Saturday, 22 December 2012

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

The Next Big Thing by Zoë Sharp

Screenwriter and novelist Stephen Gallagher collared me last week for this, The Next Big Thing blog hop. He breezily explained that all I had to do was answer ten questions on my next or latest project, then tag five other willing victims—erm, esteemed authors—to do the same. Stephen likened it to grains of rice on a chessboard, and that within a few weeks there would not be an untagged writer left on the planet. While there’s still time, here are my answers to the ten burning questions:

Q1) What is the title of your book?

A1) The latest new book out is DIE EASY: Charlie Fox book ten. It finds ex-army turned bodyguard, Charlie Fox, working close protection at a celebrity fundraising event in New Orleans. But all the glitter attracts entirely the wrong kind of attention, and Charlie soon finds herself outnumbered, unarmed, and unable to rely on the one person she should be able to trust with her life.

Q2) Where did the idea come from?

A2) I’ve always loved the old Bruce Willis classic, ‘Die Hard’, and I wanted to do my own take on that movie, giving Charlie some kind of ‘bare feet’ handicap as she battles the bad guys. And after visiting New Orleans post-Katrina, I knew I wanted to set a book there. The two ideas came together and what else could I call Die Hard meets The Big Easy but DIE EASY?

Q3) What genre best defines your book?

A3) I usually say it’s a crime thriller. Charlie isn’t a detective, and she’s more likely to shoot the bad guy than drag him off to jail, but she’s fighting for what she believes is right, to protect those who can’t protect themselves, to see justice of a sort done, and to bring order to things.

Q4) What actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie?

A4) Long list. Somebody like Gina Carano, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel or Natalia Tena would be great as Charlie Fox herself. For Sean Meyer, Sam Worthington, or Max Beesley, or maybe even Alex O’Loughlin. After Charlie and Sean move to New York to work for Parker Armstrong, I saw him as Mark Harmon. For Charlie’s sometimes cold and clinical consultant surgeon father, Michael Kitchen or Ian Richardson would be perfect, and Dame Judi Dench for her fussy but ultimately strong mother. Why not aim high?

Q5) What is the one-sentence synopsis?

A5) ‘Die Hard’ in the Big Easy

Q6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

A6) In the States, DIE EASY is taking the conventional publication route, via Pegasus Books in New York. For other territories, however, I’m going the indie route.

Q7) How long did it take you to write the first draft?

A7) Probably about four months, then edits after that. I plan it out beforehand and try to stick to that plan, summarizing as I go. It’s a nice theory, but it doesn’t always quite work out that way …

Q8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

A8) That’s a good question. Charlie has been likened to other people—Lee Child’s Jack Reacher, Thomas Perry’s Jane Whitefield, even Ian Fleming’s James Bond. I just set out to write the kind of character I wanted to read about. If other people like her, that’s a terrific bonus.

Q9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

A9) I’m always looking for a new challenge for Charlie. I’m constantly pressure-testing her to see how she reacts. This was another test. I threw in old loyalties, old rivalries, a blood feud, and lost love and betrayal—both of the characters and of the city in which they find themselves. I threw RPGs, downed helicopters, pirates and gangbangers at her. I stripped her of weapons and backup, then told her to get in there and do her job. She did, with her usual nerve and skill, even if this time not everybody’s going to come out of it alive.

Q10) What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?

A10) You mean that’s not enough? Sheesh, you guys are a tough crowd. OK, how about this praise from Harlan Coben—“Zoë Sharp is one of the sharpest, coolest, and most intriguing writers I know. She delivers dramatic, action-packed novels with characters we really care about. And once again, in DIE EASY, Zoë Sharp is at the top of her game."

One of the ideas of The Next Big Thing is that I put another five victims in my sights for next week. For this I’ve chosen some names you may not know, but really ought to:

CJ Ellisson is the author of four wicked and witty paranormal suspense novels in the VV Inn series about a 580-year-old vampire who attracts trouble as readily as she attracts men.

Danuta Reah, who also writes as Carla Banks, is the author of psychological mysteries set as far afield as Saudi Arabia and Eastern Europe, as well as in her native Sheffield.

Sheila Quigley is based in the northeast of England and is the bestselling author of seven books, with the eighth, THE FINAL COUNTDOWN, due in December, which is the last in a trilogy featuring DI Mike Yorke and set around Holy Island.

Graham Smith has been a fan of fiction since being given Enid Blyton’s Famous Fiv e books when he was eight. Since then he’s been writing his Harry Charters chronicles and short stories, and reviewing for

Andrew Peters was born in the swamps of Glamorgan but has since hastened to Spain, where he spends his time gloating about the weather and penning tales of Otis King, Memphis’ number one Welsh Blues Detective, and some cuttingly funny short stories.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Winter Blues by Zoë Sharp

Now the clocks have gone back, the first dusting of snow has fallen, and the rabid countdown to Christmas is in full swing, it feels like winter is officially well and truly Here.

I have mixed feelings about this. Part of me is extremely tempted to mutter, “Bah! Humbug!” under my breath a good deal of the time. But actually I find the winter months tend to be a really good time to write. There isn’t the temptation to venture out, and there’s something rather cosy about sitting creating stories in a little pool of light from a desk lamp, while the wind thrashes the sleet against the outside of the windows.

At least, I think, I’m not out working in that.

But people are supposed to be outside dwellers. A couple of hundred years ago, about three-quarters of us worked out in the open in one way or another. Today that’s fallen to roughly ten percent. During the summer this isn’t such a problem, but working odd hours in winter means we often leave home in the dark and arrive back in the same state, spending our working day under deathly artificial light in the meantime.

Which is why huge number of us suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder—the aptly named SAD—or the Winter Blues.

Writers, I think, tend to be more affected by mood than others. It’s no secret that levels of depression are higher among creative people, and Winter Blues can sometimes be the final straw, particularly if you’re not aware of what it is and the effects. I’d heard of it, but until I started reading up for this piece, I didn’t realise what it really meant.

Winter Blues usually affects those who live more than thirty degrees from the equator, where the daylight levels rise and fall more noticeably with the seasons. (I knew there was another good reason to move to warmer climes.)

Reduced daylight and sunshine affects our circadian rhythms—our bodyclock—which regulate appetite, digestion, energy, sleeping, waking and mood. Just about everything that allows us to function, then. Without the proper triggers to wake feeling energetic, and sleep at the right times, we become lethargic and grumpy.

Among the symptoms for Winter Blues:

  • Lack of energy making you unable to stick to your normal routine.
  • Sleep problems—restless at night and tired during the day.
  • Lack of interest in physical contact.
  • Anxiety and an inability to cope.
  • Depression with no apparent cause.
  • Social withdrawal and irritability.
  • Craving for sweets and carbohydrates, leading to weight gain.

So, you’ve looked down the list and thought, “Yup, ticked all those boxes.” Now, what do you do about it?

There’s medication, of course, but some of the organisations set up to help sufferers suggest that the best way forward may be to try light treatment. (Of course, I say this entirely as a lay-person. If you think you’ve got it, seek expert medical advice.)

But, it’s known that lack of light increases our production of Melatonin, which is the hormone that makes us sleepy, and decreases our Serotonin production, which is what keeps us happy.

So, sitting, for periods of time that vary according to each individual, with a lightbox which produces more lumens than a standard incandescent bulb may do wonders. As may having an alarm clock that simulates a gradual dawn breaking with increasing light rather than an abrupt buzzer, or spending as much time as possible outside, negative air ionisation, and Vitamin D supplements. Taking more exercise is always noted as helpful for those with depression, although if you’re depressed and sluggish the last thing you may feel like doing is exercise.

Whatever way you decide is best for you to treat the Winter Blues, the important thing is that you recognise you may be one of the many people affected, and to do something about it.

Personally, hibernating until the spring seems like a really good idea …

This week’s Word of the Week is mislippen, a Scots and Northern English dialect word meaning to distrust, suspect, disappoint, overlook, neglect or deceive.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Die Easy by Zoë Sharp

There’s no denying it’s taking a little longer to get the new Charlie Fox book out there than I envisaged. It’s literally days away from publication in most territories. But, just to thank everyone for being so patient―and in response to a certain number of both pleas and threats―here’s a sneak preview: the opening chapter, just to keep you going …

DIE EASY: Charlie Fox book ten

“Zoë Sharp is one of the sharpest, coolest, and most intriguing writers I know. She delivers dramatic, action-packed novels with characters we really care about. And once again, in DIE EASY, Zoë Sharp is at the top of her game.”—Harlan Coben

In the sweating heat of Louisiana, former Special Forces soldier turned bodyguard, Charlie Fox, faces her toughest challenge yet.

Professionally, she’s at the top of her game, but her personal life is in ruins. Her lover, bodyguard Sean Meyer, has woken from a gunshot-induced coma with his memory in tatters. It seems that piecing back together the relationship they shared is proving harder for him than relearning the intricacies of the close-protection business.

Working with Sean again was never going to be easy for Charlie, either, but a celebrity fundraising event in aid of still-ravaged areas of New Orleans should have been the ideal opportunity for them both to take things nice and slow.

Until, that is, they find themselves thrust into the middle of a war zone.

When an ambitious robbery explodes into a deadly hostage situation, the motive may be far more complex than simple greed. Somebody has a major score to settle and Sean is part of the reason. Only trouble is, he doesn’t remember why.

And when Charlie finds herself facing a nightmare from her own past, she realises she can’t rely on Sean to watch her back. This time, she’s got to fight it out on her own.

One thing’s for sure—no matter how overwhelming the odds stacked against her, Charlie Fox is never going to die easy …


Chapter One

Even on a good day I don’t enjoy being shot at. Been there, done that, and it bloody hurts.

I wasn’t kidding myself this was going to be a good day.

Maybe that had something to do with the fact that my gun hand—my right—was securely handcuffed to a reinforced briefcase weighing probably twenty-five pounds.

That in itself wouldn’t have been so bad. I’d put in enough time on the range to be proficient with either hand. My left wrist, however, was just as firmly handcuffed to Sean Meyer’s right. Neither of us was exactly overjoyed by this state of affairs.

Especially when everything was about to go to shit around us.

We were on a quiet street of generic storefronts, parked cars dotted along either side. There were people nearby but nobody gave us a second glance.

And then, just when the tension began to give me heartburn, a dozen rapid shots cracked out further down the street. I was half expecting them, but still they startled me. I forced out a strangled yelp, even though I knew they were scare shots, fired from a single weapon rather than part of an exchange, designed purely to start a stampede.

They got the job done.

Sean wheeled and I had to swing fast to stay with him. His eyes were everywhere. He’d already drawn the Glock 17 semiautomatic, hefted it in his left hand, but he stayed on his feet, upright, alert.

Next to him, useless as a stuffed lemon chained to that damn case, I felt helplessly exposed. I willed myself calm, knowing I had to rely on Sean to protect me—to protect both of us.

People started to stream past us. Some screaming, some shouting—unintelligible words filled with a contagious panic. I tugged deliberately at his arm.

“Sean! We need to get out of here—”

“Shut up.”

It was the vicious tone more than the words that shocked me into silence. As we turned, I caught a glimpse of figures crossing between the buildings. They were dressed in jeans and loose shirts like the rest of the crowd. Unlike everybody else, though, they moved with direction and purpose, and they were armed.

I didn’t speak, didn’t distract Sean, but by the way he tensed I knew he’d seen them, too.

His brows were drawn down flat in concentration, making his harsh face seem colder than usual. Cold enough to make me shiver.

He muscled me sideways effortlessly, snatching roughly at the cuffs so that it jarred my whole arm. I should have been protesting at this point, but I said nothing. It took willpower to remain passive.

Sean went down on one knee, pulled me into a crouch alongside him, using an old parked Chevy for cover. We stayed up by the front wheel where the engine block provided more of a shield.

More people sprinted by. A man tripped and went sprawling right behind us. Sean ignored him. He had the gun up in front of him, head tilted to best utilise his dominant eye.

A target broke cover, dodging through the remnants of the fleeing people. Sean fired on him without hesitation, four fast shots that somehow threaded through the crowd, tracked and hit. He went down.

Before the first man finished falling another had appeared, jinking between parked cars on the opposite side of the street. He had a machine pistol held at waist-level, and he strafed us as he ran. Sean held his nerve, his position and his aim, taking only two rounds to drop him.

The third and fourth assailants came in together from oblique angles, taking advantage of any tunnelling in Sean’s focus. Sean twisted, forgetting about my dead weight on the end of his right arm. He growled in frustration as his first shots went wide, taking an extra fraction of a second he barely had time for.

His breath hissed out as he swung his arm over the top of me and fired again, so close I felt the gases blast past my cheek, heard the brutal snap of the report clatter in my ears. The hot dead brass spun out and scattered around me. One casing hit the side of my neck, burning the skin. Instinct told me to stay on my feet. Instead I dropped flat, trying to get my hands over my head. Not easy with unwieldy objects attached to both arms.

Then I heard the Glock’s action lock back empty.

I hadn’t been counting the rounds, but I couldn’t believe Sean let the gun run dry in these circumstances.

I raised my head, my locked-together fingers hampering his reload. Sean hit the release to drop the magazine and shoved the Glock, butt upwards, into the vee at the back of his bent leg. He snatched the spare mag out of his belt and slapped it home with the palm of his hand, then pulled the gun free and flicked the slide release awkwardly to snap the first round up into the chamber.

The whole operation had taken maybe a couple of seconds, left-handed, smooth and without a slip, but he was staring at me as if I’d just tried to get him killed.

As if I wanted him dead …

“Come on—up!” he commanded, almost wrenching my arm out of its socket as he dragged me upright. The briefcase dangled painfully from the short cuff chain, gouging at my right wrist. I groped for the case’s handle, stumbling as we fell back into the mouth of an alley.

The expanding slap of a long gun rebounded between the brick buildings, and then they came at us thick and fast, half a dozen armed men, experienced pros, motivated, confident.

It was always going to be a no-win situation.

Sean went to the wall that allowed him to keep his left hand free, facing outwards, elbowing me round behind him. He fired at anything that showed itself past the edge of the scarred brickwork, dialled in now, emotions buttoned down tight.

And this time he dropped the magazine out before the last round was fired, keeping the Glock’s working parts in play. He shoved the gun into his belt to reach for a reload.

I stayed close up behind him—I had no other choice. But I had my face slightly turned towards the back of the alley, and for this reason I saw a door open halfway back, a man emerge with a gun in his right fist. He was tall, rangy, his arms already raised to firing position, and he was smiling.

I sucked in an audible breath. Sean heard it, head snapping round. For the merest fraction of a second he hesitated, then tried to hurry the magazine into the pistol grip and fumbled it.

The man’s smile became broader. He fired.

Not at Sean, but at me.

I felt the punch of the impact in my chest, high on the right, where he knew the round would drill diagonally through ribs, lungs and heart. Where he knew it would do the most harm.


I gasped but couldn’t get my breath, started to slide down the rough wall as my legs folded under me. Sean turned into my body as if to stop me falling. His face was an inch from mine. I stared into eyes dark as mourning and saw nothing reflected back at me.

That hurt worse than the shot.

His left hand was empty. It snaked under the tails of my shirt. I felt his fingers close around the .40 cal SIG Sauer P229 I wore just behind my right hip, pulling it free.

He knew I carried the gun ready, with a round jacked up into the chamber. There was no safety.

He fired as soon as the weapon cleared my torso, four rounds straight into the centre of the smiling man’s body mass.

As the guy went down I just had time to note that he wasn’t smiling any more.

‘To sum up DIE EASY, I would have to say that I have waited a year for a great book, only for a brilliant one to be delivered with all the style and panache you would expect from Sharp and Fox. An exceptional novel.’ Graham Smith, five-star review

This week’s Words of the Week are the Latin phrases cui bono, meaning for whose advantage or benefit is it?; who is the gainer? And cui malo, whom will it harm?
Zoë Sharp

Thursday, 4 October 2012



A pregnant woman hires ex-mob fixer and security specialist Noah Milano to track down the man who got her pregnant. When it turns out this man is quite the scoundrel Noah gets involved with Russian gangsters and a murder case.

Praise by other authors:
''The writing is fresh and vivid and lively, paying homage to the past while standing squarely in the present." -James W. Hall, author of Silencer.

''Great pop sensibility with a nod to the classic L.A. PIs.'' - David Levien, author 13 Million Dollar Pop
'Noah Milano walks in the footsteps of the great P.I,.'s, but leaves his own tracks." - Robert J. Randisi, founder of PWA and The Shamus Award
"J. Vandersteen takes us back to the glory days of pulp fiction. And I mean the genre, NOT the movie. His Noah Milano character rings completely true as a tough, lone-wolf private." - Jeremiah Healy, author of TURNABOUT and THE ONLY GOOD LAWYER

Thursday, 27 September 2012

A Sudden Reduction in the Number of Wings by Zoë Sharp

Next week sees the start of the Bouchercon Mystery Convention 2012. I, along with many hundreds of other crime fiction fans and authors, will be making my way to Cleveland Ohio for the event.

And for the majority of us that means entrusting ourselves to <gasp> the airlines.

Let’s face it, unless you’re one of the rarified few who happens to have a sparkly new LearJet 85 on permanent standby, this means entering the special hell that is today’s modern airport.

Passengers―who are so often viewed as a necessary evil only there to make the day-to-day running of the airline more difficult―are extruded from plastic check-in desk, via Duty Free shopping to plastic departure gate, and squirted down a toothpaste tube onto a plastic aircraft, where they’re told to sit down, shut up and don’t annoy the staff before being fed plastic food with plastic cutlery.

Last month I flew to Greece, into a tiny airport with only two gates. (Well, if I’m being picky it had actually two doors leading from the same lounge.) No tubes, we merry passengers were actually trusted to amble across the tarmac without behind shepherded every step of the way to our waiting aircraft. It had real steps to front and rear doors, with a charming lady checking seat numbers who instructed those sitting closer to the rear of the plane they needed to go “Back side!” to climb aboard.

Ah, it all takes me back to a simpler time.

But the reality of next week’s flight will be having to remove half my clothes to get through security, and allowed to carry on board only a micro amount of anything even vaguely squishy, never mind actually liquid. I’m not looking forward to having to clear Immigration in Atlanta and then make an onward flight for Cleveland. Or trailing luggage single-handed along miles of tiled corridors.

But actually being in the air? That I do still enjoy. For one thing, the views are stunning, of mountains and landscapes that are totally different from the way they appear on the ground. Even the most industrial cities have a certain beauty from the air.

I’ve had some ‘interesting’ flights, sure. I’ll draw a veil over making an unscheduled approach into JFK with one engine shut down and rows of fire engines lining each side of the runway, or the ground crew having to clear the runway of sheep so we could set down by helicopter in the Scilly Isles off the Cornish coast.

Mostly, I think the memorable flights are down to the cabin crew―good or bad. There was one dominatrix on American who came round with the food cart and growled, “Chicken or beef?”

When I had the temerity to ask for more information about the chicken dish, she put her hands on her hips and said, “Honey, it’s airline food. It’s chicken. Cluck, cluck.”

But the best in-flight service is done with style and humour and for that SouthWest wins hands down. I’ve heard better stand-up comedy routines on SouthWest flights than on Open Mic nights, that’s for sure. Here are a few pearls:

 “We don’t anticipate any problems with our aircraft today … or I would have called in sick!”

“If you’re travelling with children ― we’re sorry. Fit your own oxygen mask before helping them. If you’re travelling with two children, pick the one you like best. If you don’t like either of them, at least pick the one with the most potential …”

Whispered over the mic after a late-evening takeoff, with the cabin lights low: “You are all feeling very sleepy… You don’t want any drinks… Nuts give you gas…”

“When you leave the aircraft please ensure you have all your belongings with you … or they’ll be on eBay tomorrow …”

And there was that wonderful safety briefing skit on an old UK comedy show called Not The Nine O’Clock News that included the line:

“In the event of an emergency there will be a loss of cabin pressure and a sudden reduction in the number of wings …”

So, Hardboiled Crew, what horror stories or moments of comedy do you have to report from your forays into the air? Come on, give me something to look forward to!

This week’s Word of the Week is propugnation, from Shakespeare, meaning a defence, from the Latin pro for, and pugnare to fight.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Under Review by Zoë Sharp

Once again the thorny subject of reviews has raised its head in recent days―and particularly ugly it looks in the cold light of day, too. Reviewing has always been a matter of opinion, but up until relatively recently I always assumed it was, at least, the honest opinion of the reviewer, good or bad.


Not the case, it seems.


Most authors are delicate flowers and our fragile little egos are crushed by stinging criticism―especially the kind that’s doled out anonymously—but I try not to let unfavourable reviews affect me by the simple expedient of not reading them unless someone else has told me I really ought to.


Now, I fully admit this may seem like the Ostrich Method of Problem Solving (stick your head in the sand and hope the problem goes away by itself) but hey, it works for me. I read somewhere recently that writers take more criticism in a year than most people have to face in a lifetime, so a little avoidance occasionally is more than understandable, in my view.


But although critical reviews may hurt, that doesn’t mean I’d ever manufacturer glowing reports on my work. Nor would I ever take swipes at another writer from behind the safety of an online avatar.


That doesn’t mean I haven’t thought about it, but as far as I know they can’t lock you up for that—not yet, at least. The closest I’ve come to this form of BSP (Blatant Self-Publicity) was, some years ago, considering sending out books to people I knew who might possibly enjoy them on the proviso that, if they did, they might like to write a review somewhere.


This grand plan for world domination never made it past the consideration stage.


Mainly, I think, because I find it very difficult to solicit praise. It’s a little bit like my very first UK publisher. Two years after they’d been publishing my books, my editor had still not invited me out for coffee, never mind lunch. So much, I thought, for the wine-you-and-dine-you attitude that I’d been led to believe prevailed. Eventually, my agent at the time bullied her into it, which I felt rather defeated the object. After all, they should value their authors enough to do that kind of thing automatically. And if you have to beg, it’s surely not worth having.


I feel much the same way about reviews—if someone enjoys the book enough to say so spontaneously, that’s absolutely wonderful. But if you have to ask them to comment …


I found I simply couldn’t bring myself to do it.


When I launched my first e-book last year—the e-thology of Charlie Fox short stories—I gave away fifty copies via my newsletter list to people in the hopes that, if they enjoyed the collection they might be prepared to say so. But I didn’t chase them afterwards, despite being told I should, and I certainly didn’t specify that only effusively positive reviews were acceptable.


I can’t even rally support from the online community to vote down less-than-enthusiastic reviews on Amazon, as I know some authors do. If they’re genuine and not somebody hiding behind a pseudonym, then they’re entitled to say if they didn’t enjoy the book. As long as they don’t give away rampant plot spoilers, I shall deal with their criticism by the Ostrich Method mentioned above. C’est la vie.


As for the infamous sock-puppets that seem to be rife at the moment, the practice mystifies me. I know authors spend a lot of time listening to the voices in their heads—or, in my case, the people I keep locked in my basement—but that doesn’t mean I’d ever let them out in public. And I would find writing glowing reviews of my own work so cringingly embarrassing, never mind throwing rocks at other authors I considered my ‘rivals’.


What rivals? I mean, aren’t we all in this together? Unless you can churn out a book every couple of days, surely even the most prolific authors can’t write fast enough to keep a keep reader supplied all year round? In which case, isn’t it in every writer’s best interest to keep readers reading by recommending other similar books they might enjoy?


Ah … just me then.


The problem now is that I’ve been looking for a couple of non-book-related products—a mesh-lined shoulder bag for travelling, and a mosquito-repellent wristband. Some of the reviews on sites like Amazon claim they’re the best thing since the proverbial sliced bread. Others state they’re a total waste of money. Do I believe either, or are the good ones put-up jobs from paid reviews or employees of the manufacturer, and the bad ones spiteful digs from jealous rivals?




Not all criticism is a bad thing, of course. Sometimes it can be highly entertaining. I offer these examples as a case in point:


The first is the by-now infamous review of the hair-removal product Veet For Men, which has been viewed thousands of times and caused great amusement.


The second is the brilliant critique of the food on a Virgin flight from India, sent to Sir Richard Branson.


And finally, the hilarious reviews on the BIC For Her ballpoint pens.


So, Collective Crew, what are your opinions on reader reviews? Do you read them, write them, solicit them, take any notice? And what about other items, not just books? Have we come full circle and are back to word-of-mouth by trusted friends as the only true recommendation?


Or are all our friends in on the conspiracy, too …


This week’s Word of the Week is trichotillomania, meaning an abnormal desire to pull out one’s hair, from the Greek trich- the stem of thrix, meaning hair, and thus trichologist—the person who cuts your hair.


And finally, a little gentle BSP, if I may be so bold. I was honoured to be asked to contribute to the excellent MAKING STORY: Twenty-one Writers on How They Plot, available on both Amazon UK and Editor Timothy Hallinan has done a wonderful job of pulling all this disparate information together, and it should prove an invaluable resource.


See, when it’s other people’s work, I find it much easier to praise it!









Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Out of the Gutter Online: Brit Grit Alley

Out of the Gutter Online: Brit Grit Alley: Brit Grit Alley features news and updates on what's happening down British crime fiction's booze and blood soaked alleyways. By Paul D. Brazill. See what's happeing this week.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Indie publishing ― the bottom line by Zoë Sharp

Writing can be a very isolated occupation. I found that out this week when I came across an item on The Daily Weekly blog, part of the Seattle Weekly Blogs. Not only had I somehow managed to miss this piece when it came out back in April, but the content frankly astounded me.

The blog details an open letter from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos in advance of a shareholder meeting held later that month. Or, more particularly, a small section of that letter:

“Kindle Direct Publishing has quickly taken on astonishing scale - more than a thousand KDP authors now each sell more than a thousand copies a month, some have already reached hundreds of thousands of sales, and two have already joined the Kindle Million Club. KDP is a big win for authors. Authors who use KDP get to keep their copyrights, keep their derivative rights, get to publish on their schedule - a typical delay in traditional publishing can be a year or more from the time the book is finished - and ... saving the best for last ... KDP authors can get paid royalties of 70%. The largest traditional publishers pay royalties of only 17.5% on ebooks (they pay 25% of 70% of the selling price which works out to be 17.5% of the selling price). The KDP royalty structure is completely transformative for authors. A typical selling price for a KDP book is a reader-friendly $2.99 - authors get approximately $2 of that! With the legacy royalty of 17.5%, the selling price would have to be $11.43 to yield the same $2 per unit royalty. I assure you that authors sell many, many more copies at $2.99 than they would at $11.43.

“Kindle Direct Publishing is good for readers because they get lower prices, but perhaps just as important, readers also get access to more diversity since authors that might have been rejected by establishment publishing channels now get their chance in the marketplace. You can get a pretty good window into this. Take a look at the Kindle best-seller list, and compare it to the New York Times best-seller list - which is more diverse? The Kindle list is chock-full of books from small presses and self-published authors, while the New York Times list is dominated by successful and established authors.”

The part of the letter which most gained my attention is this bit:

“…more than a thousand KDP authors now each sell more than a thousand copies a month, some have already reached hundreds of thousands of sales, and two have already joined the Kindle Million Club.”

Looking at the usual rules of marketing-speak, “more than a thousand” means not many more than a thousand, otherwise he would have said “almost eleven hundred” or something similar.

Another way of looking at this is, that of the huge numbers of indie authors using Amazon’s KDP program to achieve their publishing dreams, less than eleven hundred are selling more than a thousand books a month.

That’s quite a sobering thought.

Then in May a survey of 1007 indie authors was carried out by The Guardian newspaper. They discovered that despite the publicity afforded to indie superstars like Amanda Hocking and EL James the vast majority of indie authors do not make enough to live on.

The survey, carried out by Dave Cornford and Steven Lewis for Taleist, claims that the average earnings of indies last year was $10,000 (or £6300 at today’s exchange rate). If that still sounds pretty good, those figures were lifted (perhaps artificially) by the small percentage of high-earners ― less than 10% earned more than $100,000/£63,000. In fact, half the writers questioned earned less than $500/£315 and many failed to recover their production costs.

However, those who invested in professional editing and proofreading earned 13% more than average, and pro cover design increased earnings by another 34%. Writing romance, it seems is another good way to up your take-home pay. Romance authors earned 170% more than the $10,000 average (if I’m reading this correctly) while literary fiction authors tended to earn just $200/£126.

The survey also discovered that moving from a conventional publishing background into self-publishing increased the chances for success, with those authors earning 2.5 times more than authors who went straight for the indie option. Oh, and it helped to be female, in your forties, dedicated to writing hard, and educated to degree level.

“It shouldn't have surprised me that 75% of the royalty pie is going to 10% of authors: that's life in many industries. If I'm being honest, though, I'd hoped self-publishing might be a bit more democratic. Someone asked me if I thought this might deter authors from self-publishing, but actors don't stop heading for Hollywood despite the odds against them," Lewis told the Guardian.

There's a clear link, he said, "between earnings and the amount of help, and therefore feedback, that an author is willing to take on board. Authors who engage editors, for instance, end up with more royalties. Readers are excited by having access to new voices, but they've not been waiting for unedited, unproofread and amateurish books. There's more to being a successful author than finding the 'Save and publish' button on Amazon, but there are a lot of authors who haven't realised that yet. In that sense, the low earnings were not surprising.”

Until I read these two reports, months after they were first published, it had not occurred to me how incredibly lucky I am. Apart from the ‘educated’ bit ― I opted out of mainstream education at the age of twelve ― I realise that I tick all those boxes mentioned above. (OK, so I don’t write romance, although there is an emotional element to my novels ― does that count?) I just had no idea that the success I’ve achieved by indie-publishing my Charlie Fox backlist puts me in such an elite club.

And, quite frankly, the whole thing has astounded me.

Working in isolation, I’d kind-of assumed that anyone who held the rights to backlist titles lying dormant could put them out there and do as well if not better than I was doing. Yes, I’ve been careful with the presentation, and my cover designer, Jane Hudson at NuDesign, has done a brilliant job, but it’s been a huge learning curve.

I find myself not only honoured and humbled by the response of readers ― ie, they are buying the books and coming back for more ― but also that I am inspired to Get On With It just that little bit harder.

I’m fascinated to hear about the experience of other indies. Has self-publishing been like winning the lottery for you, or merely winning a ticket to another lottery? Do you feel the results of these surveys present an accurate picture of what it’s like out there, or are they further proof that there are ‘lies, damned lies, and statistics’?

This week’s Word of the Week is trangem, a worthless article or knick-knack. The origin of the word isn’t clear, but it might have some connection to the Scottish trankum, meaning a trinket.