Tag Archives: iPad

I saw an iPhone in a plastic box today and a brilliant comedy show last night

Today’s iPhone with sound enhancer

Today’s iPhone with sound enhancer amplifier

Before today’s blog, here is an addendum to yesterday’s…

My eternally-un-named friend who, in yesterday’s blog, came up with a cheap sound amplifier for iPads has today come up with a similar amplifier for iPhones. Basically, it involves putting the iPhone inside a larger plastic food container.

My newly-installed iGlass sound system

The iGlass sound system from two years ago

Personally, I think her idea of two years ago of putting the iPhone inside a funnel-shaped glass is more elegant and more in keeping with Apple’s design ethics.

It is a matter of style.

Anyway…

I have never been able to get my head round what it must be like for performers to triumph on stage. They have got the audience into such a state that there are laughs, tears, whatever. But, once that moment and that emotion is achieved, it is gone forever if it is not filmed or videoed. A live performance is perhaps seen fleetingly by a few hundred people and certainly within a few years is barely remembered in any detail. Indeed, perhaps that happens within a couple of days or a couple of hours.

A show that is recorded can be seen by thousands – potential millions – of people who were never there – and long after all who were there are dead.

No-one who was not there can ever know how good a particular show was unless it is recorded.

Lost – to quote Blade Runner – like tears in rain.

Which came to my mind because, last night, I saw what is certainly one of the five best live shows I have seen in, let’s say, the last five years.

It was one of the monthly, always fascinating, Pull The Other One comedy club shows in London’s Nunhead.

In roughly  alphabetical order, the acts were:

  • Candy Gigi Markham… This year’s winner of the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality. I was sitting next to Mark Kelly (he writes with Jo Brand) who asked me beforehand what her act was like. I could do no better than quote that piece in Metro the other day which said it was an “almost indescribably odd act”. It is. It was. Both Mark and I laughed out loud: a rare thing.
  • Laurence Owen… with a spot-on song about how women’s roles are defined and limited in Walt Disney films – wonderfully complex and intelligent lyrics to a perfect pastiche of the whole gamut of Disneyesque tunes.
  • The Silver Peevil… top Matthew Bourne dancer Ewan Wardrop as his 1930s sci-fi Venusian character with a silver foil spaceship, a wry dismantling of sexism and (again) a perfect pastiche of a 1930s Hollywood song.
  • Two Pregnant Men – a new musical duo with three highly original rocked-up takes on internet trolls, supermarket cut-price deals and more. Not yer normal comedy act.
  • Wilfredo, Matt Roper’s extraordinary spittle-filled character cross between Barrie Humphries’ Sir Les Paterson and real-life Spanish heart-throb Julio Iglesias. I could barely hear this act at points because two women to my right were understandably screaming with laughter.
The bill for last night’s London show

The bill for last night’s South London show

And all of these acts were held together by the genuinely brilliant and charismatic compering skills of Lindsay Sharman who warmed the audience up by getting them to do whale and dolphin impressions (not a common technique) while she told a story – and who, at two points, shamelessly plugged her new novel by shoving copies in her bra. My eternally-un-named friend said to me: “She should be on television.”

Indeed she should. So should everyone on last night’s show.

Alas, ITV in particular is currently busy making disastrous remakes of 50-year-old formats. Who knows what misbegotten miscalculations Sunday Night at The Palladium will display tomorrow night as ITV continues to turn a silk purse into a dog’s dinner mishmash of decent acts and dumbed-down drossness.

I do not normally review shows as such because, in the medium and long term, it is a lose-lose situation for me. But the sheer brilliance of last night’s Pull The Other One show and the transient nature of live performance drew me to break my own rule. Well, the above was not really a review: it was more of a list. But hey-ho.

Sunday Night at The (apparently no longer London) Palladium is fair game for criticism because crass crap is always fair game. I could draw some obvious parallel between Sunday Night at The Palladium and putting an expensive iPhone into a cheap plastic food container, but it is too obvious.

The real talent, the really great comedy/variety shows at the moment are out there, transient, live and not on television.

I shall now try not to do anything remotely like a review for at least another twelve months.

The Silver Peevil danced the night fantastic

The Silver Peevil danced the night fantastic

One really annoying thing about last night was that I was enjoying the show so much I took no photographs. Your loss, not mine.

Incidentally, Ewan Wardrop aka The Silver Peevil (SPOILER ALERT!) does the opening to his act in quite a lengthy series of speeches in cod Venusian. He told me that, when he performed this act at Pull The Other One’s club in Leipzig earlier this month, a couple of Germans came up to the organisers after the show. “We liked the act,” they said, “but we were not able to understand some of what he said.”

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iPad sound boost & Vancouver topiary

The food container, prepared as an audio device

The food container, prepared as an audio enhancement device

Two years ago, my eternally-un-named friend came up with the ultimate mouse-catcher involving a bowl of water and a wooden ruler – the mice, in effect walked the plank.

This morning, she successfully demonstrated to me the ultimate and cheapest sound-booster for iPads and other electronic notepads.

The new speaker enhanced iPad system

The new speaker-enhanced iPad system in situ

She got a small, round, plastic food container – “They’re about 89p for 4 in Tesco,” she told me – cut a wide slit in it and put it over the corner of the iPad where the sound comes from. I can testify that this does work and I recommend the method highly. If you want similar custom-made sound-boosters, they are available from me at a mere £59.99p.

Meanwhile this blog’s occasional correspondent, Anna Smith, sent me an update headed Topiary Tragedy on what is happening in Vancouver. She works in a book shop. She wrote:


Anna Smith & Gordon Breslin (a visitor from South London who is irrelevant to this piece) hold a copy of dead comedian Malcolm Hardee’s iconic autobiography (also irrelevant to this piece) within a hula hoop in Vancouver two weeks ago.

Anna Smith (left) within a hula hoop in Vancouver recently.

It has been a rough week in this paradise for topiary artists. It seems like half the people I know are being evicted, going crazy or in hospital with multiple issues.

When I arrived at the bookshop on Monday there was a note taped to the door – a pleading request for a list of books from one of my friends in hospital. I don’t know how she managed to get the note there.

There then followed a day of despairing people begging to sell dingy, second-hand books that I could not possibly buy. An artist from Kerala wanted endless information and told me I should start an agency called ‘Ask Anna’ and hire five ‘Annas’. A lonely actor, whom I like and who has schizophrenia, sat in a chair near my desk and spent four hours telling me about all the people he has been in the last few hundred years. He said he knows this is true because a very elegant psychic from Norway told him so. Then a guitarist dropped by to tell me he had spotted his teenage daughter a few days ago – she vanished last month. I could do nothing but listen.

Topiary struck back on Sunday.

One of our most beloved community leaders, 65-year-old Jim Deva, co-owner of our gay bookstore Little Sister’s, died after falling off a ladder. At first, I thought it must have been a ladder in the book shop but no, he had been trimming the bamboo outside of his apartment when he fell.

Canada’s CBC News reports the death of Jim Deva

Canada’s CBC News reports the death of Jim

Little Sister’s bookstore, in its early days, had been bombed at least twice and was the subject of years of harassment from the federal government through Border Services, who diligently opened every single shipment of books from The United States. Eventually the government tried to locate a psychiatrist to support their court case and state that Little Sister’s was importing obscene material. They asked around, looking for someone who was an expert on homosexuality. Everyone told them to ask my dad (who had become a psychiatrist and was one of the first signatories of The American Psychiatric Association’s declaration that homosexuality is not an illness).

So, when they did ask him, he said he would read all the material they had seized but would have to charge them his regular psychiatrist rate.

He spent all his spare time for three months reading all manner of gay literature and porn, then sent the government a bill for around $10,000 and a letter stating that none of the material at Little Sister’s was harmful at all.

Oh, yeah, and the European lesbians texted me from the marina last night. There was a storm and they have no fuel. They want to borrow my tiny butane stove.


I have absolutely no idea what any of that has to do with topiary.

It is perhaps best that some things remain unexplained.

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KIS KIC Apple computers can teach you how to be a good writer and comedian

Who says you cannot lick a new Apple product ???

I have never bothered with a smartphone before, but I got an Apple iPhone 4s yesterday because I think it might help me understand how to use Twitter (which I never have) and because it means I do not have to buy a new iPad to get 3G coverage – I can just tether my iPhone to my old non-3G, WiFi original Apple iPad.

You will gather I like Apple products. I also have an iMac and a MacBook Pro.

I first bought a computer in 1989. It was an Amstrad. I bought my first Apple Mac in 1993. I have never bought a Windows PC.

A prime example of why is what happened to me in Ireland.

It was my first day working on a contract at the late Tara TV in Dublin; they had PCs using the then-new Windows 98 operating system. I was the last and only person in the office in the evening. When I had finished, I tried to shut down my computer. I could not find any way to do it. There was no on-screen button anywhere. Eventually, I had to phone a friend in England and ask how to switch off the system.

“You click the Start button,” she told me.

This seemed to me to epitomise Microsoft products.

In order to shut down the computer, you had to click the Start button.

Why?

It was the only way to do it.

You had to know the rules and follow them.

I once heard a Microsoft executive proudly say they had done market research into what people wanted in their computers and found that most of what people wanted but said they did not have was already in the Windows operating system.

He took this as an example of how good the system was. I took it as an example of how Byzantine the system was. People had no idea how to find or do anything.

The difference between Apple and Microsoft Windows products has always seemed to be that Windows works in a certain way and you have to follow the rules to do anything. Apple  computers really are intuitive. If you want to do something, you think, “How would I do that?” and you can probably do it the way you think you can. But there may be five other ways to do the same thing, because different people think differently. Apple designs with the user in mind.

Setting up my new iPhone yesterday was simplicity itself, because everything appeared on screen logically, simply and in plain English, not in nerd-speak.

I think, when Apple design ‘ways to do things’, they do not think “We are creating a system here and then have to tell the user how to use it”… They seem to think, “If I were a user, what would I want to do to use the thing I am using?”

In that way, I think it is like writing.

People who sit down to write thinking “I want to say something. I have an empty page. What am I going to write on it?” may tend to write badly.

The trick is not to think “I am a writer writing this.” The trick is to think “I am a reader reading this as it appears word-by-word on the page.”

I think the best way to communicate (which is all writing is – or should be) is to think “If I read these words appearing on the page as I type, what are they telling me as the reader (not as the writer) and what will I need to know next?”

It is like writing an autobiography or a book on any subject. If you tell the reader absolutely everything you know in total detail you will clutter everything up with thoughts and facts, like Mr Casaubon in George Eliot’s brilliant Middlemarch. (Something I did not need to mention.)

KIS KIC

Keep it simple. Keep it clear.

There used to be a television ad for a tinned fish supplier which had the selling line: IT’S THE FISH JOHN WEST REJECT THAT MAKE JOHN WEST THE BEST.

It is keeping an eye on what you exclude – even more than what you include – that makes a difference to the end product.

Good writing is created by a writer who looks at it from the viewpoint of the reader not the viewpoint of the author.

Good comedy is created by a comedian who looks at it from the viewpoint of the audience not the viewpoint of the comic.

Good computer operating systems and programs are created by nerds who look at them from the viewpoint of the user not the viewpoint of the nerd.

That is why I buy Apple computers.

They KIS KIC.

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Filed under Comedy, Computers, Technology, Telecoms, Writing

So there was this comic with cerebral palsy and no voice who auditioned as a singer on The X Factor yesterday…

Lee voices his amusement at yesterday’s X-Factor auditions

One of the joys of writing this daily blog is that people send me bizarre anecdotes.

This is certainly one, so pin back your eyes like you are Alex in A Clockwork Orange and read on.

Yesterday afternoon, I got an e-mail from a Jeff Lantern, who describes himself as “an enigmatic North East England based act” and who says: “I perform on the comedy circuit because no-one else will take me seriously”.

He said he had “recently met a new comic from Sunderland called Lee Ridley, aka ‘Lost Voice Guy’ who cannot physically talk. Today, he is auditioning in Newcastle to go on The X Factor.”

This successfully grabbed my attention, so I got in touch with Lee, who had just returned from the auditions. And this is what he told me:

Basically, I have cerebral palsy from when I was ill when I was a baby. This resulted in me losing my speech and having a weaker right side of the body (which means I walk funny). Instead of talking, I use a small computer called a Lightwriter to communicate with – although I use an Apple iPad on stage as it is clearer and more practical. I just type what I want to say and the iPad says it out loud. A bit like Stephen Hawking.

I only started doing comedy last month so I’m still building up my profile. I’ve only had three gigs so far. I started because I’d always enjoyed making people laugh and watching stand-up. I never thought I’d get to do it because of my disability. But then my mates suggested it might work. I thought about it for a bit and then decided to give it a go. I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t.

I already had some X Factor material in my act so, as it looked like it might be a boring Saturday, I thought it would be funny to audition for The X Factor as a singer and see what they said when I turned up. I decided to do I Believe I Can Fly because I thought it seemed apt in a deluded kind of way. I got up this morning at 6.00am to get to the auditions for 8.00am. Once there, I was put into ‘Pen B’ which was for disabled auditionees. I thought it apt that the staff referred to them as Pen A and Pen B as if we were animals going to the slaughter.

I was signed in by an assistant who talked to me through my communication device. This begs a question about how she expected me to sing when she could see I couldn’t talk. Was she just being polite? Two more people spoke to me in the same way and still no questions were asked. Good news for me!

We stood in the cold for an hour while X Factor production staff got people to sing Fog On The Tyne and Let’s Get Ready To Rumble. Stereotypical?  I was surprised they didn’t bring in the fat topless bloke from Newcastle games just for good measure. Or maybe Gazza with some chicken, a dressing gown and a fishing rod.

Then we were let into the venue – the Metro Radio ArenaOnce inside, we had to sit together and wait to be called for our audition. Everyone around me started practising and I did start to feel a tiny bit bad for potentially wasting someone’s opportunity. But not too bad.

When I finally got in for my audition (about two hours after arriving) – basically in the side corridors of the arena – I was greeted by two production assistant type people who were my judge and jury. I could see straight away that they weren’t sure what was going to happen. They asked me if I was going to sing, like they were double checking.

I broke into I Believe I Can Fly and the looks on their faces were priceless. You could tell they were still trying to figure out if I was serious or not. In my opinion, I quite obviously wasn’t (I even had a Lost Voice slogan on my t-shirt), but the sense of humour seemed to be lost in translation. I tried not to laugh too much and just sway along to the words. After a few verses and some very weird glances, they stopped me and told me I wasn’t going through to the next stage. Part of me thought they looked annoyed at me for being a twat and wasting their precious time. I hope they were anyway.

I asked if I had sounded too flat as I walked out.

Still not a smile.

As I said, I already had some X Factor material in my act, so I plan to add to it with what has taken place today. My biggest gig yet is coming up is next month – Sunday 8 April 2012 at Rib Ticklers’ 1st birthday in Hartlepool with special guest headliner Patrick Monahan.

I have decided to record my ‘losers song’ and put it online.

__________

Here it is:

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Duck! The dangers of Chinese subtitles, kidnap and Rupert Murdoch’s flying bus

Yesterday, I went to see a movie The Beginning of the Great Revival (aka The Founding of a Party), which was screening in London as part of the China Image Film Festival. It seemed to be very good film. A sumptuously made movie. Of course, if you work for the state film company, have a virtually limitless budget and you are making a movie about the founding of the Chinese Communist Party, this could help. But I thought I espied a director who had been influenced by Sergio Leone’s historical epics.

I say The Beginning of the Great Revival “seemed” to be a very good film because, alas, despite opening and closing titles with English translations, the actual two-hour long historical epic turned out to be in Chinese with Chinese subtitles.

This reminded me of the time I sat through Sholay at the National Film Theatre when they had accidentally rented a print of the epic Indian language movie with French sub-titles.

I speak neither French nor Hindi but you cannot fail to enjoy an all-stops-pulled-out Bollywood film where (as always) people randomly burst into song and the hero has both his arms cut off yet continues to fight in true action man style. (Both Sholay and Monty Python and the Holy Grail were released in 1975 so I doubt if either ripped off the idea of an armless hero; it must have been the spirit of the times.)

I also do not speak Mandarin nor read Chinese script and my knowledge of Chinese history 1910-1921 is a tad hazy, but The Beginning of the Great Revival was never less than interesting. You can see why in the (subtitled) trailer on YouTube:

I was brought back to some form of reality when I came out of the cinema and read Rupert Murdoch’s iPad-only newspaper The Daily. The front page story was:

DUCK! – Anyone’s guess where 13,000-pound satellite will hit

sub-headed as:

READY TO TUMBLE! Satellite hurtles toward Earth – and scientists can’t say when or where it will hit

This was a story I had never heard of before – and I had seen the lunchtime news on BBC TV yesterday.

“NASA scientists,” The Daily said, “are shrugging their shoulders with little or no idea when – or where – a satellite the size of a bus will fall to Earth. The latest projections last night were that the defunct NASA satellite would tumble to Earth from space sometime this afternoon, but because the satellite is free-falling, the space agency and the U.S. Air Force cannot make a precise prediction about when and where it will hit.”

According to the article, NASA claimed the chances of someone being hit by a piece of falling debris was 1 in 3,200 and the debris would fall along a 500-mile path.

Those odds of 1 in 3,200 seemed surprisingly low to me.

“The only confirmed case of a person being hit by space junk,” The Daily told me, “was in 1997 when Lottie Williams of Tulsa, Oklahoma, was grazed on the shoulder by a small piece of a Delta rocket.”

NASA has apparently warned people against touching any part of the satellite they might find lying around on the ground.

“While it contains no hazardous chemicals,” The Daily reported, “the space agency said people could potentially be hurt by sharp edges.”

Apparently what NASA calls “medium-sized junk” falls back to earth about once a week. Debris the size of a bus falls about once a year. When bits of the Skylab space station (the size of a house) fell onto parts of Western Australia in July 1979, local authorities fined NASA $400 for littering.

I thought I should perhaps check if anything the size of a bus had fallen on London while I was in the cinema watching the glorious founding of the Chinese Communist Party in The Beginning of the Great Revival so I got a London Evening Standard (which is now owned, like the Independent newspaper, by an ex-KGB man).

Its front page news was a story about a boy who had been encouraged to read by the Duchess of Cornwall. I could not find any story anywhere about anyone being killed by a bus from outer space falling on their head so, when I got home, I checked the BBC News channel (no unusual deaths; no mention of death from above) and then checked my e-mails to find one from mad inventor John Ward – designer and fabricator of the highly-prestigious Malcolm Hardee Awards for comedy.

He told me he had been booked by the University of Lincoln to appear on 12th October at something entitled An Eccentric Symposium – Tomato Tomäto.

Among other billed events and speakers at this academic symposium are ‘Project Pigeon’ (“an art and education project that works with pigeons as a vehicle to bring people together”), the World Egg Throwing Championships and a talk on Gender, Exercise and Art by Anthony Schrag, an artist now living in Scotland whose work, according to the University of Lincoln, “focuses on blowing things up, climbing on things and occasionally kidnapping people”.

I could take no more.

I went to bed.

When I woke up this morning, the BBC News channel was reporting that the NASA spacecraft could not be found, but it had passed over the UK twice during the night and was now “the size of a refrigerator”.

They also reported Prime Minister David Cameron’s warning to the world that we live in dangerous economic times.

Fuck the economy. Where is the fridge?

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Filed under China, Eccentrics, Movies, Newspapers, Science

British comedians seem to be turning to electronic book publishing – maybe

I have blogged before about the galloping-blindly-towards-an-unknown-destination changes in book publishing.

In 2003, the late Malcolm Hardee and I put together Sit-Down Comedy for Random House. It was an anthology of original writing (some of it very dark) by comedians Ed Byrne, John Dowie, Jenny Eclair, Stephen Frost, Boothby Graffoe, Ricky Grover, Malcolm Hardee, Hattie Hayridge, John Hegley, Dominic Holland, Jeff Innocent, Stewart Lee, Simon Munnery, Owen O’Neill, Arthur Smith, Linda Smith, Jim Tavare, Dave Thompson and Tim Vine.

Sit-Down Comedy has just been issued in both iBook (for iPads) and Kindle downloadable electronic editions.

Apparently, in the US market, electronic books now account for 20% of total book sales. In the UK, it is still only 5%, but it is expected to double in the next year.

In the last week, two of the contributors to Sit-Down Comedy have mentioned to me that they are thinking of publishing electronic books, probably via lulu.com, the same print-on-demand (not to be confused with self-publishing) company which comedy writer Mark Kelly has used to publish his books Pleased as Punch, This Is Why We Are Going to Die and (free to download) Every Get The Feeling You’ve Been Cheated? Comic Shelley Cooper told me she is also looking into print-on-demand publishing.

A highly relevant factor is that print-on-demand publishers may take 20% of your book’s earnings to arrange print and electronic versions… while conventional print publishers doing the same thing normally give the author royalties of only 7.5% of paperback sales. With print-on-demand  you have to market the book yourself, but you also have to factor in that significant difference between getting 80% or getting the conventional 7.5%.

I have blogged before that am thinking of re-publishing Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake (probably revised back to its original version) as an e-book… but that is only if I can actually pull my finger out – always a major factor in the production of any book.

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Advice on how to get a book published…

Someone asked me yesterday how to get a book published by a reputable publisher in the UK.

My answer was to get a ghost writer – me – and pay me £156,000 + 98% of the royalties plus all the chocolate I can eat.

Sadly my offer was turned down, so my edited advice was this…

The conventional wisdom is that, to get a publishing deal, you need to have a literary agent but, to get a literary agent, you need to have a publishing deal.

In fact, you don’t.

It doesn’t matter if it’s fiction or non-fiction.

Fiction sells better than non-fiction, but it is even more difficult to get published. Almost bloody impossible, in fact.

Either way, the best thing to do is this…

You need to write a one or two page outline synopsis of what will be in the book – beginning to end – so the publisher knows what he/she is actually going to get.

And write perhaps a 20-page extract. This does not have to be the first 20 pages, but it might as well be. The reason for providing this extract is twofold. It shows the publisher that you can write. And it shows them the style your book will be written in – the same facts can be written a million different ways. An extract gives them a feel for the suggested book’s style.

Plus you need to include a biography of yourself – maybe half a page.

You are a good prospect if you are young (ie under 30), attractive and already have some track record in some creative area. And it helps massively if you can speak fluently. Being dead is not a good selling point if you are trying to get a publishing deal unless you are Jane Austen or George Orwell.

I know someone who was a ‘reader’ for Penguin Books. He was given a translation of a Japanese novel which Penguin had been offered. After reading it with growing excitement, his report to Penguin said that it was the most brilliant novel he had ever read and they would be mad not to publish it.

They told him: “We are not going to publish it.”

The author had, unwisely, just died and would be unable to do any publicity for the book.

Publishers want someone, preferably attractive and certainly alive, who can do publicity interviews for the book and who is ideally young enough to provide them with maybe 40 more years of books. They seldom want a one-off wonder unless you have an absolutely cracking story like being held as a sex slave for 14 years by Prince Philip in a secret cellar under Buckingham Palace or cutting off your own leg with a fish knife while being held hostage by Saddam Hussein in a Paris brothel.

When you have your idea, outline, biography and extract together, you should then go to a bookshop and see which publishers are selling the type of book you want to write and approach them one by one, having looked in a copy of the annual Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook which gives contact names, addresses and publishing requirements.

One thing you do not do is this…

You do NOT write the book first and then approach a publisher.

You want to screw an Advance out of them.

That way, even if the thing sells no copies, you have earned something for your talent, time and heartache.

If you approach a publisher with a completed book you cannot, by definition, get any Advance from them to tide you over while you write the book. You would have worked for perhaps two years for no money and you may have written what publishers don’t want.

Also, publishers like to feel they are controlling the creative process. Most publishers I have encountered are wannabe writers who cannot actually write creatively themselves, so they want to write and/or re-write through you while getting cultural kudos with their friends at dinner parties in Islington.

Never believe that publishers know anything about creative writing. If they did, they would be writing books themselves.

Those who can, do.

Those who can’t, publish…

…and try to interfere with your writing to give themselves a creative hard-on.

The thing to remember is that, up to the point of signing the contract, they can cast you aside and they have all the power. But, after signing the contract, you have most of the power. Under a standard publishing contract, they control the cover, but they cannot change a single comma of the text without your permission and it is unlikely (unless your book is utter shit) that they will throw away the Advance they have paid you. So listen to their advice but stick to your creative guns if you disagree.

If (just to use round numbers) you get a £9,000 advance, you would normally be paid £3,000 on signing the contract. You then have to write the entire book with no more money coming in. You then get £3,000 on delivery of an acceptable final manuscript. And you then have to wait for 6-9 months and get £3,000 on publication. So any ‘Advance’ tends to mean you only get one third up-front in advance of writing the book.

The thing to remember is that it highly unlikely you will make any significant money from your book. Literally hundreds of books are spewing into existence every month to try to find space on the same limited shelves. It is like playing the Edinburgh Fringe. You are unlikely to get noticed and it is like standing in a cold shower tearing up £50 notes. In the case of writing a book, these are the £50 notes you could have earned by stacking shelves in a supermarket rather than starving in a small room earning no money while you toil away at your creative keyboard.

If your book is a paperback, you are likely to get a royalty of only 7.5% of the cover price. So, if your book sells for £10, you get 75p per copy sold. Roughly.

I believe most books sell well under 10,000 copies in the British Isles and fail to make a profit. Publishers live on their rare big buck-earners.

When approaching a publisher nowadays, you also have to take into consideration the new phenomenon of eBooks. Random House recently signed a big deal with Apple to put their back catalogue and future publications onto iBooks.

My 2002 contract with Random House for the anthology Sit-Down Comedy specified a 50% royalty on any future e-book version. A fortnight ago, they sent me a letter saying they want to only pay 25% instead of 50% on any eBook version because the contracted 50% royalty rate “was arrived at before the UK eBook market had begun to develop and before the extent of our digital investment was known. Since this royalty was agreed, the eBook market has moved on greatly but, in the process, we have found that 50% of net revenues is no longer viable”.

Well, lovies, my tendency is to say, “Tough shit, life’s a bitch and a gamble, ain’t it? Don’t come whining to me if you mis-calculated your own business.”

But, with Sit-Down Comedy, in fact, it doesn’t much matter because, although the contract was with the late Malcolm Hardee and me as editors of the book, we agreed to split the royalties between ourselves and the 19 contributors to the anthology. So we are talking miniscule sums even if it sold loads.

However, I know another author whose book has been in print for quite a few  years. It may soon go out of print. Under a standard contract, if a book is out of print for two years, all rights return to the author. So, for example, Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake was out of print for two years and now 100% of all rights have reverted to me and to the estate of the late Malcolm.

However, if this other chum of mine’s book becomes an eBook, my understanding is that it will, in theory, never go out of print – the file will still be available for download from the Apple/Amazon/publisher’s computer – and so the publisher will retain the rights until 70 years after the author’s death.

If my chum, on the other hand, refuses to accept a royalty cut from 50% to 25%, then it will presumably not become an eBook, the paperback will go out of print and, two years later, 100% of all rights will revert to my chum. And there would then be the possibility of negotiating a new publishing deal or publishing via some print-on-demand operation like lulu.com

We live in interesting times and that, of course, is the ancient Chinese curse.

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