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Saturday, August 09, 2014

Dear Amazon, re your dispute with Hachette

Today Amazon Kindle wrote to me asking me to write to Hachette's CEO, they even suggested exactly what I should say to him, and they asked me to copy them into their correspondence.

I'd like to copy you into my response...

Dear Amazon Books Team,

I received your e-mail today imploring me to join an e-mail bombardment of the CEO of Hachette books, by spuriously focusing your current dispute with them on e-books.  As you well know, your dispute is about much more than that.

I agree that e-books can be cheaper, but I strongly believe that each and every publisher should be allowed to sell their books - e-books or hard copy -  at whatever price they choose.

I do NOT believe it is Amazon's place to tell anyone what price to charge for their books. In a free market the customer wields influence over the market price by choosing to buy the book or not.  In a free market the publisher determines the correct market price for their own books by examining sales results.

I STRONGLY OPPOSE Amazon's bullying tactics of PUNISHING authors during this dispute by withholding or delaying delivery of their hard copy books to the reading public.  Amazon is the one using authors "as leverage".

You have already put many other bookstores out of business. What readers need is MORE CHOICE.  Some of us don't want to be left with AMAZON as the sole supplier of the books, deciding and controlling everything for us.

The only company that is taking power away from readers is Amazon who are seeking to control not only the PRICE of the books they buy, but WHERE they buy their books, and WHAT books they are able to buy.

I don't want Amazon to monopolise the book world, and I certainly don't need Amazon to tell what e-mails I should write, or to whom.

Janice Hally.

Here, for info, is the e-mail that I received from Amazon Kindle...

On 9 Aug 2014, at 10:57, Kindle Direct Publishing wrote:

Dear KDP Author,

Just ahead of World War II, there was a radical invention that shook the foundations of book publishing. It was the paperback book. This was a time when movie tickets cost 10 or 20 cents, and books cost $2.50. The new paperback cost 25 cents – it was ten times cheaper. Readers loved the paperback and millions of copies were sold in just the first year.

With it being so inexpensive and with so many more people able to afford to buy and read books, you would think the literary establishment of the day would have celebrated the invention of the paperback, yes? Nope. Instead, they dug in and circled the wagons. They believed low cost paperbacks would destroy literary culture and harm the industry (not to mention their own bank accounts). Many bookstores refused to stock them, and the early paperback publishers had to use unconventional methods of distribution – places like newsstands and drugstores. The famous author George Orwell came out publicly and said about the new paperback format, if “publishers had any sense, they would combine against them and suppress them.” Yes, George Orwell was suggesting collusion.

Well… history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.

Fast forward to today, and it’s the e-book’s turn to be opposed by the literary establishment. Amazon and Hachette – a big US publisher and part of a $10 billion media conglomerate – are in the middle of a business dispute about e-books. We want lower e-book prices. Hachette does not. Many e-books are being released at $14.99 and even $19.99. That is unjustifiably high for an e-book. With an e-book, there’s no printing, no over-printing, no need to forecast, no returns, no lost sales due to out of stock, no warehousing costs, no transportation costs, and there is no secondary market – e-books cannot be resold as used books. E-books can and should be less expensive.

Perhaps channeling Orwell’s decades old suggestion, Hachette has already been caught illegally colluding with its competitors to raise e-book prices. So far those parties have paid $166 million in penalties and restitution. Colluding with its competitors to raise prices wasn’t only illegal, it was also highly disrespectful to Hachette’s readers.

The fact is many established incumbents in the industry have taken the position that lower e-book prices will “devalue books” and hurt “Arts and Letters.” They’re wrong. Just as paperbacks did not destroy book culture despite being ten times cheaper, neither will e-books. On the contrary, paperbacks ended up rejuvenating the book industry and making it stronger. The same will happen with e-books.

Many inside the echo-chamber of the industry often draw the box too small. They think books only compete against books. But in reality, books compete against mobile games, television, movies, Facebook, blogs, free news sites and more. If we want a healthy reading culture, we have to work hard to be sure books actually are competitive against these other media types, and a big part of that is working hard to make books less expensive.

Moreover, e-books are highly price elastic. This means that when the price goes down, customers buy much more. We've quantified the price elasticity of e-books from repeated measurements across many titles. For every copy an e-book would sell at $14.99, it would sell 1.74 copies if priced at $9.99. So, for example, if customers would buy 100,000 copies of a particular e-book at $14.99, then customers would buy 174,000 copies of that same e-book at $9.99. Total revenue at $14.99 would be $1,499,000. Total revenue at $9.99 is $1,738,000. The important thing to note here is that the lower price is good for all parties involved: the customer is paying 33% less and the author is getting a royalty check 16% larger and being read by an audience that’s 74% larger. The pie is simply bigger.

But when a thing has been done a certain way for a long time, resisting change can be a reflexive instinct, and the powerful interests of the status quo are hard to move. It was never in George Orwell’s interest to suppress paperback books – he was wrong about that.

And despite what some would have you believe, authors are not united on this issue. When the Authors Guild recently wrote on this, they titled their post: “Amazon-Hachette Debate Yields Diverse Opinions Among Authors” (the comments to this post are worth a read).  A petition started by another group of authors and aimed at Hachette, titled “Stop Fighting Low Prices and Fair Wages,” garnered over 7,600 signatures.  And there are myriad articles and posts, by authors and readers alike, supporting us in our effort to keep prices low and build a healthy reading culture. Author David Gaughran’s recent interview is another piece worth reading.

We recognize that writers reasonably want to be left out of a dispute between large companies. Some have suggested that we “just talk.” We tried that. Hachette spent three months stonewalling and only grudgingly began to even acknowledge our concerns when we took action to reduce sales of their titles in our store. Since then Amazon has made three separate offers to Hachette to take authors out of the middle. We first suggested that we (Amazon and Hachette) jointly make author royalties whole during the term of the dispute. Then we suggested that authors receive 100% of all sales of their titles until this dispute is resolved. Then we suggested that we would return to normal business operations if Amazon and Hachette’s normal share of revenue went to a literacy charity. But Hachette, and their parent company Lagardere, have quickly and repeatedly dismissed these offers even though e-books represent 1% of their revenues and they could easily agree to do so. They believe they get leverage from keeping their authors in the middle.

We will never give up our fight for reasonable e-book prices. We know making books more affordable is good for book culture. We’d like your help. Please email Hachette and copy us.

Hachette CEO, Michael Pietsch

Copy us at:

Please consider including these points:

- We have noted your illegal collusion. Please stop working so hard to overcharge for ebooks. They can and should be less expensive.
- Lowering e-book prices will help – not hurt – the reading culture, just like paperbacks did.
- Stop using your authors as leverage and accept one of Amazon’s offers to take them out of the middle.
- Especially if you’re an author yourself: Remind them that authors are not united on this issue.

Thanks for your support.

The Amazon Books Team

P.S. You can also find this letter at

Thursday, July 17, 2014

50 Ways To Leave A Bad Romance

I'm Scottish but I don't have a vote in the upcoming independence referendum because I don't live there, so when I heard a group had registered itself with the Electoral Commission as a participant in the referendum saying it was going to "give a voice to everyone who doesn't have a vote in the decision to break up Britain", I was interested.

But it turns out they didn't mean "everyone" who doesn't have a vote.  See, they're called, "Let's Stay Together" so that's a wee clue about whose voices they want to promote, and they just made a video to reinforce their message.  For reasons best known to themselves, they don't make it possible for me to embed their video here for you to see.  But don't go yet, in the meantime, I'll describe it for you... 

A group of people looking uncomfortable write messages on placards pleading with Scotland not to leave the UK, because they "love" Scotland, and don't want Scotland to go.  And behind all of this, Queen's "You're My Best Friend" is playing.

Along with the catchy music video on their website, is a longer version where the celebs go into more detail about their feelings.  Well, I use the word, "detail" loosely.  Let's just say, they speak more about their feelings - content, analysis, or actual detail is thin.

Sometimes it's just slightly embarrassing, sometimes it verges on the excruciating.  None of them mentions the political issues involved.  None of them refer to the reasons for the independence referendum.  They're all just pleading with Scotland not to go.  It was sad.  Sad.

Honestly, I haven't felt so uncomfortable since I broke up with Davey just after I left school to go to university.  Davey, if you're out there, I'm sorry.  But we really weren't right for each other, I'm sure you see that now, our lives were going along different tracks, it was no-one's fault.

And that's the problem.  In the moment, the one that's being broken up with, always finds it hard to see beyond their own incomprehension and hurt.

And that's natural, it's their perspective.  There's no getting around it, their perspective is - well, it's all about them.  

The "Let's Stay Together" campaign is acting like a husband who has been asked for a divorce.  He's not trying to see it from his wife's perspective.  In fact, if he just stopped and thought about it for a minute, he might see that maybe it's because he's always made it about him and about what he wants, that she wants to leave.

But she isn't trying to hurt him, she just wants what's best for her, after years of following a way of life ruled by someone who didn't have her best interests or wishes at heart.

She doesn't hate him, they've just grown apart.  And who says she doesn't still want to be friends?  But somehow you just know that if she doesn't stay then they can't be friends because he's going to get all sulky and try to sabotage her departure and make her pay for her impertinence, in some passive-aggressive way.

But what can they do?  It's obvious that he wants different things, he has different political beliefs, different aspirations. 

She's tired of being forced to live the life he wants for her.  She needs to be free to live her own life and fulfill her own ambitions. 

Hang on, if only there was a video of a Queen song that could demonstrate this, oh wait a minute...
(if the video doesn't appear you can find it here )

Here's the thing - all this wife wants is an amicable separation. 

If her husband really loved her, he would let her go and try to stay friends with her.

And if she does have the courage to pack her bags and follow her dreams, let's hope he doesn't become bitter and vengeful and try to punish her for it.

Mind you there are some women who might quite enjoy that...
(video here )

Monday, June 06, 2011

Tracing My Roots

All I had to go on was my grandmother's name, Julia McNeil, and the story that she was illegitimate, which was only ever referred to a couple of times that I remember - I think because it was a source of embarrassment for my mother (her daughter). On one of those occasions my dad said my grandmother Julia's mother had come to the mainland from "the islands" because she was pregnant and unmarried. Before he was shushed quiet by my mum, he said she'd worked as a servant at a "big hoose" and that it was her wealthy boss that had got her pregnant. I knew from separate discussions about the family tartan, that the "McNeil" part of the family came from Barra, so "the islands" got narrowed down to one island in particular. And that was the sum total of my knowledge.

Last year when Peter and I were on South Uist and Eriskay researching book two in his Lewis Trilogy, we were staying with our lovely friend, MaryAlex, whose house looks across the bay to Barra, and I told her the story. "But Janice," she said, "you've got to find out more - you'll have relatives here!" and immediately she got on the phone to some friends on Barra, to get the investigation underway.

The scant information I had, provided little to go on, and what little there was didn't seem to make sense. On the mainland, "big hooses" - the homes of landed gentry - are everywhere. But on Barra...? there weren't any. There weren't even any big farms that might require domestic servants or staff. MaryAlex had the wonderful thought, at one point, that perhaps my great grandmother had been working for Compton Mackenzie, when he was living on the island! Could it be that there was another writer in the family? Was Compton Mackenzie my unknown great grandfather...? But sadly, no, the dates didn't fit.

The vague curiosity I had was nipped in the bud and we left the Outer Herbides last year without setting foot on Barra.

This year we were back for Peter's research for the last of the trilogy, and visiting MaryAlex again, and we decided to take a day trip to Barra. The night before we set off we decided to take a look at online records and see if we could find anything else out about Julia McNeil. Amazingly it was not a very common name and within a couple of minutes, I was looking at the entry in the registrar's records for her birth in Greenock. First, was her full name: "Julia Ann Ferguson McNeil". Next, the bald statement: "illegitimate". Not a surprise, but it was sad to see the label there and hard to imagine the stigma. Further along was the mother's name: "Margaret McNeil", and a blank where the father's name should have been - so that part of the story was holding up. Then something confusing... the entry seemed to read: "her + mark witness assistant registrar..." and then a name. The "+" was't very clear... was it a "T"? No, suddenly we saw what it was. It was an "X". "her X mark" had been witnessed by the assistant registrar. She was unable to sign her name. She was unable to read or write and the assistant registrar had got her to make "her mark" in the form of an "X".

Suddenly she came alive to me. This poor girl. Pregnant, banished from her island home, no doubt a Gaelic speaker, sent to the mainland, where she would have to learn English and learn to survive, all alone. She has her baby and goes on her own to register the birth but can't read or write, so she has to make a "mark" in the form of an "X". It was indescribably sad.

Then other things occurred to me. Most girls who were sent from the island in shame, expecting babies out of wedlock - for there were more than a few - were sent to convents and pressured into giving the children up for adoption. When they were at their most vulnerable, the babies would be taken from them and they would be parted forever. How brave and strong Margaret McNeil must have been that she was determined not to do that. She must have taken the decision to keep her child and try to survive somehow.

And in the name she gave her baby, she left clues. Julia Ann Ferguson McNeil. We found several Margaret McNeils born on Barra, who would have been the age to have been Julia's mother, but only one of those Margarets had a mother named "Ann". Could the John McNeil and Ann McKinnon we found have been Margaret's parents? On arriving in Castlebay on Barra, we went to the records office to find out.

Sadly, it proved to be another dead end. The physical record book seemed to be in conflict with the online records. But... the lady at the records office gave us a telephone number of someone who might be able to help.

MairiCeit, whom we arranged to meet in the tearoom at the heritage centre, has a passion for genealogical detective work. We told her what we knew and suddenly cracks of light appeared in the dead ends. It was true there were no "big hooses" on Barra. But there was a big farm, and a major employer of land and domestic workers on nearby Vatersay. Not only that, but the tenant farmer's name was... wait for it... Ferguson!

Julia Ann Ferguson McNeil - was Julia's mother trying to make a point? Furthermore, the McNeils were Catholics, but the Fergusons were Protestant. "If one of the Fergusons had got a Catholic girl pregnant, she would have been sent from the island, and never allowed to return!" said MairiCeit.

Fired up with enthusiasm, MairiCeit was going to do further researches using census records and church and other records. I can't wait to find out what she discovers, but already my great grandmother has come alive to me and the land and times she lived in are drawing me in. I need to know more.

It's something in the blood.

Sent from my iPad

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

The Keystone Kops meet the China Thrillers

Working in this strange mix of French and English as we "negotiate" the script for the Killing Room with French film producers has really forced us to refine our linguistic abilities.

I've been going through our writing with a "fine-toothed comb" taking out phrases like "fine-toothed comb" and other colloquialisms that could throw a foreigner off track! Can't risk the hero having his "nose out of joint" (what happened to his nose?) or having anyone "smelling a rat" (how do rats smell?).

During the book tour in the US recently, we had a script conference by telephone. The producers were asking how things were and we said "very hot" as we were in Arizona at the time. Then they asked if there were a lot of fans. To which we replied, yes, they're on the ceiling of every room. "On the ceiling?" asked the producers, with a strangely uncomprehending tone. "Yes, we said, although we have air-conditioning everywhere, too." At which point they revealed that they had been talking about "fans" of Le Chef's books... Now if only we had been speaking in French...

Our French though is less than perfect, we recently mixed up Navet (turnip) and Navette (Shuttle), and enquired of the hotel receptionist when the next turnip for the airport would leave.

But even when you think you know the French words, sometimes you don't fully appreciate how they are used. At a book event in Lyon, Le Chef was delivering his spiel and at one point began to talk about having visited the Beijing homicide squad's HQ at Section One in Beijing - the department which deals with serious crimes, which he described as "les crimes serieux", because he had no doubt about the vocabulary:
- crimes = crimes
- serieux = serious.

No problem there one would think.

Except that the French interviewer on stage paused for a moment, looked at him with a puzzled expression, and then asked (in French, of course)... "Serious crimes? And is there a department for amusing crimes?"

At which point we both realised we were well acquainted with another word for serious... "grave", which we use all the time in the form of "c'est pas grave" meaning "it's no problem", or "it's not important", "or "it's not serious"...

What we hadn't realised up till that point was the subtle difference in French between the two forms of serious:
- serieux = serious as in 'not funny' or 'not amusing'
- grave = serious as in 'extreme or important'
and ne'er the twain shall meet!

I think it's a good idea, though, to have a department for funny crimes. You could send cops to work there when they get worn down and depressed by all the less than amusing stuff they normally have to deal with.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Please ignore this

I'm sing a new piece of uploading software, and just want to try it out.  (Sadly it won't write the posts for me...)

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Thursday, July 09, 2009

PP Webcon

PP Webcon, I hear you ask, what's that? Well... it's the world's first mystery and crime writing convention to be held online. It'll take place on October 24th this year, and will bring crime writing authors and fans together online. Basically, it's the first convention you can attend in your jimjams and bathrobe. No travel costs. No hotel costs. Meet and chat to your favorite authors in the coffee shop chatroom. Interact with them on live video and live audio presentations.

Pretty neat, huh? It's being hosted by Poisoned Pen Press (the chef's US publisher) and he'll be there of course. The "guests of honor" are Dana Stabenow and Lee Child. Check it out at...

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Win a Copy of Peter May's China Thriller "Snakehead"

S.Dionne Moore interviewed Le Chef for her "Novel Journey" blog, and there is a copy of Snakehead available for the person who makes the best comment!

Find the interview here