I’ve been reading crime now for the last few months. What attracts me to crime? Mostly its the momentum – pages turn themselves. Commercially, the genre is blue chip. There’s always a couple in the top ten. The content travels well into other media and territories. A top crime writer is a stallion/lead mare if you like to work in stable metaphors (or stables for that matter). A good crime premise needs no explanation to a jaded bookseller seeking to pay escalating rent – because it will sell.

I started with Larson (Millenium trilogy), moved to Chandler (The Big Sleep) , tried a couple of Peter Temples (The Broken Shore, Truth) then a couple of T. Jefferson Parkers (Silent Joe, Storm Runners).

Next was Tom Franklin (Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter) I’m currently reading Quintin Jardine and Marele Day.

Of this lot, its really a question for me of who can be compared to Chandler without wilting like stir fried greens. Chandler writes like
his life depended on it, and from what I understand from his biography, it did. A broken oil man, damaged by corporate life and its associated anaesthetics, he turned to pulp fiction before throwing the pulp away and finding something better inside. As a result, he sets a narrative design like a rat trap that never fails to grab you – with language and mood that linger long after you’ve forgotten what happened. For a lesson in tough, character revealing dialogue, go no further. Want quotes? Go read it.

Under the pressure of this comparison, even though they were all good, especially Silent Joe
and The Broken Shore., and Larson (all for different reasons, try reading them for yourself) Tom Franklin came out as most satisfactory. The surprising thing about Franklin is his focus on innocence, how it matters, how it survives and redeems experience. The general pattern of the genre seems to run the other way, so that appealed to me, as did the very truly carved characters, characters with baggage that scrapes along behind them, leaks out in conversation, betrays them at every turn. In a way, this reminded me of Ray Carver and Rick Bass. Franklin has bled a little more for his story I think, like Chandler, like Carver has dug a little deeper, and the result is very satisfying.

Got a crime book recommendation? Let me know.


Negotiating a book deal seems like the easiest step at the end of a hard road. You’ve written something, proposed the idea and an offer has been made. You can hardly believe its happened. A complete stranger wants to pay you for your book. Wow!

A great feeling though it is, a book deal, like any deal, requires you to become commercial in your thinking. Many authors, especially in the U.S. more often than not engage an agent to do this thinking for them. The agent does the commercial stuff for them and pockets some margin from the author’s earnings. This is kind of convenient – reaching the Publisher in the first place may have been facilitated by the agent – and the agent may have offered the author feedback and support key to the book’s eventual purchase. In large markets, like the U.S. Publishers may be too busy to handle proposals any other way, simply because of their volume.

However, the world is changing, and we can’t assume that the agency model will continue indefinitely. So, let’s consider what to do if you don’t use an agent. What differing opportunities are available from self-negotiated deals as compared to agent-negotiated deals?

An agent’s job, in a commercial sense, is to commodify your platform by auctioning your work to the highest bidding Publisher – and moving around Publishers (if necessary) to secure improved advances for future works. They are there, in the crudest commercial sense, to “show you the money” for each book you produce.

Partnering with a Publisher for the medium or long term is a different approach which creates mutual loyalty and allows strategic planning to prosper your career. This choice could be described as “show me the money tree”. Agents are capable of this as well, but good Publishers are paid to imagine your future books lining up behind the one they’ve offered to buy. Essentially, they don’t want to buy the golden egg that’s up for auction – they want to buy the goose who lays them – in the nicest sense of that fowl word!

So, agents are useful, and well worth talking to and dealing with. But I’d like to suggest that a creative partnership with one very good Publisher creates loyalty that can go a long way. When the sales team goes out to sell your book, are they selling out of the Managing Director’s brief to recoup the big advance – or are they selling the books of someone they know and respect?

Photo by Sumeetkanand.

SHORTCUT: You might like to read just the bits in bold if you are in a hurry.

I started at Macmillan in 1996. I was in Queensland in the North East of Australia, about to get on a boat to sail around the Whitsunday Islands, when I saw the advertisement. It was quite big on the page. The one thing I remember about it was the big powerful logo. (We call them the Macmillan wings. Maybe that’s because they carry you places. They sure have carried me and my family.) The job was for a Sales Representative. I had just finished my first career as an English teacher. Before I’d left, I clearly remember in answer to the collegiate query of “What next?” I’d said “I want to get into publishing.” As a result I think if you say something out loud it does increase the chances of it happening.

I ended up applying for two jobs simultaneously. One was at Macmillan, the other was Oxford University Press. Oxford offered me $25,000 and a white, four cylinder Mistubishi. This enabled me to negotiate $29,000 to go along with a four cylinder maroon Mitsubishi at Macmillan. My first day, I was handed 10 globite suitcases full of books, each weighing around 10 kilograms. It was my job to visit school libraries and sell them. This I did for exactly 12 months. Everything I learned during this time was like gold, though it didn’t seem like that back then. Getting rejected several times a day teaches you to find the right words to avoid rejection and create value for another person. And talking directly to customers cannot be substituted by any other form of training in business. These two things together made my career.

During my time as a Sales Representative I took steps to create value for the person I wanted to work for next. This was the Publishing Director, a great guy called Rex Parry. I managed to pass enough leads on potential authors to Rex to get his attention, and when a Trainee Editor role came up, I was a shoo-in. I put together about half a dozen new projects for Rex and his Publishing team over the next twelve months without a whole lot of sweat because I’d already navigated the process of connecting with authors and commercial opportunity in the previous role.

Plump with success, I resigned. But I’d managed to convince Rex to commission me as an author on a Health book series, which I had a vague background in. I spent the next two years on Lord Howe Island, working labouring jobs and writing the books. I also surfed my brains out and caught a lot of fish.

In 2000, I returned, again in a Sales role, before graduating to Publisher in 2002, working again with Rex Parry. From this time to the present, I think I leaned on my initial entrepreneurial experience at a percentage of about 75. For the next seven years, I looked after about $4 million in revenue per annum, before planting a customised publishing business that grew sixfold in two years from inception.

I’ve had an interesting career at Macmillan, seeing many sides of the publishing enterprise. On March 23 this year, I will have done a decade, making me a Gen X guy with Boomer tendencies.

Publishing is about selling information that helps, moves, inspires and teaches. If you connect with any of the bold statements published here, you’ll be great in our industry.

Why custom publishing works

February 12, 2010

Custom publishing holds the secret to its own success in its name. Its 75% of the word customer. The transaction starts as the customer says “yes” to the idea of getting what they want without baggage. Then they say yes to a sequence of chapters. If there’s five chapters, that five yesses, six overall. Once the product is built, there’s another yes to add to the shopping cart. That makes seven.

Custom publishing works by breaking down a sale into smaller transactions that each build value for a customer. A repeat sale is, in my experience, about 90% more likely as a result.

If you’re writing non fiction, give customers a non-linear option on your content. Think ITunes – do they want the album, or just a sweet little song?

Photo by myuibe

Very often, if not mostly, the editor who gets your proposal really would rather be doing something else. This is not a criticism of editors, its just the reality of the publishing workplace. Reading proposals is a future-planning task that only gets touched when the now-tasks are done. Besides this, the queue of quality proposals is quite long. As a result, an editor’s attention moves away very quickly if anything about your proposal is unclear or irrelevant. It doesn’t take much to do it. Here are some common indulgences:

-Bang on about your credentials
-Criticize popular books
-Use multiple exclamation marks to amplify your point!!!

Whatever your indulgence, at the end of an editor’s attention span is an attention spa. All it takes is one letter, and they plunge into a warm, bubbling daydream where you no longer exist. If this occurs, your chances of publication diminish quickly.

Quick Tips

-Use plain English
-Let your proposal’s merits speak for themselves
-Choose your words like they are the last words you are allowed on this earth
-Have the whole book finished before you contact the editor

What’s your opinion?

What kind of language puts you into the attention spa?

Photo by Murtage

You may think you have little chance of getting published. After all, the statistic on unsolicited manuscripts in Australia, a country of 20 million people (not counting boat people-who in my books are most welcome) is 1 in 5,000. In the USA, that would expand to 1 in 50,000. So, the question becomes, are you capable of becoming noticed in a crowd of unsolicited information?

Here are a three tips to getting noticed:

1. Do your category homework

Books are like cars. Are you a people mover (popular fiction), family wagon (childrens books) or painted bus (popular self help)?
Without category recognition, you’re goneski. Get into a mould and do your creative work within those parameters.

2. Be cool

When you query, propose or offer a manuscript, be super-easy to deal with. The person judging your chances is likely to be a very busy woman who had to crash through a glass cieling just for the opportunity to deal with your dream. Be respectful, expect nothing and pray. If in doubt, use a phone call no more often than fortnightly, 60 seconds a piece. Be you, be brief, be teachable.

3. Work your platform

Who will buy the first 3000 copies? If you can’t answer that question with confidence you are not ready to be published. You need to reach your audience with your value proposition by your own industry and persistence before you get published. Failing that, you are relying on talent and luck, which although well documented as a recipe for success, has a lower statistic on breakthrough deals.

Photo by gruntzooki

What’s your book idea? Comment here and I’ll reply.

I came across a handy listing of great first lines to novels. Here is the link to the top 100, originally published by ABR and found here at infoplease.

The line that hit me between the eyes was number 12 – Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Here it is:

“You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter.”

There are three very cool take-aways I’d like to share with you.

1. Twain uses the line to sell two books here – the prequel (Tom Sawyer) and the sequel (Huckleberry Finn). There are no groans of having to backtrack though – the book unfolding in this line is a stand alone story as well (“that ain’t no matter”).
2. Listen to the authenticity of the voice. You get the sense that Twain knows this boy better’n he knows his own writin’ hand. The voice is true and real enough to want to hear more-much more.
3. From a writer’s-tip perspective, I get the feeling its not the stumbling grammar that achieves the voice – the voice creates the stumbling grammar. Get the character from inside of you and and it just comes out – eventually.

Over to you

What’s your all time favorite first line and why?