Saturday, 10 September 2016

Simon Wood Talks to Shots Ezine

I credit the British writer Simon Wood [who reallocated to the US West Coast] as being responsible for the start of my interest in Conspiracies and Conspiracy Theories. This was due to reading his novel We All Fall Down many years ago. I picked up this interesting book from this former professional driver, some-time Private Eye turned novelist.

I enjoyed this paranoid thriller, and found a blog post of his that indicated that he had been inspired to write We All Fall Down by learning of the mysterious suicides of some Scientists working in Great Britain with Marconi’s telecommunications division, allegedly in partnership with the US, on the Ronald Regan ‘Star Wars’ project. The more I researched the deaths in Bristol, the more I realised that something was not as it first seemed. Especially concerning, was the fact that some of the scientists were of Asian origin like myself, with one very disturbing case –

Perhaps the most disturbing of all the deaths occurred 2 months later. Arshad Sharif, 26, another computer scientist who worked on satellite guidance systems at Marconi died in the oddest circumstances imaginable.
Perhaps the most disturbing of all the deaths occurred 2 months later. Arshad Sharif, 26, another computer scientist who worked on satellite guidance systems at Marconi died in the oddest circumstances imaginable.
Sharif also travelled to Bristol, tied one end of a ligature to his neck, the other end to a tree, then jammed his foot on the accelerator of his car and decapitated himself. 
The day before his death, Sharif had been acting oddly and was seen paying for accommodation in a rooming house with a bundle of high denomination bank notes. 
A relative summoned to identify the body noticed something suspicious about his car. What appeared to be a metal rod was lying on the floor of the car next to the accelerator. Had it been used to wedge down the pedal? 
The coroner wasn’t happy. “This is past coincidence…I will not be completing this inquest until I know how two men with no connection to Bristol came to meet the same end here”  
Read More Here
It would lead me onto become fascinated with the Conspiracies and Conspiracy Theories, of which Tom Cain’s Accident Man and then Eoin McNamee’s 12:23: Paris. 31st August 1997.
I read several more of Simon’s work, and finally met him at Bouchercon 2014 held in Long Beach, and chaired by Ingrid Willis where Simon was the Toastmaster.
So with Bouchercon New Orleans coming up next week, I got talking to Simon, and asked him if he would kindly tell Shots Readers a little about his work, which much is downloadable electronically or can be bought via this link - Ali Karim
Towards the end of 2010, I'd hit a crossroads in my writing career. My primary publisher, Dorchester, had essentially gone bankrupt due to the embracement of the ebook and the fallout from the economic downturn which was hitting the brick and mortar bookstores hard. The upshot for me was I was without a publisher and had no real path forward. I had two options — either the call time on my writing career and get a real job or reinvent myself. I went with the latter. I wanted to be in books.

The path forward for me was in ebooks. Despite the introduction of print-on-demand publishing, self-publishing still came with an uphill struggle for legitimacy, but ebooks were changing all that. People were starting to adopt the Kindle and the Nook and looking for content. Having seen some of my fellow authors make inroads in this area I sought to do the same. The one thing I had on my side was material. I had a backlist of novels and short story collections. Four of my novels still belonged to Dorchester and I spent six months negotiating the rights back from them. By the end of 2010, I had a dozen titles at my disposal.

When it came to ebook world, I’d been a little hesitant to get involved as a couple of my small press publishers had asked me not to release an ebook version because it would hurt print sales. I respected their position, especially as they'd paid me decent advances, so I held off for a long time until one of my small-press editors admitted that he'd stopped buying print books since he'd bought a Kindle. After that, I didn't see much point in holding off any longer.

As part of my understanding of this market, I quizzed a large Kindle readers’ online group about their buying habits. I got several hundred responses with surprising results. Once people converted to ebooks, they stayed converts. They didn't double dip, buying some print books and some ebooks. Once they went electronic, they never went back. My print publishers’ worries that publishing an ebook version would rob print sales were unfounded because those customers were already gone. 

As someone who'd come up through the small press to reach the heady heights of mid-list life, I had to do a lot of heavy lifting in promotion and sales. I learned how the publishing sausage was made and this served me well. I spent the next couple of months essentially operating as a small publisher. I commissioned new artwork, had my books copyedited, typeset, etc., just like any other publisher. At the beginning of 2011, I had taken the plunge into the world of self-publishing.

I have to admit sales were slow at first, but to be honest, I wasn’t approaching it right. To butcher a Field of Dreams analogy, just because I built it didn't mean anyone would come. The problem was a lot of books were being released by self-published authors and I needed to make myself heard above the noise. The issue with switching to a virtual bookshelf is visibility. The shelf is infinitely long which is great but standing out is really hard. So I had to change my approach.

What I discovered was that the ebook market thrived on endorsements from trusted voices and I found them in the blogosphere. I sent review copies, essays and articles about my books to any and all blogs and websites with a good following. This helped get the word out and it showed itself in sales. With so many titles to my name, trying to promote them all at once was monumental and diluted my message.

By April 2011, I decided to focus on one title at a time, using the 'tip of the spear' approach. I was going to let one book break the ice for all the others. I started a "book of the month" campaign where I shared stories and research related to one of my books. With 12 books to my name at that point I saw that I had at least a year's worth of content to share with people. I focused on ACCIDENTS WAITING TO HAPPEN first, as this was originally my debut novel. I blogged about ACCIDENTS on my personal blog. I sent articles out to blogs about ACCIDENTS. I also started experimenting with online advertising. I shared my stories, worldview and my sensibilities. I made my followers part of my journey. I had them comment on book ideas and artwork, let them volunteer their names for characters in books and generally take part in the silliness on my page. Essentially, I wanted to create a community around me and have a fun place where people could share in my adventures. The combined approach worked. I had some good feedback coming from a lot of sources. Then momentum took over and I started to see various ebook and Kindle blogs talking about ACCIDENTS or one of my other titles almost daily. Sales climbed from April to June and ACCIDENTS hit Amazon’s Top 100 titles.

Proving the adage that a rising tide lifts all boats, I saw incremental sales growth across the board as ACCIDENTS spearheaded the rise to the top. THE FALL GUY cracked the Top 100. I have six titles in the Hardboiled Top 20. Then in one of those serendipitous events, Amazon sent out an email blast about ACCIDENTS and THE FALL GUY at the end of June. This catapulted ACCIDENTS to the #2 spot at Amazon over the 4th of July weekend, just behind Janet Evanovich’s latest with THE FALL GUY breaking the top 25. This lasted over a month. Just as sales were weighing in for ACCIDENTS and THE FALL GUY, sales for WE ALL FALL DOWN picked up and that book found itself in the top 20 by the end of that summer. This didn't go unnoticed. Amazon's burgeoning imprint, Thomas and Mercer, got into a discussion with my agent about buying my backlist. I'd landed a contract with Severn House for my Aidy Westlake series and sold the audio rights to Audible Studios. I went into 2012 with new publishers and a different profile in the industry.

While I could claim this is all due to my amazing awesomeness, I won’t. I have to acknowledge the lie of the land at the time. Essentially I hit the ebook world at the perfect moment. There was a vacuum at the time. The big six publishers were digging in their heels in when it came to ebooks. They were charging high prices, more than the physical book in some cases, and readers weren't biting. Readers were shifting over to the e-reader and they needed content. That was where a bunch of self-published and orphaned authors filled the gap. We had content and we were pricing it attractively. I don't totally blame the big six publishers from shying away from what was happening in the ebook market. It was a little bit of a Wild West. Prices were being driven down. My books were priced between 99 cents and three dollars but some writers were hacking Amazon's systems in order to sell books at a penny or for free. I don't think I would have the same success now as I did back then. The volume of books available is much greater than it was then and the big publishers have gotten wise to competitive pricing. So I acknowledge my good fortune during a time of bad fortune.

Looking back on all this five years later, I'm quite grateful for Dorchester's collapse as it made me a stronger writer. Certainly, it made me stronger from a business standpoint, which I think a lot of writers tend to ignore to their detriment. I'm far more diligent now when it comes to contracts and I have one eye on industry changes and how a contract clause could impact me years down the road.

I currently consider myself a hybrid writer — combining self-publishing and working with traditional publishers. Traditional publishers have far more range for reaching readers than I do as an individual writer, but at the same time, I can work on pet projects which might not be commercial enough for a publisher. Having a bunch of titles that I fully own outside of the ones my publisher owns gives me the flexibility to play with the price and capitalize on special offers my publisher might have. I'm also producing audiobooks and foreign-language translations for select titles. Having my fingers in a lot of publishing pies gives me a certain amount of stability, allowing me to write full time. This might all seem like a lot of work and not work for writer to be doing, but the industry is changing and I have to adapt if I want to stay in the game. All through my writing career, I’ve rolled with the punches. Part of that has been keeping an eye on how the face of publishing changes and being tenacious. I took advantage of the rise of ebooks because I had to and it's taught me well. My book sales electronically, in print and on audio are stronger because of it. Publishing will continue to change quickly because of technology and I’ll be ready change with the next development in the marketplace. Writing is both a craft and a business and to ignore either is to do so at the author's peril.

© 2016 Simon Wood

More Information about the work of Simon Wood is available here

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