Sunday, February 25, 2018

My self-publishing experiment - Endeavour: The Complete Inspector Morse - hits a wee landmark

My eBook ENDEAVOUR: The Complete Inspector Morse has just passed 750 sales. Not much in publishing terms, but it's a wee landmark for a £4.99 eBook with no marketing, no print version to enhance visibility, and a niche audience.

ENDEAVOUR: The Complete Inspector Morse is an unoffical non-fiction guide to the TV series Endeavour and Inspector Morse, to Colin Dexter's original novels and short stories, plus Morse on radio and stage.

All the non-Endeavour material in the eBook had previously been published as The Complete Inspector Morse [TCIM] by Reynolds & Hearn across four editions, and then by Titan Books in a new 2011 edition. Those were all print only, a mix of paperback and hardback.

Titan later issued an eBook of TCIM but numerous reviews berated the low quality of its formatting. A reference text should enable readers to dip in and out of an eBook, not force them to scroll through hundreds of unchaptered pages to find what they seek.

In 2016 Titan confirmed it would not commission a new edition, but the company declined to revert rights in the book until the physical print run had sold out. That was estimated for 2017, and under the terms of my contract, Titan could wait another two years before reverting my rights.

I signed my original contract with Reynolds & Hearn in 2001, long before eBooks. R&H did obtain the electronic rights, but only on a non-exclusive basis. After some prodding Titan confirmed I could publish my own eBook, if I wished.

For the cover image, a fellow Endeavour enthusiast provided a photo taken during filming in Oxford - instead of paying a fee, they suggested I make a donation to charity. I happily paid Caroline Goldsmith to prep the eBook for upload [I recommend her!]. 

I made the eBook an Amazon exclusive priced at £4.99 - not cheap for a non-fiction eBook. I published ENDEAVOUR: The Complete Inspector Morse on December 23rd 2016, just ahead of the 30th anniversary of Morse first appearing on British TV.

After Amazon took its cut, I estimated the eBook needed to sell 100 copies to break even. Happily it passed that a year ago, thanks to Endeavour Series 4 being broadcast.

To my surprise, ENDEAVOUR: The Complete Inspector Morse has continued selling, even when new episodes of Endeavour aren't on screen [which is most of the year]. It's a steady wee earner, as the  sales chart above demonstrates.

Despite being only an eBook, I've made far more royalties from this edition over the past year than I did from the traditionally published print versions of TCIM. New episodes of Endeavour makes a big difference, but so does 70% royalties instead of 7-10%!

After some gentle prodding Titan have now reverted all rights in the book, meaning I can publish the next edition in print and eBook if I choose. There's plenty of new material to add, with 10 new episodes of Endeavour and an Inspector Morse radio play.

But for now I'm happy to enjoy a wee landmark, and look forward to watching another new episode of Endeavour on ITV tonight. Onwards!

Sunday, January 21, 2018

My PLR top ten titles for July 2016 - June 2017

Every year the Public Lending Right sends registered authors a statement estimating how many times their books were borrowed from UK libraries. To compensate for lost sales, the PLR pays 8.2 pence per loan. There's a maximum payment threshold [£6600] to prevent bestselling authors from draining the PLR's precious coffers.

About 22,000 authors get payments for the most recent PLR period [July 2016 - June 2017], with 195 on the maximum of £6600. The fate of the PLR is in flux, as cash-strapped councils close libraries and eBooks alter reading habits. But authors still welcome this new year bonus.

It is free to register your books for PLR - just go here. Even if you only wrote [or drew, in the case of comics artist] part of a collection, you can still register your bit. I represent a tiny 3% of the Heavy Metal Dredd graphic novel, but it makes me a few pennies. Like a fool, I forgot to complete registration for the only new book I had published in the most recent PLR period - tsk!

This year's top ten for my titles features several 2000AD-related tomes, two  editions of the same Doctor Who novel, a Warhammer tie-in, and a hugely unsuccessful non-fiction book about the films of Michael Caine. That last book sold so badly, I think more people have read library copies over the past 15 years than ever bought the damned thing when it first came out in 2003.

It's a nice surprise to the Heroes Reborn tie-in to which I contributed appear on this list. I wrote an ebook novella and didn't expect anything to come of that, but it was reprinted by Titan with two other novellas from the series as a wee omnibus. Anyway, here are my top ten titles in librares for July 2016 - June 2017 (with previous year's placing in brackets).

1. (2) Heavy Metal Dredd (graphic novel, published 2009)
2. (1) Fiends of the Eastern Front: Stalingrad (graphic novel, 2010)
3. (-) The Complete Inspector Morse (2006)
4. (6) Doctor Who: Amorality Tale (2002)
5. (-) Thrill-Power Overload (2007)
6. (-) Judge Dredd: Kingdom of the Blind (200?)
7. (5) Starring Michael Caine (2003)
8. (-) Heroes Reborn (2016)
9. (8) A Massacre in Marienburg (2008)
10. (4) Doctor Who: Amorality Tale (new edition, 2015) )

Thursday, May 04, 2017

BLAZING BATTLE ACTION published as an eBook

In 2003 I wrote a behind the scenes account of how trail-blazing British war comic Battle was created and nurtured, as told by those who were there. Commissioned for the Judge Dredd Megazine by then-editor Alan Barnes, it was published as four articles. And there the story remained, trapped inside back issues, in danger of being forgotten all over again - until now.

I have just published an ebook of BLAZING BATTLE ACTION, available exclusively via Amazon. It is a text-only edition because I do not own the rights to any images from the relevant comics. The prose has been lightly edited and updated to reflect recent reprints of material from the pages of Battle. Hopefully more gems from the comic’s pages will be made available for a new generation of readers to enjoy afresh.

It's no exaggeration to say Battle changed the face of British comics. Launched in 1975 by writers John Wagner and Pat Mills with editor Dave Hunt, Battle hacked a path through the jungle of anodyne, lacklustre weeklies throttling the life from the industry at the time. It showed there was a market for harder-hitting, more challenging comics, paving a way for the controversial, short-lived Action and for the iconic science fiction anthology 2000AD.

In its pages Battle published one of the greatest stories ever told in British comics - Charley's War. Meticulously researched by writer Pat Mills and painstakingly illustrated by Joe Colquhoun, Charley's War was a landmark narrative that has stood the test of time and remains arguably the best work by either creator.

Battle was a trailblazing title that unearthed a new generation of British talent, but the comic suffered a slow death during the 1980s while 2000AD was enjoying its golden age. Dead comics soon get forgotten, and their story dies with them - but BLAZING BATTLE ACTION might help keep this particular story alive.

As with ENDEAVOUR: The Complete Inspector Morse, I employed the services of digital maven Caroline Goldsmith to make this ebook fit for purpose. She’s very helpful and reasonably priced, I can recommend her services if you’re too time-poor [or, like me, lazy] to learn formatting - any mistakes in BBA are my fault.

The BLAZING BATTLE ACTION ebook is available for just £1.99 on Amazon - or free to read for those who subscribe to Kindle Unlimited. I don’t expect to make much money, as it’s a niche topic, and I’ll be happy if this edition eventually covers its costs. But I believed the story deserves to be readily available. 

If you loved reading Battle back in the day, or enjoyed the history of 2000AD I co-wrote [THRILL-POWER OVERLOAD, now available in a hefty new hardback edition!], try BLAZING BATTLE ACTION. It’s a right riveting read - but then, I would say that. So here's what a couple of readers said about the original articles:
"Text features in the Megazine have been essential reading for many years ... probably the best of them have been David Bishop's histories of 2000AD (Thrill-Power Overload) and Battle (the most shorter, but just as fascinating Blazing Battle Action" - Grant Goggans, Thrill-Powered Thursday.

"If you read Battle and enjoyed Thrill-Power Overload, this is a great little history lesson" - Simeon Brewer, The Judge Dredd Megazine Odyssey.
BLAZING BATTLE ACTION ebook is available now exclusively on Amazon.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

A most Remorseful Day: rest in peace, Colin Dexter

Just read about the death of Colin Dexter, the creator of Inspector Morse. He was 86 and had not been well enough to make his usual cameos during last year's filming of Endeavour series 4, but news of his passing still comes as a shock, and a sadness.

I had the pleasure of meeting Colin several times at signings during the 1990s when he was still writing new Morse novels. He was friendly and quick of wit, with a ready smile and a genuine affection for his readers - a true gentleman of an author.

I read all his novels and loved the Morse TV series. When both ended - the novels in 1999, the show a year later - I wanted to capture my appreciation for them. From that was born The Complete Inspector Morse, published by Reynolds & Hearn in 2002.

The book was a modest success, and three revised editions followed at R&H to reflect the enduring appeal of Colin Dexter's characters. When Titan commissioned a new edition in 2011, just as news of a young Morse TV drama set in the 1960s was breaking.

Four series of Endeavour have followed, with an extended fifth run of episodes in the works for 2018. And I have maintained my appreciation by adding the new show to my appreciative text, now an ebook entitled Endeavour: The Complete Inspector Morse.

Colin Dexter is gone, but his wonderful characters endure thanks to screenwriter Russell Lewis, actor Shaun Evans, and all those involved at Mammoth. There's even a new Morse play on Radio 4 this Saturday, House of Ghosts, written by Alma Cullen.

For those of us who have enjoyed Morse on page or on screen - the worldwide TV audience was estimated at a billion in more than 200 countries - this is a terribly sad day. For Colin Dexter's family and friends, it must be far worse. Our thoughts are with them.
Life, to be sure,
Is nothing much to lose,
But young men think it is,
And we were young.
- A.E. Housman

Monday, March 13, 2017

Celebrating some of 2000AD's unsung heroes

A prominent 2000AD creator recently published a list of unsung heroes from the weekly's 40 year history, all of them deserving recognition for their contribution. Well, here's another list of heroes from various periods in the Galaxy's greatest comic.

Less than a dozen editors have spent any time in the big chair at 2000AD, so there's not many people who understand the unique stresses and strains that come with the Rosette of Sirius. Among those few, Richard gets little credit for doing a sterling job in near-impossible circumstances. He took over when creative talent was leaving for the promise of recognition and royalties elsewhere.

Richard kept the comic going and managed to turn things around, putting together an amazing run of iconic stories and art. The Horned God, Zenith, Necropolis, the death of Johnny Alpha - all part of his tenure. So time were Button Man, Hewligan's Haircut, and the first graphic novel collections. Richard also had the tricky task of introducing colour to the prog, and responding to the advent of Toxic.

Were there mistakes along the way? Of course. Any 2000AD editor who claims to have presided over a perfect era is deluding themselves, just like any creator who always finds someone else to blame when things go wrong. But Richard deserves credit for the many things his editorship did achieve, often against overwhelming odds and amid endless mockery of his droid counterpart Burt.

This artist has been around the pages of 2000AD for the better part of thirty years, a consumate professional who always delivers. From his early work on Zenith through strips like Maniac 5, Devlin Waugh, Red Seas and many more, Steve is the artist any editor wants to employ. He can draw scripts that appear impossible, sending them on time, every time. You want storytelling that looks effortless? You want an artist who doesn't need their ego stroked to get the job done? Send for Steve Yeowell.

Colourists don't get noticed, unless they mess up. It is one of the invisible jobs in comics, along with lettering and design and - to an extent - editing. A great colourist serves the story and  artist, and Chris is a great colourist. He took computer colouring in 2000AD great leaps forward, enhancing the look of Judge Dredd in particular and the comic as a whole. I'm not sure I ever met Chris, but he did stellar work week in, week out. Most everything looks better with Chris on colouring.

Another former editor of 2000AD, and a writer for the Galaxy's greatest comic as well. John was a freelance assistant in the early 1990s and became editor for a spell, working with Steve MacManus after the previous incumbent was made redundant in a brutal round of cost-cutting. John didn't have long to make his mark as editor, but his contributions are still important such as commissioning Nikolai Dante and America II. He also wrote two under-appreciated strips - the anarchic Armoured Gideon, and the more measured Mercy Heights.

Just as great colourists go unnoticed, so do wonderful letterers - and 2000AD has been served by some giants in that area. The legendary Tom Frame, the wonderful Annie Parkhouse and Ellie de Ville, plus craftsmen like Steve Potter and more recently Simon Bowland. You don't appreciate how good these people are until you attempt some lettering for yourself. It's a skill and an art, leading the eye around the page, shaping the narrative while remaining unnoticed. Truly, letterers are heroes.

Artists like Simon Davis and Colin MacNeil, pouring all their talents and their creative energies into telling stories through paint. Amazing cover artists like Jason Brashill and Mark Harrison, who can bring the front of a comic to life - and who are no slouches at storytelling inside that cover. Art editors and designers like Steve Cook, whose iconic logo still graces the front of 2000AD today and deservedly so.

And the current editor Matt Smith, longest-serving of all the Thargs by many years - he may not be a screaming extrovert like some predecessors, but his time in the Command Module has proven to be among the most fruitful, most trouble-free and more important in 2000AD history. Long may he wear the Rosette of Sirius with pride!

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Top 10 covers I commissioned for 2000AD titles

The 40th anniversary edition of THRILL-POWER OVERLOAD, the unfiltered history of 2000AD by myself and Karl Stock, has reminded me of the amazing talents with whom I was lucky enough to work. I spent twelve years in editorial on various 2000AD titles from 1990 until 2001, going from freelance to staff and back to freelance again.

During that time I commissioned close to 500 different covers from dozens of different artists. Just for fun, here are my top 10 picks from among the many. I could easily have picked another 40 for this list, but these ten will do as a representative sample for today...

Pop Art inspired piece by Sean Phillips for the Judge Dredd Megazine's relaunch as a fortnightly title in 1992 - and this really did pop on the shelves. It was an experimental effort, but one that worked well and was distinctly different from other comics of the time.

Dean Ormston painted this lush image of the Dark Judges for The Complete Judge Dredd, a monthly re-presenting the future lawman's stories in order. It gave 1990s artists a chance to homage to classic strips - in this case, Brian Bolland's Judge Death Lives.

A portrait of Judge Hershey for the Megazine by Simon Davis, now better known for his work on Sinister Dexter and Sláine. Outside the world of British comics, Simon is an acclaimed portrait artist so he was the perfect choice for this striking image of Hershey.

Dozens of the covers I commissioned were homages to artists and striking images. For this Sláine cover I asked Duncan Fegredo to channel Gustav Klimt. It was a fun subversion to have the male character naked and the woman fully clothed for a change.

Jock painted a cracking Missionary Man cover for the Judge Dredd Megazine but the image didn't work with our required elements until I tried an extreme close-up, running the text down one side like an old Wanted poster.Not perfect, but eye-catching.

Steven Cook was 2000AD's art editor for many years and always eager to push the design envelope. He was creating some amazing photo imagery for other titles, so when Devlin Waugh went Bollywood it seemed the perfect opportunity to challenge the norm.

I have an abiding aversion to periodicals who put snow on their logo for the Xmas issue, but am not averse to theming a cover should a fitting idea arise. Kevin Walker provided this festive image for the Megazine, a change from his familiar fully painted style.

Another homage cover, this time spoofing a Tim Bradstreet painting for the Vertigo crime anthology comic mini-series Gangland. The redoubtable Cliff Robinson drew Dredd on the porcelain throne, reflecting a wry Gordon Rennie & Chris Weston story inside.

Dermot Power is a great artist who now works almost exclusively in design for films, a sad loss for comics. I managed to lure him back a few times to provide covers, and this image is a corker. I love how it captures Devlin Waugh's utter nonchalance.

The best single issue I edited, with my all-time favourite cover. Brian Bolland provided this homage to the Iwo Jima flag-raising photo by Joe Rosenthal, with 2000AD characters atop a mound of past British comics - a tribute to those who went before...

Monday, February 13, 2017

2000AD event with acclaimed comics artist Colin MacNeil at Biggar Library this Saturday, Feb 18th

There's a special event at Biggar Library from 1pm this Saturday - February 18th- to celebrate the launch of THRILL-POWER OVERLOAD, an unfiltered history of iconic British comic 2000AD written by me with additional material by Karl Stock. [I was editor of 2000AD from 1996 until the year 2000 when I moved to Biggar!]

Joining me at the signing event is acclaimed Scottish comics artist Colin MacNeil, who will sketching and talking about his work. Celebrated for drawing beloved 2000AD characters like Judge Dredd and Chopper, Colin has also illustrated Captain America, Batman and Conan the Barbarian in an amazing career spanning thirty years.

This special event is being organised by Biggar Library and Biggar's own Atkinson-Pryce Books, the Scottish Independent Bookshop of the Year for 2016. The event is free, but please let the library know you are coming by calling 01899 222 060 before Saturday.

Copies of THRILL-POWER OVERLOAD will be available to buy on the day. This heavily illustrated, glossy colour hardback costs £35, but everyone who buys a copy on the day also gets a bundle of 2000AD or Dredd comics from my private collection as a bonus.