All this talking about 50 Shades has stirred up some very interesting questions about the future of publishing and e-books. Although I’d be more than happy to speak about the shifts in the publishing industry, I felt it’d be better to hear from someone a little more qualified.
I donned the internet equivalent of a safari helmet and set off into the wilds, where I found Mark Leigh. He’s been writing since the late 1980s and published a whopping 45 books. He’s been extremely helpful and agreed to answer my questions about writing, publishing and the future of e-books.
Sam Caine – Hi Mark! First things first – can you tell the lovely Bang2Writers a little about yourself, and your writing career?
Mark Leigh - I work full time in marketing – and have done so for years. I write in my spare time… evenings, weekends, holidays and also when no one is looking in the office; I’d write full time if it was economically viable (note to self: must have best-seller). I wrote my first book in late 80s and was in the fortunate (and virtually unheard of) position of having it accepted by the first publisher I sent it to (Virgin Books). After that, they had first refusal on my next idea – which they accepted – and the next one… and so on and so on… People move on in publishing with remarkable regularity so it was a question of keeping in touch with those people (the term ‘networking’ hadn’t been invented then) and pitching ideas to them at their new companies. The ‘secret’ of sustaining a career – such as it is – in this field isn’t really a secret at all. It just involves a) coming up with inventive and commercial ideas, b) meeting all your deadlines, c) being nice to those offering commissions.
I’ve written 45 humour/trivia books to date but want to also move into fiction – hence writing ‘Dick Longg: Sexual Saviour of the Universe’.
SC - Do you think that e-books are driving the market in new directions? If so, how?
ML Yes – in that they enable books to be published within extremely short time scales and it gives everyone a chance to have a voice (no matter how good or bad that voice may be), taking the power away from conventional publishers and booksellers (which I think is a Good Thing). Conventional publishers take aeons to make decisions with various editorial processes and committees in place – and massively long lead-times. Booksellers will give preference to those titles that they think will sell (as you’d expect) which means that the books that do well are usually self-fulfilling prophecies as they are the ones that get the most shelf space / most promotion i.e. books by celebrities and already established-authors. It’s a great merry-go-round if you can get on it! An example of the speed of e-books was my book of banking jokes: ‘Crash! The official Bankers Joke Book’ (sorry for the plug!). I did this through an e-book publisher (Endeavor). I submitted the idea on a Thursday. Got the go ahead on the Friday. Wrote it Saturday and Sunday. Got cover design on the Monday. Copy edited on Tuesday and it was published on the Wednesday… less than a week!
The other benefit of course is that it can be more lucrative for the writer; e-books can offer the author a royalty of 30% to 50% of the selling price as compared to 10%-15% for print books… and in the case of print books the royalty is based on the net price (ie after it’s been discounted by the bookseller).
SC - Do you think it is a good think that people can now ‘self publish’ books on things like the kindle, without passing through the quality control of an agent/publisher/editor first?
ML Yes – in that it gives everyone a voice, as mentioned before, and the public can usually view sample pages first.
There is a sort of ‘quality filter’ in that the books that get in the Kindle charts – and therefore are brought to buyers’ attention – tend to be those which are published and promoted by e-book publishers (or conventional publishers). As such, these titles have passed through some degree of editorial process/control… so in theory they are ‘better written’… whatever that might stand for!
Without Kindle I wouldn’t be able to share the delights of my ‘Dick Longg novel’… the value to me isn’t in having it as an e-book – it’s the opportunity it creates in getting it noticed by a conventional publisher. My ambition is to have it in print.
SC - Why the free give-aways? I know it was a limited time only, but was it to encourage word of mouth/increase your exposure/satisfy a charitable urge?
ML Me… charitable? You’re talking to someone who haggles down the price of his Big Issue. But seriously… offering an e-book for free for a limited period enables it (in theory anyway) to get into the charts and as such, be noticed. It’s about making a short term loss with the aim of what they call, ‘achieving traction’. The hope is that once it does appear in the charts – presuming ‘free’ is a big enough incentive – it will encourage others to pay for it… which will keep it in the charts and be noticed by more people and so on and so on. Sustaining this can usually involve offering it for free at regular periods in order to maintain the sales momentum.
SC Do you think there are any downsides to the relative freedom of e-book publishing?
ML No… as long as the safeguards remain in place regarding what is and is not acceptable to say. Amazon have to approve e-books 48hrs before they appear in the Kindle store (not sure how they do this or how stringent the checks are) but I’m not sure about other outlets. As with print books, if people want to cause offence – and risk legal/criminal consequences – they will do so anyway..
SC Also, whilst doing the obligatory Google, I noticed you’re a (in your own words) ‘would be’ screenwriter. Have you found screenwriting harder to break into than novels?
ML Hell yes! I’ve written two full length screenplays… one is a cop comedy (think Miami Vice meets Borat) and one is a zombie movie in an unusual setting. The problem I face is that I just don’t have the contacts in the film biz. For both scripts I’ve exhausted friends of friends of friends of friends – with no luck. I entered one script in a BAFTA new writers’ competition and got to final 12 but what I need to do is get a film agent… The issue has been time – or lack of it – but that’s the next career plan. Both scripts have been registered with the Writers Guild of America so I’m happy to send them to any interested parties really!
SC Thanks Mark! I’m sure everyone over at Bang2Write will be as grateful as I am for your time (and buy lots of your books as a ‘thank you’).
BIO: Sam Caine is a scriptwriting student at Bournemouth University about to embark on his final year. He enjoys reading, writing and moaning. He doesn’t enjoy mushrooms, spiders or talking about himself in the third person. You can follow him on his slightly bizarre Twitter, on his blog of writing-related miscellanea, or subscribe to him on Facebook, if you’re into that kind of stuff. He tries to refrain from judgement.