To hold a pen is to be at war, Voltaire
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Sorry, Stephen Colbert. I'm a fan, but in siding with your mammoth publisher in calling for a boycott of Amazon, you got this wrong, probably because your personal profits have been caught in the fan.
Hachette, an enormous company itself, was ordered by the US Department of Justice to pay millions of dollars to customers in damages because of collusion with the other "Big 5" publishers caught trying to gouge you, the customer/reader with inflated prices. Anyone worried that Amazon is too big or 'disgusting,' should be worried that the Big 5 were already caught acting as a criminal monopoly after thorough investigation. They already gouge their authors, (apart from a few millionaire spokesmen like Colbert, Rowling or Patterson, who negotiate exceptionally big advances and are being paraded as part of Hachette's bid for sympathy) when giving most authors only 25% or lower share off ebook sales where the big profits are keeping these houses afloat.
A victory for Hachette and its fellow-colluders won't improve most authors' plight, just rescue the short-term sales of big-time authors with book release dates caught in this showdown. Go buy Rowling or Colbert at your bookshop or another online vendor if you're that mad. This hoohah over Amazon not carrying Hachette's warehousing costs and instead just passing on those orders to a company ill-prepared to ship/deliver on time only shows us how lazy the publishers have been in developing a competitive and efficient answer to Amazon's delivery service. They've become totally dependent on Amazon and now they're caught out.
Plus, since Hachette and its fellows piggyback off Amazon's pre-order figures to gauge their own sales and promotional budgets, they only have themselves to blame now that they're in a fog.
Third, their gripe is that Amazon is now charging the book's full price set by... themselves.
Meanwhile, Amazon gives independent authors 70% (not 25% or less) of the listed sales price in the main English-language market while setting prices to customers lower at the same time. Smashwords distribution gives 60% to authors for channeling e-books to iBookstore, B&N and many new book subscription services. Thanks to Amazon and its competitors, Smashwords and others, thousands of authors who were neglected, screwed or dropped by publishers are finally paying their bills and pleasing loyal readers. Bezos sends authors direct monthly payments, not yearly royalty statements. How evil. These authors are satisfied suppliers reaching new customers/readers.
Amazon is a retailer, a store, a deft distributor of goods- not a publicly-funded service, not the BBC of books, not the Department of Education, and not your local library. Jeff Bezos never claimed he was the Literary Curator of the Universe, James Patterson, just a shopkeeper. Patterson? Literature? Did someone say those two words in the same sentence? He doesn't even write half his own books anymore.
Bezos gave us the e-book world virtually from scratch while Sony malingered, and while Amazon used to have control over most of their own creation, they now have a reduced share, an estimated 60% of the e-book market.
How evil of them to actually lose market share.
As for paperbacks, Bezos introduced the 'no-returns' POD extended distribution of Createspace books to expand selection and strengthen the hand of independent bookstores trapped with their smaller shelf space and competing with the established chains. Small stores now don't have to order a pile of some celebrity author, only one book and no more, until they sell it. This challenges the Big 5 mode of stuffing bookstores with a glut of over-promoted stars that will be sent back to the warehouse at no cost to the bookstore.
As almost all of my novels' sales are via Amazon, iBookstore, Kobo or B&N's Nook, having long ago seen my 'six week window' of promotion in bookshops disappear, I say, please support Amazon's commitment to authors, small publishers and readers, and let Hachette executives live like the rest of us-saving our pennies.
Literature is not at stake here, far from it, (unless you UK readers really liked dodging big piles of Pippa Middleton's tome on 'celebrating.' Her publisher is an imprint of Penguin, who paid $75 million in price-fixing fees off your wallet.)
No, literature and free speech are not at stake. Just Big Publishing, piles of celebrity authors, Nigellas and Jamies, select and 'worthy' prize-winners, and their gatekeeper pals in the establishment press. Once we've all read Mantel, Rowley, Zadie, and Will, and the new Baileys winner, God bless her after nine years of battering at the door of Big Publishing, we can go home and watch our box sets.
The most powerful of the New York and London publishers have got caught out with a 20th-century sales model that favored a few privileged souls, certainly not most authors or readers. Certainly not acres of dead trees shuttled around in lorries under the 'returns' system. Hachette and their suited friends are panicking.
Take "The Spy Who Came in From the Cold" and merge it with "Quo Vadis" and you get the flavor of my latest undercover fiction venture. It's great to publish a new series of novels under a man's name, to see the three books out so far finding readers around the world, (and to free my long-suffering friends from having to pretend they read my books.) You won't see these genre babies promoted on this webpage, and until I take a break from the glories (and horrors) of the fourth century, that means that there won't be any news coming from this site about particular books.
Suffice to say that the fourth novel is underway in first draft form, with two more planned out, taking us to the death of Julian the Apostate and the serious fraying of the Western Empire.
I laughed when I saw that John Banville wrote his Benjamin Black thrillers in a fraction of the time he wrote his literary prizewinners, leaned back from his keyboard, looked in the mirror and said to himself, "You slut."
So, sluttishly, I say hi to anyone who might have stumbled here and continue to be contactable at the email in the sidebar.
Yours, slutty and productive,
(Secret Pen Name)
I'm looking forward very much to my gig as speaker on e-publishing at the 8th Geneva Writers' Conference, Feb 3-5, 2012. Having now seen five novels, a play and a short story through the process, I've studied the pitfalls and pleasures of seeing work reach a new audience.
The politics of this explosion of untrammeled publishing via Amazon, Smashwords and other e-publishing channels is shaking up a jittery industry of traditional publishers and triggering a virulent battle over setting industry standards for division of spoils (royalties) and best means of achieving "discoverability" (online marketing) for books.
It's bound to be a lively discussion. Hope to see you there!
For e-books, click on the book image to go to amazon.com/amazon.uk to buy a Kindle or go to www.Smashwords.com, for all other formats like iPad, Nook, Sony, Kobo and Diesel.
January 27, 2011
At last, PEN Suisse Romand's Honorary Prisoner, Chinese writer and political voice He Depu, has completed his eight years' imprisonment in Beijing No. 2. He was released January 24. Insisting he was a free man, he declined to be bundled into a police van without a fight, sustained some injuries at the hands of the police, and no doubt some struggles wll continue for him, particularly with the restrictions the authorities have imposed on his speech and civil rights. But he and Jia Jianying, his loyal and courageous wife, can at last enjoy the simple pleasures of being together after so long.
Sponsoring Mr. He Depu was always more my privilege than of any material help to him. Over the last five years, his perseverance and the bravery of his wife and son in enduring their own unofficial isolation at the hands of the Chinese Communist authorities, has served as an inspiration to me. Moreover, the tables unexpectedly turned in 2009, when my health took a terrible turn and it was this Chinese couple, whom I have still never met, who sustained me with their wishes of support and encouragement. As I joked with my doctors, you know you're pretty sick when you're getting "get well" messages and sympathy from somebody in Beijing Prison 2!.
I'm confident that the Year of the Rabbit is going to be a better year for all of us, and although I've lost a very special correspondent, the world has regained an important voice for Chinese democracy.
Here's the press release from China Human Rights Defenders:
Democracy Activist He Depu Released After Eight Years in Prison
On January 24, He Depu (何德普), Beijing dissident and one of the founding members of the banned China Democracy Party, was released from prison after serving an eight-year sentence for "subversion of state power." He reported that, shortly after leaving the prison, he was involved in a physical confrontation with a police officer who sought to take him to a local police station. Though He's hand was injured, he was allowed to return home and is not in police custody as of the time of writing. Reportedly, friends and fellow activists were warned not to meet with He following his release, and his wife Jia Jianying (贾建英) was called in for a "talk" with police ahead of her husband's release.
JAN 17, 2011
Can it be only one more week, and He Depu actually walks out of Beijing Prison No. 2, having completed his sentence at long last?
it seems so long since we took up his case at PEN Centre Suisse Romand and what little we did, it wasn't enough for someone who's suffered so much for the simple "crime" of running for office under the Democracy Party banner and being tortured to "confess" state subversion for believing in the future of a democratic China.
One more week...
If there were any justice in the "people's" China, tomorrow would be the long-awaited day of release for PEN. Suisse Romand's Honorary Writer in Detention, He Depu. He has served exactly all eight years of his sentence on a conviction based illegally (under Chinese law) on evidence obtained through torture. His immediate release was demanded by the UN Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Nowak years ago — to deaf diplomatic ears at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Unfortunately, Mr. He won't be walking out of Beijing No. 2, Cell 17 tomorrow because the Chinese courts have refused to acknowledge or credit him the 85 days of police detention, torture and beatings prior to his conviction. They intend to continue incarcerating him until January 24, 2011. Their reason? His wife's failure to provide "sufficient evidence" that he served time strapped to a "shackleboard' being battered by the Beijing cops.
His wife has registered a second appeal. Meanwhile, during a brief conversation in prison with his wife in recent weeks, Mr. He was nonetheless upbeat, saying, "I'm proud to be wearing the same uniform as (Nobel Peace Prizewinner) Liu Xiaobo and to be carrying the same charge on my shoulders." That charge of state subversion in 2002 was laid on Mr. He for the "crime" of running for political office under the banner of the China Democracy Party.
This amazing laywer with the Beijing Huaji Law Firm got dragged into the Fengtai Public Security Bureau in Beijing and what resulted is his defiant, funny and revealing Twitter'ed transcript of the political quarrel between him and the deputy boss of the Fanjiacun Police Station. In English, translated by China Digital Times, here is another visit to Kafka Land, otherwise known as the post-Nobel world of the Chinese intellectuals being detained on the mainland. This guy is someone to watch!
Is the Chinese government so weak, it's afraid of the voice of a single little old lady?
JULY 8, 2010
On behalf of our PEN Centre Suisse Romand I have the pleasure and privilege of nominating our Honorary Prisoner, Chinese Writer in Detention He Depu, for the inaugural Liu Xiaobo Courage to Write Award of the Independent Chinese PEN Center. The final decision will be announced on November 10, the global Writers in Prison Day. We wish all the nominees good health and strong spirits.
February 2010 started the Year of the Tiger with news that The American Library (Geneva) awarded First Prize in their 2009 creative writing contest to Küng's radio monologue, "Lady Macbethad's Epilogue," in which we hear a sympathetic and triumphant backstory to the Macbeth legend.
Küng's sixty-minute radio play, "Dear Mr Rogge," based on the couragous defiance of Chinese writer in detention, He Depu, received a commendation August 21, 2009, from the BBC World Service/British Council 2009 International Playwriting Competition in which there were 1,200 entries. Congratulations to the two first prizewinners, detailed in the link below, whose plays will be produced and broadcast on the World Service. Also thanks to the BBC for sponsoring radio playwrights from all over the world.
China is celebrating its New Year in a few days. I remember spending New Year's Eve at home. (Perhaps beccause of my work in the democracy movement,) I often felt depressed and could not cheer up. Especially when I saw images on TV of pious pilgrims waving flowers and colored ribbons dancing, and singing, wholeheartedly greeting the New Year, I found it particularly difficult to feel cheered. At those moments, as a Democracy Movement veteran, I often asked myself: the Chinese democracy movement, those who wrote on the Democracy Wall, who gathered on the Square, those comrades who were arrested, where are they now? How are their families doing? Those heroes are in prison now because they stood up for freedom and democracy, while I wallow "in a sea of happiness". I felt so helpless. I felt guilty and ashamed. But those feelings of shame and guilt propelled me forward.
The New Year of 2010 is the eighth New Year I'm spending in prison. Although the living conditions here are so much worse than living at home, yet I feel most tranquil. This is because I don't get into self-blame from feelings of shame or neglect of my social responsibility.
I can stand up straight and hold my head high and say the truth, uphold my principles as a human being, giving my all. After the experience of all these years, I understand many things, many problems, things and problems that those who have not had prison experience do not understand.
When I am free again, I will take my time and tell you.
All these years, my strongest feeling is that family members, compared to those in jail, have a much harder life, much worse hardship. They are the weakest people in society. Not only are they dirt poor in terms of their economical situation, but in terms of politics they carry the burden of discrimination (such as the fact that the children of our families are not allowed to take exams for certain departments). Sometimes even their own mobility is restricted. Because of their family members in jail, they pay a dear price— too dear. Without their commitment,
we cannot accomplish the smallest things. To express my deep admiration for them, I have written a little poem for you and for our families. The poem is not good, but it expresses my heart's wishes.
Beautiful flowers in a dream
Pristine, pure, flawless
They blossom in hot summer, severe winter, against the harsh wind.
The whole world turns toward them in unison of praise.
23 February. (from Mrs Jia Jianying)
I went to see Depu. His spirits are good. He is very optimistic. He loves to hear greetings from friends. This time nearly everything I told him was New Year greetings from friends. He was very happy. He even asked me how Liu Xiaobo was doing and whether I had given him the quilted blanket.
When I said: I have helped Liu Xia finish the quilted blanket, he was so happy.
He again reminded me to write to you. He wants to tell you he is doing fine and that you should not worry, and he thanks you. When he gets out, he wîll actually say his thanks to you.
I too was feeling so helpless when I received your support and help. I have always felt deeply grateful.
I hpoe you and husband enjoy good health and happiness. Hope your children enjoy happiness.
He Depu's wife Jia Jianying
24 February 2010
This website is posted for two kinds of visitors:
Fiction fans will find reading guides for the novels and details on the books as well as reviews and comments.
Non-fiction types who share an interest in freedom of expression will find news of Küng's advocacy on behalf of writers in detention, as well as links related to the work of PEN Int. and an archive of PEN letters to Yahoo, the Chinese government and others on behalf of Chinese writers in detention.