Wednesday 15 February 2012

The Woman in Black - Dan Radcliffe

First of all, let me say, wow, this was a scary film. It is full of the psychological horror, camera tricks and fantastic set up that I love in a horror movie. It is a ghost story of the best kind. No need for gore or over done CGI every five seconds, just good, honest scares, perfectly timed with just the right amount of special effects. This is the kind of movie where you go home, close all the curtains and then huddle under the duvet refusing to look at that dark corner of the bedroom, that before now has never been overly threatening.

The general story is about Arthur Kipps, a young lawyer who is sent from London to a remote village in the north of England to collect and collate the papers of an old lady, Alice Drablow, who has just died. The villagers are hostile and try to send him away, but no one actually tells him that it's because there is a vengeful ghost at the old lady's house and going anywhere near it is a very bad idea. It would be a very short film if they had.

Let's start with Dan Radcliffe as Arthur Kipps, a widower with a young son of four years old whose wife died in child birth. When Dan first appeared on the screen I had the problem lots of people probably had, all I could see was Harry Potter and the stream train really didn't help. However, as soon as the setting reached the small village where most of the film takes place, that all changed. He became Arthur Kipps and all thoughts of Harry vanished from my mind. His performance is moving, showing us a young man who is slightly broken from the death of his wife, but who cares for his son very deeply.

He carries the entire film with much of it just him and shadows. Dan is a superb actor and, okay, now for the shallow moment, he's also very attractive in the period costume, especially when he's somewhat mussed.

Now to the setting, what could be more desolate than an island, a la St Michael's Mount, linked to the mainland by a causeway that is underwater for a large amount of the day and surrounded by deadly marsh? In this Hammer production they also manage to make the village where some of the action takes place just as desolate. It is a cut off, lost place with people so scared they hide their children. The whole film is beautifully shot with desolate landscapes and sea mist and the half falling down house with its overgrown and wild grounds. The scenery sets the mood and the rest of the film does not disappoint.

The atmosphere is only increased by the clever direction and cinematography that make up the film. It is not done with in your face confrontations or blood splatter or gruesome monsters, it's done with clever camera shots and momentary glimpses that had me scanning the background of every shot as well as looking at the foreground action. These little moments made the times when the woman in black was finally right there even more shocking and scary.

At first glance the two shots to the right look perfectly innocent, but then you look closer and the icy fingers of fear touch your spine. This is how the entire film is put together.

The cinema was not full of screams, it was full of genuine out cries of shock and then that nervous laughter that follows when people realise they're terrified, but still breathing. At one point I believe the entire cinema jumped out of their seats at the same time.

This film is brilliant and it is going on my wishlist for the moment it comes out on blu-ray. If Hammer can produce more films like this in the future I will once again become a devotee.

Thursday 2 February 2012

Free Books on Amazon

I've seen several people talking about whether putting a book free on Amazon is a good idea or not. I'm not going to go into the whole KDP Select thing because I very much don't like the exclusivity clause that is involved in it. However, I have had one title price matched to free, which for me has been brilliant.

I've analysed my numbers from December to January and having a free book (Forgotten Soul ) on Amazon has doubled my sales.

I'm definitely still at the don't quit your day job stage, even though this is my day job and I can only do it because I have a wonderfully talented husband and a low mortgage :). However, it's an upturn when, ever since Amazon played with their system back in the middle of last year, my numbers have been pitiful.

However, for those considering putting titles free on Amazon, I think I should point out a couple of factors.

  1. Most of my new sales were for Forbidden Soul, the direct sequel to the free book.
  2. The few extra sales I saw on other books were for books of the same genre. It didn't touch my YA novel figures.

Hence I think it's probably a good idea to plan exactly how you make your titles free if you are going to do so. I suppose it makes sense that if someone has read a book of yours in a genre and liked it, they are more likely to go for the same genre again. It is also likely that fans of a certain genre go for that genre and not an alternative one.

It's actually given me a lot to think about, which is why I thought I'd share what I've seen. Of course this is only one month, I have no idea if I will see the same again this month, but I have already seen more sales in two days than sometimes in a whole week in Dec, so here's hoping.

I'm seriously considering writing a YA short story/novella just so I can put it up there for free and have a free book in my other market segment. (Only once I've published "Cat's Creation" the sequel to Cat's Call, though, promise :)).

I would be very happy to hear if anyone else has had similar or completely different results. I know that KDP select only lets you put your book up free for five days, where as mine are intended to be free for as long as the system will let me do it, so experiences may differ.

Wednesday 1 February 2012

Smashwords, how I love thee.

Okay, so I've talked about Amazon and the fact it is not the only option for eBooks and now I'm going to talk about one of the other brilliant alternatives: Smashwords. All Wittegen Press books are available from Smashwords.

Smashwords is superb, not only for readers of eBooks, but for authors/publishers as well. It is a mine of Indie publishers and self-pub authors that all should check out.

You have to have bought a book to review it, which is also useful from an author and a reader persepctive. For the author, no spam reviews, for the reader, you know if someone reviewed it they bought it first.

For Readers

Smashwords provide every format you can think of when you buy a book. As long as the person publishing the book has not unchecked the option it will appear. For example, you're unlikely to find a picture book published in plain text format, it would be silly, but a novel will likely be in all formats. These are all the formats on offer with indications of what devices they are good for.
  • Online Reading (HTML, good for sampling in web browser)
  • Online Reading (JavaScript, experimental, buggy)
  • Kindle (.mobi for Kindle devices and Kindle apps)
  • Epub (Apple iPad/iBooks, Nook, Sony Reader, Kobo, and most e-reading apps including Stanza, Aldiko, Adobe Digital Editions, others)
  • PDF (good for reading on PC, or for home printing)
  • RTF (readable on most word processors)
  • LRF (Use only for older model Sony Readers that don't support .epub)
  • Palm Doc (PDB) (for Palm reading devices)
  • Plain Text (download) (flexible, but lacks much formatting)
  • Plain Text (view) (viewable as web page)
So, once you've bought a book you can even read it online if you want to, just as if you were visiting a fiction archive.

Unlike Amazon, Smashwords also has a beta of a gifting eBook system up, so that you can buy and eBook for someone else if you wish to.

For Authors

First of all, let's look at the numbers. Smashwords offer authors 85% royalty rate of net sales for all titles sold on their site and 60% royalty rate from their distributors (more about them later). This is a superb rate and does not rely on pricing like Amazon does (with them an author get 70% for books price $2.99 and higher but only 35% for books under that). When you publish a book on Smashwords they show you a pie chart for each book of how much you will earn per sale and where the other percentages are going. Very pretty and very useful. If you select the option they also email you for every sale you make on their site and tell you how much you made on it.

Smashwords allow you to upload free titles as well, which are distributed to their retailers as free titles too.

They also have a coupon system where you can create a coupon for money off your book, set a time limit on the code and use it as part of a special offer. Coupons can be any value, even up to 100%, so you can use coupons for giveaways, or to allow reviewers to download your book.

Non-US authors, please be aware you require an ITIN (individual taxpayer identification number) to be paid by Smashwords . They have useful info about ITINs at this link. I'm applying for mine now, once I am successful I will do a post to tell UK people how I did it, because I believe it can be tricky.

Smashwords is also what is known as an agregator. This means they distribute to other eBook sites, many of which are hard to get your books onto otherwise. There are opt in and opt out options for all distributors so it is not compulsory. These are who they distribute to at the moment:
  • Apple (iBookstore in 32 countries)
  • Barnes & Noble
  • Sony
  • Kobo
  • WH Smith (UK via Kobo)
  • FNAC (Fr via Kobo)
  • Diesel eBook store
  • eBook Eros (Diesel's erotic eBook partner)
Smashwords have two catalogues. 

The Standard Catalogue
The standard catalogue is all the titles published on their site, which is all titles that meet their terms and conditions (i.e. no publishing other people's work etc). All books go into the standard catalogue as soon as they are publised and appear on Smashwords' site.

The Premium Catalogue
This is the catalogue which is distributed to Smashwords' partner retailers. Your book has to meet certain standards to be published in this catalogue which include the Smashwords Style Guide. This is a free eBook that takes you step by step how to create you initial .doc file for uploading to the Smashwords engine which converts it into eBooks for you. You also have to have an ISBN for the book, but there are three ways of getting one:
  • You have your own which you have purchased from elsewhere
  • Smashwords will give you a free ISBN and all sites will list them as the publisher
  • You buy an ISBN from Smashwords (US only) for a premium rate and it will list you as the publisher.
Getting into the premium catalogue takes a while becaue Smashwords do check all the books, but it is worth the wait.

Publisher Accounts
They also have publisher accounts, so if you publish under several names and want seperate identities for each you can still deal with all the money centrally. Soph and I have a publisher account for Wittegen Press and we publish all out book under our personal accounts (which have biographies etc) and then assign the rights to the publisher account. That way all the royalties are dealt with in one place. Publisher accounts can also have what are called ghost authors, these have profiles, but can be used by the publisher account to publish the book directly without having to reassign rights though another account.

There is also very clear reporting and author friendly services to help you track how your books are doing. Much easier to see everything than on Amazon.

Smashwords is a superb site and the staff are incredibly helpful if there are any problems. For example, when we first started publishing on there, Soph and I thought we should keep Penny Dreadfuls 21 and Wittegen seperate, so we set up those books under a different publisher account. Then we decided that we actually wanted to have them all under Wittegen after all. Most of the books we just transfered back to the author accounts and then used our author accounts to assign them to Wittegen. However, a couple of the books were under a ghost account. For some reason when we tried to reassign to another author it didn't work. Smashwords looked into it straight away and found a bug and fixed it. That simple and then everything worked fine. No red tape, no black hole of no response, just a very helpful support staff.