Tag Archives: detective

Ebook pricing, again; or “Fifteen quid for an ebook?”

So here’s the situation…

I’m partway through Eric Brown’s crime novel Murder by the Book, and loving it. I’ve been encouraging Eric to write crime for years and now he has and it’s a great read, full of fantastic characters and lovely 1950s London period detail.

And then, yesterday, when I was about to return to it… where in hell was that book? We turned the house upside down, but couldn’t find it. It literally is a mystery. I have every confidence that it will turn up again at some point: accidentally picked up with someone else’s books, knocked under the sofa, whatever.

But I want to know what happens next!

Simple, I thought: I popped over to Amazon to get a copy for my Kindle, happy to spend a few quid just so I could keep reading without break.

Two problems with that, though:

  1. Although the hardback came out in March, the ebook won’t be out until July. What reason is there for this? There can’t be a logistical explanation: the ebook hardly needs physically shipping to distributors, and it’s not exactly labour-intensive to produce; I’m sure the file is just sitting there, gathering virtual dust while it awaits publication. I can’t see any way they would gain sales by the delay; if anything they’d lose them, as people like me go looking for the book, find it’s unavailable, and then move on to other things.
  2. It’s priced at £14.90. Come again? Fifteen quid for an ebook? This is where I’m completely baffled by the publishers’ policy. Who do they think is going to buy an ebook at that price? Is there some kind of logic that says “While it looks good to have an ebook version available, we don’t want people to actually buy this format”…?

I get the reasoning for pricing the hardback at £19.99. Presumably the vast majority of sales at this price are to the library market, and the higher price makes sense given that each copy of the book will get multiple readers. But £15 for an ebook at Amazon? I’d love to know which part of the market publishers Severn House are targeting with this strategy.

The only possible explanation I can think of is that they think potential buyers will be horrified at the price and opt to buy the slightly more expensive hardback instead. But that makes no sense: the profit margin on the hardback is so much lower, because of production and distribution costs. They could price the ebook for a fiver and make just about as much as they make from the hardback, and they’d actually, erm, sell copies.

An Eric Brown crime ebook at £5 would sell. If anyone could explain to me how even a novel as good as this is will sell ebooks at £15 I’d love to be enlightened.


The Long and Winding Road – a guest post by Colin Murray

No Hearts, No Roses by Colin MurrayThere are many roads to becoming a published author. This was mine.

A few years ago, I found myself with some time on my hands. This happens quite often when you’re freelance: it seems that it’s either feast or famine. You complain about both but you much prefer feast. On this occasion, I was feeling just a little bruised as a new number-crunching, pie-chart-eating CEO decided that the publishing company where I had been successfully running an imprint for about eight years could no longer afford me and had ended what had been a mutually beneficial arrangement. (They had a vastly experienced editor at a cut-rate and I had some element of stability in my income. For what it’s worth, I had the last laugh: the bookseller who replaced me lasted just five months. I’d told the CEO that it would be six, but I didn’t mind being wrong.) So, while I was looking for replacement work (which came in surprisingly quickly), I, for no good reason, sat down and started to write a novel.

Of course, I should have known better.

I’d worked in publishing for long enough to know that it was rarely the path to fame and fortune, and that, far more often, it ended in tears and recrimination. But I had an idea and time on my hands and I’d also heard that a major publishing house was actively looking for new crime writers.

The writing went surprisingly well but, by the time I’d written the first hundred pages, I had a living to make and work to do and so I sent that chunk of the book off to one of the editors at the publisher and got on with my life, while continuing to write whenever I could.

Some six months passed before I received a very pleasant letter from an assistant editor, apologizing for taking so long and asking if there was any more to be seen as she thought the novel was pretty good and was planning to talk to her boss about it. Which sounded promising. As I had, in fact, more or less finished the book. I duly sent it off.

At that stage, having set things in motion, I thought it might not be a bad idea to contact an agent. I made a tentative enquiry and received a very positive response so I told him of the publisher’s interest and hoped that things might happen.

I guess I should have been even more wary than I was because in the publishing world, as in most areas of human activity, little is simple and straightforward. When my often elusive agent peered through the cloud cover on Olympus long enough to say, ‘Nothing would please me more than selling this for a hundred thousand pounds but that’s not going to happen,’ I understood him to be making a realistic judgement on the book’s worth. But I was wrong. What I didn’t hear was the suppressed clause, ‘and I don’t bother with anything that sells for less than that.’ My fault, of course, for not being cynical enough.

I knuckled down to some revisions and, after a while, my agent did arrange a meeting with an editor from the publishing house I had sent the novel to. He told me that my book was one of the most accomplished first novels he’d come across and I left the meeting with a warm glow, expecting my agent to hammer out a deal.

However, it turned out that the meeting was the one and only thing he did for me.

I rewrote again, sent the new draft off to him and the editor and then waited. And waited.  After five months of hearing nothing, I tried to contact the great man on the phone. I failed. I tried again. And failed again. In fact, I kept on trying for a month. And kept on failing. Eventually, I decided that maybe I wasn’t the client for him and that, ipso facto, made him not the agent for me. I wrote accordingly and, eventually, I received a gracious reply, admitting that he had not served me well.

Meanwhile, times had changed and the publishing house that had been interested in new crime novels was no longer looking for them.

However, this where the long story becomes a short one. I decided to represent myself and looked at lists I liked and sent the book off to Constable & Robinson. I received a very favourable reaction in weeks, an offer soon after and then a contract. Of course, I didn’t get a hundred thousand pounds but I was consulted on the cover and the blurb, the copy-editing was superb, everyone was enthusiastic and the rights people even placed the book with an American publisher.

And, no matter, how jaded and cynical one pretends to be, there is nothing like holding a copy of your first book.

What had I learned, apart from that? Not a lot that I didn’t know already. Agents and publishers can be very dilatory and can’t always be relied on, but there are some good guys out there.

Oh, and I now know that first-time novelists have long memories and nurture and cherish grudges. There’s one agent who won’t be getting any referrals from me, and British crime reviewers (who, for the most part, simply ignored the book) probably shouldn’t look to me for any favours for a decade or two.

But there are things that make it all worthwhile: a reviewer describing my book as ‘riveting and suspenseful’ and then exclaiming ‘What a terrific first novel!’; another saying that it was ‘brilliant’; and another talking about its ‘pounding suspense’. The fame and fortune are probably never going to happen, but I’d made a little money, I was a member of the Crime Writers’ Association, some people had read my novel and they hadn’t been disappointed. What more could I realistically have hoped for?

Summer Song by Colin MurrayColin Murray’s first novel, After a Dead Dog, a contemporary crime novel set in rural Scotland, was published in 2007. No Hearts, No Roses (‘quirky, engaging, Chandleresque’ Booklist), appeared in 2011, and September Song in 2012. Both are set in London in 1955 and feature the same main character.

September Song:

No Hearts, No Roses:

After a Dead Dog:


Now in print: Nowhere To Go by Iain Rowan

Nowhere to Go by Iain RowanNow available in a stylish trade paperback: Iain Rowan’s Nowhere To Go collects together stories previously published in Alfred Hitchcocks’ Mystery Magazine, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and other top magazines and anthologies, and includes the Derringer Award-winning short story “One Step Closer”.

Recently shortlisted for a Spinetingler award for Best Short Story Collection, Nowhere To Go is available in ebook and print editions from:

Trade paperback
CreateSpace ($10.99)
amazon.com ($10.99)
amazon.co.uk (£6.99)
Ebook
amazon.com (Kindle format, $2.99)
amazon.co.uk (Kindle format, £1.99)
Smashwords (various formats, including epub, mobi, Sony and PDF, $2.99)

“A short story writer of the highest calibre.”
– Allan Guthrie, author of Top Ten Kindle Bestseller Bye Bye Baby, winner of Theakston’s Crime Novel of the Year


One Of Us: an extract

One of Us by Iain RowanAnna is one of the invisible people. She fled her own country when the police murdered her brother and her father, and now she serves your food, cleans your table, changes your bed, and keeps the secrets of her past well hidden.

When she used her medical school experience to treat a man with a gunshot wound, Anna thought it would be a way to a better life. Instead, it leads to a world of people trafficking, prostitution, murder and the biggest decision of Anna’s life: how much is she prepared to give up to be one of us?

Shortlisted for the UK Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger award, here’s an extract from One of Us by award-winning writer Iain Rowan.

CHAPTER ONE

Twelve months more of medical school, back in my country, and I would have been a doctor. Here, I scrape grease from a stained griddle under buzzing lights, while drunks stagger and shout on the other side of the counter. When they vomit on the tiled floor, I have to clear it up, with a metal bucket and a mop that is falling apart. Maybe this is not so different to a hospital on a Saturday night. Thinking this helps, sometimes.

Before the burger bar I worked in a cheap hotel, stripping stained sheets and emptying ashtrays for three pounds an hour until the assistant manager came and closed the door behind him, and smiled while he undid his belt. If the old couple had not returned to argue about who had left their theatre tickets behind, I do not know what would have happened. Or rather, I do.

Before the hotel I scrubbed left-overs that were worth more than I was from dishes in a restaurant, and before that I shivered on the streets for four nights that lasted a year. Before that was a boat, and before that, days in the back of a lorry. Even now, if I smell lemons I also smell diesel and fear. Before that was another lorry, and before that another city, and before that was the day that the policemen beat my brother to death, and dragged my father away to die in a prison cell, and I heard it all from the cupboard under the stairs, shivering behind an ironing board with my fist stuck in my mouth to stop my screams from coming out.

So I scoured grills, and burnt my hands, and I wiped half-chewed chips from plastic tables. No-one asked me for any papers, the work paid me money in my hand, and the money paid for a bed in a room in a hostel. I shared the room with three other women, and a small bathroom and kitchen with everyone who lived on the same floor, but there was a bed for me, and there was a lock on the door, and after the four nights on the streets that was enough.

Alice came from Kenya. She worked very early in the morning, cleaning in a hotel. She had a picture of a beautiful child stuck to the wall next to her bed. At night she touched it with her fingers as if she was touching the child’s face, and she cried without making any noise. Safeta was Kosovan, and she worked in a laundry, washing and drying a thousand sheets that a hundred Alices stripped from beds every morning. She smelt of the laundry, a clean and nice smell, but her hands were always red and she bled from around her fingernails. Sally was English but she was also a drunk. I do not know what she did in the daytime but at night she just slumped on a couch in the common room of the hostel, drinking cheap wine and staring through the television into a world beyond. Sometimes she had bruises and what looked like bite marks all over her arms.

If I lived there for too long I would go mad, and end up sitting with Sally by the television, pulling at my hair or picking at scabs on my arms. But without the proper legal documentation I could not get a better job, and without a better job I could not make more money, and without more money I could not live anywhere other than the hostel.

I could not go back; it was not safe for me. Even if things changed I could not go back. Would not go back. I could not live with so many ghosts. So I am here.

I save as much as I can from the endless nights in the burger bar to buy some papers that will say that I am legal. I do not want to do this, because I want to be a good citizen, and because the men who deal in the false papers remind me of the men at home: they do everything with a swagger that says that anything that gets in their way will be beaten out of it. I do not want to deal with them.

But I do not want to go back.

Daniel was not one of those men, but he worked for them. He was all smiles and loves and sweethearts and he laid his hand on my arm as if he were my friend. Safeta knew a Kosovan who would not deal with me, but he gave me a phone number, and I rang it and spoke to an English man who did not give me his name, not then. I met him three days later in a busy coffee bar at the railway station. He was tall and slim, and the way that his black hair fell loose over his forehead made me think of a boy that I had known in school.

“I’m Daniel, sweetheart,” the man grinned. “Just Daniel.” He sat opposite me, sipping at his coffee, smiling at me a lot and looking at me a lot, and asking me questions about what I wanted. The cafe smelt of coffee and warm pastries. Daniel asked me why I did not have a drink.

“Because I do not want one,” I said.

“Don’t have the money for it, more like,” he said, shaking his head. “Come on, don’t lie to me, sweetheart. How can I trust you if you lie to me? And I want to trust you, really I do.” He leaned over, rested his hand on mine for a moment, just a moment, and then took it away.

“I cannot tell a lie,” I said. “It is because they use Robusta beans for this coffee, and I prefer Arabica. I am fussy that way.”

He smiled, a perfect white smile that I could tell he had practised on many girls before. I thought that it would usually have worked too, that and the way he held eye contact just that little bit longer than necessary. Once, it maybe could have worked on me. But not now. I was too tired, too busy just living, for anything like that. “So if you can’t even afford a cup of this slop, how exactly were you planning on paying me?”

“That is why I do not drink the coffee,” I said. “It is why I do not buy newspapers, or cans of cola, or anything except for rent and food. So I can save the money, so I can get what I need.”

He liked my answer, because he laughed a lot and bought me a cup of coffee and told me that he liked my spirit. He asked me where I came from.

“I come from North Ossetia,” I said, and Daniel made a face and shrugged.

“Russia,” I said. “To most people here, just Russia.”

“Don’t think I know it,” Daniel said.

“You won’t,” I said. Most people do not, and to them it is all just Russia and Russians. The one thing that people know about my country is the school called School Number One. This school was in a town called Beslan. But I do not like to talk about what happened there. “My home was in a city called Vladikavkaz.”

“I know that name,” Daniel said. “Why do I know that?”

It was my turn to shrug. When I did, I caught him looking at how my breasts moved under my sweatshirt. He gave a little grin of no apology but an acknowledgement that he had been caught.

“Think United played there once, didn’t they, mid-Nineties?”

I folded my arms, and then shrugged again, I am not here for small talk, do I look like a woman who cares what United did? Anyway, it was Liverpool, and we lost to them. Aleksey took me, kept threatening to embarrass me by holding my hand when we were walking to the stadium.

“So what did you do Anna, back in Vladiwhatever.”

“I was a medical student,” I said. “I was studying to be a doctor.”

“Were you now,” said Daniel, and he did not seem very interested in talking about it, because all that was past and gone, so I did not say anything else. I remembered when I was at school, studying hard for exams. I was sat at the kitchen table, my books spread everywhere, a cup of tea gone cold, when my father came in. He stood and watched me for a moment, not saying anything.

“How’s it going?” he said in the end.

“Lots to do,” I said. “And I’m tired, can I not—”

“No,” he said. “You can not.”

“But I haven’t—”

“You don’t need to. Listen Anna, your schoolwork is important. You pass these exams, as I know you can, and there will be a place in the Medical Academy and you will be a doctor, Anna. Think of that, a doctor.”

“I know,” I said, sulking because I wanted to be a doctor but I also wanted to be out with my friends. “But—”

“If your mother could see you a doctor,” he sighed. “She would be so proud.”

And that was the end of that. I could not argue any more, because I knew that he was right. She would have been.

My father placed a hand on my shoulder.

“Study hard, Anna. I know I seem like a tyrant. But my daughter, a doctor. I will be so proud, too, to see you do something with your life. Something better than I do.”

I stared down at my books.

“Yes,” he said in the end. “Well, dog won’t feed itself.” And he stomped off, out of the kitchen, and I went back to my work because I wanted so much to pass those exams, but it was hard to concentrate when my vision was so blurred.

Daniel bought me another cup of coffee even though I said no, and then he named a price that I could not afford.

“I do not have that much,” I said. “Not nearly that much.” Can you not tell, I thought. Look at me, look at these jeans, which cost less than I would once have spent on a pair of tights. Look at these hands, with their bitten nails and their red marks from hot grease. Once, everyone in this place would have looked when I walked in. Now, they probably think that I am staff, on a break.

He shrugged, flicked his hair away from his forehead. “You’ve got a problem then. I really do want to help you sweetheart, but that’s the price. I’ll throw the coffees in for free. You’ve got my mobile number. Phone me when you have the money. We’ll do business.”

“It will take me a long time,” I said. “When I pay for food and rent, there is not much left to save.”

“Girls manage,” he said, “they find ways,” and he gave me a long look over his smile. I went back to work, and ate food that customers had left so that I could save more money, and I slept, and I did not do much else.

~

A month later I was working the evening shift again, slapping a mop around the floor in front of the counter and trying to replace the stink of vomit with the smell of bleach. Rain rattled against steamed-up windows. Sean slouched at the till, deep in a library book about ancient Rome. The week before, it had been a library book about astronomy. His obsessions changed with the weather.

I met Sean on my first day at Peter’s restaurant. Peter handed me my uniform of bright red shirt and itchy grey trousers, and told me that he was going to be very busy in the office, so one of the team would show me how everything worked.

“Sean,” he said. “This is Anna. Show her the ropes, will you?”

A tall, thin man with scruffy hair that wasn’t the colour of anything in particular took an awkward step forward, like a heron. He held out his hand, and I went to meet it but my own hands were in my pockets and by the time I got one out he had blushed and dropped his hand, thinking that I did not want to shake hands, and then when I did hold my hand out again, he had put his in his pockets. He said, “Oh, sorry,” and blushed again.

“Sean,” he said. “Um.” He waved a hand around the kitchen. “I work here. Good to have you around, we’re short on staff. Sorry, don’t mean that it’s only good to have you here because we need just anybody, it’s good to have you here as um, you.” He tailed off, coughed, scratched at an eyebrow. “Right. Anna, yeah?”

“Yes, I am still Anna.”

I regretted it when I said it, because I thought that he would be offended, and I did not want to offend this shy man who I would have to work with. But he did not look offended, he laughed.

“Good. Be a bit scary if you were someone else, really. Let’s start again and give the comedy routine a miss.” He smiled, and held out his hand again, and I thought: there is more to this man than there seems. Sean became the closest thing I had to a friend. He was well-educated, I think that he too had been to university, but he never spoke of it, and only ever talked of many dead-end jobs like this one. There was often a sadness in his eyes and sometimes his hands shook and shook until he put them in his pockets and clenched his fists very tight and I pretended that I had not noticed.

I plunged the mop into the water that was already dirty, and slopped it onto the floor because I was too tired to go and change the water. The door banged open and I felt cold air and then somebody standing near me, so I concentrated on mopping in circles around my feet, not wanting to look up, to have to see a leer and allow the chance for a conversation to start with a middle-aged man running to fat who did not often get the chance to talk to twenty-five-year-old girls running to skinny. I tried just to be a piece of furniture, without age, without sex, nothing to look at of interest. Since I had left my country, I had much practice at this. Not that it made much difference to many men. I was a woman, and so I was fair game. I could have worn a potato sack and not washed my hair for a month, and it would have made no difference to some.

“Forgot which burger place you said you worked in, didn’t I,” a voice said. “Fifth one I’ve been in. I’m getting soaked, and I’m sick of chips.”

It was Daniel. He grinned at my surprise, like a child who had just performed his first magic trick. I did not know what to say so I did not say anything. I do not want to talk to you, I thought. Not now anyway, when my hair needs a wash, and I am sweating into this stupid shiny red blouse that reflected the lights on to my face and made me look like I was blushing.

“So, this is your office,” he said. Peter came out from the kitchen and frowned at the sight of someone standing talking and not buying, but he dropped a cardboard box of plastic cups behind the counter, grunted at Sean to put the damn book down and follow him, and stomped away again. Peter was the manager of the burger restaurant. He made me think of a bear in the zoo at home, he was hairy and he growled, and whenever he came into a room it looked smaller. Sometimes he was kind, sometimes his temper scared me. I forgave him that, though. He gave me a job, without asking for papers or identity cards, and he paid me on time, and he did not try to touch me. He looked sometimes, but he never did more than that, and that is no more than most other men that I have known and it is much less than many others.

“What do you want?” I said to Daniel. “Why have you come looking for me? I do not have the money yet.”

“Got some good news for you on the money side of things, sweetheart,” he said. “You come with me now, but no messing around, it has to be right now, just do one little job, and you get a new identity, the full works, all the papers. Real, not fake, people on the inside, worth ten times what I quoted you for a knocked-together one. Make you one of us, as legit as me.”

“A job?” I said. “I am already working in a job.” I slapped the mop down on the floor. “And you are messing it up with your wet feet.”

“Is that what you call this?” he said, looking around. “A job? Must have been desperate, where you came from.”

“Yes,” I said. “It was.”

I said it with more anger than I had meant to let out, and Daniel did not know quite what to say.

“Yeah, sorry, whatever.” He flicked hair from out of his eyes, and did not look very sorry at all. “Listen, man I work for, he needs your services for the night. But we have to go now, or not at all.”

I shook my head, backed away, holding the mop handle out as if it would protect me. “Fuck off,” I said.

“Didn’t put that well, did I?” He laughed but he was nervous, I could see it in the way that he shifted from foot to foot. “It’s not what you think, sweetheart. Christ, I’m not a pimp. It’s your medical skills, not your beautiful body, that Corgan’s after. But you have approximately, oh, fuck all seconds at all to make up your mind. I mean it, the car’s outside, you come now, do this little job, you get your papers, the works, make you more legal than the queen. Trust me, Corgan can help you go places. He’ll help you, and me bringing you to him will make me look good. We both win, see? Besides, you really, really don’t want to piss him off.”

“What do you mean, medical skills? I was only a student, I—”

“Close enough. You studied hard, didn’t you? Read all the books? Two minutes,” he said. “Up to you. I’ll be right in the shit if you don’t, but hey, it’s your call.” The door banged behind him. I stood for a moment, watching the floor dry to a dull smear. I thought about waiting for my number to be called, for yet another interview. I thought of the noise my brother had made when they were kicking him. I had seen a horse fall once, and break its leg. We were staying out in the country, at my uncle’s house, and my brother and I had been playing in the field. A woman had been riding a horse, hard. It was beautiful to watch, it raced the length of the field with power and grace. Then one foot must have gone into a hole left by a rabbit, and the horse came down in a tangle of legs that were now too long for it, the woman pitched over its head and onto the ground, and we heard the horse’s leg break from where we were standing. The rider staggered to her feet after a moment or two, cursing, but the horse rolled about on the ground, and I put my hands over my ears but I could still hear its terrible squealing. My father and uncle came rushing out. My father led me back to the house, made me tea and held me tight while I cried. He held my head tight against his big chest, and it was only that evening I realised that he held me this way on purpose so I would not hear the shot.

Late that night, when he and my uncle got drunk, and I was supposed to be asleep, I heard my uncle complaining about the woman who had been riding the horse.

“A beautiful animal,” he said. “I had to shoot the wrong one.”

When the men kicked my brother to death, he made a noise like the horse did. And I put my hands over my ears then too, but I could still hear the terrible sound he made.

I walked out into the kitchen and told Peter that I was sick, I had to go home.

“Sick? What the hell do you mean sick?” Peter tugged at his beard, as he always did when something came along that upset the smooth running of things. I often thought that when we had a health inspection at the restaurant, the thing that would get us closed down would be Peter’s beard.

“I mean vomiting. I think I have a stomach flu. There is diarrhoea too, I think, I need to go very bad.”

“Jesus, spare me the details. Don’t want to catch it either.”

“I can manage fine on my own Pete,” Sean said. “It’s not exactly busy. Tuesday, quiet night.” He frowned at me, from behind the coffee machine, his face a question I could not answer.

“Go on then, get yourself away Anna, before you give it to me. It’s coming out of your wages though; if you’re not here I’m not paying you.”

Daniel was waiting in a dark blue car, talking on a mobile phone. When I came near he finished the call, and leaned over to open the passenger door.

“Good girl. You’ve just saved my life. Already told ’em you were coming, had faith in you.”

I got in, and he drove away fast, looking in his mirror a lot. We drove down wet streets that shone orange on black, and I thought, this is how a life changes. A stupid decision, a moment where what you want so badly wins over what sense tells you, and then you are in a strange car, driving in the night and you do not know what waits for you at the other end. I thought of girls from my home, who had wanted so much, and so had gone on journeys across Europe without asking too many questions. And I thought about where they ended up. Because I knew this. I knew this very well.

I closed my eyes for a moment. Then I thought, this is stupid, because when you open them again, nothing will have changed. So I did, and it hadn’t.

“Where are we going?” I asked.

“Onwards and upwards, Anna, onwards and upwards.”

I did not see the point in asking any more, because I knew that I would not get an answer. We stopped at a quiet row of old houses. They had once been grand, I think, but now next to each front door a rash of bell pushes showed how the houses had been divided and divided and divided, and the sagging curtains at the windows looked as if they would not be opened in the mornings.

“Here we are,” Daniel said, and I could hear the tension in his voice.

“Here we are for what?” I said, but I knew that it was too late to ask the question. Whatever I was here to do, I would have to do. I felt sick.

Daniel did not answer. He got out of the car, then walked around to my door.

“Come on, it’s this one,” he said, and we walked up a cracked concrete path. Daniel used a key to open the front door, and I followed him in. The hallway was lit by a single dusty bulb that hung without a shade. A table inside the door overflowed with free newspapers and junk mail. A pay phone hung above the table. Someone had patterned the wall all the way around the phone with cigarette burns. Daniel walked up the creaking stairs, and I followed him. I could smell burnt food, and cigarette smoke, and sweat. We stopped on the first floor, and Daniel paused in front of a wooden door that was all pits and splinters.

“Keep your mouth shut,” he said in a low voice. “Keep your eyes on what you’re doing, say nothing. Just do what you’re told, and it’ll be fine. Promise you, sweetheart.” He tapped on the door. It opened a fraction straight away, as if someone had been standing there all along, and I saw a shadow inside. Then the door opened all the way, and Daniel put a hot hand in the small of my back, and I walked in to get away from it.

A man with an expensive suit stretched over big shoulders leaned against the wall by the door. He looked me up and down with the cold eyes of a shark. I could smell violence on him, like sweat. Another man lay on a bed, naked from the waist up, with a sheet wrapped round and round his arm. The sheet was stained dark red in the middle. The room stank of whisky, and an empty bottle lay on the floor by the side of the bed.

“This it?” the big man said, and it took me a moment before I realised that he was talking about me.

“Yeah,” Daniel said. “Don’t worry, Corgan, she’s cool.”

“Oh, thanks Danny boy,” Corgan said. “If you say not to worry, that’s OK then. I’ll stop worrying.”

Daniel looked as if he wanted to speak, but he did not.

Corgan said, “You waiting for something?”

Daniel walked off without a word.

Corgan reached out a hand and slammed the door shut. Then he turned the key. He was no taller than me, but he was wide, powerful, and a man who would never be afraid to use that power.

He looked at me for a long time and I felt like a fish on a slab in the market. “Well,” he said in the end. “Here’s our new doctor.”

…continues in One Of Us by Iain Rowan (available in ebook and print editions)


Snapshots: Iain Rowan interviewed

What are you working on now?
Right now, a new short story for the Penny Dreadnought series that I’m involved in. PD’s a collaborative project which is proving to be a lot of fun, working with my fellow Abominable Gentlemen, three great writers (James EveringtonAlan Ryker and Aaron Polson), and putting out a collection with a weird fiction story from each of us every month or so. This short story is something that’s been knocking around in my head for a little while, prompted by a description of nineteenth-century polar exploration: the air was so cold that when people spoke the condensation in their breath froze and fell around them in tinkling shards of ice. In my story, someone believes that he can learn the language written in this landscape of frozen words, but finds out that it is maybe something that is better unread.

There also won’t be a week that goes past this year without me adding a short story to my project  52 Songs, 52 Stories. Simple idea really, I pick a song each week, and then write a short story that it inspires in some way.

Also chewing around novel ideas.

Nowhere to Go by Iain RowanWhat have you recently finished?
Proofing the print version of  Nowhere To Go, my crime collection [editor's note: just as this interview was completed, Nowhere To Go was shortlisted for Spinetingler magazine's Best Short Story Collection award]. Another piece of weird fiction, ‘The Singing’, which will be appearing in  Supernatural Tales in 2013. This morning I’ve written this week’s story for 52 Songs, this one inspired by the song Grey Ship by EMA.

What’s recently or soon out?
This last week has seen the biggest release to date, for me:  One of Us is my debut crime novel, and I’m thrilled to see it published.

In short story action, apart from the regular slot at 52 Songs, my story ‘The Edge of the Map’ has just been published in Supernatural Tales.

Crime fiction is nothing if it’s not authentic. What kind of research did you have to do in order to write One of Us?
I have a terrible confession to make – I’m not one for lots of research. That’s OK though, because by and large I don’t write the kinds of books that needs lots of research. I hope One of Us feels authentic, but if it does that’s because most of my research is people, and what they do and think and say.

You write in a variety of genres, but crime and suspense is where you’ve probably had most success. Do you have plans for more crime fiction in the near future?
One of Us by Iain RowanFor sure. I write what I enjoy reading, and I write what I enjoy writing. So there will be more crime fiction, and more weird fiction, and if something else takes my fancy then more of that too. I suppose that’s one of the advantages of not being tied in to a contract which says: more of the same please.

Describe your typical writing day.
I wish I could. The trouble is, there is no typical writing day, because it’s a question of fitting it in as and when I can, in whatever free time I get.

What would you draw attention to from your back-list?

You might want to check out Nowhere To Go, my collection of short crime fiction. It includes the short story that I couldn’t let go. Eventually it grew into a novel: One of Us.

Which other authors or books do you think deserve a plug?
My colleagues in the Abominable Gentlemen as mentioned above are all excellent writers, and well worth checking out.

And to plug a book:  Off the Record is an anthology from a great collection of writers (disclaimer: and me), with all profits going to child literacy charities in the UK and US.

If you were to offer one snippet of writing advice what would it be?
Talking about writing thinking about writing writing about writing is not writing.

So… the easy one: what’s the future of publishing? How will writers be making a living and publishing in five or ten years?
What will readers be reading?I think there will be a mixed economy. Still publishing houses, though they may be rather different in form, doing different kinds of things. Still writers doing things for themselves. The best of those getting picked up by the publishing houses – sometimes. I read something recently written by Hugh Howey, a self-published writer who has been selling a huge number of copies of his sf stories. He was approached by a traditional publishing company, who offered him a deal that would have seen him have to pull all his books (currently selling about eleventy billion a day) from Amazon, see nothing published by them until January 2013, give up more rights, and get less money. Probably to their surprise, he turned them down. Publishers will have to think creatively about what they offer, and what the relationship and partnership between them and the writer looks like. I’m pretty sure that in many cases, it won’t look just as it does now.

More…

Born in 1967, Iain Rowan began writing in 2002. Since then, he has had over thirty short stories published in a variety of genres. Some of those are collected in  Nowhere To Go (short crime fiction) and  Ice Age (stories of the strange and the chilling).

One of Us One of Us, based on a crime short story of Iain’s, was shortlisted for the Crime Writers Association Debut Dagger award, and has just been published in print and ebook  by infinity plus.

In 2012, Iain embarked on a project called  52 Songs, 52 Stories, in which he committed to write a short story every week of the year, each inspired by a song. He is also part of the Abominable Gentlemen, the publishing collective behind the monthly Penny Dreadnought.

For more information on Iain and his writing, please visit www.iainrowan.com

Buy stuff:


New: print edition of Kaitlin Queen’s “Essex noir” One More Unfortunate

We’re delighted to announce that the print edition of Kaitlin Queen’s murder mystery One More Unfortunate (described by one reviewer as “Essex noir”) is now creeping out into the bookshops.

Today it’s become available at CreateSpace, and in a few days it’ll be on Amazon and then starting to appear elsewhere. Here’s what one Amazon review said about the e-edition:

“There are twists and turns galore before finally the murder is solved… The characterizations are vivid, and in a couple of cases really quite affecting; the taut tale-telling rattles along at good speed; and the solution to the mystery is both startling and satisfying. Recommended.”

There’s also an extract up at the infinity plus website.

(Hint: while it’ll be great to have wider distribution, the author gets the best royalty if you buy direct from CreateSpace. Just so you know.)


Sweats, by Keith Brooke

All the forensics point to Joey Bannerman - the DNA profile, the fingerprints, the pheromone signature, the security cam records… But Joey wasn’t there, he wasn’t in his body at the time of the hit. Joey is a sweat, and he was safely warehoused away while someone else paid to ride his bones… Or at least, that’s his defence.

After its initial publication in PostscriptsSweats was adapted to become part of my critically-acclaimed novel The Accord, described by SF Site as “one of the finest novels of virtual reality yet written” and by The Guardian as “not only Brooke’s best novel to date, but one of the finest to broach the subject of virtual reality”.

Sweats is available as a standalone ebook from: amazon.com (Kindle format, $0.99) and amazon.co.uk (Kindle format, £0.86).

Here’s an extract…

Head Shots: a short story for Kindle

Bartie Davits is a sweat. A student working his way through business school, paying his own way because his parents are in no position to help, one of them a low-paid supermarket assistant, the other long since dead and gone. Sweating is easier than shop work, and generally safer than dealing, although he does a bit of that too – that’s just a natural extension of his business training, he always argues.

He likes the SweatShop parlour in Haymarket. Real class. You can taste it in the air.

He opens his eyes, remembering where he is, getting used to his own senses again after spending what feels like a couple of days warehoused off in netspace, playing TrueSim games while some rich wanker fools with his body.

A face looms over him, cheekbones like geometry, perfect skin, eyes like the flawless glass eyes of a perfect porcelain doll. Bartie can smell her and she’s like apples. He smiles.

“What’s the damage?” he asks.

She smiles back at him, everything symmetrical. Someone paid a fortune for those looks, he guesses.

“Narcotic residue,” she tells him. “Alcohol residue. Black eye – looks like you had a run-in with someone. That’s all, though, Mr Davits.”

No serious damage this time, then. Right now there will be drugs cleansing his blood and liver, stripping out the narcs and booze, replenishing his reserves. That’s one of the perks of sweating; some people argue that the clean-out could add years to your life. Rich wankers would pay a fortune for some of this shit and here is Bartie Davits, getting it all for free. Fuck no: getting paid for it.

“Like we agreed,” he says, sitting slowly. “Cash in hand, right?”

She smiles her professional smile again. “The fee is already in your registered account, Mr Davits, minus tax and obligatory pension, just as always. No special arrangements.”

He stands, stretches. Feels unfamiliar aches and stiffnesses. Raises a hand to his left eye, suddenly aware of its dull ache.

He looks down at his clothes: a slick pair of jeans, a crumpled silk t-shirt, pointed snakeskin boots, none of it his. There’s a bag on the side containing his own newly laundered clothes. The new outfit – another perk.

He hopes his body had a good time while he was warehoused.

Funny to think that his own body has had far more diverse experience than he himself has – and he knows nothing about it other than a bunch of hints and signs and scars…

Out along a corridor, mirrored walls multiplying him, bright lights making him squint. Into the foyer, all tall, angular plants emerging from chrome pots full of glass pebbles. The street outside looks dark through the clinic’s floor-to-ceiling tinted glass front.

The cops grab Bartie as he steps outside. He’s just wondering whether it’s a Comedy Store night, who might be on. Maybe he’ll call a few mates and front them for a night out, make the most of the new wad in his bank account. But the cops have other ideas.

He steps out through glass and chrome doors that slide open as they sense his approach. He has time to notice the sudden clash of warm scented air from the interior of the clinic mixing with the smells of the damp London street, has time to emerge into the drizzle, to look left, then start to look right and then they’re on him.

A sudden rush of figures… Two men step out from his right and as he opens his mouth to speak, to curse them for jostling him, for not looking where they’re going even though it’s actually Bartie who has stepped out into the flow, another two take him from the left. His arms gripped tightly, he smells something cloyingly sweet, realises someone has sprayed something, feels it infiltrating his lungs as he breathes it deep, hears the gabble of street noise suddenly fizz to static, to nothing…

~

…wakes in a cell.

He remembers now, the men grabbing him, the prickle of some kind of nerve agent in his lungs. He realises they were police, some in uniform, some not. He hadn’t had time to take it all in as they descended on him, in the sudden rush of sensation as the foundations of a normal day were abruptly pulled from under him.

He’s on a bunk, a brick wall to his immediate left, a narrow strip of floor and then another bare brick wall to the right. There’s a door at one end of the cell, past his feet, with a viewing panel set into it. In one corner of the room, where two walls meet ceiling, the glinting eye of a security cam peers back at him.

He sits, rubs at his temples as dizziness settles.

Down on the concrete floor, he presses his feet against the wall and starts on sit-ups, rapid and regular, enjoying the rush of blood and adrenalin that kick in with the exercise. Bartie likes to look after himself. It keeps the brain in tune as well as the body. And his rich clients like a fit sweat to ride in, so it’s a good career move, if sweating can really be considered a career.

He’s past 150 when he hears the door. He carries on until a man says, “Bartie Davits. You’re wanted for interview.”

“Interview?” he asks, pausing, twisting to see the uniformed man framed by the doorway. “Like for a job?”

The policeman just looks at him, waits for him to stand, steps back to let him out into the corridor.

A short time later, Bartie is sitting in another room, elbows on a desk. There’s a plain clothes officer across the table from him, a uniformed man on the door.

“Bartholomew Brooklyn Davits,” says the officer, “we have reason to suspect your involvement in the murder of Elector Nathan Burnham at his retreat in Jakarta on the 23rd of this month. This interview is being recorded and your responses processed for veracity by smart systems from two independent vendors. Anything you do or say may be used as evidence in a court of law. Do you understand?”

Bartie stares at the man. “I understand your words,” he says slowly, “but fuck no, I don’t understand.”

The officer has a feed going into his ear. He receives some kind of input, nods, and his eyes meet Bartie’s again.

Then Bartie adds, “Burnham? Elector Burnham? The virtual worlds guy? Dead?” At a brief nod, he continues, “I… I’ve been out of it a couple of days. I hadn’t heard. I sweat rides, you know? I was sweating, warehoused in a data-bank somewhere while some rich fuck rode my bones, you know?”

Another pause, while the officer listens to his feed, then: “Elector Burnham was killed by a kid called Joey Bannerman.”

“So… I don’t understand?”

“Bannerman was gapyearing round the world, ran out of cash, took to sweating to get by. He was ridden by the killer.”

Bartie gets it, he thinks. “Not me, man… I didn’t do nothing. I was warehoused, playing TrueSim strategy games in perfect isolation. Check out the records: I was pumped into a databank and kept clean and cut off from the world. They have to do that. Data integrity and all that: have to put back what they take out!” He laughs awkwardly.

“We don’t think it was you, as such,” says the officer.

Bartie relaxes, hasn’t realised how much tension he’d been holding in. Then he registers the “as such” and he sees from the officer’s expression that there’s more, a layer yet to unpick. “And?”

“We’ve pattern-matched traits identified from the data-feed that injected the killer into Bannerman’s skull. The killer was an amalgam, a construct. Whoever was behind the assassination took a few traits from here, a few from there, and built the killer suited for the job.”

Bartie waits. There’s more.

“It’s a known technique. Developed by the Yakuza but it’s been seen in a number of cases now. The way they do it is they have to have a solid foundation, a template, someone who could easily be a killer in the right circumstances, with the right traits added, remixed, recompiled. We’ve identified the template, Davits. We’ve tracked down that individual. It’s you.”

Bartie shakes his head. “But it wasn’t me!” he finally says. “I was warehoused, isolated… It wasn’t me.”

“Your profile was used,” says the officer. “Edited, built upon. We’re talking legal grey areas here. Our advice is that this could be the test case to beat all test cases. Could take years.”

The officer is enjoying this, Bartie suddenly realises. “How do you mean?”

“It’s all about legal culpability,” the officer explains. “When due process proves that you were the template used in this crime, and when it is demonstrated that the killer was substantiallyyou, then you will share legal culpability for the killing.”

“But… I wasn’t there.”

“No, that’s true. But there is evidence to show that a statistically significant instance of you was…”

This story continues in Sweats, an ebook by Keith Brooke.

Available from:


10k at Amazon, and still shifting: One Step Closer

I’ve written here before about experiments with ebook pricing and marketing, but some time last night we hit a landmark with one of our experiments at infinity plus.

Back in March we published Iain Rowan’s first collection, a set of crime stories called Nowhere To Go which included his Derringer Award-winning story “One Step Closer”. The collection received some excellent reviews and blog coverage and performed reasonably at Amazon and our other distributors, but Iain and I wanted to give it a boost and so we discussed various options.

We decided to take that Derringer winner and produce it as a standalone ebook, priced initially at 99 cents but with a view to persuading Amazon to drop the price to zero. At those prices there’s a very different audience: casual browsers making impulse buys/downloads, readers who may like the look of something but not want to buy the complete book, readers looking for a quick lunchtime read, and so on.

What we didn’t know was how much crossover there would be. Would a reader with a liking for scraping up the freebies also be the kind of reader who would spend $2.99 on a book by the same author if they liked the free offering? Would there even be that kind of author-recognition once the quick read has been read and put aside?

One Step Closer went free at Amazon in September, and very quickly overtook our other free offering, the infinities anthology (which, itself, had been a big success, hitting number two in the free anthology charts in the US, and holding the number one slot in the equivalent chart in the UK for several weeks, a position it still holds).

To be honest, I don’t really understand why Iain’s short story has been such a big success. It’s a fine story, of course, and being an award-winner must help establish its credentials for anyone unfamiliar with Iain’s work. It has a great cover and is nicely put together. Iain has a strong social media presence, and has worked hard at promoting his various books. There must be lots of elements of good fortune involved, too, and a key thing is that success can be self-perpetuating: once a story hits number one, it becomes far more visible, which keeps the success going.

Whatever the reasons, some time last night Iain’s short story hit the landmark of 10,000 downloads through Amazon. It’s occupied the number one free story download slot in the UK for several weeks, and for that period has been a fixture in the top 20 free downloads of any kind at Amazon UK, against some tough competition.

What remains to be seen, though, is just how this translates into commercial success. What we do know is that more than 10,000 readers have liked the look of the book enough to download it. Some of those will have read it already; some will read it over the coming months; others will lose it among all the other freebies they’ve downloaded.

Of those who read it, some – a large proportion, I reckon – will like it a lot, because it’s a hell of a story. But how many of these will immediately follow up by clicking on a link to Amazon to find Iain’s other work? How many will intend to do that, but because they didn’t do it immediately, will become increasingly unlikely to follow through? How many will remember Iain’s name next time they’re browsing and so click on a link to his other books?

It’s incredibly hard to answer these questions, as it’s just not possible to track purchasing decisions back to their origins. Amazon gives us good reporting, but not that good!

After success like this, though, I’m certainly looking forward to trying to make sense of it all over the coming weeks and months!


A book of reviews? Really?

That was pretty much my first reaction when John Grant approached me with the idea of putting together a collection of his book reviews. Who on earth would buy such a thing?

Warm Words and OtherwiseBut then I started to think a bit more. Back in the ten years I ran the infinity plus online genre showcase, John was one of my favourite reviewers. (I know that, as with our children, editors shouldn’t really have favourites, but you just know we all do.) He was productive and timely, for a start, which is always helpful. But far more than that, his reviews were eloquent, witty, opinionated and, above all, great reads. While most of our reviews were only a few hundred words long, John’s were often over a thousand words in length, articulate and entertaining essays that were filled with his genuine passion for good writing.

Another thing I liked about John’s contributions was the way he took books at face value. One week he might review Stephen King or Jeanette Winterson, and the next a book effectively self-published by iUniverse. He didn’t care about the names on the cover: it was all about the words. And he uncovered some real gems by taking such an egalitarian stance.

He did also stumble across some some turkeys, from large publishers and small, name writers and newcomers. And these turkeys were dissected, often with thoroughly scathing wit: never harsh or ridiculing, John analysed just what it was that made some books work and some choke, in an object lesson to any aspiring writer who wants to understand their craft, and their industry.

This is starting to sound like a sales pitch. And while I’d be the first to confess that I’m drawing your attention to the book in the hope that you will buy it (over 150,000 words, covering SF, fantasy, horror, crime and more, for a mere $1.99? how could you not?), my primary intention here is to set out my journey from “Really? You must be mad…” to “Aw, go on then,” to thinking that, actually, if enough of the right people read this book it would be a genuine contender for things like the British Science Fiction Award’s non-fiction category.

It’s funny. It’s breathtakingly intelligent and well-informed. It strikes that perfect balance between serious and a great read.

I made that journey from “Really?” to “what a great idea” quite quickly, and I’m sure a lot of other people will too.

John Grant’s Warm Words & Otherwise: A Blizzard of Book Reviewsinfinity plus ebooks’ first venture into non-fiction is now available from the usual suspects:

amazon.com (Kindle format, $1.99)
amazon.co.uk (Kindle format, £1.44)
Smashwords (various formats, including epub, mobi, Sony and PDF, $1.99)

A bumper collection – over 150,000 words! – of book reviews, many of full essay length, by the two-time Hugo winning and World Fantasy Award-winning co-editor of The Encyclopedia of Fantasy and author, among much fiction, of such recent nonfiction works as Corrupted Science and (forthcoming) Denying Science.

Scholarly, iconoclastic, witty, passionate, opinionated, hilarious, scathing and downright irritating by turn, these critical pieces are sure to appeal to anyone who loves fantasy, science fiction, mystery fiction, crime fiction and many points in between … and who also enjoys a rousing argument.


Nowhere To Go by Iain Rowan – reduced to 99 cents for September

Eleven crime stories first published in Alfred Hitchcock’s, Ellery Queen’s, and elsewhere by award-winning writer Iain Rowan. Iain’s short fiction has been reprinted in Year’s Best anthologies, won a Derringer Award, and been the basis for a novel shortlisted for the UK Crime Writers’ Association’s Debut Dagger award.

REDUCED TO 99 CENTS FOR SEPTEMBER! Here at infinity plus we think this book, and this author, are pretty special, so for one month only we’ve dropped the price.
BUY NOW:
amazon.com (Kindle format, $0.99)
amazon.co.uk (Kindle format, £0.86)
Smashwords (various formats, including epub, mobi, Sony and PDF, $0.99)

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