January 14, 2011

Adapting to Your Environment

My agent has just informed me that the French editions of three of my novels will be released as ebooks. ‘Small-Minded Giants’ (under the title, ‘Liberté Surveillée’) , ‘Ancient Appetites’ (under the title ‘Voraces’) and ‘The Wisdom of Dead Men’ (don’t know what they’re calling it yet) are to go digital, courtesy of my French publisher, Mango Jeunesse.

I don’t know much about the book culture in France, except that their taste in sci-fi and fantasy would be less influenced by British and American stuff than ours, and they’re much more appreciative of comics, so it’ll be interesting to see how these do as ebooks. I don’t think publishers in the UK have sussed how to sell ebooks yet, despite most of the big ones setting up their own retail sites. It all seems to be left up to the big retailers, so the stuff that sells well overall is most represented in the ebook market.

Publishers have been struggling to predict the next big thing – or trends in general – in the YA market. And with all the financial turmoil, things seem to be contracting, growing more conservative again, after a really adventurous time. I want to avoid getting caught in that pinch, so the sci-fi crime thriller book I’m just finishing up is aimed at a slightly younger audience – more Robert Muchamore than Alex Rider, but still more palatable for the gatekeepers.

But this bending to the market makes me question just who makes up that market. Once kids are into novels, they’re the ones deciding what to buy, and yet it’s the adults who are still dictating the level of content in the books that we write for these kids. I’ve said it time and time again, but one of the reasons books don’t sell in the same way – indeed, are not marketed in the same way – as other consumer products, is that we’re out of touch.

I have had people in my publishers take issue with some of the content of my stories. Apparently, O’Brien have had complaints from teachers about my Forbidden Files. Though any teacher I’ve spoken to – and I speak to a lot of them – are happy to have these books in the classroom.

My ten year-old stepson got an iPod for Christmas. A couple of his mates got ‘Call of Duty: Black Ops’ – a game rated 18+. I had a conversation with this same bunch of lads a couple of years ago (when they were eight), where they told me about a scene in Jackass 2, where a guy pumped beer up his own arse. This is the kind of stuff they were talking about in the schoolyard when they were eight. These are the kids to whom the publishing industry is trying to sell ‘Horrid Henry’ and ‘BeastQuest’. Think we’re hitting the mark?

LIBERTÉ SURVEILLÉEThe book
January 5, 2011

Making Progress

Christmas is over, the snow is gone (but threatens to come back) and I face the New Year after a great holiday several pounds heavier and many euros lighter. It was a lovely couple of weeks, centred round the family and doing sod all, though it included watching far fewer films than usual, and no lie-ins worth talking about. And now I’m stuck back into work, there is little prospect of catching up on that elusive full night’s sleep.

But I’m making progress once more. My brother and I finally got the website updated. It had fallen badly behind, and Marek (who handles the technical side) couldn’t do anything with it until I gave him all the new bits that had to be added, or even told him what needed to be changed.

After a substantial time in publishing limbo, ‘Merciless Reason’, the third Wildenstern book, is finally being scheduled for release, hopefully this year, but I’ve still got no confirmation on that.

On top of the next two Armouron books (‘The Orphan Factory’ and ‘Dead-End Junction’), due out this year, I’ve had a few other things on the back-burner, including ‘From His Cold Dead Hands’, a crime thriller with a supernatural edge. There’s also a new series for younger readers, and another crime thriller series for fluent readers/young adults, featuring a team of young professional criminals set in the near future, in a surveillance state. How and when those stories see the light of day is still at the discussion stage, but I finally feel like I’m building up momentum again, after a year with my eye off the ball.

Before Christmas, news broke that Google was to begin selling ebooks online. It’s limited to U.S. customers only for the moment, but it’s the start of something that’s been on the horizon of the book world for some time. It’s also the first real sales venture for the search giant, if you don’t count the Android app market.

Google claims that it will have more books in its catalogue than any other online bookstore — with more than 3 million titles. But only about 200,000 of those books are licensed from publishers. The rest are (allegedly) books that are no longer under copyright in the United States. Books that Google has been scanning from university and public libraries as part of its controversial Google Books project. Google Books has scanned millions of books since it began in 2004, mostly without permission from copyright holders, with the initial intention of allowing people to search their texts online, but this sale of ebooks was always part of the plan. And even that’s just the beginning.

It’s all part of their master plan to make all of the world’s information available online, and getting us all to do our computing online too. It’s ambitious – almost megalomaniacal – but at least they have a real vision of the future. It is definitely a plan I have mixed feelings about. There’s just no private company in the world that I trust with the control of the world’s information

That said, I have been enjoying the chaos caused by Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. Yes, there’s a cost to exposing all the indiscreet communication between all those diplomats, politicians and civil servants, but if you can’t trust the ****ers to behave themselves in the dark, you have to leave the lights on.

I wonder what he’s got on the Irish government. Not that I think any government is going to get us out of this mess we’re in. We’re going to have to sort out most of this on our own.

Happy New Year to everyone out there, and let’s hope this is a better one for the country than the last one.