Thoughts About Book Piracy

 

As some readers know, various online “pirate” sites electronically duplicate thousands of popular ebooks from legitimate sales sites, then make them available to readers — either free or at a nominal charge — without paying their authors for each downloaded copy.

Now, there is considerable debate among authors and publishers about whether ebook piracy is really harmful. A number of prominent indie authors argue that ebook pirates are actually beneficial: They increase the audience for an author’s work, providing him or her with readers who wouldn’t have bought the book otherwise.  Some even come close to glorifying and encouraging piracy of their works. They draw the analogy to the popular practice of running “free” ebook promotions: If free downloads are beneficial for an author, they argue, then why object to a pirate doing essentially the same thing?

Well, there is an essential difference. An author chooses if, when, and how to run a “free” promotion, and with what title; a pirate deprives the author of any of those choices about his own work, forcing him to participate in a free distribution scheme, whether he wants to or not, and whether he benefits or not.

As an author who has had both of his books pirated, I have a dog in this race. Here is what I think:

All property, including even what we tend to think of as mere “physical property,” is in reality rooted in the concept ofintellectual property. Someone had to apply a level of intelligence to transform those physical things for human benefit, or else they would have remained just worthless “stuff.”

piracyIt’s that intellectual element — the value added by somebody’s creative human intelligence — that creators expect to be paid for when they offer products of their intellectual efforts for sale in the marketplace. The moral-legal principle of property rights, including “intellectual property” (IP) rights, is intended to benefit those who take the initiative to create and market products that benefit others. Property rights recognize, protect, and reward creative causal responsibility, in the form of ownership rights. And our laws codify property ownership regarding creative works in the form of patents (for inventions) and copyrights (for literary and other intellectual works).

Now, whenever we sell something that we’ve created to a willing buyer, that relationship is trade. And trade is “win/win.” A reader benefits from what he gains from an author’s creative efforts; the author gains from the reader’s payment for the work.

By contrast, pirates are thieves — period. Instead of trading for the benefits that creators have to offer, they simply take them. Instead of “win/win” relationships, in which readers and authors mutually benefit, they impose “win/lose” relationships on authors, in which pirates and their reading clientele simply appropriate the benefits provided by authors without compensating them. They win — authors lose. That is especially of concern to authors like me, who aren’t simply seeking readers, but who are trying to make a living by publishing and selling our intellectual property.

Book piracy is analogous to counterfeiting. Pirates, by flooding the marketplace with free, “counterfeit” copies of a book, undermine the paying market for the book. And if book piracy becomes rampant, it can threaten an author’s livelihood every bit as much as rampant shoplifting threatens a store owner. The argument that “A pirated author hasn’t lost a paying customer, because that reader wouldn’t have bought your book, anyway” is akin to saying, “Don’t fret about the guy who stole the merchandise in your store, because he wouldn’t have bought it, anyway.” And while it is true that the loss of an ebook is unlike the loss of physical merchandise, since the ebook can be instantly duplicated and replaced, the loss of financial compensation is real.

All that said, what to do about piracy is a trickier question.

In principle, I believe that enforcing serious legal penalties against the hackers/sellers of pirated works can help somewhat.  But of course that becomes problematic when the pirates are located in other countries and are using the internet to distribute across borders. DRM (digital rights management protection) and similar software measures against piracy are usually counterproductive, because they impose inconveniences on paying customers while failing to stop determined hackers.

For now, as long as piracy theft remains at the margins of the book marketplace, authors and publishers probably have to resign ourselves to accepting it as an unavoidable business loss — just as store owners and their insurers have to “write off” a certain percentage of losses due to pilfering and shoplifting.

But morally condoning piracy is another matter.

If you as an author wish to give away your books, that’s fine, as long as it’s your voluntary choice. And if you don’t mind having pirates simply take your work without compensating you, that’s your choice, too.

But for those of us struggling to make a living from our work, having the products of our long, grueling hours of creative effort stolen from us without compensation is no cause for celebration. No, we don’t have to like piracy — let alone rationalize or even glorify it.

I hope readers tempted to download from a pirate site will pause to realize what will happen if your favorite writers finally give up, because piracy no longer makes it possible for them to write for a living. Ebooks aren’t expensive; in fact, they provide more value for their price tags than any other form of entertainment and information. Please remember that, and honor the authors who work so hard to provide you those values by purchasing their works only from authorized sites.

Posted in BAD DEEDS: A Dylan Hunter Thriller, Book business, HUNTER: A Thriller, Self-Publishing, Traditional publishing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

A New Interview of Me by Lisette Brodey

 

Author Lisette Brodey has conducted a long, expansive interview of me on her site, “Lisette’s Writers’ Chateau.”

Lisette Brodey

Lisette Brodey

Our far-ranging conversation explores more than I’ve previously revealed to any interviewer about my writing methods, the merits of self-publishing, the challenges authors face in marketing and promotion, as well as some personal revelations.

I hope you enjoy it. You will find it here.

 

 

Posted in Author profiles, Book business, HUNTER: A Thriller, Interviews, Self-Publishing, Traditional publishing, Writing Advice | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

One Word You Won’t Find in My Novels

 

Okay. Call it a symbolic, personal protest thing.

Those who know me well know that I’m anything but a prude. They also know that my private language can get salty, from time to time.

But when I read fiction, I like a respite from the gutter language and crudeness that bombard us constantly.

So, I’ve declared private war on the “F-bomb” in my thrillers.

F-Bomb imageNow, I don’t claim that my characters don’t curse at all; they do. Many are rough, hard people in rough, hard lines of work; so it would seem oddly, even distractingly, out of character if they all spoke like ministers, rather than like rough, hard people.

But by today’s “standards” (yes, the word is in quotations, for irony), my characters’ language is fairly tame. I’ve found that a little swearing goes a long way in defining a character or their moods. Incessant “eff this” and “effing that” is not characterization; it just drags the dispiriting crassness that we must endure every day in real life into fiction, where I think many people go seeking something better.

Banning the F-bomb from my novels may seem a small and silly form of protest. But it’s something. Readers who have romantic, idealistic, or just plain civilized preferences and expectations in their reading can open a Dylan Hunter novel without fear of such bombardments.

Similarly, despite the fact that there is romance and violence in my thrillers, I try to avoid the gratuitous, the graphic, and the gory. Anyone with a working knowledge of sex acts knows the physical details. I think they will find my love scenes steamy enough, but in a romantic-sexy way, without fixating on an avalanche of anatomical detail and wince-inducing metaphors for the same. The same can be said of scenes of violence. Some of mine are brutal; but again, I try to hold back a bit on the descriptive details.

It’s not just that I have a desire for tasteful restraint. I have another, more literary reason. To me, scenes of sex and violence should focus primarily on the inner experience of the characters, and not on the external specifics of what is happening to their bodies. The former focus individuates characters and makes them uniquely memorable; the latter focus dwells on physical details that are generic to everyone in such circumstances. As a novelist, I think it is foolish to reduce characters to the status of interchangeable pieces of meat in the readers’ minds.

No book is for everyone, and some people may find mine to be too “tame” for their taste. Which is fine. However, I bet that millions of fiction readers share my own preferences regarding language, sex, and violence in novels. At least, many have already told me that they appreciate the way I handle these matters in mine.

Posted in BAD DEEDS: A Dylan Hunter Thriller, Essays, HUNTER: A Thriller, Writing Advice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Authors Behaving Badly

 

In an excellent blog post, bestselling author and writing teacher David Farland takes on purveyors of plagiarism, fake reviews, purchased reviews, review-swapping schemes, attack reviews, etc. [Correction: The post was penned not by Farland, but by an associate, Kami M. McArthur.]

Reader reviews are enormously helpful to authors. Honest reviews often encourage browsing buyers to take a chance on a book they may have otherwise overlooked. Large numbers of positive reviews also open the doors to important marketing opportunities.

[Kami McArthur's] comments have prompted me to declare my own policies about writing book reviews or “blurbs” for other authors, and seeking them for my own books:

Book reviews

1. I am proud that my books have received a large number of glowing reviews from readers. But I do not seek or want “puff” reviews that inflate the merits of my works, just because you may be my friend or a fellow author. If your positive review isn’t honest, then it’s worthless to me and deceptive to book buyers. Like Dylan Hunter, the hero of my thrillers, I champion justice. So, please give my books the reviews and ratings that you think they deserve — nothing more, nothing less.

2. Likewise, I won’t hype a book that I didn’t like, just to do a fellow author a favor. My credibility means a lot to me. If I explicitly, specifically praise a book, it means I honestly think it has a lot of merit. If I merely mention a book’s availability and say it looks interesting, it’s because I think it does, in fact, appear to be promising, even if I haven’t yet read it.

3. If you are a fellow author and want me to review or “blurb” your book, please understand that I have limited time to do so. Hounding me is pointless and counter-productive. And I won’t blurb a book that I haven’t read.

4. Writing a good book is exceedingly hard work, and I hate to discourage authors with criticism. For that reason, if I have read your book, but can’t give it a ringing endorsement, you may never even know that I’ve read it. Amazon one starMy general policy is: If I can’t give a book (especially one by an author-friend) a glowing review and rating, I prefer to leave no review at all, rather than pan it publicly. So, if you want me to review your book or give you an endorsement blurb, but I haven’t, it may be that I did read it, but can’t in good conscience offer a 4- or 5-star review — in which case, you should be relieved that I haven’t reviewed it publicly.

5. While I may privately share with friends my opinions of the works of various authors (including prominent ones), I generally don’t believe in publicly criticizing their books.* It lacks class and dignity; and targeting books by prominent, successful authors also gives the appearance of envious motives. Again, writing good books and becoming a successful author are extraordinarily difficult achievements; they require talent, drive, and an enormous amount of hard work. Those who “make it” deserve respect, even if some of their work may be sub-par.

6. For all the preceding reasons, I won’t engage in any “review-swapping” schemes with fellow writers. If you’re an author, don’t even bother to ask. Nor will I ever ask anyone to give one of my books a “blurb” or a positive review before they’ve even read the book. Nor will I ever buy reviews — whether from Kirkus and other supposedly “reputable” review sources, or from any for-hire scam shops that create fake, “sock puppet” reviews to hype books. All of that is dishonest, unjust, and ultimately counter-productive, too. I’ll never be that desperate or lacking in self-respect.

7. Here is what I will do: If someone tells me that he or she has already read and enjoyed one of my books, I will thank the person, then ask him or her to consider leaving a review on Amazon or Goodreads. I’m comfortable doing this, because it involves no deception: no inducements, machinations, or pressure (such as trading on friendship) in order to generate a phony-but-positive review.

Again, I am proud of the hundreds of reviews garnered for HUNTER and BAD DEEDS. To the best of my knowledge, all of them — positive or negative — represent the honest opinions of the readers. I always learn a great deal from their comments, including areas where I can improve as a writer. The fact that the overwhelming majority of their reviews have praised my books also delights and encourages me.

That’s why I’m grateful to all the many readers who have taken the time not only to buy and read my books, but also to leave their candid opinions about them on Amazon and Goodreads. To all of you, my sincere thanks.

 

* NOTE: I once wrote a scathing review of a novel by the late William F. Buckley, Jr., and published it while he was still alive. The reason is that it purported to deal with real people and events, but presented them in a demonstrably dishonest and slanderous way. In addition, the individuals were dead and couldn’t defend themselves. Finally, the writing itself was simply execrable: Whatever his talents with language, Buckley couldn’t plot, characterize, or write decent dialogue to save his soul. However, had he written the book as complete fiction, with imaginary characters, I would have ignored it rather than pan it for his appallingly poor writing.

Posted in Book business, Marketing Advice, Reviews, Uncategorized, Writing Advice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Amazon Creates a Self-Publishing Platform for Illustrated Children’s Books

 

I am often asked by authors how they might self-publish illustrated children’s books. Until now, I never had a good answer.

Well, I’m pleased to report that Amazon has just announced “KDP Kids,” a new program in their Kindle Direct Publishing ebook division.

Their news release reports that it is “designed to help children’s book authors prepare, publish and promote both illustrated and chapter books in Kindle Stores worldwide. Children’s book authors can use Amazon’s new Kindle Kids’ Book Creator tool to easily create illustrated children’s books that take advantage of Kindle features like text pop-ups. Once the book is ready, authors can upload it to KDP in just a few simple steps, and use KDP’s category, age and grade range filters to help millions of Amazon customers choose the right books for their kids.”

This could be a huge boon for children’s authors. If that is you, then check it out.

KDP Kids page image

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Book Categories: A Modest Proposal

 

Fiction categoriesI’ve been pondering the whole way that books are categorized and classified, and how “genres” and “subgenres” are generated. I do so because we indie authors are always agonizing about how to categorize our own books within the existing genre and subgenre classifications on Amazon and elsewhere.

The process is now totally haphazard. There’s no defining principle or rational method underlying any of this. The ad hoc process seems to be: Some writer comes up with a fresh new story concept; he or she then spawns a host of imitators; next, somebody, maybe a reviewer, slaps a cute label on what all the copycats are doing, and voila! We have a new “subgenre.”

I mean, how else to explain things like “steampunk”?

Anyway, studying the Amazon fiction classification trees, it seems that there are two general ways in which genres and subgenres are defined:

1. By psychological interest — that is, by the kind of emotion or mental experience that we seek from certain kinds of books (e.g., horror, romance, humor, inspiration, mystery, fantasy, sexuality, adventure, etc.) There are a limited number of these core human emotions and experiences.

2. By topical interest — that is, by the kind of subject matter that arouses our personal interest and curiosity (e.g., history, biography, crime, espionage/spy, gay/lesbian, children, sports, politics, military, nautical, technology, science/sci-fi, Westerns, urban, etc.) Our topical interests can be unlimited in number and variety.

Given this, I’ve been toying with an idea — a way perhaps to think about and categorize stories a bit more intelligibly (I won’t say “intelligently”; others can be the judge of that). Maybe online retailers and booksellers might find it useful.

The concept involves combining readers’ interest(s) in specific topics, with the emotional experiences that they hope to get out of them.

Here is how it would work:

Take one or more topical interest, then combine it with one or more psychological/emotional interest, to come up with a subgenre. In short:

Topic + emotion = subgenre.

Examples: Western adventure, urban romantic-comedy, historical fantasy, sports mystery-thriller, technological horror, military humor, political-espionage thriller, etc.

This scheme would create a fiction classification system in which the relatively limited number of human psychological interests provide the “genuses” (the broad “genre” categories), while the myriad of topical interests provide the ever-expanding “species” (“subgenres”).

After perusing the existing Amazon fiction classification trees, here is a fast-and-dirty (and obviously incomplete) list that I came up with, ready for your mixing and matching

I.  Psychological Interest Categories (basic genres)

Adventure
Erotica
Fantasy
Horror
Humor/Satire/Comedy
Inspiration
Mystery
Quest/Exploration
Romance
Thriller

II. Topical Interest Categories (for defining subgenres)

Animal
Aviation
Biographical
Business
Children’s
Coming of Age
Crime
Espionage
Ethnic/Cultural
Family
Female
Gay/Lesbian
Historical
International (or specific nations)
Male
Medical
Mythological
Military
Nautical
Occult/Supernatural
Outdoors
Political
Racial
Religious
Rural
Science/Sci-Fi
Spiritual
Sports
Technological
Urban
Westerns
Young Adult

Okay, this is my weekend stab in the dark, after a glass of wine. Thoughts and opinions, anyone?

Ummm . . . Jeff Bezos . . . are you there?

Posted in Book business, Publishing Advice, Self-Publishing, Traditional publishing | Tagged , , , , , | 11 Comments

So, What Is a Thriller?

 

Fiction genres tend to have porous boundaries, mixing and blending into each other. Many books are hybrids that cross genres.

For instance, you can’t define a “thriller” solely by its settings, since they can take place almost anywhere, and in any time period. But I think all thrillers share most of these elements:

Jaws* High concept — some startling, even outlandish premise that immediately captures the reader’s imagination. Think of books like Mark Greaney’s The Gray Man, Alex Berenson’s The Faithful Spy, Vince Flynn’s Transfer of Power and Term Limits, Thomas Harris’s Black Sunday, Frederick Forsyth’s Day of the Jackal, and Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code.

* High stakes: usually some life-and-death threat(s) to the protagonist and/or to people and values vitally important to the protagonist. Examples: Alistair MacLean’s The Guns of Navarone, Peter Benchley’s Jaws, Vince Flynn’s Transfer of Power, Jack Higgins’s The Eagle Has Landed. The high stakes compel the protagonist to take…

* Courageous actions, often involving violence, to overcome the threats, which present themselves as…

guns of navarone* Constant, escalating perils, in the forms of great obstacles, ordeals, and/or opponents. In The Gray Man, the protagonist has to run a gauntlet of highly trained killers across Europe to rescue some children. In The Guns of Navarone, a small commando team must face a violent storm at sea that sinks their boat, then climb a sheer cliff in the middle of the gale, where one team member breaks his leg; then fight a host of Nazis; then find a traitor in their midst — all to blow up fortified German guns and allow the rescue of 6,000 Allied troops about to die. These perils come at the reader at…

BAD-DEEDS-COVER-EBOOK-FINAL-REDUCED 4* A fast, relentless pace — often in the form of a race against time to stop the threat. In my thriller HUNTER, acts of violence escalated and accelerated throughout the book, while the pending release from prison of a sadistic sociopath provided ongoing suspense. His kidnapping of two women near the book’s climax ratcheted up the suspense and the pace even further, as the hero had to race to rescue them before they were tortured and murdered. In the sequel, BAD DEEDS, two ecoterrorists launched an escalating campaign of deadly bombings, and the hero and heroine had to stop them before an innocent family was murdered in a literal “ticking bomb” scenario. All of this is designed to make the reader feel…

* Intense, mounting suspense and anxiety about the outcome — which compels the reader to keep turning pages and not put the book down till the end.

Thriller readers expect these elements. A good thriller is a roller coaster ride of relentless action, nonstop thrills, and gnawing suspense. You can write a great story without most of these elements, but it won’t be a thriller.

SherlockConsider, for example, how mysteries differ from thrillers. Mysteries are usually about solving a crime that has already occurred, in the pursuit of justice. Mysteries give readers the cerebral satisfaction of figuring out and resolving their curiosity about “whodunit.” Information is withheld from the reader, who (if the novelist is skilled) always remains one step behind the protagonist/investigator.

Thriller Dirty HarryIn thrillers, though, the main focus is on a future, impending threat, and on the action taken by the hero or heroine to stop the threat and, often, to exact justice. A variation is the revenge story, where a crime has already occurred, and the protagonist is going after the bad guys through action rather than detection alone. In thrillers, the reader is often provided more information than the protagonist knows, which ramps up the tension and suspense. (Will he learn the truth in time?)

There are hybrid mystery-thrillers, of course, where the probing hero arouses the threatened culprits to retaliate — for example, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Whether the story is considered a mystery or a thriller usually depends on which elements predominate. The novels of Robert Crais, Robert B. Parker, and Mickey Spillane, for example, could be plausibly classified in either genre, since they contain many elements of both.

The same can be said of other kinds of cross-genre hybrids. Is The Silence of the Lambs a horror novel, or a thriller? I’d say Thriller High Noon“thriller,” because as horrifying as the events are, the dominant elements are the thriller components. On the other hand, is the film “Star Wars” sci-fi, or a thriller? Because the interplanetary setting and alien characters are such strong elements of the story, I’d say “sci-fi,” though it has every element of a thriller. Likewise, is “High Noon” a thriller or a Western? I’d say the same thing applies: The setting is so much of the story that I’d have to classify it as a Western, though it is a great thriller, too.

Similar considerations apply to defining thriller subcategories. These are established largely by the story settings, which can often overlap in various hybrid combinations.

thriller elements chart

To show the versatility and ever-evolving nature of the thriller genre, here are just a few thriller subcategories and their noted writers — and also some separate, established genres that frequently employ many thriller elements:

1. Generic Action/Adventure (John D. MacDonald, Lee Child, Clive Cussler, Peter Benchley’s Jaws, Wilbur Smith’s Hungry As the Sea.)

Thriller Bond
2. International Espionage (Robert Ludlum, Ian Fleming, Daniel Silva, Gayle Lynds). These often blend and morph with…

3. Political Intrigue/Conspiracy (Brad Thor, Vince Flynn, David Baldacci, Nelson DeMille). These, too, often blend with…

Thriller Clancy4. Military (Tom Clancy, Brad Taylor, Andy McNab).

5. Crime (My HUNTER, Ira Levin’s A Kiss Before Dying, Thomas Harris’s Hannibal Lector stories, Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer stories). These sometimes blend with…

6. Legal (John Grisham, Scott Turow, Lisa Scottoline, Michael Connelly’s “Lincoln Lawyer” series).

7.  Historical (Ken Follett’s The Man from St. Petersburg, Wilbur Smith’s African adventure sagas).

8. Medical (Robin Cook, Tess Gerritsen, C.J. Lyons, Patricia Cornwell).

Towering Inferno9. Techno-thriller (Tom Clancy, Michael Crichton, Dan Brown’s Digital Fortress).

10. Disaster/Apocalypse (Think of all the Irwin Allen disaster films of the 1970s. Today, these are often based on sci-fi premises. And a classic is War of the Worlds.)

Here are some categories of fiction that are often considered to be their own genres, but which rely on many thriller elements:

11. Romantic Suspense (Nora Roberts, Linda Howard, and thousands of others).

12. Psychological Suspense (Most Hitchcock movies like “Vertigo” and “Rear Window”; David Morrell’s “damaged hero” thrillers; Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley; Richard Hitchcock imageCondon’s brilliant hybrid political/military/psychological/international espionage thriller The Manchurian Candidate. Romantic and psychological suspense thrillers are usually characterized by the anticipation of violent action, rather than violence throughout).

13. Westerns (“High Noon” is a classic example. A completely original example of a hybrid form is Michael Crichton’s film “Westworld” — an imaginative blend of sci-fi and Western, but in the classic thriller pattern).

14. Horror (Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Ira Levin, Stephanie Meyer. While the creepy premises and settings put these in their own category, they unquestionably employ all the elements of the thriller form.)

ShiningCreative novelists are constantly carving out new thriller subgenres and subcategories, simply by using fresh settings or new, imaginative “high concepts.” Grisham helped establish the “legal thriller”; Clancy invented the “techno-thriller”; Dick Francis created a mystery-thriller hybrid set in the world of horse racing. They’ve all spawned numerous imitators and knock-offs.

And when you think about it, is a tale about vampires, or “hunger games,” or unstoppable “Terminators” really in a separate genre — or is it merely a new “high concept” variation of the classic thriller?

To thriller fans, the important thing is not the setting or somebody’s artificial category differentiation. It’s the thrill ride itself. What counts is a tale that gives them a riveting, imaginative premise; high stakes; courageous protagonists taking heroic, violent actions against formidable foes, in the face of constant pitfalls and terrors; a relentless pace; and ever-mounting, white-knuckle suspense until the satisfying climax, where justice triumphs.

That, to them, is “a great thriller.” It is a story form as old as Homer — and even older, as primitive people gathered around their tribal campfire to listen raptly, while a skilled storyteller wove enthralling tales of adventure.

Thriller covers

Posted in BAD DEEDS: A Dylan Hunter Thriller, Essays, HUNTER: A Thriller, Inspirational, Vigilante fiction, Writing Advice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Best Book Marketing Advice Ever?

 

I don’t know exactly how I missed this brilliant talk by Simon Sinek of several years ago. But for authors who are struggling to find more readers, his 18-minute presentation may contain the most valuable marketing and branding advice that I’ve yet encountered:

Simon Sinek on how to inspire action

Watch it several times. Take notes. Think about what he’s saying and how it applies to you.

After you have done that, then study bestselling fantasy author Michael J. Sullivan’s PowerPoint presentation on branding, which he delivered at the Writer’s Digest annual conference in New York City in early August 2014. Michael builds on what Sinek says, applying it directly to authors.

Trust me: If you grasp the principles discussed in these two presentations, they could change your entire attitude and approach about marketing — and vastly improve the results you are getting. For me, the presentations have definitely caused me to reconsider my approach to “finding my target audience,” and you should keep that in mind as you consider my past tips on that topic.

UPDATE: After I posted about this on the KBoards Writers Cafe discussion site, somebody asked me what was my own “Why.” Here is what I just wrote in response:

All my life, since I watched “The Lone Ranger” and read Batman comics as a little kid in the Fifties and Sixties, I have been committed to the moral concept of justice. (My “Why.”)

When I began to write nonfiction, that was the underlying principle in just about everything I wrote about, throughout a career as an essayist, investigative journalist, reviewer, blogger, and columnist. Now it has become the central theme of my fiction-writing, too. (My “How.”)

I have built the Dylan Hunter Thrillers series on that principle: Like me, the hero is motivated by a passion for justice, and cannot walk away from the sight of injustice against those he likes or loves. That’s why he has become a vigilante — why I refer to him as “the new face of justice” — and why I refer to myself as “The Vigilante Author.” (My “What.”)

So, I think I’m “branded.”

 

 

Posted in Book business, Inspirational, Marketing Advice, Self-Publishing, Writing Advice | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Interview with Psychological Suspense Author Maggie James

 

I am resuming a once-frequent feature here: interviews with thriller and mystery writers, especially (though not exclusively) those who are self-publishing.

Some months ago I encountered British psychological suspense author Maggie James, who graciously interviewed me for her blog. It’s only fair that I return the favor to this talented writer.

829 resizedThe first draft of her first novel, His Kidnapper’s Shoes, was written while she travelled in Bolivia. Maggie was inspired, she tells me, by an impending milestone birthday — along with a healthy dose of annoyance at having procrastinated for so long in writing a novel. (I can relate!) His Kidnapper’s Shoes was published in both paperback and e-book formats in 2013, followed by her second novel, Sister, Psychopath. Her third novel, Guilty Innocence, has now been published, and like her first two, it features her home city of Bristol. She is currently working on her fourth novel.

Before turning her hand to writing, Maggie worked mainly as an accountant, with a diversion into practicing as a nutritional therapist. Diet and health remain high on her list of interests, along with travel. “Accountancy does not, but then it never did,” she says. “The urge to pack a bag and go off travelling is always lurking in the background!” When not writing, going to the gym, practicing yoga, or travelling, Maggie can be found seeking new four-legged friends to pet. “Animals are a lifelong love.”

She and I conducted this interview by email, so American readers should note that I have left in all her British spellings.

 ~*~

The Vigilante Author: Maggie, why don’t we start with you telling us about your latest book, Guilty Innocence.

Maggie James: Guilty Innocence charts one man’s struggle to come to terms with his past. I wanted to examine how it would feel to discover someone you love is concealing a terrible secret. Natalie Richards’s world is shattered when she finds out her boyfriend, Mark Slater, is on the Violent Crimes Register after being sentenced for child murder several years before. Natalie, of course, is a typical Maggie James character, battling her own emotional demons. Throw in Mark’s nemesis, Adam Campbell, a warped and distinctly unpleasant individual, and the scene is set for a showdown.

The Vigilante Author: The tagline on your website says, “Exploring the Shadows of the Mind.” That’s great branding. But why did you choose “psychological suspense,” Maggie? What prompted your interest in such topics as sociopaths, dysfunctional family relationships, and the impact of emotional stains and wounds from the past?

Maggie James: I’d say my interest from a writing perspective stems more from a desire to explore strong emotions, such as hatred, despair, and the need for revenge, rather than deviant behaviour per se. Given that such issues fascinate me, it’s perhaps inevitable that I chose to write in the psychological suspense genre, following in the footsteps of authors such as Gillian Flynn and Rachel Abbott.

GuiltyInnocence_BlogWhere my fascination comes from, I haven’t a clue, but it’s fair to say there aren’t many topics I’m not interested in, besides my antipathy to the sport of cricket. The workings of the human mind intrigue me, although I’m sceptical about whether we can ever really comprehend what goes on in another person’s head. I don’t think my interest is unusual. Many people are drawn to the dark side of humanity. It’s the reason Stephen King is so popular. Through crime, thriller and horror fiction we can experience the unthinkable without getting hurt. Bad behaviour tends to interest us more than a goody-goody approach to life, and it definitely provides fertile material for novelists like me.

Take dating for example. It’s the bad guys and girls that are deemed desirable, whereas the steady Eddies, both male and female, are considered boring. We love to flirt with the wicked side of life.

The Vigilante Author: Did your own upbringing contribute in any way to these preoccupations? Or did you have a happy childhood?

Maggie James: Well, I guess I’d fit in better with the stereotyped image of a writer battling his/her emotional demons if I said yes, but no, my upbringing hasn’t played a part in my novels. I had a stable and very ordinary childhood, one in which learning was encouraged, and minus the terrible issues featured in my books. No absent parents, no divorce, no sexual abuse and definitely no murder. Thanks, Mum and Dad!

The Vigilante Author: You had a background as an accountant and then a nutritional therapist. So, what prompted you to become a suspense novelist? Did you always have that desire buried away somewhere?

Maggie James: Yes, the desire to be a novelist has always been with me. When I was a child, I never doubted that, as an adult, I’d write books. When I forayed into the world as an eighteen-year-old, however, I lacked confidence, believing I didn’t have enough life experience to write novels. Whilst I gained in confidence over the years, I slipped into a comfortable rut with my work, and somehow decades slipped by before I wrote anything again. The diversion into nutritional therapy was an attempt to break free from accountancy. The plan was to train in something that interested me and write as a sideline, but it didn’t work out, partly because I never wanted my writing to be a mere adjunct to my main line of work. In the end, I reached the point of no return in my accountancy job, handed in my notice and flew to Thailand. No more diversions; time to start writing at last.

The Vigilante Author: Good for you! That was a courageous step. So, when did you know you just had to start writing fiction? Was there an epiphany, or did you always know?

Maggie James: I’ve always known I wanted to write fiction, yes. However, the turning point for me happened in December 2010. I was a few months into a yearlong trip abroad, staying in a town called Arica in northern Chile. Whilst there, I did indeed have an epiphany — more about that below. My plan before I left the UK was to write a full-length novel whilst I was away, but it just didn’t happen when I was in Asia. I was travelling fast and furiously, packing in the sights of Indochina, which was exhilarating but left little time for writing. Nothing changed after I flew to South America, either. I realised I needed to find a base in which to settle, to allow myself sufficient stability to write.

Fellow travellers had told me about Sucre in Bolivia and what a special place it was. I resolved to go there and stay for as long as it took to write my novel. I’d already conceived the idea for the plot of His Kidnapper’s Shoes from a conversation I had in Vietnam. And that’s what happened. I fell in love with Sucre — it’s a beautiful city, surrounded by rolling hills — and used it as a base to improve my Spanish and write my book. By the end of February 2011, I’d completed the first draft. It was a very emotional moment for me when I typed the last sentence; thinking about it brings tears to my eyes.

The Vigilante Author: I had that exact experience when I completed HUNTER. I think that’s probably common to authors when they complete their first novels.

What books and authors, or real-life people and events, were important influences on you?

Maggie James: Perhaps the most influential has been a friend and fellow author who provided the catalyst for His Kidnapper’s Shoes. She only wrote for fun, having completed several full-length pieces, all of high quality, every one of which I really enjoyed. I felt ashamed when I considered how prolific she was, while I was still procrastinating about starting my first novel. In my hotel room in Arica, I checked out her website and as a result, I knew something had to change for me, and fast. My epiphany had arrived! I administered a very hard mental kick to my butt before resolving to travel to Sucre and buckle down to writing at last.

The Vigilante Author: I find that an author’s first novel sometimes is the most self-revelatory, because it zeroes in on his or her biggest priorities and personal interests. Would that be true of anything in your first novel, His Kidnapper’s Shoes? Why don’t you tell us a bit about it?

Continue reading

Posted in Author profiles, Biographical, Inspirational, Interviews, Marketing Advice, Publishing Advice, Self-Publishing, Traditional publishing, Uncategorized, Writing Advice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Amazon vs. Big Publishing

amazonhachette

As most of you know, Amazon has been in a serious contract dispute with Hachette, one of the “Big Five” publishing conglomerates. Central to this conflict is ebook pricing. Big Publishing wants to keep the prices of ebooks high — well above $10, in many cases.

The reason? Until relatively recently, traditional publishing has been rooted in producing and selling print books. Their entire organizational infrastructure was built upon wholesaling print books through retail stores. Subsidiary industries — author agents, bookstores, book distributors, printers, paper manufacturers, prominent print-book reviewers and bestseller lists (e.g., the New York Times, the New York Review of Books, et al.) — all depend on the continued dominance of print books, and the advertising dollars that are poured into various periodicals.

In addition, even though publishing contract terms (including advances, royalties, and rights) are simply awful for 99% of authors, a relative handful of Big Name Authors do in fact benefit disproportionately from their alliances with Big Publishing. These “one-percenters” (to borrow a term from current political parlance) get extravagant advances from the publishing houses — advances so large that they don’t care much about other contractual terms, such as royalties and subsidiary rights, which other authors must endure. They have a huge vested interest in keeping the publishing industry frozen in amber, exactly as it is. As marquee figures in the industry, these Big Name Authors also dominate prominent writers groups, such as the Authors Guild. So, when such individuals and groups issue statements, purporting to speak for authors generally, you can be sure that they are really only representing their own narrower interests.

Like long-time participants in any industry, the last thing any of these players wants is change. They regard it as “market disruption” — the implication being that they have a right to freeze the status quo in place. Of course, innovation, by definition, disrupts the old established ways. That’s why the dinosaurs in most industries fight innovation to the death.

The emergence of online retailing, ebooks, and their step-child — the Self-Publishing Revolution — have been highly disruptive to the Big Publishing Establishment. All of these innovations have been pioneered and/or championed most notably by Amazon. Which, of course, is why the entire Establishment — Big Publishers, bookstores, agents, Big Name Authors, distributors, major periodicals (which benefit from publisher advertising), et al. — have aligned themselves loudly against Amazon. This Establishment used to have an oligopolistic lock on book production, distribution, and sales. It thus could set book prices to the public at whatever points it wished. Acting as “Gatekeepers” to publication, it could squeeze authors with onerous contract terms. It could decide what kind of books would be issued, in what format, when, and for how long.

However, the cozy, long-standing status quo of book production and distribution has been disrupted by new technological innovations and market competition. Online retailing and ebooks have decimated bookstores and distributors, and complicated the lives of all whose fate depends on print. Meanwhile, those same two innovations have brought thousands of self-publishing authors — self included — into the book marketplace.

Which brings us back to the contractual dispute between Big Five publisher Hachette and Amazon.

Amazon retails a large percentage of Hachette’s print, ebooks, and audiobooks to the public, just as it does those of other publishers. Central to the dispute is Hachette’s (and the Big Publishing Establishment’s) desire to keep ebook prices sky-high. Suppressing the demand for ebooks is their way of propping up their rapidly declining print-book share — hence, maintaining the traditional book marketing structure — hence, fighting the growth of Amazon.

Now things have come to a head. Some 900 Big Name Authors and other traditionally published writers, colluding with the rest of the Establishment, aim to place a full-page anti-Amazon ad in the New York Times on Sunday, August 10th. That ad alone adds over $100,000 into the coffers of the Times, which — dependent on weekly ads from book publishers — has been running articles blatantly slanted toward Big Publishing. Understand that, for the first time, thousands of self-publishing authors are now competing directly with these Big Name Authors, often knocking them from their perches atop the bestseller lists. And lowering our ebook prices constitutes one of our competitive advantages over them. Dependent upon print sales and bookstores for their dominant status, is it any wonder why they are so upset, and why they’re campaigning to suppress ebooks?

In anticipation and response to the New York Times ad, and after being bashed mercilessly for months, Amazon has decided at last to speak out publicly with an open letter to readers and writers. I urge you to read it.

It’s also why a rival public petition, signed by over 8,000 indie authors (at last count), also has been posted, opposing Hachette and Big Publishing in this dispute.

As regulars here know, I’m firmly on Amazon’s side in this battle. Had it not been for the opportunity provided by their Kindle Direct Publishing self-publishing program — an opportunity to reach readers like you with my books quickly and at a bargain price, an opportunity that Big Publishing never would have granted me — my wife and I would be financially destitute; HUNTER and BAD DEEDS never would have been written and published; and I would not have been able to establish my late-life fiction-writing career. My example is only one of many thousands.

This conflict between Amazon and Big Publishing constitutes a pivotal moment that will help shape the future of the book industry. I strongly encourage you to read Amazon’s letter to readers and authors, and perhaps some of the follow-up articles by indie authors that are linked there, too, beneath the letter.

Then, if you are so inclined, I further encourage you to write a letter to the Hachette CEO (his contact info is at the link), which I intend to do today. Finally, if you’re a writer, I hope you also sign the indie author petition.

 

UPDATE: My letter to the CEO of Hachette:

Michael Pietsch, CEO
Hachette Book Group

August 9, 2014
Dear Mr. Pietsch:

I realize that you are being bombarded today with comments from readers and authors about Hachette’s contractual dispute with Amazon. If time and interest permit, I encourage you and your staff to consider my own thoughts, just published here:

http://www.bidinotto.com/2014/08/amazon-vs-big-publishing/

For the moment, though, let me share only this much:

In 2011, past age 60, the opportunity to self-publish through Kindle Direct Publishing rescued my wife and me from financial ruin. Being able to price my ebook at only $3.99 was critical to this turnaround of circumstances. It enabled me to compete successfully with the world’s most prominent authors, including your own, soaring past them to the very top of the ebook bestseller lists with my debut thriller.

Inexpensive ebooks represent the future of publishing. Standing athwart this juggernaut of progress, throwing obstacles in its path, and yelling “Slow down!” is not in the best interests of your company or the broader publishing industry—let alone in the best interests of readers and authors.

That is why I am one of 8,000 signatories to the independent-author’s petition on Change.org. We urge you to reconsider your position in the dispute with Amazon. Prudent reflection will reveal that the long-term best interests of all of us are, in fact, aligned . . . but only if we don’t remain slaves to a fast-vanishing status quo.

Sincerely,

Bidinotto signature

 

 

 

Robert Bidinotto, Author

The Dylan Hunter Thrillers
HUNTER and BAD DEEDS

 

Posted in BAD DEEDS: A Dylan Hunter Thriller, Book business, HUNTER: A Thriller, Self-Publishing, Traditional publishing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments