Fast-buck authors and book-stuffing bandits

Ian McEwan … his latest book is only 4,300-words long

William Boyd and Ian McEwan are my favourite contemporary British authors – and I never thought I’d ever accuse them of money-grubbing and treating their fans with disdain.

However, these two great writers are now double-dipping with their latest books by releasing previously published short stories, for which they’ve already been paid.

Ian McEwan’s latest book – My Purple Scented Novel – is his first offering for two years and was published by Penguin in June. At just 4,300 words, or 48 pages, it’s really just a short story, selling for £1.79 in paperback and £1.49 in Kindle on Amazon. That’s pretty expensive for a book that can be read in just 20 minutes.

To make matters worse, My Purple Scented Novel has already been published, in The New Yorker magazine in March 2016, and anyone can read it for free on the magazine’s website.

McEwan told the magazine how he hastily wrote the story while suffering from the flu. He doubtless felt a lot better when he pocketed a fee from The New Yorker for publishing this very slim piece of work.

My Purple Scented Novel has garnered a few excellent reviews on Amazon, although one reader said: “Good little story, but just a pamphlet – not a proper novel in terms of length.” Another customer said they wished they’d known the story was free to read online, and they could have saved their money.

Sadly, McEwan seems to be following in the footsteps of William Boyd, who also published a short story which he’d previously released after being commissioned to write it.

William Boyd … commissioned by Land Rover to write short story

Boyd was reportedly paid a six-figure sum by Land Rover to write a short story featuring one of their Defender vehicles. The Vanishing Game was then published as a free Kindle on Amazon in November 2014.

This story is pretty awful and is should make Boyd hang his head in shame. It has received mostly one-star reviews on Amazon, with one reader writing under the headline Shame On You, Mr Boyd: “A very lame publicity machine for Land Rover, and from a writer of such pedigree. Written, it would seem, for unsophisticated teenagers. Like the Defender, it was poorly put together, clunky of style and lacking in subtlety. Free it may have been, but not worth the effort.”

Another reader wrote: “What a totally pointless load of nonsense … bollocks.” And another said: “Is this a joke? Writing style of a sixth former who didn’t complete his homework.” It’s hard to believe they’re talking about the literary giant who has given us such classic novels as Any Human Heart and Restless.

Despite pocketing his fat fee from Land Rover, Boyd then resurrected the story for inclusion in his latest book, a collection of short stories, titled The Dreams Of Bethany Mellmoth, published in November 2017.

One angry Amazon reviewer wrote: “I already bought Vanishing Game. Why add it? Money back please! Now!”

While I feel McEwan and Boyd must shoulder the blame for this wanton act of double-dipping,  their publishers may have been the driving force behind this move, ignoring the risk of tarnishing the two novelists’ names in the process.

The book publishing industry, of course, has always been about making money, but publishers these highly-competitive days appear to have become greedy in pursuit of the fast buck in an overheated market.

And it seems the burgeoning self-publishing industry is no different. A news story in The Times, with the headline ‘Authors cash in with 3,000-page ebooks’, told how writers of Kindle ebooks are “stuffing” their books in a scam to beat Amazon’s algorithms and generate extra revenue.

The report said: “Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited subscription scheme lets readers pay a fixed monthly fee of £7.99 to download as many ebooks as they like. Payments are assigned to authors based on how many pages subscribers read, creating an incentive to produce works of great length but not necessarily great quality.

“A common trick is for authors to pad out new books with ‘bonus’ short stories, often works they have previously published as standalone titles. Readers are told that a genuinely new short story can be found at the very end of the book, encouraging them to scroll through all the pre-published material and boosting the author’s payout.

“The most prodigious book stuffers have been earning up to $100,000 a month, estimates suggest.”

Amazon splits a monthly royalty pot of around $22.5 million between all independent authors participating in the Kindle Unlimited programme – so there’s big money to be made by cheating.

While operating my book editing business, I keep a close eye on ‘indy’ authors and what they are up to. A commonplace trick these days is to self-publish a quick series of short books – some with fewer than 100 pages – to maximise revenue or, worse, writing a full-length novel and then splitting it into three or four short books, in a cunning bid to make more money from sales.

Once again, the readers are being treated with contempt by publishers and authors in the pursuit of big money. It’s all pretty shameful, don’t you think?

If you’d like to comment on this blog, please use the comments box below.

FOOTNOTE: If any of you have written a book – either fiction or non-fiction – and need help with editing, proofreading, formatting for Kindle, or paperback design and cover design, I can help you on the road to publication. See below.

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My business offers editing, proofreading, formatting and book and cover design services to self-published and mainstream writers, of both fiction and non-fiction. See my website for full details. Check out my Facebook page and follow me on twitter



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