Monday, July 30, 2012

New Video For False Friends

This is the video for the new Spider Shepherd book - False Friends - out on August 2. I think it's amazing!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Italian Edition Of The Basement

Amazon are getting ready to bring out the Italian version of The Basement. I think the cover is amazing!  And they are working on the German version as we speak.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Me At The Harrogate Crime Writing Festival

I’m just back from the Harrogate  Crime Writing Festival – three days of talks and events involving some of the country’s top crime-writing talent.  Why was I there?  Truth be told, I’m writing a short story called Inspector Zhang Goes To Harrogate where my Singaporean detective solves a locked room mystery in the Old Swan Hotel where the festival is based.

I went with my 13-year-old daughter and she had a blast. The high point for me was the Come Die With Me murder mystery dinner where we had to solve a murder. Our table won!  There several writers on the table - including the talented Chris Ewan who signed a copy of his book Safe House for my daughter - but it was two lady readers who solved the case for us.  We all won a set of books by Ann Cleeves who hosted the dinner.  Everyone had a great time and I'm still on a high for winning!

I got to meet some old friends and to hang out with writers like Matt Hilton, Peter Robinson, John Connolly, Simon Kernick and Zoe Sharp, and to meet readers and Facebook friends. I also met my old mate Barry Forshaw - see below!  Twins, or what?

While I was there I appeared on a panel called 'Wanted for Murder: the e-book', where a group of us discussed ePublishing, a subject I do know a fair bit about.

It turned out to be quite a surreal experience.  Fun, but surreal.  Running the festival this year was Mark “Scaredy Cat” Billingham, one of the best writers in the business as well as a top stand-up comic.  Mark came over to me in the green room before the panel and had a quiet word with me. Basically there is danger of the panels turning into a luvvie love-fest and he wanted me to take a view and be a tad confrontational if at all possible. He wanted the panel to be the talking point of the festival.  I’m never one to duck a good argument so I said I’d go for it.

In the chair was Channel 4 presenter Mark Lawson, and on the panel with me were a publisher, another writer who hasn’t sold many eBooks, an agent and a bookseller.  It was pretty much going to be four against one from the start.

What surprised me was how the audience seemed so set against cheap eBooks.  Rather than taking my view that books are best sold at a price that readers find attractive, the general feeling of the audience seemed to be that books were already – as one man said – ‘cheap as chips’ and that Norwegians had to pay £40 for one of Jo Nesbo’s books. When I explained that I had sold half a million eBooks last year, most of them for less than a quid, I was surprised to hear a few boos and hisses rather than the applause that I had expected.

On the panel was a horror writer by the name of Steve Mosby. I don't remember much about him other than we discussed tattoos, which he is something of a fan of. Mosby was clearly unhappy at appearing on the panel with me and went on to spend the next year or so insulting me on Twitter and on his blog and making the most bizarre accusations about me. 

I later discovered what a truly unpleasant man Steve Mosby is. While claiming to be a feminist he is quite happy to use the C-word as an insult in public.

Mosby is a pal of Harry Potter writer JK Rowling, though I doubt she is aware of this tendency to describe people as c***s.

Also on the panel was a short, plump agent called Phillip Patterson who also went on to post insulting comments on me on Twitter. All very strange.

The most surreal moment for me came when the President of the Publisher’s Association, Ursula Mackenzie, was trying to defend their policy of maintaining eBooks at a high price.  Basically she was saying that books needed to maintain their value and that 20p and free eBooks needed to be stamped on.

I understand her view, but I’m a big fan of selling eBooks at lower prices providing you can get high volumes of sales. And I’m happy enough to give books away if it helps to bring in new readers.

So I explain to Ursula – and the audience – that I can write a short story in five days and am happy to sell that at the Amazon minimum of 72p which generates me an income of 25p. 


At this point in my blog I mentioned a comment that I remembered had come from Ursula about earning 5p a book.  Having heard the recording of the panel I realise that I had misremembered this and the comment was made by Mark Lawson. I owe Ursula an unreserved and total apology for this and I will be writing to her personally to apologise. Truly my memory let me down and I am so so sorry. I can only think that the stress of the panel caused caused my memory to play tricks on me.

The point I wanted to make - which applies to Mark's comment and not to anything that Ursula said - was that of course I don’t work for 5p a day.  My Inspector Zhang stories sell about five or six hundred copies a month. Each. So one story sells 6,000 copies a year. So over the next ten years it could sell 60,000 copies which means I’d get £15,000, which is £3,000 a day.

Mark turned to the conversation around to the cost of books and how much went to the publisher, and asked Ursula to justify why the publisher’s took the lion’s share.  She put forward the old arguments about editing and marketing and I tried to explain that with eBooks, an author with a large fan base can use fans to edit and proof-read.  Everyone seemed to think that meant I thought writers could do away with editors, and of course that’s not the case. But not every writer needs a hard edit, some writers need little more than proof-reading and fact-checking and that can be done through fans.

The audience were quite strange when I talked about piracy, and I thought I was about to be lynched when I said that I regarded pirates as helping to market my books.  Someone shouted ‘Tosser!’ which was a bit harsh. What was a bit surprising was that it seemed to come from Mark Billingham’s direction. 

I didn’t really get a chance to explain what I meant, which was a pity. Of course mass piracy would destroy publishing and destroy my income. But controlled piracy, where pirated books represent a small fraction of the total books available, can be a help to get a writer better known.  My opinion is that readers who buy pirated copies wouldn’t buy the real book anyway. But once they have become a fan, they might. The reader who starts off buying a pirated copy of one of my books might move on to buying hardbacks. It happens.

But I didn’t get the chance to say that. I did meet a lot of self-published writers at the festival – writers like Kerry Wilkinson, Allan Guthrie, Mark Edwards and Louise Voss.  All have stormed up the Kindle charts selling low-priced books.  I’m not going to put words into anyone’s mouth but I can tell you that most of the self-published writers I know have no fear of piracy and most embrace it.  Publishers don’t get it.  They don’t get the whole DRM thing either, where eBooks are ‘protected’ except of course they’re not.  Ursula, representing the publishers, was vehement that DRM was a good thing. Even traditionally-published author Steve Mosby tried to explain that DRM doesn’t work and isn’t fair in that it stops a reader transferring a book that he has already bought between different devices.  But Ursula wouldn’t have it.  I should say at this point that I was talking to one of the really big names at the festival and he has a Kindle and he has a neat like program that removes the DRM protection. I would love to tell you who it is but my lips are sealed!

Ursula was easy to argue with, as was the token agent, Philip Patterson. He was a lovely guy and I do feel guilty about blind-siding him with the question that most writers have – what exactly does an agent do to earn his 15 per cent when a writer sells most of his books through Amazon with whom there is almost no room for negotiation.  He didn’t come up with an answer and I did apologise to him afterwards.  The simple fact is that if a writer is self-publishing eBooks then he doesn’t need an agent.  Of course if that self-published author is then approached by a publishing house, that’s when you do need an agent in your corner.

What was strange is how a couple of agents started tweeting quite nastily about me.  One wondered how I would sell my foreign rights without an agent.  That’s a good question. I’d sell them myself, it’s not difficult. And in my experience, foreign rights barely cover the 15 per cent of the main UK deal. 

Frankly I think publishers and agents are going to have a difficult few years as the whole eBook business works itself out.  And so are the book sellers. But of all the people on the panel, other than myself of course, I thought that the token bookseller was the guy who was most ready to take advantage of it. He was Patrick Neale of JaffĂ© and Neale Bookshop in Chipping Norton.  He’s a very smart guy who really understands his trade.  I think that the large book chains, the ones that are left, are going to be in big trouble soon but guys like Patrick can survive and prosper.  He’s seen a boom in hardback sales, but is also selling coffee in his shop and looking to profit from eBook sales. It was clear from listening to him that he is adapting his business to take advantage of the way books are changing, as opposed to the publishers who are fighting to maintain the status quo.

I guess the reason the audience were so unsympathetic to my views on piracy and low prices is because they are quite a different audience to my core readership.  I guess the big question is how my views would be received by a younger audience.  Hopefully they wouldn’t shout ‘tosser!’

Anyway, Mark Billingham came afterwards, shook my hand and agreed that we’d achieved our objective – the tweets were already flying around the world and the festival was buzzing. Oh, and I pretty much finished Inspector Zhang Goes To Harrogate.  Much as I’d like the victim to be an overweight agent with badly-dyed hair, it’s an author who meets an untimely end.  And yes, I’ll be selling it at 72p.

         Me and Matt Hilton at the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Why I won't be using Nokia again!

Kenneth Listening

Kenneth: Hi, my name is Kenneth. Thank you for contacting Nokia Care Chat. How may I help you?

Kenneth Hi Stephen, how are you doing today?

 Stephen Leather Hi. I have an N95 which has stopped working.

 Stephen Leather I am in Thailand and took it to the Nokia service centre in Bangkok

 Stephen Leather They say they do not have the parts and they cannot repair it.

 Stephen Leather It is only three years old!

Stephen Leather Help!!!!!

 Kenneth I understand that you need assistance with your Nokia N95 that has recently stopped working and I'm glad to assist you with this one.

 Kenneth May I know if the phone is still turning on?

 Stephen Leather Thanks. The phone will not turn on when you slide it open.

 Stephen Leather Sometimes you can power it by pressing the screen.

 Stephen Leather All the data seems to be there still.

 Stephen Leather It seems to be a problem with the slider.

 Stephen Leather I am in London next week. Can it be fixed there?

 Kenneth I understand, I would like to inform you that Nokia does not have an international warranty and if you'll take it to a repair centre in London, please note that charges may apply.

 Kenneth May I know if you have already talked to the local support group of Nokia in your country? 

Stephen Leather Money isn't the issue. I want my phone to work. The phone was sent to the Nokia Service centre in Bangkok and they say they cannot repair it because they do not have the parts. 

Stephen Leather I have to say that I fail to see why Nokia in Bangkok does not carry the parts to fix a three-year-old phone. :-(

 Kenneth Please understand that if you'll take it to the repair centre in London it is still subject for assessment and we will still check on the availability of the parts.

 Kenneth I'm sure that repair centre will do there best to help you out to repair it but we will still have to check on it and see if the parts that we need on the phone is still available.

 Stephen Leather And presumably I will have to pay for the assessment in London, or is that free? 

Kenneth There is a big chance that assessment fee will also apply specially that your device is from another country.

 Stephen Leather But that is not fair. I have already paid 400 baht (£8) in Thailand to be told that it can't be fixed. I don't see that I should pay more money if there's a chance that you can't fix it.

 Stephen Leather The phone is only three years old.

 Stephen Leather How much is the assessment fee in London?

 Kenneth Please understand that Nokia does not have an international warranty that is why it is recommended to check on your local Nokia Authorise repair centres first some charge for 20 pounds just for the assessment.

 Stephen Leather I bought it in Thailand but now they say they cannot repair it in Thailand! How can they not have the parts for a three year old phone? I don't understand! :-(

 Kenneth Have you already tried a third party repair centre in your area?

 Kenneth We want to help you with your case but the concern is that you are from Thailand and we are not aware of the process for repair in your country.

 Stephen Leather Why would they be able to fix it if the Nokia Service centre cannot?

 Stephen Leather I am not from Thailand, Kenneth. I am English.

 Stephen Leather But I am dealing with the Nokia Service Centre in Bangkok. They are not very helpful! :-(

 Kenneth I understand but the problem is that you have purchased the phone in Thailand.

 Kenneth And Nokia has the limitation to fix handset from another country.

 Stephen Leather I know! When my Nokia N95 stopped working I bought a Samsung Galaxy Pocket phone. The GT-S5300 model. It only cost 5,000 baht, about £100.

 Stephen Leather It is a really good phone. But I want my N95 working again!

 Stephen Leather What can I do to get my N95 working again?

 Kenneth I can only recommend visiting a third party repair centre in Thailand and see if there is something that they can do about your case. That's is the best thing I can recommend for now since Nokia Service Centre in Bangkok can't help you with this one.

 Kenneth Please understand that we really need to follow process for every country.

 Stephen Leather But I am flying to London next week. So I will need to get it fixed there. I will not be in Bangkok.

 Kenneth I understand. In that case, you can send it to a third party repair centre for assessment and hopefully there will be an available part for your Nokia N95.

 Kenneth Once you reach London, please do not hesitate to contact us back and we will recommend a repair centre near your area.

 Stephen Leather I do not understand why Nokia in Thailand cannot fix a Nokia phone.

 Kenneth I am not sure also why they can't fix it. But I'll take note of the information as a feedback.

 Stephen Leather Maybe I will forget about Nokia and stick with Samsung. Do you know about the Samsung Galaxy Pocket? It is a very good phone.

 Kenneth I understand how you feel about this and we want to help you with this one but since the device was purchase from Thailand it is best to get in touch first with Nokia Thailand and if you'll be back in London, please have it checked by repair centre in London and hopefully they can have it checked.

 Stephen Leather I did talk to Nokia in Thailand, Kenneth. They say they can't fix it even though it is only three years old. I am sure that Samsung would be able to fix their phone if it went wrong. What do you think?

 Kenneth I am sorry but I'm not aware how the warranty goes for Samsung.

 Stephen Leather And I do like the Samsung Galaxy Pocket, It does not slide and I think it is the slide on the N95 that has caused the problem. Actually I think it is a much better phone than the N95. What sort of phone do you have, Kenneth?

 Kenneth In United Kingdom the available phones are posted on this link:

 Stephen Leather I know but other than the N95 there isn't really a Nokia phone that I want. If I can't get my N95 working then I would rather use my Samsung Galaxy Pocket and then Nokia will have lost a customer. For ever!

 Stephen Leather Nokia doesn't want to lose me as a customer, does it?

 Kenneth I understand your concern but please understand that you have deal with Nokia Thailand and we are not aware of the process on that country. If you have purchase the handset in United Kingdom, we can recommend that you send it to repair centre and I'm sure that the repair centres will do there best to have your device fixed.

 Stephen Leather Where is the repair centre in London?

 Kenneth Please use this link to locate the repair centres in London:

 Stephen Leather Do you think they will be able to repair my N95, Kenneth?

 Kenneth I'm not sure since the device was purchase from Thailand but there is a contact number found on the link that I've provided and you may want to enquire to them first before you send the phone for repair.

 Kenneth I'm sure that they will still attempt to repair the device.

 Stephen Leather Do you use a Nokia phone, Kenneth?

 Kenneth Yes.

 Stephen Leather I guess Nokia will fix yours if it breaks! It is just a pity that they won't fix mine :-( 

Stephen Leather I am very sad :-( It cost a lot of money and I have only had it for three years!

 Stephen Leather I have had many Nokia phones over the years. But this experience has made my think twice about buying another Nokia.

 Kenneth I understand how you feel but please understand that we have a process to follow in United Kingdom. You can still send it to our repair centre and I'm sure that the repair centre technicians will do there best to have it assess.

 Kenneth If you want I can give you the repair centre number of Nokia in United Kingdom that would be the main repair centre and once you reach London, please call the number and enquire what can be done to your phone.

 Kenneth Please take note of this contact number and that would be 01842 768061 – Operating hours 900 – 1730 UK Time.

 Stephen Leather I think I will probably just continue to use my Samsung Galaxy Pocket phone. It is a very nice phone. I can recommend it to you! It looks great and the battery lasts a long time. And there is no slider to break!

 Stephen Leather Thank you for all your help Kenneth!

Stephen Leather Good bye!

 Kenneth If there will be no other concern, thank you for using Nokia Care Chat and have a nice day. Cheers.