Release day! Macbeth, a Novel

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First, thanks to Di for trading post days with me. She’ll be up in my Friday slot.

Today, as you will have gathered from my oh-so-enigmatic title is release day for Macbeth, a Novel. The book, which I wrote with Brit mystery author, David Hewson, is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s play set in medieval Scotland but paced as a contemporary thriller. The novel has a number of features which make it unusual for me and, I hope, interesting for readers of Magical Words, but I’m just going to select one for extended consideration today.

As some of you will remember, this book—the first I’ve ever co-written—came out of a chance meeting at Thrillerfest a couple of years ago when I found myself (by accident of alphabet) sitting at a signing for The 100 Must Read Thrillers with David Hewson. My essay in the collection was on Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and when David asked if anyone had ever done a novelization of the play, the idea was born. To add an interesting wrinkle, we wrote the book in a matter of months and sold it as an audio exclusive to Audible. It came out last summer, performed by the inestimable Alan Cumming, and has done extremely well critically and commercially. (We have almost 600 reviews averaging over 4 stars on Audible and it’s up for an Audie for best audiobook of the year in the Original Works category. So there’s that.)

Macbeth cover

But today the book comes out in its print form (hard copy and e-book), published by Thomas and Mercer, and that’s where things take another interesting turn. I am, I believe, the first of the MWers to publish with an imprint owned by Amazon. Thomas and Mercer are a Seattle-based traditional press, in that they cover all costs themselves, pay an advance against royalties, and produce books in all the usual formats. Because they are owned by Amazon, however, some booksellers (including B&N) have said they will not carry any of their books, since they view Amazon as the competition. Many independent bookstores feel the same way.

This, at least, is the official line, though I was surprised to note that barnesandnoble.com are stocking the audio and paperback versions of the book (though the e-version is not yet available for the Nook). Whether bricks and mortar B&N stores will carry it, remains to be seen. I’m told it is at the discretion of local buyers and managers, though my gut instinct is that they’ll carry it only if people ask for it. The same is probably true of many independent stores. I especially understand the concerns of the independents who don’t want to get trampled by a behemoth like Amazon, but I also see why some street level book sellers (rather than chain CEOs) would prefer to have the option to sell a book—any book—in their store.

I’m not qualified to speak to the concerns of booksellers about what a company like Amazon is doing for/to the book industry. From the standpoint of an author I have only this to say. After we sold the Macbeth audiobook, after it was already starting to get glowing reviews, David and I found it impossible to attract the interests of the major New York houses, and even the small presses we spoke to passed. The recurring concern was that publishers didn’t know what the book was; they didn’t know where to shelve it, and doubted that readers would want to read something that was neither a pure contemporary thriller, nor a straight telling of Shakespeare.

We were, I must confess, a bit baffled. The book was a new take on a familiar story, one which added all kinds of innovative elements to the original, rethought character and motivation, and set out to tell a new tale in a new voice, while growing out of a classic. The book has action, adventure, built-in name recognition, cannibalistic witches (!), murder, battles, and people of principle making terrible decisions in pursuit of larger, nobler purposes. Seemed like a no-brainer to us.

So much so, in fact, that we were poised to enter the world of self publishing for the first time, when Thomas and Mercer stepped in and snapped it up. Unlike the other houses, they had no doubts. They offered respectable terms and got to grips with the project quickly and professionally. We got a standard developmental edit (even though the book was already out on audio) and then a rapid series of copy edits. With their guidance, we tweaked the narrative and dialogue for print so that we weren’t reliant on a gifted narrator to steer the audience round the curves. We even got a cover we both loved instantly, with art work that caught the mood not just of the story but of the deliberate, bold and slightly iconoclastic impulse behind the project itself.

Macbeth, A Novel - Print Edition

 

And now, I guess, we will find out whether the other presses were right. An Amazon imprint has various things in its favor to balance the loss of visibility at other stores, not least of which is the sheer size and name-recognition of Amazon itself, and it was such factors that made Thomas and Mercer confident that our book could be profitable for them in ways the other presses weren’t. Amazon has, for instance, the ability to contact anyone who has ever bought anything similar from them (books connected to Shakespeare, thrillers, adaptations, Game of Thrones-type historical fiction etc.) and send them a heads up of the ‘if you liked X, you might like Y’ variety.

Will the book sell? I have absolutely no idea, though I assume it’s success or failure will depend almost exclusively on Amazon sales (though I’ll be packing copies to sign at Con Carolinas, Thrillerfest and Dragon Con!). Either way, I’ll let you know. Wish me luck, and if you read the book, drop me a line and tell me what you think.

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20 comments to Release day! Macbeth, a Novel

  • davidhewson

    I will be emailing you a congratulatory beer from England, Andrew! Yes – will be interesting to see how things work out. For me the Amazon decision was easy. They made the best offer. And we can’t complain about all the liaison on the way to publication, can we? It was fantastic. Have never been asked an opinion on type design before….

  • davidhewson

    PS – I don’t think you need to bring copies to Thrillerfest. I’m told that B&N who run the book room will be carrying them.

  • Congrats, AJ! That cover looks really cool. Positively terrifying.

  • Thanks, David. Yes, we must raise a pint or two at Thrillerfest.

    Laura, isn’t it? A strong and evocative choice, I thought. Thanks!

  • Rhonda

    Hooray, Chapters (in Canada) has it listed!

  • Yay! Thanks for checking, Rhonda! (Alas, not available in store yet.) I don’t suppose you’ll have copies at ConCarolinas, AJ?

  • This has been an amazing discovery process for you and for all of us watching and listening on the sidelines. I believe it was at Dragon*Con when you took a call, disappeared from sushi dinner, and returned wearing a big smile to say you had sold a book. David B Coe then said something like, “Bookstores don’t usually call me when I sell a book.” And we all laughed.

    Congratulations, AJ!

    Since I will see you so soon, I will buy my copy direct from you at ConCarolinas. Please put one aside for me.

  • Hepseba ALHH

    Congratulations! and big yay! from those of us who aren’t yet hooked in to audio books. The project sounded so cool when you talked about it before, and now we can get our hands on it!

  • Excellent, Rhonda, thanks.

    And Laura, yes, I’ll have some at ConCarolinas.

    Faith,
    you’re right! It was at Dragon Con. Hopefully that will become a tradition, one of us selling a book over dinner every year 🙂

    Hep,
    thanks! Yes, I know some folks don’t go for the audio dimension, so I’m doubly glad this worked out.

  • Julia

    Faith’s dinner story gives me another reason to want to come hang out with you all at a con! Good things keep happening when the MW crew gets together. 🙂

    AJ – congrats on the release! I’m excited that the book will come out in print. I don’t have an e-reader and I hate reading on the computer, so I’m always bummed when stories I want to read are only available electronically.

    I wonder if you’d expand on something that surprised me about your publication story. I was surprised that the book didn’t seem to fit publisher categories. It seems to me that the fantasy genre often encompasses creative retellings of classic tales, as with rewritten fairy tales. What made this different for them? (Not saying that Macbeth is a fairy tale, but it just doesn’t seem like that much of a stretch…)

  • Julia,
    thanks, and yes, good things always happen when the MW gang get together.

    The uncertainty about what shelf a book might go on has plagued me my whole career. I always seem to write things that don’t quite fit familiar models. Mainstream publishing tends to deal in strict categories because they still think in terms of bookstore layout, where genres get defined in hard–and spatial–terms, making cross pollination tricky unless you are in a section which is already a hybrid, like YA. This is one of the reasons some writers have moved into self publishing and its why Amazon worried less about our book than others. They feel that online shopping has eradicated the need for absolute boundaries between categories, while also catering to niche readerships which can actually be very large. Amazon feel that while 2% of readers at a local store might not justify carrying a book, 2% of all Amazon customers absolutely does. All of which is to say that the issue was less with the book (to my mind, at least) than with fitting fairly hard categories which, though they have become more flexible over the years, are still pretty absolute. These things change, of course, (I had a rejection from Tor 25 years ago that said that a book in which magic was not integral was not, as far as they were concerned, fantasy!), the big presses are still working on a mass appeal model.

  • Congratulations AJ!

  • Congratulations and happy book day, AJ and David H! AJ, I’ll be claiming a copy at ConCarolinas, too.

  • Pausing in the Phoenix Airport to take advantage of free internet. Congratulations on the release A.J. and David. I hope the book is hugely successful.

  • Congratulations, AJ! And I enjoyed the post about your book’s interesting journey to release day.

  • Sarah, Misty, David and Sisi! THANKS!!!

  • Vyton

    Congratulations, A.J.! I’m really looking forward to reading it. Great cover, too! Will you be at Georgia Shakespeare this summer?

  • Congrats, AJ! So what’s the next Shakespeare (or other great) retelling going to be? 🙂

  • Vyton,
    thanks! I do love that cover. If I’m at GA Shakes this summer, it will be simply as an audience member, which would be nice.

    Lyn,
    well, let’s just say we’re in talks–all very tentative–about a certain Danish prince…

  • Mmm. I always found Hamlet to be veddy veddy sexy!