James Hayman: My third McCabe/Savage thriller, Darkness First comes out today, October 1st, as the lead title from Harper Collins brand new ebook-first digital imprint Witness/Impulse.
As luck would have it, the introduction of Darkness First is being upstaged by the petulant Republican Congressmen who’ve decided they don’t just want to reduce the size of the federal government, they want to shut it down entirely. The other day I quipped on my Facebook page how a government shutdown might be good for sales of my book. After all, how many millions of government workers will be staying home with nothing else to do but read a good thriller? On the other hand, not knowing when they’ll be back at work and earning a paycheck, how many of them will be interested in spending even three buck on anything they can’t eat or put in their gas tanks?
In any event, I have no control over the Republicans and what’s happened has happened. However bad it is, it’s clearly better having a book come out today than it would have been on September 11, 2001 or December 7, 1941.
Anyway, about the book, which I immodestly think is my best yet.
The title derives from the fact that most of the story takes place in Washington County, Maine. Naturally, as the easternmost county in America, the sun arrives first in Washington County. But so too does the darkness.
Darkness First tells the story of Tiffany Stoddard, a beautiful, ambitious young college student from the economically struggling town of Eastport, who wants to get rich quick. When Tiff agrees to help a man named Conor Riordan smuggle illegal prescription drugs from Canada into the US and help sell them, she has no idea she’s just made a deal with the devil.
She soon realizes, however, that Riordan is, indeed, the embodiment of pure sociopathic evil. Someone who not only kills anyone and everyone who threatens his operation, but who also kills for the sheer sadistic pleasure he derives from the act. The more vicious the murder, the more Riordan enjoys it.
When Tiff Stoddard’s mutilated body is found in the parking area of a remote Maine state park, Portland Detective Maggie Savage is called in to help track down the killer. Maggie agrees partly because her oldest and best friend, a local doctor, was badly injured in the same incident.
Maggie and her partner, Mike McCabe, doggedly track Riordan through a strange and frightening labyrinth of murder, mayhem and false leads only to realize they are in a race against time to find Tiffany Stoddard’s eleven-year-old sister, Tabitha (the only person still alive who knows what Conor Riordan looks like) before Tabitha becomes the killer’s next victim.
So why did I decide to go the ebook first route for Darkness First? A couple of weeks ago I sat on a panel at Bouchercon 2013 with my agent, Meg Ruley, my new editor Dan Mallory and Harper Collins digital publicity director Danielle Bartlett discussing exactly this.
The short answer is I want more people to read my books and become familiar with me as an author. I believe if they enjoy this book they’ll want to read my others.
To get that kind of readership in today’s book business climate, I believe ebook first publication makes a lot more sense for a midlist writer like me than coming out initially as a $25 hardcover as my first two thrillers did. No matter how beautifully designed and embossed the covers are––which they were with both The Cutting and The Chill of Night––far fewer readers today are willing to part with twenty-five bucks for a suspense thriller than they were a few years ago.
There are a lot of reasons for this.
For starters far more people have digital reading devices than ever before. Not just Kindles and Nooks but an array of tablets and smartphones starting with the iPads and Androids and continuing to grow exponentially.
While ebooks currently account for only about 25% of all books sold, research suggests the number for crime novels, thrillers, romance and other so-called genre fiction is roughly 60%.
Moreover, people seem to like reading on the Kindle et al. A recent survey published in the Bookseller said a majority of readers who owned the devices preferred reading on them to reading a traditional book, especially when reading in bed. I can understand that. For years I swore I’d never read a book “on a screen.” But before signing the deal with Harper Collins, I figured I ought to try it. I purchased a Kindle Paperwhite to see what it was like. I discovered, a little to my surprise, that it’s great for reading. The screen is a soft white and sort of paper-like. The type pops. I can increase the size of the font to suit my aging eyesight. And it’s incredibly light. When reading in bed I can balance it against a single propped up leg and only touch it when I need to swipe to the next page. It also remembers where I am in the book.
Darkness First is coming out initially at a promotional price of only $2.99. If people like the book, I hope they’ll presumably want to go on to read my other books, either in paper or on a screen at a non-promotional price. This happened to me in the UK.
When my British publisher, Penguin UK, ran a promotion on Amazon offering the Kindle edition of The Chill of Night for only 99P or about a buck and a half, they sold 10,000 copies of the book in one day. The Chill of Night jumped from nowhere to become Amazon UK’s number one Kindle bestseller. And while it hasn’t maintained that lofty position, sales at the regular price have remained strong. And the people who bought and enjoyed The Chill of Night bought both The Cutting and Darkness First which came out in Britain about ten days ago.
Finally and importantly, “ebook first” doesn’t mean “ebook only.” If Darkness First does well as an ebook, a print run will follow. And it’s already available on a print on demand basis.
For those of you who’d like to read the first chaper of Darkness First now, it’s easy and free.
You’ll find it on my website:
Or on Witness Impulse’s Facebook page “Killer Instincts” at: https://apps.facebook.com/killerinstincts/exclusives/View/9608
Or on Amazon’s “look Inside this book”: http://www.amazon.com/Darkness-First-McCabe-Thriller-ebook/dp/B00CGZXQDU/ref=pd_sim_sbs_kstore_1
Congratulations, James! Already downloaded it.
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Jim, I totally agree with everything you’ve said about digital-first publication and its suitability for authors like us, both here and at Bouchercon. It was great to have a chance to chat with you a bit there and hope we’ll meet again under the aegis of Witness/Impulse. The very best of luck with the new book.