Crime Fiction

Since Plague was published in September I have been working hard to promote it and it is only now, two months later, that I think I begin to realise that I am actually now considered to be a ‘crime writer’. Although I knew that crime was the most popular genre in the UK ( in the States it’s romance, apparently ) I was unprepared for the number of websites, festivals, clubs, societies and sub-sets of same devoted to crime fiction. I am just beginning to appreciate how many fans of crime writing there are ( for whom I am most grateful ) and just how knowledgeable and how much fun they are.

There are any number of crime fiction book clubs and I’ve joined several. I regularly engage with and post items on the Facebook page of one of the largest, the UK Crime Book Club, which has fourteen thousand members!

Next week I will be running a giveaway of a dozen signed, pre-publication copies of Plague exclusively for UKCFBC members in  conjunction with an Author Chat, one of the regular features on that Facebook page in which crime fiction authors are interviewed and take live questions from members. ( You can find a link on the Events page of this website. )

Last Tuesday I was intrigued by the technology ( something called Be.Live ) when I recorded a short promo for that event and got familiar with how everything worked in preparation for my Chat. Past UKCFBC events include interviews with Ian Rankin, William Shaw and Elly Griffiths, so I’m in elevated company. I’m also looking forward to participating in the UKCFBC Pub Quiz ( Just Not In A Pub ).

UKCBC has also furnished me with a number of volunteers to test out the leaflet of the Book Walk for Plague, starting at Bond Street Tube Station and ending at the River Thames. Once its been tested I will make it available on this website for anyone who wants it. Unfortunately because of COVID any book walking is delayed.

I’ve also learned all sorts of interesting things. There is a current debate about the length of crime books, or example, many UKCBC members saying that they wouldn’t consider buying a book of less than 300 pages, which was a bit of a surprise, especially as Plague is only 288 pages! The good news, however, is that crime fiction lovers adore a series and Cassandra is scheduled to appear in at least two more books ( and possibly more ). I am pleased to say that readers are already asking me when the second is due out ( which keeps my publisher happy ).

I was also very surprised and extremely pleased to find Plague featured in this month’s edition of the Literary Review Crime Round-Up, even the literary establishment has to recognise the popularity of the genre. It has also been reviewed in The Yorkshire Times, Time & Leisure magazine and a number of other regional newspapers and regional radio stations ( you can find links to interviews and reviews on the Events page of this web-site ). No nationals so far, but I’m not complaining.

For more on Plague take a look at my earlier blogs, or follow the events coming up, which you can find on the Events page.

Being Afraid

A personal piece this week, I hope it’s not too depressing.

Thus far, into its eleventh month, and 2020 is the year of fear. It began well enough for the UK. The out-break of an unknown ‘flu-like virus in faraway China making only the end of the foreign news. After all, we’d had bird-flu SARs and MERs and it seemed that the ebola outbreak in West Africa was now under control. Nothing to worry about in Europe. Our concerns were of a different kind, for many just dealing with the daily grind in an society increasingly uncaring and nastily polarised, for others the approaching exit from the EU.

Of course this was a fatal miscalculation, with the UK currently recording over 50,000 COVID related deaths and who knows how many more as an indirect result of the pandemic. It is a small and interconnected world and no amount of fulminating about maintaining borders can keep out a virus for long.  Our response cannot be isolationist and self-centred, as Albert Camus said, ‘…the only way to fight the plague is with common decency.’

People were, and still are, afraid, though not with the uninformed fear of March and April. We know a lot more about the virus than we did and, it seems, there is a vaccine coming over the horizon sooner than was at first thought possible.  With the defeat of Donald Trump in the recent US Presidential election it seems that those who deny reality, thereby both belittling and increasing the suffering and death of many, are in retreat. There was much rejoicing (and some relief) in this house when Pennsylvania declared for Biden.

The winter of 20/21 will be hard, without the escape and solace available outdoors in the Spring/Summer lockdown. We will be unable to celebrate as usual the traditional, often family-centred, festivals, Christmas, Hannukah, Eid and Diwali. Yet by Spring there may be a vaccine,  a game changer, and the US will again take its place in the international community. Reason may again determine actions, not populist rhetoric. Science will, it seems, prevail.

So, where is my optimism? Shouldn’t this sustain me? I am cautious and doubting. Conversations with friends and neighbours suggests that this attitude is shared. In part this could be sensible, why count one’s chickens? Trump and the husk of the Republican Party may yet disrupt the electoral college and defer the transfer of power, he is already refusing to share vital information with his successor. We have what looks like a hard exit from the EU to come with all the chaos that will bring and we are without meaningful leadership during a pandemic. In part my caution could also be a corrective to the complacency of January.

But this doesn’t sit well, I am a glass half full sort of person. On a personal level this year has been good.  My first crime thriller was published and well received. I have almost completed the revision of the second. My life, albeit indoors at home, is full and, generally, rewarding. There are many worse off than me.

Yet being afraid isn’t easily abandoned, the niggling restlessness and the anger close to the surface. Life is still restricted ( watching the southern hemisphere TriNations Rugby yesterday was poignant, it had a stadium crowd, unmasked and happy, like it used to be here ). That sensible inner voice reminds about the touching and the distance, the confined spaces and so on. We’ve done this all before, now we have to do it again.

So what to do? Hunker down and enjoy the little things. The wit and kindness of friends, via zoom if not in person. Carry on with work as best one can, taking as few risks as possible. It really is ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’, maintain one’s human decency and not give in to fear. That’s all one can do.

And there’s always schadenfreude.

I’ll be back to writing about books next week. Promise.

The mock-up of the government poster is by the brilliant Dan Mogford, graphic artist and book cover designer extraordinaire.

Book Shops and other excellent things

It’s November – remember, remember – and the next lockdown has started in England. Not that it’s too draconian a lockdown, with schools and colleges continuing to function, as well as manufacturing industry and construction. Restaurants and other shops are allowed to open for takeaway only. This includes book shops and my local independent, Clapham Books (logo left), remains open for collection of orders, though not for browsing ( additional copies of Plague were delivered to them this morning, to replenish stocks ).

November is one of the busiest periods in the year for the book buying public, with Christmas close on the horizon and this is when book shops make a good proportion of their annual sales. This year many are struggling with the second lockdown, even if it isn’t as tight as the first one. So the estimable Holly Bourne, writer of YA fiction, has joined with Chris Riddell, political cartoonist for the Observer newspaper and author, to launch #SignforourBookshops an initiative designed to encourage people to buy books via their local book shop rather than through the corporate giants.

Authors (including me) agree to provide signed templates, designed by Chris Riddell, to their local book shop to paste inside that author’s books when they are sold. They also agree to post signed templates, with a message of the reader’s choice, to folk who email proof of purchase of a work by that author from an independent, physical book shop. I have set up the email account specifically for this purpose.  So if anyone reading this piece buys one of my books from an independent book shop, email me with proof of purchase, your address and chosen message and I’ll sign and supply a template (UK only I’m afraid, the cost of postage prohibits going international ). It is to be hoped that this nudges folk towards buying at their local independent, or even high street but physical, book shop. Mr Besos has a large enough fortune already and many of our small independents run on a shoestring. The initiative runs until the end of lockdown or 2nd December, whichever is later.

November also sees the recent launch of another attempt to challenge the overwhelming power of the big virtual sellers, which was reported upon in The Guardian newspaper and others. My publishers, Claret Press and Plague can be found thereon, as can I, under my old pen name J J Anderson, for my Al Andalus books and The Village.

Another excellent authorial initiative, one which I missed, is the Children in Need Book Auction. There are hundreds of books, of all types and genres, signed and donated by their authors ( some of them very famous indeed ). About £14,000 has already been raised already and the auction runs until next Friday, 13th November.

Also in November I’ll be chatting about Plague with Caroline Maston of the UK Crime Book Club, on Facebook at 7 p.m. on Sunday 29th November. This is in conjunction with a giveaway of a dozen signed pre-publication copies of Plague ( I still have some, thanks to Claret Press ). In return I ask that readers post a review on Goodreads, Amazon and/or social media. I hope that we get a good conversation going with UKCBC members. You can find more details and a link on the Events page of this website.

Then, of course, there’s always the writing. Oracle is with Claret Press at the moment so I’m taking the opportunity to think about the next book, Opera. I like this phase of a book, it’s so full of possibilities. In this one Cassandra returns to London, where she meets with some old friends. Of this, more later…

You can find the UK Crime Book Club on Facebook HERE

Myths and Legends

Oracle, the next book in the series following the adventures of Cassandra Fortune, is set in Delphi, Greece near the Temple of Apollo. When revising it recently  I revisited some old favourites, the gods and goddesses of ancient Greece.

Like many children of my era, I absorbed details about Zeus and Hera, Athena and Apollo fairly early in life, along with the heroes, Heracles, Jason (with fleece) and all those at Troy ( thank you, Roger Lancelyn Green and, later, Ray Harryhausen ). I was briefly confused by the Roman equivalents, Venus usurping Aphrodite in my mind (mainly because I didn’t understand what both really signified i.e. sex, and Venus was an easier name ). Yet Jupiter and Juno remained in distinct second place to the Olympians, as being too pinkly domestic and toga-clad. Gods were supposed to be wild and strange. Narnia cemented my early classical training, with its fauns and dryads, satyrs and Bacchus, and it was the Greek version which remained forever dominant.

I subsequently went on to Odin and Thor, Osiris and Anubis and the Irish heroes ( courtesy of Rosemary Sutcliff ) like Cuchulain and Finn MacCool.  Other characters from Celtic folklore, Beddgelert of Wales,  the Scottish Kelpie and St Piran of Cornwall supplemented but didn’t detract from my own existing pantheon, which was further nourished by Mary Renault. I never lost the love of them and they led to Homer, Hesiod, Beowolf, the Icelandic Sagas and the Mabinogion.

Yet there are older gods of Greece – Gaia, Uranus and the Titans, twelve male and twelve female, including Chronos, Rhea and Oceanus. Votive offerings to Gaia, the primordial mother, have been found in Delphi, in the Corycian Cave above the Temple to Apollo from the Neolithic period (about 12,000 years ago). Gaia and her daughter, Themis, ruled at Delphi and there was a chapel to her there, though it was long ago absorbed into the larger Temple complex. As Nico, the museum employee in the novel, explains, in legend, the god Apollo arrived at Delphi to wrestle with the Python, the giant snake belonging to Gaia, and won; so he became the ruler of Delphi.  It is thought that this represents a change of dominant culture as migrants, whom we now know as the Hellenes, came into Greece from the north. They eventually settled all of Greece and their gods were the Olympians. 

Nonetheless the older gods continued to exist along side the new, as did their off-spring (unless they were thrown into the pit of Tartarus). These included some groups, or sets, of minor deities, like the Fates and the Furies. The latter trio, called the Erinye, were three women, often, especially in more modern times, portrayed with snakes for hair and flashing eyes, their hands dripping blood. The image, right, is of Clytemnestra attempting to wake the slumbering Furies to chase down Orestes in the Orestaia on a vase dating c.350 BCE. Delphi, it was believed, was the centre of the world and it is to the Temple of Apollo there that Orestes flees, calling upon the god to save him from the Furies. 

I don’t know if the books which I read are still read today, I hope so, even as new games and films bring the ancient heroes and deities to life for another generation. This Pantheon is firmly anchored within western sensibilities.  So much so that we even replicate the old jokes in new ways ( see image left ). 

Oracle will be published in Spring 2021.

Location, location, location

There are so many ways in which place is important to writers – we explored the subject in the first Clapham Book Festival back in 2016 ( see Place and the Writer ).  One of the most common comments about Plague is that it is very much a London book, including as it does much about the city’s landscape, history and the forgotten subterranean world beneath it. The book certainly reminds those who have lived in or regularly visited London of a city they once knew ( I’ve received comments to this effect from other parts of the UK, from the US, from Australia  and Malaysia, from Austria and from South Africa ). So it must be evocative.

The locations in the book range from an elegant Mayfair townhouse to an Elephant & Castle tower block. The Victorian streets of Clapham are home to my protagonist, while homeless character, Spikey Fullman haunts Shepherd’s Market, but bemoans the recent changes there as not conducive to a good night’s sleep. The venerable Palace of Westminster is a focal point, as are the streets close by – the Georgian terraces as well as the concrete civil service buildings. There are vistas from and of towers and high rises as well as the scenes beneath the earth and the main players walk all the major Westminster thoroughfares between Whitehall, the Embankment and St James, Bond Street and Pimlico.

One point to make about Plague is how far it has travelled, only six weeks into its published life. I have received snapshots of it on the Isle of Skye, in deepest Dorset, in the flatlands of East Anglia and in various parts of the north of England. I have yet to see it in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland (though I know it has been read there, because I have seen reviews on Goodreads and Amazon from readers who live there). Plague has also travelled internationally, from the lawn of a Normandy chateau (left) to a Californian balcony over-looking San Francisco Bay (above), from an American Naval Base to a tapas bar in Jerez  (admittedly, that one, below, was with me).

Nonetheless, I was surprised to learn that my publishers, Claret Press, has entered the novel for the Ondaatje Prize. This award from the Royal Society of Literature is for a work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry, evoking the spirit of a place. The 2019 winner, Aida Edemariam, who wrote The Wife’s Tale, appeared at the Clapham Book Festival that year in conversation with Michele Roberts.  My book is commercial fiction and, while there’s nothing wrong with that, it is, after all, what Dickens would have claimed to write, I wonder if it’s really the sort of book the prize judges will be looking for. More promising, maybe, are entries in the Crime Writers Association Daggers, including the John Creasy (New Blood) Dagger and the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger. Watch this space, as they say in cliche-land.

I, meanwhile, am busy writing the sequel (earlier this week while awaiting a late flight at Sevilla airport, see left, which prompted the thoughts for this article ). Oracle takes place in a very different location to London, at an isolated cultural centre half-way up Mount Parnassus in Greece, close to the ancient site of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. It is a place both very dramatic and beautiful and is timeless. Its location is central to the novel, not just to the plot, but that’s because place is very important to me as a writer.

If you’re interested in the locations of Plague why not read about the Plague Book-Walk at                   Walking a book, walking a river                  The Bookwalk continues….          With an address like that you must be very wealthy           Bookwalk Out-takes 

Art and life – again

This time it’s ‘Oracle’! The second book in the series which ‘Plague’ began is set in Delphi, Greece and takes justice as its theme, in the way that the theme of ‘Plague’ is power. So it explores the idea of justice and how it is achieved, including concepts like vengeance, retribution, legal codes and punishment and law enforcement.

This is particularly relevant in societies where the law, as a means of achieving justice for everyone, is becoming out of reach for many, thereby diluting justice for all. Either because of cost  (and the vast reduction in legal aid available to those who don’t have the money to seek justice) or because of right wing populist, media-amplified  ideas that people belonging to certain groups do not deserve access to justice. Asylum seekers, for example, or refugees. Demonising the ‘other’ is a standard populist tactic, so are attacks on the concept of human rights, which are, by their nature, applicable to all human beings, regardless.

If this makes ‘Oracle’ sound dull, I would like to reassure you that it’s only as dull as ‘Plague’ was and a quick glance at reader reviews on Goodreads or Amazon, or its critical reception, shows that ‘Plague’ was pretty exciting.

I was prompted towards justice as a theme by recent events, particularly the Supreme Court preventing the executive from shutting down Parliament, the UK’s sovereign body.  The ongoing Black Lives Matter protests at the treatment by the police of specific groups of people, those who happen not to be white, in the States and here also played a part. More recently the death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg and the scramble to replace her with someone partisan towards a specific political position also highlighted the link between justice and politics.

In ‘Oracle’ a senior politician doesn’t trust that the officers being sent to investigate murky goings on are truly impartial, because of the politicisation of the police.  In Greece there are close historic ties between the police and the military, which ruled the country as a junta until 1974.  I began writing ‘Oracle’ in early 2019, however, some time before the legal trial of a whole political party, Golden Dawn.

On 7 October 2020, Athens Appeals Court ruled that Golden Dawn operated as a criminal organization, systematically attacking migrants and leftists. The court also announced verdicts for sixty-eight defendants including the party’s political leadership. Nikolaos Michaloliakos and six other prominent members and former MPs, charged with running a criminal organization, were found guilty. Verdicts of murder, attempted murder, and violent attacks on immigrants and left-wing political opponents were also delivered. Golden Dawn held 17 seats in the Hellenic Parliament only five years ago. An independent investigation by the Council of Europe found disturbing links between Golden Dawn and the police.

The politicisation of elements of the justice system which already feature in ‘Oracle’ have a real life corollary. Just as elements of the governing system in ‘Plague’, like the awarding of large sums of taxpayers’ money to companies without any track record, or assets, avoiding due diligence and accountability, have a similar echo in real life. It’s encouraging and dis-spiriting at the same time.

If you’re interested in reading about the coincidences between the plot of Plague and real life try            Plague – Stranger than Fiction               The Plague Story Continues             Stranger than Fiction II  

What Next?

So, we’ve had the Plague Book walk and the Plague Blog Tour ( which finished on Friday ) and both have been fun to do and, I hope, brought the book to the attention of the book-buying public, or at least that section of it which exists on-line. This is the first time a book of mine has been part of a Blog Tour and it’s been an interesting and enjoyable experience. Emma from Damp Pebbles, a crime and horror specialist blog tour organiser, has been helpful and professional throughout, marshalling the book bloggers to produce and reveal their reviews day after day.

And the book got some lovely reviews, all five or four stars. It was so interesting reading what people made of it and there were some new insights too, which even this author hadn’t thought about. For example, thank you Karen Cole for pointing out just how often Cassie self-sabotages.  There is also some anticipation around Oracle, the next in the series ( many of the bloggers said they would like to review that one as well ).

In the absence of a physical launch and book shop signings, I’ve spoken about the book and the writing of it on radio and Youtube ( you can hear/see those interviews and events, if you’ve a mind to, on the Events page of this web-site ). There is more of this planned, with recordings and uploading to Youtube ( to both the Claret Press channel and my own ). For example, at some point before Christmas there will be a discussion with various experts on London and its history.

There is a virtual and an actual Plague Book Walk in the offing, though I’m not sure how many members of the public would pay to come on either ( David, a London Walks specialist, thinks there may be people who would ). I have other events, interviews and talks, lined up and another twitter ‘giveaway’ too at the end of October.

Sales figures, Amazon’s vicissitudes notwithstanding, are healthy my publisher tells me, though she hasn’t had the Amazon figures yet. So, for this unknown writer’s debut crime novel, all is well.  Claret was pitching Plague, amongst other of their books, to literary agencies specialising in translations at last week’s virtual Frankfurt Book Fair and is talking to audio book specialists in the USA too.

Talking of audio, the latest review of Plague on Netgalley and Goodreads includes a playlist – what to listen to while reading it. I confess that these songs are unknown to me, though the titles sound appropriate. Thank you Jessica Haider! 

Hiding Tonight by Alex Turner
Knives Out by Radiohead
No Light, No Light by Florence + the Machine
Way down We Go by KALEO
Glory and Gore by Lorde
Lost River by Murder by Death
Blue Moon by Chromatics

If readers would like to read more about the Plague Book walk try     Walking a Book, Walking a River                    The Book walk continues                With an address like that…              Bookwalk Out-takes              Plague in Clapham        or about the Blogtour  try             Plague on Tour

Plague in Clapham

One area which features in Plague but which was not covered by our recent bookwalk is SW4, or Clapham, where I happen to live. It is here that the heroine, Cassandra Fortune, has her flat, where she lives with her cat, Spiggott. Like so much of Clapham this would have been built by Victorian and Edwardian pattern builders, so named because they used a template, or several, when constructing street after street during the nineteenth century and into the twentieth. I have placed the flat in a fictitious road within the little maze of roads off Clapham Common South Side, where the buildings are often elegant purpose built maisonettes.

One of the good things about living in Clapham – and there are many – is that most of the streets are leafy, retaining their trees even after the ridiculous insurance company purges of the early part of this century. Cassie’s road is a ‘tree-lined street of Victorian terraces’.  She has roses growing up the side of her bay window at the front and a small garden, mostly side return, at the back, with raised beds and french doors from the bedroom and the kitchen leading out on to it ( maybe something like this, right ). It is over the back fence that her neighbour hands her the roses and gift which have been delivered on Sunday morning in the novel.

Another of the aforementioned good things is Clapham Common, which sits in the middle of the Clapham area. It is a photograph of the Common and the ferris wheel of a travelling circus encamped there which alerts Cassie to a newspaper photographer having been snooping around. The photograph left was taken on 1st October 2020.

Clapham Common is also one of the three Clapham Tube stations, the others being Clapham South and Clapham North (and we have the Junction too, we’re well connected – this is beginning to sound like an advert for Clapham). At each of them are circular, pillbox style structures which mark the presence of the deep shelters, constructed during the second World War to house civilians during air raids. There were originally ten of these planned across London, though only eight were ever sunk, three of them in Clapham close to the Northern line.  Cassie notes the one next to Clapham Common tube station as Daljit, Sergeant Patel, drives her to the Golden Square crime scene. The image above is of the deep shelter at Clapham South, which was used, in the 1950s, to house those migrants arriving from Empire on the HMS Windrush and other similar, later, ships.

Clapham Common

Clapham is not, of course, the only part of south London which has a part in Plague, even if most of the action takes place in Westminster. The second victim is found at a London Underground depot off London Road in Lambeth and his high rise flat, in Elephant and Castle, is where Cassie and Detective Inspector Andrew Rowlands go to interview his grieving, pregnant partner. It is from her twelfth floor windows that they see this panorama. ‘Northwards sunlight sparkled on the Shard and the towers of the City and, to the east, the chunky skyscrapers of Canary Wharf jostled for space on the Isle of Dogs. To the south east Cassie could see Crystal Palace Hill rising, bedecked by strings of terraced streets, to the high transmitter mast at its summit.’

For more about Plague and London try           Walking a Book, Walking a River             The Book Walk Continues                ‘With an address like that, you must be very wealthy’                    Book Walk Out-takes

Plague On Tour

First a Book Walk for Plague, now a Book Tour!

The Plague Book walk was a real walk, though largely done for publicity purposes and, it seems, it may have gained an after life of its own. The photo-montages have generated interest and the video is still in production. What’s more, London Walks, the guided walks company, is suggesting that I conduct real, guided walks of the book for members of the paying public. Footprints of London is doing one such of the locations in Blood & Sugar by Laura Shepherd-Robinson as part of a Literary Festival, and that book’s set in the past. So it must be possible to do one about Plague, which, after all, is set in contemporary London. I have already written a Plaguewalk leaflet which will, once it’s been tested, be posted on this web-site.

I might begin with a virtual walk – I went on one such at the weekend around parts of Kensington, at the invitation of David Tucker, its guide, who wears his comprehensive knowledge of London and his erudition lightly. It was great fun. Watch this space for developments.

The Plague Book Tour, or, more correctly, Blog Tour, will be underway before then, running from 28th September to 9th October. Organised by crime/horror specialist, it includes a book blogger a day for twelve days, reading, reviewing and, I hope, discussing Plague on social media. Anyone who follows #booktwitter or #bookstagram will recognise some, if not all, of the names of the book bloggers involved. I’m looking forward to seeing what Karen, David and Maria, Angi, Sharron, IG, Nicola, Emma, Maddy, Sharon, Vikkie, Chelle and Lesley think about Plague and its cast of characters. Starts Monday.

Yes, they are mostly female, but I have had some amazing reviews from male readers already  (check out Amazon or Goodreads), as well as some wonderful endorsements from fellow crime and thriller writers, like V.B.Grey, and crime specialists like Jacky Collins, aka ‘Dr Noir’. People like the book!

Of course, a traditional ‘book tour’ of book shops and reading groups isn’t possible because of COVID, but, these days, folk are so social media focussed that a ‘blog tour’ would probably have happened in any event. This one certainly ranges across the country in terms of where the bloggers are actually located. From the Isle of Skye to Kent and from East Anglia to the West Country. That would have been a book tour and a half!  I would have made some interesting train journeys.

E-space is where most of the advertising will be focussed too, though there isn’t very much of that. Claret Press isn’t an admirer of Amazon ads, nor those of Facebook, having used them, without any great success, in the past. So we’re going with tightly focused ads, using specialist agencies, via twitter.  The usual journals, like the Crime Writers Association ‘Case Notes’ and Newsletter will, we hope, also attract the attention of crime fiction loving readers.  

For more about Plague and especially the Book Walk why not try     Walking a book, walking a river                The book walk continues                   With an address like that…  

Algorithm Agony

I am a debut published author, hooray! My book is getting five star reviews, hooray! Some fellow writers (who really know what they’re doing) have said very nice things about my book, hooray! The publicity strategy is kicking in and the interviews, blog tour, advertising is falling into place, hooray!

BUT, and it’s a big but, Amazon, one of the two big online retailers of books, is showing my title as ‘Temporarily Out of Stock’.  All that publicity, all those reviews and, when the potential reader goes to the Amazon site, it seems that they can’t buy a paperback copy of the book.

Now the first thing to say is that they can!  As the ‘New’ and ‘Used’ options show – the Amazon messages are contradictory – click ‘Buy’ and a purchaser is taken to the usual screens. The book is available. Yet I fear that the immediate message – that it is not – will mean that many potential purchasers are dissuaded from buying it. I am a new author after all,  this is my first crime thriller, I don’t have a track record to rely on, why take a chance on someone whose new book isn’t even in stock?

My newness turns out to be part of the problem. The other, big part, is a result of COVID ( ironic for a book entitled ‘Plague’ ).  As my previous post, Publication Day!! said, September has been a bumper month for book releases, because all those books which would have been released in spring but were deferred because of COVID are now coming out. Yet Amazon, the largest online book retailer, has only so many warehouses (though they are building more). So the warehouses are full and there are yet more books. How do they decide which books should be kept in stock?

First, they decide that no book should be stored in these over-crowded warehouse for more than 48 hours, so only the quick sellers will find house room ( a tough, if logical, commercial decision ). Second, Amazon turn to their tried and trusted method of making decisions about products – an algorithm. The algorithm is predictive and it determines which books are likely to sell quickly i.e. for which there is greatest demand.

Which is where my being a debut novelist counts against Plague.  I’m not an established name, with legions of fans awaiting my book’s release, nor a well-known celebrity who commands name recognition and therefore drives sales.  My publisher, Claret Press, is a small indie, which doesn’t have the budget for a massive sales pitch and stormtrooper publicists and this counts against Plague too. The clever algorithm is never going to choose to stock Plague over many of those other books. So ‘Temporarily Out of Stock’ appears, even though the book is available.

This is the algorithmic Catch-22.  However popular my book might be, it’s never going to get the chance to become so. It’s new and by an unknown author and, however hard I, and Claret Press, work, it’s unlikely to impress that algorithm.

BUT all is not lost! The ebook is still shown as available, so people can buy that, at least. One can also get this message out MY BOOK IS AVAILABLE WHATEVER AMAZON SAYS. People are buying the paperback. It’s there to be bought.

Mine is not, of course, the only book in this Catch-22, there are lots of others. There is, apparently, a meeting next Tuesday between small publishers and Amazon to try and sort this out.  Watch this space. In the meanwhile, please tell everyone you know who might enjoy a snappy and topical crime thriller to BUY THIS BOOK. One thing the algorithm recognises is sales.