Nov 8 2012
There’s an eight-hour time difference between London and British Columbia, and that makes it inconveniently difficult to pick up the phone and make a spontaneous call, in either direction, during business hours. With a little advance planning, though, it’s not impossible and I had a long conversation recently with a gentleman called Ed Wood, my new editor in London, at the end of his workday there and the start of mine here. We talked about his company's plans to introduce my original, nine-novel Arthurian series into Britain next year, and I’m excited enough to write about it now, while the details are still fresh in my mind. But in order to do so sensibly, I have to provide a little background and context.
This little ramble deals with a few new developments for me within the area of ebook publishing, but it was prompted by several discussions here in the Forum, over the years, about the variations between editions and titles of some of my novels, and the external differences in cover art and general appearance of specific books in different countries. It's a topic that seems to fascinate readers of my books everywhere, and I know—because I’ve been told many times—how intensely annoying it is to order and buy a “new” book, only to discover that you have already read it under a different title… That happened a lot with the Canadian edition of Clothar the Frank and its American incarnation, The Lance Thrower. (Strangely enough, there has never been any problem with the three titles in the Templars Trilogy—different artwork in each country, but the same titles.) All those changes and differences are market-driven, though, and jurisdictional, and they’re dictated by the individual publisher involved in each country. So what's new?
In 2011 Sphere Books, a division of Little, Brown & Co., became my new publisher in the United Kingdom, acquiring the British rights to my current series, “The Guardians”, set in 14th-Century Scotland. They published the first novel, The Forest Laird, earlier this year, changing the name of the book to Rebel and issuing it in paperback and audio formats, but even before it appeared in bookstores, Sphere also requested and acquired the UK rights to my original series, “A Dream of Eagles”, known outside Canada as “The Camulod Chronicles”.
I was more than happy to agree to that deal because, for the past twenty years, I've been frustrated (putting it mildly) by the fact that those nine novels had never been published in Britain, which I, born and bred there, consider to be their natural marketplace. The reasons for that were beyond my control, but they resulted in the reality that the Arthurian novels had never been released as a bona fide British edition.
That is about to change.
Everyone knows by now that there’s a revolution going on within the publishing industry, shaking and threatening all the time-honoured and accepted conventions on which traditional publishers (and authors) used to rely. It’s deeply, fundamentally challenging to those involved at every level of the business, because the visible, time-honoured components of the whole world of books are collapsing all around, as small, independent booksellers move increasingly beyond the critical stage of being an endangered species and face literal extinction… Today, everyone talks about ebooks as the Next Big Thing in publishing, but not too many people outside of the industry can talk about it with the confidence of authority, because few in North America appear to really know just how quickly the field is actually growing, or how radical (or even permanent) the shift will be.
According to the Financial Times of September 18th this year, though, one thing seems certain: ebook sales are increasing at a phenomenal rate in the United Kingdom, where the Brits have taken the Kindle, Kobo and other e-readers to their hearts. Bloomsbury Books, publishers of the Harry Potter series, have described the trend as a “seismic shift” in the industry, and according to the British Publishers Association, sales of fiction ebooks in the UK nearly tripled to ₤66 million in the first six months of 2012, compared to the same period in 2011. Children’s ebook sales increased 171% to ₤2.6 million and digital non-fiction titles rose 128% to ₤13 million. Overall digital sales in Britain now comprise 13% of total book sales—an increase from 7.2% a year earlier, and many UK publishers are now relying increasingly on ebooks as a source of growth for their business.
The outlook in Britain is bright and 'upbeat', for in spite of “traditional” book sales losing ground to e-sales, and in the face of a decidedly sluggish economy, data compiled from 250 British publishers showed that last year, digital and non-digital sales rose 6.1%, year-on-year, to total ₤1.1 billion—$1.75 billion Canadian! And yet the changes to traditional book publishing are quite profound. C-format publications, (called Trade paperbacks here), were seen mere years ago as the salvation of the price-conscious publishing industry, but they are now virtually dead in Britain, leaving the humble “B-format” (mass-market paperback) to dominate the UK market, augmented by small, limited editions of specific hardcover titles by big name authors, for aficionados who don’t mind paying the high costs involved.
For all those reasons, Sphere intends to release the Camulod series first in ebook format, with new and appropriate digital artwork. The print versions will appear later, though I have no firm word yet on when or how, with the hope of building ‘paper’ readership on the base already established by the on-line ebook sales. But here’s the kicker, and the reason why I’m feeling so good about what’s being planned: the order in which the series will be introduced over there, in what is essentially a brand-new marketplace for me, will be completely different from the order of progression everywhere else, a point that ties back into my opening comments earlier.
I’ve had twenty years of watching these books appear in sequence—and thirty-odd years of physically writing them—and my perception of them [defiantly patriarchal and proprietorial] has been linear to this point, starting at Book 1, The Skystone, and marching right through to Book 9, The Eagle. Sphere is now going to change that progression radically, renaming the series yet again in order to emphasize the legendary, Arthurian aspect of the tales rather than the post-Roman viewpoint I originally brought to the project, and shaping it to current British tastes and sensibilities in a way that left me blinking when I first heard of it. Moments later, though, once the initial shock had worn off, I found myself agreeing wholeheartedly with the notion, because to me at least, (and they’re my books) it now seems the obvious way to go, eminently sensible and admirable… And so the British marketing drive will split the nine-book cycle into several “mini-series” releases, under the new British Series Title, “Legends of Camelot”, to capitalize on the instant recognition factor of “Camelot”, though my spelling, “Camulod” will be retained otherwise.
This is already a longer blog entry than my normal meanderings, and I’m nowhere near finished (well, more than half finished.) So I’m going to post it here as Part One of Two. The second part, following quickly, will detail the elements of the Sphere marketing drive in Britain as I understand it at this point. Stay tuned…