Hey — just a quick note from me to say Cullen 7, COWBOYS & INDIANS is out now! Sincerest thanks to everyone who has preordered it — it should be on your Kindle now, waiting for your eyes to read it. Feels good to have it out my computer and into the wide, wide world.
Some early review quotes from Goodreads —
“I have read all the books in the Scott Cullen series and I honestly think this is the best one so far.” — Adele Mitchell
“Overall, a fantastic book by one of my favorite authors … easily the best book I’ve read so far this year.” — Tam McGregor
Buy it from Amazon now.
Oh, and if you haven’t bought it, SNARED is £1.99 today only.
(This post is a rambling essay on genres but also features some news about the Supernature series and what happens next there…)
I posted a response to a thread on KBoards, one of the better places to discuss self-publishing and all that jazz, on the subject of using pen names to write in different genres.
Essentially, I’d tend to go with a pen name for each genre, based on my experience. As you know, I predominantly write police procedurals set in Edinburgh, Scotland, which I do not at all badly out of at all. A few years ago, I hit upon an idea to do a vampire thriller set in the Highlands of Scotland, called SHOT THROUGH THE HEART.
What I found when I released it was my existing audience either 1) sort of, kind of liked SHOT (about 20%) or 2) were largely ambivalent to it and the sales were nothing like for the other books in my DC Scott Cullen series, usually by a factor of ten (if I’d spent that time writing another Cullen, I’d have earned a lot more cash).
My thinking in the fourteen months since publication has been all over the place. In 2013, I started out wanting to write a sequel to establish a series. Then, when I started getting the “vampire=bad” feedback, it kind of morphed into a police procedural with vampires – I’ve finally written that book as a straight police procedural without any vampires (CRASH INTO MY ARMS, I’ll be starting the second draft next week), which’ll mesh well with my core audience of police procedural fans.
But… I get an email or social media post every couple of weeks asking what’s happening to Supernature. I’ve got a desire, if not exactly burning then at least on fire, to write a proper sequel to SHOT. I’m thinking through how to make that work – a revised draft of SHOT with more of a police element seems to be an idea I can’t get away from and I had a bash at that last week, which was going in a promising direction. The bits I disliked about SHOT were instantly removed by the police stuff and the flow of the story was a hell of a lot better. There’s quite a lot of Scottish folklore I could explore with that.
One thing I noticed last summer is based on trying the old “product funnels” thing, as espoused in WRITE. PUBLISH. REPEAT., by making SHOT free for a period. The result was it ended up cannibalising sell-on from GHOST IN THE MACHINE, the first freebie in the Cullen series – rather than buying book 2 in the series after enjoying book 1, the readers seemed to go for the other free one. Because it was vampires and they tended to dislike it, so I lost sales. If it’d been a straight pol proc, I think it’d have worked, most likely.
Of course, it could be that SHOT just isn’t that good – another reason a redraft will help is it’ll allow me to know if it’s a quality thing. Alternatively, it could be that I’ve not released book 2 in the series, so I’ve no real idea if it is a money-spinner. It did take about a year for it to break even on publicity and editing costs, which is another reason I felt my fingers got burnt. Finally, it could be that the cover is too “police procedural” – moody, monochrome shot with bright text – and it jars with the genre.
In summary, the lessons for me from publishing in multiple genres are –
1) People who like a writer writing in a genre tend to like the genre more than the writer, i.e. they’re less likely to buy you writing in another genre.
2) There are people who like the writer as much as the genre but they’re a lot lower. The crossover could be managed by other means, e.g. mailing list – “hey I’ve got a new book out in another genre under another name. You might not like it so I’m not forcing it down your throat” etc.
3) I might not have gone after the fans of vampire books in the right way (title, cover, product description, author name, etc). They might think it’s a police procedural.
4) If you’ve managed to get some level of success with your “day job” writing in a genre, that means you’ve got some tricks you’ve applied in building an audience there which should be applicable to writing in a new genre (and there’ll be some element of fun in learning it)
5) Watch your product funnels don’t cannibalise the main genre series.
Hope that’s of interest to you. I’ll be getting back to that redraft of SHOT in the summertime and will most likely do the second book back to back, while the characters and genre are still fresh in my head. At the moment, it’s called JUST WALKING THE DEAD, thought I really want to use the title HUNGRY LIKE THE WOLF, somewhere.
I’ve been really bad at blogging last year. Too much writing and editing. One of my New Year’s resolutions is to blog more. So, here we go – I’ll have my review of 2014 coming up later in the week sandwiched with this and some big news (if you’re on the mailing list, you’re going to get it today).
Anyway, my favourite books of 2014… It was a tough year, reading-wise, as I was doing so much writing and self-editing. I couldn’t look at words in July. I just couldn’t process them, but that’s another tale. Anyway, I did manage to love some books, so here’s a list of the top 5 things I did enjoy. As you can see, my tastes are reasonably diverse…
Notable mentions go to Alex Sokoloff (HUNTRESS MOON) and Craig Robertson (RANDOM) [always good when the nice crime writers I meet actually write awesome books, though those books were published a few years ago] and the four Stuart MacBride novels I read this year (one of the very few writers who I can’t find anything I’d edit). Also OLD MAN’S WAR and REDSHIRTS by John Scalzi, which really freshen scifi for me, tight stories rather than tracts of “world building” harking back to the glory days of Philip K Dick, when scifi novels were as long as other novels and not the sort of thing you’d use to prevent entry to your property. I’m sure there are others I’ve forgotten about… Oh, Douglas Lindsay’s third DS Hutton novel was a damn good read.
Anyway, the top 5 is as follows –
5 John Scalzi LOCK IN
I’ll be honest and say this has possibly the worst opening in a book I’ve ever read. Well, that I didn’t give up on. That it’s on this list should show something… One of my favourite TV shows of the year was the sadly cancelled ALMOST HUMAN, and this filled that void – a future police procedural. The buddy cop pairing of the seasoned female cop and the avatar of the locked-in male officer gave a new take on the dynamics and showed a plausible world, rather than dumped forty pages of tell about it. Really enjoyable. After that first chapter.
4 Joe Abercrombie HALF A KING
I have an uneasy relationship with fantasy novels. The works of JRR Tolkien really left me cold – I took about six goes to get past the nonsense with the dwarves in THE HOBBIT and the tedium of THE LORD OF THE RINGS in book form makes the films seem that bit better (yeah, shove it) – and I’ve never really got into the genre, aside from some China Mieville and Michael Moorcock. This book was my entry point – focused and immediate storytelling from the start, the world of the SHATTERED SEA shown rather than told. This is aimed at a young adult audience, so it’s maybe a bit light and relies on too many coincidences, maybe, but it’s certainly hooked me on his work. I’ve spent the first couple of weeks of 2014 getting stuck right into his earlier (and better) works.
3 Eva Dolan LONG WAY HOME
I write police procedurals for a living. It’s hard to read them without either 1) wanting to edit the hell out of them, 2) picking at the research errors or 3) not ripping them off. Ahem. This is one of those books that came out of nowhere and just blew me away. Very modern, and reflecting the racist hell England is in danger of becoming. Not afraid to tackle big issues and her style is electric when writing immediate scenes, a masterclass in letting the reader sense the book.
2 Gerard Brennan UNDERCOVER
I started this not expecting much but it soon gripped me from the sheer pace of the start. A tight tale of kidnapping and greed, Brennan doesn’t try anything flashy, just delivers a solid tale and does it well. Vivid characters, sharp dialogue and action I could be more than bothered to follow (I usually skip action scenes). It gives a fresh spin on Belfast, the Troubles only a looming menace to its gangland children. (Note – this is published by Blasted Heath, co-run by my agent, but I don’t think there’s a conflict of interest.)
1 Nic Pizzolatto GALVESTON
TRUE DETECTIVE was the TV highlight for me this year, that rare show we’d catch as near to live as to be able to fast forward through the adverts. GALVESTON is what the show’s writer did before, a noir so dark it sucks all light in. I read this in one sitting on the train to London in March when I was in the middle of the editing slog, having done a full redraft of FIRE IN THE BLOOD, and it’s testament to the quality that it dragged me put of my funk and made me focus on just reading. Incredible.
I’m trying to read a lot more this year, so maybe I’ll get up to a top ten…
Just got a note from Amazon saying I’m October’s 14th most borrowed author in the UK – get a nice wee drop of cash for it. Many thanks to any Kindle Unlimited users who’ve borrowed the books.
(In other news, I’m beavering away on other projects ahead of shutting down body and mind for Christmas – I’ll do some more enbloggening soon)
I’ve been experimenting with using multiple sales channels over the last few months.
Previously, I’d found that Amazon was >99% of my sales figures though, curiously, 85% of my free downloads. I wanted to see if that 15% would turn into sales on the other channels. Also, I get occasional posts, tweets and emails about whether I’ll put my books on Kobo/Nook/iBooks/etc.
Well, I tried. Put it this way, having had the books out there for seven weeks now, I’ve realised I sell 2.5 times EVERY DAY on Amazon what I’ve sold in that period across Kobo and Nook. Say what you like about Amazon, they really have created a market for indies like me to exploit and create a career out of.
So, I’m going back all-in with Amazon ‘s KDP Select as of next Wednesday, 07-May. For all those who’ve contacted me asking for the other Cullens on non-Kindle platforms, you’ve got a week to get the books.
In all seriousness, if you read books on your tablet (iPad, Fire, Nook Colour, etc) then I recommend you get the Kindle app for my books. It’s really good. I’d also advise against reading on a tablet – your eyes’ blink reflex is deadened compared with paper or eInk so you get dry eyes. As someone who’s had laser surgery on my ‘een’, I’m acutely aware of how bad my eyes feel when I’ve beasted my iPad for a long period (most recently reading twenty issues of CAPTAIN AMERICA back-to-back on Comixology…) I’m not a professional but speak to your optician if you get pain or dry eyes – don’t mess with your eyesight.
In other news, I’m just about finished Draft 1+ of SNARED, DS Dodds book one. I say 1+ and that means I wrote it last week and I’m firing through it to fix errors and stop things like summary narrative which is something I’m trying to kill in my books.
There’ll be a mailing list entry in the next couple of days, so sign up!
Kind of spooky in the week GHOST hit 666 reviews in the UK, but a few things on CULLEN book two – DEVIL IN THE DETAIL.
If you’ve bought it, you should have received an email from Amazon yesterday saying a revised version was uploaded. This is fact. There’s also a revised version of GHOST IN THE MACHINE uploaded as well.
What sort of revisions? Well, one of the big things I’ve done this year is edit the first two novels so the writing is consistent with the later novels – my style has moved on a lot. With GHOST and DEVIL, I went through them several times and tidied the text up significantly. The changes were read by Rhona, who edited DYED IN THE WOOL and BOTTLENECK, and those two books are now as good as I can make them without starting again from scratch (seriously, don’t tempt me).
The bulk of the changes are stylistic – removing info dumps (bad), heavily-reducing the Scottish patois (no kens, didnaes and all that), cutting Bain’s swearing a bit (he’s still a profane idiot), heavily-reducing the dialogue attribution (I was a bit worried about people getting lost in dialogue, so every line had a said) and tidying up a few bits and pieces. There was a lot of descriptions of roads which really added nothing to the books – I should really write THE ED JAMES GUIDE TO THE SCOTTISH MOTORWAY SYSTEM (INCLUDING DUAL CARRIAGEWAYS AND SIGNIFICANT A-ROADS).
The significant changes to GHOST were the complete rewrite of the first scene and addition of a cold open scene in Pilrig Park, foreshadowing a bit of the ending. Nothing major, really. The word count went from 96,000 to just under 87k.
DEVIL was squashed into two calendar days and I’ve thinned the action on day two out into a third one, adding a nice scene with Sharon McNeill. There’s also a bit of a ticking clock that was in there which I’ve picked out of the mix and made more explicit. At least two of the scenes got really major rewrites. The word count was sliced from 103k to just over 86k and it is a lot slicker for it.
I don’t know if any of your ever have any plans to re-read the books (I think TRAINSPOTTING and THE CROW ROAD are the only novels I’ve read more than once…), then do me a favour and read these ones. Spending that amount of time putting sheen on a free book was a labour of love, really.
In other news, DEVIL is now out on Kobo and Nook. I’m experimenting with non-Amazon channels for the Cullens just now (I’ve had >30,000 GHOST downloads on these two) but I’ve been a bit underwhelmed by sales so far, shall we say. Say what you want about Amazon, their KDP offering for indies like me is second-to-none.
Keep an eye on the mailing list – http://bit.ly/EJMail – to keep up with my release schedule.
Just noticed it’s two years to the day since I first published GHOST IN THE MACHINE. Wow. Hard to believe how much has changed in that time. Serious thanks to everyone who has downloaded it and bought the subsequent escapades in Cullen’s life.
I’ve spent some of this year revising the first two books to make them more consistent stylistically with the rest (and to reduce Bain’s swearing…) and new versions of GHOST and DEVIL are available now. I’m such a dabbler. They may email you telling about it, but if you want to receive the revised version on your Kindle, send them a mail and they’ll give you the new file (looks like they’re going to automate this).
Anyway, thought I’d give an update on where things are – the Mailing List is going to be my primary announcement thing and I’ll start using this place more regularly for more flippant stuff.
Cullen Year One
About a month ago, I released a collected edition of the first four books called CULLEN YEAR ONE. This puts GHOST, DEVIL, FIRE and DYED in one edition for the bargain price of £5.99 or $9.99, saving 25% off the price of buying them individually. It’s a bit of a steal, especially as GHOST is free already. Universal Amazon link – [ http://mybook.to/CYear1 ] It’s on Kobo and Nook too if that’s your thing.
CULLEN 6 – COWBOYS & INDIANS
Had a few searches for the next Cullen book, clearly people who’ve devoured BOTTLENECK already. At the moment, there’s no release date for it. I’ll start doing some work in the next month or so, just to get the plot nailed down along with the novella I’ll do later this year. As per the BOTTLENECK afterword, still no idea when I’ll release it. Things are a bit in flux just now – keep an eye on the Mailing List for further news.
DS DODDS 1 – SNARED
I’m currently going hammer and tongs at the first draft of SNARED and am roughly a third of the way through, having bashed out 33,000 words. Not bad for three days’ work so far… Again, for release information, keep an eye on the Mailing List for news of when this one is going to get released. For those of you who don’t know, this is a new series set in Dundee with a new copper, DS Vicky Dodds. It’s hardcore police procedural all the way, similar in some ways but pretty different to Cullen. I’m enjoying writing it like you wouldn’t believe.
Yeah, not sure what I’m doing with this. CRASH INTO MY ARMS, the intended sequel to SHOT THROUGH THE HEART, is getting de-vampired and will be the next project after SNARED. I’ve got a solid idea for a sequel but the sales on this one have been really quite bad. I learnt a lesson with this one, that’s for sure. I’m going to make it free again to see if that gives it a market sufficient to warrant a book two.
I’ll be sending a new newsletter in the next couple of days – sign up at http://bit.ly/EJMail
Hope you’re all enjoying BOTTLENECK.
I’m not all about Amazon. Mostly, but not all. I’ve put BOTTLENECK on Nook and Kobo right from the off –
Getting some very positive feedback on BOTTLENECK, which is a blessed relief more than anything. Oh, I was on the cover of Monday’s Herald.
To find out about my upcoming releases – sign up to the mailing list. I usually pre-release the book by this means, so it’s the best way of keeping on top of my books.
In other news, I’m just about ready to start the first draft of SNARED, the first DS DODDS mystery.
BOTTLENECK is officially out today on Kindle and Kobo for £3.99 and $6.49 (other channels, including paperback and Nook will likely be 31-Mar-14) –
Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link
(other territories live now)
Hope you enjoy it! First chapter is just after the break.
Join my mailing list
Alistair Cameron pushed the body of his guitar against its amplifier sending squalls of feedback coruscating through the room. His free hand reached down and adjusted the controls, making the noise swell. He looked over at Roddie pounding the drum kit and realised the song wasn’t going to end any time soon.
Grinning, he unstrapped the guitar and propped it against the amp before setting to work on his pedal board, fifteen Boss and Fender units interconnected in an array he’d taken months to perfect. He applied a layer of delay before gradually increasing the reverb. On a beat, his right hand slammed down on an overdrive pedal then a distortion two bars later, while his left mimicked a foot and added a wave of wah wah.
Through the noise, he could just about pick up Roddie’s clattering drum pattern signalling the end. He looked over at Gary, head down and noodling away on his bass, keeping some semblance of song together. Their eyes locked. Alistair nodded at Gary then over at Roddie who swept into a long snare roll stretching over four bars. Alistair gradually switched off pedal after pedal before carefully retrieving his guitar just in time to crash in on the final chord.
The sound stopped dead, echoes of the cymbals dying away.
“If there was an audience,” said Gary, “they’d be going mental just now.”
Alistair nodded as he looked around the practice room, four whitewashed walls and a bare ceiling above a concrete floor, the equipment of two bands rammed into the tiny space. “Not long till we have a proper crowd.”
Roddie grinned. “You almost didn’t make the last chord there. One pedal too many.”
Alistair shrugged, trying to affect the cool the singer of a band should have. “I was tempted to put another one on.” He sat down on his amp and flicked it to standby. “Reckon that’s us for tonight?”
“Think so,” said Roddie, before reaching round and tossing a can of beer over to Alistair.
“Cheers.” He inspected it, a cheap supermarket brand. He wasn’t one to turn down free beer, so tentatively opened it, careful not to catch the gush of foam on his clothes, shoes, guitar or pedals. The floor got it instead, another sticky patch that would take weeks to clear.
“That was a good practice,” said Gary.
“Damn right.” Roddie avoided the spray as he opened his can.
“Nice to kick back and relax now,” said Alistair, feeling genuinely spent from the exertions of running through their twenty-five minute set four times, almost eradicating errors.
“Not quite,” said Gary, taking a sip of vodka straight from the bottle.
“Eh?” said Alistair.
“Tonight’s the night,” said Gary, mouth twisting into an evil grin.
Alistair rolled his eyes. “You still on about that?” he said, trying to sound tired.
“Aye, and I won’t stop until you finally do it.” Gary picked up a copy of The List, the Glasgow and Edinburgh what’s-on guide, and showed it to Alistair. “The deal was, I arrange the gig and you go for a wander down there.”
Alistair shook his head. “You’re such a bloody child.” He looked around, desperate for an excuse. “I need a torch.”
Gary grinned again as he took one out of his hoodie pocket. “Here you go. No more excuses.”
“You really want me to do this?” said Alistair, trying to sound grown up, challenging Gary to see the error of his childish ways.
It didn’t work. Gary prodded him in the chest. “A deal’s a deal,” he said, punctuating each word with a poke.
Alistair’s eyes pleaded with Roddie.
“Don’t look at me,” said the drummer. “This is between you pair.” He cracked open another beer before belching.
“Fine,” said Alistair, feeling his blood rise.
Gary turned to a dog-eared page. “Here.”
It was an interview with Expect Delays, the local band made good. Alistair was obsessed with them, almost as much as Gary. Top five singles, a number one album and supporting U2 at Hampden next week. Miles better than playing to the proverbial ‘three blokes and a murderer’ at Bannerman’s, like they would on Sunday.
“What am I supposed to be looking for here?” said Alistair.
Gary’s fat finger pointed to a chunk of interview text. “This bit.”
Alistair read the interview with Neeraj Patel, Expect Delays’ guitarist, talking about the practice room they used as an unsigned band in Edinburgh.
“I know they practised here,” said Alistair. “That’s why we got the room.”
“That’s not it,” said Gary. “Read on.”
“Right, so they went for a wander along an old street under the Old Town? Big deal.”
“Says you can walk for miles under here,” said Gary. “Can’t believe they did that, man. It’s fate. If we do it, maybe we’ll get signed, too.”
“I don’t think it works like that,” said Alistair, sweating despite the cold.
“You’re not going back on our deal, are you?” said Gary.
Alistair tried again with the maturity act, this time folding his arms. He got nowhere. “Right, fuck it,” he said, getting to his feet and snatching the torch from Gary.
“Good man,” said Gary.
Alistair stormed out of the room, swinging the torch by its cord. They were on the second level down and the entrance was on the next, the lowest. He waited with Gary while Roddie locked the door then headed down the stone stairs.
He heard the sound of at least one other band bleeding through the walls. He checked his watch – still another fifty minutes till they had to lock up.
Alistair stopped by the heavy door and turned round. “You coming with me?”
Gary rubbed his hands together. “Of course.”
“Wouldn’t miss this for the world,” said Roddie.
Alistair grimaced before marching on. The lack of whitewash was the only difference between the rehearsal space and the old street.
An old paraffin lantern hanging from a wall reminded him of Mary King’s Close, the sanitised tourist attraction he’d visited with school.
This was different – an ancient road that led off Niddry Street before the buildings of South Bridge sprang up in the nineteenth century. The smell of damp – always present in their room – worsened as they progressed deeper.
They came to a crossroads that opened out slightly. Alistair quickly ascertained two of the paths were bricked up, leaving right as the only option. He shone the torch into the gloom, the beam dying long before it reached a distant wall. The hair on his arms pricked up. He swallowed hard and marched on, trying to recall the exact terms of the deal – he reckoned another hundred footsteps ought to do it, but he didn’t know whether Gary would see it that way.
“What was that?” said Roddie.
“Your burp,” said Alistair, briefly turning round.
“No, I swear I heard something.”
Alistair gritted his teeth and strode on, determined to get it over with. After another fifty or so paces, the path curved hard to the left. He was aware of their breath behind him, loud in the darkness. “This’ll do.”
“Nowhere near enough, mate,” said Gary. “Keep going.”
“Come on, man,” said Alistair.
“Don’t ‘come on, man’ me.” Gary stabbed a finger at his chest. “I say when it’s over, not you.”
Alistair pushed on. After another twenty seconds, he stopped dead and turned to face the others. “I swear I heard something.”
Gary scowled. “Quit it. Roddie’s trick didn’t work on you, so you’re trying it on me now?”
Alistair swivelled back round, the torch dancing on the stone walls. The light bounced off something metallic. “What’s that?”
“Enough,” said Gary.
“I mean it,” said Alistair, pointing down with the torch. “Look. Something’s glinting.”
“Might be some old money or something,” said Roddie. He laughed and spoke in a stupid voice. “Maybe it’s gold. Maybe a treasure chest.”
“I doubt it,” said Gary.
Alistair inched forward, flicking the torch across the ground. As they approached, he saw something long and thin. He stopped and looked closer. A screwdriver. He crept on, training the torch ahead. The light shone on something and he let out a gasp.
A body was propped against the wall.
Released on Monday 17th March, here is the book blurb for BOTTLENECK, CULLEN 5 –
Acting Detective Sergeant Scott Cullen almost has the stable relationship and promotion he’s long coveted. The uncertainty surrounding the imminent Police Scotland restructure and his crippling caseload both take their toll on him. Now living with his girlfriend, her own burning ambition puts a strain on their relationship and her health, traits they both share.
But when a body is discovered in the abandoned streets underneath Edinburgh’s Old Town, Cullen struggles to identify the victim before trawling the depths of the Scottish music scene, digging up old scores in Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Now, as he returns to the Angus home town he’s long since left, Cullen finds himself spread thin, hunting across Scotland for a killer who leaves no trace. As Scotland’s police forces are centralised into Police Scotland, Cullen is dragged into the murky world of internal politics, blocking progress in the case and jeopardising his own career.
BOTTLENECK is a tense police procedural novel about greed and ambition that will suck you in from the start.
Intended as a series jumping-on point, BOTTLENECK is Book 5 in the Edinburgh-based police procedurals starring DC Scott Cullen which have been compared favourably with Ian Rankin, Mark Billingham, Christopher Brookmyre, Ed McBain, Elmore Leonard and Stuart MacBride.