Sunday, 3 November 2013

The power of self-publishing or how not to be treated by your publisher

Recently I fell out with my US publisher (Eloquent Books aka SBPRA), who I have been working with closely for a great many years. While I understand that times are hard for publishers of printed books, I expect as a minimum that my publisher sticks to our contract whatever the financial circumstances.

As it turned out, and to my big surprise, SBPRA wrote to me and told me that because I had not sold a minimum of 100 books in the last 12 months, they would be putting my book 'on hold'. On hold mend that they would no longer be selling or listing my book, though they expected our contract to remain in place!

Taking legal advice on the matter, it turned out that SBPRA was in breach of contract as the contract did not stipulate that I had to sell 100+ books per year or that they were able to place my book on hold.

So I cancelled both my contracts with SBPRA (which has now lost the sale of almost 200 books per year of my two books) because I quite frankly found their behaviour unprofessional. Why should they allowed to treat me like that - making up rules and financial claims as they see fit.

I am pleased to note that the rest is history. 'Evolution for Young Minds', one of the two titles SBPRA recently has lost the right to publish, has today been released on the Kindle Platform.

As I have written about before, the Kindle publishing process is easy and cheap to use, and I am now, which is extremely important to me as an author, in complete control of my own works.

There is in my view no longer a need for authors to pay publishers a lot of money to help publish their work whatever that be in print or as an ebook.

Power to the author and Hurray for self-publishing! 

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Calling all puzzle lovers - Puzzle volume II published.

Not really sure what is going on, but I have been in a very productive mood lately. I have been  inspired by the smallest and strangest things in the last month. Ideas for many different types of puzzles just keeps pouring out of my head. 

A few weeks back I sat looking out the window and suddenly realised that I could make up a fun maths puzzle based on my washing line. The way I log onto an online web service lead to a difficult code cracking puzzle. And so on.

The good news is that all this has lead to a second volume in the "50 Math, Logic and Word Puzzles" series being published on Amazon Kindle in record time.
So if you like puzzles here is a LINK to volume II.

Here is a little taster, a word puzzle from Volume II:

What word is hidden in the above image
Happy puzzling and never give up!

Selling my first book on Kindle

It is almost 7 weeks ago since I published my first book on Amazon's Kindle platform. 

Having never attempted any form of electronic publishing  before, I was surprised to discover just how easy the whole process was. After having completed my manuscript in Microsoft Word, it was just a matter of saving it in HTML format, zip it all up, and follow Amazon's guidelines, which helps budding authors quickly upload their manuscript, a front-page, as well as setting a retail price and a target market. Job done!

The actual time taken, from the moment I started to upload everything to the time my first puzzle book was available to the world, was less than 48 hours. Very impressive. However, even more impressive is the fact that just 15 minutes after my book went live, I sold the first copy!

Seven weeks later I can only say that I am still impressed with Amazon's Kindle platform. Sales of "50 Math, Logic and Word Puzzles - Volume I" are steady and significantly higher when compared to the number of conventionally published books I sell each month.

The whole electronic process and experience has made me realise that a monumental shift is taking place in publishing. The public, that is you and me, we want publications to read and to entertain us. And we want choice and access to these publications 24/7 and we don't want to pay a lot each time we decide to make a purchase.

Amazon has turned books into everyday consumables. We buy them, read them, and then we throw them away. Soon we will be looking back at a forgotten time when books were purchased in bookshops, expectantly carried home in a small, brightly coloured shopping bag, before being handled and smelled and read by a book lover, who would keep the book visible and treasured on a shelve full of other books, all of them full of memories, coffee stains, the odd book mark made from an old postcard and pages with their corners bent inwards in a small triangle.

Traditional publishers, old established names in the business will either adapt to this new world of publishing or perish and be gone forever. Authors will have to change too, or never have their work read by readers in every corner of the world.

 Sad but true!

The book is dead, long live the electronic book.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Launch of new Puzzle book on Kindle

What a week! Have just a few days ago published my very first title on Amazon's Kindle platform - a Puzzle book containing 50 new puzzles! Hurray, pop open the French champagne!

Link to Amazon:

While it was a lot of hard work, and a lot of working out how the publishing process works, it was not as complicated as many of the publishing houses - many of them quite happy to charge authors a lot of money to publish their book on Kindle - would have you believe.

Yes, I got it wrong a few times, but there is actually a lot of good documentation available to download and on the Amazon web-site. 

As the old saying goes: "Practice makes perfect".

So if I can work it out, so can others too.
Happy publishing and Puzzling, if you decide to purchase my Puzzle book.


Thursday, 2 May 2013

Great new 5 STAR reviews!

Things are looking up!

Spring has finally arrived in the UK, though it is still cold and frosty some nights, and I would not trust mother nature with my fragile pea plants just yet ;)

Received some great new 5 STAR review for both 'Global Warming for Young Minds' and 'Evolution for Young Minds', which I would love to share with you.

Check out and

Happy spring fellow earthlings!

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Einstein and the unknown genius

Vesto Melvin Slipher was born on a farm in Indiana in 1875. 

At the tender age of 26, after having completed a degree in mechanics and astronomy, he was offered a post at the Lowell observatory in Flagstaff. Slipher would be working as an  assistant to Mr Lowell, the observatory's founder, who was using the telescope to look for signs of life on Mars. Mr Lowell offered Slipher the position for one year.

As it happened, Slipher left the Lowell observatory as observatory director 53 years later, and after having made one of the most important cosmological discoveries of the twenties century. A discovery that would have greatly helped Einstein.

In 1901 when Slipher started work at Lowell the general consensus amongst astronomers were that the universe was neither expanding nor contracting, but holding steady. A belief that lead to the expression 'The steady state universe'.

Slipher was not interested in discovering life on Mars. He wanted to know how far away objects travel through the universe and how such objects travel relative to Earth. To measure the movement of a galaxy Slipher used a spectrograph. An instrument, which splits the light from a distant object into individual colours.

Over the next 10 years Slipher perfected his understanding of the spectrograph output. He discovered that if a distant object was moving towards Earth the observed colours would be shifted towards the blue end of the spectrum. Likewise, if a distant galaxy was moving away from Earth the colours would be shifted towards the red end of the spectrum. 

By 1912 Slipher had completed the analysis of four distant objects. Three of the spectrograph outputs were redshifted, while the last was blueshifted. Continuing his research, Slipher completed a further 12 observations in the next 24 months and found that all but one was redshifted.
(If you don't have sweaty palms after reading the last paragraph, read it again.)

Slipher's genius had within a short decade completely shattered the common belief that the universe was in a steady state, and had found concrete proof that the universe was expanding in all directions at great speed.

Slipher was not much of a 'salesman'. He hardly ever told anyone about his important work, or attended meetings with fellow scientists, or published scientific papers.

When Slipher finally left his beloved Lowell observatory in 1914 and presented his findings at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society, he received a long and deserved standing ovation from everyone there.

And now back to Einstein.
At the time Slipher was tucked away in his observatory and making one of the most profound cosmological discoveries, Einstein was putting the finishing touches to an equation, which described how space-time would develop over time.

To complete his equation Einstein needed to know if the universe was expanding, contracting or holding steady. Hence, he asked the world's leading astronomers what type of universe they believed to be in existence. 

Had Slipher been a little quicker to get his findings out into the wider scientific community, and spend a little more time convincing other astronomers about the validity and significance of his observations, then perhaps Einstein would have received a different reply to the one he got in 1917: The universe was likely to be in a steady state.

The 'steady state' answer made Einstein reluctantly add the now famous cosmological constant to the final version of his equation. An action Einstein later described as 'The biggest blunder of my life'.

Slipher was by some margin the most important observational astronomer in the twenty century, but his genius was never really celebrated. Even to this day his name is largely unknown, though an obscure crater on the Moon and Mars carries his name.

Even Wikipedia's entry for Slipher is minuscule.

Friday, 8 February 2013

With great Power comes great Responsibility

In 1995 Shell announced that it would dispose of the run-down Brent Spar platform by dumping it in the sea. A hole would be blown in the structure, and it would sink to the bottom of the ocean.

A public outcry followed. Conservationists, naturalists and millions of ordinary people in the UK and abroad protested against Shell's Brent Spar plans, which were seen by many as a lack of corporate responsibility, and general disregard for the natural world in the name of profit.

Despite support for Shell's plans from the British Government, people started to boycott Shell service stations and products. People went somewhere else to buy their petrol, which is bad news for a company that makes a large portion of its profit selling fuel.

In Germany, Shell lost 30% of its turn-over, while the company at the height of the boycott lost millions every day. On top of the financial damage, Shell suffered a fatal blow to its corporate image, which is lasting to this day.

At the time, I was part one of those who decided to boycott Shell. And I still don't buy my fuel from Shell if I can help it.

I know that Shell is run by a different management team now. And I know they have green policies and is working to reduce their CO2 emissions and general impact on the world.
Great, but I am still not prepared to let them off the hook.

The  sinking of the platform would have cost Shell just £4.5m. But in the end, the loss of income and dismantling of the platform on land cost Shell over £60m. 

Could it happen again today? Yes, and it does, all the time. 
Think about fair-trade products. People want farmers in poor countries to be paid a fair price for their crops, and people don't want to see all the profit going to big multi-national organisations. 

As they say: With great power comes great responsibility - so make sure you use your Consumer Power wisely.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

How Dean & Lisa were 'born'

Dear Reader,

Quite a few parents have asked how I came up with Dean and Lisa, the two 'earth' characters that turns up throughout my books, asking questions and pointing out facts to the young readers.

Truth be told, I did not come up with Dean and Lisa. This is what happened.

An early draft of Dean and Lisa. The final picture ended up in Global Warming for Young Minds.

When I showed an early manuscript of Global Warming for Young Minds to my daughter, her reaction was far from what I had expected.

'It is boring,' she said after having flicked through just a few pages.
Expecting the worst, I finally managed to whisper: 'Why?' 
'Its a children's book, but there is nothing in it for children,' came the honest answer.

This was quite a watershed moment for me. Having spend months trying to write an interesting non-fictional book for children, and then find that my target audience thought it was boring because it lacked something for children was quite hard to take.

So I asked what she would do to make the book more appealing for children, and my daughter immediate suggested that I create a boy and girl character. And when I asked her about their names, the thought for a moment before saying 'Dean and... Lisa'. 

The rest is history as they say. Many weeks, drafts and discussions later my focus group of 1 was finally happy. Hurray!

The Dean and Lisa characters ended up being based on the Earth, enforcing the idea that they are 'Children of the Earth' and that if we look after and protect the Earth, we also look after and protect our children.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Topical book for children about Fukushima

Dear Reader,

I recently read an excellent book by an American children's author name Dr. Fred Bortz.

His 2012 book 'Meltdown: The Nuclear Disaster in Japan and Our Energy Future' provides a clear and thought provoking description, which will appeal to secondary school children, of the biggest earthquake in Japan's history and its devastating impact on the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

In addition, Dr. Bortz objectively examines the different alternatives to nuclear power, and poses some big questions about how we decide what technologies should underpin the world's future energy supply. Big, important questions, which are sure to provoke a fierce debate at home or in the class room.

You can read more here...

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Darwin and a little known Dane

It always amazes me how something we take for granted today was a complete unknown or mystery just a few hundred years ago - until someone suddenly figures out how a particular aspect of the natural world works. Take fossils for example.

About 400 years ago, fossils was known, but it was generally accepted that fossils somehow 'magically' grew in the ground until dug up.

It took a celebrated but little known Dane, Niels Stenson (1 Jan. 1638 – 25 Nov. 1686), to shatter this assumption once and for all. Niels Stenson, who decided to Latinizise his name to Nicolas Steno, realised that fossils were the remains of past life.

The next big eureka moment came when he figured out how the fossils had ended up deep underground inside rocks in the first place. 

While we take for granted that sedimentary rocks are laid down in sequence, in layers building up with the youngest layers at the top, and that these layers trap remains of animals, it was Nicolas Steno, who first made this significant discovery.

Many therefore consider Nicolas Steno to be the founder of modern geology and of a particular branch of geology known as Stratigraphy.

If you want to read more about this little known Dane and his important discoveries, which became the underpinning pre-requisite for Darwin's evolutionary work, Wikipedia has a great article on Nicholas Steno.

Inscription on house in Copenhagen where Nicholas Steno was born.

I am happy to note that Nicholas Steno is not forgotten. Here is how Google celebrated him recently.

Friday, 25 January 2013

My TOP 5+1 ways to make children read books

Dear Reader,

It is generally accepted that it is good for children at any age to read books. It helps their reading, writing and comprehension skills, and they are likely to discover something new and interesting about the world around them.

All well and good, but how do we make our children read books? There seems to be an endless list of things competing for a child's attention, and many of these are far more shiny and interesting than a book.

Well here is my list of top 5 + 1 things to try.
Do you agree? Let's share ideas and experiences about what works or not!?

  1. Start them young, let them grow up with books from an early age.
  2. Make books available 24/7. Surround them with books, within easy reach*
  3. Read laud for them, and make them read laud for you. Show your appreciation.
  4. Make books special. Give as presents or as a special gift for doing well with school work.
  5. Allow them to scribble and write in their books.
  1. Children love to copy their parents, so make sure you read lots of books yourself.

* We have books in every room in the house, even the toilet :))

Monday, 21 January 2013

When Char, Sprig, Dick and Trib ruled the earth

An evolutionary tale for everyone.

On the seabed, some 600 million years ago, in warm, shallow waters, lived a group of strange looking creatures. They had exotic names such as Charnia, Spriggina, Dickinsonia and Tribrachidium.

As good friends do, Char, Sprig, Dick and Trib lived happily together on the slimy seabed, grazing on bacteria, and absorbing nutrients through their skin. They were literally spineless and toothless, but the four amigos did not care because they ruled the world!

Our tale ends with the evolution of the first organism with hard mouth-parts, a primitive predator, which must have come as a bit of a shock for Char, Sprig, Dick and Trib. Before any of them could mutter 'natural selection' the world's greatest arms race had started in earnest.

It is easy to understand why scientists have named this period in time the 'Garden of Ediacara', a deliberate and religious association with the Garden of Eden and the Ediacara hills where Char, Sprig, Dick and Trib left their marks forever.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Are books dead?

Dear Reader,

Are books dead? Depends on who you ask.

Someone into the latest gadgets might well answer: "Who cares? And by the way, please don't  disturb me while I am reading 'Fifty shades of grey' on my new Kindle."

A scientific minded person might well respond with: "What a stupid question! Books can't die because they weren't even alive in the first place!"

A politician will be unable to provide a straight answer, but is likely to feel obliged to form a working group, who may report back in 12 to 18 months.

But if you ask almost any parent, who routinely is trying to encourage a child to read and learn about the world, the answer is almost certainly going to be: "No, books are live and well, and a great way of enticing a child into learning."

Two weeks ago, I received an email from Allison, who lives in Oxford. Allison wrote about how she had enjoyed seeing her 9 year old son scribbling the answers to the puzzles in "Global Warming for Young Minds" directly onto the paper.

Thank you Allison for making a great point.
The fact is that children simply can't scribble their ideas or answers down onto a Kindle or Nook. And this is why children's books and books in general are here to stay.


Hampshire 2013

Saturday, 19 January 2013

New Blog

Dear Reader,

Just couldn't believe it. My old Blog had been unceremoniously removed, without as much as a kind word or any word for that matter, by my ISP. From one day to the next, it was no longer in existence.

I am quite sad that it has gone, it was a place where I had documented many of my hope, fears, problems and success connected with the publishing of my first and second children's book. And now it has all gone.

Like old photos or other sentimental items consumed by fire, I can live without it, but I would much rather that it still existed, so I could read it, remember, reflect and add to it.

But life moves on. And I am starting a new Blog, where some of the many topics that my friendly and loyal readers use to enrich and fertilise my world can be discussed, humoured, and just simply passed onto a greater audience.

For now, I am off to enjoy the snow, which has fallen so beautifully on man and beast.

Hampshire Jan. 2013