A look into Shelf Magazine
an original literary magazine
I was editor in chief of Shelf, a literary magazine we created as a university project. I oversaw the design, content and layout, as well as creating original long and short form stories myself.
A few pages from the magazine
The Big, Not-so-Friendly Giant?
Amazon; you go to buy a last-minute birthday gift, or a new DVD release, but do we see it as our new bookstore? Amazon brought book publishing into the 21st century with the Kindle but what effect will this have on traditional forms of both publishing and print? Do people want book releases fast and cheap, or do they still treasure receiving a print copy to flick through?
“In my experience most people who love to read love to hold a real book.” Adam Hall, self-published writer, emphasises the sentiment most authors who are “completely reliant” on Amazon take. “Amazon is a household name and one of the biggest companies in the world. There are other self-publishing outfits, but I never explored any others in any depth – Amazon suited my needs perfectly!”
With the introduction of Twitter in 2006, the public were trained to seek quick content now, in 140 characters or less. A year later Amazon released the Kindle, its first e-reader. It sold out in five and a half hours. The device remained out of stock for five months until late April 2008. Adam still claims “I think it will be a long time before they truly replace physical books. I have certainly sold more print books than Kindle editions!”
Modernising books was once something we didn’t consider. The first printing of books started in China during the Tang Dynasty (618–907), and not a lot changed since then. If it was good enough for Shakespeare then it was good enough for us. For aspiring author’s, it was once common place to write your novel and then seek out a publisher’s help to promote your book. Struggling to get your manuscript read and rejection was imbedded in the mind of any writer as what was to be accepted in the publishing industry. “What was frustrating is that each agent requires a different combination of information and synopsis,” Adam sighs recounting his experience with traditional publishing, “Some want three chapters, some 10,000 words, some double spaced, some online, some printed. It took hours to prepare things exactly as each agent wanted - and they are very clear that failure to meet their requirements will result in them basically ignoring you.” Tales of industry icons such as Agatha Christie, who, after 5 years of continual rejection, finally landed a publishing deal; her book sales are now in excess of £1.5 billion. Only William Shakespeare has sold more. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was rejected 12 times until the eight-year-old daughter of a Bloomsbury editor demanded to read the rest of the book.
The relationship between Amazon and publishers started out as mutually beneficial. Amazon brought publishers into the digital age, and publishers were happy to provide the content in return for a new revenue stream. With Amazon now claiming just over two-thirds of the U.S. online book market, according to Codex Group, has the relationship between publishers and Amazon changed? For writer’s like Adam, the enjoyment of simply having a copy of your finished book is enough, “I made a fairly half-hearted attempt at the traditional agent route, but found the process quite frustrating – All I had set out to do was write a book - a goal I’ve had since I was a teenager.”
Through amazon writers have found a new freedom, once thought of as elusive when dealing with publishing houses. “I wouldn’t want to make changes that I didn’t agree with to improve the marketability of a story – This may seem naïve, but I’ve written the story I wanted to write – changing to suit someone’s opinion would go against the reasons I enjoy writing in the first place.” Whilst this idea is an oasis for some, Ros Barber, in an article for the Guardian, “For me, traditional publishing means poverty. But self-publish? No way,” highlights the negatives that come with leaving the traditional route. “If you self-publish your book, you are not going to be writing for a living. You are going to be marketing. Self-published authors should expect to spend only 10% of their time writing and 90% of their time marketing.” Adam nods in agreement, “It was never my intention to be an author in the traditional sense – I am a writer who loves to tell stories and wants to write novels, but I have never desired to “make it big”; or be an “Author” (capital A!). I could certainly not write for a living, as I simply don’t have the time or motivation to market my work. I wanted to tell a story first and foremost, and so what happened to it afterwards was always a secondary thought.”
“You risk looking like an amateur.” Self-published authors are not eligible for literary prizes such as the Man Booker or the Bailey’s, so if your aim is to have that esteemed sticker on the cover of your book you can forget it. “Good writers need even better editors. They need brilliant cover designers.” Amazon doesn’t leave its authors completely in the dark. “They offer great tools for formatting and creating a front cover, with loads of options for layout ad title art. It’s all very easy to use, and they charge you for every book you sell, so there are no up-front fees.” For Adam “Editing was done by a combination of sources, with the bulk of the work done by myself, my wife, and a good friend of mine who is an English teacher with an eye for these things.” For writer’s, like Adam who don’t include ‘author’ as their full-time job and are pursuing publishing as a passion, “Editing is an area I will certainly get more support with for my second novel, as the little mistakes that sneak through are always frustrating. I wanted something unique.”
The thought of beginning a book and putting words down on a page is daunting enough for some. For other’s it comes naturally. “My first novel was started at the grand old age of 11. It was, as you would expect, utter garbage, but the concepts in it formed the basis of what is now my second novel (currently work in progress).” Adam Hall, who has been interested in writing his whole life, spoke about the inspiration behind his novels. “Just letting ideas stew in my head. I daydream a lot, and have had the ideas for my books in my head for so long that the characters are real people to me. This makes them easy to write, as it is easy to decide what they would do in the situations that arise. The plots are just created and adapted with time, and often as I write I will think of new ideas.” About a billion books are released every week, which is an intimidating thought for an author trying to get their work seen. Adam echoes these worries and claims it’s “nearly impossible” to get your work noticed. “A good chunk of my sales come from people I meet in a professional capacity – I work as Creative Writing instructor, and so people will often buy my work out of interest, politeness or curiosity. Word of mouth is very useful, and I have made sales in the USA and Europe (where I have never marketed my work personally) which I can only attribute to word of mouth or people following “suggested reading” on Amazon.” Whilst Adam claims “writing within a popular genre helps” the notion that you always have to stay relatable to a younger demographic is a constant lingering thought especially if your target audience is “young adult” as Adam’s is. “I have had very nice compliments from adults who have enjoyed my work. “Enjoyable” and “relatable” come I think from the story you have written, and I think that a target audience is more about the genre than the age range.”
The idea that books have an age range or certain demographic is something commonly assumed but as Adam pointed out target audience arises from the genre. It’s true some novels have more mature themes or are not mature enough for some readers which put books into the bracket of a specific audience but the truth is this is not universal. What books you read are about you as a person and therefore you tailor what you want to read not the publisher manufacturing books for a certain audience. Whilst many argue that they would never stray from buying a hard copy of a book and refuse to participate in the modernising in the world of publishing, Amazon is the leading platform for self-published authors. It gives them the option to have a copy of their book made and created to how they want it. For many authors like Adam, simply having their book realised is enough and means there is far more content online for us to read and explore. “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.”- Dr. Seuss.