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Essay

Storms and skirmishes

A quest towards self-publication: entry 5

Frank Ryan 14 January 2007

www.lablit.com/article/200

Frank Ryan

A seismic shift in potential for small publishers and self-publishing authors?

Editor's note: LabLit.com is pleased to continue our weekly blog from Frank Ryan, a scientist, doctor and best-selling author who is currently attempting to publish and promote his latest novel (written in the lab lit genre) via an untraditional route.

I wake up at first light to a day of storms and torrential rains. On the news I hear that cyclones from America are touring the Home Counties, taking the roofs off houses. BA has grounded all domestic flights from Heathrow. But this does not dampen the resolve of the choirboys from Winchester Cathedral, who skate gleefully, in ankle-length crimson soutanes, over the ice around the Cathedral Close. You have to admire this doughty Englishness. The wind howls in the Seventeenth century fireplace as the beloved and equally doughty “B” abandons the morning crossword, only half-finished, and begins to compile her grocery shopping list.

‘Anything you want to add?’

I shake my head, too immersed in battle plans for such mundanities.

‘Well, maybe you should go out and inspect the roof?’

I dutifully head out, tramping the circle of worn and cracked paving stones that surrounds the venerable old ruin. I have to stand back forty feet, close to the position of the Viking grave, to gaze along the many different levels and fortifications. As far as I can see, there are no holes in the expanse of roof stones. It would take more than a cyclone to shift some of those – the soakers at the wall plates weigh in at more than a hundredweight. I make a run for it to catch “B” as she reverses out of the stables.

I rap on her window and she opens it an inch, grimacing at the howl of wind that penetrates to the interior. ‘A bottle,’ I gasp, ‘of the peaty elixir.’

‘Oh, you and that Jamesons! Don’t you know that whiskey changes people?’

I blink. As I have told no-one, how does she know about the spiritual reincarnation that comes from the peaty elixir?

I gaze after her as she heads off down the tree-shaded lane. I am so impressed by this example of female intuition, I feel it would be unworthy of me to head for the kitchen and peep at some of the crossword clues that are yet unsolved – I would never be so suicidal as to fill in the answers. Instead I head for the battlefield and engage in a series of probing skirmishes.

Dear Google:

Re: your new services to publishers. You’ve sent me information on your book search programme. What do you need from me to put my books into your programme?

Hello Frank:

The Google Books Partner Programme is open to publishers and authors who have books with ISBNs. Participants may only submit books for which they hold rights, as outlined in our programme policies…If you think your application would comply with our policies, I encourage you to apply…If you have any further questions, I’ll be happy to assist you.(Name omitted to protect the innocent).

Dear Google, Tell me more…

Hello Frank,

Here are some key points about selling online access:- You choose which books (if any) you include in this program.- You set the price paid by Google Book Search users.- You decide if the user can print pages after buying online access to your book, and if so, how many pages.- This feature is still in development. Partners can now sign up for the program and set prices, but users can’t buy access through Google Book Search just yet.

Dear Google,

What’s the charge if Google sells online access to one of my books?

Hello Frank,

Participation in the Google Books Partner Program will continue to be free of charge to all publishers and authors. For partners who sell online access to their books, Google will withhold 30% of the sales revenue.

Interesting…But perhaps I should consult an expert:

O silver-tongued Oracle of Bullshitometry – would you grace me with an interpretation?

I hear, with relief, that weary sigh: ‘Does Sire have a specific page of reference?’

‘Page 44, and Pound’s Canto LXXIV.’

‘As in, “Hey Snag wots in the bibl?”

‘Exactly!’

‘I would have thought the matter simple enough – even a simpleton, at four o’clock in the morning, in a state of – Sire – a state of possible inebriation!’

I fondle the green bottle, with its golden label. How could one expect a mere tome to understand spiritual reincarnation? I am frankly enraged by the mocking crinkle of the lips. Well, let me inform you that a 68-page midget is not going to get the better of me! I locate the chunky cigar lighter. I bring it up perilously close. I flick the spluttering flame on. ‘Perhaps you would kindly indulge this simpleton.’

I swear it is true – the pages whirr in a gasp of terror. ‘Sire – it’s looking interesting. But there are potential catches.’

‘Such as?’

‘The online sales mechanism is not yet up and running. And they can’t give a definite date for when it might kick off.’

‘That’s it?’

It spins its pages, with an almighty sigh. I owe that I am becoming increasingly impressed with this range of emotion.

I wake refreshed and in the mood for further combat. I have enjoyed businesslike dealings with the wholesaler, Gardners, over many years. And Gardners have set up an efficient system of small print runs:

Dear Gardners,

Could you send me a clear guide to costs on a prospective publication, from small runs (say 100) or larger runs (1,000 and upwards), including hardcovers and paperbacks?

Dear Frank,

As your enquiry is for short=run printing you should contact Tanya Langridge at CPI Antony Rowe direct via, tlangridge@cpi-group.co.uk.

Hi Tanya,

I’m looking at ways in which writers and small publishers can get their books published in an economically feasible way. I’m looking to compare print-on-demand and small to medium run conventional printings. I have a specific book in mind as an example. This is a novel of 416 printed pages. It would be great to have some idea of costs along the following lines:

A 1,000 print run 234 x 154mm hardcover with dustjacket. A print on demand hardcover as above – setting up costs and costs per 100 printed and delivered to one UK designation. A 3,000 print run A format paperback. A print on demand paperback A format – setting up costs and cost per 100 printed and delivered to one UK designation. A 2,000 print run B format paperback. A print on demand B format paperback – setting up costs and cost per 100 printed and delivered to one UK designation. Any assistance or advice you can give me on the exercise would be much appreciated.

Dear Frank,

We are Antony Rowe. CPI Antony Rowe is our full legal name. We have a litho factory in Chippenham, which will send you the estimates for the longer runs, and a digital factory in Eastborne. We do short runs and print-on-demand. You will receive three estimates for the latter by the day’s end of tomorrow.

Man – I feel we are making a certain amount of progress here!

**********

Storms continue to lash the homeland, drowning mariners and downing flying machines. I take cover at my desk and watch a blue tit repeatedly attack its reflection in the Dairy window opposite. It’s a seductive performance but I manage to drag my attention to matters at hand. The ball has thus been set in motion. I cannot resist a perusal of those figures from Google. If, say, my book is competitively priced at £8.99 (US$17), and sold through Google’s e-book sales mechanism, my return per book would be roughly £6.30 ($11.76). These figures are astonishing. A seismic shift in potential for small publishers – for self-publishing authors?

Hmmm! Possibly…maybe! But where are the snags? There are always hidden snags. I know – I carry the wounds.

As far as I can see, Google makes no charge for converting a pdf document of your book, provided with the cover artwork, into an e-book suitable for immediate sale online. That means the production costs would be down to editing and cover design. But would it really work? Would people buy an e-book? Would they buy an e-book they cannot download and print out on paper?

It’s evening already and the blue tit is still at it in the gathering murk. And – oh, I know there’s so little excuse for it, really none at all, but you can wait forever – I break open the new bottle of peaty elixir…

**********

‘Brigid – Brigid my darling – are you receiving?’

‘Ah, sure – isn’t it the warrior himself! And I see ye’ve started without me.’

I pass over the bottle. ‘You’re looking different, somehow. My – you’re looking a thousand years younger…’

‘Do ye really think so? Ye’re not just flattering me? I’ve been exercising. What do ye think?’

She does a pirouette.

I can’t believe the fact I make out a scattering of teeth where previously her jaws were gums alone. And her hair – I mean, there is definitely something growing there now. A wispy, orangey fluff – tetra-millenarian candy floss. ‘Honestly, I swear – I could fall for you myself if you were only three thousand nine hundred and eighty years younger.’

‘Or,’ she helps herself to a second swig, ‘if ye were three thousand nine hundred and eighty years older.’

We share a wicked laugh.

I grab back the bottle. Take a swig. ‘Look at you – you’re positively glowing.’

‘Sure it’s a goddess thing.’ She snatched back the bottle. Takes two swigs.

I snatch back, swig, wipe my mouth with my mailed sleeve. ‘Can I ask you a question?’

‘Ask away, fearless warrior!’

‘I mean – in your capacity as muse. Have you ever…I don’t rightly know the word for it…mused…have you ever mused for another dragon liberator?’

(I will henceforth desist from tracking the snatches and swigs.)

She hiccups. ‘I believe the word ye seek is “inspired”. And the answer is nay. Not dragon liberators as such.’

‘Nnnnnnnnnnnnnggggggggggggggggggggg!’

‘Though that is not to say I have not made acquaintance with others like yeerself. Ironhearts – prepared to do battle. Maybe ye’d like me to introduce ye to some warriors of yore?’

‘That would be nice. It’s…Well, it’s just that it seems so bloodywell difficult. I mean, there are battles piled on battles.’

‘Ach – now sure it’s never as difficult as it seems at such an hour. Mind ye, ye never imagined it would be a piece of cake?’

There’s a waspish sigh from somewhere in the background. The Oracle has woken from sleep and is listening in to a private conversation.

She takes a slug. ‘Methinks it’s about time ye talked to me about yeer dragon.’

I’m not sure I am prepared for this – not yet. A certain panic is registering. My mouth is suddenly numb, my lips wooden with fear. ‘I…well, I presume you’re familiar with the tale of Prometheus. He was a Titan.’

‘Wasn’t he just!’

‘Er… you’re not a Prometheus admirer?’

‘That blaspheming snail-spittle…virginity-stealing…lying, thieving dogsturd! Do I interpret ye right? Ye’ve called me from me higher responsibilities, in supplication of me inspiration, and there’s no fairy princess, who falls for the wrong knave and only realises her error on her wedding night?’

I’m thinking, all of a sudden, of all those tales and legends that warn mere mortals not to flirt with deities. ‘I’m sorry – but it’s…well, it’s sort of a Prometheus kind of tale.’

‘Oh foolish muse! What have I done to inspire such villainy?’

I take another almighty swig. My hand, holding the bottle, is trembling, my skin prickling with gooseflesh.

‘Will ye mortals never cease in yeer brazen covetousness! Will ye never desist from yeer ravishing and plundering?’

‘Ravishing… ?’

‘Seducing us with yeer cunning tongues and ambrosial elixirs for no purpose other than to usurp almighty Olympia itself!’

‘Brigid – my beautiful…’

‘Brigid me backside! Be off with ye!’

‘Oh, come on…’

‘Avast! Depart from me, ye… ye muse traducer. Begone!’

The ground has vanished. I am falling, spinning over and over, cast body and soul into the bottomless vortex…

**********

I come to, bewildered and lost, on a coastline harsh, dismal and wild, of black volcanic rocks above a white sandy beach. In the pallid moonlight, I recognise this infernal place. Before me, across the stagnant pool, I see the building, rambling and feral, with the goblins’ heads adorning the roof. Fear overwhelms me. I hear a voice, trembling and strange, coming from beyond my left shoulder:

‘Beggin’ pardon, Guvnor – but yer look like yer could do wiv a little company?’

I spin on my heel and confront a squat figure with a blockish boyish face, dirty with grime, and bedecked with goggle spectacles. A teenager about fifteen or sixteen, he is dressed in tattered clothes and clutches a Brownie camera in his right hand.

‘Who the blazes are you?’

‘Ratzi, Guv!’ He turns and, like a magician, conjures up a stick-creature companion, a grimy girl of much the same age, with an etiolated face – and now she had fully uncoiled from her crouch – a good head taller than her companion. ‘Allow me ter introduce me friend, Pappa. Pappa and Ratzi – bofe at yer service!’

I shake my head in utter confusion. ‘Tell me, where is this place?’

‘Why – it’s the shoot wot interests dragon ‘unters, Guv!’

‘Shoot? Dragon hunters?’

The bedraggled youth puts a podgy finger to his lips, his gesture immediately and exactly copied by his companion, and both, as one, point in the direction of the beach below. All three of us peer over the rocks to witness two gentlemen, who are arguing heatedly on the edge of the tide.

Ratzi explains. ‘Fat un – e’s me dad, Bottomy Baggem.’

Pappa adds: ‘Tall chappie with the monocle – my own daddy, Strewth Blastem.’

The two figures are still facing each other off. Bottomy Baggem must be the short man, as rotund as Billy Bunter, wearing the same goggle glasses as Ratzi, and sporting an outlandishly ample backside. He’s wearing a donkey jacket over camouflage military fatigues and bovver boots and he’s armed with a 1920s style Chicago Tommy gun. Strewth Blastem is a beanpole clad in tweed jacket, with elbow patches, plus fours, monacle, and mid-hair parting. In his left arm, broken but fully loaded, he cradles a Purdey over and under handmade shotgun, with the scriver engravings catching the glitter of moonlight, and a gleaming Turkish walnut stock.

My heart sinks. ‘And they’re…?’

‘Dragon ‘unters, Guv!’

‘Born and bred, Sir!’

I gaze around me with growing apprehension. ‘So this place…’

‘New ‘atchers – takes off from this here beach, they do, Guv.’

‘They – meaning newly-hatched dragons?’

‘You got it, Guv.’

‘And they – Bottomy Baggem and Strewth Blastem?’

‘Bags 'em!’

‘Blasts them – good sport, what?’

‘And you – Razi and Pappa?’

The rotund youth whisks his Brownie camera up to his begoggled right eye and goes through the pantomime of clicking.

‘You film it – this…this butchery?’

‘All me life, Guv, I been waitin’ an’ hopin’…We both have, tell the trufe.’

‘Indeed – all our lives, Sir.’

‘Waiting and hoping for what?’

Ratzi removes his spectacles, to wipe away the tear that issues from his squinty right eye. I notice the eye is never still in its orbit, but travels round and round, as if endowed with its own satellite orbit within an orbit.

‘To catch just one little ‘un fly, Guv!’

‘Oh, just to capture a single success, if you please, Sir!’

‘You’ve never seen a single dragon fly?’

‘It’s the reason wot me eye can’t stop going round, Guv. But it’s never given up lookin’ an’ hopin’!’

‘Oh absolutely – hope eternal, Sir!’

I stumble backwards, feel the white sand grind, like egg-shells, under my feet. In a moment of dawning horror, I peer down and see that it is not sand at all. The entire beach is a graveyard of fragile bones…

In the next episode Frank introduces us to his Dragon – and sets in motion the master plan.