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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

DISCOVERING DIAMONDS


I am honored to be able to publish a guest post from one of my favorite authors of racy maritime tales -- Helen Hollick, whose boisterous lust for life and love of the sea sparkles through every word.

Her post is about her new, and particularly valuable, book review blog site.  All authors, and not just Indies, are well advised to read on....


Thank you, Joan, for inviting me here to talk about my historical fiction review blog, Discovering Diamonds. For several years I was Managing Editor for Indie Reviews for an historical association, but for various reasons I decided it was time I founded my own online site. So Discovering Diamonds was officially launched on 1st January 2016. Our anniversary approaches!



Several reviewers who had worked with me also transferred to #DDRevs (our Twitter hashtag) as they wholeheartedly supported what I wanted to do – that is review, and therefore recommend, enjoyable-to-read well written, historical fiction, regardless of whether the book was indie or traditionally published. A good read is a good read – however it is produced. We also felt that we wanted to support and encourage indie writers who often find it difficult to get their novels noticed. Reliable reviews by reliable reviewers can boost a writer a long way up that steep, daunting ladder. 

We take great pleasure in seeing new authors improve as they gain in experience and confidence. Let me stress, however, that we are not a critique service, we do not give feedback or advice. Not all novels submitted to us receive a review, we select which books to read, and then which ones to review. For those we do not select, it does not mean they were not very good, but maybe we felt the novel could do with another edit, there were too many missed errors, anachronisms or too much ‘head-hopping’.  And I do need to be truthful, some novels are not well-written –  this can include traditional mainstream novels as well as indies! We only (usually!) publish positive reviews, although we do include some constructive criticism if we feel it necessary. There are quite a few boxes that need to be ticked before we publish a review and award the author one of our Discovering Diamonds logos. The novel has to look professionally produced: no left-hand margin text, no page after page of typo errors etc. Our aim is to recommend novels that are, in our opinion, ‘value for money’.

It was a lot of hard work to get Discovering Diamonds started: the blog had to be created, and suitable logos and graphics designed, for which I am grateful to Cathy Helms of www.avaolongraphics.org.  My team is brilliant. They are dedicated reviewers and admin helpers Discovering Diamonds would not exist without them. With everything in place,  we needed submissions. I only expected a few novels to trickle in, but they flooded in! By the end of that first January I was already scheduling reviews to ‘go live’ an entire month ahead. (We continue to schedule for between 4 – 6 weeks ahead of ourselves.)


We prefer e-versions as we have no funding to cover postage or purchase costs (this is all voluntary!) Mobi or e-pub are best, but we will accept paperback copies by arrangement. Plus, we only accept books that are already published with an isbn and are available via Amazon (which is, alas, the main point-of-sale outlet for authors.) Apart from that, we accept any sub-genre of historical fiction. By ‘historical’ I mean anything that has 75% of the story set pre-1950. This is because I was born in 1953 and I refuse to be thought of as historic! At our discretion we will review something history-based set in the 1960s. We might even consider something contemporary if it has a very strong historical connection – I am thinking specifically of time travel, or Alison Morton’s wonderful Roma Nova series, which are modern-day thrillers, but with the theme that the Ancient Roman administration survived, which I think readers of Roman-Age novels will find fascinating. We welcome romances, thrillers, young adult fiction – anything as long as it has that historical connection.


The emphasis, though, is on the word good. We are looking for quality books that are value for money to buy, and are suitable for recommending by ‘word of mouth’, the best way for authors to sell books.

To submit a novel either email me (address below) or fill in the submission form on the blog’s sidebar. I will then send you detailed instructions of what we want, where and how to submit your novel. We do not accept gift vouchers – they are too complicated to use when other reviewers are involved.

In addition to our reviews – we publish one review per weekday – we often have interesting posts about writing or reading. At present during December 2017 we are running a series entitled Diamond Tales, a variety of short stories written by some delightful authors – do take a look! (This link here will take you to the first of the series.)

We give two awards each month, one for Cover of the Month, one for Book of the Month. You’ll find details on Discovering Diamonds. We also give eye-catching logos for authors to use as they wish; our aim is that these logos will, in time, become instantly recognised by readers as a sign of recommended quality. With fingers crossed and a lot of hard work to gain the respectability I am aiming for, Discovering Diamonds will, I hope, become one of the prime places for authors to receive a diamond-standard review for their work of  historical fiction.



HELEN HOLLICK BIOGRAPHY

Helen Hollick moved from London in 2013 and now lives with her family in North Devon, in an eighteenth century farmhouse surrounded by thirteen acres of fields and woodland. A variety of pets include horses, Exmoor ponies, dogs, cats, chickens, ducks, geese and a donkey.
First published over twenty years ago, her main passion is her pirate character, Captain Jesamiah Acorne of the nautical adventure series, The Sea Witch Voyages.

Helen became a USA Today Bestseller with her historical novel, The Forever Queen (titled A Hollow Crown in the UK) – the story of Saxon Queen, Emma of Normandy. Her novel Harold the King (titled I Am The Chosen King in the US) is a re-telling of the events that led to the 1066 Battle of Hastings. While her Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy, set in the fifth century, is widely acclaimed as a different telling of the Arthurian Myth.

She has written three non-fiction books, Pirates; Truth and Tales and a book about smugglers, to be published in 2018. As a supporter of indie writers, co-wrote Discovering the Diamond with her editor, Jo Field, a short advice guide for new and novice writers who are interested in self-publishing.
Helen is published in various languages including Turkish, Italian and German.

LINKS

Helen Hollick : www.helenhollick.net
Twitter: @HelenHollick
Twitter hashtag:  #DDRevs
Subscribe to Helen’s newsletter: http://tinyletter.com/HelenHollick


  

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Angling for reviews


Well, there has been an intriguing Whoops!  Following close on the heels of my last post, where I quoted a letter from Jason Boggs, a startlingly similar letter arrived from another novice writer.

Hi Joan,

I noticed you wrote an Amazon review of one of my favorite books, Dune. I've recently finished my own novel that I thought you might enjoy. 

An Amazon New Release, Aspiria Rising, is the story of a naive cadet forced to rebel against the Meritocracy at the intellectual capital of the galaxy.
Bestselling author Scott Nicholson wrote the back cover blurb: "Barton is inventive and fresh. Don't miss this shooting star's debut!"


I’m giving away several copies to reviewers in the hopes of getting more reviews – I’m starting out so reaching new readers is more important than profit at this point. But no obligations of course, only review it if you actually like it. If it’s not for you or you don’t have time right now, I totally understand and please accept my apologies.

 If you are interested, I'd be happy to send you an ebook (mobi, epub, or PDF, whatever you prefer).

Thanks for your consideration!


Douglas Barton

What was going on here?  I asked Jason Boggs, who confessed that my contact details came from a site called Book Razor.  Along with the boilerplate letter, it seems. So, of course, I investigated.

YOU WRITE, WE HELP YOU GET BOOK REVIEWS, the home page declares.  In return for a fee ranging from $29.99 to $224.99, and a list of books that the author thinks are similar to his or her own, the staff (which may be robotic) will search Amazon for the names and contact details of people who have reviewed one or more of the listed books, and send them along, with a template email letter.

This is alarming.  Does Amazon know about it?  It certainly impelled me to go to my profile and update the privacy boxes, along with changing my public name. 

And how fair is it to the new author? The site stipulates that the books that the author considers are similar to his or her own must have reaped at least 50 reviews.  This means that he or she is going to include a classic or a bestseller, one that is very likely to be in a class that the new author can only aspire to, Frank Herbert's Dune being a very good example.

And, while the site is very careful not to promise good reviews, or (for that matter) any reviews at all, it does not point out that there are alternatives -- that it is possible to get reviews without having to pay a cent. 

The great book review magazine, Publishers Weekly, has a list of contacts for free, professional reviews, that is aimed at Indie authors.

First, there is IndieView, which links Indie authors with enthusiastic volunteer reviewers.  By going through their lists, it is possible to match your book with a reviewer who reads your kind of thing.  A big plus is that those reviewers often post their reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, and so on.

Next comes a list of blogs that review books -- The Book Blogger List -- listed according to genre.  It is up to the author to contact the blogger directly, but the site is very well managed, with blogs that lapse being delisted promptly, to save wasted effort from the hopeful author.

A similar site is Book Reviewer Yellow Pages, which was set up by Christy Pinheiro, who once produced a very useful guide called "Step by Step Self Publishing".  This is a list of 200 book bloggers.  Again, the author has to make his or her own approach.

A favorite of mine is Publishers Weekly's BookLife, which is well worth belonging to, as it has a useful newsletter, as well as offering free reviews.  While there is no guarantee when you submit your book that you will get a review (and you usually don't), there is the annual Book Life Prize, which is well worth the entry fee.  With this, your book gets a rating, a short analysis, and (if you are lucky) a useful blurb.  

Publishers Weekly also advertises a listing in PW Select, at a cost of $149.  This, I do not recommend, mainly because the pages in the magazine that feature these books are headed PAID LISTING, letting the world know that the listing is there because the author shelled out the cash, and not because the book is outstanding.

Getting back to Book Razor, it is interesting that the site mines Amazon -- and only Amazon -- for the contact details of book reviewers.  The quality of reviewing on Amazon is variable in the extreme: there are thoughtful reviews, and petty ones, and few (if any) of the reviewers are professional.  There are also spoof reviews, some of which reach cult status, mainly because people have fun checking them as "helpful".  I particularly liked one for Island of the Lost, where the reviewer solemnly wrote, "The best description of sea-lion sex I have ever read."

And it seems that Douglas Barton has had a similar experience, judging by the top review in the dozen he has gained:

After reading it, I felt smarter ... thinking at a higher level. 
Perhaps I have ascended, my brain cells seem to be expanding, 
which is extraordinary since 
I only have three of those suckers left. 
(I'm old, but I had a good time killing them.) 
See, you will like this book!

"A parody of the U.S. current political mess," wrote another.

Sounds like fun!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

MARKETING YOUR SELF-PUBLISHED BOOK


Five years ago, I set up a blog called Publishing Your Novel on Kindle, which was a guide to formatting,  editing, and publishing a book on the Amazon KDP platform, which proved unexpectedly popular.  Many thousands of hits and over a thousand thank-you letters later, I have finally got around to adding the final hint, which is called ....   

MARKETING YOUR SELF-PUBLISHED BOOK



You’ve published your book: it is available on Kindle and a raft of other devices, and it is out in print, too, probably through either CreateSpace or Ingram’s Lightning Source. It looks great, and you feel justifiably proud of yourself.  But the trick is to get people reading it.

It can be done.  There are Indie authors who have managed to be wildly successful, as witness the following . . .

Back in 1931, Irma Rombauer invested half her life savings to pay a local firm to print 3,000 copies of her cookbook, The Joy of Cooking, each of which she sold for one dollar.  Within a generation, it could be found in every American kitchen, and 18 million copies had sold. 

Thirty years earlier, Beatrix Potter self-published The Tales of Peter Rabbit, after umpteen rejections. Another Indie success was John Grisham, who self-published his first book, A Time to Kill. In 1992, James Redfield self-published The Celestine Prophesy, copies of which which he sold out of the trunk of his car.

All of these books became bestsellers — but only after the authors had been picked up by traditional publishers. So, do modern Indie authors have to wait for the same kind of luck?

Maybe not. Some have been wildly successful on their own.  One is Amanda Hocking, who self-published 17 digital novels, and sold over a million copies before being picked up by St Martin’s Press.  

E. L. James self-published her Shades of Gray trilogy with the help of a network of Indie authors, and achieved remarkable sales even before traditional publishers took over.  

And then there is the interesting story of Richard Paul Evans, a Mormon who self-published an inspirational novella called The Christmas Box.  He originally intended it as gifts for family and friends, but — perhaps because he was an advertising executive — he soon went further than that, offering it to stores in Utah, his home state.  It became a local bestseller, and after being scooped by Simon & Schuster, was the first book to top both the hardback and paperback bestselling list in the same issue of The New York Times.

 A personal favourite is Hugh Howey, the author of the amazing Wool-Shift-Dust series.  He published with Kindle Direct Publishing because he liked the freedom of Indie writing.  The series quickly gained both cult status and the interest of a mainstream publisher.  Shrewdly, he sold the distribution rights of the print edition, while retaining the right to sell online himself, along with all digital rights.  Somehow it is no surprise that his next ambition is to sail the world on a catamaran.

How did these Indie authors achieve such remarkable success?  Was it just because of luck?  Obviously not, as the authors put a great deal of effort into getting their books read. So, what devices are there for getting your book into readers’ eager hands?

The most obvious internet marketing ploy is an author’s website.  The cost of this varies — the Authors Guild has no set-up fee, but maintains the site for $3 a month, a facility offered only to members. A simple google search will find many more avenues.  While it can be quite a task to keep the website lively and up to date, there are lots of advantages, the foremost being that traditional publishers like them, and if your ultimate aim is to be scooped up by a traditional house, having a well-kept website will help.

Setting up and maintaining a blog is more demanding, but also a lot more fun. Instead of a monotonous recitation of publications, events, awards and reviews, entertaining bits and pieces can be posted, incidentally snaring a lot more readers, who might enjoy it enough to become a follower, and check what is posted every day. Keeping to a certain theme is a good idea.

A simpler version of a blog is a newsletter, which does not have to be maintained so regularly, and which comes out only when there is something to announce, such as the publication of another book.  For this, you need a good mailing list, preferably not just of family and friends.  To add to this, set up some sort of competition, with a copy of the book as the prize, which is a cheap way of collecting a whole lot of new email addresses for your next newsletter. If the new book is the latest in a series, it is a good idea to offer a free copy of the first book.  Not only does it attract new readers, but it adds to your mailing list, too.

You can link your blog or newsletter to Facebook, which despite its controversial reputation is a remarkable marketing device.  It helps a lot to belong to a number of specialist groups — maritime enthusiasts if your books are about the sea, animal rights groups if you write passionately about endangered species, WW2 enthusiasts if that is your topic, and so forth and so on.  And that is just one example of the use of social media. Twitter is another that springs to mind.

And then there is cooperation.  E. L. James, who wrote for a fan-fiction website after being inspired by the Twilight series, was part of a small Australian independent publishing venture called “The Writer’s Coffee Shop.” A slew of favourable comments on Goodreads followed, leading to such stratospheric sales that the Writer’s Coffee Shop couldn’t handle the distribution.  A phenomenal sale to traditional publishers followed — along with the inevitable fights and court cases over allocation of royalties.

So, what is an independent publishing venture, and does it help to belong to one?  The Writer’s Coffee Shop describes itself as “an up and coming independent publisher based out of New South Wales, Australia. The company launched in October of 2010 with the vision of working alongside talented authors while providing quality e-books to the growing marketplace.

“The Writer’s Coffee Shop has a deeper history than simply publishing books. The original site was launched in September 2009 as an online community “Where friends meet” to discuss books, blogs, serial fiction, news and more.

“It didn’t take long for the community, which called The Writer’s Coffee Shop ‘home,’ to outgrow what the site was currently providing. On January 26, 2010, The Library launched. The Library is a friendly, easy-going environment in which anyone can post and read original and derivative works. The Library is also used by The Writer’s Coffee Shop Publishing House to host regular fiction writing contests.”

No mention of E L James, you note.  The lesson is plain, though — that any Indie publishing venture has to set out its goals precisely, with some sort of legal framework in mind. The chances of one of the authors becoming a mega-seller are remote, but it does happen.

Otherwise, there are great advantages.  Rich Spilman’s Old Salt Press, for instance, is a group of maritime writers who support each other with ideas, the publishing and editing process, and marketing the books after they come out.

And so we come to marketing.  This is a lot easier with print books, which can be carried into stores, sold out of car trunks, put on display at book fairs, given away as promotional presents, and sent out for review. Only some of this is possible with digital books.  As I have already pointed out, they can be given away, but only if you have a mailing list, or use social media.

Both Smashwords and Amazon provide the facility for this kind of promotion, but it only works if people know that the promotion is happening.  And, even if the free books fly off the shelf (as it were), there is no guarantee that the readers will post reviews — and it is the reviews that you really want. The Fifty Shades of Gray phenomenon started with the slew of good reviews, remember — and readers want to be reassured that the book is worth picking up, before they shell out money, or even download for free.

So, how can you solicit reviews of your digital book?  I was inspired to write after receiving a letter from an enterprising independent author, who gave me permission to reproduce it in this post.

Hi Joan,
I'm a new Aussie author and I've written a new release Space Opera with a difference called "The Devil's Dragon"

I am reaching out to you specifically because I noticed that you wrote an Amazon review of Dune & you're a fan of Frank Herbert (as am I). I feel that you may indeed enjoy the characters, drama and the social commentary of my work. 

Set in the near future, the story follows two main heroes, Nelson Jones and Alene from opposite sides of a first contact conflict known as the Aesini War. Nelson and Alene must decide whether or not to risk their lives to do what is right for the future of all.

The Devil's Dragon is getting great story reviews, some I've put on my website:

Happy to send you a free PDF copy of my work.


I am asking for you to read The Devil's Dragon in its entirety and leave a review on Amazon &/or Goodreads.

Thank you for your kind consideration, please let me know if you would like my work and I will send it to you! !
Regards,
Jason F Boggs

Original, indeed. It’s risky to liken one’s book to a classic like Dune, but when I asked Jason, he said that about a dozen readers had taken up the offer.  So he has does his homework, used his imagination, and deserves what good luck he gets.

Another ploy would be to post a rave review of a book that is in your genre, and has been written by a relatively new author, and then write to the author with the same offer of a review copy of your own book.  Naturally, the letter would mention how much the author’s book was liked — all authors love praise, and not just the new ones.  This would take even more research and patience, but it would add valuable names to your mailing list.

And that mailing list is your basic tool.  The more people who know about your new book, how it is being promoted, and are tempted to read it, the more reviews you are likely to get.  BookBub has a very useful blog — https://insights.bookbub.com/marketing-a-new-book-tactics-authors-publishers-love/ — with more ideas for building up your audience and getting reviewed.

What it all comes down to, though, is that with the publication of your book, the hard work has only just started.

Good luck!
   

Monday, November 27, 2017

Rhode Island Rendezvous



“[She was a] long-legged lass with freckled skin, with fiery hair and a spirit to match. He had discovered her in the bosun’s locker, intent on Barbados where she hoped to inherit her father’s estate.  Of course, there was nothing for her there.  Ah, but he had lost his heart to her, not once but twice. And then she disappeared...”

Thus, the first chapter in this, the third of Collison’s Patricia MacPherson historical adventure series, reminds the reader of the beginning of a very strange saga. Back then, only semi-protected by the young man who had found her stowed away and “had lost his heart to her,” Patricia was forced by survive by her wits in a strange and exotic land. Obviously, her options were limited — she could prostitute herself, get married, or find a job, the last being almost impossible for a young woman who was hampered by her youth, her sex, and her total lack of qualifications.

The inevitable marriage of convenience led to yet another solution — her kindly husband, a ship’s surgeon, taught her enough of his medical skill for her to make a living after his death . . . but only if she takes on the guise of a man. And so Patricia MacPherson, girl-widow, metamorphosed into Patrick MacPherson, sea surgeon.

By the time this third book opens, Patrick/Patricia has progressed even further, to the command of a ship in the Caribbean sugar trade, and has become so masculine in thought and bearing that s/he often seems hermaphrodite. A re-encounter with a beautiful Creole woman who helped her transform herself in a male has tantalizingly Lesbian overtones.  Added to that, when faced with a maritime crisis, Captain Patrick MacPherson rises to the challenge like an experienced master mariner. A very different crisis — delivering a baby by Caesarean section — is a stark reminder of the problems of being a woman. But then the reappearance of Brian Dalton — the same young man who saved her as a stowaway in the very first book — tips Patrick/Patricia back into feminine mode, with all the complications that thinking and feeling like a young woman brings to a “fellow” in her strange situation.

But this book is much more than a study of conflicting sexuality.  The setting is 1765, when the American colonists are in a ferment, roused to rebellion by duties and taxes imposed by a rapacious English administration.   Collison, who is as adept with the politics of the time as she is with details of life at sea, handles this very well indeed. Recommended to history buffs as an unusual, thought-provoking book that rings with authenticity.


Another triumph from Old Salt Press.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Witch of Wall Street


Yes, it is no less than Hetty Green, born in New Bedford in its whaling heyday, heir of a fortune made mostly from whaling, and known by a number of nicknames -- America's First Female Tycoon, The World's Greatest Miser, The Queen of Skinflints -- but "The Witch of Wall Street" is the one that has stuck.

Did she merit her miserly reputation? It seems so, but there is much to admired.  She was a financial genius, turning the $7,500,000 she inherited at the age of thirty until an estate worth up to two million by the time she died, in 1916. 

However, as her short biography on the New Bedford Whaling Museum website describes, it is due to her son, Colonel Green, that the Charles W Morgan, the last of the wooden whaling ships, has survived.

There is a fuller biography in the latest Smithsonian, which is well worth reading for more about this truly fascinating woman.


Friday, November 17, 2017

Selling in China



A big moment for me was when a charming Chinese woman approached me in New Zealand to sign her Chinese language copy of Tupaia.

Years ago, the big dream for a Kiwi author was to sell in the United States.  It is still a staple market -- but how long is that going to last?

In August, we were on a small cruise ship out of Bora Bora, in the Tahitian Islands, when an American asked the lecturer, "What kind of impact is China having in the Pacific?"

The audience was mostly American, most of them business people, so you can imagine the massed intake of breath when the lecturer said, "Huge."

I can attest to that myself.  The flow of Chinese investment in the Pacific is breathtaking.  The islands are experiencing a boom like never before. Hotels, roads, office buildings are sprouting on palm-shaded beaches, all with Chinese signs.  The Chinese love the Pacific, and, increasingly, businesses in the Pacific are selling aggressively in Chinese markets.

Interestingly, today there was a news item in our local paper about Chinese entrepreneurs selling cheap red wine under the prestigious Penfolds label.  As the Sydney Morning Herald reported,  it is not a small operation. Shanghai police have seized 14,000 bottles of fake Penfolds wine being sold by counterfeiters in China.The fake Penfolds wine was being sold through Alibaba's online flea market Taobao, as well as pubs and karaoke bars. 

The three-month investigation followed a complaint to Alibaba by Australian wine company Treasury Wine Estates that suspicious retailers were charging "extraordinarily low prices" for Penfolds wine in its fastest growing market. Alibaba called in police, who said at a press conference on Wednesday that 13 suspects had been detained, including Mr Dai, a wine dealer who was selling fake Penfolds for 200 yuan ($40) per bottle online, while it should retail for 600 to 3000 yuan ($120 to $595).

That is a breathtaking price!  In New Zealand one can buy a case of very nice Penfolds wine for about the same money.  No wonder Mr Dai was tempted to stage the scam -- and no wonder Australian and New Zealand winemakers are marketing in China. Demand there increased by 33% last year.

And it is not just wine. A Shanghai-based marketing consultant, Matthew McKenzie, turned a local breakfast food, "Weet-Bix" into a hit in China,  Our local Weet-Bix manufacturer, Sanitarium, sends 125,000 boxes of the breakfast food to China every month, and expects the craze to escalate -- Chinese will shell out as much as $50 for a box that costs us about six.  




"There are fake products in every channel," said McKenzie -- from dishwashing liquid to infant formula.  But the market had to be established in the first place, and it seems that Australian and New Zealand businesses are doing that very well.

America might sell planes and armament, and brag about "the art of the deal," but it seems that the Pacific is quietly taking over in the family homes of China.  And that includes books.  In 2015, at the Beijing Book Fair, 40% of the sales were acquisitions from abroad -- and the rate is increasing.  There are problems for the Indie author, though.  Print books must have a government-issued ISBN.  Digital books sell for about a fifth of what they fetch on Amazon.com.  And, as with the wine, there is the problem of piracy. But the market is huge, well worth exploring.

And it seems that it is the way of the future.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Macmillan shuts down its Indie publishing arm


Publishers Weekly's Booklife reports that Macmillan has abruptly shut down its self-publishing arm, "Pronoun," with the loss of an unknown number of jobs.

Originally launched in 2009 as Vook, an early e-book and interactive content production platform, the company pivoted in 2015 and relaunched itself as a self-publishing platform under the direction of Josh Brody.

In May 2016 the company, now called Pronoun, was acquired by Macmillan, and Brody was kept on board as president. Ben Zhuk, Pronoun chief product officer, was also retained and named v-p of product for Macmillan.

But it did not work well, it seems, because earlier this year both Brody and Zhuk left the company.  It was the beginning of the end, a situation confirmed by Jeff Seroy, senior v-p of publicity and marketing at Macmillan's Farrar Straus and Giroux unit.

Asked why Pronoun was being shuttered 18 months after the acquisition, Seroy said despite Macmillan investment in the platform and “terrific” feedback from Pronoun authors, “we came to the conclusion that there wasn't a path forward to a profitable business model and decided to shut down the platform.”

And so it ends, leaving an unknown number of frustrated Indie authors, and a raft of unanswered questions.

Macmillan being a distinctly conservative publisher, it was more surprising that the company acquired Pronoun in 2016, than that it has shed it mere months later.

For a traditional publisher to dip a toe in the new world of self-publishing is odd to start with.  The best explanation is that if the arm sponsors an author whose work zooms into the bestseller ranks, she or he is an author who has been already captured.  But that is a gamble with very long odds indeed.

And it doesn't seem financially promising.  Indie authors who publish with Pronoun in print are competing with a stable of regular authors, who would obviously get the cream of marketing and promotion.  In digital, Amazon dominates the market, and Smashwords is a better entry for the newbie in the self-publishing world. Added to that are swept-up operations like Draft2Digital, which specialize in producing a quality product which is taken up by a whole raft of online digital book stores, like Kobo.

Plus, most importantly, while digital books quickly seized about 25% of the market, that fraction has not improved, and may even be declining, as print books regain their popularity.

You can read Macmillan's closing statement here.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The Dictionary of New Zealand Biography revived -- with Tupaia


An iconic publication lives again


Revived with an exciting maiden entry

This week Te Ara marks an important milestone: the publication of the first new Dictionary of New Zealand Biography entry since 2011. Joan Druett has written a new entry on the Polynesian navigator, Tupaia, the subject of her award-winning biography published in 2011. We’re delighted to announce that this marks the beginning of a new phase in the life of the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography.
The Dictionary was originally published in five print volumes between 1990 and 2000, under the general editorship of W.H. Oliver and later Claudia Orange. It comprised biographies of more than 3000 people who had risen to prominence before 1960 and died before the publication cut-off date of 1998. No living person was eligible for inclusion. Separate volumes reprinted the biographies of the nearly 500 Maori subjects in te reo Maori, which together with the te reo sections of Te Ara constitutes the largest Maori-language publishing programme ever conducted.
In late 2001 all the biographies were made available online, with a team of researchers locating images and in some cases audio and video recordings to illustrate the essays. In 2010 the online biographies were relaunched as part of Te Ara, with the biographies and encyclopedia entries enriching and amplifying each other. Fifteen new biographies were added to Te Ara in 2010–11.
Happily the Dictionary’s time has come again, and from 2018 onwards we will release a small batch of new biographies annually. The first round will place the spotlight on a number of high-achieving women, to celebrate the 125th anniversary of women’s suffrage. Subsequent rounds will illuminate the lives of significant and representative people from a cross-section of New Zealand society, with a focus on the decades after 1960. The new biographies will be released online only.
We’re still working through the details, but the new Dictionary of New Zealand Biography will honour the tradition of rigorous and broad-ranging scholarship established by the Dictionary’s original editors, staff, working groups and authors. They have left big shoes to fill.



Saturday, November 4, 2017

World's Best Airline - yet again


From Yahoo News

For the fifth consecutive year, Air New Zealand has been named the “Airline of the Year” in the U.S. by AirlineRatings.com. Various factors were taken into consideration, but the carriers record-breaking financial performance helped it to beat out competitors. Despite earnings before taxes falling to $527 million in 2017 from $663 million in 2016, the airline still experienced its second-most highest earnings in the company’s history.
In addition to profits, Air New Zealand also took the top spot thanks to in-flight innovations, environmental leadership, safety, and a young fleet of aircrafts. It also doesn’t hurt that New Zealand has been experiencing a tourism boom. In the last year, 3.7 million international tourists have visited the island nation so far this year, up 9% from 2016.
Air New Zealand was also named as the airline with the Best Premium Economy. Singapore Airlines won for Best First Class experience, Virgin Australia won for Best Business Class experience, and Korean Air won for Best Economy Class.

The 10 best airlines in the world

AirlineRatings.com also identified the top 10 airlines in the world. After Air New Zealand, Qantas and Singapore airlines rounded out the top three. The rest of the list includes in their respective rank: Virgin Australia, Virgin Atlantic, Etihad Airways, All Nippon Airways, Korean Air, Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines.
In order to make this list, airlines must achieve a seven-star safety rating and demonstrate leadership in innovation for passenger comfort.
By now you’ve noticed that no U.S. carriers made the list, which is disappointing, but not surprising. U.S. carriers also did not rank on last year’s list.
Perhaps the focus on “passenger comfort” is what keeps legacy airlines like American, Delta, and United from getting mentioned. U.S. carriers have made many changes with their economy class seats in the past two years: They shrunk the size of seats and positioned  them closer together. American Airlines announced that their new 737-Max jet planes would feature three rows of economy seats with a pitch (the distance between seats) of 29 inches. The current pitch of similar-sized Boeing 737-800 jets is 31 inches.
In July 2017, United Airlines also announced that it was adding an extra seat in every row in economy class on their Boeing 777 aircraft. In other words, passengers would pay the same price for a ticket, but have less space.
These cutbacks almost certainly impacted the ranking of U.S. carriers.
“We are looking for leadership and airlines that innovate to make a real difference to the passenger experience, particularly in economy class,” said the AirlineRatings.com judging team.
Judges also took passenger feedback on their website into consideration. Based on what we know about American consumers, they probably didn’t have nice things to say about the U.S. carriers.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Secrets of a Chinese shipwreck


According to an article in Live Science, this wreck dates from the time that the descendants of Genghis Khan ruled China. Seven hundred years ago, the ship foundered in the course of a river voyage, and was forgotten until the day the wreck was discovered under a construction site. Archaeologists moved in, and had a more exciting time than the picture above might indicate.

Divided into 12 cabins (including the captain's stateroom, a control room that was also the galley, and cargo spaces that were loaded with grain), the ship proved to be a storehouse of gorgeous Chinese treasures.  The captain's cabin held some of them, and the rest were focused about a Buddhist shrine.

Hit this link to see a sampling


Friday, October 27, 2017

Einstein "tip" earns untold gold

From the Jerusalem Post

The Jerusalem auction house that sold a note written by Albert Einstein for $1,560,000 on Tuesday night said it was flabbergasted by the winning bid. “We were in total shock, we didn’t believe it was happening,” said Avi Blumenthal, a spokesman for Winner’s Auctions and Exhibitions. “It’s the highest price ever for an item sold at auction in Israel.”

The note, written shortly after Einstein learned he had been awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics, says simply: “A calm and modest life brings more happiness than the pursuit of success combined with constant restlessness.”

According to the auction house, located in the Givat Shaul neighborhood of Jerusalem, the letter was written by Einstein in the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo in October 1922. When a messenger delivered something to his room, the scientist found himself short of a tip. Instead he gave the bellboy two notes and “told the messenger to keep them, as their future value may be much higher than a standard tip,” said the auction house.

Blumenthal told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday morning that the letters came to them directly from the great-nephew of the bellboy who delivered the message to Einstein.

He held on to the letter for many years, and a few months ago we held an auction of letters Einstein wrote to Prof. David Bohm, on mathematics, and they were sold at a nice price,” Blumenthal said. In that auction, the letter that fetched the highest price went for $84,000.

“It was publicized in a newspaper in Germany where he [the great-nephew] lives, and he saw this and said, ‘Okay, if they get good prices on Einstein, I’ll turn to them.’” 

Bidding on the item started at $2,000 and the auction house estimated it would go for $5,000-$8,000; the final price was close to 200 times that amount. While Winner’s didn’t dream of the final sum the letter garnered, it did have an idea that this auction would attract greater interest than some of its others.

“In the weeks leading up to the auction,” Blumenthal said, “we saw people joining the website from Lebanon, from Jordan, from places that were a little unusual.”

The other note Einstein gave to the bellboy sold for $240,000.

That note said simply, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

Both letters were written in German. Two other letters by Einstein in the auction sold for $33,600 and $9,600.

The auction included many items of Judaica, Holocaust memorabilia and holy books.

The handwritten notes of the Chatam Sofer on a tractate of Talmud, dated to 1914, sold for $26,400.

Blumenthal said about 30 people showed up in person to the auction house in Jerusalem, and most of the bidding took place online, as is common in auctions today. The purchaser of the letter has chosen to remain anonymous, but Blumenthal said the buyer is based in Europe.

“It just goes to show you,” said Blumenthal, “that many people own items at home and they couldn’t possibly dream of the value those items could have.”

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Vasco da Gama's astrolabe


The BBC news reports a fascinating find.

The legendary marine archaeologist, David Mearns of Blue Water recovery, salvaged an artifact from Vasco da Gama's ship Esmeralda that looked like a navigational instrument.

It has now been confirmed that it is, indeed, a fifteenth century astrolabe, used to determine the altitude of the sun. 

As the BBC reports --

David Mearns, from Blue Water Recovery, who led the excavation and is the author of The Shipwreck Hunter, told the BBC: "It's a great privilege to find something so rare, something so historically important, something that will be studied by the archaeological community and fills in a gap."
The astrolabe was discovered by Mr Mearns in 2014, and was one of nearly 3,000 artefacts recovered during a series of dives.
The bronze disc measures 17.5cm in diameter and is less than 2mm thick.
"It was like nothing else we had seen and I immediately knew it was something very important because you could see it had these two emblems on it," said Mr Mearns.
"One I recognised immediately as a Portuguese coat of arms... and another which we later discovered was the personal emblem of Don Manuel I, the King of Portugal at the time."
The excavation team believed the object was an astrolabe, but they could not see any navigational markings on it.
However, a later analysis uncovered its hidden details.
Laser scanning work carried out by scientists at the University of Warwick revealed etches around the edge of the disc, each separated by five degrees.
Astrolabe laser scan
Image captionThe University of Warwick used laser scans to uncover etches on the astrolabe, which helped navigators work out the height of the sun
This would have allowed mariners to measure the height of the sun above the horizon at noon to determine their location so they could find their way on the high seas.
Mariners' astrolabes are relatively rare, and this is only the 108th to be confirmed catalogued. It is also the earliest known example by several decades.
Mr Mearns said: "We know it had to have been made before 1502, because that's when the ship left Lisbon and Dom Manuel didn't become King until 1495, and this astrolabe wouldn't have carried the emblem of the King unless he was King.
"I believe it's probably fair to say it dates roughly to between 1495 to 1500. Exactly what year we don't know - but it is in that narrow period."
He added: "It rolls back this history by at least 30 years - it adds to evolution, it adds to the history, and hopefully astrolabes from this period can be found."