book Nature and Nurture published in a Third World country, in English and pretty much in full although without the photographs and someone else’s name on the cover. But somehow there seemed a rightness to that. The book is unobtainable anywhere as the Australian publishers never republished it, and made no effort to make it available anywhere outside Australia. Practically no libraries in the world hold it. This of course was before self-publishing. If people somewhere else want to read my book, this was a way of doing it, and did it matter that much who was the author?

These libertarian thoughts are very much outside the frame today. Everyone is so precious about their rights over a few sentences that whole books can be pulped for some minor bit of plagiarism. You are legally vulnerable even where the copyright holders don’t answer queries or have gone out of business. This, in an era when visual and written information can be circulated as never before.

Copyright is an issue quite apart from libel and privacy breaches. My inability to finish Regret Horizon is in large part due to my anxieties over privacy issues which remain unresolved.

I wonder how much one would have to change the text to claim that those two lines were no longer subject to copyright? I’ll play with that idea, but somehow it just wouldn’t be the same.

Memoir: to publish or perish?

I am very close now to getting the memoir finished. Here’s the draft cover. There are a few different variants. Keith my designer will finalise it. I am so grateful to talented Western Australian photographer Jordan Cantelo for his generous permission to use his photograph Ocean Horizon for the cover image. Visit his site to see more of his outstanding work at http://jordancantelo.com/

The title has changed to Regret Horizon and there are several reasons for that. I sent a semi-final version to one of the main characters in the book and she read it twice in a few days and came back with a lot of changes. She said I’d got quite a few things “wrong”. Some were factual things, some were more interpretations and opinions. But it threw me. How far do I have to go to include the views of the people I am writing about? They are all real people with their own points of view and their own desires and hopes in terms of how they might appear in someone’s book, especially when it’s their own mother/grandmother/partner/ex-partner’s wife/sister and so on. I’m so close to publishing this book, but equally close to abandoning the project altogether. I’m going to wait until I get some other comments and feedback, meanwhile I’m in Procrastination City.

New Year’s Resolution: open an Instagram account. At least I’d feel I was doing something. Got some great photos since New Year’s Day so I’ll be seeing you or rather you won’t be seeing me but you’ll be seeing what I see. Which, in a way, is what a Memoir really is all about.

Kindle Create: how much easier can it get?

When I first started learning how to publish on Kindle it was such a struggle. I wrote quickly and fluently, I was a great typist and could use Word with my eyes shut, but the next steps – getting the manuscript right for the various platforms, understanding how to format, what was involved in covers – not to mention ISBNs and uploading and getting manuscripts to conform to arcane and mysterious requirements proved baffling, frustrating and humbling. I was just getting the hang of it when life threw a curved ball and the almost finished books had to languish for most of 2018. Back in action now and I discover everything has suddenly got so much easier. Ingram Spark are falling over backwards now to help the self-publishing author (as well as those micropublishing through their own companies), there are many new cover services available, new international players have appeared in unexpected places (Italy, Finland!), Draft2Digital is flourishing and best of all (for Mac users) Vellum came along with fantastic options for interior designing and trying-out on different platforms.

Amazon closed down Create Space, that was a surprise, and started its own print arm, which didn’t help Australian authors since there was no way to get printed books to Australia and Amazon wasn’t planning to print them here. Local readers in Australia are still wedded to print books and the local publishers/booksellers/reviewers are resolutely set on ignoring self-publishers, so without a print book presence of some kind the Australian market is very hard to reach.

But never mind, Ingram Spark is a very good alternative, prints in Melbourne and has great international distribution.  The print version of my experimental children’s book (The Priceless Princess) can be ordered now through Book Depository, Angus and Robertson and others. It is also available in print from Amazon, although nobody in the US is buying it.

But even with all the alternatives, publishing on Kindle remains a necessity although the market is now so hugely competitive. The good old .mobi file was easy enough to produce but it generally looked pretty ordinary and the placement of images was a pain.  BUT today Amazon announces a new service called Kindle Create. Seems to have purloined some of the best features of Vellum, for no cost. So I’m going to have a go with it for my two books of short stories, ready to come out early next year, although I’ll still get epub and pdf versions for Ingram Spark made through Vellum. I feel like I might be onto it at last.

I guess the only thing easier would be if Amazon wrote your books for you. Ghostwriting is already a big business – celebrities and rappers use ghostwriters all the time. But if Amazon could guarantee a good book written from your plot outline, and then marketed it where the old “Other Purchases” used to be, it would raise the career of writing to a whole new level.

How do you get this gig?

Paid Reviews? Who knew?

Recently my small publication company had offers from several sources to arrange reviews for its Kindle books for an unspecified price. “At least forty reviews” one promised. This is unconscionable. Reviews have become a major element in the success or otherwise of Kindle books, especially those of otherwise unknown authors. I’ve often wondered at the frequently inane and disconnected reviews that turn up for many new titles giving them five stars. Obviously these are not validated purchasers although who knows? When books only cost 99 cents it may work out financially in the end to get the recruited reviewers to buy the books while the author/publisher shells out however much they pay to the review company. No wonder there is so much rubbish around. But given the difficulties now with getting in front of readers’ eyes – why on earth Amazon decided to give up on the “Also Boughts” – it’s not surprising that people will come up with scams of various kinds. Book reviewing itself is a weird business. Check out the comments below by TIME reviewer Lev Grossman from a while back.

Reviewing before Kindle

Writing and Defamation

defamation suitsI haven’t posted for a while because I’ve been engaged in a horrible torture which I hadn’t at all expected. No, it’s not another medical procedure, it’s a legal issue, and it’s resulted in weeks of inability to move forward, more drastic editing, and the emergence of a totally new and unexpected project which I can say nothing at all about here, now or ever, well, for the forseeable future anyway.

I have to thank Karl Ove Knausgaard once again.

220px-Karl_Ove_Knausgård

Karl Ove Knausgaard 2011

I’ve said before how important his work has been to my thinking about my memoirs, but lo and behold, his amazing final book, appropriately titled The End, appeared at the exact moment that I finished the first round of edits of my first memoirs book. I thought I was long-winded, but this book is 1100 pages or so. I’ve only managed to read 250 so far and I am desperate to get on with it but because it’s only in print (no e-book format) and because it weighs so much I can’t read it in bed at night which is when I do most of my reading, so I have to read it sitting up in a well-lit room, a few pages at a time. It also has no chapters, breaks or internal subdivisions so if you lose your place it’s damned hard to find it again.

It was published in Norway/Europe in 2011/2012 but English speaking readers had to wait until now – SEVEN YEARS LATER – to read it.

This makes the whole experience very bizarre because he is writing in the present of what is now a long-ago life. A little research reveals that after The End was published he broke up with his wife Linda who has been or still is suffering from a mental illness, he sees his four children in Sweden for a week at a time and lives mainly in London with a new wife, where he is lionized and presumably now very wealthy. All of this is not just aimless gossip, it goes to the heart of what he reveals in Book Six about his entire writing project and where it leads him, how it makes him reconsider who he actually is and what it means to be a writer, and even though he doesn’t know that this will be the outcome while he is writing the words you are reading.

There is so much to say about the Knausgaard effect, about truth and recollection and representation and writing and publishing in the twenty-first century but the thing I have to thank him for is making me truly aware of what can happen when you write about living people using their real names. As is famously known, his Uncle Gunnar, who he thought loved and supported him, went ballistic when an early book in the series appeared. Uncle Gunnar threatened to take him, his publishers and his mother as well to court. It is still not clear to me whether the court case actually took place or only existed in his own imagination, or whether he responded by radically changing his text to meet Uncle Gunnar’s objections. In any case, it was a traumatic irruption of another person’s truth into his creative project which he continues to call a “novel” even though he never claims the people he writes about are fictional and there are no disclaimers at the front of his books.

I have spent weeks now looking into the legal situation of writers of memoirs. The outcome is very sobering. Although laws are different in different countries, there are many commonalities. People who are written about by name in a memoir can object to the publication of the work on various grounds, including the invasion of privacy. “Truth” is not necessarily a defence. Writers are told they should send pre-publication copies to everyone who appears significantly in the book and ask them to indicate in writing that they agree to appear in it. If they ask to be left out altogether, or have their names and identities changed, the author apparently needs to go along with that or face potential consequences. I have been looking at some  recent cases to see how the law has been applied. I understand now why so many apparently autobiographical writings are labeled “fiction” and have vigorous disclaimers at the front.

One of my motivating factors in writing my memoirs has always been to be as much aligned with “the Truth” as possible. Of course I know everyone’s truth is different, but it has seemed to me that writers have not just the right but the duty to avoid the constant hiding-away and dissimulation and self-indulgence which accompanies so much personal narrative.  I am amazed to discover that it’s more or less a legal requirement and my mother was right to say “If you can’t say something nice about someone don’t say anything at all”. Who knew?

Then I found out that defamation suits are being brought against writers of  fiction. Dan Brown is famous for his world-wide best-seller The Da Vinci Code. In his latest book, Origin, he suggests that an Irish cult-monitoring group took money to fight a sect of the Catholic Church. His publisher is being sued. It’s a fascinating case, and also highlights that the mere fact of publication can result in a court case, even if the book was written somewhere else altogether by someone of another citizenship.

Dan Brown Defamation

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/anti-cult-group-sues-over-claims-in-da-vinci-code-author-s-book-08c3t9pnn

So what are you supposed to do? I guess the best thing is to write about life forms on interplanetary galaxies with no resemblance to humans. But I suppose your great-aunt could still take offence and claim that pus-dripping hydra-headed monster you wrote about was “really” her. As if copyright isn’t enough of a nightmare!

Hydra-mythical-creatures-28582631-1134-709

A two-speed economy: How traditional publishers are benefiting from Amazon.

I’ve mentioned before the way Amazon publication has entered new territory since the Big Five managed to get their own way about e-book pricing. It’s become increasingly apparent that conventional publishers have worked out how the maximise their gains from e-books and distributors, and while still bemoaning their existence have seized on the new opportunities now available.

There is no doubt that a traditional publishing deal remains the aim of most writers. Other than genre fiction of a certain kind (explicit erotica, shape-shifters, Space Opera romance and so on) every serious writer still wants a deal with a “real” publisher. But a lot of readers don’t want to buy physical books, and want to buy e-books online.

Now the traditional publishers have worked out that they can offer e-books at the same time as they publish print books, and preserve the powerful traditional ecosystem. By ensuring the price of the e-book version is not far from the print version (which may indeed be available in bookshops and will receive traditional marketing, recognition and publicity) they can make profits from e-books which are virtually cost-free since they only need to prepare the files once, there are no publication costs, distribution costs, warehousing costs or any other costs to speak of. The writers meanwhile have presumably signed contracts for the standard royalties, like 10% or whatever, and the publishers are pocketing the difference. And keeping the e-book costs high for the readers.

So a newly published book, like Liane Moriarty’s Nine Perfect Strangers (2018) is selling on Kindle for $14.99 and in paperback on Amazon.au for $16.00.  And Sydney-based author Shirley Barrett’s The Bus on Thursday (2018) – a most unusual read about a woman who has breast cancer by an author who learns that she does in fact have breast cancer after she has finished writing the book – is published by well-known Australian publisher Allen and Unwin on Kindle for $14.99 and in paperback at $22.99. I have no idea whether these authors have made special royalty deals with their publishers regarding the e-book version, maybe they have and good luck to them.

This process is pushing the distinction between self-published books and books from traditional publishers further and further apart, so most indie books on Kindle are $2.99 or even less and the trad pub books are now well above $10.00.  Do readers know, or care? Well, they probably don’t care about that, as such, but they DO get to hear about the books because the publishers have established methods of publicity which benefit the e-book sales in a way that the randomised chaos of Amazon Kindle at present cannot equal. So the traditional publisher sells lots and lots of e-books but makes the reader pay almost as much as they would for a paperback even though they don’t get to actually “own” the book, can’t lend it to anyone or do anything else with it. But somehow still think they are getting a good deal because it costs less than the paperback they saw in the store.

What a mess it has become. I wish some clever statistical analysis was going on right now to clarify what the effects of all this are. You can glean a bit from services like Alex Newton’s K-Lytics and Data Guy at the Author Earnings Report, but I haven’t found anyone who is tackling the divergent effects of the way traditional publishers are now using the e-book market to enhance their reach while re-consolidating their influence over publishing and pushing independent authors back down to where they think they belong. Is genuine independent publishing doomed? Does anyone know of any updates on this?

Opportunism and opportunity: on building a writing career

Only a bit over three months left of 2018 and the silly season is almost upon us. Everyone in Australia knows that the country shuts down in early November with the Melbourne Cup and doesn’t start up again until the end of January.

Melbourne_Cup_Finish,_Melbourne,_Vic._-_1905_(31511457514)

As I don’t go to the races, have no travel plans for the summer and don’t drink alcohol this annual idiocy-fest should not affect me. But I am filled with fear and trepidation because I have so many writing projects which were going to be released “by the end of the year”. Score so far: NIL.

It’s not as if I haven’t written them. Almost all have been through several edits, I have a production method in hand, cover artists lined up … one final edit each, I say to myself, and they will be ready to go. I so much want to do this, because there are new writing projects I want to start. Sure, there are lots of things that get in the way of finishing books, ordinary life stuff. That’s bad enough. But now I am suffering a crisis of confidence. Maybe I should just embrace the silly season and forget about writing altogether, apart from dumb “Season’s Greeting” cards. Or I should take a leaf out of my own (unpublished) cook book and get going on the cakes and puddings. At least I could sell them at a cake stall!

christmascakes

A few short years ago  independent publishing seemed so clearly the way to go. But it seems more and more difficult to get any purchase at all with the reading (buying) public without a huge effort in marketing strategy and general non-writing activity. Writing itself takes second place. I need to get serious, not about writing, but about the “writing career”.

Everyone says you have to do it, and lots of people tell you how. Using the Internet strategically is obviously top of the list these days. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Internet and have done ever since it debuted back in prehistory, well, the early 90s or whenever it was. I love my blogs, both the writing and art sites, it feels truly creative putting them together, but I do that because I love it, not to build a following or expand an email list. I am a member of the Alliance of Independent Authors and they put out some great stuff. but tweeting is troppo mucho and Facebook gives me a kind of hysterical indigestion, yes, I know, I shouldn’t have subscribed to those I-Love-Cats sites but there was a reason for that, believe it or not, although I won’t go into it here.

writing books is like military strategy

No, the real problem is I can’t wholly see myself as someone “building a writing career”. I am a writer, I love to write, writing is what I do. If I have any time at all, like those precious two or so hours before the world wakes up in the morning, I want to spend it writing or editing or thinking about better turns of phrases for titles or thinking about how to improve a story or how to introduce some new themes. I don’t want to spend it building my email list or tweeting or whatever. It’s bad enough that I have had to go through so much time just working out how to produce a workable manuscript which will go through the publication process smoothly, and identifying useful information sites to follow. But now I see I have to see I have to Put Myself Out There as well.

This morning I came across an article by Wendy Jones called How Being an Opportunist Helps Build Your Writing Career (republished 5 September 2018) here.

This article really made me realise that I just didn’t have the right frame of mind to be a successful Independent Author. Just not opportunistic enough. Read it and weep!

On the other hand maybe I should go to the Melbourne Cup and hand out leaflets urging punters to buy my books! Now that’s an opportunity.

Melbourne_cup_1881