Sunday 26 June 2011

Allan Guthrie interview: Two-Way Split

Two-Way Split by Allan Guthrie
Amazon UK, Amazon US

Allan Guthrie is an award-winning Scottish crime writer with a bit of an eBook obsession.

Can you sum up Two-Way Split in 25 words or fewer?

A dark, slightly surreal, blackly comic ride on the coat tails of a clinically psychotic ex-concert pianist turned armed robber who's stopped taking his meds.

Why are you -- rather than your print publishers -- publishing a digital edition?

I've had a modicum of success publishing two novellas to Kindle. Bye Bye Baby made the top ten, and Killing Mum hit #25. I've had a lot more success with those than with any of my print books. And I'm having enormous fun self-publishing. I suggested to my publishers, Birlinn/Polygon, that it might make sense for me to sub-license the Kindle rights and have a go at publishing those too. They agreed. And here we are. Hopefully it's a smart move for us both but time will tell.

Just Kindle?

Yes. Birlinn will be providing digital editions in other formats.

And this applies to all your novels?

All five published novels, indeed. Some won't be available in the US and Canada, though, since those rights belong to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and the sub-licensing deal is only with Birlinn.

Since you started with Two-Way Split, can we assume you're to publish them in original publication order?

No, I'm being contrary. Next up will be my prison novel, Slammer. And it won't be out right away. I think it's better to give each book a little time to breathe lest I risk inflicting a kind of literary suffocation on everybody.

Right, then. That's all clear as mud. Thanks, Al. OK, you ask this question all the time, but how much difference do you think a good cover makes?

I've seen a few shitty covers make it into the bestsellers, but you certainly increase the likelihood of impulse purchases if you have something eye-catching and professional-looking. I'd say it's a massive factor there. Less so if you're already familiar with the author or the book's been recommended by a trusted source. But  I believe you owe it to the reader to provide as good a cover as possible regardless.

How much difference does good writing make?

I've long believed that there are two types of writer: there's the kind of writer who's good with words, and the other kind who's good at telling stories. The latter type tends to be more successful since the market suggests that most people prefer to hear a good story badly written than a bad story well written. There are different types of readers, of course. Some like good stories and don't care about the writing, while others won't read beyond a cliched sentence. I'm digging myself a hole here, so I'll just wrap up by saying that good writing is subjective and its importance depends on your audience.

How important is a good title?

Two-Way Split was originally called Blithe Psychopaths, after a phrase by Charles Willeford describing a character in Miami Blues. Somewhat confusingly, it was then renamed Kiss Her Goodbye and was known by that name for quite a time. It was verbally commissioned under that title, as I recall. But when Hard Case Crime picked up my second novel, Joe Hope, we changed Kiss Her Goodbye to Two-Way Split and Joe Hope become Kiss Her Goodbye. That really was a very confusing time.

I like titles that have some kind of additional meaning. Two-Way Split works on a couple of levels, one of which the reader won't get until they're well through the book. But much as I'd like to believe that it's hugely important, I'm not sure it matters a great deal.

It certainly doesn't pay to be too attached to your titles. Foreign editions of my books tend to have quite different titles: Two-Way Split is known as Post Mortem (Germany), The Killer Inside Me (Turkey),  The Bad Day (Spain), Fifty-Fifty (France).

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

It's not who you know that's important, it's who knows you.

Also, for writers: focus on what's within your control.

(I hate aphorisms, btw).

What are your strengths and weaknesses as a writer?

I'm extremely critical of my own writing, which I think is a strength and a weakness. A strength in that I end up pushing myself pretty hard. A weakness in that I keep on rewriting and rewriting. Two-Way Split is a case in point. Despite the book having been selling quite happily for years without my interference, I couldn't help but modify it again for this Kindle edition. In my ideal world, I think I'd just keep rewriting the same book forever. I need deadlines, since that's the only way I know when to stop. I've yet to write anything I can't see how to improve. One area of potential interest for me in eBooks is the fact that it's possible now to have a dynamic text. If you want to make improvements to the text, you can. That would be expensive and impractical in print, and the mere idea horrifies a lot of people, but I'm all for it.

Do you read more eBooks than print books?

I was just thinking not so long ago that I've read eBooks for years. I read between 50-100 manuscripts annually as part of my job as a literary agent, and as soon as the Sony Reader was available in the UK, I bought one to read those manuscripts on. I upgraded to the touch screen model when it came out. And I'm a Kindle addict now too. So the transition to eBooks was very easy for me. In terms of commercially available books, my purchasing habits are probably fairly even between print and digital. Maybe slightly in favour of print. But with more and more excellent work available only digitally, that's certainly changing.

The cover for Two-Way Split looks familiar. Wasn't that the one you were going to use for your planned omnibus of novellas, Three To Kill?

An eagle-eyed observation! It was indeed. The snowflakes fit Two-Way Split particularly well, though, since the book takes place in early January. So, yes, Two-Way Split mugged Three To Kill and stole its cover and seems to show no remorse for its actions whatsoever. I must strive to keep better company.

The movie adaptation of Two-Way Split has been in development for some time. How's that looking?

More promising than ever. I hate to get too excited, but things do seem to be coming together financially at last. Those are probably famous last words, but I'm optimistic, which is as rare as a cloudless sky in Scotland, as anyone who knows me -- and Scotland -- will tell you.

What's the future for publishing?

I think the outlook is excellent for readers and writers. There will be more choice, more catering to niche (or perceived niche) markets. Writers will have more control over what they write and how they sell it. They'll also be in control of their own careers. Publishers will have to take better care of their authors if they want to succeed in the new publishing landscape. For years, the only alternative authors had was vanity publishing. It's a whole different world now. Also, I imagine digital-only publishers will be in the news a lot a year from now.

Finally, if Two-Way Split was a drink, what would it be?

Double espresso. Italian roast. Dark and bitter but with a chocolatey aftertaste, addictive, and liable to make your head spin.

Two-Way Split by Allan Guthrie
Amazon UK, Amazon US


  1. Very informative interview, Allan. It's good to see a published authors take on self/e-publishing. Thank, I enjoyed that!

  2. This bloody blog of yours, coupled with Kindle's instant gratification mode, is getting expensive.

    I liked SLAMMER a lot, and with no logistical restraints to purchasing TWO-WAY SPLIT, it now resides on my Kindle, though it must wait for me to read a couple of other books I found out about here.

  3. Two-Way Split was Kiss Her Goodbye was Joe Hope, and um... what was that middle part again? Regardless, I loved at least two of those books, although I'm not sure which two. Happy to see Two-Way Split out on Kindle!

  4. David -- I almost self-published Two-Way Split originally. There's a story in that...

    Dana -- Sorry, mate. If you're read Slammer then you'll know I'm just pure evil and I won't be satisfied until you've spent all your money on books.

    Heath -- Much appreciated, thanks. Just to add to the confusion, I'm going to change the title of another of my books for the Kindle edition.