Tuesday 26 August 2014

MH370: Some Recent and Forthcoming Books

There are some important benefits to self-publishing for authors who choose this path, not least the ability to be in complete control of a project from the process of writing the book right through to the execution of a marketing plan. This freedom of control brings with it many important decisions, but I believe the two most fundamental decisions begin with when...

When is my book completely written and edited and as good as it can be?

When and how quickly should I publish it?

Both questions are intrinsically linked and you can't answer the second question without knowing the answer to the first one. Far too many authors have an instant answer to the second question without ever having asked themselves the first question. The rush to publish is not just a symptom of the self-publishing community alone. While we may consider the turnaround time of a book from traditional publishers archaic—anything from nine months to eighteen months (typically twelve months)—some will make exceptions if the topic of a book is particularly popular; an anniversary of note coincides with the book's release, a marketing tie in with a TV programme or film, or a similar book is in the pipeline from another publisher. But in an effort to hit a publishing deadline and cash in on the latest trend, craze or celebrity popularity, even a big publisher can carelessly (or even deliberately) overlook the importance of the first question.

I'm going to turn to a subject I have a great deal of interest in, and I would consider myself reasonably well-read and it's also an area I have researched and written on as a journalist and social media blogger, outside of my role as a publishing consultant. Yes, thankfully, on occasion, I get to take a break from all things publishing and indulge my writing and research in other areas. I've had a very long interest in the aviation industry and aeronautics. I sat the entrance exams to become a pilot twice with a national airliner when I was a teenager, reaching the final dozen candidates on both occasions until they discovered I'd bluffed on my application when I said I could swim. Damn it. Didn't think they were going to actually test me on that until I was already accepted and it was too late! In all the years since, I've yet to meet or speak to a pilot who needed to swim anytime he/she flew!

On March 8th this year, Malaysia Flight MH370—departing Kuala Lumpur en route to Beijing—during a routine Air Traffic Control handover between Malaysia and Vietnam airspace over the South China Sea without any distress signal or communication from the crew that there was any problem. To date, almost six months later, no physical trace of the aircraft and its 239 passengers and crew have been found despite the largest and most expensive search in aviation history.

Like all disasters and tragedies, whether natural or man made, be it air crash, tsunami or terrorist attack, it usually results in intensive—near 24 hour media coverage—for a period of time, and is usually followed by a slew of TV documentaries, films and books on the subject. The mystery of flight MH370 is no different. However, in most cases we quickly have the bones of the disaster or tragedy, and many of the answers to the why and how. If the documented story of MH370 is to be a film or book, then it is truly an extraordinary mystery to recount in any medium. We have no plot, no central character, no bodies, no concrete motives or answers, and we are not even positively sure of the location of our mystery.

But this has not stopped the announcement of a film based loosely on MH370, The Vanishing Act, which is currently in the process of seeking investment, though Indian director Rupesh Paul appears to consistently back-pedal during promotional interviews, stating now that the film will only have indirect links to the events of MH370.

At the time the mainstream media were picking up on Rupesh Paul's film, John Blake Publishing in London was actually publishing Nigel Cawthorne's Flight MH370: The Mystery—its main conjectural claim is that the aircraft was shot down accidentally during joint United States-Thai military exercises. Now for an independent publishing house, that is some extraordinary submission to publication turnaround time—eight weeks!! The book has average reviews on Amazon and its reviewers seem to agree that while it is well written, full of detail, it does also fill pages with accounts of other air accidents and the author indulges in the exploration of theories like alien abduction and global espionage. I should add, Cawthorne is a thriller writer of over a hundred books but no aviation expert.

John Blake Publishing wasn't the only publisher looking for its piece of MH370 literary history. In May, big five publisher Penguin Random House acquired the rights to Christine Negroni's Crashed: What the World’s Most Mysterious Airplane Disasters Teach Us About Design, Technology and Human Performance. Unlike Cawthorne, Negroni has worked as a private aviation investigator and journalist and was invited by the Federal Aviation Administration to sit as an independent voice on improved safety rules for ageing aircraft. She has also appeared as an aviation expert on CNN, ABC and is a familiar face on many aviation documentaries. She wrote the bestselling book, Deadly Departure: Why The Experts Failed To Prevent The TWA Flight 800 Disaster And How It Could Happen Again. Negroni has mentioned her forthcoming book on MH370, remarking that it is coming soon, but wisely both author and publisher seem to have pushed the publication date back. Currently the book has yet to appear on Amazon for pre-order, and I would doubt we will see this book until much later this year or early next year.

This month another book on MH370 was published, Goodnight Malaysian 370, and though it might first appear to be published by an established, specialist, traditional publisher (Wilson Aviation), this company is in fact not a publisher, but a specialist in representing overseas aircraft manufacturers wishing to sell their aircraft, products and/or services in the New Zealand, Australian and Pacific Islands market. The company is owned by one of the co-authors of the book, Ewan Wilson, who wrote the book with a provincial New Zealand newspaper editor, Geoff Taylor. Essentially, this is a self-published book. It has 7 reviews on Amazon as of now, five of which are five star reviews.

Wilson has published two other books with small independent presses, and there is no question he is a man who knows the aviation business. Wilson founded budget airline Kiwi Air before it eventually collapsed a little over a year later with mounting debts. Wilson was later convicted of four counts of fraud and banned for five years from being a company director. It's little details like this that can damage an author's credibility when writing a book.

But if you believe the above books might be published or scheduled a little too early, cast your eyes on the following motley crew...

Yes, believe it or not, the first 'book' on MH370 was published on March 19th in print, eleven days after the aircraft went missing! John Washington's Malaysian Flight 370 Report: An International Search for 239 Passengers was self-published through CreateSpace and began an avalanche of similar books using Amazon's self-publishing imprint. Washington's book is just 50 pages long, and another by Dimitrinka Iv. Staikova (Clairvoyant/Psychic Predictions about the missing Malaysia airplane flight MH370: Psychic Predictions missing flight MH370+Psychic News 2013), comes in at just 42 pages, again, via CreateSpace. That's some title! Oh, and it's priced at $7.20! And there are plenty more (some promising, some not by a long way):

MH370: A Novella [Kindle Edition] (May 31st)
Into Oblivion: Understanding MH370 [Paperback] (July 22nd)

A search on MH370 returned a total of 126 books published or shortly due for release. The overwhelming majority are self-published, both in print and e-book. Equally, the overwhelming majority, from examining descriptions, previews and reviews are utter dross—a combination of books based almost entirely on material cobbled together from the online news sources (paste and copy which clearly violates copyright), and some books simply using MH370 as a vehicle to disseminate political and conspiracy theory rants. To describe some of the publications as books would be seriously stretching the definition of a book. In a world of social media and blogs, I've no idea why an author would want to publish (again, clearly cut and paste) a lengthy, blog post and present it as a book and think they can charge between $3 and $15!

In Conclusion
And yet in those 126 books, I discovered several gems, written by aviation experts I recognised and would not have expected to be using Kindle or CreateSpace.

In light of my original two questions after today's examination on books about MH370 (truthfully, I suspect this applies to much of what is self-published via Kindle and CreateSpace.

When is my book completely written and edited and as good as it can be?

If you self-published, only you as the author can answer that question. If you contract an editor, prepare to shift the point at which you 'thought' your book was ready for the world. If you don't contract an editor, you are doing nothing more than making available what you have written, and you are likely rejecting some of the basic fundamentals of a published product for sale—respecting and valuing your readers, producing a quality work for the medium it was intended, and above allowing you to move to your next work without regrets.

When and how quickly should I publish it?

Unless you are a journalist working to daily, weekly and monthly deadlines, writing is not a sprint race, nor is publishing that work. If the first line or paragraph of your work immediately leads to this question, then you are falling into a growing trap in self-publishing. This says the more books you publish, the more sales you will create. It's a literally fallacy, and one created from the top down in the self-publishing community by already successful authors with a large reader following imposing and suggesting a template of author-publishing based on quantity of  books published equals exposure and more sales. That's not how it works, and believe me it's not how it worked for them in the beginning, no matter what they say or claim.

What I did notice from today's test of books on MH370 is that there is a minority of authors using both Kindle and CreateSpace to publish and then continue to refine and add to their book over a period of time—almost building their book in public and treating readers as subscribers. It's not a process I'm comfortable with, but it is clearly happening, as if some authors are treating Amazon KDP like Wattpad. The majority take the quick, publish-and-dump approach, and will probably move on to the next MH370 or whatever popular subject they think they can churn out a book of a few thousand words.

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.  

No comments:

Post a Comment