The Green Bicycle Mystery Tour

I’m not talking about a group performing gigs up and down the country, but a virtual tour. I am delighted to be appearing on seven book review and true crime sites next week, where you will find reviews, interviews, images and book extracts.

As the poster shows, the tour kicks off at Anne Bonny Book Reviews on Monday 10 July and ends at My and My Books by Yvonne Bastian, another excellent review blog, on Sunday 16 July. In between, there are appearances on several true crime blogs. There is a finale to the tour – on August 25 my article on writing creative non-fiction will appear on the influential writing blog of Joanna Penn, aptly named The Creative Penn.

So I hope you will join me on ‘The Green Bicycle Mystery Tour’, where you will not only find out more about the case and the book, but also discover some great blogging sites in the process. And, of course, these bloggers are not posting on Snapchat, so their posts will be available to read even if you are reading this post months or even years after July 2017.

So, roll up, roll up, for the Green Bicycle Mystery Tour…

Amazon: A True Crime Mystery

Regular readers of this blog will know that I write in the genre of true crime. My book The Green Bicycle Mystery is published by Mirror Books, both in paperback and e-book editions. I have a simple question: which is the best-selling true crime paperback on Amazon right now? And the answer is… not quite so simple. Read on.

In the category ‘Best Sellers in True Crime Biographies’, Amazon list separately the different editions of the same title – the paperback, hardback, kindle and audio book versions will be counted as different books. This is the same for all its best seller lists. So, it is possible the same title might have up to four entries in the Top 100. For example, as I write this post, one title is at #16 for its Kindle edition and also at #74 for the paperback edition. One title, two editions, two entries.

Nothing wrong with that, you say. I would agree if you could sort by edition – say, paperbacks – but you cannot. You only get the hybrid chart. This is unusual: Amazon are among the best companies for giving the user the power to search and sort. There’s no problem with having one chart, you might think, but there is: it skews the Top 100 towards – you guessed it – Kindle versions.

How? First, a Kindle e-book is normally cheaper than the paperback and hardback. Certainly, a publisher is able to discount a digital version far more deeply than a physical copy. Second, the rank in the Kindle Store is also affected by Kindle Unlimited, where a book is able to be downloaded for free, if the customer has paid a monthly subscription. So, Kindle versions are often cheaper and, for some, free.

There is irrefutable support for this observation. As I write this post, seven out of the top ten true crime bestsellers are Kindle editions. For example, the #1 title is published as both a Kindle edition and a paperback version. The Kindle edition is priced at £0.99 and is also available for free on Kindle Unlimited, while the paperback is £6.99. The Kindle version is ranked #88 in the Kindle store as a whole – only 87 Kindle books in any genre are selling more than this e-book. Yet, the paperback version is ranked only 5,905 in books. Titles ranked far lower in the True Crime Top 100 are better selling paperbacks than the #1 book. Indeed, the paperback version of the ‘best selling’ title would struggle to make the Top 200. Is this a fair and accurate reflection of book sales on Amazon? I would say “no”, not unless the user can also sort by the type of book in which they are interested. Of course, having an “all types” list is useful, but the user should be able to filter results depending on the type of book they want.

I am not against publishers discounting Kindle books and giving customers a better deal. My point is this. Amazon should do what it does best – give power to its customers – and allow us to sort by the edition we are interested in. Not only is it better for the customer it will generate fairer best seller lists, allowing customers to compare like with like.

What is the best selling true crime paperback on Amazon?

Now there’s a true crime mystery for you.

The Road to Waterstone’s

I will signing copies of my book The Green Bicycle Mystery in some book stores next month – more details in due course. It’s the culmination of a 35-year journey. I remember its first step.

It was taken in an English Literature lesson, studying George Orwell’s 1984. This was two years before the year would adorn calendars and diaries. I loved the book and Orwell’s style, both of which had a profound effect on my 15-year-old self. I sat there, with the penguin paperback edition on my desk, thinking how wonderful it must be to have a book published, to have your name on a cover, to be a writer. It was something I hoped I would be one day.

My schooldays, and then college days, soon passed me by. At university I discovered the Sherlock Holmes stories and became enthralled. I wondered if there were any real-life cases that had any resemblance to the fictional ones. I became interested in unsolved crime, especially interesting cases from that period in history. A time of Brougham cabs, gas lamps and steam trains. And afternoon tea with a spoonful of malice, normally arsenic, I found.

Then, like almost every graduate, I fell straight onto the treadmill of full-time work. Time’s accelerator peddle was pressed hard to floor. A decade zoomed by. I changed careers, becoming editor-in-chief of a US-based magazine. Life was more exciting, time seemed to slow because so much was packed in just a few years. Children came. The pace of time picked up again. Before I realised it, I was at the wrong end of my 40s, turning grey, and recognising more of the names in the obituary columns. How time had slipped through my fingers and, with it, unnoticed, those teenage dreams. Dreams, I feared, would never be fulfilled unless I did something.

So, I quit my job. I first took a masters in philosophy, to atone for the vapid course of management science I took at university decades before; how university is often squandered on the young. Then I attended an evening class called ‘Telling True Stories’ (see my post The Long Journey). This where the idea for Cold Case Jury was born.

I self-published four e-books, including The Green Bicycle Mystery, testing the concept of whether readers would deliver their verdicts online after reading an unsolved murder case in a book. It worked. I then approached some publishers and secured a publishing deal. In fact, I was offered contracts by two publishers but decided on Mirror Books. It’s easy to write in a few sentences but the whole process took over two years.

A publishing deal. It gives the impression that plenty of money is involved but, for the overwhelming majority of writers, including me, this could not be further from the truth. Unless you’re a successful author in a popular genre – like thrillers or cookery – writing pays well below the poverty line. Most books from a first-time author sell less than 3,000 copies. An author might receive 50p per book on a cover price of £7, and proportionally less if the book is discounted. A cheque of £1,000 might be a realistic return for over a year’s work.

So I think I can offer this morsel of advice: don’t write to become rich but only to enrich your life, and hopefully others too. Otherwise, the road to Waterstone’s is likely to be an arduous and unfulfilling one.

Paperback Writer

The day has arrived: my book is published. It’s not a thousand pages long and it’s not based on a novel by a man called Lear, but I am a paperback writer. At last. I have wanted to be a writer as long as I can remember, so I have achieved not just a personal goal but a lifetime’s ambition.

Why is there no hardback? Did I not want to be hardback writer, too? A good question. My genre is true crime and, to be blunt, true crime titles do not sell that well in a firmer cover: this is a commercial fact. Why, I’m not so sure. There may be reasons that some market researcher could elucidate but this would only explain the fact, it would not change it. Many true crime books are published exclusively as a paperback, perhaps only the most established authors in the genre first come to market with a dust jacket. There is one advantage with the jackletless approach, however. I’ve lost count how many times a friend has said, “I’ll wait for the paperback”. So there is less likely to be deferred – and possibly lost – readers. And for first-time writers like me, every reader is so precious and important; they need to be embraced, hugged.

If the paperback does well enough, perhaps there could be a special or limited edition hardback. It’s an aspiration, a personal goal.

But, as I have found out today, it doesn’t hurt to have them.

A Century of Books

It’s a century-old cold case. During that time, at least five major books on the unsolved death of Bella Wright have been published, dozens of books have carried a chapter on it, and scores of articles have appeared in magazines and newspapers. The most famous article was written as long ago as 1922, when The Strand Magazine published Trueman Humphries’ account of how Bella was killed accidentally by a youth out shooting crows. This is one of three theories examined in my book, The Green Bicycle Mystery, published by Mirror Books later this week.

The case was widely reported at the time. Indeed, it was one of the most famous murder trials of the interwar years. Despite all the media attention and books on the case, today it appears to be less well known outside of Leicestershire. Paul Stickler, a fellow researcher of historical murders, conducted a snap poll. Before presenting the case to several hundred people at a special event on a cruise ship, he asked how many had heard of it. Only a handful raised their hands. Of course, this is not scientific polling, but it is suggestive. Perhaps most unsolved historical cases are known only to criminologists and armchair detectives, the exception being the Ripper, of course.

Whether the case finds a wider audience with the publication of my book remains to be seen. By examining new evidence, I believe it tells the complete story for the first time, but the writing of it was immeasurably aided by those books that went before mine. This includes one published as long ago 1930 by a reverend, which was the seminal work on the case for 60 years. It was only superseded by Wendy East’s book, yet even that was published nearly quarter of a century ago. All were the latest books on the case when they were first published; all are out of print now. How books reflect the inexorable sweep of time.

The Books Arrive

My book has arrived – well, several copies of it – barely a week before publication.  I have to say, the publisher has done a tremendous job – they look and feel beautiful! Having worked so hard for this day, I thought I would be elated, euphoric. Strangely, I feel a mix of subdued anxiety and vulnerability. With so much effort invested in the work, I’m putting an important part of myself into the public domain. What will readers think? Will they like it? Will it even be noticed?

Perhaps that is the greatest worry for any first-time author: your book will languish on the bookshelf, forgotten; the lines you wrote, and lovingly re-wrote, will not be read.

Only time will tell.

For now, I open a book and fan the pages, savouring that unmistakable new, just-off-the-press smell. It is the scent of anticipation for the reader and one of hope for the writer. Both want it the same thing.

A good read.

To Look Daggers

I’m delighted to have been accepted as a full member of the Crime Writers’ Association (CWA). The CWA was founded in 1953 and has been promoting and celebrating the crime genre, both fiction and non-fiction, ever since. It is perhaps most well known for its Golden Dagger awards, the ‘Oscars’ for anyone writing in the genre. As the picture shows, they are impressive awards – I’ve always wondered whether the dagger is actually a letter opener which you can remove. That would be a truly functional award trophy! The past winners lists contain some extremely impressive authors. In the non-fiction genre, it includes one of the finest British true crime writers, in my opinion, the late Johnathan Goodman.

But how does it handle cross-genre crime books? My own books are a blend of narrative and creative non-fiction. The latter is similar to historical novels, but with greater restrictions. In a historical crime novel, the setting might be from a bygone era, say the 1930s, with fictional detectives and a fictional crime to solve. Creative non-fiction involves real events and people from the past, but uses dramatic techniques of the novel to tell the true story. This sometimes involves imagining dialogue, intentions and thoughts, but always governed by the facts of the case. Or, as I like to say, the creative non-fiction crime author has to join the evidential dots with plausible lines of narrative.

Of course, ‘to look daggers’ means to stare with hostility. Unless you’re a crime writer, that is. Then it means to aspire to be the best!

Two Years Gone, Two Weeks To Go

The countdown has started. My first book The Green Bicycle Mystery is published in two week’s time and is now available to pre-order.

As I wrote in a previous post, it has been a long journey just to arrive at this point. Yet, I feel I have only crossed the third hurdle in a long obstacle race. The first is writing the book; the second is securing a publishing deal; and the third getting the book published. The rest of the hurdles are about marketing, publicity and promotion. And it looks an awful long way to the finishing line.

What is the finishing line? For me, it is a book that is widely read, within the limits of the genre, and liked by readers. With hundreds of new titles – many of them really good books – released each week, the difficult part is getting your book noticed. Of course, the publisher is there to help, but it feels like a daunting task. Your worst fear is that, despite the long journey so far, your book falls stillborn from the printing press, to quote the philosopher David Hume.

Over two years in the making. Now two weeks to go. Fingers crossed.

More later.

Writing Move to Murder

Currently researching and writing the next book in the Cold Case Jury collection. It is titled Move to Murder and is about the Wallace case from 1931. I hope to include a brand new theory of how Julia Wallace was murdered in my book.

For those of you who are unaware of the case, it is one of the most celebrated cold cases of all time, with a plot that could have come from an Agatha Christie novel.

As well as conducting the usual in-depth research, I’ve spoken to authors of previous books on the case – Roger Wilkes and John Gannon. Roger hosted the renowned Radio City broadcasts about the case in January 1981 – fifty years after the killing of Julia. The series was pioneering and worth listening to even today. His regret was not being able to take the evidence he had uncovered to the man he accused of the murder, who died less than a year before the broadcasts and was not able to respond to the allegations and evidence.

It’s a fascinating case and one that still divides people today. Who killed Julia Wallace? This is another true crime mystery for the Cold Case Jury.

More later.

The Long Journey

Tomorrow my first book – The Green Bicycle Mystery – will be printed. Not published, that happens next month, but actually coming alive on the press. It’s been a long journey.

I suppose it began inside a practically empty classroom with steamed-up windows on the campus of Southampton University. This is where I attended Telling True Stories, a non-fiction workshop for writers run by author Iain Gately, in January 2015.

One of Iain’s golden rules for writing is “2 and 2 not 4” – don’t spoon-feed the reader, let them work things out for themselves. At its most simplistic, if two people are joined by another couple, you don’t need to tell the reader that there are four people in the scene. This idea sank slowly into the depths of my sub-conscious: let the reader work it out for themselves.

It soon reached bedrock where it would continually bubble into my conscious thoughts over the ensuing weeks. Why not write a series of books where readers are invited to deliver their verdicts on what happened? Apply it to true crime, specifically unsolved murders from the past. This was important. We never totally suspend disbelief with a novel, reality often leaving a deeper impression than fiction. But I did not want to examine any unsolved murder. Like many people, I love the fascination of history. I wanted to combine the past with a real-life whodunit, with the twist that the readers are part of the story.

I stopped listening to Iain and started to think of a name for a series of books. It had to be something about a jury, the role the readers would play. Then I remembered there was a famous TV show in the 1960s about pop music called ‘Juke Box Jury’ – I liked the rhythm of the title and it came to me: Cold Case Jury. I bought the domain name that evening.

In subsequent posts I will continue the story – my experience with self-publishing, approaching agents and publishers, and the signing of the deal – which has culminated in a book being printed tomorrow.