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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Read this book, 13 May 2012
This review is from: The New Author: A beginner's self-help guide to novel writing, publishing as an independent ebook author and promoting your brand using social networks (Paperback)
The New Author is a very good book and highly recommended to anyone thinking of independently e-publishing their work. It's full of detailed practical advice, including warnings about the pitfalls, and the style is very engaging. In fact it's an excellent piece of writing, combining deceptive simplicity, lucidity and charm: a trick which in practice is very difficult to pull off. The book is also informed by considerable intelligence and analysis founded on firsthand experience. Ruby Barnes has succeeded in e-publishing and he (yes, it's a bloke) knows what he's talking about.

The book is simply and logically structured in three parts, but in this review I'll reserve the second until last because it deserves fuller treatment. The first part deals with what can loosely be called the Rules of Writing. This is not specific to the e-format and, as the author acknowledges, the subject is dealt with more fully in many other works, and he seems to have included this section (rightly in my view) for the limited purpose of writing a primer covering all the basics as well as his own special contribution. As for the content of the section, he repeats the commonly accepted points of writing technique in a clear commonsense manner and with an appropriate level of scepticism as to the possibility of writing by rule. This section is a useful summary and most writers probably need nothing more. The truth is that the trick is in the practice not the theory, and what most aspiring writers need is informed critique of concrete pieces of work.

The third part is a detailed exposition of how to convert a manuscript into an e-publishable form compatible with commercial e-readers. It goes on to explain how to place the book with a free e-publisher such as Amazon, and various post-publishing matters such as reviews, pricing and tracking of sales. One would have to try it out in order to verify how correct and user-friendly this account is, but Ruby Barnes has been through the mill and writes well and intelligently, so I take this section on trust for the present.

The heart of the book is in the second part, which is explains how to parlay your e-book into a bestseller by leveraging the opportunities provided by Twitter and social networking sites to create a product brand and an aware and active readership. At this point I'll digress in order to give my take on where we are and why Ruby Barnes's book is necessary.

For six hundred years the printed codex has been the technical format of books. The cost of production has influenced the proportions and outlets for books purchased and books loaned, and to a large degree countries have maintained national literatures rather than succumbed to international authorial brands; and this has been the model of mass readership for a century or so. It's this model, with its accompanying train of agents, publishers and bookshops, that has been largely destroyed in the last twenty years without its becoming wholly clear what the new model will look like.

I've never seen it clearly stated, but it seems to me true that the worldwide demand for commercial fiction can be satisfied with an annual production of a couple of hundred books. The success of translated Scandinavian crime fiction sold through superstore outlets along with a mere handful of other books seems to me to prove this point. The fact that historically many more books have been produced has been the result of a segmented, decentralised market and distribution system founded on technical limitations and cultural differences. The globalisation of economies and the creation of a homogenised international culture, driven by free market capitalism, lead with books as with any other product to attempts to simplify and control demand and achieve economies of scale. Although pundits talk of the loss of cultural diversity and reader choice, I don't think this loss is in reality experienced by leisure readers of commercial fiction. The few hundred books that I refer to as one possible outcome of the current process still offer a broad enough range to feel like sufficient choice for a significant portion of the market. But this, of course, means death to the hopes of most aspiring authors.
The e-book looks set to displace the codex as the preferred reading format. In predicting the future the following seem to me to be relevant considerations. There are many readers who are casual consumers of only a handful of books in a year - holiday readers, if you like. They may not consider an e-reader as a worthwhile investment, and therefore they may survive as a base market for the traditional hard format. That said, there may be a tipping point at which this residual market cannot be serviced economically from the standpoint of producers and distributors. The price of e-readers, and the cost of producing and distributing hard format books are in flux, and I don't think one can be confident as to how this will all play out.

I can envisage a future in which books develop almost as two separate art forms, like theatre and film. A small stratum of bestsellers (my two hundred books a year) may survive as hard format books, sold through limited outlets suited to casual readers, and behind this will be the cloud of e-books. Where does "choice" stand in this scenario? In the world of the hard format, it will be very reduced, but, I suggest, not necessarily experienced as such by consumers. In the realm of the e-book, however, the range of choice will be vast as new entrants, who in the past would have been excluded from being published through bad luck or incompetence, pile into e-books. Here the question is whether the enhanced choice will be meaningful, or perceived as white noise, a mere cacophony.

Ruby Barnes's book faces up to this changed scenario and says - rightly, I think - that predictable success can only happen through deliberate manipulation of social networking in all its forms. In the second part of The New Author he takes the reader in detail through various techniques for doing this and identifies key forums of opinion. However this course is not for the faint hearted. Barnes explicitly warns against the trap that engagement at the required level can become obsessive and time consuming, and in a couple of nice vignettes he makes his point with wit and style.

The New Author belongs to the class of self help books, a subject I studied when writing How To Be A Charlatan And Make Millions. It differs from those written by charlatans in that Ruby Barnes offers authentic, proven techniques and makes limited personal demands ("Buy my book," not "Sell me your soul,").

The New Author is a terrific book and I recommend it.
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