Sunday, 15 December 2013

Christmases past - and presents

Ten days to go - and I'm looking forward to it, as always. Our Christmases are growing, as the family expands. This year, the grandchildren are bound to be excited. Noah's now four, and the three little girl cousins, Caitlin, Alice and Kitty, are all between two and two-and-a-half. We now also have 'Baby Eva' who's five months old. And a couple of weeks after Christmas, grandchild No.6 is due to arrive! And so the dynasty continues ...

Recently I've been pondering how much Christmas has changed over the years since I was a child. We all tend to talk about having no money, these days, but the standard of living of most people is vastly different from that of the average family in the 1950s. Back then, very few families had cars, TVs, fridges, central heating, washing machines, fitted carpets, or many of the other things we don't consider luxuries anymore. My brother and I, and most of the children I knew, would normally receive one present such as a doll, a toy car, a teddy-bear or game from their parents for Christmas. For years I yearned for a rocking horse but I knew I'd never get one because they were too expensive and took up too much space. Then of course there would also be the stocking (never a pillow-case!) hung up for Father Christmas, which would contain sweets, crayons or pencils, perhaps a little puzzle or a rolled-up colouring book, and the inevitable orange and nuts.

Without wishing to sound old and boring, it's nevertheless true that we kids were just as excited with these things as our own daughters were with their Sindy dolls, 'Care Bears' and whatever else happened to be the fashionable toys each year during the late 70s and early 80s when they were growing up. To say nothing of the carefully chosen new Christmas outfits, of course. New clothes?! Back in the 50s we were lucky if our mums had knitted us a new jumper, darned our socks, and let down the hems of our dresses to last another year! 

And now there's more pressure on today's parents than ever - with the incessant advertising on TV  for the latest electronic or 'educational' toys. How long before our daughters are looking back misty-eyed to the days of their own childhood when 'all' they received were Sindy's house, car, caravan, horse, dog and barbecue!

It's lovely this year, hearing our four-year-old and two-year-old grandchildren saying they'd like a toy hoover, or a 'pink torch' or 'a star' (?) for Christmas ... and I hope it's a long, long time before they start wanting mobile phones, laptops, play-stations and their own TVs.  I don't want them to grow up too quickly and I'm sure their parents don't, either - quite apart from the costs involved in such extravagant presents.

When I read about parents fighting each other, or bribing their child's teacher, to get their little Harry or Lily a star part in the class nativity play, I really do wonder what the hell's gone wrong. I heard recently about a two-year-old whose mother said the child was 'desperate' to play the part of the Angel Gabriel. Quite apart from it being unlikely the two-year-old had any idea who the Angel Gabriel was, why was the mother herself so 'desperate' for this to happen? So that she could post a photo on Facebook? Show off about the child's acting abilities? Why are some people pushing their kids into things earlier and earlier, and where's it all going to end?  I suppose some mothers are fighting over whose baby gets to lie in the manger!

Back in the 50s, it was far more common for families to go to church, and for the kids to go to Sunday school, and the nativity pageant and carol service were woven into the fabric of the church year rather than being something put on in much the same vein as a fancy dress party. Of course it was always an exciting part of the season, but it was also treated with a kind of respect because most of our parents and teachers genuinely believed in the birth of Christ and were teaching us about it at Christmas, at the same time as buying presents and decorating the tree. I think, and hope, I did the same for our children and although I realise that lots of people don't share this belief, I feel sad that children aren't always even taught what Christmas is actually all about, even if only for the sake of carrying on the rich traditions involved.  How sad if their only understanding of a nativity play is their parents' 'desperation' to see them dressed up to play one of the main parts!

I hate to say it ... but how long before we see 'The Nativity Play' on TV as a new children's talent show, with toddlers competing each week for the glittering prize of playing Mary or Joseph in the final - and their parents in the audience screaming encouragement at them as they lisp 'I've just got to win, it's the only thing that matters to me'.  The really scary thing is that it wouldn't even surprise us, would it!

On a happier note - some things about Christmas never change, and I hope they never do. Being with our families, thinking of those we can't be with, wrapping and giving presents, enjoying the excitement of the children all over again with each generation - these things are worth so much more than having a new TV, an obscene amount of food and drink, new sparkly clothes or expensive gifts.

I never did get that rocking-horse, but NOT getting it has been a more valuable experience in the long run. Let's be honest - none of us can say it hurt us, not having the latest toys or technology when we were young - but if our parents stuck us in an Angel Gabriel costume and shoved us up on the stage, we're probably still having nightmares about it to this day!

Have a wonderful Christmas, everyone, whatever you do and whoever you do it with.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Sheila Norton Newsletter November 2013

Now my blog's up and running again in my real name, I thought it would be helpful to post my author newsletters on here for anyone who may be interested in the latest news.  Of course, if you'd prefer to have your name added to my mailing list to receive these updates by email, just let me know. The mailings are only sent out two or three times a year so you can rest assured you won't ever be inundated, or have your details passed on to anyone else. You can contact me by responding on this blog, or through either of my websites: or  .

Meanwhile here's the news ....
Author Newsletter: November 2013
Hello again to all my friends and readers – welcome to this latest update about my books and writing. And to start off, I’ve got some good news for those of you waiting for the third in the series about the Jennings sisters. Here it is, now available on Amazon for Kindle:

Millie Being Married (How to stay married – and love it!)
Millie and Tom were only eighteen, and expecting a baby, when they got married. At the time, they featured in a TV documentary about teenage marriage – convinced they would beat the odds and prove to their families that their relationship would survive.
Now, fifteen years later, their two daughters are stroppy teenagers, money is tight and although they’re still together, life’s not exactly a bed of roses. The TV company wants to produce a follow-up film about how their marriage has turned out. Which would be fine … except that there are a couple of things Millie would prefer not to be revealed in the documentary. In fact she’d prefer they weren’t even revealed to Tom.
Can Millie and Tom survive the intrusion of the film crew into their already stressful lives? Or will the cameras perhaps expose some secrets that would have been better kept hidden?
Download the book now for only 77p at:
(this is a shortened link to the Amazon page, for your convenience) – and find out what happens to Sophie and Debra’s youngest sister, Millie, when the TV crew descends on her family!
I hope to produce the book as a paperback in due course for those who prefer their novels in paper format. Meanwhile I hope those of you who download the digital version will enjoy Millie’s story. And of course, many thanks to all those who have already read the previous two books and been in touch to say how much you’ve liked them.
Out and about
Although we writers by necessity spend most of our time with our bums planted firmly in our chairs and our fingers glued to the keyboard, playing with our imaginary friends, we do occasionally get allowed out too. I’ve been quite busy this year on the ‘writer talks’ circuit, within my home county of Essex, visiting various clubs and organisations who like a speaker to entertain them (I use the word loosely!). 
I remember this being a fairly nerve-racking experience when I first started, but over the years I’ve come to enjoy it. I normally talk about some aspects of a writer’s life, maybe dispelling a few myths but hopefully not putting off too many would-be authors in the process!
I’ve presented talks to as few as half a dozen people, and to as many as 200 in a crowded hall with standing-room only. The organisations have ranged from U3A groups to WI clubs, Lions and Rotary clubs, Townswomen’s Guilds, and earlier this year I gave a talk to the lovely members of a local centre for the blind and partially sighted. Yes, even though they weren’t able to read my books! – they were a very appreciative audience, and enjoyed hearing a reading of a chapter of ‘Sophie Being Single.’  Of course I’ve also taken part in many local library events – I’m an ardent supporter of the library service.
I’d like to think most of my audiences have enjoyed these talks, although there have been one or two times where someone has walked out halfway through – but because of a timing issue rather than in disgust!  
Taking part in a writer panel event with other authors who are good friends is a particularly enjoyable type of occasion. These are very relaxed affairs, with one of us acting as chairperson, asking the others to talk about their lives and their writing, and then throwing it open to the audience to ask us questions. It’s a popular type of event and we’re often asked back. Last month, for instance, Maureen Lee, Fenella Miller, Jean Fullerton and I held a panel afternoon in Wivenhoe Library as part of the WivWords Festival.
 Our author panel at Wivenhoe Library
Sadly there was torrential rain on the day, which kept a lot of people away, but the small audience was enthusiastic and the library staff are hoping we can repeat the event as part of the Essex Book Festival next year. We’ve done this previously at Hadleigh Library.
Regardless of circumstances, the ‘show’ always goes on, and I always enjoy chatting to members of the audience afterwards. It makes a change from talking to people who only exist in my head!
‘Other People’s Lives’                                 

As promised, I’m giving a short intro and background to one of my earlier books in each newsletter, and this time it’s ‘Other People’s Lives’, the second of my published novels.
This is the story of Beth, a single mum who’s just about to turn thirty and feels like her life has become a dead-end. Deserted by her little girl’s father, she’s had to resort to cleaning other people’s homes to help to provide for herself and four-year-old Ellie. Fortunately her best friend, Fay, is a tower of strength and support to her, and despite the struggles Beth faces, she enjoys getting involved in the lives of her clients – perhaps a little too involved in some cases. But when she falls out with Fay, it really does feel like Beth is on her own. All she wanted from everyone was some honesty … was that too much to ask for? Or is she really being honest with herself?
‘Other People’s Lives’ is very much a story about friendship and loyalty, as well as ending with a bit of romance. It was originally published in 2003 in hardback, and in 2004 in paperback. It was translated into Italian, and was also sold to an American publisher, who published it in the States under the title of ‘Would I Lie to You?’. One of the most exciting moments of my writing career came when the book was the subject of a mini-auction between two film companies who were interested in the film rights – although sadly, nothing came of that in the end!
Since publishing this book on Amazon for Kindle it’s done really well and is currently the best seller of my backlist. I hope you’ll download it and have a read, if you haven’t already!
I’m always pleased to hear from my readers; feedback about my books is very important to me. And finally, please feel free to forward this newsletter to any friends who may be interested.
Meanwhile, Happy Reading until next time!

Sheila / Olivia                   




Monday, 28 October 2013

St Jude's - and other storms

So how are we all today? Wet, windblown, trees fallen down in the garden? Here in mid Essex, I think we got off reasonably lightly, although even now at 2pm, the sky's black, the rain's beating down and there's still a fair old wind blowing. I saw branches blown off trees as I walked round our neighbourhood this morning, but nothing worse, thank goodness. I'm sure there are other parts of the country that suffered a far worse fate. There's already one terribly tragic story about a teenage boy feared drowned off the south coast and we're surely all feeling for his poor family.

But luckily in my own area, the worst result of the storm is probably the inconvenience to people who normally commute to work, or who were planning to travel today. There were no trains running at all until at least midday, flights cancelled from Heathrow, and the QE2 Bridge at the Dartford crossing on the Thames has been closed, which would have caused horrendous queues on both the Essex and Kent sides of the river as the Dartford Tunnel was used in contraflow.

At times like this it's always hard to know whether there's any overreaction from transport bosses, but to be fair, if they didn't err on the side of caution, putting passenger/motorist safety as their first priority, imagine how they'd be pilloried if they carried on as normal and there were serious accidents. Likewise, if we sometimes think the weather forecasters get it wrong, or act with any degree of caution or exaggeration, there are always complaints - but they can't really win, can they? If they told us not to worry, that it wouldn't be too bad, and we ended up with a hurricane the likes of the 1987 one, we'd all quite rightly be asking why they'd got it so wrong again.

Cue poor Michael Fish, who has never lived down his comment back in 1987 that there really wasn't a hurricane coming.  The country was caught out, that time, and I can understand forecasters not wanting to be in that situation again.  The trouble is that we just don't expect hurricanes in England, do we! 

During the night of 15/16 October 1987, I woke several times thinking it was very windy outside, but was completely unprepared for the devastation we saw in the morning. In fact, my children will remember that even in the morning I hadn't yet appreciated how serious it was. I insisted they got ready for school, thinking my neighbour who'd told her kids they wouldn't be going was being too lenient by letting them have the day off. It was only as we started to walk to school that I saw how bad the damage to trees and property was, and we soon learnt from others coming back our way that both the children's schools were closed. That storm, as we now know, killed 18 people in the UK, destroyed an estimated 15 million trees, and was designated as the worst to hit our country since 1703.  In fact it was after this that the Government allocated funding for the Met Office to set up the National Severe Weather Warning system.

The 1987 hurricane is well remembered, but people don't seem to talk so much about the so-called 'Burns Day' storm of 25 January 1990, although in fact a tragically higher number of people were killed on this occasion - 47 - because the height of the storm was during the day instead of at night. There was one story of a whole class of children in Sussex being evacuated minutes before their building collapsed. There were gusts of wind with speeds just as high as in the 1987 hurricane, although apparently (and according to my understanding), to be classed as a hurricane proper, a storm has to record wind speeds that are sustained over a certain period rather than in gusts. Other than this, probably the main difference between the 1987 and 1990 events was the fact that on 25 January 1990 the forecasters got it right.

On that day of the Burns Day storm I arrived home to find our brick garden wall completely collapsed into the garden. It was quite shocking to witness first hand the damage a storm could do in the normally temperate climate of southern England. From my point of view only one good thing came out of it. I wrote a short story set on the day of the storm, and it was eventually published in one of the women's magazines.  Like most writers, I can usually turn the unfortunate things in my life to good use in fiction. So perhaps St Jude won't be a lost cause this year after all. But I do hope you are all safe and well after last night's bad weather.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Reliable service??

OK, here goes a rant! Himself and I are fed up, and also frankly bemused, by the number of people who are supposed to be there to provide a service, or are in business and (one would have thought) trying to secure work for themselves - and simply let us down. Is it just us? I don't think so, judging by the sympathetic nods of agreement I get whenever I moan about this to friends and acquaintances.

Take this morning for example. Someone from a carpet company who had arranged to come and measure our spare bedroom between 9 am and 10 am failed to arrive, and when Himself (sighing with irritation) phoned him to find out whether he was running late - he calmly said 'Oh, was it supposed to be today?'  Needless to say, he was told to forget it, and we went elsewhere.

Just the other day I was promised a call back by a restaurant where I was hoping to book a Christmas meal for at least a dozen people. Nobody called me back, meaning I had to call again. I'm now waiting for an email I was promised from them. Somehow it won't surprise me in the slightest if I have to chase that up too.

That's the most dispiriting thing about this: the fact that it doesn't even surprise us anymore. We recently had both our kitchen and bathroom refitted. Quite a big, not to say expensive, job, so we did the sensible thing and shopped around for the best prices. Of the local kitchen and bathroom specialists we approached, there were two who came along, measured up, made notes, and each spent over an hour of their time talking us through the work required and even giving us some useful ideas (thanks, guys!) ... and then never came back to us with a price. Two of them!  The first one, we gave the benefit of the doubt, gave him a call to ask how he was getting on with our quote, and were given an excuse about a child being ill and then a family holiday ... we didn't bother to call again. When the second one failed to get back to us, we decided not to bother chasing him up at all. Why should we need to? If he was that unreliable, we didn't really want him for the job. We've never heard from either of those guys again. And furthermore, even one of the big national DIY stores, who did at least produce a plan and an initial price for us, never got back to us again when we asked for some changes.

What is it with these people?!

Contrary to anything you might think, we are not hard to contact. We have, between us, one home phone, two email addresses, two mobile phone numbers, and a postal address. We're not even out at work during the day. We're reasonable people who don't (without good reason) complain, moan or expect the earth - we just want people to respond to us when they say they will, to turn up when they say they will and do what they've offered to do - or at the very least, to contact us and let us know if they have to be late/not turn up/let us down in some way.  How do people like this stay in business? Isn't everyone supposed to be desperate for work these days?

We were shocked, on a recent holiday in the USA, to find that the bad service epidemic seems to have spread over there too. Once again, we asked ourselves: Is it us?!  We had gone there expecting to find extreme efficiency and top-dollar customer service. Sadly, our experience in the hotels we stayed at was the opposite. In none of them was there enough staff to cope with the number of tourists staying there (we were part of a coach party) - so that there were horrendously long queues for breakfast, with tables not being cleared, food running out, hot drinks not being offered - it was really poor. For an evening dinner at one hotel we were asked to wait, standing up, in a reception area until a table became available. The staff were struggling to cope and seemed too demoralised to care.  We don't look for luxury when we stay in hotels - just basic comfort, good food and good manners!  Fortunately, apart from this the holiday was great! - but the hotel service was certainly a sad and surprising let-down.

As someone who is frequently on the receiving end of reviews (Amazon in my case - and fortunately the majority are usually good!), I know how important they are, and how much they can hurt if they seem unfair. I've made it a personal rule to only post reviews on sites like Amazon and Trip Advisor if I've really been pleased with something.  I was taught early in my life: 'If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all!'  So I don't post negative reviews, and I will spare the tradesmen and hotels mentioned above from being named and shamed, even if they do deserve it! 

We've since phoned another carpet company, whose representative came round within hours, at the time promised, measured up, treated us with extreme courtesy and helpfulness when we visited the showroom, and they're going to fit the carpet next week on the day we wanted. We're feeling delighted about it. But surely ... it should just be the norm, shouldn't it? Or ... is it just us?!

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Wiv Words - Wivenhoe, Essex

Just in case anyone in the Essex area happens to be reading this, you might be interested in the WivWords Festival 2013, now taking place at Wivenhoe, near Colchester.

I'm taking part in an author panel event at the library there, this Friday from 3 - 4 pm. The other three authors are my good friends Maureen Lee, Jean Fullerton and Fenella Miller.

It should be an interesting event - please do come along and meet us, and have a chat over tea and cakes!

When is a change not a change?

OK, they say a change is as good as a rest, and so I decided this blog needed a facelift. Not so much that I needed a rest from it, but I needed an incentive to write it more often! 

When I started the blog, my most recent novels were written under my Olivia Ryan name - but now that isn't the case. I use my own name much more than the Olivia one, so it seems to make sense to write the blog as Sheila Norton.

I can manage most of the technical things an author needs to do ... but like many of us 'of a certain age', that only applies if they're things we do regularly. Show me how to work my own CD player, for instance, and I'll probably have forgotten again by next week.  So I was quite pleased with myself when I discovered, almost by accident, that it was possible to change the name of the blog without any difficulty. Farewell to 'Olivia's Oracle', long live 'Sheila Norton: the Blog'.  That's if I've done it right - obviously I'm not sure now how I did it.

But sadly I can't, for the life of me, discover how to change the name of the 'author' which appears under 'about me'. I can apparently add another author - but only if you send them a request. It seems a bit batty to send myself a request but maybe that's the way to go.  Any technical genius, or blogging genius, reading this is very welcome to give me the benefit of their wisdom if they have any ideas!

Meanwhile I hope that, as if by magic, putting the blog into my own name will remind me to publish my snippets of chat and useless information on here more often. I already have a couple more things to tell you ...

Friday, 28 June 2013

Short stories - the long and the short of it.

I haven't been very good at keeping up this blog, have I!  Every spare moment these days gets devoted to writing the novels - pretty much at the expense of everything else. As well as neglecting the blog, I've also more or less given up writing short stories. And talking to one of my friends from the Essex group of the RNA yesterday over lunch, I realised I'm not alone in that.

Years ago, before I ever had a book published, I was quite a prolific short story writer. My acceptance rate was good and I earned some decent money from it. This was in the days of Woman's Realm, and when the other magazines mostly published a lot more fiction than they do now. I was still working full-time at my day job, dreaming of writing a novel but never actually managing it (I did eventually, of course!), and at times I actually thought I'd give up trying and instead just devote my spare time to writing short stories for the rest of my life.

It was when Woman's Realm - my best and most lucrative market - went out of publication that I decided to try more seriously to complete a novel, so in a funny way I have to thank them for that. But throughout the following years I did continue to write short stories too, and continued to have a reasonable percentage of them published.

Over the years, though, my success rate with short stories has dipped, (and to be fair, so has my output - I now prefer writing novels). There's no doubt it's harder than ever now to be successful in the women's magazine market. Although there are those writers who still do remarkably well, the competition is huge and the requirements ever more exacting. And to be honest, sometimes I've felt that the eventual fee (if you're lucky) is no longer worth the amount of time and effort taken, especially if the editor asks for re-writes.

I'm sure many writers will disagree, and I appreciate that I'm fortunate now to have the option of writing and selling my novels. As we all know, this is equally fraught with uncertainty, any success being almost surely temporary! - and despite being with a traditional publisher for the first eight books, it was never very financially rewarding until I began to self-publish on Amazon. Now the e-books are doing well, and at my age I don't feel inclined to go on investing time on something I've been finding increasingly frustrating.

So unless I have some amazing short story ideas which absolutely demand to be written, I'm calling a halt to that side of my writing 'business' - at least for now. I've still got two stories out on 'spec' - submitted last year, still waiting for responses (that's part of the frustration too!) - so if either of them were to be accepted it'd be nice, but the fact that I'd almost forgotten they were still 'out there' speaks for itself.

It's sad in a way, because I once got so much pleasure from crafting and selling short stories. When I decided to have this break from them, I looked back through my file of published stories and re-read some of them, feeling quite proud, and enjoying reading them again - and that gave me the idea of re-publishing some of my favourites as a Kindle anthology. I decided to choose twelve stories with a common theme - they're all about travel or holidays, so I've called the collection 'Travellers' Tales'.
It's now available (under my real name, Sheila Norton) on Amazon for only 77p - click here to have a look: Travellers' Tales - Sheila Norton . I like the fact that I've been able to bring these stories back to life again and maybe I'll publish a further volume some time.

Or ... of course ... maybe one day I'll change my mind, give up writing the novels and go back to short stories again! Who knows.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

A very worthwhile long wait!

As we all know - all those of us who've ever been a writer of any sort, published or not, successful or not - things are slow to happen in the world of writing! In the early stages of my writing life I became so used to waiting for months, even years, for responses to submissions, that when I was finally a published novelist I really didn't expect things to move any faster - and of course, they didn't!  That's just the way things were.

In some ways, all that changes when you decide to self-publish. Using Kindle Direct Publishing, once a book is ready to publish, it happens so fast you can hardly blink. But as with any form of publishing, it's one thing having a book 'out there', and quite another thing selling it! 

Well, I'm here to tell you never to give up hope of those sales happening. After nearly two years of being available on Amazon, my Kindle edition of 'The Trouble With Ally' (published under my real name, Sheila Norton) has suddenly started to sell so well, that during its best week so far, it got very close to Amazon's top 100, and was in the top 20 of their 'women writers & fiction' category! All the more surprising as 'Ally' was the first of my published novels - first published in book form 10 years ago.

I have no idea what kick-started this sudden massive increase of sales after so long, but obviously I'm thrilled, and the nice thing is that I'm also seeing increased sales in the other books (as hopefully, people who enjoy 'The Trouble With Ally' are going on to buy others).

I've also had a flurry of new reviews - nearly all of them very complimentary, and I'm sure that helps too. Reviews are so important, and it's so nice when readers take the trouble to tell me (and/or tell the world!) they've enjoyed one of my books.  And some reviews give constructive criticism (for instance, I had one, otherwise very favourable review, which pointed out some errors and formatting glitches. Mortifying, but at least it enabled me to take action, make corrections and re-publish).

So: to sum up, I'd just say to any writers who might be feeling fed up waiting for anything to happen - for a response from an editor or agent, or for something that's been accepted to actually appear in print, or for payment to arrive, or for a book to actually start selling a decent amount of copies - take heart from 'The Trouble With Ally'. I wrote it, and started submitting it, in 1999.
It was accepted for publication in 2002, and published in print form in 2003.
Now my Kindle edition is selling in thousands!

So thanks to Amazon, thanks to my previous publisher Piatkus who started the process, and to all the readers out there making it happen. And now I'd better get on with writing book number 11!

Friday, 1 February 2013

New competition

There’s a new book giveaway competition on my Sheila Norton website this month. It's very easy to enter, and there's no need to buy anything – you just need to go to the ‘Contact Me’ page of my website – , and put ‘Competition entry’ in the ‘Comments’ box, followed by your answers to these three questions:

1.     Sophie and Debra have a younger sister, known to everyone as Millie. But what is Millie’s real name?  (You’ll find the answer on the website).

2.    Which of my books have you enjoyed the most, and why?

3.    Finally, if you’re the winner this time, please choose whether you'd like a free signed paperback copy of ‘Sophie Being Single’, or ‘Debra Being Divorced’ as your prize?

Please fill in your postal address as well as your name and email – I’ll need this to send your prize if you’re the winner. I promise your address will never be used for any other purpose.  
By entering, you'll also be given the opportunity to receive occasional email newsletters from me updating you about my books. Your email address will only be used for the purpose of sending you the newsletter and it will never passed to any third party.
The first completed response, with the correct answer to Question 1, having been drawn at random after the closing date of 9 March, will win a paperback copy of whichever of the above two books they have chosen. UK entries only, I’m afraid.

Good luck!

Saturday, 26 January 2013

What's it worth?

When I wrote my series of blog posts, last month, about my experiences with self-publishing, I made the comment: 'I could write a whole other blog post about the pricing of ebooks.'  So that's exactly what I thought I should do now!

I went on, after the above comment, to say that people expect ebooks to be as cheap as chips, or in fact cheaper. I'd go further and say that applies to print books too. How has this come about, and how does it affect us - not only as authors, but as readers too?

To be fair, we all like a bargain, don't we! Who wouldn't grab a new book priced at £1, for instance, if it was a book you really wanted to read?  But would you necessarily buy it just because it was only £1, even if you weren't sure whether you were going to enjoy it - rather than a book next to it on the shelf priced at £5 which was by an author whose previous books you'd loved, or whose books had been highly recommended to you by a friend?

Since the start of the ebook revolution, how many of us can honestly say we haven't occasionally gone for a bargain at 99p or less which has left us wondering why we bothered? I suppose it's easier to shrug it off because it didn't cost the earth, but the feeling of disappointment remains. We all know that self-publishing, especially of ebooks, has enabled lots of good writers to reach a readership previously denied them - but has also opened the floodgates to other books which perhaps might have been better never seeing the light of day! So maybe, as readers, buying the occasional dud is the price we have to pay for wanting cheap books.

As an author, I priced my self-published ebook editions reasonably low, mainly in order to compete in a cheap marketplace. But I have mixed feelings about the concept of giving ebooks away for literally next to nothing. I do realise that there are no physical costs involved in the publication of ebooks - no paper, no printing, no cover or binding costs, no distributor or shop premises to pay for. But the item for sale still represents a year of my hard work; the intellectual property is mine. Why would I give it away (other than in an occasional free promotion in the hope of generating more sales)?

I think the expectation of free (or very, very cheap) ebooks came about in much the same way as some people expect free music downloads. They can't see a physical book, or CD, on a shelf - the item being offered is just 'out there' floating in cyberspace, and there seems to be a belief that because of this, it should be available for whoever wants it.

A similar feeling seems to have evolved about print books, in this case I think because very cheap paperbacks are readily available second-hand, not only from traditional second-hand bookshops (it's harder to feel aggrieved when these are supporting worthwhile charities!) - but also now on Amazon, for instance, where you can sell your own books second-hand, and of course on EBay. New books are also very heavily discounted in the big book store chains as well as in supermarkets. Gone are the days when the printed price on a book was what you paid for it!

That price, printed on a paperback's cover, is nowadays normally about £6.99 or £7.99, and I actually think that's very reasonable and realistic. I've heard people gasp 'I'm not paying that!' for a book, and yet pay almost as much for a magazine - and then pay the same for just two or three birthday cards. Is that really how little they value a book by one of their favourite authors?  Mind you, I've also known people who believed I, as a published author, was receiving the whole £6.99 from each sale of a copy of one of my books!  Oh, how I wish!! 

My new self-published print books, 'Sophie Being Single' and 'Debra Being Divorced', are currently priced at £6.62 on Amazon and trust me, I receive even less per copy for these than I received from my traditional publisher for my other books!

I do think they're worth the money - but then, I suppose I would! I wish I could sell them cheaper - because I'd like to sell more of them. But it's not possible, so I can only sell to people who are interested in the books themselves, rather than in a bargain for a bargain's sake.

Meanwhile 'Tales from a Honeymoon Hotel', the third book in my Olivia Ryan 'Tales from' series, is being released as an ebook by my publisher, who has priced it at £4.49 on Amazon ... roughly four times the price of my self-published Kindle versions of the other two 'Tales from' books.  Again - I think it's worth it - it's the latest Olivia Ryan book, still available in print, and I don't believe £4.49 is an excessive price for a commercially published ebook from one of the big publishers.

Here it is. If you haven't yet read it on Kindle it's available for pre-order now, and published later this week.
Tales from a Honeymoon Hotel

What do you think is a reasonable price for an ebook? And a paperback?