Monday, 29 April 2013

Is a book simply a commodity? Should you be able to get a refund on a book if you didn't enjoy it?

“The Kindle Store will provide refunds for up to 7 days for customers unsatisfied with their ebook purchases.”  Amazon.

As a writer, I have made my books available for free, as many authors do, and that is my choice.  I have donated royalties to charity. My choice. Similarly, like most writers, I have worked for free, and again this has been a personal decision. I have also downloaded ebooks that were on free promotion on occasion (although I generally pay for the ebooks I read). Whether or not authors should/shouldn’t offer their work for free is another topic for debate. 

But getting a refund for a book after you have read it?  That’s a different matter.  Yes, I agree if a book has been badly formatted or is full of typos there is cause for dissatisfaction (although hopefully this should have come to light when you checked out the sample pages of the book before buying).  And sometimes you might click the Buy button twice by mistake. 

However, is it possible to abuse the system?  Amazon say that they can check for serial returners and they would certainly have the data to do this.  After all, it isn’t good business for them (or the writers, of course).  Like many authors, when I read my sales reports there are occasions when a reader has returned one of my titles for a refund.  It would be really helpful as a writer to have some feedback on why this is.  In researching this topic, one author mentioned an average figure of 2% returns. More data would certainly be useful.  

I am making an assumption that the returns rules apply because of the consumer protection law for distance selling. After all, the Amazon policy also applies to paper books, in which a reader has up to 30 days to make a return, so this is not really an issue about ebooks. However, what concerns me is the basis for returning a book. What if it is formatted correctly and well-written but you don’t like it?  Has anyone ever taken a book back to a bookshop on the basis that they didn’t enjoy it? 

Is a book simply a commodity? Can we apply the same argument to other “creative” items.  If we don’t like a piece of music we get a refund on the download or cd?  If we’ve been to the cinema and we thought the film ended badly, do we insist on a ticket refund? What does this mean for creative producers like writers and composers? Is it right or fair?

If you are a writer, reader or a creative producer, what do you think?    

For a range of viewpoints check out:

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Why do libraries matter?

Yesterday morning I watched a feature about World Book Night on BBC breakfast TV in which the wonderful author Frank Cottrell Boyce was interviewed in the stunning new Liverpool library.  This passionate author, who I had the pleasure of seeing at a reading of his book Framed a couple of years back, rightly described the closure of 200 UK libraries  as “an act of cultural vandalism” and further “an act of mad draining of our mental capital.”

Knowledge is power and libraries make knowledge accessible to all, so closing a library is a political gesture.
Libraries are treasure troves. Libraries played a significant part in nurturing my lifelong love of reading.  As a child I devoured the resources of my school library and our local library.  When I had exhausted their shelves, I joined what we called the “big library” in the town centre. Not only were books available there, but also music scores and cassettes and records, (invaluable for a music student).  Many years later, whilst an undergraduate at University, the library became my second home, my favourite place on campus, a dazzling source of knowledge that satisfied my thirst for research. 

Since then, libraries have been forced to adapt and re-invent themselves to justify their existence, offering dvds, computers, free internet access and meeting facilities, and they continue to evolve.

Although I love the 24/7 virtual library offered by the internet, not everyone has this access, and as long as there are people, there is a need for physical libraries.  I can’t imagine a world without them.  Can you?

Related posts:

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

World Book Night

So this evening is World Book Night "a celebration of reading and books which sees tens of thousands of passionate volunteers gift specially chosen and printed books in their communities to share their love of reading. World Book Night is celebrated on April 23. In 2013 it is being celebrated in the UK, Ireland and the USA.
World Book Night is about giving books and encouraging reading in those who don’t regularly do so. But it is also about more than that: it’s about people, communities and connections, about reaching out to others and touching lives in the simplest of ways, through the sharing of stories."
Anything that encourages the joy of reading has to be good. 

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Slow burners and literary fiction

I'm naturally an impatient person.  I struggle to read or write long novels.  I'm a slow reader so generally prefer a fast-paced read with plenty of dialogue and not too many long descriptions.  A story that pulls me in from the start and compels me to find out how it all ends.  If I get bored I tend to skim and flip to the end of the book to see if it is worth the effort.  I do that with films and TV programmes too.

However, recently, I've been savouring the delights of some slow burners.  The first was The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters.  

I was nearly halfway through the book before it grabbed me.  The pace was interminably slow, with endless, apparently unnecessary descriptions and little happening in the story.  Or so it seems.  I nearly gave up.  But how glad I am that I persevered!  The story uses the device of the unreliable narrator superbly and this has to be one of the cleverest constructions I've read in a very long time.  Like a dark, disturbing jigsaw puzzle, a mystery littered with clues that you simply can't spot the first time round.  As soon as I had finished I immediately went back to the beginning, hunting them out.  If you want to find out more I wrote a review for Goodreads   and it really got me thinking about the way I have limited myself in so many ways as a writer, how lacking in confidence I am of attempting such a feat.  If you write, then I urge you to read The Little Stranger to learn about the craft. 

I'm currently reading a totally different genre but another slow burner called Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart (I referred to this in a previous post as far back as January 2012, which shows how long it has taken me to read it!).  It's a dark, funny satire set in a future chillingly similar to the present, where technology rules. (see my post  I have really struggled with the first half of the book, again because it takes its time and little (apparently) is happening but now I am halfway through, it has me hooked and I can't put it down.  I need to know where the journey ends. 

Encouraged by this experience I have been thinking about the idea of the slow burner and questioning my own reading preferences - and wondering if I would ever have the confidence to take on this kind of writing project.

Can you recommend any slow burning novels that were worth the wait?  And what did they teach you as a writer?

Related post:

Book links: 

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Beware of the Horse cover design award!

Since I started indie publishing last year, I have submitted all my indie cover designs to the wonderful e-Book Cover Design Awards and this month I am so pleased that we got great feedback and that the design by Klaus Hartleben for Beware of the Horse got a coveted gold star!

"Although there is only winner in each category, other covers that were considered for the award or which stood out in some exemplary way, are indicated with a gold star: ★"

Scroll down the link to see the comments and all the other fabulous designs!

If you are an indie publisher I'd urge you to check out this monthly award, which provides a showcase of cover designs and a source of excellent advice and inspiration.

Related post:

Friday, 12 April 2013

Cats and book reviews

Book reviews are hard to come by, so when I get positive reviews I’m always very grateful.  It shows, I hope, that I am connecting with readers in the way that I intended.  I’ve been lucky so far, and some of the comments for Coming Home, my story about two special cats separated from their young owner, Kira, were so lovely it made me feel quite emotional.  Maybe it was because the book was such a labour of love.   I hope you enjoy it too – and every penny and cent of the royalties are going to the charity Cats Protection.

Some comments about Coming Home on and
“It is a lovely little book, and a nice easy read. Any cat lover will enjoy the story and relate to the descriptions of the cats.”

“The characters work well, and the story is just the right length. It is well edited and produced and the front cover is evocative of the story itself.”

“I think most cat lovers would enjoy this story of hope and determination. I enjoyed it very much!”

“A tender story about the love of a young girl for her two cats and the love they share with her and with each other. Their persistence in trying to become reunited and the difficulties they faced in this pursuit were so suspenseful that I kept reading. It also brought tears to my eyes at times. You could just feel the emotions of the characters throughout the story. I loved the way in which the author tied together all the different characters and events. This is a wonderful story that even adults will enjoy. Read it - discover what happened; I highly recommend it.”

Related posts:

Monday, 8 April 2013

Upcoming Writing Workshops and Talks

In case anyone is interested, I'm teaching a few Saturday morning intensive writing workshops on 14 and 28 September and 12 October at Stepping Stones Studio in Maidstone.  Their fee is £40 and the events will run from 10am-12 noon.  Go to their website for more info.

I'm also giving a talk called  A Writer's Journey on Tues 21 May at 7pm at Ashford Gateway as part of Adult Learners Week and a talk called Being a Writer Entrepreneur on Weds 17 July for East Kent Women in Business in Canterbury.   For info go to

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Hybrid authors and authorpreneurs

I'm interested in the current discussions around "authorpreneurs" and "hybrid" authors (I love the word "hybrid".  Very science fiction).  Can you really have the best of both worlds if you are/have been traditionally published and are also self (indie) publishing?

I've done both and I haven't decided yet.  There are, like most things, pros and cons to each.  Indie publishing is tremendously hard work and also gives me an insight into trad publishing that I didn't have before.  It gives me a more balanced perspective, I think.

Many writers who have found success with the indie route are now snapping up trad deals, and the advantage of this is that although you will have less control, you will also have more time to actually write. There are only so many hours in the day and so much energy to use up creatively.

But the aspect of indie that I love most is the control over every aspect of the process.  It's absorbing, fascinating and fun.

Read a great post here which explores the topic in detail:

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