Category archive: Authors to Watch

99¢ Novels Versus 99¢ Music

An SF author surprised me at Ad-Astra last spring by stating that he’d never buy a 99¢ novel because obviously the author thought it was worthless and so it must be garbage.  A panel on e-books had just wrapped up, so in the confusion that followed I didn’t get a chance to ask him if he owned an ipod.

But he isn’t the only one to tell me that novels must be priced higher.  Rebecca M. Senese told me at a Sisters-in-Crime meeting (yes, I’m a dude, but somehow I became a ‘brother member’) that she charges $4.99 for novels, $2.99 for anthologies and only offers shorts for 99¢.  She warns me that some people might buy my 99¢ novels just because they’re collecting–like hockey cards–and they might never read the novel.

But I come back to itunes.  If a band can spend years playing in sleazy bars to make a name, record their music in an expensive studio, have it distributed, and not be ashamed to charge 99¢ for it on itunes, why is it that novels must be priced higher in order to be judged valuable?

It all comes back to price expectations.  In music, illegal downloads flourished before itunes because record companies did away with the single, forcing music lovers to buy an entire CD for $25 when all they wanted was one song, the rest was just filler.  $25 for one song!  Sort of like $25 for one novel.  No one would consider paying so much for a song now, and even the expensive songs on itunes are still under $1.50.  Apple changed forever what people expect to pay for music.

Traditional publishers are desperately trying to maintain the fiction (no pun intended) that a good novel must be priced above $15, preferably closer to $25, but this will not last.  Amazon and self-pubbed authors are changing forever what people expect to pay for novels.  There’s a huge 99¢ slush pile on Amazon and Smashwords right now, but it will fade away because many self-pubbed authors will become discouraged with low sales and give up.  Amazon will do a little house cleaning and sweep away anything that hasn’t sold in a few years.

That’s when readers will begin to hunt for 99¢ gems.  They’ll want to find them before everyone else does and buy them before the price is jacked up–like being the first to discover a new band or a new wine.

I confess, when I build a following I will raise the price of my novels to $2.99 so that I can get that 70% royalty, but in the meantime, I like being the cheap read in the store, and I don’t think there’s any shame in it.  If I can buy fantastic music for 99¢, I don’t see why I can’t buy fantastic novels for 99¢.

 

Why We Launched William Deverell’s Kill All the Lawyers

This will not be recorded in the annals of publishing history as a pivotal moment, and yet William Deverell’s decision to jump into eBooks indicates a fundamental sea change.  More established authors every day are discovering that the barriers to distribution of their words have crumbled and that publishing houses are not the only way to reach the reading public.

Deverell approached me just after I’d concluded a panel on eBooks at the Bloody Words Mystery Convention back in June.  As the most outspoken member of that panel, I’d upset an editor from Orca Books enough that I’m pretty sure she will never publish my work.  Perhaps that caught Deverell’s attention, because he asked if I’d be able to help him publish one of his backlist novels, Kill All the Lawyers, originally published by Random House.  I was completely gob-smacked to have the guest of honor of the conference approach me for advice, especially since I’m a big fan.

Deverell–a lawyer himself–has won many awards for his novels, including the Dashiell Hammett award for literary excellence and an Arthur Ellis award for best novel.  His most recent work I’ll See You in My Dreams was just published by McClelland and Stewart.

The sea change part is that Deverell–who has done well in traditional publishing–was not only open to eBooks, but excited about the possibilities.  Until that day in June, I had it in my head that only newbies like me and a few outliers like Joe Konrath would really be interested in self-publishing their work, but now I know better, and publishers should pay attention.

Deverell went the traditional publishing route for Dreams because it was far along in development by June, but next year is a whole new era–one in which a Kindle Touch is $79, and the Kindle Fire is $199.

I can imagine families opening their Christmas presents: “See Gran, you can make the text any size you want so that you don’t have to buy large print books.”  Or to a special grandchild who is struggling with reading, “It’ll make reading fun, like video games because it’s electronic.”  Enhanced eBooks certainly will make reading fun, and a lot of young readers will get Kindle Fires for that reason.  A whole new world of possibilities has opened up.

So the big question publishers should ask: when eBook sales start to beat print numbers, will authors like William Deverell continue to accept a paltry royalty on eBooks or will they go it alone?  And here’s the real problem: if publishers lose their great authors and replace them with less well known authors, will that not damage a publisher’s brand?  What if an indie-published Deverell garners more critical acclaim than M&S’s replacement author?

This would totally upend the public perception that only big publishers can assure them good reads.  That’s the real danger.  If indie-pubbed books are by top authors, the public will care less and less about who an author was published by and more about what the customer reviews say.  My advice to the big six: when Deverell comes knocking to sell you his next novel, offer him a fat eBook royalty.  You don’t want him deciding that he’d be better off without you.

Kill All the Lawyers is a hilarious romp with three dimensional characters and a complex plot woven so beautifully that it is effortless to follow.  I’m humbled by Deverell’s writing and aspire to be that good.  That’s why I’m proud to have helped launch Kill All the Lawyers as an eBook.  It shouldn’t be out of print as demanded by the old model of publishing.  It’s still a great read and it’s only $4.99. The best part though is that Deverell is making the full 70% royalty on his novel, and he should.

Full disclosure: Bill insisted on paying me to help put up Kill All the Lawyers, although I offered to do it for free as my part in the e-revolution.

I Got My Name in the National Post – Two Times

And I didn’t even have to get arrested to make that happen.

Membership has it privileges, and for years I’ve been a member of the Crime Writers of Canada, ever since my editor at Storyteller Magazine (alas, gone now–the magazine, not my editor) told me I should join.  She’d just picked up my short story, Railroaded, which was certainly about a crime, although it was not a who-dunnit, but more of a what’s-he-gonna-do-about-it.

Now even though I’m not really a crime writer, I’ve stayed with the CWC because there are many great writers in the organization, and they nurture, advise and encourage newbies like me.

But last Saturday they went above and beyond the call: I opened the National Post newspaper here in Toronto and saw an advertisement for the CWC booth at the Word On The Street Festival this coming Sunday.  There was my name in the middle of the ad–they even got the accent over the “e” in Andre, something I’ve left off over the last few years just to make things simpler.

If that wasn’t enough, the ad ran again today.  Does it make me famous?  Okay no, but it’s a little step on the way and it’s a lot of fun.  Maybe someone I knew in high school but lost touch with will recognize my name.  Out of nostalgia perhaps they’ll show up and decide to buy a book.  That would be good.

Either way, if you live in Toronto and you’re going to Word on The Street, stop by booth 148.  I get a seat between 11 and 12, but I’ll be there all day.  You can shake my hand.  I got my name in a major newspaper–twice.

Many thanks to Catherine Astolfo and the CWC board for all their work to make this happen.

Amazon Makes Author An Offer He Can’t Refuse

Author Barry Eisler shocked the publishing world when he walked away from a $500,000 deal with St. Martin’s Press so that he could self-e-publish his next John Rain novel.

Now Eisler’s tacked the other way, signing with Amazon’s new mystery/thriller imprint Thomas and Mercer.  Eisler says the advance was comparable to St. Martin’s except that the e-book royalties are significantly better. T&M will publish both print and digital versions.

Publishers are going to have to accept that offering authors a 25% royalty on e-books just isn’t going to cut it when they can get 70% from Amazon–especially when e-books never go out of print, so the contract could last until the novel goes into the public domain.

I’ve heard the argument that publishers simply can’t make enough to cover their overheads on e-publishing, and I sympathize, but times have changed.  Publishers are going to have to find a way to lower their costs, because it’s not just John Locke’s 99 cent novels (or my anthology, or my novel) that will sink them.  They’re going to start losing talent as well.

It’s getting interesting out there.  We have agents like Richard Curtis now filling the roll of e-publisher, and retailers like Amazon launching print and e-pub imprints of genres like romance and mystery.  It’s a strange new world when an author’s agent or his retailer can become his publisher.

What’s next?  That’s the interesting part.  Chaos.  Opportunity.

At Ad Astra with the Stop Watch Gang

The Stop Watch Gang is a writers group that has already generated a lot of great published short stories.  I had a few beers with them last night at the Ad Astra SF convention and went to their reading , and I gotta say there’s a lot of talent in that group.

I’m betting there will be published novels from these writers in the near future.

But speaking of published: the second story I ever had published, Beer Truck, is now available for Kindle.  Take it for a spin, but keep in mind that the story is about people doing very dumb things, taking chances so huge that a Darwin Award is but one slippery grip away.  Don’t try this at home.

Trouble at the Airport with the other Michael McPherson

The customs officer looked up and shrugged.  No, really, he truly looked apologetic.  “I’m sorry,” he said, “But I have to send you to immigration.  There’s a Michael McPherson with the same birth date wanted by the US police.”  He wouldn’t elaborate.

The last thing I wanted after a cramped plane flight was to line up at immigration in order to get back into my own country, and luckily I was pushed to the front of the line by the security guard because of my Canadian passport.  Membership has its privileges.

The immigration officer was just as baffled and called his manager, who stated that it was a long shot hit.  They let me go.  That was my first clue that there are just too many Michael McPhersons.

But it gets weirder.  I decided to go with Michael A. McPherson as my author name, but yesterday I read his obituary.  For the family’s sake I won’t link to it, but safe to say he’s African-American and from the south.  He was pretty close to my age too.  Eerie.

Another Google  result turned up a university professor named Michael S. McPherson, which is too close in the search to Michael A. McPherson, and because he has several published books it could cause a little confusion.

So how about M.A. McPherson?  Just forget the first name.  Then I discovered that there’s a poet, again of African-American heritage, who goes by Kuwme M. A. McPherson.  That’s going to cause a lot of confusion, because I’m definitely not a poet.  Even my mother laughed out loud at one of my poems.  It wasn’t meant to be funny.

So I’ve decided to re-brand as Michael Andre McPherson, using the full middle name.  A quick check of my birth certificate and passport show that I don’t need to worry about the accent over the last “e” in Andre, although I was taught to use it as a kid.

And since I’m re-branding: notice I’ve changed the name of the blog?  That’s where I’m going.  No more blind submissions to busy agents.  I’ll stand or fall on my e-book sales.  Besides, I really like the domain name.

Who Would Walk Away From a Seven Figure Book Deal?

Not Amanda Hocking.

Less than a week after Barry Eilser walked away from a $500,000 dollar contract with St Martin’s Press so that he could self-publish his next novel, Amanda Hocking, the self-publishing star who has sold over 2 million copies of her e-books, has signed a seven figure deal with St. Martin’s for her next four novels.

It will be fascinating to watch Eisler’s and Hocking’s careers to see which route will be more successful in the long run.  I know it’s not a very scientific study since Eisler writes thrillers and Hocking writes teen paranormal romances.  As the recent Twilight saga proves, that’s a very hot market.

I’m ready for the purists to roar in outrage that she has gone over to the dark side, but I’m with her when she says that she wants her novels to be available in every Walmart, Target and airport book kiosk.

Wide print distribution is one thing the traditional publishers can still give an author, although I am doubtful about how important that will be ten years from now.  Prominent placement on the front of Amazon’s website may be the ticket in 2021.  But right now, this year, wide print distribution is still the fast lane to big bucks.

A band was once accused of selling out to the big record labels. (The Offspring?  Green Day? I can’t remember) One of the band members replied to the journalist, “Dude!  That was always the plan.”  So I don’t judge Amanda Hocking for inking this deal.

Don’t get me wrong.  I still believe that self-publishing is the way to go for most authors since we won’t all be internet superstars.  That’s why I love self-publishing: the mid-list author can finally earn a living again.

But if I was offered a seven-figure book deal?  In the bank–as bloody fast as I can arrange the funds transfer.  It’s like winning the book lottery!

So who would walk away from a seven-figure book deal?  Not me, baby.

A Warning for Self-e-published Authors

I prefer not to simply publish links to other people’s content on this blog, but this warning from Amanda Hocking was aimed right at me.

She’s done what I want to do: e-self-published through Amazon and Smashwords, and she’s making thousands a month doing it.  She’s snagged an agent.  She’s making a good living as an author.

But she warns here that she knows another author, J. L. Bryan, who doesn’t sell as well even though he is a good writer and performs the same marketing moves that she does.

The warning is clear.  Even if the writing, promotion and cover are all great, your book might languish simply because you didn’t strike a cord, hit the right topic or simply didn’t appeal to the reading public.

It’s all a big gamble.  Just ask a traditional publisher.  Luckily with e-books, the upfront costs aren’t as huge as print books.

Rebecca Senese Seizes the Day

Rebecca Senese and I shared a strange place in the history of Storyteller Magazine before we even met. I’d finally snagged the cover of Storyteller in the winter 2006 edition after many attempts, so my mother proudly purchased a subscription for every member of the family, including my aunt.

Unfortunately, I had decided that for my story White Metal I’d let construction workers speak like construction workers.  The F-bomb fell more than a few times, and Storyteller chose to stick it right in one of the teaser lines.  My aunt, horrified by the profanity, refused to even read her nephew’s story and instead carried on to read the next story in the issue, Brother’s Under the Skin by Rebecca Senese.

It was like pouring gasoline on fire.  My aunt, the very committed Catholic anti-abortion activist, read a story about parents who clone their murdered son and try to relive his childhood through the clone.  Boom!

Terry Tyo, the owner of Storyteller, got a nasty phone call demanding that he cancel my aunt’s subscription and never send her a copy of his sick magazine again.  Terry was gun shy of controversial stories for months.  Between us, Rebecca and I had rocked Storyteller’s world.

Now Rebecca is out to rock your world.  She read my first post about planning to e-publish all my out of print short stories, but she ran where I walked.  I’m still trying to pull together the other stories, get them up with Smashwords for the Sony and Nook, and put together my anthology.  But in the last two months, while I was off in another world, Rebecca’s done it.

I’d better hurry.  A year ago I was in the middle of the e-book revolution, now I’m playing catch up.  So watch here for more announcements and e-publishing.  First my Storyteller stories, then my contest winners, then my novel and then…write till I die.  I finally have a market, however humble.  It’s there for the bold.