Anne finally decided after her 2006 sabbatical year (during which we still produced three books) that she would "retire" in 2007 - but we nevertheless published two new books that year, too! Therefore, in 2008, she definitely stopped editing books submitted to us by other people, though we will from time to time work on local history titles in England and France for areas with which we are personally associated. There are several in the pipeline longterm, including at least two of her own, one about Old Hall Farm, Fradley, Staffordshire and another about a notorious murder in our home town of Spalding, Lincolnshire in 1898. The research she is doing, together with the transcription and analysis of several fascinating farm wages books from 1885-1923, takes up nearly all her time. If you were thinking of sending us a manuscript please see our alternative suggestions.
We will, of course, keep in print and continue to sell all the books that we have published - Jack has not stopped running this aspect of the enterprise, which occupies him for some time every day.
We have begun to convert many of our books to e-Books, starting with Anne's St Paradis Trilogy, which are doing very well in the French travel catgeory for Kindle books on Amazon.com. We started work on this in the autumn of 2012 and early months of 2013, after studying developments in this field closely, not wanting to make a decisive move until the market had sorted itself out. We did not want to find that we had spent many hours of work on something that would be good quality but not taken up by the mainstream – such as the ill-fated Betamax format in the early days of video recorders. It may look simple to convert a printed book into an e-Book but it isn't if you do it properly! There is some terrible rubbish out there masquerading under the description of “e-Books”, which are really just uncorrected badly written draft manuscripts.
We have sold relatively few print books over the last couple of years, mainly we think due to the recession – books are not essential when times are hard – and also the ease with which readers can now buy e-Books and keep copies of hundreds on a small device which fits conveniently in your pocket.
One big benefit of the e-Book is that you should be able to resize the text on your reader to suit your eyesight and the text and pictures should reflow to fit the screen. Getting this to work properly on devices ranging from smart phones with tiny screens to large computer displays is one of the major technical issues so we have invested in a couple of e-Book readers, a 7” tablet computer and some additional software. In addition we have bought a new series of ISBN numbers, and are getting ready for Anne to write a blog based on our website – something that is recommended for e-Book authors.
There are two main e-Book formats, the proprietary Kindle formats controlled by Amazon and used only by them, and the International open standard EPUB format used by everyone else. We don't like Amazon, who seem determined to take over and monopolise all forms of retailing, but it must be said that its e-Book operation is very slick.
Therefore we will initially be converting for the Amazon Kindle but later for other formats – but this will take time as we have published 66 titles! Not all of them will be suitable. We intend to do the easier ones first, as getting drawings and photographs with captions to scale correctly is currently a major issue and complex tables – such as family trees - add another level of complexity.
Although there will be a considerable amount of our labour to be put in to getting a book into the two formats (and it will probably be necessary to adjust these as new devices which can read e-Books come along), there is no capital cost to print them, no storage costs – we have a small air-conditioned building where we store the copies of all the books which costs nearly £200 a year to run in electricity alone – and no postage and package to send them out. Customers just download a copy in the correct format direct to their reader. If sales are minute it doesn't matter and if a book were to become a sudden success, the system would cope with it, with no need to guess possible sales and rush off to the printers to get more copies.
We are currently working on Lenna Bickerton's two autobiographical titles Memories of a Cheshire Childhood
and 'We'll gather lilacs...'
which we intend to upload at the same time, so those who read and enjoy one book can have immediate access to the other. "Memories" has been one of our top sellers as a paperback, so we thought we ought to try it in the first batch of local history books. With a bit of luck it should appeal to people overseas with family roots in Cheshire, particularly the Northwich area, who have not in the past wanted to spend a lot of money on post and packing for a relatively small book from England.
Our son Alex has been trying to persuade Anne to do her three St Paradis titles as audiobooks and we would like to try this. When A Bull by the Back Door: How an
English family find their own paradise in rural France
was first published a friend who is an amateur actress recorded the Introduction as an experiment and we put it on the website. This was very good but we think it would be preferable to have the whole book in the author's own voice. So watch this space!