Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Playing with Prices

I’m making ‘No Tears for the Lost’ – No 4 in the Riley Gavin/Frank Palmer London-based crime series – available on Kindle at $0.99 or £.077, depending on where you are.
Why such largesse? Because I’m feeling rebellious and want to see if I can bring down the entire industry. Here's why.

“Discounting is bad for publishing.” I forget which so-called legacy-publishing mouthpiece suggested this a while back (I paraphrase), but it was part of a broadside aimed squarely at the Kindle self-publishing army for not playing fair by undermining the free world with special offers. The comment was a warning that if this evil practice didn’t cease and desist forthwith and even sooner, by the cringe, we’d all be dragged screaming into a gutter of literary ignorance and that reading itself would be a thing of the past.

How this earth-bound representative of the Collective kept a straight face I don’t know; as if paper book publishers have never discounted a single thing in the history of printing! (Or paid for space in bookshops).

To be honest, I haven’t noticed any drop-off in reading. In fact, I hear it’s on the increase, and in a variety of forms. With the proliferation of e-readers, books of all genres are now more available than ever, easier to find, quicker to obtain and more practical to carry. (I just got back from a holiday in Menorca, and there were enough e-readers around the hotel pool to light up a small town. And I doubt they were only carrying just one book. Given the airlines’ baggage allowance these days, you simply can’t carry too many paper books without taking out a mortgage on the excess).

However, the latest shot across the bows against Kindle's owners is a demand by a bookshop in Warwickshire England that authors should cut out the heinous and barbaric practice of linking their websites to Amazon, since it disadvantages independent bookshops. (This is all part of a concerted effort to get Amazon to pay their fair share of tax – which I agree with – but it kind of uses a blunderbuss approach in that it’s now authors who are being put up as part of the problem, which is silly).

I’ve been in plenty of independent (and chain) bookshops over the years, and often seen neither hide nor hair of my books being supported by them (even in some instances a couple of days after doing promotional gigs there), so I find such protests a little weak, even hypocritical.

The thing is, I fully understand why bookshops prioritise on books they know they can sell, even if it doesn’t include some of mine. It’s called business. And, as with all businesses, if you want to survive, you have to make decisions based on what you know will work for you. And that includes taking note of local practice, offers, deals, discounts, packaging, special events – call it what you will.

However, what works for the goose and so forth…

I currently have 16 books which are traditionally-published – ie: in paper form. I've also got a few which I’ve put on Kindle myself, either because I retained the electronic rights when they were first published or because I’ve decided that was the way I wanted to go because I didn’t think they’d ever be published ‘traditionally’ (these are short story anthologies).  However, compared with some, I’ve done relatively little in the way of price reductions or deals.

Call me a slow learner.

 So, in the spirit of modern business practice, I’ve decided to hell with it, which is why I’m letting ‘No Tears for the Lost’ go for a paltry $0.99 or £0.77. And if this causes the utter collapse of the entire publishing industry as we know it, I’m really, really sorry. May the Borg and everybody else forgive me.

Frankly, though, I’m not holding my breath.


Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Book review

One of my regular and enjoyable tasks is reviewing thrillers for Shots Magazine. The latest read is 'The Abomination' by Jonathan Holt - see here. It's set in Venice, which provides a nicely sinister backdrop to a tale of sex-trafficking, corruption, war crimes and religious intolerance, and you can smell the muddy water in the lagoon all the way through.

It might not be the side to Venice some tourists have come to know and love, but it's a great setting for this excellent book, and the protagonists, Captain Katerina Tapo and 2nd Lt. Holly Boland (US Army), are a good team.

Monday, 24 June 2013


Every writer, published or not, should attend at least one writing or book-related conference. After being stuck in front of a keyboard for hours, days or months, it does the heart good to mix with others of the same ilk and even to listen in on what is being planned, written or polished.

I've just had such a day at the Winchester Writers' Conference, and after giving two talks and a number of one-to-ones with yet-to-be-published writers, I came away with a renewed sense of energy about this strange, often isolating game that we're all pursuing.

It was lovely to meet old friends, one of whom was the lovely Sally Spedding, who has what is probably the creepiest website page you can imagine, but which positively invites you to look further. (Go on, give it a try - along with her books, which are truly atmospheric). It was a fleeting meeting, since we were both on our way to different rooms, but always good to exchange a hug and a few words with such a well-known and respected author.

One thing you can't fail to notice at events like this is the air of optimism; optimism about finishing that book, about being able to find an agent - but mostly about finding a publisher. Most of the time this is something kept quietly subdued, shared only with family, close friends or members of a writers' group. But maybe that's one reason for attending these conferences - to let that optimism out into the open and share with others the dream of one day getting that request for a 'full' manuscript.

Of course, that's hardly the end of things - and certainly no guarantee that a deal will follow. The only certainties in life are death, taxes... and spam.

It's another step on the way, however. In the meantime, it's worth listening to others and picking up hints or ideas that might help shuffle one slightly closer to success, and to avoid being overcome by the blue meanies.

But what is heart-warming is the difference between the writers I met. At one end of the scale I spoke to a lady who was just a few thousand words into her very first book, and enjoying herself immensely after putting it off for many years. For her it was a new adventure which had brought her into contact with a whole world of people she could relate to and understand, as well as giving her untold pleasure as she creates a cast of characters and puts them down on paper. At the other end of the scale was a gentlemen who was writing his fifth book, undaunted by not yet having found a publisher, and intent on upping his game to a level he regarded as essential - and enjoying himself in the process, too.

Neither of these writers has any misconceptions about what they're engaged in; they don't expect immediate success (but yes, it would be nice!), they know the competition out there is fierce and they certainly aren't under any illusions that once you've finished a work, all you have to do is sit back and wait for that telephone call. (Unlike a writer I met recently who genuinely believed that all you had to do was write a book and a publisher would offer you a deal. Yes, really).

Sadly, there are writers who do not appear to have studied anything about the publishing industry - nor about how to lay out a manuscript (which is still essential if you want to be taken as a professional). And yet the information is available - for free. As I was tempted to say to a writer I met last year who seemed unaware of the importance of commas and full stops, and appeared quite affronted when I suggested a few examples, 'If you wanted to be a professional plumber, you would surely read up on the basics of well... plumbing - wouldn't you?'

I hope all the writers this weekend went away with a renewed sense of vigour and energy, and that next year, they will be back with a 'Guess what...?!"

Thursday, 20 June 2013

I'm conferencing.

I'm currently preparing for the annual Winchester Writing Conference, where I'll be appearing on Saturday 22nd. First I'll be giving a talk on How to Make Your Secondary Characters Count (at 14.15), which will give pointers on how not to leave your minor characters as cardboard cut-outs. (It's surprising how many writers do this, focusing all their descriptive efforts on the main protagonist(s). This is a shame, because readers will often confound us by falling for the secondary characters in a novel or series. Not that it's a bad thing, by any means. The great thing is, secondaries can be used again, even if you've kill them off, because you can then switch to writing zombie novels. It's multi-tasking, see?

This is followed by a two-hander at 15.25 with my agent David Headley. This session is called How to Get an Agent, and gives attending writers both sides of the agent-writer coin; what each should expect of the other, the responsibilities on both sides - basically, that it's a team effort to be treated professionally. And if, like me, you're very lucky, you get to enjoy the friendly relationship, too.

I've also been invited to participate in several 15 minute face-to-face sessions with writers (think speed dating with manuscripts), where writers show a sample of their work to an agent or other industry pro, and get feedback. It's fast and furious, then you get yanked out of your chair and moved on. But as I've been there and done that, I can share what I've experienced over the years, hopefully to help writers with a few pointers. And who knows? If I see a manuscript that lights my burners, I might just pass the word along to a friendly agent I happen to know. It's another form of networking, but it also makes the writers think about presentation, which is hugely important.

Winchester, UK. The place to be this weekend.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013


(2) 'EXECUTION' - "Top-notch for all fans of the spy-action genre..."

It's a special day when two of your recent books (both Harry Tate novels) get superb reviews from different sources. And early notice of this one comes from Booklist Reviews.

To quote a brief piece: "... another outstanding effort from an underrated but highly talented author. Fans of Joseph Finder and David Ignatius should start reading Magson right now; he will also appeal to the pure-adrenaline crowd who love Lee Child and Gregg Hurwitz."

Stone me; that's praise indeed. I'm honoured to be compared with these authors.


When a Russian hit team catches up with Roman Tobinskiy, political opponent of Moscow and former FSB colleague of Alexander Litvinenko (murdered by polonium poisoning in 2006), it's an easy kill; he's lying helpless in a hospital bed.
They realise too late that in an adjacent room is Clare Jardine, ex-MI6 officer, recovering from wounds while saving Harry Tate's life. When Clare goes on the run, Harry is ordered to track her down before the Russians reach her.
It's one of his toughest challenges yet. For not only is Clare as adept at covering her tracks as Harry is himself, but the Russians are not the only ones chasing her. Harry is about to come up against an old enemy from his past. And if he is to save Clare's life - as she saved his - he must seek help from a most unlikely source.

Signed hardback copies from Goldsboro Books, and available in ebook formats.

Upcoming reviews of Harry Tate thrillers

(1) 'RETRIBUTION' - "Highly recommended"

A wonderful review of 'Retribution' by Gloria Feit will be appearing shortly in CrimespreeSpinetingler and Midwest Book Review, among others, and on Amazon sites.

To quote Ms Feit:  "The author has done a terrific job creating a totally believable world and an equally credible protagonist.  It is even possible, shockingly, to find the antagonist sympathetic.  This was my first introduction to this author, and to Harry Tate, and I can’t wait to read the next in the series.  Highly recommended."

Now that has helped make this author's day. Thank you, Gloria Feit!

An atrocity that allegedly took place under Harry's watch one night in Kosovo in 1999 returns to haunt him when he receives a summons from an old UN contact. A lone assassin is tracking down all those who were present, despatching his victims with cold, skilful efficiency. There is also a threat to the worldwide standing of the United Nations itself. Who is the killer and why does he want revenge? If he is to stop the man, Harry must find out what really happened all those years ago... while staying alive in the process.

Signed hardback copies are available from Goldsboro Books, otherwise in ebook formats.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Follow the Saint

I was asked some time ago to write an introduction for The Saint (aka Simon Templar ) - the iconic character in the world-famous series by Leslie Charteris. I chose to write it for 'Follow the Saint' , and I'm delighted to say that this title will be published in August, by Mulholland Books, in paperback and as an ebook. Indeed, many others in the series are already available. And they really do look great.

I confess readily to having been set on my course to be a crime writer at the early age of 8, by my parents supplying me with a stack of 'Saint' books.

I'm still not sure where they got them - we lived on an isolated farming community in East Anglia. Nor whether the intention was to (a) keep me out of trouble with the local kids in the neighbourhood, (b) educate me, or (c) a subtle attempt to steer me towards a useful occupation as a writer. Whichever it was, it worked... sort of. I probably still got into trouble (there was that incident with a catapault, and the raft that didn't float); I loved English but was hopelessly incapable of using numbers (still am); but did become a full-time writer... eventually.

I owe my parents and Leslie Charteris for the last one in equal measure. At the age of 8, I didn't understand all the words, but I certainly got the stories, which were as clear as a bell. I also 'got' the concept of storytelling, and decided that I would just love to do what Charteris did, which was to sit all day and make up stories with guns and heroes 'n heroines and stuff.

I did this first for many years in women's magazines, penning short stories and articles, then latterly, writing full-length novels.

I'm not saying I do it anywhere near as well as Leslie Charteris, but I try my damndest.

If you haven't tried 'The Saint', you certainly should. He was the start of something very, very good.

Monday, 3 June 2013

A warm and fuzzy glow...

Well, what can I say? Crimefest this year was THE BEST YET! Actually the same was said last year, and not just by me. And with good reason. Bristol was warm and sunny, the delegates were even warmer and sunnier, and the panels were run like well-oiled machines (a bit like some of the guests after a visit to the bar, only different). If you were a keen reader, you had access to enough books and authors to give yourself a fuzzy glow for days afterwards, and if you were a writer, you could only be enthused by the authors on display, and their stories and views.
Furthermore, laughter was in strong evidence throughout, especially on the interview panel run by Nev Fountain, talking to 'Sherlock' creators Sue Vertue, Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat.

I was fortunate to be moderating the opening panel – Diverse Characters in Crime – with Mary Andrea Clarke, Roz Southey, Chris Longmuir and Nev Fountain.

Then I was a panelist on the Forgotten Authors panel, moderated with smooth skill by Martin Edwards, along with JohnCurran, Ruth Dudley Edwards and Zoe Sharp. I was remembering Peter ‘Modesty Blaise’ O’Donnell and James ‘Callan’ Munro (aka James ‘ When the Boat Comes in’ Mitchell) – both of whom had a strong influence on my desire to become a crime and thriller writer.

I was also lucky to be invited onto Natives & Outsiders, commanded briskly by Jake Kerridge and with a crew of MJMcGrath and Dana Stabenow (talking Alaska) and Pierre Lemaitre plus his translator Frank Wynne, and myself (talking France). This discussed the approach by writers within the country and those, like Melanie McGrath and me, with a more detached connection. Pierre (who got more laughs than anyone else in spite of claiming he couldn’t speak much English) made the interesting suggestion that my France was probably more real than his. He wasn’t saying I was more accurate, simply that he was writing for an audience which knew the setting, whereas I needed more detail.
I met so many friends, old and new, and had such a good time, you had to be there to see it. Of course, there are those who might say that, like London in the 60s, if you can remember it, you weren't there...
But now you've been warned, there's always next year...