Friday, 19 June 2015

Story of a Book Deal

So agent Oli sends me this list, and it’s a list of all these fabulous publishers that he’s going to send my book out to. A long list. Huge names in the publishing world. And all I can think of is how many will turn me down. I mean, look at those names. They won’t want me. They have all those other authors – the big guns. I’m nothing to them.

Natch, the first reply is a pass. That’s what I expected. The first of many, to be sure. And yet it’s the most wonderful rejection a writer could ever hope for. The editor loves the book. Can’t praise it highly enough. Tells me how she had long and agonizing discussions with her team about what to do with my wonderful novel, which she is certain deserves a good home.

But all said, it’s still a pass. They have another author they want to focus their attention on, she tells me. Which is fair enough. I am not at all downhearted. In fact, I write to tell her how, as rejections go, hers is the most positive I’ve ever received. She writes back telling me that my response to her rejection is the nicest she’s ever had. I think we could have gone on like that ad infinitum.

But then there’s some better news. A publisher is keen. So keen that they want to put an offer together. So keen that they want to know if we’ll entertain a pre-empt.

Wait. What? A pre-empt? They want to pre-empt? They want to make such an unbeatable offer that we’ll sign up with them straight away? That can’t be right. That wasn’t in the plan.

But that’s what happens. We expect the offer to arrive in the dying minutes of the working week. Concentration on anything else becomes an impossibility.

And then there’s a slight hitch. No offer that day. It’ll be Monday now. Stand down for the weekend, Oli tells me.

So a weekend without sleep. A weekend filled with endless discussion about what might or might not be in store.

But then Monday finally comes, and the promised offer also comes, and it’s fantastic. Truly brilliant. They want me. They want my books. They have big plans for me. It’s all I could have wished for.

And yet ...

My mind goes back to that long list of publishers. They haven’t really been given a chance to consider my submission. Which is, of course, the whole point of a pre-empt – to cut out the competition. Perhaps it shouldn’t worry me, but it does. I mean, this is a brilliant offer and all, but I want to give my books their best chance. I want to know what others think. I don’t want to be sitting here in a year’s time thinking, If only I’d given the others a bit more time.

I talk this over with Oli. He has already told me that, as offers for police procedurals go, this one is up there with the very best, so I expect him to talk me into accepting.

‘Okay,’ he says, ‘we’ll go to auction.’

Which is, to say the least, a surprise. I almost want to rewind. To say, ‘Well, let’s not be too hasty here.’ But at the same time I am filled with a sudden surge of excitement. An auction! Holy crap!

So I say, ‘Let’s do it.’ And I put the phone down. And then the worrying starts up again. What the hell am I doing? I have this fantastic offer for my books and I’m turning it down? For an auction?

See, the notion of an auction sounds amazing in principle. Every author’s dream. A bidding war. Multiple publishers fighting over you. But then you start to realize it’s not always such a great idea. What if nobody enters the auction? What if you announce what you think is the best party ever, and nobody shows up, and you’re left standing there alone with a party-popper in one hand and a glass of flat bubbly in the other?

The other thing about book auctions is that they are no different from other kinds of auction. The bidding tends to start low. I mean really low. And why not? Why would you open with your best bid? Who cares if the author is having a heart attack over this? He was stupid enough to want this damn auction in the first place.

What sees me through it is my faith in my agent. I trust his judgement. Sometimes the belief in the worth of an author’s writing has to come from someone other than the author.

So we go ahead. And we wait. And the bids start coming in. And they’re not bad. Not bad at all. And they get better. They’re from big houses, and some of the offers come with flashy publishing plans promising all kinds of good things for me. And it’s all pretty damn incredible.

And what it becomes, after all the stress and the sleeplessness and the uncertainty, is the best end to the best dream ever.

(If you haven’t already heard the news, I have a new book deal with Zaffre, an imprint of Bonnier Publishing. You can read the announcement in The Bookseller).

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Pariah gets a facelift

If anyone has tried to buy a Kindle version of Pariah recently, you may have been disappointed to find that the Amazon page for it has been unavailable. If so, my apologies.

The explanation is that the book has been in for a service, but it’s now out on the road again, and with a brand new paint job. It’s at a brand new price, too, so if you’ve yet to read the very first in the Callum Doyle series, now’s your chance.

You can buy Pariah here. You may also like to know that its sequels, The Helper and Marked are also currently at a hugely reduced price.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

A huge thank you

I have posted elsewhere about my decision to publish my latest novel Cry Baby as a Kindle e-book, rather than with a ‘traditional’ publisher. I stated there that my main reason for doing so was to reach more readers, because to me that’s what this job is all about. I had no idea how achievable that aim was, but it was always my intention to write a ‘thank you’ post when a significant milestone had passed.

One such milestone was reached on Thursday, May 1, when Cry Baby broke into the top 1,000 books on Kindle. I very nearly started typing my post at that point, but all the signs were that the book had the momentum to go a little further.

Three days later, on Sunday May 4 (Star Wars day!), Cry Baby entered the 100 bestselling books on Kindle. Another huge milestone. And it’s still climbing. Tonight (Wednesday) the book is in the thirties overall, and in the top ten in three key categories: Crime Fiction, Suspense, and Thrillers. I find I’m pinching myself as I type that, because to me it seems so hard to believe. I have unarguably achieved all my hopes for this book. The readers are coming in droves.

And so, at the risk of sounding like an Oscar acceptance speech, it’s time to thank the people who helped get me to this position.

First of all, there is my esteemed agent, Oli Munson. For those of you wondering exactly what an agent’s role might be in self-publishing, I refer you to my post on the A.M. Heath website, entitled Blurred Lines. Oli’s enthusiasm for this project has been unstinting, and his experience of the publishing business invaluable in deciding our strategy. I am certain I couldn’t have done this without him. To give an example, on the day after the book entered the top 1,000, Oli called me to discuss tactics. He phoned me from New York. At seven in the morning, their time. That’s the kind of agent you want.

One of the greatest selling points of any book, paper or electronic, is its jacket design. A cover can make or break a book. I am fortunate in that my wife, Lisa, is a graphic designer, and I believe that her artwork for Cry Baby has made a massive difference in attracting the attention of potential buyers. The image she created is haunting, and fully captures the essence of the novel’s theme. For this, amongst innumerable other reasons, Lisa has my undying love and gratitude.

There is also a huge and growing list of people who have provided incredible encouragement and support. These include family members, friends, colleagues, and of course all the amazing folks on Twitter. I’m not going to name names, because the danger is too great that I’ll mistakenly leave someone out, but you all know who you are, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

My first three novels were published by Pan Macmillan, and although the partnership has unfortunately not extended to Cry Baby, I still owe them much. The reviews and media attention those books garnered, together with the close following they helped to build, have undoubtedly helped in the success of this latest book.

Finally, and most importantly, there are the readers. To anyone who has sacrificed their time to read my book and to allow me to tell my story to them, I offer my most sincere appreciation. The writer creates, but it requires a reader to breathe life into that creation. You, the readers, give us purpose. Thank you.

Friday, 11 April 2014

I have a date

Okay, not a date with a woman. Or a man, for that matter. I’m talking about something much more interesting and unnerving and exciting and momentous – at least to me.

I have a publication date. For Cry Baby, my new novel. The one I talked about in my previous blog post. It’s happening. It’s going to appear. People are about to buy it (you are, aren’t you? Please tell me you are).

In some ways I’m more nervous about this book than I was for its predecessors in the series. On its success or otherwise lies the fate of Callum Doyle, the protagonist I have developed and evolved over four novels. I like him. He’s not me – he’s not anyone I know – but for all his faults and mistakes he’s a lovable guy. I don’t really want to end his all-too-brief fictional life. You readers out there – you have the power to keep him alive. A heavy responsibility, I know, but I have faith in you.

People keep telling me not to worry. Those kind enough to have agreed to review it are saying extraordinarily nice things. It’ll soar, they tell me.

But I am all too aware that the publishing game is hugely unpredictable. I have done all I can, by writing the best book I can, but there are some things over which I have no control. One of those is luck, and only time will tell if fortune is on my side.

So here we go. The wheels are in motion. The final version of the book has been sent to my agent tonight, just waiting to be released into the wild. We shall see whether it is strong enough to fend for itself, or whether it will be devoured by the competition.

And the date we find out? Wednesday, April 16. Less than a week away.


Wednesday, 2 April 2014

New book, new adventure

I’ve been a little quiet about my writing lately. It’s not that I’ve stopped writing or anything. On the contrary, I’ve been pretty busy over the past year. But it has also been a time of reflection, uncertainty and change. Right now I’m working on the first of a new series of crime thrillers, this time set closer to home. But fans of the Doyle series may also be glad to hear that I haven’t given up on him. Not yet. In fact, I’ve written the fourth in that series too. This one’s a little different, in a number of ways.

I’ve done a lot of thinking recently about Doyle’s fate. The reception the books get is, for the most part, extremely positive, both from readers and the media. Pariah, the first in the series, was Highly Commended in the CWA Debut Daggers, got rave reviews, and audio and translation rights in several languages have been sold.

What I think is missing, though, is exposure. I need to reach more readers. And that’s not for financial reasons – it’s because, like most authors, I want people to enjoy reading the books I have spent many hours of my life writing.

This leads me to my first major decision about the new Doyle book. I’m going it alone. To be more accurate, my fantastic agent (Oli Munson at AM Heath) and I are going it alone. Doyle #4 is to be published under Amazon’s White Glove Program. If you haven’t heard of the WGP, it’s a scheme that is open only to agented authors, and offers the incentive of increased promotion. Everything comes at a price, however, and what we have to offer in return is a period of exclusivity on the e-book rights. That means that, at least in the short term, the only e-reader on which the novel will appear is the Kindle.

The WGP has done wonders for some authors. Mark Edwards published The Magpies under this scheme – a book that has sold in the gazillions. He tweeted recently that the three biggest-selling Kindle authors last year all achieved their success via the WGP. Although I don’t expect to replicate that, I am excited at the prospect of finding more readers than I have ever managed before. And while I’m on the topic, I’d like to record here my heartfelt thanks to Mark for all the advice he gave me.

A huge factor in this decision is the autonomy it gives us with respect to pricing. We can set it at whatever level we please, and we can change it as many times as we like. When my third Doyle novel, Marked, appeared as a mass market paperback, its price was something like £6.39, and it hasn’t dropped much since then, despite my protestations. For a small fish such as myself in a very large pond, this rules me out of the competition, especially when there are so many good books by household-name authors that are being sold for a quid or so.

So what of the novel itself? Here’s the jacket image (created by my talented wife) and cover blurb:

It’s every mother’s nightmare – the abduction of her baby.

That’s how it starts for Erin Vogel when she is attacked and left unconscious in her apartment. When she awakes, it is to find that Georgia, her six-month-old daughter, has been taken.

But Erin is given a chance to get Georgia back. At an unthinkable price.

Like most mothers, she has always said she would do anything for her child. Now the strength of that bond is about to be put to the ultimate test.

And when her actions arouse the interest of a certain Detective Callum Doyle, one thing is inevitable: a confrontation that will be as explosive as it is unforgettable.

From the highly acclaimed author of Pariah, The Helper and Marked comes a nerve-shredding novel that questions the line we draw between good and evil.

I hope you like the sound of it. As I said above, Cry Baby differs from its predecessors in a number of ways, of which the Kindle decision is but one. I think you’ll notice a difference in style in this book too, which I think has matured since I began writing, and the tone is somewhat darker. Despite being a Doyle book, it can easily be read as a standalone, with much of the focus being on characters other than Doyle.

At the moment I’m doing a final proofread, with the intention of sending it out to potential reviewers before its publication (so please let me know if you are interested in a free review copy).

It’s an exciting time, but also a scary one. Wish me luck!

Friday, 11 January 2013

Making connections

One of the things that fascinates me as a writer is the connectedness of people. In any story, we forge connections between made-up people. Some of those connections are overt – a husband and wife, say – and other times they are more subtle. In a crime novel, the connections between victim and killer may be hidden from the reader, but with clues scattered about the pages as to what those links might be. To maintain credibility, authors have to establish connections that aren’t completely ludicrous, but quite often the ones that arise in real life are even more surprising. How often have you become acquainted with a complete stranger, only to discover later that they were born near you, or went to the same school, or know someone that you know? These coincidences happen all the time, but have to be used carefully in our stories, or readers will cry foul.

In many ways we are more connected than we suspect, and that is the reason why we experience shock or even a sense of the supernatural when these connections are made apparent. A factor in this is that statistical laws that apply globally feel strangely targeted when they affect us as individuals. We tend to think of ourselves in isolation, rather than as a single member of a much larger population. An example is when you think of a friend or relative, and then immediately receive a phone call from them. An event like that can seem really spooky, because we reason that the  chances against such a thing happening to us must be astronomical, but that is solely because we think about such things on a personal level. Yes, the chances of such a coincidence happening to a particular individual are probably very small, but we need to think about it in more global terms. There are billions of people on the planet, all thinking about other people. On that scale, the probability that some of those people will receive a phone call from the object of their thoughts is actually pretty high. It’s a bit like the lottery. The chances of me in particular winning the top lottery prize in a given week are vanishingly small; however, the probability that someone somewhere will win it is quite good.

Here’s another example of the kind of connections that exist between people but that we fail to perceive. I’ll phrase it as a question: What is the smallest number of people you would need in order to give a 50-50 chance that two of the group will share the same birthday?

Over a hundred? Maybe even two hundred?

The answer is just 23. And as we increase that number, the probability rises dramatically. In a class of 30 kids, there will be a 70% chance that two of them have the same birthday. Take the group size up to 40, and the odds are nearly 90% in favour of a shared birthday.

See what I mean about connections?

Here’s another example that I never tire of playing around with. You have probably seen the current advertising campaign for a phone company in which Kevin Bacon refers to himself as ‘the centre of the universe’. What you might not know is that this campaign borrows from something that has been around for some time, in which Kevin Bacon is actually viewed as the centre of the acting universe, and every other actor is given a ‘Bacon number’ which shows how closely they have acted with Kevin. If an actor has a Bacon number of one, that means they acted with him directly. An actor who acted with someone else who acted with Kevin has a Bacon number of two, and so on.

What I find astonishing about Bacon numbers is how close any other actor you can think of is connected with Kevin Bacon. Not convinced? Try it yourself by following this link to the Oracle of Bacon. Enter an actor – even a really obscure one – and the oracle will tell you just how closely connected he or she is to Kevin. Be warned, though: it’s addictive once you get started.

Have fun!

By the way, my debut novel PARIAH is still available on Amazon Kindle for just 74p. Get it here while you can!

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Launch day for MARKED

It's pub day again. Not necessarily another trip to the pub (although that could be on the cards too), but the publication date for MARKED, the third in the Callum Doyle series. It seems only five minutes since PARIAH hit the shelves.

This one's a little different from the others in being more character-focused. That's not to say it's without action - Doyle finds himself in plenty of trouble as usual - but there's a lot more emphasis on what drives people to do what they do. Doyle in particular is put through the wringer here, and finds himself acting in ways that may seem unpleasant, but which I hope readers will at least understand. I believe that none of us knows what we're capable of until we're put under the most extreme pressure.

There's also more focus on the families of victims in this novel. Some of this touched emotional nerves in me, and I hope that feeling carries over to the reader.

Above all, I hope you enjoy the book. Your comments are more than welcome!

REMINDER: PARIAH is still available for the Kindle at the ridiculously low price of 74p. If you haven't got a copy yet, you can do so here.