How to write comedy

23 April 2011

The weekend before last, I went to the London Comedy Writers Festival, which brought together hundreds of writers hungry for advice, and dozens of industry insiders happy to share their experiences. As always with events like this, it's good to meet other writers who are facing similar challenges, even if I'm not writing comedy myself at the moment.

There was lots of practical advice in the sessions, so I've written up a series of articles based on how to write comedy, encapsulating the key advice from people such as Griff Rhys Jones, Jessica Hynes, Stephen Mangan, Dan Mazer (Borat, Ali G), and many working writer-performers, comedians and editors. Here are the articles:I hope that you find the advice in these articles as interesting and useful as I did. I found there were quite a few parallels with non-comedy writing too, although I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions there. Feel free to leave a comment below to let me know your thoughts.

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Could Amazon Kindle kill the lending library and publishing industry in one go?

20 April 2011

Amazon has today announced that it will enable people to borrow ebooks from 11,000 US libraries.

This raises a lot of interesting questions because one thing that makes the traditional lending library work economically is that both shelf space and printed books are a limited resource. If libraries could give away all books for free to as many readers as they liked simultaneously, there would be no market for book publishers to sell to. As a result, there would eventually be no professionally produced books. With the greatest respect to self-publishers and Creative Commons enthusiasts, most of the best books are still a result of the traditional publishing model, where talented writers can afford to dedicate themselves to their craft.

In the Kindle store, these limits are not inherent in the system: the store can accommodate pretty much as many books as are published to it, and the cost of reproducing the book for multiple readers is zero. So, if you could download any book you wanted at any time to your Kindle, why would you pay for it?

I'm sure Amazon is sensitive to this issue, although technology-led businesses often rush to innovate without really thinking through how they will affect older intellectual property-led industries. (Which they should, when they're trading on their IP). Amazon is partnering with Overdrive, which already offers ebook library services to universities and companies.

I guess the model is likely to be that libraries have to buy a particular book in the Kindle store, and that the system manages loans to ensure each library is only lending the number of copies they've paid for. It might also be that the library doesn't pay for owning the book, but pays for each loan instead, although a model like this would need the consent of rights holders. It would take the guesswork out of stocking the library, though, and enable rights holders to receive ongoing income that reflects the popularity of their work.

Amazon's core business is book sales, too, so they'll want to ensure there's an incentive for someone to buy the Kindle edition. Any annotations you make in the library copy will be carried over to your copy if you later buy the book, which is a nice touch. The annotations are tied to the reader not the book, so every borrower gets a crisp new copy.

There are a couple of other concerns with this model. Firstly, you need a Kindle to participate. If someone can't afford a Kindle, they definitely can't afford to buy books, and it is these people who most need the support of a library. It would be a grave mistake if ebooks were allowed to cut into library book budgets too deeply, at least until the cost of ebook readers drops to negligible. If libraries need to buy Kindle versions of the books they stock, book budgets could be depleted quickly to cater for a relative minority. (If libraries aren't buying Kindle books, negotiations with publishers will be necessary to acquire the right to lend books that haven't been paid for.) We've seen lots of library closures in the UK and it's clear that you can't replace a library with an ebook facility, and that libraries need to be careful with their spending if they are to survive.

Amazon has won its leadership position in the ebook market through having the grit and spark to bring the device to market and inspire readers with it. But it's also a concern that it's too early to entrench any one ebook reader provider with a monopoly position in the libraries sector.

So far, the new project has only been announced, which means it doesn't (in all likelihood) even exist yet. It will be made available later this year, at which point the answers to these questions should become clearer. If you've borrowed ebooks from a library before or know more about how the model works, feel free to leave your comments below. Do you think this is a positive step for libraries, or is it a divisive move that could hurt those who most need libraries, and undermine the publishing industry?

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News on three book projects

14 April 2011

It's been a while since I updated the blog, so I've got three bits of news about books I've written to share with you.

Book cover: Web design in easy stepsFirstly, Web Design in Easy Steps has now been published. It's a full colour 240-page book in the popular In Easy Steps series. It starts by looking at the web design challenge, and then discusses what makes an effective website (with chapters dedicated to content, navigation and layout), before going into more depth on how websites are built. There are chapters dedicated to HTML, CSS and Javascript, and there are tips on using tools such as Flash, Dreamweaver and Wordpress. There is also advice on plugging in to social networking sites and adding a shopping cart. The book concludes with a look at how you can promote your website and measure what your visitors do on the site.

I have written extensively about website design in the past, for magazines including Internet Magazine, Business 2.0 and Internet Works, as well writing and editing a monthly newsletter about usability for a couple of years. I've also managed a few commercial website design projects in the past and am now working on updating my own website to reflect more of the good ideas in the book. Find out more about Web Design in Easy Steps, including how to order your copy, here.

The second bit of news is that Microsoft Office for the Older and Wiser is now available for the Amazon Kindle. You can get a free sample sent to your Kindle device from that link. For more information on the book, see the website for Microsoft Office for the Older and Wiser. I was really pleased with the structure and content of this book. It takes readers from no knowledge of the Office suite up to being quite sophisticated users through a series of projects. The book covers Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. There's also a bonus chapter on email using Windows Live.

The third piece of book news is that iPad for the Older and Wiser is now available for pre-order. I've written over half of it now and it will include coverage of both the original iPad and the features that are exclusive to the new iPad 2. The book will be published in September 2011. Wish me luck with drafting the last chunk of it and let me know if you have any favourite apps to recommend for the book!

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