Thursday, February 2, 2012

Interview with John Barlow

Briefly describe your journey in writing your latest book.
About a year ago I discovered that my uncle had been an arms dealer. There was all sorts of stuff about his possible involvement in Libya, Northern Ireland, and spying, and he was found dead with his throat cut on a flight from Amsterdam in 1984. The striking thing to me was that I knew nothing about him. This led me to think about families, and that having a criminal in them doesn’t always define them. So I decided to explore the idea of criminal families in a series of novels. HOPE ROAD is the first book in the series, and features the Ray crime family, and John Ray, the ‘straight’ member of that family.

What factors influenced your decision to self-publish to Amazon?
I have a background in traditional publishing, having published fiction with HarperCollins and non-fiction with Farrar, Straus & Giroux in the US. But I look around at traditional publishing now and see that writers are having an increasingly hard time to command decent advances, and can no longer rely on an industry that knows roughly where it will be in 2-5 years. Self-publishing, on the contrary, is expanding enormously. Who knows whether becoming an indie was right for me, but it seemed a good time to find out...

Did you query agents and traditional publishers?  How long before you got your offer of representation/your first contract?
I wrote three novels in my twenties, without attracting agent of publisher. I then had a novella in the Paris Review, and it won their Discovery/Plimpton Prize. Using that as a calling card, I mailed several agents and signed with one soon after. That would have been about five years after I started looking. My first book contract came pretty soon after that, since I already had a new work to submit by that stage.

What lessons have you learned being an indie author vs. being traditionally published?
You have to take charge of a lot of things that used to be done for you (editing, proofing, book design, artwork, marketing), and you need to decide how much money and time to spend on these things. I had HOPE ROAD edited by someone at a large publisher, but that was a favor and in the future I’ll need to find a freelance editor. Things like finding a good cover artist might seem like distractions from writing, but in a sense they get you more involved in the book as a product, forcing you to get your sleeves rolled up and make decisions (which no one will question or validate). In some ways I can now see what a privilege it is to be at a large house with all the specialists there to help you, but for the sheer thrill of doing a book entirely off your own initiative, indie publishing is a lot of fun. Just be prepared for the extra work!

Did you design your cover art?  If not, would you care to share your graphic designer’s information?
My cover is by Sidonie Beresford-Browne. I loved her work for the major houses, and although she doesn’t really do private commissions, I tracked her down and asked. I think the result is great.

What kinds of social media [twitter, facebook, webpage, blog, writing forums] are you involved with trying to garner publicity for your book(s)?
I’ve only been active as a self-publicist a few weeks, but I try to cover the normal bases. I tweet and I’m on some Facebook book groups, plus I blog and do quite a few guest blogs on book sites. I participate in forums like Kindle and Amazon forums, and I’m on Goodreads, although so far it’s a rather limited presence.

Besides Amazon, are there any other sites where your books are for sale?
Kobo, B&N, Sony, Diesel, Smashwords, Apple, Waterstones, W H Smiths.

What is the best advice you can offer new authors?
Just concentrate on the writing. There are great things happening for indies at the moment, but there is also the danger that you’ll stick a book on Amazon before it’s ready. Do what Stephen King advises: when you finish something, put it in a drawer for a few months, then take another look.

Can you give us a brief overview of your latest book?
HOPE ROAD. John Ray is the son of crime boss Antonio 'Tony' Ray. He’s the straight one of the family, but when he finds himself implicated in a murder, his family background makes him a perfect candidate to find the killer.

It’s an amateur sleuth story with a police procedural running through. John’s girlfriend is a police detective, and as the novel develops it explores the dynamics of this relationship. My aim was to write something that was character-based, although there is still a fairly involved crime plot too.

What’s next for you?
HOPE ROAD is the opening novel in a nine-book series, a sort of extended saga about a criminal family. So I have eight more to go!