Sunday, 22 May 2011

THE BIG PUSH: Allan Guthrie

Edinburgh's Allan Guthrie has been posing the questions on digital publishing over at Criminal-E - Pulp Pusher turned the tables to see how his answers stacked up.

Can you sum up your book in no more than 25 words?

Bye Bye Baby
is a police thriller novella about the investigation of a very unusual kidnapping.

What was your motivation for writing it?

I'd had the core idea for years and it kept eating away at me. I eventually wrote it as a short story for an anthology called Shattered, which came out in 2009. It had never occurred to me until then to tell the story from the mother's point of view, but the remit for Shattered was to write the story from the perspective of a victim and I thought I'd give it a go, see how it turned out. It was an interesting and I think largely successful exercise, but left me hungry to write another version of the same story, one told from a different perspective. So I showed the Shattered story to an editor at Barrington Stoke who'd bought a previous novella of mine, gave her an overview of planned additions, changes, etc., and asked if she'd be interested in it. Luckily, she thought it sounded fairly enticing, and commissioned it. So that's how I came to write it. How I came to e-publish it myself is a whole other story.

So how did you come to e-publish it yourself?

Barrington Stoke had planned to publish in July 2010, but they had a rethink and moved the date back to July 2011. But a short time later, they had another bigger rethink, and decided to move the pub date back to 2013. That was quite a delay, so I asked if they'd mind if I went ahead with a digital edition meantime, and they were only too happy for me to do so. There's a twist in the tale here. Due to Bye Bye Baby doing quite well as an ebook, the paperback publication date has been moved forward to November this year.

How much difference does an editor make?

It depends. If you have a lot of natural ability, then maybe an editor doesn't make that much difference. Simon Logan springs to mind, for instance, as someone who's staggeringly good, despite, by his own admission, not yet being edited. But for most of us, editors are essential. I've been lucky enough to work with some phenomenal editors and I've learned more about writing from them than from any other source. Also, the best editors push you to improve. You have something that's good, it's taken you months or years to write, and you feel as if it's finished. Without an editor, you'd probably sign off on it. A good editor will invite you to make it better still.

How important is a good title?

It's important that it has the cool factor. And nothing says cool quite like a Bay City Rollers song, let's face it. Ahem.

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


What are your views on eBook pricing?

The dilemma for writers is whether they charge $2.99 (or £1.49+VAT in the UK) in order to get the 70% royalty from Amazon, or go for the 99 cent (lowest you can charge as an indie author) and only get 35%. What it boils down to for me is the question of whether you want money, or readers. Well, I'm all for avoiding obscurity. I've been obscure for long enough. Since it's a no-brainer that the cheaper the book, the more copies you'll sell, there's no prizes for guessing which way I lean.

There's a print precedent for me too, which makes the decision particularly straightforward. My UK publisher, Polygon, once published a one-off edition of my novel Two-Way Split for a Waterstone's 99p promotion throughout Scotland. Print run was well over 10,000 copies. It was seen to be worth the expense in order to get the book into the hands of lots of new readers who might take a chance on a new writer at the 99p price point. I'm applying the same principle to my ebook pricing. Except it costs me nothing to provide 99-cent books. If the promotional opportunity was sufficient to lure a savvy print publisher into forking out a decent chunk of change for a new edition, then it's crazy to shun the chance of doing the same digitally when it not only costs me nothing, I'm getting paid for it.

What are the biggest problems facing writers these days?

The main problem's the same as it's always been: you've written a great book, how do you bring it to the attention of potential readers? Once upon a time, you got an agent, found a publisher, and they handled the rest. That's not to say it was easy -- it certainly wasn't. But it's become exponentially more difficult in recent years as publishers grow increasingly risk-averse as they adapt to the new publishing landscape. So getting published is a massive challenge for most writers still looking to pursue the traditional publishing path. Once you're published, the next big challenge is to stay published, since you're only ever as good as the sales of your last book. It's a tough old battle to keep your sales trajectory in the right direction when print sales are in decline and the most commonly consulted data within the industry is Bookscan, which doesn't record ebook sales. And because bookstore orders are often based on previous sales, the odds are stacked against you. Hat's off to those who succeed.

Not to end on a downer, I actually believe there's never been a better time to be a writer. Or a reader. Ebooks have opened up the market enormously. Books considered 'too small' or 'too difficult' for traditional publishers now have the chance to make their mark in the digital world. For the first time in history there's a cheap and convenient way for all books to find their audience, whatever size that audience might ultimately prove to be.


Allan blogs at: Criminal-E Visit his website: Noir Originals Bye Bye Baby - a Kindle Top-10 bestseller - is available now, priced £0.86