Category Archives: Alexandra Sokoloff

Indie publishing, UK style

By noreply@blogger.com (Alexandra Sokoloff)


I’m excited to be appearing at the Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival next week, very dramatic timing, since the festival begins the day after the vote on Scottish independence!

Along with appearing on a panel on crossing the supernatural with crime fiction, the usual book signings, and hosting a table at the banquet, I’m moderating a panel on indie publishing, UK style. If you’re in the neighborhood, hope you’ll stop by. And if you aren’t, you may be interested in a UK author/agent and UK indie author’s perspectives, below.

————————————————————————-

Digital Detectives: The author independence debate

This year at the Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival, crime authors Allan Guthrie and Ed James will be discussing their books and their roads to independent publishing success, chaired by American crime author Alexandra Sokoloff. The panelists will share how they have reached hundreds of thousands of readers worldwide and built or added to full-time writing careers through self-publishing, on Saturday, 20 September, 10 am-11 am, in the Academy Suite, Stirling Highland Hotel, Stirling. (Ticket information here).

Allan Guthrie‘s traditionally published crime novels have won multiple nominations and awards (the American Edgar, the UK’s Theakston’s Crime Novel of the Year), but he embraced the DIY options early and found indie-publishing success as well, his novella, Bye Bye Babybecoming a top ten bestseller on Amazon. Al is also a literary agent for Jenny Brown Associates, co-founder of the digital publishing company Blasted Heath, and a freelance editor for several British and American publishers, and his sage and generous advice have made him somewhat of a mentor to many authors, regardless of whether they’re traditionally published, indie published, or both.

Guthrie initially self-published digital editions of his crime novels Two-Way Split and Kiss Her Goodbye, in the US after seeing his client John Rector’s success with self-publishing:

“I started to look into the market a lot more closely because of John’s success with his debut novel, The Grove. And I liked what I saw. Not only did digital publishing expose an author to a new readership, but I did some calculations and discovered that a self-published book priced at $1.25 on Kindle would pay the author almost as much in royalties as a typical mass market paperback at $5.99. I wasn’t sure that there was a huge readership out there, but on the other hand, the chances were that anyone who spent a few hundred dollars (they were more expensive back then) on an e-reader was going to be a heavy reader and liable to buy a lot of books. So I thought maybe they’d take a chance on an author they hadn’t tried before, especially if the price was low. Things took off for me in early 2011, which is when the UK Kindle market really opened up.”

After rejection by traditional publishers, Ed James took his career into his own hands. He self-published his Edinburgh-based Scott Cullen crime series and hit the bestseller charts, enabling him to give up his corporate IT job to live the dream as a full-time crime author:

“Back in 2009, I sent off my finished book to about 40 literary agents. Three or four wanted to read it. I polished it up then sent it off before waiting three months for the inevitable rejections. For a while I got really angry about the rejection and didn’t write a word for 18 months. A couple of years down the line and things had moved on. The whole Amazon/Kindle thing had come out of nowhere. Suddenly it was possible to self-publish. There were guys out there doing it and making millions. I thought there was nothing to be lost. I published the book, started writing the sequel and, within a year, I had four books on Kindle. Somehow they crept into the bestsellers’ list. The first one has been downloaded 290,000 times.”


Thriller Award-winning US author and screenwriter Alexandra Sokoloff was doing well in traditional publishing — but not as well as some of her author friends who were experimenting with indie publishing. So she took a chance by self-publishing her Huntress Mooncrime series – and made the bestseller charts as well as double her usual advance from traditional publishers in just the first two months of publication.

In fact, self-published crime fiction often sells as well and even better than traditionally published crime fiction. Major e-publishing platforms (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple i-Books, Kobo, Smashwords) have promotional opportunities built in to their systems, which entrepreneurial indie authors can use to find an audience whether or not they have been published before. Indie authors can earn 70% of the RRP from these e-platforms, as opposed to (typically) 25% of the net receipts (ie, the RRP minus the vendor’s cut) from traditional publishers, and indie publishing gives authors the control over book pricing, which can lead to significantly greater sales and significantly expanded readerships. And e-publishing platforms, particularly Amazon, allow UK authors to make their books instantly available not just in the UK but also to the enormous US market, as well as Germany, France, Australia, and a growing number of other countries – with no additional work involved.

These days a huge number of authors consider themselves “hybrids” – selling their books through both traditional and indie publishing. For example, James will continue to self-publish his Cullen books, but is very close to having a traditional publishing deal for a new series based on the success of his first series; and Sokoloff just sold the rights to her Huntress Moon crime series to Amazon’s Thomas & Mercer imprint, while keeping the rights to her supernatural thrillers. Traditionally published authors with out-of-print backlists have found new life for their novels and new income from going digital. And aspiring authors should note that agents and traditional publishers routinely track the success of indie authors, making indie publishing a viable alternative to the traditional query-agent-editor route to publication.

James says: “A lot of novice writers still tend to think of the Writers and Artists Yearbook as the primary method of getting an agent whereas I think it’s genuinely changing…” In fact, it was Guthrie who approached James to offer representation, rather than James querying the agency himself.

Guthrie explains: “If you can establish that there’s a market out there for your books, it can be a big help, no question. Selling tens of thousands of books, backed by lots of Amazon reviews with a high average rating, is a pretty clear indicator that there’s a big readership for your writing. Which is the kind of safety net risk-averse publishers tend to find attractive. Also, if an author has a good number of sales through their own efforts, a potential publisher is going to know that they’re very likely dealing with a canny marketer who knows what their readers want and knows how to reach them. A good publisher can take that to the next level.”


The audience is welcome to join the authors in an informal chat session after the panel and book signings, to discuss specifics of self-publishing and promotional strategies.

By phone: 01786 27 4000

More about the authors and their books at:

Via: Alexandra Sokoloff

    

Working the algorithm – the Huntress Moon 99c sale

By noreply@blogger.com (Alexandra Sokoloff)

My 99 cent sale of Huntress Moon is on – #1 in Mysteries, #1 in Thrillers in the Nook store, today! – so if you haven’t gotten a copy yet, this is your last chance at this price before Thomas & Mercer re-releases the book in the fall.

Amazon DE Eur .89
Paperback $7.99

Nook US 99c
Nook UK 99p

“This interstate manhunt has plenty of thrills… keeps the drama taut and the pages flying.” — Kirkus Reviews

– An ITW Thriller Award Nominee for Best Original E Book Novel

– A Suspense Magazine Pick for Best Thriller of 2012


– A Huffington Post Books Pick for “Women You Should Be Reading” 2014


And I promised to post about promotional strategies. Which is going to take more than one post, but it’s good timing for me to muse about it, since I’m doing a digital publishing panel at Bloody Scotland in a couple of weeks, with successful UK indie authors Allan Guthrie and Ed James. I also recently did an e publishing panel at the WGAw (that’s the screenwriters’ union), where authors Lee Goldberg, Christiana Miller and producer Lane Shefter Bishop and I talked about e publishing strategies.

Of course, what everyone wanted to hear about was promotion – what works?

I’m not going to dwell on the things that SHOULD be self-evident. Like, OF COURSE you have to have a great book that you’ve had professionally edited and formatted and that other people think is great. Although I will say that the more books you have, the more likely you are to have success at indie publishing. The medium favors fast writers (which I am not! On the other hand, I prefer my books with layers of meaning, which takes some time.)

There are lots of ongoing promotional strategies that all writers do to some extent or another. A great website with SEO (search engine optimization), presence on social media sites that is personal and engaging rather than spammy and homicide-inducing, maintaining an opt-mailing list of your readers for newsletters, blogging, guest blogging, appearing at conferences and libraries, etc.

But today I’m going to talk about a specific kind of promotion: Working the algorithm.

That is, using the tools that the big online bookstores – Amazon, Barnes & Noble, et al, have, to get THEM to promote your books for you.

The principle of these promotional strategies is co-op. It’s interesting to me how many authors and readers have no idea what co-op is. When you walk into a bookstore and are confronted with a front table full of books, you may be assuming that these are chosen by the bookstore/booksellers. Oh, no. No, no. That is co-op: prime real estate that is paid for, handsomely, by publishers, who use large amounts of money to get the authors they want to push, up front and center. It’s a strategy of self-fulfilling prophecy: publishers make books bestsellers by making customers THINK they’re bestsellers.

New and midlist authors rarely get a chance at that co-op space. But indie authors have a shot at that front table placement in the online bookstores – through what is known as the algorithm: the Amazon algorithm, or the Barnes & Noble algorithm.

Disclaimer: My brain has gone into deep freeze at the idea of advanced mathematical concepts ever since I was sexually harassed by a creepy Algebra teacher back in high school. Sad but true. I got my revenge in The Space Between, though….

So I’m actually not the best person in the world to explain the concept of the algorithm, and I’m sure other people out there have done it better.
But here’s how it works practically: If you drop the price of your ebook and use some of the tools out there to sell enough copies of that book in a short period of time (or give enough away), you can drive your book onto the online bookstore bestseller sublists and then onto the main bestseller lists on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, then Amazon’s/B&N’s algorithm will start automatically recommending your book in multiple places in their online stores and newsletters to create exponential sales for you. (Nothing drives sales like having your book listed in that Amazon e mail you may have signed up for that appears in your mailbox every few days: Looking for something in Mystery & Suspense?)

Yes, there are other online platforms and bookstores out there, but I’m just going to be talking about Amazon and Barnes & Noble because they’re the biggest, and that’s where my experience is.

Amazon in particular gives you some fantastic free tools to help you launch these promotions – if you make your ebook exclusive to Amazon for three months via the Kindle Select program.

Giveaways:during those three months you can give away your book for free for up to five days.

Kindle Countdown: you can drop the price of your books and have Amazon count it down for you on the book page and on their lists to create urgency for the sale.

Hot New Release list: if you understand that one of your VERY best promotional opportunities is in the first four weeks after you hit “publish,” then you can time your promo efforts to take advantage of that window of opportunity. I always urge people who are just starting with indie publishing NOT to make their books available until they fully understand this concept, because you only get one shot at this list with each book.

I’ve talked about Kindle Select Giveaways before, but let me just say part of it again for those who may be just joining us:

A lot of inexperienced writers – and some traditionally published writers who are thinking of self-publishing – balk at giveaways. How can anyone possibly make any money at this if we’re giving books away? Traditionally published authors also tend to look down on indie writers for doing giveaways). The fact is, giveaways are always part of the marketing process of a book. Traditional publishers give away thousands of copies of each book they publish to create word of mouth and generate reviews – and build readership. As drug dealers have known since the beginning of – drug dealing – that you need to give a little something away at first to get your potential customers hooked. But once they’re hooked, the money just rolls in, a regular income stream. 
It’s exactly the same way with books, which are after all just another form of addiction. Come on, you know it’s true.
Wouldn’t you pay full price right now for the newest book by one of your favorite authors? I know I would. Mo Hayder, Tana French, Nikki French, Lee Child, Mr. King… I’d pay extra to get any one of them NOW. 



Well, that’s what these giveaways are about. A big giveaway is a great way to hook new readers on one of your books, and like good addicts, those readers will then buy all your other books, and you build your readership.


I’ve done Kindle giveaways before with great success – it’s how Huntress Moon became an Amazon bestseller. But that was partly because two years ago Amazon counted those free downloads as a partial sale, which kept books up in the ranks even after the price reverted to normal. The algorithm for counting free books has changed, so authors I know who are running giveaways aren’t getting anywhere near the same results as you could get in the beginning of the program.

Even so, the Kindle Select giveaways are still fantastically worth doing – because there is NO OTHER WAY an author can possibly reach 10,000, 20,000 or sometimes many more potential new readers in two or three days – for free.

This time I decided to do a 99 cent sale of Huntress Moon instead of a giveaway because I wanted to target both Amazon and Barnes & Noble, to expand my readership for the Huntress series. I figure Thomas & Mercer will be taking over the Amazon advertising when they launch the series, but I have a chance on my own to promote the series to Nook readers (I’ll report more on that after the sale.)

But whether you decide to do a giveaway or a sale, there is one thing you MUST understand.

It’s not enough to just set up a promotion on Amazon via your KDP dashboard and expect the downloads and sales to start rolling in. You need to do significant promotion on your own to make this kind of promotion work.

Now, theoretically you could schedule a giveaway or Kindle Countdown and work your mailing list and social media contacts to generate enough sales on your own to make the lists – without spending a dime. Theoretically.

But for most indie authors it’s almost impossible to generate that kind of sale without paid help from some of the the various paid advertising sites out there. There’s a whole infrastructure of advertising sites that make their own money off charging authors for promotions that will help them work the Amazon and Barnes & Noble algorithms.

And it always seems that there are a couple of specific book advertising sites out there, or a combinations of sites, that authors who use this strategy agree are the most effective. The top sites change, so you have to do your research and keep informed about which sites are getting the job done.

These days it’s Bookbub. Bookbub charges a premium for its exceptionally effective service, and I’ve never heard anyone say it wasn’t worth every penny. What Bookbub has is a subscription list of well over a million readers who have requested news of sales in their preferred genres. So when Bookbub puts your book in its newsletter, you’re getting it out to a targeted audience of avid readers. You will pay hundreds of dollars for a listing, but will almost certainly make that investment back in a day of sales, and then your book continues to generate sales, and profit, because of its elevated sales rank. Because again, once you make it on to the bestseller lists of the online bookstores, they will be doing the bulk of your promoting for you automatically.

The catch is, Bookbub is very selective about the books it chooses to promote. These days I hear that your book has to have at least 100 customer reviews and a four star average rating to even be considered (to be clear, that’s not what Bookbub says in its policy statement, it’s what authors I know who use it seem to have noticed).

So for relatively new indie authors, Bookbub is probably something to investigate and work toward, rather than count on. But there are other book advertising sites out there that don’t require such a high threshold of reviews but can also generate sales, and I’ll do another post exploring some of them once I have collated results. This post is already long enough!

To sum it up: Paid advertising sites boost sales of your book to get you on the Amazon/B&N (etc) bestseller charts, and then Amazon/ B&N (etc.) will start advertising for you free of charge.

So, authors – have you used Bookbub? Are there other paid advertising sites you find effective? And most importantly – have you come across good posts/articles that explain how the algorithm works? I’m always looking for good stuff to link to!

And readers: were you aware of co-op? Do you feel manipulated? J

Alex

Via: Alexandra Sokoloff

    

Thomas & Mercer has acquired the Huntress/FBI thrillers

By noreply@blogger.com (Alexandra Sokoloff)

A lot of you have been wondering when in the world Book 3 of the Huntress series is ever coming out. I know. I know. I know. I actually finished the book quite a while ago, but I’ve been negotiating with Thomas & Mercer (Amazon’s mystery and thriller imprint) for the series, and I can finally make this announcement.

T&M has bought the rights to the series, and is going to re-launch all three Huntress books in January – including the world premiere of Cold Moon.

I truly, deeply apologize for the wait. Believe me, it’s hard for me, too! But this is the difference between a traditional publishing schedule and the freedom of indie publishing – it takes a lot longer to get all the gears in motion. As a devoted TV binge watcher, I fully understand and am 100% behind the strategy of launching the three books together as a binge read. Thomas & Mercer really gets the uniqueness of the series and I know they’ll be awesome at marketing. And I’m thrilled that the series will be able to reach a much larger audience. I think the stories and characters deserve that.

I also know that a lot of you will be wondering why I would want to turn around and take a traditional publishing deal when I’ve been able to do so well with indie publishing.

Well, first, Thomas & Mercer is a traditional publisher with an indie mindset. They get the new landscape of publishing (partly because they’re creating it). And who wouldn’t want the marketing genius of Amazon behind them?

I’ve written here often about how important I think it is to diversify. Having a mix of indie published titles and traditionally published titles is to me the same kind of strategy as diversifying a financial portfolio. No one knows what the publishing landscape is going to look like a year from now. Personally I’ve reached a happy point that I have so many books out that it’s hard to manage all of them on my own and still have the time I need to be doing the most important thing: writing. Letting Thomas & Mercer handle the Huntress series will – hopefully – free up some time for me to launch the new series I’m working on (which I refer to as “the Scottish book”) as well as continue the Huntress series with Book Four (which will be available very soon after Cold Moon, without the long wait.

Again, I deeply apologize for the wait – but I think Cold Moon is going to be worth it. In the meantime, Huntress Moon, Blood Moon and the audiobook of Huntress Moon will remain available.

In fact, you can pick up Huntress Moon for Kindle or Nook today through Thursday for just 99 cents (and the UK and worldwide equivalents). The paperback is also on sale.

This is the last time the book will be available at a price like this, so if you already have it, please feel free to share the news!


Amazon US 99c

Amazon DE Eur .89
Paperback $7.99

Nook US 99c
Nook UK 99p

“This interstate manhunt has plenty of thrills… keeps the drama taut and the pages flying.” — Kirkus Reviews

– An ITW Thriller Award Nominee for Best Original E Book Novel

– A Suspense Magazine Pick for Best Thriller of 2012


– A Huffington Post Books Pick for “Women You Should Be Reading” 2014


FBI Special Agent Matthew Roarke is closing in on a bust of a major criminal organization in San Francisco when he witnesses an undercover member of his team killed right in front of him on a busy street, an accident Roarke can’t believe is coincidental. His suspicions put him on the trail of a mysterious young woman who appears to have been present at each scene of a years-long string of “accidents” and murders, and who may well be that most rare of killers: a female serial.
Roarke’s hunt for her takes him across three states…while in a small coastal town, a young father and his five-year old son, both wounded from a recent divorce, encounter a lost and compelling young woman on the beach and strike up an unlikely friendship without realizing how deadly she may be.

As Roarke uncovers the shocking truth of her background, he realizes she is on a mission of her own, and must race to capture her before more blood is shed.



Book II in the Huntress/FBI series, Blood Moon, is also available $3.99 (2.45 UK)

Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon DE

Nook US
Nook UK

Twenty-five years have passed since a savage killer terrorized California, massacring three ordinary families before disappearing without a trace.

The haunted child who was the only surviving victim of his rampage is now wanted by the FBI for brutal crimes of her own, and Special Agent Matthew Roarke is on an interstate manhunt for her, despite his conflicted sympathies for her history and motives.

But when his search for her unearths evidence of new family slayings, the dangerous woman Roarke seeks – and wants – may be his only hope of preventing another bloodbath.

And the audiobook of Huntress Moon is also available, narrated by multiple Audie Award nominee RC Bray

Amazon
Audible

As always, I’ll keep you posted on the sale – the promotional strategies I used and what I find to be effective.

So authors, what about you? Are you diversifying? Does the hybrid life make sense to you?
And readers – are you going to kill me? (Hopefully not!)

Alex

Via: Alexandra Sokoloff

    

You just have to do it (lessons from the Reduced Shakespeare Company)

By noreply@blogger.com (Alexandra Sokoloff)


One of the great pleasures of living in Scotland is the month-long Edinburgh Festival Fringe. A pleasure if you don’t actually live in Edinburgh, that is. Residents talk about the Fringe as they would about a plague, which I suppose it is: 20,000+ performers and God only knows how many tourists from all over the world descending on a really quite small (and ancient) city center (that’s centre over here), for the world’s largest arts festival (and the Fringe is only ONE of the festivals). It’s a riot of buskers, street theater, acrobats, jugglers, musicians, crafts, food, bagpipes, and general mayhem on the streets – before you even get to the 3000+ shows a day in various commercial venues.
So we went in last week to see my friends Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor of the

Reduced Shakespeare Company in their new show, The Complete History of Comedy (Abridged).

It’s a great show, with the RSC’s usual combination of a razor-sharp survey of whatever subject they’re ostensibly skewering, disguised in laugh-till-it-hurts comedy, physical, satirical and intellectual. You can enjoy this show on multiple levels, and actually learn something about the development of the art and practice of comedy along the way. It’s at the Pleasance Grand until August 25, then touring the US, UK and Ireland, and I highly recommend it (here’s the schedule).

But I enjoyed it on a whole different level, too.

This was really my present and past colliding, as I have been going to see RSC shows since the genesis of the troupe at the California Renaissance Pleasure Faire, where the RSC’s first full-length show was written and for quite a long time performed by my friends (since college, eek!) Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield (who is also the author of My Name is Will, a brilliant novel of sex, drugs, and Shakespeare.)



And maybe when I say “present,” I really mean “future,” because along with working on Book 4 of the Huntress series, I’ve started on a new series which I’m going to set partly in Scotland.

I know. What could I possibly be thinking?

But it’s been very hard for me to envision a series that could follow (or run concurrent with) the Huntress/FBI thrillers.
This is a problem I now realize long-time authors face. Some readers will follow you anywhere. Myself, if I love an author, I read everything by that author: series, standalone, it doesn’t matter. I may like some books better than others, but it’s the themes that an author is working with that really draw me, and authors bring their personal themes into every book they write.

Other readers, though, may be so specifically keen on certain aspects of a series – the characters, the genre mix, the level of suspense, the arena – that they may well not be interested in something different from that author.

And I have to admit there are a few of my favorite authors who have books or a series that I’ve just never been able to get into.

So the problem with deciding on a new series is how to write something that will sustain you creatively as an author (since we’re the ones who have to live in these worlds for years at a stretch) and that will hopefully also draw your readers who have become attached to the last series you wrote. Obviously there are also always commercial considerations, if you’re doing this for a living, as I am.

So I needed to find a series that has the depth and thematic resonance that I think the Huntress books have, and the range of interesting characters, and the locational aspect that I know my readers enjoy – the Huntress books are in one sense a road trip and California especially is a character in the novels.

So here I am living in Scotland. And people are jealous. I mean, I get death threats. Mostly people are kidding – I think – but Scotland is a fantasy to a lot of Americans, in lots of different ways.

As an American actually living here, I see both the fantasy and the reality (sort of reality). I think I can write about that really well, and bring my American readers into a fascinating and stunningly beautiful, mysterious world – in the context of a crime series that will allow me to explore different sides of my own personal theme: What can good people do about the evil in the world?

It’s an exciting thought… and terrifying. Like paralyzingly terrifying.

So watching the RSC show I realized what I was fretting was the enormity of doing this story justice (this is my eternal fret, actually). And a line leaped to mind – my favorite moment from the RSC’s Complete Works of Wm. Shakespeare (Abridged). My favorite moment in another show full of laugh-till-you’re-sick moments comes just before the intermission, when Adam flat out refuses to go any further, because the one play left that the boys haven’t yet butchered is Hamlet. And Adam just doesn’t think he can do it justice (“There are just so many words…”). 
Jess (now Austin) lifts a sobbing Adam from the floor, assuring him – “We don’t have to do it justice. We just have to do it.”



And that’s the point I have to remember in venture into my new series. Sometimes you don’t have to do it justice (although you always hope justice eventually will be done). Sometimes you just have to do it.

So authors – have you had the experience of having to follow up a successful series? How did you know when you had the right idea?

And readers – are you willing to follow a favorite author into a new series? Or would you rather your favorite authors stick to their tried-and-true characters?

Alex


———————————————————–
August contest!

I’ve added a new feature to my website: a monthly contest. You’ll be able to enter for a chance to win signed books, audiobooks, gift cards, and other giveaways, which I intend to get pretty creative about. (For example, I have extra tickets to a showing of Benedict Cumberbatch in Hamlet, coming up next year….)

You can find contest news by clicking on the contests! link on the website nav bar (to the left), and/or you can sign up for another new feature, a monthly newsletter that will have the upcoming contests and freebies listed.

Click to go to the contests page.

Click to sign up for my newsletter.

Via: Alexandra Sokoloff

    

You just have to do it (lessons from the Reduced Shakespeare Company)

By noreply@blogger.com (Alexandra Sokoloff)


One of the great pleasures of living in Scotland is the month-long Edinburgh Festival Fringe. A pleasure if you don’t actually live in Edinburgh, that is. Residents talk about the Fringe as they would about a plague, which I suppose it is: 20,000+ performers and God only knows how many tourists from all over the world descending on a really quite small (and ancient) city center (that’s centre over here), for the world’s largest arts festival (and the Fringe is only ONE of the festivals). It’s a riot of buskers, street theater, acrobats, jugglers, musicians, crafts, food, bagpipes, and general mayhem on the streets – before you even get to the 3000+ shows a day in various commercial venues.
So we went in last week to see my friends Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor of the

Reduced Shakespeare Company in their new show, The Complete History of Comedy (Abridged).

It’s a great show, with the RSC’s usual combination of a razor-sharp survey of whatever subject they’re ostensibly skewering, disguised in laugh-till-it-hurts comedy, physical, satirical and intellectual. You can enjoy this show on multiple levels, and actually learn something about the development of the art and practice of comedy along the way. It’s at the Pleasance Grand until August 25, then touring the US, UK and Ireland, and I highly recommend it (here’s the schedule).

But I enjoyed it on a whole different level, too.

This was really my present and past colliding, as I have been going to see RSC shows since the genesis of the troupe at the California Renaissance Pleasure Faire, where the RSC’s first full-length show was written and for quite a long time performed by my friends (since college, eek!) Adam Long, Daniel Singer and Jess Winfield (who is also the author of My Name is Will, a brilliant novel of sex, drugs, and Shakespeare.)



And maybe when I say “present,” I really mean “future,” because along with working on Book 4 of the Huntress series, I’ve started on a new series which I’m going to set partly in Scotland.

I know. What could I possibly be thinking?

But it’s been very hard for me to envision a series that could follow (or run concurrent with) the Huntress/FBI thrillers.
This is a problem I now realize long-time authors face. Some readers will follow you anywhere. Myself, if I love an author, I read everything by that author: series, standalone, it doesn’t matter. I may like some books better than others, but it’s the themes that an author is working with that really draw me, and authors bring their personal themes into every book they write.

Other readers, though, may be so specifically keen on certain aspects of a series – the characters, the genre mix, the level of suspense, the arena – that they may well not be interested in something different from that author.

And I have to admit there are a few of my favorite authors who have books or a series that I’ve just never been able to get into.

So the problem with deciding on a new series is how to write something that will sustain you creatively as an author (since we’re the ones who have to live in these worlds for years at a stretch) and that will hopefully also draw your readers who have become attached to the last series you wrote. Obviously there are also always commercial considerations, if you’re doing this for a living, as I am.

So I needed to find a series that has the depth and thematic resonance that I think the Huntress books have, and the range of interesting characters, and the locational aspect that I know my readers enjoy – the Huntress books are in one sense a road trip and California especially is a character in the novels.

So here I am living in Scotland. And people are jealous. I mean, I get death threats. Mostly people are kidding – I think – but Scotland is a fantasy to a lot of Americans, in lots of different ways.

As an American actually living here, I see both the fantasy and the reality (sort of reality). I think I can write about that really well, and bring my American readers into a fascinating and stunningly beautiful, mysterious world – in the context of a crime series that will allow me to explore different sides of my own personal theme: What can good people do about the evil in the world?

It’s an exciting thought… and terrifying. Like paralyzingly terrifying.

So watching the RSC show I realized what I was fretting was the enormity of doing this story justice (this is my eternal fret, actually). And a line leaped to mind – my favorite moment from the RSC’s Complete Works of Wm. Shakespeare (Abridged). My favorite moment in another show full of laugh-till-you’re-sick moments comes just before the intermission, when Adam flat out refuses to go any further, because the one play left that the boys haven’t yet butchered is Hamlet. And Adam just doesn’t think he can do it justice (“There are just so many words…”). 
Jess (now Austin) lifts a sobbing Adam from the floor, assuring him – “We don’t have to do it justice. We just have to do it.”



And that’s the point I have to remember in venture into my new series. Sometimes you don’t have to do it justice (although you always hope justice eventually will be done). Sometimes you just have to do it.

So authors – have you had the experience of having to follow up a successful series? How did you know when you had the right idea?

And readers – are you willing to follow a favorite author into a new series? Or would you rather your favorite authors stick to their tried-and-true characters?

Alex


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August contest!

I’ve added a new feature to my website: a monthly contest. You’ll be able to enter for a chance to win signed books, audiobooks, gift cards, and other giveaways, which I intend to get pretty creative about. (For example, I have extra tickets to a showing of Benedict Cumberbatch in Hamlet, coming up next year….)

You can find contest news by clicking on the contests! link on the website nav bar (to the left), and/or you can sign up for another new feature, a monthly newsletter that will have the upcoming contests and freebies listed.

Click to go to the contests page.

Click to sign up for my newsletter.

Via: Alexandra Sokoloff

    

Gone but never forgotten: RIP Robin Williams

By noreply@blogger.com (Alexandra Sokoloff)


This has been a heavy week. Like a good part of the rest of the world, I’m heartbroken over the loss of the incomparable Robin Williams.

I’m surprised at the depth of my feelings. Of course the loss is massive. He was a once-in-a-generation (perhaps once in several centuries) comic genius who was a presence in my life for so many years. A whole generation of us grew up with Williams always in our lives, and as a theater person I was in awe of the force of his talent. He was a touchstone for artistic integrity. He made me understand what truth is, in acting and in writing. And how truth means letting go of all comfortable boundaries. He is a living lesson on the edge.

But the grief I feel over Williams’ death is more complicated than that loss. There is guilt and sadness that someone who gave so many billions of people so much pleasure was suffering so terribly himself. There is selfish anger about the many roles, both written and unwritten, he was born to play as an older man that we’ll never have. His death brings up conflicted memories of my personal experience living with a loved one with biopolar disorder. And I have a strange, absolutely codependent thought that (as with Philip Seymour Hoffman) we all should have seen this coming and have done more to ensure it didn’t.

I’ve spent some of this week reading the tributes (this anecdote by Norm MacDonald was most resonant for me) and watching film clips (the Mork and Mindy premiere!) and will no doubt be revisiting some of my favorite Williams movies this month. I am so incredibly grateful that so much of his work is on film for us and future generations, that his talent will continue to entertain, challenge, and delight the world.

But I’ve realized this week that there’s something even more to all of this, that makes the loss even more than the black hole that it is. Because Williams is an archetype.

I’m not going to go into a lecture on archetypes and how to use them in your writing. I’ve written about it before, and this week I’m just too sad. But here’s the definition.

Archetype: a collectively-inherited unconscious idea, pattern of thought, image, etc., that is universally present in individual psyches

That is, there are characters that we are all born knowing. And theatrical, filmic, television characters take on exponential power when they are archetypes: Reacher -the Mysterious Stranger; Katniss Everdeen – Artemis (or Diana) the Huntress; Gandalf – the Mentor…

And Robin Williams. He is a living embodiment of the Fool, the brilliant and childlike truth-teller, the divine madman, who is empowered to criticize kings, and gets away with it exactly because of that childish truth.


We’ve lost something much more than a brilliant talent.
We’ve lost the world’s Fool.


And my poor fool is hang’d! No, no, no life!
Why should a dog, a horse, a rat, have life,
And thou no breath at all? Thou’lt come no more,
Never, never, never, never, never!
— King Lear

Via: Alexandra Sokoloff

    

The Great Agent Hunt

By noreply@blogger.com (Alexandra Sokoloff)

The “How Do I Get An Agent?” question is coming at me from all directions this week and I figured I’d better put the answer all in one place so I can just refer people here.

So you’ve finished your first novel and now you face the dreaded question: What do I do now?

Well, first, MASSIVE CELEBRATING. Most people who try to write a novel never finish at all. You are officially awesome.

And before we talk about HOW, I’ll address the question of WHY you need an agent at all.

If you’re planning to go right into indie publishing, great! You don’t need an agent. Skip this step and go straight on to a whole other set of scary issues. 🙂

But if you’re looking for a traditional publishing deal with a traditional publisher, yes, you need an agent. I know, people do it without. Fine – if you’re one of those people, I’m not talking to you.

(If you’re planning to sell directly to a Harlequin category line, you don’t really need an agent at first, either. But you do need the professional savvy of Romance Writers of America. I strongly recommend that you join up.)

But for those of us who DON’T have that kind of business savvy to negotiate our own deals with a multimillion dollar corporation, this is what an agent does.

A good literary agent lives in New York (that’s CITY). An agent’s job is pretty much to go out to breakfast, lunch, dinner, coffee, and drinks with every good editor in the city, and know what those editors are looking for, so that when you hand your agent your new book or proposal, your agent will know exactly which editor is looking for what kind of a book – know each editor’s taste intimately, so that your agent can submit to exactly the right editor at each publishing company and put you and your book in the position of making the best possible deal available on the planet at that moment.

Really. That’s what your agent does.

When your agent submits your book, s/he will most likely submit it to 8-10 of the top publishers in New York simultaneously, and you need to have that book submitted to the editor MOST LIKELY TO BUY IT at each house, in the hopes of –

1 – creating an auction and/or pre-empt situation

2. – getting the best possible editor for you and your particular book and the best possible deal out there.

You cannot do these things yourself. An agent can. This is the difference between writing for a living and writing in those spaces between the demands of the day job.

An agent also is or functions as a contracts lawyer (or a good agency will have a department of contracts lawyers) who will, after the sale of a book, negotiate a contract that is far better for the author than the boilerplate (basic contract) – such as retaining rights in other media and other countries, reversion of e rights, and other critical bargaining points.

Writers without representation or with less than ideal representation might realize just how unfavorable the contract is only when it’s much too late.

And here’s some video of a panel discussion that I did with Dusty Rhoades and Stacey Cochran that goes further into what an agent will do for you and why it’s so important to have one. The question I was asked in the beginning of this tape was “Can I sell a book without an agent?”

And continued here:

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So that’s the why. On to the HOW. Legendary Putnam editor Neil Nyren has this to say about finding an agent:

“The question I always hear the most at conferences is about how to find the right agent, and I always say, “Homework.” Now that homework is easier to do than ever. Besides such sites as Publishers Marketplace, AgentQuery, and the like, every agent in creation has his or her own website where you can find out about their preferences, authors, deals, ways of doing business. Really, people, there’s no excuse for cluelessness anymore.”

Amen to that. If you’re not spending – I would say at least a month – doing your research, you’re not taking this seriously enough.

I know a lot of authors recommend starting with the lists in Writers’ Market, but the very thought makes me cringe. How are you supposed to know who’s a good agent from reading randomly through that enormous book? Instead, I highly recommend making your own targeted list of agents who represent books in your genre, who have made recent sales, and who other authors you admire are enthusiastic about. We are SO LUCKY to have Google to allow us to do this kind of research instantly, right from our own desks.

I also know that getting an agent is so hard these days that a lot of aspiring authors jump at the first offer of representation. That is a TERRIBLE thing to do. You only have one shot to get your book read and bought by the major publishers and you need the best representation you can find. An agent with “clout” can get you thousands more in advance money, just because of their relationships and who they are. It can easily be the difference between you writing as a hobby – and writing for a living. It’s worth taking the time to do extensive research, and approach the agents you most want to work with first, before you settle for the first thing that comes along.

MAKE A LIST

You knew that was coming, didn’t you?

While you are doing this research, I recommend that you build a list of at least 20 agents who you feel would be good representation for both you and your book. Take good notes, because when you query these agents you may want to say things like: “I feel you’ll respond to this book because of (these similarities) to your client’s excellent book (title).

Here are just a few great resources to consult when you start your agent investigation:

1.

Kindle

Amazon UK

Amaxon DE (Eur. 2.40)

Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)

Amazon/Kindle

Barnes & Noble/Nook

Amazon UK

Amazon DE

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Via: Alexandra Sokoloff

    

An American in Harrogate

By noreply@blogger.com (Alexandra Sokoloff)

This time of the summer I’m almost always at Thrillerfest. It felt weird to miss it, but my brother was getting married that weekend so obviously, priorities!

But I wasn’t conference deprived, far from it. As befits my new transatlantic lifestyle, the weekend after TFest I ended up at what is in many ways the UK equivalent: the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Festival.

I’ve always intended to go to Theakston’s Old Peculier (which most people understandably shorten to “Harrogate”), since a good number of my favorite authors are British, and I can always use the UK market exposure, and of course there are the accents. This weekend was the first of many to come, now that the conference is only a four-and-a half-hour train ride away from me. Craig and I flew back from the wedding in California and had just twenty-four hours layover at home before we took off again (just enough time to reunite with our abandoned cat and promptly leave him again. Anyone know a good feline therapist?).

I don’t know what exactly I expected of Harrogate, visually speaking, but I was surprised to find a lovely little Georgian-era spa town with elegant stone mansions and Victorian gingerbread flourishes, gorgeous flowering gardens and ubiquitous hanging flower baskets, hilly cobbled streets lined with restaurants, pubs, tea rooms, mouth-watering boutiques… and a startling number of bath houses. The respectable kind, at least so it seems from the outside of them. Which meant that all weekend long I was dying for a Turkish bath, but because of the crazy traveling we were only there for two days of the festival as it was. So the Turkish bath will have to wait for the next trip. As will, alas, the obviously excellent shopping.
Or maybe missing out on the shopping is a GOOD thing….

To catch you all up on the conference I’ll give an American version of Craig Robertson‘s Sixteen Wonderful Things about Harrogate U.K report (which you can read here on Crime Fiction Lover) and start by focusing on some key differences between Harrogate and some of its U.S. equivalents:

1. — US: the host cities and hotel venues tend to change for every conference (except for Thrillerfest, which is now permanently housed in the Grand Hyatt in NYC)
— UK: Harrogate is permanently in the Old Swan Hotel. (photo right)
(I know, how much more British does it get?).
2. — US: Except for a few headliners, authors generally pay to go to U.S. cons, and most authors who pay their conference fees on time are given a panel spot, which means there are a lot more panels on and the quality of those panels varies wildly.

— UK: Authors are invited to panels by a programming committee, and they are paid both for the panel and for travel and accommodations. Obviously I’m in favor of this “authors are paid to appear” thing.

3. — US: Conference attendees pay for either day passes or a full conference pass and then can attend as many panels/events on that day or days as they can handle.

— UK: attendees pay for individual tickets to events of their choosing. So you can choose what you attend and how much you want to spend.

4. — US: There are lots of panels on at any given hour and people tend to panel-hop, and it’s perfectly acceptable to move in and out of panels, which is kind of great.

— UK: There’s usually only one event going on in the one huge double event room (capacity about 500 people). So you can conceivably see the entire program, and the conversation in between events tends to be focused on one event, which is also kind of great.

More specifically about Harrogate:

5. The Old Swan is really quite small compared to big US downtown hotel venues, and the event hall and the bar and the lawn area (which hosts a bar tent and a signing/bookstore tent) are all right up against each other, so despite the impressive 15,000 tickets sold for various events over the weekend, it feels like you’re at one four-day long party of about 400 people.

6. As usual, I didn’t make it to many events, but I absolutely loved the Domestic Noir panel, featuring my new author friends Helen Fitzgerald and Julia Crouch, plus Chris Ewan and Cath Staincliff, chaired by NJ Cooper, who asked great questions like: “If some people are in fact biologically born bad, does that make them less guilty of their crimes?” (Discuss!) If you ask me, we need more panels like this at every crime conference.

I was also really thrilled (at the spy panel) to learn the backstory of screenwriter Terry Hayes’ huge success with I Am Pilgrim. Hayes is living proof of what I am always telling my ScreenwritingTricks workshops: If you want a better chance at getting a film made, write a book, not a script. And what a lovely thing it always is to see a writer of a certain age making such a brilliant second career. And being so perfectly jolly about it all!

7. There was a quiz, traditionally hosted by the always hilarious Val McDermid and Mark Billingham. To put it in British speak, I am rubbish at quizzes, so I only peeked in. The questions were really, really hard. For all the reading I do, I don’t seem to know much about crime fiction. I did know which director directed the first Columbo episode, though. (Go ahead, guess…)

8. It was really, really wet. I’m told that’s not usual – in fact I was promised sunny days lounging out on the expansive hotel lawn. Hah! Instead it rained like hell half of the time and the other half it was so humid it might as well have been raining. Luckily there was a bar tent up on the lawn (although… those metal poles during a lighting storm? Hmm….) But I’d just had a lot of sun in California, and rain promotes its own kind of intimacy. It was all good.

9. There is much, much, MUCH more smoking in the UK. Some electronic cigarettes but a lot of old fashioned cancer sticks. My lungs were cringing in horror. On the other hand, there was much less pot. At least that I could see (smell).

10. There is more drinking. I wouldn’t say much, much, MUCH more, but still, it felt like more. But I always feel like a lightweight in a UK drinking crowd. As for the all night partying (which it was), I’m usually up for anything from two a.m. karaoke (Anchorage Bouchercon) to after-midnight absinthe (Romantic Times New Orleans) to drag queen bingo night (Thrillerfest) to a hike through Mayan pyramids on a blazing Caribbean day (Florida Romance Writers’ Cruise With Your Muse), or dressing up as God knows what at Writers for New Orleans or Romantic Times, or a midnight Jacuzzi party (any number of cons in every genre) but after five straight weeks of traveling and accompanying jet lag I was in bed by a reasonable 1:30 a.m. both nights, therefore blissfully unhungover in the mornings. Next year, however, I intend to organize a Turkish bath party (and I have a fair idea of which of my new U.K. friends will be up for it).

11. There were no bloody battles between indie published authors and traditionally published authors (that I saw); in fact I had a very civilized conversation with a Big Five publisher who shall remain nameless, but who was quite open to hearing about why so many authors I know are happier with the way Amazon treats them. I hope all of this enmity is on its way to dissipating, because the important thing is that authors now have all kinds of ways to make enough money to keep writing great books.

12. In the UK, they call the readers “punters,” which I know is affectionate… (she says hopefully) but which I still find a little shocking. (I have a mouth like the Berkeley hippie child I am, but Brits can outswear me by ten words per sentence.) We’re all readers, aren’t we? Isn’t that the point?

13. Some things are exactly the same. Friday night was the publisher dinners, and I had a fabulous time at a restaurant called the White Hart meeting my new Thomas & Mercer colleagues: authors Helen Smith, Jay Stringer, Louise Voss, Mark Edwards, EM Powell, Mel Sherratt, and Daniel Pembry, and our charming T&M hosts Emilie Marmeur, Sana Chebaro and Neil Hart.

14. The main reason I didn’t make it to many events was that just like in the US I kept getting caught up in chats, I knew a lot more people than I expected to, not just Americans like author Laura Lippman and editor Kelly Ragland but quite a few Brits (and Irish) authors and readers I know as regulars to Bouchercons and Thrillerfests and World Fantasies and World Horror Cons, like Sarah Pinborough, David Hewson, Martyn Waites, Mark Billingham, Stuart Neville, Kevin Wignall, Simon Kernick, Russel McLean and Martyn James Lewis. We Americans really should be ashamed that the Brits are so much more willing to travel to the U.S. festivals.

I also realize I’ve met a fair number of terrific UK writers and readers and bloggers during my not very long residence in Scotland, like Helen Fitzgerald and Sergio Casci, Julia Crouch, James Oswald, Chris Carter, Mari Hannah, Rhian Davies, Danny Stewart, Lisa Gray, Graham Smith. And I met a whole slew of wonderful new people who are now part of the ever-growing and forever circle of conference friends.

15, Just as with US conference attendance, it’s hard to quantify what good it does for your visibility as an author. I wasn’t on a panel (this time!) but even so the networking is gold. You meet bloggers, reviewers, agents, publishers, conference organizers, other authors, and READERS. It certainly will not get you the book sales of an online promotion (far from it!) but personal connections make for the most loyal readers – readers who are happy to talk you up to other readers. I think there’s a ripple effect to attending conferences that pays off in millions of ways that you’ll never fully be aware of. And face time with your publishing people is invaluable. I always think it’s worth it to attend a conference that’s nearby (to reduce travel expenses!).
16. And there’s one more thing that’s also always golden: the massive creative inspiration. I’ve come away every bit as fired up to write as I am after any U.S. conference. I woke up this morning and wrote five pages on the first book of my new series without even getting out of bed.
Magic is magic, in any accent.

Next up: I’ll be launching the first three books in in my Huntress Moon series at Bloody Scotland, September 19-21, and then Bouchercon, Long Beach, November 13-16,

And I can’t wait to see people again on both sides of the pond.

Alex

Via: Alexandra Sokoloff

    

Book of Shadows, FREE!

By noreply@blogger.com (Alexandra Sokoloff)

My spooky (and maybe – but maybe not! – supernatural) crime thriller Book of Shadows is free on Kindle today and tomorrow, July 14-15. (then $3.99)

Click to download your copy:

Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon DE
Amazon FR
Amazon ES
Amazon IT

Book of Shadows

Homicide detective Adam Garrett is already a rising star in the Boston police department when he and his cynical partner, Carl Landauer, catch a horrifying case that could make their careers: the ritualistic murder of a wealthy college girl that appears to have Satanic elements.

The partners make a quick arrest when all evidence points to another student, a troubled musician in a Goth band who was either dating or stalking the murdered girl. But Garrett’s case is turned upside down when beautiful, mysterious Tanith Cabarrus, a practicing witch from nearby Salem, walks into the homicide bureau and insists that the real perpetrator is still at large. Tanith claims to have had psychic visions that the killer has ritually sacrificed other teenagers in his attempts to summon a powerful, ancient demon.

All Garrett’s beliefs about the nature of reality will be tested as he is forced to team up with a woman he is fiercely attracted to but cannot trust, in a race to uncover a psychotic killer before he strikes again.

Read the first two chapters

“A wonderfully dark thriller with amazing is-it-isn’t-it suspense all the way to the end. Highly recommended.” – Lee Child

“Sokoloff successfully melds a classic murder-mystery/whodunit with supernatural occult undertones.” – Library Journal

“Compelling, frightening and exceptionally well-written, Book of Shadows is destined to become another hit for acclaimed horror and suspense writer Sokoloff. The incredibly tense plot and mysterious characters will keep readers up late at night, jumping at every sound, and turning the pages until they’ve devoured the book.”
Romantic Times Book Reviews

“Fast-paced with strong characterizations, fans will enjoy this superb thriller, as Adam and the audience wonder if The Unseen could be the killer.” – Publisher’s Weekly


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For writers:

GIVING IT AWAY

I know, I know. People must be wondering by now how authors can possibly make a living if we’re always giving books away.

The fact is, giveaways are always part of the marketing process of a book. Drug dealers have known since the beginning of – drug dealing – that you need to give a little something away at first to get your potential customers hooked. But once they’re hooked, the money just rolls in, a regular income stream.

It’s exactly the same way with books, which are after all just another form of addiction. Come on, you know it’s true.

Wouldn’t you pay full price right now for the newest book by one of your favorite authors? I know I would. Mo Hayder, Tana French, Nikki French, Lee Child, Mr. King… I’d pay extra to get any one of them NOW.

Well, that’s what these giveaways are about. A big giveaway is a great way to hook new readers on one of your books, and like good addicts, those readers will then buy all your other books, and you build your readership.

Now, a lot of people who read this blog have already read most or all of my books, and I am eternally grateful! I love that these Kindle giveaways let me reward those faithful readers by letting them stock their Kindles with free e versions of books they already have, but want to have in their e library.

But there are other people who come here just for writing advice, but who might actually be tempted by the giveaway to maybe see all of this advice I’m always giving in ACTION, and discover that I’m actually a pretty gripping thriller writer. And support me as an author without having to lay out even a dime, just by clicking on one of the links and downloading a free book.

Well, I hope so, anyway!

And there are lots and lots of other people out there that these powerhouse Kindle Select giveaways can reach. You can argue against Amazon any way you like, but there is NO OTHER WAY an author can possibly reach 20,000, 50,000 or more potential new readers in two or three days – for free. It’s impossible not to do it.

(But if you’re a Nook reader and pissed off about the constant Amazon giveaways, e mail me, Alex AT alexandrasokoloff DOT com and I’ll get you the book in e pub format. I’m not trying to leave anyone out, it’s just the reality of the system as it is now.)

Book of Shadows was actually my favorite book that I’ve ever written – until I finished my last one, of course. But I hope if you haven’t read it, you’ll give it a try.

So how about others of you? Are you reaping the benefits of the giveaways? Want to talk about it?

Alex


Via: Alexandra Sokoloff

    

Murderati 2.0 (and what I did on my Scottish vacation)

By noreply@blogger.com (Alexandra Sokoloff)

Great news for Murderati fans. We’re back! The fabulous J.T. Ellison and web designer extraordinaire Cissy Hartley figured out a format for us to continue blogging but without the rigid schedule, so that we’re able to post on our own blogs and have them also show up on the Murderati blog. It solves the problem that ultimately shut Murderati down last year: it was taking too much time away from our writing to adhere to a regular schedule.
And I thought for my return post, I’d finally come clean about my last year (both here and on the new Murderati blog.

It’s been a little over a year since my last post on Murderati. So what have I been doing on that Murderati vacation?

Well, of course, yes, I wrote another book. Two books.

Blood Moon, the second in my Thriller Award-nominated Huntress Moon series, is available now. I’m very excited to announce that Thomas & Mercer has picked up the series and will be re-releasing Huntress Moon and Blood Moonin the fall, along with Book Three, Cold Moon, in print, eBook and audio. There’s a brand new audiobook of Huntress right now, which I put out myself, with the fantastically talented, multiple Audie nominee R.C. Bray narrating. And I’m working on Book 4 right now, along with another series. More about all that to come.

But there are other things to catch up on first.



Because it was also almost exactly a year ago that I went to Left Coast Crime in Colorado Springs, and ended up, um, moving to Scotland.


Yes, when I take a break from something, I really take a break.

I blogged about that Left Coast Crime trip here, but I didn’t exactly tell the whole story.

You all know that at a conference, you can find the writers at the bar. You may not be as aware that the longer you stay in the conference bar, the more likely it is to turn into a hotbed of illicit activity. (Okay, I guess that’s true of any bar…)

So last year at Left Coast Crime I was at the bar talking to Scottish crime writer Craig Robertson… and basically we never stopped. I visited him in Scotland, he visited me in California… and suddenly we were redecorating an office together. (No, we don’t write in it at the same time. He often doesn’t wake up until I’ve finished my entire writing day. Which is useful for productivity…).

I always said if I ever did the love thing again, it would have to be with another writer. It’s just too hard when the person you’re sharing your life with has no idea what is going on in your head. With another crime writer, you know exactly what’s going on in your partner’s head. And it’s seldom pretty. And that’s okay. Because let’s face it, what’s in your own head isn’t very pretty, either. And you can do things like wake the other person up in the middle of the night to ask critical life questions like “What’s the absolute minimum time you can get DNA results back?” and they will not only have the answer but not mind you asking (much). That’s pretty golden.

So we’ve been living together a year now, which is pretty good considering that I moved in with him before we had a first date. And it will make for some interesting new blog material, because I have three new perspectives to write about: living with another thriller writer, and living in another country, and the UK book business.
I’ll start today with the question everyone always asks me:

What’s it like living in Scotland?

And you know how I love my lists, so here’s a short list of answers.


– It’s more like Trainspotting than Brigadoon
Actually, Glasgow is more like Trainspotting, Edinburgh is a bit like Brigadoon. Especially up around the tourist traps near the castle. We live between the two cities, so I get to spend a lot of time in both of them, and it seems to me that Glasgow and Edinburgh have a combative relationship somewhat like the one between L.A. and San Francisco (except that L.A. doesn’t really look outside itself enough to realize that San Francisco has a combative relationship with it…). Glasgow is the mean streets, very masculine, outgoing, aggressive, and apparently crime-riddled.


Edinburgh is dreamy and arty and feminine (really one of the more gorgeous cities I’ve ever seen). As a part of the crime writing scene I spend more time in Glasgow, but I like both cities and find the contrasts fascinating. Yes, I’m taking notes…


Speaking of Trainspotting…



– Subtitles would be good

Okay, I know that in my list to the Universe of what I wanted in a partner I suggested that an accent would be nice. English, Irish, Scottish, they’ve all always worked for me. Plus the humor. What I didn’t know was how bloody hard it is to understand a whole country full of them.

Craig is pretty comprehensible when we’re alone. He was a journalist for twenty years and has interviewed people from all kinds of countries, so he’s used to adjusting his accent to whomever he’s speaking with. But get him in a taxi, and he starts talking with the driver… they might as well be speaking Swahili.

– Separated by a common language

It’s not just the accent. Even when I do manage to decipher that, I am constantly running into words and usage that I’ve never heard of. Everything that we pluralize in the US, the UK singularizes, and vice-versa. It’s the linguistic version of driving on the wrong side of the road, which they also do here. Lots of words get shortened (leccy, brekky, footie) and everything shortened has a “y” or “ie” added. If that all wasn’t short enough, they are constantly dropping “to be” in sentence construction (you hear “needs ironed” or “needs replaced” instead of “needs to be ironed” or “needs to be replaced”). And of course, everything is “wee.” It’s not “a walk” or “the shop” or “a text.” It’s “a wee walk” and “a wee shop” and “a wee text.” (If you ever hear me saying a “wee” anything, you’ll know I’ve crossed some internal line and there’s no going back.)

Apparently the Scottish people invented the English language. Apparently they invented a whole lot of other things that the English stole. So I have no grounds for any linguistic argument. Plus you really don’t want to get in an argument with anyone Scottish – they seem to have invented that art, too. So I don’t argue. I just casually mutilate the language with my Californiaisms. Probably I’m not the only one who needs subtitles.


– There are castles

Like this one, which we can see from our street:

In fact, there is history everywhere, and really, really old history. Sights like the above are so common here I often feel as if I’m living on a movie set. My dreams are pretty surreal, too.

– The weather isn’t as crap as they keep saying it is

Scots like to complain. They especially like to complain about the weather. Maybe I got such a hard sell on how crap the weather was that it seems sunny by comparison (I’m a native Californian – people were betting against me surviving my first winter) or maybe I spend so much of my day inside my own head that I don’t notice the weather, or maybe rain is just good for the kind of writing I do, or maybe Scotland is finally getting the global warming it’s been dreaming of… but I don’t mind the weather at all. It rains a lot, but there’s also a lot of sun. It’s also clear air all the time, which is wonderful. SMOG is bad. Snow is a major pain and could kill you. Rain is just weather.

– There’s this thing called a pub quiz

Pub quiz is both hilarious and nerve-wracking. Luckily they take place in a pub, so all that Guinness takes the edge right off.

Look, we all know Americans are notoriously, spectacularly bad at geography. And there’s nothing like a pub quiz to make you understand how little you know about the composition of the world. I’m even worse than normal because when I was in primary school, the gifted and talented classes were held during geography hour, so I got lots of art and square dancing, which are pretty useless in the geography portion of a pub quiz. While I occasionally get random American trivia right, I try not to get involved in the tie-breaker final answer kind of thing. But it is hilariously good fun, much more engaging than a night in watching television.

– Don’t even think about mentioning Braveheart

Not being a fan of Mel Gibson’s torture porn, I never saw the movie myself, but apparently it’s about as accurate to Scottish history asApocalypto is to Mayan history.

The actual story of William Wallace is fascinating and explains a lot about the Scottish character. He was a Scottish landowner who rebelled against incredible persecution under the English and became one of the main leaders in the Wars of Scottish Independence in the late 1200’s- early 1300’s. (And yes, it all still feels that old over here.)

Here’s the Wallace Monument, which I can see from the bedroom window (Do we think men had anything to do with this design? I wonder…)

– Yes, there are kilts



And I’m in favor of them.


So, I’ve come clean. What have you all been up to this year?


Alex


As a welcome back to Murderati, I’m giving away a new audiobook of Huntress Moon. Just comment to be eligible!


Via: Alexandra Sokoloff