Bye Bye Baby, discusses his book, his journey as a writer, and self-publishing on Kindle.
DAVID WISEHART: What can you tell us about Bye Bye Baby?
ALLAN GUTHRIE: I've written a few crime novels but Bye Bye Baby is my first foray into detective fiction. It's a novella about Frank Collins, an inexperienced Edinburgh cop, who becomes involved in a child kidnapping case. This kidnapping's a particularly unusual one. I'd go as far as to say it's unique (if anyone who's read it knows differently, I've love to hear from them). It turns out someone is hell-bent on exploiting the grieving mother, and they have plans for Collins too.
DAVID WISEHART: How do you create and maintain dramatic tension?
ALLAN GUTHRIE: Conflict. For instance: the cat sat on the mat. No tension. The cat sat on the other cat's mat. Quite a bit of tension. I apply that philosophy wherever I can. Even a conversation between a pair of lovers should have undercurrents of conflict. Instead of one of them saying, "Damn, we've run out of milk" I'd be more inclined to go for something like: "I thought you were going to get more milk, dear."
DAVID WISEHART: How do you develop and differentiate your characters?
ALLAN GUTHRIE: Good question. I know how I plot, how I construct scenes, even how I put sentences together. But when it comes to characterization, it's a much more organic and subconscious process. I do know that a character only comes alive for me when I know what his favourite swear word is. That probably is how I most differentiate my characters, through language. I try to give them tics, favourite words or phrases, speech patterns. The best example of that is in my third novel, Hard Man, where I have six or seven different character-specific narrators, each of whom has a distinct way of speaking. At least I hope they do.
DAVID WISEHART: Who do you imagine is your ideal reader?
ALLAN GUTHRIE: I'm a firm believer that you're only as good as the feedback you get, so my ideal readers are the ones who read those messy early drafts and help me tidy things up. It's a thankless task but it's much appreciated.
DAVID WISEHART: What was your journey as a writer?
ALLAN GUTHRIE: I started writing crime fiction around 1999 or so, and wrote a couple of not-very-good practice novels. I was on the cusp of putting the writing on hold for a while when I was blindsided by getting shortlisted for the CWA Debut Dagger for my third effort. That was in 2001. The shortlisted book, Two-Way Split, was published in 2004 by PointBlank Press, a start-up US press. My second novel, Kiss Her Goodbye, was picked up soon afterwards by another start-up, Hard Case Crime, and went on to receive an Edgar nomination. The UK rights to both books were picked up by Polygon, a Scottish publisher (first publisher of a certain Mr Rankin, and also Mr McCall Smith), and Two-Way Split went on to win the Theakston's Crime Novel of the Year in 2007. I've since published three other novels and three novellas.
DAVID WISEHART: What is your writing process?
ALLAN GUTHRIE: I might be unusual but for me each book has been a completely different experience. I've used comprehensive outlines, I've winged it, I've tried outlining a chapter or two ahead. I've written in the morning, afternoon, late at night. In my study, on trains, outside. I've written chronologically, I've started at the end and written backwards, I've written whichever chapters most appeal on any given day. I've alternated between different books. Most recently I've been working on two very different versions of the same book. The one part of my routine, if you like, is that I don't have one. I like to try a different approach with each book. And sometimes several different approaches with the same book. I have a very low boredom threshold. Which may also explain why I've avoided writing a series. The one constant is that I tend to write a ridiculous number of drafts. Takes me a long time to wrestle that first one into shape. I had hoped that I'd have become more efficient over time but if anything, I'm worse than ever.
DAVID WISEHART: What authors most inspire you?
ALLAN GUTHRIE: I'm a big fan of a lot of the crime writers from the heyday of the paperback originals in the 50s and 60s. David Goodis, Jim Thompson, Charles Williams, Day Keene, Gil Brewer, David Karp—the list goes on and on. I think the paperback original explosion back then is very similar to what we're seeing now with ebooks. Mid-twentieth century hardcover publishers were terrified of the perceived damage that mass market paperback originals would cause. It seemed to work out ok, though. Luckily they weren't in a position to charge hardcover prices for the PBOs, or who knows where publishing would be today.
DAVID WISEHART: What one book, written by someone else, do you wish you'd written yourself?
ALLAN GUTHRIE: From a craft point of view, probably Come Closer by Sara Gran. I love the way that book's constructed.
DAVID WISEHART: How did you create your cover?
ALLAN GUTHRIE: I hired the multi-talented JT Lindroos, the designer (and indeed commissioning editor) of my first novel, Two-Way Split.
DAVID WISEHART: How have you marketed and promoted your work?
ALLAN GUTHRIE: Seems to me with ebooks that it's most effective to go where the ebook readers are rather than specifically target genre fans. So I've been trying to familiarize myself with the various ebook discussion forums. Great places for authors to pick up tips too. Apart from that, I haven't done a lot. One or two interviews, like this one. And some very generous people have helped spread the word. Possibly the most effective marketing I did was to cut the price of the book to 99 cents from an opening price of $2.99. That helped get some momentum going—the first couple of months' sales you could count on one hand, but the last five or six weeks have seen rapid incremental growth with 150 Amazon UK sales in the first week of January. Seems a lot harder to get any traction in the US, though.
DAVID WISEHART: Why publish on Kindle?
ALLAN GUTHRIE: Bye Bye Baby was commissioned by a local publisher, Barrington Stoke. Originally the print publication was slated for July 2010. That was initially deferred until July 2011. But after some further rejigging of their schedule, I got word that it wasn't going to appear until 2013. So I asked if it would be okay if I put out a Kindle version meantime and they were more than happy for me to do so.
DAVID WISEHART: What advice would you give to a first-time author thinking of self-publishing on Kindle?
ALLAN GUTHRIE: Be professional in all areas, keep your expectations in check, and write the next book.
DAVID WISEHART: Thanks, and best of luck with your books.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bye Bye Baby. When he's not writing, he's a literary agent with Jenny Brown Associates.
Visit his website.
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