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The Writers' Spring: a revolution in the ebook world

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Phil Rickman Phil Rickman | 14:40 UK time, Wednesday, 18 July 2012

No avoiding it any more. There's a revolution in the book world.

Let's call it The Writers' Spring.

Here's one of the leaders now, professing "a livid frustration with the self-serving, ivory-towered London publishing and agent elites who have been deluding themselves for so many years that they are indeed the 'Chosen Ones' of pompous literary endeavour!"

Julian Ruck

Julian Ruck

This is Julian Ruck, who we talk to in Sunday's Phil the Shelf. A man with a virtual weapon, and he's not afraid to use it.

"I felt it was time someone blew the lid off the utterly-disconnected-from-reality and smug world of publishing. It is long overdue."

The author of the Ragged Cliffs trilogy, Julian is the organiser of the Kidwell-e festival, celebrating "the most innovative, exciting and empowering medium to hit the publishing world since Caxton and Gutenberg."

It takes place next weekend, 28/29 July, at the Ffos Las racecourse near Kidwelly, with several writers and ebook experts lined up to speak to a hoped-for 20,000-plus audience... many of whom could soon be published authors.

Anybody can publish an ebook, for very little expense. You get it up on Amazon and then you get all your mates to post five-star reviews saying how brilliant it is. You won't even look sad, because lots of established writers are doing it - Stephen King was among the first.

The reason established writers are increasingly tempted is that a self-published ebook can, in theory - and often in practice - earn you about four times as much as one put out by a publisher. And if you're already a recognised name you have more than a head start.

Publishers, too, are aware that, for minimum outlay, they can relaunch writers who were big 20 or 30 years ago. The late David Williams, Welsh creator of the Mark Treasure series, joins Andrew Garve and 1960s TV favourite Francis Durbridge in a new ebook omnibus, The Best of British Crime.

"The publication of this omnibus revives a trio of the lively mystery novels that have lurked in publishers' archives for years, waiting to be rediscovered," says (living) crime writer Martin Edwards, who's written the book's introduction and is one of the speakers at Kidwell-e.

Which isn't, of course, about established print authors like Martin. It's about all those writers who've been spurned by the self-serving, ivory-towered London publishing and agent elites. It goes without saying that a number of them are actually well worth publishing.

It also goes without saying that a large number will never realise how hopeless they are. Sometimes publishers get it wrong but, more often than not, they don't.

As a first-timer, you might well leave Kidwelly all fired up and convinced you're going to be the next EL James (author of the self-published Fifty Shades of Grey, which I'm afraid we'll be discussing in the next programme).

But the brutal truth is that out of all the thousands who epublish themselves, only a few have really soared so far, and most of these - like EL James - have been repromoted by a print publisher.

Most will earn less than £500 - not much for maybe a year's work. And they tend to be the ones with classy covers and a slick publicity campaign. You can learn the basics of all this at Kidwelly... and, at the very least, it's a lot of fun.

So where does this leave the, um, self-serving, self-deluded publishers?

"Could turn out to be the best thing that's happened to us in years," one leading publisher told me, hopefully.

Publishers can play around with ebook prices, halving them overnight to attract mass-sales and word-of-mouth promotion and then increasing them when sales reach a plateau. They can't, of course, do this with printed books.

But many of them are more than a little scared. "They don't really know where it's going," one long-time bestselling novelist told me a few days ago.

Nor does anyone. OK, virtually all publisher-produced books have decent grammar, correct spelling and a basic literacy, while an appreciable proportion of self-published ebooks... well, it's not hard to see why they didn't get picked up for a five-figure advance.

However, there are now agencies which, for a fee, will tart up your manuscript and give it a classy Photoshop cover. Just as many published authors are boosting their incomes by lecturing on creative-writing courses, others are seeing the possibility of becoming book-doctors and book-midwives.

Pretty soon we'll all be authors - virtually.

Listen to Phil the Shelf on BBC Radio Wales from 5.30pm on Sunday. For more on the Kidwell-e Festival visit the website kidwellyefestival.com.

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