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Electrik Inc gets physical

And so, one morning in May  little more than nine months after the electrik inklings dreamed their dream in the Jazz Café  a second piece of magic happened…

BAM!  Their workshop doors burst open and a bright, shiny new story, in a stunning lime green jacket, marched out and made its way noisily into the world.  ZAP.  KAPOW.  FWOOSH!  How the inklings buzzed and cheered as straight away, one – two – three – four bookshops not far from the Jazz Café welcomed the story in and settled it comfortably on their shelves.

Silence descended.  Keeping themselves invisible and trying not to fidget, the inklings waited.  The story was ready.  It was there, within arm’s reach of the first child.  And here he was!  An eight-year-old boy arrived and took the book in his hands.  Buzzz ZZING!  The magic unfolded.  He read it all, cover to cover.  And when at last he looked up…  well, you can probably guess the rest.  This isn’t fiction.  This is a fact.  He hungrily asked for more…

Call me a Luddite, a dinosaur, a crazy misfit.  But it is a matter of great delight to me that the first Electrik Inc book is physical in every respect.  An action-packed romp of a story (written by Kim to keep the boys reading), it’s available not only as an ebook but in printed form  a fabulous paperback with 24 illustrations which local bookshops in Bath have seen fit to put on their shelves.  Physical books in physical shops.  ROAR!

Reading habits are changing fundamentally.  Yes, this old-fashioned bookworm is happy to admit she likes her new ereader very much.  I enjoy its portability and I understand why children and young adults are engaged by the technology, which grows ever more interactive.  I’m also convinced that ebooks are good for print books and will encourage the publishing industry away from its blockbuster mentality towards smaller more diverse presses – commerce and culture more harmoniously balanced.

However.  For all the benefits, nothing on screen  for me anyway  can replace the very sensual pleasure of curling up with a beautifully crafted, beautifully produced paper book.  As a child, when I first began reading alone, it was better than chocolate  the experience inspired me to write.  The weight, the size, the thickness, the glossy cover, the binding, the texture of the paper under my fingers, the sense of knowing where you are in a story judged by the accumulation of pages, the smell, the rustle, the touch…  a physical book engages the senses and lifts the imagination.

While the adult book world goes rapidly digital (one third of Brits now ereading according to the latest study) the children’s book market, especially for younger readers, remains resistant.  One intriguing reason has to do with parental psychology.  According to a New York Times article, even mums and dads who are avid ereaders   ‘diehard downloaders’  want their children to be surrounded by traditional print books.  Why?  Aside from concerns about digital distractions and too much on-screen time, parents see print books as something tactile that can be shared and want their children to have the same rite of passage into the reading world as they had.  For the next generation of readers, or a good many of them, books made from trees will remain treasures.

All of which has to be good news for bricks and mortar stores like those in Bath who are championing local talent from a brand new Professional Independent Publishing group.  Thank you from Electrik Inc to Topping and Co, Oldfield Park Bookshop, Mr B’s Emporium and Waterstones.

Jenny Landor

Electrik Inc

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Calling All Creatives

Okay, peeps, listen up. Radical suggestion approaching at speed. Brace yourselves. I’m about to suggest something subversive. Something momentous. Something over-the-rainbow imaginative.

For a moment, I want you to consider the world without Amazon. No, darling, not the river. We really need that. Just imagine a world where authors (not publishers or technological third parties such as Amazon, Apple, Sony, Barnes & Noble, Kobo et al) sold direct to their readers. You, the author, make the sale, you send your lovingly crafted ebook, you keep the buyer’s email address, physical address and any other information they give you.

That means you have a ready-made mailing list of readers to market your next book to. For the moment, let’s not worry about storage for print-on-demand books, or trips to the post office. I’m talking about ebooks and how technology can help writers. And how corporations who own that technology – well, don’t help writers as much as they could. Some ebusinesses seem to see creative people as much less important than the technology that makes money out of them. They see us as troublemakers, like intelligent monkeys that should be kept in their place. Preferably in a subservient position, scribbling, painting, making music… for others to sell at a nice profit. Remember coal mines? Without miners, they were just dangerous holes in the ground. Technology doesn’t create anything. People do.

 You are important. And that mailing list of buyers for your work is important too. You need it. Every author needs to build an audience either to sell direct to, or to prove to prospective publishers that there is a market for their novel. Assuming you want to keep writing – and selling – your books, a mailing list is a top marketing tool. Without it, you’ll be lost. You’d have to keep going back to… oh look, you’ve guessed it. If you sell your book through Amazon you won’t get that list of buyers. You pay them a percentage to sell on their site and they keep the email addresses you generate and use them for their own marketing – tempting people to buy other books similar to yours. Clever, aren’t they. Penelope Trunk discusses this in Why Smart Authors Are Cutting Out Amazon.

I’m not seriously suggesting we do away with Amazon altogether – or any of the other significant ebook players. I think it’s great that readers have choice. It keeps us all on our toes. Besides, it’s another place to sell books. Also, you need to know what to do with the mailing lists in order to maximise sales, and many authors don’t want that hassle. They want to get on with important stuff, like writing. I agree with all that. Again, it’s about choice. And control. JK Rowling has already made her choice, with Pottermore. She keeps the profit her books generate; she keeps her fanbase mailing lists. Of course, we don’t all have the resources JK has. But I believe the underlying paradigm shift created by this kind of author-to-reader direct service is seismic and is a glimpse into the future (trust JK to give us that J!) As more writers with well-edited and professionally proofread books take control by setting up their own websites, then selling ebooks direct to the reader is only a technological leap away, as is reclaiming our marketing lists. Which would be good for writers, good for readers and good for the ebook economy. That way we all stay on our toes. Not on our knees.

KAY LEITCH

Electrik Inc

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e-volution

In life, we seldom end up how we begin. Of course there are rags-to-riches-back-to-rags-again stories, but usually life gives us things and we grow richer. Even if it’s only in experience, or feelings of joy or grief, we are forever receiving things from the world around us. And forever losing things. That’s how it works.

In life, as in writing. We start off with one idea and find it changing, growing, evolving – like wild flowers colonising meadows, seeds mingling until a breathtaking hybrid appears. Characters surprise us and head off in unforeseen directions. Plots twist and turn. Conflicts blow in on the wind. Our original message and conclusion are ditched as we dig deeper. And more flowers bloom.

We give our novels as much as we can, investing time, energy, love, joy, grief in them. We put it all down on the page – the characters, the adventures, the conclusions – and feel euphoric when at last we type The End. Only to discover it’s not the end. It’s just another beginning. We have to hone it, mould it, work on it. We invest even more time and energy in it, aspiring to make it better. Just like life, where we strive to be better than we were. With a novel this is called editing. Sometimes that’s like teaching a child good habits. “No. Put that down. It’s an adjective.” Or manners: “Don’t waffle, darling. It’s boring.” Sometimes it drives us mad. Always, it’s a labour of love. And, as in life, sometimes it’s our losses that help us grow. Wrong partner? Leave them. Wrong job? Find another. Weak plot? Strengthen it. Turgid prose? Tighten it. Wrong character? Create a new one. When we decide to jettison whatever is wrong with our life we’re making a conscious effort to try and improve it. Equally, it’s what we take out of our novel that can make it sparkle. Lose the waffle (it is boring), lose the unnecessary adjectives. Lose the unrealistic plot, aimless characters or dull dialogue. Be ruthless.

Jo Wyton writes about editing in Notes from the Slush Pile. She compares it to taking off the rose-tinted glasses you didn’t realise you were wearing and says ‘different versions of your novel clutter your brain’. We must all learn to declutter.

We start off with one thing (an idea), and end up with another (a story) that has grown and changed so much sometimes it bears little resemblance to how it started. This magical process is not easy. Well. You know. Life’s hard, too. But whether you get to The End and realise you now have to start honing, or whether you get to The Real End, remember – the magic never ends.

It’s just another beginning.

And so, it occurs to me, is creating a new venture with friends. Electrik Inc will change, grow, evolve. We know we won’t stay the same. We embrace that. We have great plans, and all of them involve great children’s books. So watch this space.

Kay Leitch

Electrik Inc

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e-dapt or die

Attention all writers huddled in garrets, knee-deep in crumpled paper and empty mugs! Okay, today you’re more likely to be hunched over a keyboard, with lower back pain, a furrowed brow, incipient psychosis and about 133 different drafts of your Work In Progress on a computer. Either way, you need to look up from the page. The world has changed. Thought perfecting your prose would bring publishers running and readers reading? Thought it was all about writing your best novel? Whatever gave you that idea? Writing isn’t about writing any more. It’s about self promotion, marketing, pre-release hype, playing the social media game, building a readership before you’ve even typed The End, blogging, tweeting, webbing, glugging, plugging and (if you’re me) shrugging. It’s about building a brand.

This isn’t just one publisher’s advertising department gone mad. It’s the world. It has changed. Technology has brought us incredible opportunities with ebooks and physical books printed on demand; Electrik Inc is proof of that. It has also created a whole new set of shackles. For writers, that means although you can now share your work with the world, you also cannot just sit at home, write a book, get it published and turn up to book signings. You must engage your reader in every technological way possible. A lot more of your time will be spent away from the garret – sorry, keyboard – while you twit, blog, email, visit schools (okay, that could be fun) promote pre-launch ‘buzz’, whatever that is, and find new links you hope will grow your fanbase.

Otis Chandler, CEO of Goodreads.com says twitting and Facebooking aren’t nearly as good for promoting books as word of mouth. (Yes! One point to tradition!) He also warns video chats between authors and their readers will become increasingly important.

Video chats? You mean, like, my face? On a screen? Along with my Uh-oh-she’s-off-on-one-again Scottish accent? Are you kidding me? I’ll look like a cornered Bobcat.

But, like so many endangered species, the writer-who-just-wants-to-write, must adapt or be swallowed by history unheard – and unread.  In the interests of journalistic integrity, I checked up on my analogy with Bobcats. On one site they’re described as cantankerous, solitary, secretive, and adaptable. Oh dear. Sounds like someone I know.

And guess what? Like you, I’m going to have to stop howling into the wind and sit down and work out how to twit and buzz and self promote. Yes, I’d rather stick my head in a mincer. And no, there won’t be any wee video chats winging across the ether any time soon. But, as a writer, I’m going to have to adapt to the changes transforming the eworld. Because the eworld is not going to adapt to me.

Kay Leitch

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Electrik Inc; what’s in a name?

Once upon a time – not so very long ago – four electrik inklings sat around a café table in the magical city of Bath Spa.  It was an unusual October day, hot as summer,  and so to stop themselves melting away,  they ate ice cream in the shade of a big purple umbrella.

While people filled the café,  laughing and drinking,  the pool of purple shade buzzed.  The inklings were excited.  They chatted about children’s books and telling stories,  which was what they were especially good at.  Then,  just as they were puzzling over how best to bring more stories into the world,  a piece of magic happened; a moment of electricity,  a zap of collective energy,  an inkling of a grand idea…

We realised we had everything at our fingertips to do the job ourselves.  With years of publishing experience between us,  advances in digital technology and the new social media, why depend entirely on the old publishing framework?  A tiny power shift had taken place;  the formation of a new team involved in professional independent publishing.

The point of the story,  however,  is in the name.  What would we call this crack ‘PIP’ team?  People have assumed that ‘Electrik Inc’ refers to the fabulous new technology which has given writers more control over the publishing process.  But for we four storytellers,  there was another more significant meaning.  ‘Electrik’ is about that magical moment of creative energy when the story comes alive,  the inkling rather than the ink.  It’s about imagination.  Without that there would be no publishing.

High-quality storytelling – whatever format that might take – was our focus,  we decided. And where we could,  we’d remain dedicated to physical as well as e-books,  as with Kim’s forthcoming series.

The switch of the ‘k’ and the ‘c’ wasn’t just a fun trick.  It carried a message too.  The ‘inc’ for incorporated expresses our collective nature,  the joining of creative forces.  We’re professional editors with marketing and production experience working on each other’s stories.  As such we’re growing an exciting new hybrid in the children’s market,  taking the best of traditional publishing (high quality) and self-publishing (agility) and blending the two.

On the day we were formed someone big in the world died.  It’s interesting that his company,  Apple,  (a giant compared to our tiny Pip!) is also stirring up the publishing world and taking on even bigger giants.  When we were writing our manifesto we included some of his words:

“Here’s to the crazy ones.  The misfits.  The rebels.  The troublemakers.  The round pegs in the square holes.  The ones who see things differently.  They’re not fond of rules.  And they have no respect for the status quo.  You can quote them, disagree with them,  glorify or vilify them.  About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them.  Because they change things.  They push the human race forward.  And while some may see them as the crazy ones,  we see genius.  Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world,  are the ones who do.” ~~ Steve Jobs

Go inklings!

Jenny Landor

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The Price of e-Quality

I love rummaging in the 75%-off rail and finding a real gem – the dress I couldn’t afford that’s now the price of a cappuccino (well, that’s what I’d tell him) and in my size! Bliss doesn’t come any blissier. But we all know the pretend sales: the 50%-off signs that are up all year round and devalue the items because we know we’re not really getting a deal. For ‘special offer’ read ‘cheap tat we think you’re daft enough to buy’. Most of us are savvy enough to know rock-bottom prices don’t automatically mean a bargain.

So how much would you pay for a well-produced ebook for children? Think about it: new author, decent cover, seems well written, has a seal of quality (like Electrik Inc) and looks worth a read. 99p? £4.99? £8.99? Or £0?

A lot of people want free books, just as they want free films and free music. Maybe they think creative people have private incomes or rich partners, when the unpalatable truth is they’re more likely trying to hold down three part-time jobs, look after the kids, support their partner, care for mum and dad, clean the house, do the shopping, walk the dogs, feed the cats, have a tiny bit of a life and, oh, write…

Declan Burke discusses ‘Why should the price of ebooks…be on the floor?’  http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/features/2012/0221/1224312113036.html#.T0VqEnorjeg.email  and confirms there are different kinds of readers – those who want ever-cheaper books and those who’ll pay for quality. He’s talking mainly about adult ebooks but his remarks apply to the children’s market too. I wouldn’t buy a book just because it was cheap any more than I’d buy ugly clothes just because they had 50% off. If the price is too low, something isn’t right.

Look at what you’d pay and apply it to the hours of pleasure your child would get reading the ebook. Then apply it to a year of someone’s creative life. Okay, then, six months, because we can work when everyone else is sleeping… okay, okay, three months! (wow, you’re a hard taskmaster)… because we’re all geniuses and don’t need to rewrite, or pay line editors and proofreaders to check our work. And who needs a decent design on the cover anyway? And pay Amazon a cut? Who’s Amazon?

Of course ebooks are cheaper to produce than physical books and of course prices should reflect that. But mainly, it’s only printers’ costs you save on. Next time you reach for that ‘bargain’, ask yourself if you’d go to work for six months (or three) for, let’s say, £1,980 (two thousand sales @ 99p. And that’s a lot; most new authors are lucky to sell five hundred). That’s about £165 a week, before Amazon’s cut or Apple’s (around 40% of your book’s list price, plus the VAT) or other expenses (ISBN numbers, £100 for ten), marketing, editing, proofreading, illustrations, cover design…

Rock-bottom prices for ebooks are, for me, the equivalent of the year-round 50%-off sales sign. I can’t trust them because I know the quality is probably rubbish (poor or mediocre writing, no editing, no decent design, no proofreading), so I walk away and look for something where the price fairly reflects the work that’s gone into the product. And yes, I think the Electrik Inc logo is one of the signs to look for.

I think prices will level out as more readers realise that if content is free – i.e. worth nothing – then we’re in danger of getting the writers we pay for.

What do you think? Tell us your thoughts on epricing. Should children’s ebooks be cheaper than adults’? (And remember, JK Rowling’s Harry Potter was much longer than Cormac McCarthy’s The Road so it’s not necessarily about the word count.)

Kay Leitch   Electrik Inc

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Électrique; c’est magnifique!

Following the article in The Bookseller, we were delighted when news of Electrik Inc made it across the Channel to France.  Electrik Inc:  Coalition d’auteurs jeunesse autour du numérique.  Next stop The Universe and World Domination, as Demon Kid would say!

Joking apart, it was fantastic to see Kim’s cover emblazoned on ActuaLitté’s website.  We scratched our heads a bit about the article’s subtitle, but our excellent linguist,  Naomi Baster,  says it’s all good stuff.  It reads like a wake up call;  ‘Are you bored? This is new!’  Her translation appears on our news page.

It had me wondering how St Viper’s School for Super Villains might translate into French?  All those comic book ZAPs and KAPOWs and KER-RUNCHs – are they universally understood words?  It was the child reviewers from Authonomy who suggested the sound effects to Kim.  She duly incorporated them.  ‘Yes, she is a very good writer slave,’  I hear Demon whisper.

Whatever the French sound equivalents might be,  this book could travel.  ‘To the moon and beyond, hee, hee.’  Pipe down, Demon.  As I put on my sales hat (given to me by Mrs Benn from our earlier blog) these were the first lightning thoughts.  No doubt they will be revised and refined by our excellent team in the coming months;

  • Zap.  First book from Electrik Inc
  • Ker-runch.  Manga-meets-Beano comic book illustrations
  • Zoom.  Rocket-fuelled comedy involving characters with unusual super powers.
  • Hiss.  Set in St Viper’s, where it’s good to be bad
  • Kapow.  More mischief and mayhem than a bucketful of spiders
  • Ping.  Hotline to Demon Kid via blog
  • Roar.  Reviewed by 300 readers from Authonomy

Jenny Landor

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