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Tuesday 27 December 2011

Everyone's a Critic

Okay, first up, here's the deal; the eBook versions of both Down River and Oktober are relaunching with new covers by Paul Drummond, and I've 20 review copies of each to give away. In return I ask you to add your review to the Oktober and Down River pages on Amazon.com. Use the contact page to let me know if you're up for it.

How you rate them and what you write is entirely up to you. I'm not shilling for stars, just hoping to see some balance in the system; I can't fathom how Amazon aggregates its marketing material but there's some weird alchemy that sometimes pulls in the reviews from previous editions, sometimes not. In this case I've got two otherwise well-received novels, one of which spawned a TV miniseries, in new editions with their two worst notices attached.

Well... their two worst notices so far.

I guess I'm old-school in that I think you should draw the line at asking friends to give you favourable reviews or, even worse, writing your own. During the research period for Crusoe, I chased down various Defoe biographies; the worst-organised and least useful of them carried a glowing five stars from its own author, writing about himself in the third person.

But the eBook jungle favours the barefaced; one self-published writer's strategy involved organising a squad of friends and family to buy multiple copies of his book within the same hour, with a simultaneous order for one of the site's topselling titles. The aim was to ride the 'customers who bought this item also bought...' algorithm to public attention.

Did it work? I've no idea.

Until four or five years ago, the writing game was fairly clear-cut. You wrote your first book and when it got turned down you wrote another. Here's how that works: your writing evolves as you go, and you realise that as you look back. It's not about that one book, but about developing your skills. Eventually you plunder your early work and it sees the light of day in a form you hadn't originally imagined.

There was one debutant I knew who'd written an 800-page SF epic and was determined that he wouldn't write another word until the world had recognised the work he'd put in. It wasn't a bad first book but it wasn't special, either. I urged him to write short stories and submit them to small presses as a way to build up his writing skills and connect with an audience, but it wasn't what he wanted to hear.

Last I heard, he was very bitter and had still written nothing else. But how would I advise him now? The handful of stories of debut authors who self-publish and do well, beating the odds like lottery winners, provide ammunition to counter any argument for a learning process. Especially when it's a painful learning process that used to be involuntary, but which can now be sidestepped.

Some of them may be terrific writers. The few that I've looked at aren't, but they do fall into an honourable tradition of fast fiction, offered cheap, that runs from the feuilletons of the nineteenth century through the story papers, pulps, and mushroom jungle paperbacks of the twentieth.

Just like those 'mushroom publishers' of the postwar period, created in an explosion of low-cost bulk fiction occasioned by the lifting of paper rationing, the vendors of eBooks are more concerned with turnover than quality. They're exploiting an opportunity, and doing so to the hilt. But I'd like to think that, as with those same postwar publishers, e-publishing's business moves may eventually enrich the field without destroying it. Darcy Glinto may well be unreadable now, but it's a grim culture that has no room for Lady - Don't Turn Over.

My most-retweeted Twitter remark of recent weeks is Still befuddled by ppl who drop serious money on an eReader but won't pay more than 99c for a book. Clearly it chimed with a shared perception that a generation of buyers are being trained to expect all books to be dirt-cheap or given away. But after reading this blog post by Romance writer Elle Lothlorian, I brightened a little. She writes:
While skimming various Kindle reader forums, I ran across a thread on the topic of pricing. One reader wrote that she never bought a book that was $2.99 or less because it was sure to be self-published “indie crap” riddled with typos... (by setting a low price) I think I had inadvertently turned my Amazon page into the equivalent of a dubious used-car lot, with blinking neon lights screaming “SALE, SALE SALE! EVERYTHING MUST GO!”
The thrust of the piece is that by raising her prices, she engaged with a more committed and interested readership. Her sales actually went up, suggesting that there are still readers who are interested in something other than a race to the bottom in quality and price. They're out there; they've always been out there; it's just that there's a 'fair field full of folk' obscuring them from our view.

I don't control the eBook price of The Kingdom of Bones or The Bedlam Detective, but while I don't plan on putting my backlist titles in the premium bracket, I'm not about to throw them in the bargain bin either.

Link for review copies here.

Friday 16 December 2011

Bernice Summerfield Did My Headshots

Seriously. Lisa Bowerman - aka Doctor Who's Bernice Summerfield - is a talented portrait photographer, specialising in actors' headshots. You'll find numerous examples of her work in the Spotlight directory of performers. She works with traditional film negative and natural light, moving to digital for delivery.

Photo credit: Lisa Bowerman

Okay, so Pitt and Clooney have nothing to worry about. But I love the way she takes honest shots with no flattery or fakery. And technically she's so good that you can zoom in to my eyeball at the highest resolution and see her with the camera reflected there.

For actors it's important to show who you are, not what skilful studio lighting could make you look like fifteen years ago. Having been on the other side of the audition table to hear actors read, I can say that sending in a misleading photo does no one any good at all. Rather than give you a head start, it suggests insecurity and, at worst, delusion.

Writers' headshots are a whole other field of study.

We need to have them but, being writers, we don't want to pay for them. Sometimes your publisher will commission some publicity stills but that doesn't always work out - Hodder & Stoughton once sent me to a man who specialised in photographing fruit for Marks & Spencer. Maybe they chose him because of the "&". I don't know what fruit he had in mind when he studied me - maybe Zombie Cucumber. We took the shots in his attic, with me lurking behind a wormy pillar or looking out around a peeling chimney wall. The result: I looked like a ghoul in the fourth stage of something terminal.

I fared no better when I decided to splash out on some shots of my own. I picked a local wedding photographer with a sideline in industrial work - he should have been good, he had a studio and everything. I asked for no diffusion but he thought he knew better. The results were well nigh unusable - not sharp enough for good reproduction and I looked like one of those primped 80s guys in Movies4Men softcore porn.

Don't tell me you don't know what I'm talking about.

My first professional headshot was for the jacket of Valley of Lights. I forget who put me onto him, but the photographer was Arthur Waite of Arthur Waite Publicity, a one-man operation in a poky studio behind Salford Cathedral just down the road from Granada TV. Arthur looked a little bit like Paul Daniels, as I recall... there was an electric fire warming the studio and a Sheltie lying on a dog bed in the corner. Arthur specialised in photographing Variety acts and advertising copy for The Stage. His portfolio included Ken Dodd, Tom O'Connor, and International Cabaret Stars Margo and Trevor.

I told him what I did and what I needed. He'd never had a writer for a client before. He thought it over then gave me the lighting he used for magicians, which I rather liked the idea of. I liked the work he did, as well.

Photo credit: Arthur Waite Publicity

Hey. I've not changed that much. Maybe I could get away with using this one...

Saturday 10 December 2011

Bedlam Detective first review

Thanks to Bill Schafer at Subterranean Press for forwarding this Publishers Weekly starred review:
The Bedlam Detective
Stephen Gallagher. Crown, $25 (256p) ISBN 978-0-307-40664-4

Set in England in 1912, this masterful whodunit from Gallagher (Red, Red Robin) introduces Sebastian Becker, a former policeman and Pinkerton agent who now works as the special investigator to the Masters of Lunacy, looking into cases involving any “man of property” whose sanity is under question. His latest assignment takes him to the small town of Arnmouth to determine whether Sir Owain Lancaster has gone around the bend. Lancaster returned from a disastrous trip to the Amazon, which claimed the life of his wife and son, only to attribute the catastrophe to mysterious animals straight out of Doyle’s The Lost World. Lancaster believes that the creatures that plagued him in South America have followed him home, and are responsible for the deaths of two young girls, a theory supported by a local legend of a beast of the moor. Gallagher’s superior storytelling talents bode well for future adventures starring the well-rounded Becker. Agent: Howard Morhaim. (Feb.)
Yeah. What he said.

Thursday 8 December 2011

Salut, Georges

On this, your birthday.

Tuesday 6 December 2011

The Bedlam Detective

I've just had word that the jacket art is locked, so here it is. The book will be published in hardcover on February 7th by Crown.

The story features ex-Pinkerton man Sebastian Becker, last seen arriving in England with his family at the end of The Kingdom of Bones. He installs his family in cheap rooms in Southwark and takes a gig as Special Investigator to Sir James Crichton Browne, the Lord Chancellor's Visitor in Lunacy. Becker's job is to pursue the criminally insane whose wealth or position protects them from the law.

I'll be mentioning this again. You can count on it.

Friday 2 December 2011

New to Kindle

Two more of my backlist titles are now available in eBook form. Full info on each title soon, but for the moment here are the new cover designs by Paul Drummond.

On The Boat House:

"Gallagher handles the balance between mundane reality and stomach-turning horror with reassurance and offers a nicely twisted ending to boot. Highly recommended." Nigel Kendall, Time Out

And on Rain:

"Gallagher has become Britain's finest popular novelist, working a dark seam between horror and the psychological thriller."

Click here to find Rain on Amazon, and here for The Boat House.