Tuesday, June 26, 2007


This evening I went along to a panel discussion hosted in Norwich about the future of the book industry. There was a panel of industry bigwigs there, and between them, I think I got a pretty good glimpse of what this industry is going to look like within the next 1-5 years.

And let me just say, it's pretty much what I thought would look like. I wasn't so far off the truth when I posted this a while back.

I should mention the panelists, if not by name...by profession. There were three. One was the MD of a leading Literary agency, the other was the CEO of a major publisher, the third was a 'digital media guru'. I think it would have been interesting to have someone representing the retail end of the book business...say, from somewhere like...umm....oh yeah, Tescos.

Now before I go any further, let me just quickly explain what I mean by the term 'writer-to-reader chain'. It's the journey a book currently takes from the pen of a writer to getting into the paws of a reader.

Writer > agent > publisher > bookshop > reader.

Anyway it was interesting to hear all three of the panel discuss the issue from three different perspectives. The publisher guy and agent lady were pretty much saying the same thing, that retailers almost certainly will be squeezed out of this writer-to-reader chain. But ultimately, like a balloon that's still too heavy, someone else may have to jump. Because you see, in the near future the chain will look like this...

Writer > ???? > reader.

A writer's work will be downloaded by readers onto their groovy splash-proof, drop-proof, easy-on-the-eye eBook. There will be no need for printing presses, warehouses or bricks 'n' mortar retailers. All there will be is the literay equivalent of iTunes; some body who will gather up, organise, cross reference and host digital files.

I could imagine the top echeleon literary agencies banding together and forming some kind of premium quality literary brand, that filters the wheat from the chaff. After all, whilst having lots of choice is nice, no-one wants to have to wade through the written-word equivalent of YouTube. I mean how many badly written proto-Tolkien fantasy novels can one possibly digest?

No...there'll need to be some business whose job it is, is to filter out the less desirable stuff, and then nicely organise the good stuff into easy to navigate pigeonholes. And to some extent, isn't that what Lit agencies already do?

Arguably it might be a much-reduced-in-size publisher or two who'd fulfill that role. Perhaps it would be a very small hybrid of both types of business. But one thing's for sure....there's going to be a big commercial die-off, and surely it'll be the largest animals that will come a cropper first.

Anyway, bloody interesting panel that was.

Oh and yeah...you sceptics out there, yes you!....the one's that think eBooks will never happen. Think again. It's round the corner, it really is. It's just one sexy design curve away from taking off believe me.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


So today I hit the 50k mark. Officially, I view this as the halfway mark since as far as I'm concerned, anything less than a 100,000 words is too short to think of as a proper novel.

But that's just me...I like a chunky book.

Anything over 100k is good...usually though, I tend to overrun by 20-30k.

I'll be honest. Over the last few weeks I've had writer's block. I really don't know what to put it down to. Whether it's 2nd book paranoia....but for some reason I'm experiencing it on my 3rd? It's been weird and somewhat deppressing. Writer's block is possibly the worst affliction a writer can face. The best way I can describe it for people who don't write is...

...it would be like getting up in the morning, taking the train to work, sitting down behind your desk and completely forgetting how to do your job....just as the phone starts to ring, and the first business meeting you're due to host is about to start. It's bloody unsettling feeling.

Anyway. I think I'm past it now. The words are routinely coming out again at the usual rate of approximately 1,500 a day. And events are moving forward, characters are dying and the blood's being splashed around.

Which is a good sign.

And I'm already seeing in my head, the trailer I plan to make. And that's a really good sign.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

APPRENTICE: Inspiration Vs Perspiration?

This week's task I found the most compelling. What a fantastic challenge. And, for the very first time, I was astounded at how well the apprentices performed, particularly the finalists and project managers Simon Ambrose and Kristina Grimes - to deliver presentations of that quality, and have produced building designs of such breathtaking beauty in such a short time?....I was dumbstruck. Does beg the question though...how come the 'professionals' out there, given months...years to plan and budgets of hundreds of millions to play around with ,produce so many ugly buildings that come in over budget and late?

Anyway, I digress...

...Tre provided some interesting screen time with his building-looking-like-a-boat idea. Which was roundly scoffed at by Rory (I AM your boss) Laing...but frankly is no worse an idea than many of the turgid eyes sores that have been green-lit in the capitol in recent years. It was fun watching Simon and Tre buddy-up again, that great double act tweedle-dum and tweddle dumber....however, it seems Simon saw sense towards the end, and cracked open the door for Rory to steal in and deliver an eleventh hour design that was absolutely Dubai-esque in its grandeur.

Kristina's team by comparison was a little dull. As usual she ran it with ruthless efficiency, her blood chilling cackle echoing from various meeting rooms.

But enough picking over the show's hilights...let's get to the important question. Did Alan pick the right one?

Well here's my final tuppence-worth on this year's show. Simon is creative, imaginative, inspirational, and scatterbrained. Katrina is a no-nonsense, arguably 'drop-dead' smart, workhorse.

If I were Sir Alan, and I was genuinely looking for a senior manager to leave my business affairs to so that I could begin to take it more easy and enjoy my retirement...then Kristina was the clear winner. I would consider her a VERY safe pair of hands.

But, we know that this isn't the case...

...the entire series is merely a very entertaining talent show. We know the boardroom isn't really Alan's boardroom...it's a studio set.That girl who sits outside isn't really his receptionist, she's an equity card-carrying actress. And...Alan really isn't going to trust a significant portion of his business empire to the winner of a gameshow.

For that reason...because in the end, it was only ever just about entertainment, not business, Simon had to win. Lovely bloke, charming, endearingly quirky, Simon was the clear winner.

And to round off....wanna prediction from me?

Okay, expect to see Simon parting company from Alan in about six months with some 'creative differences' being cited by Sir Alan's press officer. And then keep your eyes peeled for Mr Ambrose. I can gaurantee you'll see him again on TV, quite probably alongside Ben Fogle and presenting some Antique/Car Boot sale/Nature programme.

Meanwhile...discreetly, Kristina will land a role somewhere in Sugar's megalithic organization.

Monday, June 11, 2007


A recent article here LINK on how the last Harry Potter book is costing the industry shows how bleedin' ludicrous things have gotten in the world of publishing in the UK. With this last installment of HP, it should jolly well be feast time for booksellers - selling the book by the wheelbarrow for loads of loverly profit. Instead, everybody seems to be competing with each other to hand copies of it over to the public...at the cheapest price, and the greatest loss.

How did this industry allow itself to get so silly?

By comparison, lets take a look at how some other industries cope with a hot product that everyone wants.

Video games: The Wii, Nintendo's latest console is taking the world by storm; everyone wants to grab a Wii. But, do we see GAME giving the console away at a below-than-wholesale-price? Nope. Instead, they're making a nice healthy 50% margin there. And in fact, in Tokyo, where demand is ridiculously high, retailers are charging for well over the RRP for the console. LINK

Movies: the Lord of the Rings trilogy were the must-see movie three years in a row. Did cinemas suddenly decide to halve the price of entry to see the movies? Of course not.

Music: iPods....everyone wants one. Are they being given away at half price? Ahem...no.

So why is it booksellers are shooting themselves in the foot? Well...the loss leader theory is usually trotted out in answer. Which goes along the lines of...Joe Punter comes in to buy his Harry Potter book, and whilst he's there making his purchase, he's supposed to be seduced by all the other books lying on those central tables around him and spend loads of luverly dosh on a stack of novels he wouldn't otherwise have considered buying.

Hmmmm. Not sure that's actually happening.

Joe Punter isn't doing that. Joe Punter has come in specifically to get his fix of Potter, will grab it, pay for it and bolt back home to read it. In actual fact, he's not even likely to put a single solitary foot inside a book store to buy it anyway - preferring instead to grab it whilst shopping with mum at Tescos. Or he'll just order it online from Amazon.

So surely, the smart thing for a bricks-n-mortar bookseller to do, is to stock a few copies of the latest Potter, (after all, you can't not). Stock say...a dozen hardcover versions, sell them at the RRP and simply accept you aren't going to shift hundreds. Which is fine...let someone else lose money on two hundred units of product sold below cost, and have a little snigger at their expense...suckers. See, I'm really not convinced by the loss leader argument that booksellers are putting forward. I've got a deep suspicion that your average Potter fan is not that much of a book worm. Nor for that matter is your average Dan Brown fan. I suspect they're the one-book-a-year-beside-the-pool type of customer.

Now...why the hell is this trade bothering to chase people like that? Does one book a year from each member of this category of customer really amount to that much money in the coffers? Especially, I might add, when they're getting the book virtually given to them?


Wednesday, June 06, 2007


Whoah. What a dramatic denouement to this week's show. Wow. For those of you who saw it, you know exactly what I'm talking about. For those of you who didn't...we'll come to bit that at the end shortly.

The interviewers then - the same three blokes I believe that were used last series. Old golfing buddies of Sugsy, no doubt. I do question their ability, their expertise to interview at this level. One of them, called Paul if I recall directly, I thought was blatantly inept at the job. I found him implausibly rude, and unprofessionally vulgar. He kept cutting over the answers the candidates were giving him. Hello? Earth to Paul...you're actually meant to be listening to what they're saying, not hogging airtime with your own pithy come-backs. Idiot.

And what of the apprentices? Who performed the best? Well, I'll be honest. I thought Lohit gave some of the smartest responses, seemed most at ease in the interview chair (from the footage shown, that is). A very cool customer. If I'd been one of the interviewers he would have been one of the two favoured candidates.

Tre was Mr Bull****. Sadly. Over the last eleven weeks I've really grown to like Tre. But unfortunately it seemed he was all hot air - working from his 15 different international bedrooms...sorry...offices.

Simon, I loved Simon...ohmyGod, he was like Dustin Hoffman in RAINMAN, rattling off those factlets about Sugar - a monotone stream-of-consciousness of jibber-jabbered facts, with an obessive-compulsive leg twitch that had him almost shuddering off the chair onto the floor.

Kristina, the tangerine-coloured Oirish feckin' bulldog. Yes, very reliable, and from the first few moments of tonight's show I was certain she'd get through. Oh yes. She's this year's Badger alright.

And then, there was Katie Hopkins. Yes. This takes me to tonight's startling ending. For those of you who missed it...here's what happened:

About halfway through the making-your-mind-up session in the boardroom, ol' Sugsy comes out and says, 'Katie, you're going to be one of my last two'. Katie rather oddly, doesn't leap into the air, doesn't even smile. She just flushes and looks down at her feet. Alan then goes onto to deal with the other candidates, and then after a while, realises she isn't behaving like someone who's won. He comes back to her and asks what's going on....at which point, she announces their might just be some personal issues with her relocating.

And here's what she does.

She falls on her sword. She announced that in all fairness, she couldn't rob the opportunity from the remaining two (Simon and Kristina) and offers her resignation.

Leaving, I thought, Alan looking a little bemused and off balance. How ironic, that Katie, the one candidate that everyone has been describing as brutally ruthless, without a moral center, was the one person in this entire series to to push her chair back and walk away from the table....to demonstrate at least an ounce of selflessness.

After the other two - Simon and Kristina - had left the boardroom as winners, Alan and his two cronies then discussed Katie, deciding I thought rather unkindly, that she was just 'playing her own little game'.

That's truly ironic really coming from them.

After all, the Apprentice ISN'T a job interview, not really....it's a game show. It's peepshow TV.

The job isn't for real. I don't think for one moment Alan spends any real time with the winner. He/She will basically get the £100k cheque, will go through the motions for a few months, and then we'll read about them in THE SUN parting company from Alan in about 6 months time.

Katie 'playing her own little game'? ... they're the ones 'playing a little game', I believe.

LAST LIGHT - early feedback

Okay at this stage, with the hardback due out in July, there will be a few hundred people who have in their hands what's known in the biz as the 'uncorrected proof' for LAST LIGHT. This is a limited run of the book, complete with typos and dodgy typographic layout and a cover that has yet to be finalized, that is sent out to reviewers and book dealers to generate some 'heat' in advance of the actual release date.

It's at this stage that as a writer you will start to get the 'uncontaminated' feedback...ie: feedback from people who don't know me, don't work for the publisher, haven't had anything to do with any earlier drafts. This is when you will begin to know for sure whether you've just written a complete turd...or not.

Needless to say...it's one of the more un-nerving stages in any book's life cycle.

So, it's with a gasp of relief, and the celebratory pop of me opening a can of Redbull that I'm going to sit back and savour this first little tidbit of feedback.


It's a crime/thriller news-n-review site authored by a guy called Ben Hunt, who used to write a column for the Financial Times and freelances now. And right now...is my bestest mate ever.

Okay, so...now I'm going to sit down for five minutes. Give myself a pat on the back, maybe tell myself how wonderful I am.

Then, go back to working on book 3...and all the self-doubt and self-loathing that comes with writing a new book.