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.)
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.
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.