Friday 22 August 2014

J.T. Edson: The Forgotten Bestseller

J T Edson
"Hell No! it would involve riding a horse, have you seen those things? they're ugly at both ends & darn uncomfortable in the middle"   J. T. Edson upon being asked if he'd like to be a real cowboy.

He was once one of the world's best know western authors, perhaps coming only second in name recognition, if not in sales,  to Louis L Lamour, and yet these days he is virtually forgotten - so much so that recently there was a debate on Facebook amongst a number of western addicted friends about the author. Strangely most thought he had died and there was little to confirm otherwise on the internet. I put on my investigating hat and discovered that J. T. Edson was indeed alive and residing in an old people's home just outside Melton Mowbury. In later years the author had become a recluse due to ill health and was no longer writing - mystery solved, then. However the story took a twist and  it was shortly afterwards that we heard the author had died at the age of 86.

He had been responsible for more than 130 westerns and although an Englishman, who most recently lived in Melton Mowbury he was an honorary deputy of Travis County, Texas - something that came about because of his once huge popularity in the US.

Edson had been  a dog handler in the British Army - he served in Kenya.  Like many writers he worked many jobs before finding success -  running a fish and chip shop and working the production line  in a pet food factory were only two of the jobs he did before finding success as a writer which enabled him to concentrate on his craft full time. Overall he was responsible for paperback sales totalling more than 20 million. Once he had been a household name but the western fiction boom is now long over and he remains unknown to all but western aficionados.

"My father did  inherit a love of good quality, 'genuine cowhide' leather belts & cowboy boots, I must stress, no cowboy would stroll out, guns at dawn in one of his many very loud Hawaian shirts!" Sam Page, daughter of J. T. Edson.

Edson's style was for straight forward storytelling, fast paced and action packed though he was fond of historical detail and many of his books contained footnotes that were often more than a page in length. These could on times be tiresome and many readers skipped them, but when they worked they added a level of authenticity to the story. Often these footnotes would concern issues of continuity from book to book, but on times they would contain vital historical detail - I learned a lot about the real Old West from J T's footnotes.

The author often made in-jokes within his books and in 1984 the Labour Party protested about the characters in JT’s Ladies: they included a gunslinger called Roy Hattersley (then the party’s deputy leader) and his sidekick Len Murray and three desperadoes named Alex Kitson, Alan Fisher and David Basnett — all of them well-known trade union leaders.J T then, was not a lover of trade unions. Edson developed a deep disapproval of Liberal and Liberal-Radical politics and was avowedly Right of Centre in his political ideology.

Edson was also no fan of his critics and a dedication in one of his books (J. T' Ladies) read: " For all the idiots of the press who have written articles entitled things like 'Fastest Pen in Melton Mowbray’ and have been filled with the most stupid, snob-oriented pseud-jargon never to appear on the pages of mine or any other author’s books. May the bluebird of happiness fly over them when it has dysentery, because that is catching.’’ 

The books of course live on and are still out there - Edson titles are pretty common on the used book circuit, and hopefully the books will soon find a new lease of life in the digital marketplace.

Fads in reading come and go and although westerns are not currently the most popular genre for escapist fiction, they will no doubt have their day again. And when they do then J. T. Edson will again be riding high can't, after all, keep a good man down.

Thursday 21 August 2014

Sunlight: A hundred years dead

Watching filmed footage of the First World War one gets an odd sensation - we are aware that what we are witnessing are horrific events, and yet there is so much distance between now and then that it is difficult to fully appreciate the enormity of the situation presented in the grainy film. The movements of the men on the screen seems jerky, almost as if they were created by animation and the explosions are merely puffs of smoke, fleeting and seemingly insubstantial. Photography is basically the capture of light and what we are watching is sunlight a hundred years dead.

Prior to starting work on my book, Cardiff and the Valley's In The Great War (published Feb 28th 2015 by Pen and Sword Books), my knowledge of the so called Great War was limited to a list of dates and major battles. But by the time I finished the book I had a far greater understanding of the conflict. It had been brought closer to me, and now I saw it as a very human story. No longer was it some far distant war, the combatants made up of anonymous names and faces, the devastation lessened by the passing of the years, but something very real, something that I felt on a deeply emotional level. There were times when I was writing that I found tears in my eyes - one such instance was when I detailed the eventual fate of the Cardiff Pals, but there were others too. Writing the book had brought me closer to these soldiers who long before I was born took to the foreign fields to protect a way of life for future generations...for you and me, if you like.
One of the many memorials in Welsh Towns - this one is Llanharran

The research for the book was immense and I spent many hours going through old newspapers in Cardiff's excellent Central Library, covered many miles traveling up and down the country visiting graveyards and the offices of military records and on several occasions meeting people who had stories to tell of relatives who had fought in the war.

I am immensely proud of this book and now have to work with the publishers on the proofing stages, before the book is ready for the printers. It's due out on Feb 28th 2015 and is already showing up on Amazon where you can request to be informed when the book is available for purchase.

I do hope many of you pick up a copy.

Cardiff in The Great War - Looks at the Cardiff Pals and other local regiments who fought in the Great War and how the experience of war impacted on the area, from the initial enthusiasm for sorting out the German Kaiser in time for Christmas 1914, to the gradual realization of the enormity of human sacrifice the families of Cardiff were committed to as the war stretched out over the next four years. An important place for Coal export this book looks at how the balance between working and fighting was achieved by the Dockyard workers The Great War affected everyone. At home there were wounded soldiers in military hospitals, refugees from Belgium and later on German prisoners of war. There were food and fuel shortages and disruption to schooling. The role of women changed dramatically and they undertook a variety of work undreamed of in peacetime. Meanwhile, men serving in the armed forces were scattered far and wide. Extracts from contemporary letters reveal their heroism and give insights into what it was like under battle conditions.

Monday 11 August 2014

Amazon V Hatchette: The Battle intensifies

The Amazon/Hatchette war looks set to continue as both sides dig in their heels - recently Amazon posted an email out to writers and readers asking them to write to Hatchette asking for them to lower eBook prices. Hatchette recieved a large volume of emails and have now respoded with the following statement:

Hachette CEO Michael Pietsch
Thank you for writing to me in response to Amazon’s email. I appreciate that you care enough about books to take the time to write. We usually don’t comment publicly while negotiating, but I’ve received a lot of requests for Hachette’s response to the issues raised by Amazon, and want to reply with a few facts.
• Hachette sets prices for our books entirely on our own, not in collusion with anyone.
• We set our ebook prices far below corresponding print book prices, reflecting savings in manufacturing and shipping.
• More than 80% of the ebooks we publish are priced at $9.99 or lower.
• Those few priced higher—most at $11.99 and $12.99—are less than half the price of their print versions.
• Those higher priced ebooks will have lower prices soon, when the paperback version is published.
• The invention of mass-market paperbacks was great for all because it was not intended to replace hardbacks but to create a new format available later, at a lower price.
As a publisher, we work to bring a variety of great books to readers, in a variety of formats and prices. We know by experience that there is not one appropriate price for all ebooks, and that all ebooks do not belong in the same $9.99 box. Unlike retailers, publishers invest heavily in individual books, often for years, before we see any revenue. We invest in advances against royalties, editing, design, production, marketing, warehousing, shipping, piracy protection, and more. We recoup these costs from sales of all the versions of the book that we publish—hardcover, paperback, large print, audio, and ebook. While ebooks do not have the $2-$3 costs of manufacturing, warehousing, and shipping that print books have, their selling price carries a share of all our investments in the book.
This dispute started because Amazon is seeking a lot more profit and even more market share, at the expense of authors, bricks and mortar bookstores, and ourselves. Both Hachette and Amazon are big businesses and neither should claim a monopoly on enlightenment, but we do believe in a book industry where talent is respected and choice continues to be offered to the reading public.
Once again, we call on Amazon to withdraw the sanctions against Hachette’s authors that they have unilaterally imposed, and restore their books to normal levels of availability. We are negotiating in good faith. These punitive actions are not necessary, nor what we would expect from a trusted business partner.
Thank you again and best wishes,
Michael Pietsch

And below we have the original Amazon email which sparked the above response.

A Message from the Amazon Books Team
Dear Readers,
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.

Tainted Stats

Weekly Stats Report: 4 Aug - 10 Aug 2014


  Mon Tues Wed Thur Fri Sat Sun Total Avg
Unique Visits95111112113114128139812116
First Time Visits89102107110110118132768110
Returning Visits69534107446

Tuesday 5 August 2014

Wild Bill's gone large

This month sees the large print paperback publication of my novel Wild Bill Williams which was first published in hardcover by Robert Hale back in 2012

Welshman and gambler, William Williams, otherwise known as Wild Bill Williams is no stranger to trouble. It seems to shadow him around. But even as a survivor of the Little Big Horn, or so he claims, he has never before had to face the kind of trouble he finds in the town of Stanton.

I liked the character of Wild Bill and will return to him one day - an action packed though often comedic western. Go and give it a try folks.

And here are those Archive stats.

Weekly Stats Report: 28 Jul - 3 Aug 2014


  Mon Tues Wed Thur Fri Sat Sun Total Avg
Unique Visits131134109152133149100908130
First Time Visits11712310414111714596843120
Returning Visits14115111644659 

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