Daily Archives: January 31, 2012

Interview with Mystery Writer Brad Geagley

Brad Geagley is the author of two mysteries published by Simon & Schuster: Year of the Hyenas (2005) and Day of the False King (2006).

Brad has recently written and self-published a new, noir thriller, The Stand In, which  appeared on Kindle and eBook in December 2011. The new mystery is set in Hollywood in 1957, is bursting with murder, intrigue and suspense.

As an established author who decided to take self-publishing into his own hands, we’re interviewing Brad about his decision to self-publish ebooks.

What can you tell us about yourself?

I’m a writer.  Baby Boomer.  I worked in the Entertainment Industry for many years as a Producer, ending up as a VP of Production for a firm located in New York City.  Lived down the street from the World Trade Center, and watched the towers fall.  Decided I couldn’t put off my writing career any longer.  Four books published.  One play produced.  I love Ancient Egyptian, French, and American history.  I’m an expert on the 1963 film “Cleopatra” and currently live in Palm Springs, CA.

What can you tell us about your book(s)? We see that you are writing in the noir style of the 1940s. What authors were your inspiration? Are you fan of Rex Stout, Raymond Chandler, Mickey Spillane and other authors from this period and style?

I can’t say that I’m writing in the noir style, though I love Raymond Chandler and, particularly, James M. Cain, who wrote Mildred Pierce and Double Indemnity – what a storyteller!  In fact, the more that I think about it my style is, in this instance, more Cain than Spillane (Ha – I rhymed!). The Stand In is set in Hollywood of the 1950s and we put it into the hard-boiled category for readers because that’s usually the decade when all those kinds of stories occur.  For modern mysteries and thrillers I have one author to whom I always turn for inspiration and guidance – Martin Cruz Smith (who wrote the Gorky Park series, and many other novels.)  Other authors who have influenced me are Shirley Jackson (the so-called Virginia Werewolf of American Fiction), Pearl Buck, Patrick Dennis and Gore Vidal.

Do you use any organizational software for writing?

For screenplays (I teach “Writing for Film” at Mt. San Antonio College) and plays I use Final Draft 8.  All of my prose is composed in Microsoft Word.  That’s about it.

Do you set specific daily hours or word count goals for yourself?

I start work about 8:00 in the morning, having finished the New York Times and the Washington Post, during which I have downed copious amounts of black coffee.  The muse joins me and I work until about 11:30 a.m., then resume work at 1:30 p.m. and work until 4:00.  Sometimes, if I’m on a roll, I work in the evenings, too.  But I try to quit at least an hour before I go to bed, simply because the process of writing jazzes me up so much I can’t go to sleep directly afterward.  I try to write three usable pages per day, though I’ve done as much as thirty.  (That occurs, usually, during the thrilling conclusion of a novel – I’m going so fast I can’t stop.)

Why self-publishing? Was the decision difficult?

I lost my editor, the sublime and legendary Michael Korda, during a palace coup at Simon & Schuster.  The editor to whom I was then assigned was merely an assistant who was promoted to editor-hood during the shake-up.  I wanted to write history, she wanted chick-lit.  The twain did not meet.  The Author’s Guild had been telling us writers for years that, with the Internet, we no longer needed publishers; that we could target our audiences even more specifically than before.  I was also appalled at the amounts of money the publishers collected above and beyond what the author made – a factor of 10 to 1.  I simply want to see if I can do better than that.  If not, then I will go back to traditional publishing.  The Stand In is a bit of an experiment.

What were the challenges of self-publishing?

Basically, the challenges are to replicate the services provided by a publishing house; editing, proof-reading, design, and publicity (with particular emphasis on the latter.)  I’m also consistently surprised at how many legitimate newspapers and book review sites do NOT cover digital literature.  That will change, though, as the sales for downloaded books are now exceeding that of hardbound books.  As with music and movies, the public will soon have to content itself with purchasing an experience, and not a physical object.

Did you use a service to create the various eReader formats?

I used Bookbaby.  Though they’ve been responsive to my inquiries, they offer no way to track the sales, but then neither did Simon & Schuster.  I’ve adopted a “wait and see” policy as to whether or not I will use them again.

Did you hire other experts, such as an editor or cover artist?

I work with a wonderfully gifted online PR/Publicity agent, Ms Cynthia Copeland, who handles all the online promotion for me – I could never navigate the opportunities that she has found and exploited there.  (For anyone looking to hire a publicist/PR person for their book, I enthusiastically recommend her.  She can be contacted at cynthiacopeland@mac.com)  Cynthia, in turn, found a cover artist for me, Augusto Ferriols, who created a wonderful book cover for me.

Some genres are doing better as eBooks than others. How is the mystery genre performing?

I have no idea.  I know that the Authors Guild, when advising self-publication, was speaking at the time about non-fiction.  Fiction still needed shelf-space in a book store.  Now, with all the book chains disappearing, fiction writers need to do all they can to find (or re-find) their audience.  Luckily, I have a following who knows my work and with any luck they have purchased eReaders. Mystery readers are avid readers and intensely loyal.  I love them and know they will find their favorites – of which, I hope, I am one.

How are you handling the marketing? What are you doing personally and what is your agent doing?

I write a blog at www.bradgeagley.net and have developed a surprising amount of followers.  (I have to admit that I was opposed to writing a blog, simply because I thought it took up the time I needed for “real work”.  But I find that writing it is both inspirational and energizing.  It’s far more personal writing, too, and I like that it’s part confessional, part lectern.  Very fun.)

With Cynthia’s help and guidance, I’m on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads and Shelfari. Cynthia lets me know of other writers to follow, other blogs to comment on, and has found sites like yours where I can share a few words with your readers (and hopefully entice them into purchasing The Stand In – its premise being, what would a movie studio do if they found out that the leading man on their very troubled wide-screen production might well be a serial killer?  How would they protect their film, their studio – their leading lady?  The answer, hint hint, is in the title.)

Brad Geagley
On Twitter at @BradGeagley
amazon.com/author/bradgeagley
https://bradgeagley.wordpress.com/

Creating eBooks with Free Tools

The future is digital, no matter how much we might resist. My wife and I will always be “book” readers. You know, those things that collect a bit of dust, take up space, and weigh a lot. There is and always will be something nice about the tactile act of reading a book.

But, I’ve created ebooks and will publish many more in the years ahead. Lately, small groups have been asking if I would present on how to create an ebook.

I can offer whatever training is needed for those interested, but the training isn’t that involved. In fact, the new, easy-to-use tools are why so many of my colleagues in book and magazine design are losing their jobs. Too many of my friends and colleagues didn’t make the transition to online publishing because the skills differ from those we needed in print.

The publishing world is definitely changing. I posted an ebook with a very narrow audience on Amazon and sold over 1000 copies last year. For those of us with decades of experience in the print publishing world, this causes both excitement and anxiety. Truly, anyone can be a publisher.

The tools required for online publishing change based on your distribution goal. Sadly, Amazon, Apple, and other distributors cannot agree on a single file format. The best books are assembled two or three times, so they can be sold via several distribution channels (such as iTunes and Amazon).

The good news: the tools are generally free and easy to use.

To create ePub files that work with almost every eReader sold (except the Kindle), you can use Sigil. This is a free tool from Google and works with Windows, Mac, and Linux. To download Sigil and create your own ePub book: http://code.google.com/p/sigil/downloads/list

The ePub format is used by the B&N Nook, Kobo, Sony, and most other readers. Even the iPad and iPhone can read ePub files, or you can use the free Nook app on the iPad/iPhone to read an ePub.

To create iBook files (which are ePub files with some extra Apple features), you do need a Mac and an iPad. The free creation tool is iBooks Author: http://www.apple.com/ibooks-author/

The iBooks Author creates the best-looking ebooks I’ve seen. My wife and I have used desktop publishing tools since the 1980s, and nothing has ever been as amazing as iBooks Author. (We use InDesign for print publishing and PDF creation, but PDFs are lousy as ebooks.)

Sigil and iBooks Author are no more difficult than using Microsoft Word. The thing to remember is that ebooks are not about pretty designs. The user can change the font, page colors, and more. It frustrates designers, but readers (and many authors) are glad that the focus is on readability and usability.

Amazon makes creating a decent Kindle book a royal pain. You do need to edit the raw HTML, XML, and CSS to make the book work properly. There is an InDesign “plug-in” for Kindle, but our experience is that the files still require hours of hand editing to work on all Kindle models properly. (The black and white Kindle doesn’t even do “grayscale” images well.)

If you want to learn about the Kindle tools:
https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/help?topicId=A3IWA2TQYMZ5J6

I have made the journey from etching offset plates to phototypesetting to ePub creation. Each step of the way, the industry changed dramatically. More people can publish today than ever before, yet fewer people are “professionals” in the publishing industry full-time. I’ve also co-owned bookstores and my wife’s sister still owns a small bookshop. It is worse than brutal to be in any business related to publishing.

People ask if I am a “writer” and I always answer, “It depends.” The truth is that today’s writer has to be a designer, editor, agent, and publisher. You learn that the more skills you have, the more likely you are to win freelance contracts or full-time assignments.

Maybe one of my ebooks will do well. Maybe not. But it won’t cost us much to create them and we won’t be “sharing” the money with dozens of experts from a publishing house.

I always recommend hiring an editor or consultant to help with the digital publishing, mainly because we all need an editor. However, even with the cost of professional editing and cover design, the cost to publish has never been this low.

(Of course, we’d appreciate it if you considered working with us!)