Friday, March 11, 2011

Electronic Leather

The world of publishing is going through real change both from worsening economic factors, but also the method of delivery, namely moving toward e-Books from Papyrus. As usual our American friends seem to be leading the way with writers such as J A Konrath, David Morrell, Blake Crouch, F Paul Wilson and many others exploring the digital frontier. It seems like a blink of eye when Stephen King released ‘The Plant’ as well as ‘Riding The Bullet’ as ‘electronic experiments’, but now e-Books seem to be a permanent fixture of publishing and as each day elapses, the importance of eBooks becomes stronger and stronger.

It seem that eBook success has reached our side of the Atlantic, as reported in The Guardian / Observer, and it takes a thriller writer to show us the way –

Self-publishing has traditionally been a surefire route to obscurity and dismal sales. Now a British thriller writer who sells his novels as ebooks for as little as 70p is proving the naysayers wrong.

Not only does
Stephen Leather, Britain's leading "independent" writer, estimate he has occupied the number one spot on's Kindle ebook bestseller lists for "90% of the last three months", he is also selling "somewhere in the region" of 2,000 ebooks a day – and making big profits in the process.

Leather, who celebrated his seventh consecutive week at the top of the Amazon chart with his novella The Basement, about a serial killer in New York, also occupies fourth place with Hard Landing, another thriller, and 11th place with Once Bitten, a vampire novel.

He is one of many authors increasingly turning to ebooks as an alternative way to the top. Capitalising on the popularity of
e-readers such as the Kindle, a new generation of writers is bypassing agents and publishers and using the flexible pricing model of ebooks to offer their work directly to the public at rock-bottom prices. Some, like Leather, are achieving huge sales, which, not surprisingly, is striking fear into publishers.

Leather enjoys a successful parallel career writing
"big international thrillers" for Hodder & Stoughton. But last August, when opened its Kindle store, he saw an opportunity: "I was lucky, in that I had three novellas Hodder had turned down because they were in a different genre from my other books and too short to work as conventional paperbacks. But I realised they might work for the Kindle."

Leather realised the Kindle was going to be "pretty much the most popular Christmas present ever. It occurred to me that on Christmas morning, when people got their Kindle, the first thing they would do would be to buy the books they'd always wanted –
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, the new Grisham. But they're relatively expensive. After that, people would start looking for cheaper books. I figured that if I could get several of my books in the top 10 or top 20, then when people started looking around for bargains I'd be perfectly placed."
To maximise sales, he priced his books at Amazon's minimum for independent writers – about 70p (the equivalent of 99 cents). At this level, authors receive a cut of only 35% of the price; under Amazon's pricing structure, this rises to 70% if they price their books above the equivalent of $2.99. He then went on various forums to drum up awareness. Within a couple of weeks, all three titles were in the top 20 and
"by November I'd knocked Stieg Larsson off the top spot".

"I knew the wave was going to break on Christmas Day. I got myself in position to take advantage, I got on and I've been riding it ever since."

Yet while he is making significant sums just through ebook sales – "up to £11,000 a month" – he still only sees it as a sideline to his main writing career.
"I never went into this to make money. I went into it as a way of widening my readership. My hope was that readers would read my book on Kindle, say, 'I really enjoyed that', then when my new thriller came out with Hodder, they'd remember it and buy that too."

Leather's achievements are dwarfed when set against the scale of independent publishing in the US, where ebooks are estimated to be 20% of the total market. The most spectacular example of an author striking gold through ebooks is 26-year-old former care assistant
Amanda Hocking, a Minneapolis-based writer of paranormal romances. She had completed eight novels but had failed to acquire an agent when, last April, she decided to publish them herself via the Kindle store.

"I sold 50 books the first month. It picked up over the summer, then really took off in November," she said. Hocking is now the world's bestselling ebook author, selling more than 450,000 titles last month alone.

Read More Here

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Fantastic Four Head to St Louis

The nature of reality has always interested me, especially when things in my past reverberate into the future. I am blessed by a very good memory so I can recall [with vivid clarity] many things in my past, but some things just seem to stick with me for reasons that only come clear later in my life.

In 1976 I was a teenager and an avid reader of books and American comics and recall [vividly] issue # 167 of The Fantastic Four thanks to a wonderful Jack Kirby cover featuring ‘The Hulk’ and ‘The Thing’ battling on the St. Louis Arch [see above cover © 1976 Marvel Comics]. That bold Jack Kirby image was awesome, as was the story written by Roy Thomas and illustrated by George Perez and Joe Sinnott, lettered by the wonderful Joe Rosen. The 1960’s and 1970’s of my memory are peppered by the books and comics I read, before the weight of responsibility that adulthood brought into my life. I recall at the time wishing to visit the St. Louis Arch, and wondering if I would ever get the opportunity to do so. Now that teenager is well into middle age, that the opportunity has finally arrived to see the St Louis Arch!

One of the wonderful aspects of being involved in the fandom side of the Crime and Thriller community is attendance at Conventions, especially the ‘Daddy’ which is Bouchercon. I have been fortunate thanks to my annual US trips to Thrillerfest and Bouchercon that I have visited the following cities and had excellent company on my travels -

2003 Bouchercon Las Vegas, Nevada [with ‘Grog’]
2006 Thrillerfest Phoenix, Arizona [with Stav Sherez]
2007 Thrillerfest New York [with Mike Stotter]
2008 Bouchercon Baltimore, Maryland [with Roger Ellory]
2009 Bouchercon Indianapolis, Indiana [with Roger Ellory]
2010 Bouchercon San Francisco, California [with Roger Ellory]

I haven’t listed the visits each year to Harrogate, Left Coast Crime [Bristol in 2006], The World Horror Convention [Brighton 2010] and other such events.

This year I have agreed to attend Crimefest in Bristol [England], Theakstons’ Crime-Writing Festival in Harrogate [England] and Bouchercon St Louis [Missouri]. I am delighted to be travelling to St Louis with my friends Roger [R.J.] Ellory and Shots Editor Mike Stotter as well as meeting up with Shots Social Media Editor Ayo Onatade – making up our own Fantastic Four.

It’s 2011 and I still recall vividly that young teenager, who sat transfixed in 1976 by issue #167 of The Fantastic Four, with that wonderful Jack Kirby cover of the battle on the St. Louis Archway; wondering if he would ever see St Louis.

I can report that, that teenager will indeed be visiting St Louis, but as a middle-aged man, who still has not lost his sense of wonder that only Comics and Books can bring to the imagination.

So I hope to see many of you there, especially my pal, writer / editor Gerald So because apart from seeing the St Louis Archway - finally Gerald and Ali go to White Castle!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Crime & Thriller Fiction on World Book Night

In March last year I was contacted by the producers of BBC 2 The Culture Show as they were commissioned to make a program about genre fiction, focusing on [a] Thrillers and Crime Fiction, [b] Chick-Lit and Romance and [c] Science Fiction and Fantasy. They asked me to appear in an interview talking about Crime and Thriller Fiction, from the perspective of a reviewer and well-read fan. The BBC producers were also interested in my early championing of Stieg Larsson and his ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’ and how such an unusual novel became such a worldwide sensation.

Despite my complex schedule, I agreed as I use any [and all] opportunity to enthuse people about reading. I am passionate about literacy and consider reading a hugely important aspect of the human experience, and wish more people would read novels. Reading novels promotes people to ‘think’ deeper than TV or Films can, and allows people to view the world though a different perspective and can challenge ‘conventionally’, ‘channeled’ or ‘manipulated’ modes of thinking. Reading is dangerous [but in a good way], and that is why totalitarian regimes often restrict reading with book banning, censorship, even the destruction of books and libraries. The next stage after clamping down on books / reading, is the ‘disappearance’ of the educated and informed, i.e. the reader.

With today’s global economic woes, the danger of the rise of the extreme right and extreme left can be fought back with an educated / informed society, something that reading does – as it informs ‘thinking’, something that extremists suppress in order to control and manipulate the masses. An under-educated and illiterate society can be more easily manipulated than an well-read and educated one.

So when the BBC Film crew arrived at my business premises last year, I had brought some of my rare books, manuscripts and decorated the board room for the filming. The film crew recorded an extensive interview with me about Crime and Thriller Fiction, and filmed some of my favourite books and manuscripts. We had a great time as the BBC team were all enthusiastic readers, and became amused at my ‘geeky’ knowledge and contacts in the crime and thriller fiction world.

Anyway, during the year I was advised by the Producers of BBC Culture Show that the ‘book-program’ had been delayed, but with my own complex work schedule, I thought nothing more of the filming, apart from it being a bit of a laugh, talking about books to the BBC team.

Then with all the build-up to World Book Night last week, I noticed in the TV schedule for Saturday that there was a BBC Culture Show special entitled ‘Books We Really like to Read’ featuring crime / thriller and romance / chick-lit to coincide with World Book Night, so I wondered if they would use any of the footage the BBC shot with me?

So with drinks at hand, the family settled down to watch the BBC 2 World Book Night Special, especially the ‘Books We Really Like To Read’ presented by Sue Perkins, and yes the BBC did use a snippet of the interview they recorded with me last year. Naturally I was disappointed that the full crime-fiction special didn’t appear, but I was glad that they used a ‘sound-bite’ of mine [in context] for the World Book Night Event, [as literacy is crucial for a functioning and fair society]. It is pity they didn’t use any of the extensive material pertaining to my favourite writers, key works of the genre as well my mentioning the world of fandom from Shots, Deadly Pleasures, Mystery Readers International, Crimespree, The Rap Sheet, January Magazine, Mystery Scene, Mystery Women, 4MA, Dorothy L, Rara-Avis et. al as well as the professional associations such as The CWA, MWA, ITW, PWA etc and the conventions such as Harrogate, Crimefest, Bouchercon, Thrillerfest, Left Coast Crime, Love is Murder etc. I also spent time on the various awards such as the CWA Daggers, MWA Edgars, ITW Thrillers etc. Perhaps one day the footage may be used, one hopes.

So with all the terrible issues facing publishing currently from the economic problems forcing bricks & mortar book stores to close, public sector budget cuts forcing many libraries to shut, changes in print journalism, and the shift in ‘medium’ from paper to electronic – any initiative [like World Book Night] that promotes reading and literacy is a good one and must be supported.
The BBC Culture Show ‘Books We Really Read’ is available online at BBC Iplayer [for one week], though restricted to UK access only so I thought it might be useful to feature some of the highlights for those of you unable to access the show, especially those outside the UK.

These clips were recorded from my lap-top using my Iphone, so they are far from High Definition, but watchable [and of interest] for the crime / thriller enthusiast.

Please Note that all these clips are © 2011 British Broadcasting Corporation and used for no commercial reason or benefit to myself. They are posted due to my desire to encourage reading and literacy, with crime and thrillers an excellent entry point for the casual reader. The Full Program can be viewed here. There is also a program about the 1,000,000 books given away on World Book Night here and the BBC Culture Show highlights 12 debut novelists for WBN here – The programs are available online for one week from those links to BBC Iplayer, though geographical restrictions do apply.

Reading is important, and there is nothing ‘downmarket’ with regard to genre fiction as these clips illustrate with insights from Ian Rankin, Lee Child, Ruth Rendell, Dame Agatha Christie, Felix Francis and my little sound-bite. It’s very flattering to find myself amongst such illustrious company.

So if you are feeling depressed, anxious or generally fed-up, why not crack the spine of a good crime thriller because you will soon find your own problems put firmly in perspective, and the process of reading will enrich your life.

I must thank Jamie Byng [Chair of WBN] and all the people who worked on World Book Night mostly pro-bono to get people to [re-]discover the wonder that is reading a novel.

Clip 1 : Introduction to Crime Fiction featuring short insight from Ali Karim

Clip 2 : The legacy of Dame Agatha Christie

Clip 3 : Lee Child and Thriller Novels

Clip 4 : Felix Francis and the legacy of Dick Francis

Clip 5 : Ian Rankin on Crime Fiction

Clip 6 : Ruth Rendell on the dark side of human nature

So with the very serious problems facing publishing, you may feel powerless to help, but all of us can play our role – and here’s how starting from now you should ensure to talk about what books you are reading in general conversation; for birthday and festive occasions buy books as gifts even for the ‘non-reader’, and support your local bookstore be it an independent, or a chain, and when you see your local library facing the axe – do something, sign the petition, write to your council, your member of parliament, congressman or even your Government. Reading is really that crucial to a functioning and fair society because I can hear the footfalls of the Barbarians as they pick at the locks that protect our Gates.

As the adage says ‘use it or lose it’, because reading novels are far more important than many realize as books are the best weapon against the Barbarian.

Disclaimer -

Please Note that all these clips are © 2011 British Broadcasting Corporation and used for no commercial reason or benefit to myself. They are posted due to my desire to encourage reading and literacy, with crime and thrillers an excellent entry point for the casual reader. The Full Program can be viewed
here. There is also a program about the 1,000,000 books given away on World Book Night here and the BBC Culture Show highlights 12 debut novelists for WBN here – The programs are available online for one week from those links to BBC Iplayer, though geographical restrictions do apply.