Allan Guthrie is the triple threat in crime fiction. He’s the author of such books at Kiss Her Goodbye and The Hard Man. He is the former editor at Point Blank Press. And he is an agent with Jenny Brown & Associates, with a stable that includes Anthony Neil Smith, Sandra Ruttan, and Christa Faust. Al’s started moving into the ebook arena and took a few minutes to talk about his experiences.
You have an unusual position dealing with ebooks as both an author and as an agent. What sort of perspective does that give you on the subject?
It’s been interesting. My first introduction to ebooks was through one of my clients, John Rector. A few years back, when he was still unpublished, he told me he wanted to put one of his books out on Kindle. I thought it was a bad idea and said so. He did it anyway and ended up making the best decision of his career. NYC had been sitting on another of his books, The Cold Kiss, for about nine months at that point, and it ended up selling because he suddenly had a big pile of Kindle sales, great reviews and a bunch of enthusiastic readers who wanted to see more from him. I’d only seen the negatives — that he’d no longer be a debut author, that he’d be tarred with the self-publishing brush, etc. Didn’t take long to realise that none of that mattered any more, though. That was the moment my attitude changed (thanks, John!) and I started finding out everything I could about the digital arena. I expect if I wasn’t an agent at the time I wouldn’t have been so keen to learn more.
I’m fairly well versed now, I think. Ebooks have become one of my obsessions. As an agent, it’s tough to know what’s best for authors these days. Should you sign a publishing deal for 25% net profits on your digital royalties, for instance? As an author, I wouldn’t. But given that there’s no wiggle room because it’s the industry standard (unless you want to offer less, which apparently is just fine), a lot of authors will take what they’re offered rather than forego the chance of being published. And while I respect that decision, it makes me very fucking angry to see writers being treated so badly.
Several of your clients – Anthony Neil Smith, Dave White, and Declan Burke to name a few – have gone the self-published route with Kindle and Smashwords. Did you play a role in their decisions? And what is your involvement in those books as an agent?
I think it’s fair to say that most have come to me for advice, yes. In some cases I’ve edited the manuscripts. And I’ve offered advice on formatting, uploading, cover design, marketing, etc, to many. Once they’re self-published, though, my involvement in those books as an agent is non-existent. One or two have offered me my standard commission where I’ve done some heavy editorial work, but I’ve declined, since that wasn’t our agreement at the outset.
In at least one case, you had to deal with the changes at Dorchester. Were there any challenges around that you can talk about?
Not in any meaningful way.
As an author, you’ve put out two ebooks on your own as well. How has that worked for you so far?
Amazingly well. One of them, my first police thriller, Bye Bye Baby, was in the top 10 on Amazon UK for most of February, and the other, Killing Mum, peaked at #25. Bye Bye Baby dipped inside the top 200 at Amazon.com during May, too. My ebook sales of those two books since January have far out-stripped seven years worth of print sales, despite having five novels and two novellas in print.
You’ve also re-released some of your earlier work on your own. Tell us the advantages you saw going that route?
I’ve only released one title so far: my debut, Two-Way Split. But the other four novels will be following shortly. It all came about because we brokered a deal with my UK publisher that allowed me to sub-license my Kindle rights. Effectively, I’m the publisher, so I have control over the layout, the cover design, the product information, the price, etc. I can also do things that my print publisher couldn’t do, such as put together an omnibus of Pearce stories, which might include two novels, a novella, and a short story or two, for example. And I can also get access to real-time sales figures from Amazon, something a lot of publishers don’t seem to be able to do – and that’s extremely useful, as you might imagine, since it tells you what kind of marketing is having an effect.
What’s in the pipeline for you?
Besides rolling out new editions of my backlist titles, I’m completely rewriting a previously print-published novella, Kill Clock. I’m also intended putting together an omnibus of the novellas called Three To Kill. And I’m also working on a couple of new novels – one’s a police thriller (my first attempt at novel length) and the other’s a noir love story . There’s a very exciting new venture in the pipeline too, involving ebooks. If you invite me back in October, I’ll tell you all about it.
Allan Guthrie is an award-winning Scottish crime writer. His debut novel, TWO-WAY SPLIT, was shortlisted for the CWA Debut Dagger award and went on to win the Theakston’s Crime Novel Of The Year in 2007. The brand new Kindle version is available right now for the bargain price of 99p at Amazon UK and 99 cents at Amazon.com. He is the author of four other novels: KISS HER GOODBYE (nominated for an Edgar), HARD MAN, SAVAGE NIGHT and SLAMMER and three novellas: KILL CLOCK , KILLING MUM and BYE BYE BABY, a Top Ten Amazon Bestseller. When he’s not writing, he’s a literary agent with Jenny Brown Associates.