Monday 12 December 2011

The Paperbacking of Bye Bye Baby

Bye Bye Baby is police thriller that tells the story of a very unusual kidnapping. It may be a novella, but it's the most important book I've ever written.

It was originally scheduled for publication in July 2010. A few months after I handed in the finished manuscript, that date was revised to July 2011. Then, sometime during 2010, I was advised that the publication schedule had changed again and Bye Bye Baby wouldn't be seeing the light of day until 2013. Damn and blast, I thought. Or words to that effect. Who'd have thought it would turn out to be one of the luckiest breaks I've ever had as a writer?

Barrington Stoke very kindly offered to let me have the rights back in case I wanted to publish elsewhere. I didn't, because I like what they do, and I'd enjoyed writing Kill Clock for their Most Wanted series for reluctant readers, and was stoked at the thought of Bye Bye Baby being part of the same series.

So I asked if they were planning on doing anything with the digital rights, and if not, could I have those and Barrington Stoke could keep the paperback rights. They were delighted with the idea, and so began my foray into e-publishing.

I'd observed the success of John Rector, one of my JBA authors and one of the self-publishing Kindle pioneers. I'd seen his US sales figures for The Grove and was duly impressed. But Bye Bye Baby was a short novella, a Scottish police procedural, and the Kindle was in its infancy in the UK, so my expectations for sales of my own wee effort were minimal. (Plus, I'm no John Rector. Check out his books, you'll thank me for it).

I uploaded the ebook version of Bye Bye Baby to Amazon in Aug 2010. Between August and November, inclusive, Kindle sales were even more minimal than I'd anticipated. I sold 13 copies.

Undaunted (in fact, I was extremely daunted – 2010 was not a good year: my primary publishers on both sides of the Atlantic had dropped me, unsurprisingly, since my sales figures were mince; and having mince for sales figures makes it extremely difficult for a new publisher to welcome you on board), I decided to throw everything into giving Bye Bye Baby a real shot at selling a few copies. I was my own publisher after all, and I should be doing what publishers do, instead of sitting around moping.

I'd also acquired the digital rights for Killing Mum, a novella published in print by Crime Express in July 2009. I e-published it at the start of December, and then started looking for ways to sell Bye Bye Baby. First obvious strategy was the world's oldest publishing promotional tool: price. I dropped mine from $2.99 to 99 cents. That meant a royalty cut from Amazon (70% down to 35%) but given that I'd been selling only half a dozen copies a month, I was hardly running the risk of throwing away a fortune.

I spent a long time on the various ebook forums, finding the Writers Café section of the Kindleboards in particular a goldmine of useful advice, stats, tips, warnings, new opportunities, etc. I posted on the UK Kindle Users Forum and Mobile Reads and others. But I got most traction from a thread on the Kindle forum that eventually ran to over 70 comments. I set up Google alerts for all the successful indie authors. They led me to new ebook-interest sites. I read their interviews. I read their blogs. I adopted their strategies where they seemed applicable. I sent off a lot of review copies. I gave lots of copies away. I tried everything to bring Bye Bye Baby to the attention of new readers in the hope that the more people who read me, the more likely it would be that some of them might enjoy what they read and tell others. I allocated two hours a day to engage in marketing and promotion, and I didn't rule out anything (well, apart from Facebook: gotta draw the line somewhere!).

The result of all that activity? I got lucky. December Kindle sales for Bye Bye Baby jumped to 232. Quite a difference. I kept up the marketing into January, trailing off halfway through. By then, the Amazon recommendation algorithm had kicked in. I was unaware of its enormous impact at the time, but my guess is that much of my marketing efforts resulted in only a few sales. Getting those early sales in volume during December was crucial, though, because that's what triggered the subsequent recommendations. (For more on the Amazon recommendation algorithm, check this out).

January Kindle sales of Bye Bye Baby totalled 2071.

I did very little marketing in February, during which Bye Bye Baby was in the top ten in the Kindle store for most of the month. It peaked at #6. Sales for the month were 9379.

By that point, Bye Bye Baby was my best-selling book. And that remains the case today, with sales of well over 35,000 copies. Killing Mum, which I never pushed much beyond a few mentions on the forums, reached #25 in the Kindle store. Best guess is that was as a result of being recommended to customers who'd bought Bye Bye Baby. Killing Mum has now sold over 11,000 copies.

If it wasn't for Barrington Stoke postponing publication of Bye Bye Baby, I'd never have self-published. And if I'd never self-published, I'd have had no chance (or desire, even) to persuade Polygon, publisher of my backlist novels, to let me sub-license the Kindle rights to Two-Way Split and Slammer, which are now out in new, improved editions. If I hadn't had experience in self-publishing ebooks, I would never have hooked up with Kyle MacRae, and Blasted Heath would never have been born. There would be no Blasted Boxset!

And a final side-effect of publishing the digital edition of Bye Bye Baby – and the reason for this extremely long-winded blog post – was that it helped bring forward publication of the paperback edition. I'm delighted to say that Bye Bye Baby is now available in print. And a lovely little book it is too.

"a quick, taut thriller... not a word is wasted" – Ian Rankin

 "a terrific read and a great premise from an excellent writer" – Stuart MacBride

"A story that moves quickly, in short chapters of crisp prose, with plenty of plot turns to hold the attention, and characters you can love and others you can hate... Like Guthrie's full-length novels, Bye Bye Baby is sly, noir as all hell (more noir than some, actually), and it just might bring a tear of pity to your eyes. It's a police procedural filled with incident and back story, and man, what an ending." – Detectives Beyond Borders

available from
and other fine bookshops

Friday 7 October 2011

Ten Things I Learned Since Saturday

1: The Trap of Solid Gold is an excellent blog dedicated to the work of John D MacDonald, creator of Travis McGee and author of many other great paperback originals, my favourite of which is Soft Touch.

2: Lawrence Block has gone 'indie' by self-publishing a Matt Scudder short story collection. He explains why here.

3: Daily sales of 18-25 since Saturday are enough for Two-Way Split to nose into the top 100 thrillers on Amazon UK. The week-on-week sales increase is almost certainly driven by Amazon's recommendations. First month's sales were 155. Already this month: 135. Total UK sales still lag behind the US (739/872), which you'd never guess from their current rankings: under 500 in the UK and over 15,000 in the US.

4: Edinburgh has an exciting new bookstore: Pulp Fiction.

5: Penguin, the publishing house that invented the mass market paperback, believes that the format will all but disappear, according to Publishing Perspectives: “in essence, the mass market is becoming digital.”

6: DD Scott demonstrates the power of free, selling more books in a month than in the previous year: more at the Writer's Guide to e-Publishing

7: eReaderIQ is a free service that – among other things – lets you know when a Kindle title you're interested in comes down in price.

8: The Google eBookstore is now in the UK. It's far from intuitive for publishers. Spent 30 minutes trying to trying to find out if I could sign up and getting constantly directed to blank screens. End result: I'm no wiser than I was when I started. So I haven't really learned anything much at all. Better have another #8.

8: Waterstone's '3 for 2' price promo is what they were known for.

9: The Kindle will be available in France from Oct 14th. Wonder how long before Spain.

10: And finally, Grift Magazine claim there's something interesting in the offing. “There are a lot of people publishing eBooks out there these days, either on their own or with the help of a publisher – be it bootstrapping indie or Big 6 imprint — and it is clearly the future of publishing. The winners will be the ones who innovate, do something different. I’ve been given a sneak peek at one such operation, about which I can’t report much, but suffice to say they’ll be making headlines soon.”

Some great writers on board there: Anthony Neil Smith, Ray Banks, Douglas Lindsay, Gerard Brennan. I've heard rumours of a few others too. Looks to be an exciting line-up.

Saturday 1 October 2011

Ten Things I Learned This Week

(photo by DC John)
1: To have a better understanding of Tartan Noir, you should read The Incredible Hulk, according to Bookchums. Who knew?

2: If you want to allocate ISBNs to your ebooks, Nielsen's best practice is to provide different ISBNs for different formats, just like physical books. I had assumed it was one ISBN for all ebooks, but, no, PRC (Kindle), ePub, PDF all require separate ISBNs.

3: The percentage of publishers in the UK offering their ebooks to libraries could be as low as 20% (via the Bookseller).

4: Advertising ebooks on Facebook would appear to be even more of a waste of money than I thought. Not a big fan of paid advertising in any case, but if you do want a decent return for your buck, I'd imagine you're much better focusing on the kind of places where ebook readers hang out. Anecdotally, Kindle Nation and Pixel of Ink are two names that keep coming up.

5: Roz Wood should write more reviews. This one of Slammer is her first blog entry.

6: The shelf-life of an ebook bears little relation to the shelf-life of a physical book. We're conditioned to accept that books sell massively in the first few weeks of release, then taper off quickly. The Kindle version of Two-Way Split sold 16 copies in the UK yesterday – just over three months after its release. That's more than any other single day so far. Sales have grown steadily week on week since it was released.

7: Formatting issues are more easily resolved if you use Open Office than Microsoft Word. I knew this already but I had yet another reminder. Open Office is free (and compatible with MS Word).

8: Bloomsbury continues to embrace digital like a good 'un with the launch of a new digital imprint: Bloomsbury Reader.

9: No matter what I try, sometimes I just can't leave comments on blog posts. I wanted to leave one here to say, "Don't pace yourself! Read Beast of Burden now, it's a classic piece of contemporary noir," but all my attempts have been foiled. I frequently can't leave comments here either. I know, that'll teach me to use Blogger.

10: Plans for expurgated editions of my books are a non-starter. I was seriously considering it – it's easily done with ebooks. But this one-star review of Bye Bye Baby about the 'foul language' shows the likely futility of such an exercise. If I was to expurgate my books I'd be using Bye Bye Baby as a yardstick. As Ray Banks points out in this post on the topic of swearing, there's minimal (and minor) bad language in the book (the strongest swear word is 'shit'). So, f**k that.

Friday 30 September 2011

Portobello Book Festival

Next weekend sees the third Portobello Book Festival, which takes place in Edinburgh's seaside (photo by Andrew Girdwood). The festival is organised by a group of local enthusiasts in conjunction with Portobello Library.

Last year I participated in a sell-out event at the Town Hall with Ian Rankin, Doug Johnstone and Caroline Dunford. It's great to see the festival going from strength to strength with another stellar and diverse line-up this year.

I'll be making a couple of appearances, one to interview the very talented Doug Johnstone (and watch him drink whisky), and the other as part of a panel on publishing. From the programme:

DOUG JOHNSTONE, writer, musician and journalist, talks to Allan Guthrie about his new novel Smokeheads. This event includes a whisky tasting in collaboration with the Scotch Malt Whisky Society

Join MARIANNE PAGET, new writer; FRANCIS BICKMORE, Senior Editor Canongate Books; and ALLAN GUTHRIE, Literary Agent, author and editor, in a workshop about getting published.

Click here for the full programme.

Thursday 22 September 2011

Dani Amore interview: Dead Wood

Dead Wood by Dani Amore
Amazon UK, Amazon US

Dani Amore is a crime novelist living in Los Angeles, California. You can learn more about her dark, mysterious and sarcastic ways over at

Can you sum up Dead Wood in no more than 25 words?

A disgraced ex-cop turned private investigator finds himself on the trail of a hired killer who has mysterious links to his own tragic past.

What was your motivation for writing it?

A true story, actually. The serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer used to drug his victims. Once they passed out, he would kill and dismember them, then have sex with their body parts.

One of his victims, however, managed to escape. He staggered into the street, completely drugged out, and flagged down a cop. Dahmer came chasing after him and convinced the cop the victim was his boyfriend, and was merely drunk.

The cop gave the victim back to Dahmer, who took him back to his apartment and butchered him.

I always wondered what that would do to a cop. To have a person come to you for help, and you hand him back to a serial killer who then kills him in the most ghastly manner possible.

I thought it would be an interesting starting point for a character in a crime novel.

How long did it take you to write?

For the first few months, I had a bunch of starts, stops, and startovers. I always seemed to get to about page 100 and then trash the whole thing.

Anyway, by the time I was ready to drink a crate of vodka and pursue my dream of bagging groceries at Publix for a living, I found my stride.

The rest of the book came pretty quickly, maybe another couple of months.

How important is a book's central character?

To me, a great character is only the beginning. It’s the relationships that character has that really makes it fun for me. In this book, I had a great time with John’s relationship with his wife, and one other woman, in particular. To me, that’s what makes a book feel complete. No matter how great a character is, if that’s all there is on the page, readers will eventually become bored.

What's the best piece of business advice you've been given?

The best piece of business advice I’ve ever been given is also one of the best pieces of writing advice I’ve ever been given. It was told to me by my boss in advertising. He’d given me a project. He wanted it done right, but he also wanted it done fast so we could bill the client.

He handed the folder to me and said:

“Kill it and bill it.”

Words to live by, my friends.

What's your favourite part of the writing process?

Finishing the first draft, driving to this little cabin I have on a small lake, building a big bonfire, and getting absolutely wrecked.

As a writer, how would you describe your ideal reader's taste in crime fiction?

My ideal reader likes Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series, but wishes there was a little more sex and violence on the page. They also have a good sense of humor, perhaps leaning slightly toward sarcasm. And they love reading about strong women.

From an artistic rather than financial perspective, what book do you wish you had written?

The Big Sleep or The Great Gatsby. Maybe I’ll combine the two: The Great Big Sleeping Gatsby.

Where do you find out about new books?

My current favourite is The Babe does not disappoint.

Do you have any other projects on the go?

Yes, the sequel to DEATH BY SARCASM, called MURDER WITH SARCASTIC INTENT, is just about ready. I’ve also got a Western coming out in the spring of 2012.

Dead Wood by Dani Amore
Amazon UK, Amazon US

Wednesday 14 September 2011

Len Wanner interview: Dead Sharp

Dead Sharp by Len Wanner
A collection of interviews with nine Scottish crime writers

Since this is an ebook blog, first question has to be: what kind of relationship do you have with ebooks?

Nice – hit first and hit hard. Mr Guthrie, you gent, straight in there with a relationship question. Naughty. Right so, let's skip the foreplay!

My relationship with ebooks is that rarest of relationships shared by Catlic priests and their innocent flock. I believe in the redemptive power of ebooks. I believe in the spiritual rebirth of the e-published author. I believe in the e-publisher who takes a leap of faith on prodigal ebooks. And I believe in the rewards of impulsive indiscretions with that cheap and cheerful flock.

Can you sum up Dead Sharp in a paragraph?

When I started working on this collection of interviews with Scottish crime writers, I hoped it would allow writers and readers to sidestep today's marketing stampede. I've since come to think of Dead Sharp as nine sideways reflections on crime fiction, the books and everything it takes to get them written, retailed, and read.

But it's not for me to say I succeeded, so I'll refer you to David Corbett:

"Len Wanner is a gift to any serious writer, but especially contemporary crime writers, who see their genre not as some ghettoized backwater of the entertainment industry but the legitimate heir of the social and political novels that seem to have lost their caché in literary circles. Wanner understands that crime provides a unique and crucial perspective on the tensions not just between the individual and society but society and the state, tradition against change, wealth against poverty, conformity against liberation, as well as the ever-present corrupting influence of power. The writers he chooses to interview all share a critical eye of modernity and a commitment to literary skill. More importantly, he has that rare gift for not just putting them at ease but leading them into the thornier realms of creativity and contemplation, where the juices run dark and the questions often remain unanswered--but never unaddressed. The interviews are insightful gems, full of invention, wit and cleverness as well as the honesty and perceptiveness one expects from men and women whose job is to craft well-told tales. Wanner captures these writers at their best, lures them into unconventional terrain and obliges improvisation, with bracing results. You will have to look far and wide for any more interesting, informative and just plain engaging dialogues with writers than those Len Wanner provides here."

And yourself - who is Len Wanner?

Len Wanner was born in the alpine republic of Bavaria. Having graduated from University College Dublin and authored Dead Sharp: Scottish Crime Writers on Country and Craft, he currently lives with his lady friend in and out of the University of Edinburgh where he is patiently finishing a PhD on Scottish crime fiction and not so patiently awaiting royal patronage. In the meantime, he works as a freelance translator and editor of TheCrimeOfItAll.

Why the interest in Scottish crime fiction particularly?

Having grown up in Bavaria, I have a deep respect for any culture that celebrates masculinity by donning fetish wear.

I also have a deep respect for transgressive writing that is free of anti-intellectual bias and full of bile when it comes to the antics of the intelligentsia. There's a lot of that in Scotland. At its best, that kind of crime fiction is tempered by a self-deprecating sense of humour and tendered by a self-conscious sense of compassion. You tend to learn something about yourself while you're having a good time with those books.

But I think it's the Lederhosen/Kilt connection that got me into it.

How hard was it to choose which authors to include in the book?

As hard as Chinese arithmetic. I'd read the Paris Review Interviews, the two Badlands books by John Williams, and the two interview collections by Craig McDonald to get a sense of how your lineup can turn a short list of separate interviews into an extended conversation about a shared topic. So I had to hold off on including some of my personal favourites and well-known Scottish crime writers simply because their interviews didn't fit into the company of the final nine, never mind the space of 250 pages.

In short, I wanted to afford readers two equally rewarding reading experiences: Read one interview, go read a few of the interviewee's books, then continue accordingly with the other interviews, or read them all back to back. Either way, rather than concentrating on one area of 'Tartan Noir', you should get a comprehensive overview from these nine interviews, which is why I chose authors who would represent the diversity of sub-genres, styles, settings, themes, politics, aesthetics, and voices at work in Scotland today. Completing that overview would take another book length collection.

How much research did you do before interviewing the authors?

You're one of the interviewed authors, so perhaps you should be the judge of that. You or my legion of readers.

I'd like to think that I did the right kind of research to ask informed questions and still be intuitive in directing the interview when authors answered questions I never asked.

What research did I do? I watched every youtubed session of James Lipton having his wicked way Inside the Actors Studio. Then I gave up on linear biography questioning and discovered the art of interviewing in the afore-mentioned collections. As for the critical context, it certainly benefited my research that I've been doing a PhD on Scottish crime writing for the past three years. That and the fact that I like most of the fiction enough to read it in my spare time, so I'd read at least half their books before interviewing the nine authors.

But what really proved invaluable was reading some of the previous interviews each author had done. Sure, the odd time I found a question that was asking to be plagiarised, but more often than not I found out which questions not to ask. It pays to learn from others just how easily authors can be bored into some truly awful answers.

Putting you on the spot, but which interview was most fun?

Yours. But I won't go into it. A gentleman never tells.

What was the most surprising discovery you made during the interviews?

That everything can go wrong. Take Louise Welsh's interview: I'd read all her books and most of her previous interviews. I'd even prepared several lists of questions just in case I'd be struck down by jet lag Liptomania. Of course, I knew that doing the interview in Glasgow's college of art would test the mettle of even this man of chilled steel, but what I don't know is whether Miss Welsh put my hobo chic down to the occupational hazard of losing my way in the settings of her novels. I got there on time and in one piece, but the worse for wear after straying through a sweltering West End on the aggressive side of charming, and I'd hate to think she took my state as a comment on her work. In the end, she had the good grace to be more attentive to my questions than my grooming. My apologies for sweating on your parade, Louise.

Can you give me some tips on how to improve my interviews?

Well, as you know from having read my book, there's a short essay on interviewing in the back of Dead Sharp. That includes ten tips on how to improve anyone's interviews.

As for your interviews, I think you should always ask my favourite final question: "What do you know now that you wish you'd known when you started writing?

Who would you most like to interview?

Bernard Pivot. Anyone who's watched Jimmy Lipton climax with his Proust Questionnaire knows that the man has a lot to answer for.

What's next?

The second volume of interviews with Scottish crime writers. I don't have a title yet, but I'm half way through the lineup and this much I can tell you: It's gonna be dead sharp.

Cheers, Len. Looking forward to chatting to you further next week.


Indeed, Len and myself will be 'in conversation' at a free event at Edinburgh University next Thursday, 22nd Sept. Details follow:

University of Edinburgh
Ground Floor Lecture Theatre
Hugh Robson Building
George Square
Thu 22nd Sept, 6.30pm-7.45pm

Join us for what promises to be a fun, eventful and informative evening in celebration of Scottish crime fiction as Len Wanner discusses his highly acclaimed collection of in-depth interviews with some of Tartan Noir's finest exponents, DEAD SHARP: SCOTTISH CRIME WRITERS ON COUNTRY AND CRAFT, with digital publisher, literary agent and award-winning crime novelist, Allan Guthrie.

Dead Sharp by Len Wanner
A collection of interviews with nine Scottish crime writers

Monday 12 September 2011

Jim Winter interview: Road Rules

Road Rules by Jim Winter

Jim Winter works in the medical industry as a jack of all cybertrades. He lives in Cincinnati with his wife, Nita, and stepson, AJ. His book, Road Rules, is out now on Amazon, BN, and Smashwords.

Can you sum up your book in no more than 25 words?

The road trip to Hell starts with a stolen car. And ends in the garden of good and evil.

What was your motivation for writing it?

It started on a dare, actually.

What's your favourite part of the writing process?

I love it when I finally get moving on a story and sometimes you have to tear yourself away from the keyboard. When you leave the computer grinning, you know the story’s coming along.

As a reader, how would you describe your taste in crime fiction?

I prefer two kinds: The bleak kind, like Ken Bruen writes, and the sheer smart-ass crime fiction, like Stuart MacBride. Ken has a way of making you want to slit your wrists when you’re done with him, and then you can’t wait to take the ride again. Not to mention you can’t really tear yourself away from the poetry of his writing.

MacBride is just completely subversive, kind of like Ed McBain locked in a room with Monty Python. And the brilliance of it is MacBride has all these horrific crimes as his backdrop.

What was the last good eBook you read?

The Caretaker of Lorne Field, which is a horror novel by Dave Zeltserman. I love the way he ends it. You still don’t know if the whole thing is real or just a delusion.

If you had to re-read a crime novel right now, what would you choose?

Mystic River. It’s just this big sprawling thing that squeezes everything out of its characters and setting.

What did you do before you became a writer?

I was an IT drone for an insurance company.

How old were you when you completed your first novel?

I finished the first draft of Northcoast Shakedown when I was 36. I got to call my mother about that a couple of months before she died, so that was a happy night.

What are your views on eBook pricing?

From an author standpoint, I’ve shifted into the 99 cent camp. A few writers I know have said they sold more and made more at that price than the equally popular $2.99 price. (Mind you, that might vary between countries.) As a reader, if it’s low enough, I’m likely to take advantage of Amazon’s one-click and make an impulse buy.

What are the biggest problems facing writers these days?

It wasn’t that long ago you knew what the rules were. You wrote a book, got an agent, and if you kept at it long enough, you got a contract. Now the rules seem to change almost weekly, and the big publishers haven’t got a clue. At least it’s not the recording industry. 12 years after Napster, and record companies still think everyone owes them a living. Publishing is at least trying. They’re falling down, but they’re trying.

What are the greatest opportunities facing writers these days?

For once, I think writers truly do own their own destinies. You don’t have this expensive middle man making your work too pricey to go independent. It’s no guarantee of success, but at least writers now have control.

Which author should be much better known?

Michael Lister

Do you read outside of the crime genre?

I read science fiction, history, some nonfiction. I avoid political screeds whenever possible.

Road Rules by Jim Winter

Sunday 11 September 2011

Sample Sunday: Sonic Slammer

To mark my prison novel Slammer's release to Kindle for 99p, I thought I'd have a stab at something new. So here's me reading a wee section, with a bit of musical accompaniment ('As I Figure' by Kevin MacLeod).

Get this widget | Track details | eSnips Social DNA

Ray "Beast of Burden" Banks has provided ten cracking reasons to buy the book. If links could blush, this one would be scarlet.

I've also had a series of very generous reviews, for which, many thanks! Here are some of the highlights:

"Clever and engaging" -- The Crime of it All
"Cracking stuff" -- Daz's Short Book Reviews
"Mind-blowing tale" -- Midnight (Top 100 Amazon reviewer)
"Masterpiece of modern noir" -- Jay Stringer
"One of the best noir novels ever" -- Chris Rhatigan
"an amazing book" -- Heath Lowrance
"The reach and scope of the book is immense" -- Nigel Bird
"a brilliantly written, claustrophobic classic" -- Paul D Brazill
 "top-notch noir from a favourite author"-- Lauren Winters
"tense, superbly written slice of desperate life" -- Dubin
"terrific Tartan noir" -- BookRambler

Hope you like the sound of it.

Slammer is available here for 99p.

Wednesday 7 September 2011

Russel D McLean interview: The Death of Ronnie Sweets

The Death of Ronnie Sweets (and Other Stories) by Russel D McLean

Russel D McLean has hung around the crime fiction scene for almost a decade now, working variously as an ezine editor, a reviewer, a bookseller and a general miscreant. He has written many short stories and more recently two PI novels set in the mean streets of Dundee, Scotland. Russel’s first novel, THE GOOD SON, was nominated for a Shamus award by the Private Eye writers of America.

How much difference does an editor make?

I worked with many different editors over the course of these stories depending on the market. Some of them did light edits, some did heavy. I learned the most working with Gerald So at Thrilling Detective on the story that would become LIKE A MATTER OF HONOUR; lots of bad habits were reformed on that particular story. And Linda Landrigan of Alfred Hitchcock’s really helped bring out WHAT FRIENDS ARE FOR, a story that initially gave me great difficulty in writing. Basically, a good editor helps a writer refine what they’re doing. I don’t think any fiction is written in isolation. Although ultimately the voice has to be the authors, otherwise what’s the point?

Who designed your cover?

The brilliant JT Lindroos, who also designed the UK e-dition of THE GOOD SON. JT’s one of the best damn designers out there (as I’m sure you can testify, Mr Guthrie) and really seems to get to the essence of a brief, while delivering a few surprises along the way. With THE DEATH OF RONNIE SWEETS, we started with one idea and along the way JT threw this unexpected one into the mix that finally became my preferred design.

How important is a book's central character?

I like to tell very personal stories, so while my casts can be large, my protagonist is always the focal point. In this collection, we see a character evolve and change across multiple stories. Sam Bryson started as a bit of a cypher, an excuse to tell a Chandlerian story in Dundee, and across the stories he really developed a life and a voice all of his own.

What was the last good eBook you read?

I loved Gar Anthony Haywood’s short story collection, LYRICS FOR THE BLUES. The man can write, and of course we all know I’m a sucker for a good Eye story. The Aaron Gunner stories are lyrical, affecting and really do stay with you after you’ve finished reading them.

In fact, I’ve been reading a lot of collections digitally of late (call it research). Other favourites have been Steve Hockensmith’s DEAR MR HOLMES – he’s one of the funniest and most inventive crime writers I’ve read in a while – and Zoe Sharp’s FOX FIVE. Sharp is one of those writers who deserves to be doing far better; I adored her novels and loved these shorts.

In terms of full length novels, I’d have to say the most fun I’ve recently had, electronically speaking, was with Anthony Neil Smith’s twisted little e-xclusive, CHOKE ON YOUR LIES.

(Yeah, that was more than one book – so sue me, I read a hell of a lot!)

What makes you keep reading a book?

Voice. A plot that moves – ie, characters that actually do things rather than talk about doing them (a fast-moving plot doesn’t always mean gunplay and fisticuffs). Oh, and characters who are deeply, deeply flawed. I get very irritated with perfect people.

What's the best collection of short stories you've read?

An apropos question, considering I’m here to push a collection of shorts…

I only started reading collections in recent years, so I’m not an expert, but there are two that I always talk about when people mention short story collections.

There’s the Megan Abbott-edited HELL OF A WOMAN (from the magnificent Busted Flush Press) which contained some of the finest and most consistent writing I’d found in a multi-author volume.

And Vicki Hendricks’s FLORIDA GOTHIC STORIES was one of the most haunting and beautiful single author collections I think I’ve read in years.

What are your views on eBook pricing?

I think a balance needs to be struck. To charge over £10 or $10 for an ebook is insanity. But at the same time I think a blanket 99p/99c policy is maybe equally insane. I’m experimenting with pricing on those books I have control over (some of my ebooks are controlled by publishers, others I own the rights to) and seeing if I can find a comfortable middle ground but knowing that I want to keep the books affordable. Basically, they need to be cheaper than physical books, and yet they still need to be enough that the writer is paid. Right now, the thing to remember about ebooks is this:

No one knows anything.

Of course, in publishing it was always thus.

How do you feel about anyone being able to publish?

It’s great for authors who can bring deserving works back into print, or authors who are ready to be published (and everyone knows it) but for one reason or another have no other way to get out there. It’s also great for writers of short collections. It’s a fantastic opportunity to find and continue to promote talent that otherwise might have drifted into the forgotten places.

However, some people are going to be trying to run before they can walk (ouch, what a cliché!). Some people who should never be writing are going to be pushing crap down reader’s throats and believe they have every right to do so. And some people who could mature into great writers if only they had a few suggestions, edits and nudges, are going to be unable to learn from the ego-crushing experience that I believe all writers should experience.

Because, honestly, I believe that rejection made me a better writer. And I’d cringe if some of those early attempts at novels had made it out there (at least in the state they were in then).

All of which is a rambling way of saying that the current e-model free-for-all can be both a blessing and a curse. Which maybe isn’t much of an answer, but it’s the best I got.

The Death of Ronnie Sweets (and Other Stories) by Russel D McLean

Sunday 28 August 2011

Timothy Hallinan interview: Little Elvises

Little Elvises by Timothy Hallinan

Timothy Hallinan, both Edgar- and Macavity-award nominated in 2011, is the author of the Poke Rafferty Bangkok thrillers and the Junior Bender Mysteries. This year, he conceived and edited an ebook of original short stories by 20 well-known mystery authors, SHAKEN: STORIES FOR JAPAN, with 100% of the price going to Japanese disaster relief. His most recent book is the Junior Bender ebook, LITTLE ELVISES.

Can you sum up LITTLE ELVISES in no more than 25 words?

A thriller with a laugh track, set in Los Angeles, with roots in the 1960s imitation Elvises. Almost everyone, including the hero, is a crook.

What was your motivation for writing it?

I wanted to make myself laugh, for one thing. The first-person narrator of this series, Junior Bender (I didn't know—until Zoë Sharp told me—what “Bender” means in British slang), is a burglar who moonlights as a private eye for crooks. Junior operates on a moral scale that interests and amuses me. He's a career criminal, but he's also an unhappily divorced man who worships his daughter, and—within broad limits—he always keeps his word. Junior's voice was in my ear the entire time I wrote the book.

Also, I always found the Little Elvises, most of whom had careers that could be measured in months, both funny and sad, which I think is a great combination.

How long did it take you to write?

Seven weeks to a full first draft, because once Junior starts, he won't let go of me. I wrote the first book about him, CRASHED, in five weeks, which is the fastest ever for me.

How important is a book's central character?

It's pretty close to everything, especially when that character is written in first person. He/she is the reader's guide and companion. If the reader doesn't want to hang around with the central character—well, there are a lot of other books out there.

What's your favourite part of the writing process?


Ever tried your hand at screenwriting?

When my first series of books came out, in the 1990s, I got a call from a very big producer, who shall remain nameless, asking whether I'd like to make obscene amounts of money as a dialogue doctor. I said yes and got a script someone had obviously slaved over for God only knows how long along with a bunch of notes about how to make some scenes stronger. The dominant voice in this process undoubtedly belonged either to the lead actor or his agent, because over and over again, I was instructed to give him the closing line in a scene, and make it a grand slam. I was also, for two scenes, asked to give him a specific number of additional words – say, 48. That drove me crazy until I counted the words for him and the other actor/actress in each scene and learned that 48 new words would give that character one more word in the scene than the other character had.

I sent the script back and begged off.

Do you have any other projects on the go?

I'm most of the way through the fifth Poke Rafferty Bangkok thriller, THE FEAR ARTIST, and I've got about 20,000 words on the next Junior, MUTHER'S DAY. And I get up every day full of anxiety about whether the day's work will be any good and also thrilled silly that I get to do this for a living.

Little Elvises by Timothy Hallinan

Thursday 25 August 2011

Brian Lindenmuth interview: Snubnose Press

Brian Lindenmuth is the editor of Snubnose press and the non-fiction editor of Spinetingler Magazine. In addition to Spinetingler his work has appeared in Crimespree Magazine and at Galleycat and the Mulholland Books websites.

Can you provide an overview of Snubnose Press?

Snubnose Press is the newly formed ebook imprint of Spinetingler Magazine. Spinetingler has been around since 2005. We have a long history of publishing short fiction from new, established and emerging writers. Spinetingler is also a paying short story market. Snubnose will be an ebook extension of that ethos focusing on longer works of fiction.

Why become a publisher?

Why not?

Because it's the next logical step for us and we've wanted to for years now. Years ago, when Spinetingler was under different ownership for a bit, we had wanted to get into publishing and had many discussions. Around that time we had talked about getting into the limited editions market for example. Start-up costs were always an issue and e-publishing has lowered the bar of monetary start-up costs enough to enable us to seriously move forward with what we wanted to do all along.

Plus, because of our involvement with the community and we have friends who are writers we know that there are a lot of really great writers out there and a lot of great manuscripts.

Who's involved?

Jack Getze, Sandra Ruttan and myself. Our logo and the cover for Keith Rawson's upcoming short story collection were designed by Ben Springer (aka Poker Ben). Boden Steiner, who did the cover for Speedloader, is our Art Director.

Who chose the name?

I did and pitched it to the others. Everyone liked it so we took the ball and ran with it. It felt right once it was there.

How do you decide which titles to publish?

We use some of the minor thaumaturgical methods outlined in Agrippa's De Occulta Philosophia libri III combined with a workforce that includes the friends of our children.

How many titles are you planning on publishing?

For the rest of 2011 we will be publishing about a book a month. We would like to maintain the same pace in 2012 but obviously that will be determined by the submissions we receive.

How did you decide on your contract terms (which are incredibly generous!)?

The core group of owners of Spinetingler and Snubnose are Jack, Sandra and myself. Two of that group are writers who have had various ... interesting ... adventures with traditional publishers. So we wanted to be generous to writers. Also, there is a practical side to generosity that I would be remiss in not mentioning. It is very easy for authors to self-publish their work these days. So we put together what we think is a good package: generous contract, an art director, an editorial staff (that have reps for being tough) and an established marketing platform.

How much editorial input do you have in your titles?

Mo the one-eyed cat makes all the tough decisions.

What are your marketing strengths?

We are established within the mystery and crime fiction community. The Spinetingler name carries with it some level of quality assurance. We have well established ties and friendships within the business. That's just to start. That's just the folks we know. We want to move beyond the groups and circles that get created over time (and can calcify) and find new groups of readers. The internet has created a new tribalism that we sometimes aren't aware of. It's of the utmost importance to work your base AND find new people to connect with.

Tell us about your launch title, Speedloader.

Speedloader is an anthology of six short stories that can be classified as dark crime fiction by new and emerging writers. One of the stories, Plastic Soldiers by WD County is one of the darkest stories I've ever read. Nik Korpon's story about drug addicts in Baltimore uses an economy of words to get to the heart of a personal and moral dilemma. Nigel Birds story shows what small crimes can be lost in larger ones. Richard Thomas's story explores the heart of an alcoholic's slide. Matthew Funk's story takes the reader and his everyman protagonist on a nighttime hell ride. Jonathan Wood's story is a revenge epic written in miniature.

All of the writing in Speedloader is top shelf and our goal is to have future Speedloader installments.

What else do you have coming up that you can tell us about?

Our lineup for the rest of the year includes the short story collections Monkey Justice by Patti Abbott, The Chaos we Know by Keith Rawson and Gumbo Ya-Ya by Les Edgerton. The novel Harvest of Ruins by Sandra Ruttan. And the revenge novella Dig Two Graves by Eric Beetner. We are actively negotiating on a few other titles, one of which is so experimental that it probably proves the need for small presses.

How important is digital in relation to paper?

Well, it's a game changer. As a reader I love my Kindle and do a lot of my reading on it. As an editor I love being able to send submissions to my Kindle and make motes on a manuscript. As the husband of an author I've seen the benefit of being able to e-publish out of print back list titles. I've also seen the success that others that I know have had.

There has also been a huge rise this year in e-publishers.

Like all transitional periods though I don't wish to speculate too much because I can't predict the future. I'm enjoying the ride though.

What are your thoughts on eBook pricing?

They have been all over the place. As a reader I've bought my fair share of cheap ebooks, some of which still remain unread, and I've bought higher priced ebooks from traditional publishers. I used to think that ultra cheap was the way to go but now I'm not so sure.

In general (for right now) here is my pricing philosophy.

Something like Speedloader (6 stories) is good at .99c.

A short story collection or a larger anthology should be $2.99

Novellas should be $2.99

Novels should be in the $2.99-$4.99 range.

I don't think a universal sweet spot has been found yet because where the rubber meets the road for a title varies for each book so the most important thing that this whole epublishing enterprise has allowed is flexibility. We can release at one price and play around until we find the right one. It's a great theoretical argument but ultimately it's going to be like that old saying that all politics is local. We’re going to work hard to find the right price that fills the most potholes on as many streets as possible.

How much difference does a good cover make?

People say don't judge a book by its cover and, broadly speaking, that may be true. If we are being honest this proves to be a falsehood, especially at the extremes. A terrible cover immediately sounds a false note, repelling the reader, and a great cover may not guarantee a sale or a great read but it will make a reader stop and take notice. That's nothing to take lightly. And when the content of the book is as great as the cover, that's special.

Boden worked his ass off and gave us a great and special cover for Speedloader. The designs and variations that hit the cutting room floor would make great covers in their own right. He worked tirelessly to make the cover as great as possible and the final result speaks for itself.

It seems to me that in the e-book age cover artists aren't getting the props they deserve. To fix this we want to make sure that everyone knows who does our covers because we are proud to show off his work and we want to make sure his name rings as loud as it should.

Clearly the cover game is changing and it is one of the many interesting facets of this whole evolution to watch. Just a couple of examples. How important are cover blurbs on an ebook? With the reduced size, how much emphasis should be put on font size?

You've been getting some reader feedback already, in relation to the cover for Sandra Ruttan's HARVEST OF RUINS. Is this kind of interaction something we're likely to see more of?

In some form. We want to make sure the reader is involved because...why not. The Harvest cover thing actually evolved. There were a few cover choices and both Sandra and I were debating which one we liked best. I then decided to show the cover selections to some co-workers of mine. Some people who are readers and book buyers but aren't a part of the online community. They all chose the same cover and it was different than the one that I liked. So the idea of soliciting feedback from readers in the community came from there.

How important is a good title?

As an editor one of the things that I realize I am thinking about when I'm reading submissions is the length of the title. If ebook covers are generally viewed at a thumbnail size then a title with seven or eight words isn't going to work as well as a title with three words. Speedloader is one word and ties in thematically with the Snubnose name and the amount of stories.

What aspects of marketing do you enjoy?

Meeting new people and being introduced to new blogs and sites. There also is some joy to be had in seeing something you had a hand in making being recognized and talked about. I love talking books.

As a reader, how would you describe your taste in crime fiction?

I prefer darker types of fiction. I want to be gutted, it is a rare emotion but an attainable one.

As a publisher, how would you describe your ideal reader's taste in crime fiction?

Someone with an open mind. Someone willing to say ‘yeah, that sounds interesting’.

What was the last good eBook you read?

The great thing about these evolving times is that that question can mean so many things. Fuck a good book. How about great ones?

How about a book that was self-published by the author - Angela Choi's debut novel, Hello Kitty Must Die, came out last year from Tyrus and she self-published her second novel earlier this year. It's called Apologies Not Included and is dark and twisted in the best possible way. I think that female writers are writing some of the best psycho-noirs out there and are really pushing the boundaries of what that form can be and do.

How about a backlist title from an established author - I finally had a chance to read Hoodtown by Christa Faust, which is a great example of a mid-list writer being able to bring out an older title. It's probably one of the best books I've read all year.

How about an ebook by an epublisher - Frank Sinatra in a Blender by Matthew McBride from Concord ePress is a darkly funny book that a traditional publisher may not have been interested in.

How about a novella that was released online serially - Pablo D'Stair's novella This letter to Norman Court was serialized over community blogs and sites and is now available in its entirety for free from Smashwords.

Or a novel (I’m assuming) released serially by an established crime writer – Ken Bruen’s Black Lens has been coming out in weekly installments over at the Mulholland Books website.

What are you reading now?

I've always got my fingers in multiple pies so: manuscripts; Pulp Ink; The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes by Marcus Sakey; Just Like That by Les Edgerton; Wild at Heart by Barry Gifford; God's War by Kameron Hurley; 99 Days by Matteo Casali & Kristian Donaldson and finally Novahead by Steve Aylett

If you had to re-read a crime novel right now, what would you choose?

The death of Newton Thornburg in May really struck me. For such a great writer to die in relative obscurity and for his death to go unnoticed was a tragedy. His novel Cutter & Bone remains a favorite (and the movie, Cutter's Way that was based on it) and with his death I feel a strong urge to read it again.

Who's your favourite living writer?

Will my wife kill me if I don't say her :) So the question becomes who is my second favorite writer which as you know is a very tough question. James Sallis maybe.

What makes you keep reading a book?

Short chapters. Kidding. Kind of.

Years ago I tried to quantify what constitutes a great book for me and the best that I could do was to imagine a three circle Venn diagram with the three circles representing character, writing and story and my favorites resting somewhere in the intersection of the three.

What makes a book sell?

Word of mouth and coverage. Then sales beget more sales and eventually, at some point sales can become a kind of self-sustaining feedback loop.

How do you create 'word of mouth'?

Get the book into readers hands. People can’t talk about it if they haven’t heard of it and read it. For Speedloader that meant putting it in the hands of the best online writers, our friends and people we have developed relationships with over the years. Also, no gun. What I mean is that when I sent the books out I didn't pressure anyone for a review or coverage in a timely manner. I've been a reviewer for too long to understand that increased publicist pressure doesn't work and can be a turn off. So put the book in folks hands and let it go from there. You also need to make a diligent effort to reach blogs and sites that may be interested and that are outside your normal community. Find new people, put the book in their hands, let them tell their people.

You’ve been telling people for awhile now about not preaching to the choir. That is in my DNA. For years I was the mystery and crime reviewer at a SF/F site. I’ve had people say to me why would you do that. Because it was the best place to be and I probably sold more books for authors than anybody else because the audience I was writing for wasn’t aware of the authors I was writing about.

Years ago Richard Pryor infamously set himself on fire in a drug-induced psychosis and ran down a California street in what is now known as the "freebasing incident". The police officer who finally subdued him said that Pryor was lucid and kept saying "if I stop I'll die". That's a phrase that has always stuck with me. You cannot rest on laurels and past accomplishments and what happened yesterday has no bearing on what will happen tomorrow. Keep working the shit out of it, in other words.

How do you feel about writers self-publishing?

On one hand you have my wife who has self-published a back list title. You have found success with it and friends have found success as well. I think the stigma that once was there isn't there in the same way. On the other hand you have The Greek Seaman.

Which author should be much better known?

There are a lot but I don’t like wishy-washy answers that evade the question so I’ll say… Lynn Kostoff, and hopefully that happened last year and the increased coverage of Late Rain (as compared to his previous novels).

If someone's reading this who has a project that might be a good fit for you, how would you prefer them to go about submitting it?

Our guidelines can be found here. Bottom line is to send us an email to