October 29, 2013

Publishing Erotica

Erotica stays, rape fantasies banned: A Kobo Writing Life Update

As you may be aware, in the face of some fairly intense media scrutiny, we at Kobo launched a major review of the books we offer for sale to make sure they comply with our content policy on offensive material. We cast a wide net across our catalogue that included genres and books coming from self-published authors, aggregators, and publishers, and we quarantined many of these while we conducted the review that made them unavailable in the UK during that time. The review had to happen fast, and we didn’t enjoy it, but with our esteemed 300-year-old retail partner on the front page of major newspapers and some content clearly in violation of our posted standards, we needed to move quickly. Almost everyone on the Kobo Content Team, spread across a dozen countries and time zones, was involved at one point or another. The urgency was driven by our desire to make sure we were running a store that met our own expectations and equally by the need to get our authors back up and available for sale again in the UK as fast as possible.

The good news is that the vast majority of self-published Kobo Writing Life titles are once again available on Kobo.com in the UK, with most authors experiencing a gap of only a few days before their books were once again in the catalogue. As well, we have been working closely with our self-publishing aggregation partners. Most of their titles are once again available in the UK or will be in the coming hours. If your book is still unavailable and you think it shouldn’t be, please contact us.

For those few titles that remain unavailable, some feel that we chose a path of censorship. All I can say is that if your dream is to publish “barely legal” erotica or exploitative rape fantasies, distribution is probably going to be a struggle for you. We aren’t saying you can’t write them. But we don’t feel compelled to sell them. And yes, many titles live in a grey zone with far more shades than the fifty that sold so well in the past year, but that is what makes this all so challenging and so interesting. Many of our readers have no problem with an erotic title in their library next to their romance, literary fiction, investing or high-energy physics books. And we are here for the readers, so erotica stays, a small but interesting part of a multi-million-title catalogue, in all of its grey-shaded glory. We will continue to work on reviewing processes and author education about what we can take and what we can’t. It will never be perfect, but our belief continues to be that if we focus on readers and growing our business around them, we will get it right much more often than not.

Michael Tamblyn
Chief Content Officer

October 03, 2013

The History of Cluedo

The remarkable story of Anthony Pratt creating Cluedo, that iconic board game, at his Birmingham home during the 1940s is told in a new book by a Nottinghamshire author, Jonathan Foster.

October 02, 2013

Interesting Talks London: October 6, 2013

The Conway Hall in Camden, London, is the venue for political commentator and author, John Issitt's latest talk - Agents of Reason. This talk describes his own compromises in negotiating the orthodox register of academic history and the literary license of historical fiction. 

Read more and book your tickets here.

September 27, 2013

Guilty Secrets - what are you really reading?

Is Fifty Shades of Grey the most embarrassing book on your Kindle?

Everyone reads books on a Kindle that they wouldn’t be seen dead with if other people could see the cover! A new survey of over 2000 people, commissioned by the RNIB, has revealed that at least quarter of ebook readers admitted to having some guilty pleasures on a Kindle or similar device.

35 per cent of people said they would normally feel too embarrassed to read erotic fiction in public, yet it’s the most common genre of choice! Romantic novels like Mills and Boon were next at 32 per cent, with men the most likely to be coy about reading them! Men were generally more sensitive than women about being caught reading the wrong book in every category except erotic fiction and true crime.

It’s interesting that only nine per cent of people felt silly to be caught reading a children’s book in public. Having said that, the Harry Potter books were level pegging with ‘anything by Jeffrey Archer’ in the list of guilty reads. The top most embarrassing book to be seen with was Fifty Shades of Grey, which was cited by one in seven people.

It seems ironic that just 11 per cent of people said they judged others on the book they are reading. Talk about ‘not judging a book by its cover’!

September 26, 2013

Royal Society Winton Book Prize For Science Books Shortlist

The six books on the shortlist for the Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books are competing for a much larger cash prize this year. The shortlisted books are vying for the world's most prestigious award for popular science writing. The prize money for the winner has increased from £10,000 to £25,000, while the authors of each of the shortlisted books will receive £2,500.

The shortlist is composed of:

Bird Sense 
by Tim Birkhead, published by Bloomsbury

The judges said: "Bird Sense opens new worlds to the imagination through a wealth of passionately observed science. It succeeds in conveying a feeling of what it is like to be a bird."

The Particle at the End of the Universe 
by Sean Carroll, published by OneWorld Publications

The hunt for the Higgs and the discovery of a new world
The judges said: "This book invites you to imagine the unimaginable. It tells an extraordinary tale of scientific discovery and stands out by its ability to speak to people who are not scientists."

Cells to Civilizations 
by Enrico Coen, published by Princeton University Press

The judges said: "Cells to Civilizations presents an exciting challenge to our thinking on how evolution works. It is unbelievably alive and we could feel our brains growing as we read."

Pieces of Light 
by Charles Fernyhough, published by Profile Books

The judges said: "Our memories of reading this book are exceptionally good ones! It challenges much of what we think we know about memory. It's a bit like reading a novel, personal and compulsive!"

The Book of Barely Imagined Beings 
by Caspar Henderson, published by Granta

The judges said: "Henderson taps into forgotten wonder we first felt as children discovering the creatures of our world. It borrows its format from ancient bestiaries and its title from Borges' extraordinary tales. The book itself is a beautiful object and brings barely imagined beings to life."

Ocean of Life 
by Callum Roberts, published by Allen Lane (Penguin Books)

The judges said: "Roberts sets modern conservation in context. For instance he has taken fisheries science and channelled it into the mainstream debate. This book is thrilling: a delightful mix of anecdote, research and polemic."

The winner will be announced at a public event at the Royal Society on 25th November 2013.

William Hill's odds for the shortlisted books are as follows:

3/1 Bird Sense by Tim Birkhead
7/2 The Particle at the End of the Universe by Sean Carroll
4/1 Ocean of Life by Callum Roberts
5/1 Cells to Civilization by Enrico Coen
5/1 Piece of Light by Charles Fernyhough
5/1 The Book of Barely Imagined Beings by Caspar Henderson

The first chapter of each book is available to download for free at The Royal Society.

September 25, 2013

Publisher bites back!

Toby Young, writing in The Telegraph, says, "you would have to have a heart of stone not to laugh at this." I have to agree! 

Iain Dale is the owner of Biteback Publishing, the publisher of Damian McBride's controversial poke at the Labour Party, Power Trip: A Decade of Policy, Plots and Spin

Rather than hovering discreetly in the wings whilst a news crew from Channel 5 interviews McBride, Iain Dale completely upstages his author by wrestling a harmless anti-nuclear protestor to the ground so he won't appear in the background! To the sound of the poor man's dog barking, all cameras focus on the unseemly scuffle...and it's that that hits the news!

August 13, 2013

Amazon leads the way

Both Amazon and authors will be very happy with a new survey out about the reading habits of ebook buyers. Not only that, it appears that ebook piracy is not much to worry about!

According to a new OFCOM survey, the vast majority of the UK’s ebook readers are almost exclusively buying from Amazon, and to a lesser extent all the other digital bookstores. 79% of the people polled from March to May 2013 have used Amazon’s Kindle platform to download, access, or share e-books in the last three months.

Apart from being the world’s top publishing market, Amazon is the bookstore of choice for ebook buyers in the UK. Apple’s iBookstore was the second most used ebook platform, with 9% of respondents saying that was their preferred choice. Google’s search engine was the third most popular platform, used by 8% of people. Google Play has a 6% share, while 5% of respondents accessed or downloaded e-books from email, 5% from Kobo, and 4% through Facebook. Waterstones has a 3% share of the UK e-book market, along with uTorrent, a platform for Microsoft Windows and Android.

One thing that stands out is that Barnes and Noble is not even in the top ten, despite the money they are investing in advertising and slashing of hardware prices.

There is good news for authors though! During the survey period, customers spent close to £525m – that’s £9.79 for every person in the UK! Customers also appear to be disdainful of higher than average ebook prices. 81% said they would be prepared to pay an entry price of £2 for an ebook. The average price that respondents were willing to pay for ebooks was £3.74.

There was even more good news on the ebook pirating front. Only 1% of UK readers claimed to engage in the shady aspects of pirating ebooks via file sharing websites.  And one startling fact is that the book pirates actually spend more money on books than other customers. Pirates spent around £27.46 on average on digital and physical books, whereas those who accessed all their e-books legally, spent £23.77 on average.

July 19, 2013

A Royal Connection!

A post by author, Michael Smedley

On 8th June 2013 I went, with my wife Marjorie, to Cambridge and was presented with the Local History Book Award for 2013, for my book “What Happened to Smedley’s?”
Following all the press publicity, I went to Wisbech and met Charles Gap, two years older than me, who remembered our playing together as boys in the park in Wisbech, over seventy-five years ago. Both our fathers worked in the nearby Smedley’s Canning Factory.
Some years later, as an apprentice, I was taught about sterilising pea cans by his father, also Charlie Gap, who my grandfather had recruited from Evesham for his new factory at Wisbech in 1925. He even gave me the original letters from my grandfather.
The press publicity, and a local man with many Wisbech contacts, encouraged a local Wisbech shop, Etcetera to obtain copies of the book. They ordered copies of “What Happened …” and of my first book, “A Canner’s Life”.  I sent them some publicity material to make their window display more colourful.
I got York Publishing to print the first copies of “What Happened to Smedley’s?” in time for me to give hardback copies to my children and some grandchildren on St George’s Day 23rd April 2012, when my wife celebrated our Diamond Jubilee. 
H.M. Queen Elizabeth was celebrating the diamond Jubilee of her accession to the throne with a Jubilee party on the Thames, so I wrote and offered her a copy of my book!   Smedley’s had been the first company to offer a range of quick frozen fruits and vegetables in Britain and also to supply the Royal household. Those first frozen foods were packed at the Wisbech factory.
My offer was accepted and I sent a book, with a note highlighting the reference to our supplying a range of frozen foods to the R.N. Battleship that took King George VI, his Queen and the two Princesses to Canada early in 1939. I received a very nice reply which said, “Her majesty and The Royal Family have long enjoyed the association with Smedley’s and your continued loyalty and kind support are warmly appreciated by The Queen and her family.”

July 04, 2013

Mallard steam train comes to York!

A world record-breaking locomotive yesterday celebrated its 75th anniversary in style. Here in York, that is indeed big news! So, we couldn’t resist posting this picture of Duncan Beal, owner and MD at YPS, and train spotter extraordinaire, looking suitably proud to be part of the celebrations!

On 3 July, 1938, the Mallard steam locomotive reached speeds of 126mph along the East Coast Main Line near Grantham and broke the world steam record – one that still stands today.

To celebrate, the LNER Class 4 steam engine was reunited with its five sister locomotives, including the Dominion of Canada and the Dwight D Eisenhower, for a “Great Gathering” at the National Railway Museum in York. It is the first time all six steam locomotives have been in the same venue.

June 13, 2013

First edition of Orwell’s 1984 sells for nearly £2000

As controversy rages on about Government invasion of our privacy and programmes to monitor our Internet and mobile phone activity, two first editions of George Orwell‘s Nineteen Eighty-Four, the classic novel about a dystopian surveillance state, have just sold for impressive sums.

The books were sold on the AbeBooks online platform this week. A company spokesperson shared a bit of history about price ranges for this iconic novel…
 “A first edition, first printing in a green dust jacket sold for $3,000 (about £1,913) and a first edition, first printing in the red dust jacket sold for $2,845 (about £1,814). It is uncertain whether the green or red version came first, so it’s common to see both books listed as the true first edition. The book was published in 1949 by Secker and Warburg and, of course, is one of the most important novels of the 20th century. In April of this year, the AbeBooks site sold another first edition (in a red dust jacket) of the book for $10,000 (£6,438) – easily the most expensive copy of Orwell’s masterpiece that we have ever sold.”

June 10, 2013

"If Books Ever Die, Snobbery Would Be Standing Over its Corpse"

A Guest Blog by Hilary Robinson, author, feature writer and radio producer. Reprinted from The Huff Post.

One of our leading writers for children, Matt Haigh, might have hit on something here when he said that.
Julia Donaldson, the Children's Laureate, whose term of office has just ended, has hit out at the pitifully low level of review space granted by the media to children's books. And her powerful passing shot is the launch of a campaign to secure much needed prominence for children's literature in the UK media.
From Milne to Carroll to Barrie, Potter, Blyton, Dahl, C S Lewis, Ransome, Tolkein, Rowling, Morpurgo, Jacqueline Wilson, the Ahlbergs, and on and on, British children's authors and illustrators have stormed the world.
Writing is in our DNA. For generations our writers have fed the minds and imaginations of young readers and their work has informed other cultural artforms. They've brought thousands of visitors to the National Rail Museum, provided much needed coffers for the Chancellor's chest, helped to establish the National Trust c/o Beatrix Potter and, in the case of JM Barrie, continue to help sick children at Great Ormand St.
So if children's books account for a nearly a quarter of all book sales in Britain and if children's authors lead the library lending lists how much media space is devoted to them?
In a highly charged article in the Sunday Times Donaldson said, "less than a fiftieth of review space in printed newspapers was dedicated to children's books" and, of the BBC she pointed out that on Radio 4's A Good Read, "of the 48 titles since last summer only one was a children's book."
This poor showing according to Donaldson whose best known book The Gruffalo is a worldwide phenomenom, could be to do with the fact "we don't value children" in the UK whereas, "in other countries it's a very different story."
She pointed out that newspapers in Germany, for instance, print lengthy articles and interviews about children's writers and illustrators and the same can be said of the New York Times.
Other critics have pointed out that the lack of space in the UK media means that reviewers are forced to feature only titles they recommend and are not at liberty to challenge the hype that powers the weaker titles that swamp the market and delude the public. Incisive print reviewers such as Nicolette Jones, Amanda Craig and Julia Eccleshare should be allowed the scope to harness their full discerning powers and yet, with the expection of seasonal highlights, their space is considerably restricted in comparsion with titles for adults.
Our lack of respect for children may be part of the problem but Matt Haig was probably right to highlight a peculiar British trait as another, one that underpins and plagues the British psyche. "There is something innately snobby about the world of books. There is the snobbery of literary over genre, of adult books over children's, of seriousness over comedy, of reality over fantasy, of Martin Amis over Stephen King."
Martin Amis certainly didn't help the cause when he said, "if I had a serious brain injury I might well write a children's book", while Granta's editor hit the headlines recently when he referred to Leeds, home to a disproportionate number of international writers including Arthur Ransome and Louise Rennison, as being "out of the literary world."
The fact remains it is arguably more difficult to write for children than for adults. Nuance, inference and creativity have to be shaped within an accessible format and it is far easier for me, as an author of picture books, to write a free flowing feature like this without any restraints on vocabulary than it is for me to tap into the inner recesses of a child's discerning mind and feed their desire for more.
Julia Donaldson is a credit to the world of children's books, a courageous and outspoken pioneer as well as a brilliant writer. She is passionate about improving literacy and the media would be foolish to ignore her as well as to ignore our books for children.
Strauss House Publishing

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