IJ Parker is an author more associated with print. However, in the past year or so, she’s been rather vocal on Crimespace about moving into ebooks. She is best known for her medieval Japanese series about Law Ministry clerk Sugawara Atikada, who must support his father’s family by investigating crimes that sometimes lie outside his jurisdiction. She stopped by to talk to us about her transition to the electronic world.
First off, tell us a little bit about Akitada Sugawara and his world.
Akitada belongs to an old family that has fallen on hard times. Because he excelled at the university, he got a position in the Ministry of Justice where he suffers under a number of hateful and incompetent ministers. An innate sense of justice and his curiosity get him involved in criminal cases, and over the years he has built a certain reputation. But Akitada is not an amateur sleuth. His law training and his official position make him a part of law enforcement of his time.
In a larger sense, Heian Japan was ruled by emperors and governed by senior nobles. A class system existed and distinctions were observed. There were huge differences between the ruling class and the poor in education and wealth. However, until the end of the 12 th century, the nation was stable, largely peaceful, and highly advanced in the arts. In many ways, it outshone the European Middle Ages, particularly in prose fiction. Lady Murasaki’s GENJI is the first novel in the world.
What attracted you to this particular setting?
I was reading the Japanese literature of this time for a college class I was thinking of teaching, and was impressed with the sophistication of the people.
Japan during what was Europe’s Middle Ages is an unusual setting for this type of novel. What attracted you to the Heian period and culture?
See above. Also, the best historical mysteries up until that time (I started in the mid-eighties) were the Judge Dee novels by Robert Van Gulik. I wanted to do something similar for Japan.
You’re started to move into the ebook realm. What motivated you to step into that arena?
I have been traditionally published by the big houses (St. Martin’s Press and Penguin). I have also been published by a good smaller publisher (Severn House). Under none of those venues did the series fare well. The reason was most likely a lack of promotion. But over the years I have gathered many fans who love the books, and I have wonderful reviews and one award. Even so, without aggressive promotion by a publishing house a series like mine cannot succeed. Add to this that my e-royalties from my publishers are infinitesimal and I that I have no control over pricing to get decent sales. I also have no control over covers and many other aspects. All of this creates a recipe for failure. Fortunately, a couple of e-rights returned to me and I held on to two more recently. Thus, the venture into self-publishing electronically began.
What challenges have you had around getting into ebooks?
My agent’s office has handled the electronic publications so far. They have been good to me in the past, and I was determined to cut them in on the deals. But it’s taken me a year to convince them that this was a legitimate option we should pursue. So I’m coming to this rather late when others have already moved to the top.
What role does print play in your future plans?
The Akitada series will continue in print if at all possible. I have too many fans who still like books, and there is the library market. Other books may well exist only electronically, at least for a while. Like many other authors, I hope that publishing will see the light and offer authors fairer contracts in the future. Until then, I plan to hold on to e-rights.
What is next up for you?
Number 9 in the Akitada series, A DEATH ON AN AUTUMN RIVER, is currently with publishers. I’m working on number 10. I’m also writing short stories again. Hopefully AHMM is still interested in me. Besides, I’m watching the historical trilogy HOLLOW REED, just released on Kindle and doing quite well. Another historical novel is on a back burner, waiting to see what develops. And, who knows, I may try my hand at a new series, a modern police procedural this time.