Slowness and Ebooks

All right, I know, I’ve been slow to get back to the blog. What with the time spent writing, there’s just not been enough time to write regularly. I’m hoping that will change a little soon, but there are still too many distractions, culminating last month in the death of my lovely old Bernese. The house is a much quieter place without her.

So, what’s been happening?

My Lovely Old Berner, Dori.

My Lovely Old Berner, Dori.

A couple of years ago I wrote a modern spy story. It was, according to the folks I sent it to, really pretty good, although there were the odd typo and so on. Nothing major. My agent was very impressed with it, and saw a means of making some cash, so he sent it off to publishers he knew, full of the optimistic belief that he (and I) would soon get a deal. Sadly, he was mistaken.

The book, Act of Vengeance, was good, according to all the comments on the rejection slips, but in the present market – well, I wasn’t known for modern spy thrillers, and setting me up as a spy author rather than a medievalist was just too hard. Especially in the current climate. So, thanks, but no.

The new cover

The new cover

It’s not something for which I can blame them. Those editors have to take a book and then sell the idea of the book to their colleagues. That isn’t easy in any market. To take a book from a man known for a very different genre, no matter how good, is far more work than taking a book from an unknown and selling that. The unknown is a guy who can be moulded to suit the marketing campaigns, whose name carries no additional junk with it. It’s plain easier to sell.

And the editor would have to be very convinced about the book in that market. And let’s face it, the market’s pretty full of good thriller writers. Grisham, Child, Deaver, all are known for their taut writing styles and page-turning abilities.

There is another aspect to it, as well. When you look at modern thrillers, sales are tough. When I began looking into it, I was appalled to see an article that said the sales of many conspiracy, Dan Brown style books have collapsed by 80 percent or so. An ever smaller number of writers are making money at that game.

It’s a phenomenon that has hurt all authors, not only thriller writers. Authors of all types (including those whom I most admire) are seeing their sales drying up, their profit per book shrivelling and their incomes dwindling to a fraction of what they used to enjoy. Even authors who have kept up their sales have seen the amount they’re paid per book reduce to a pathetic number of coins. It’s not now strange to be offered a pittance – six pennies – for a book sold on a major internet site. At the same time, the market for second hand books has blossomed, meaning that many sales an author could once have expected are now lost. Ebooks are coming across strongly – but they have their own risks. The value which people place on books is reducing. People who see an ever-increasing number of titles for free now baulk at the thought of paying eight pounds or nine pounds for a new novel. I’ve even had a complaint from one man because my collection of four short stories was too expensive, in his view, at under  a dollar per story. How cheap did he expect his entertainment to be, I wondered?

After all, when I received another complaint today, saying that £5.99 was too much for a novel, I started thinking. People will pay more than that to go to a cinema or buy a DVD. Yet a film will last a mere two hours or so. A book for that money will entertain the reader for at least two or three days. For value, a book is far better. And if the price is cut, that means work must also be cut. You don’t get the same work if you pay less, because writers won’t be able to sit and write. They’ll need to work more in other fields to maintain any kind of living standard.

Publishers are finding the new world difficult to navigate. How do you sell books in a market in which the majority of buyers think that books should all be priced at under a dollar? There is no money there for the publisher to make a profit. Certainly not for an author, who sees the royalties reducing to an infinitesimal level. So many authors will give up. They will have to take on full-time work, and stop writing in the hope that they will be able to make a living from their writing, because there will not be one. The only possible way to make money will be from writing directly to internet, and hoping that the sales there will add up, in time, to enough to keep the authors ticking over.

Modern Short Stories

Modern Short Stories

I don’t like that thought. Publishers are too valuable. It is publishers who take a poorly written but imaginative book and turn it into something wonderful. It’s the teams of editors who make this transformation, the copy editors, the proof readers, who convert dull prose into grammatical, correctly spelled works of brilliance. Authors have the initial ideas, but without the folks in the offices who create gorgeous covers and the sales teams who go out and tell the world about the stories, most authors would never break out.

The next few years will be tough. There are glimmers of hope in the way the market is going, but all too few.

So, I thought I may as well try the market myself. Act of Vengeance is now out on Kindle. And I’ve my collections of short stories, No One Can Hear You Scream and For the Love of Old Bones, both of which you can buy today for your Kindle. All are winning great reviews, thank goodness. Go and look. Act of Vengeance has the brilliant  “An instant classic British spy novel … mature, thoughtful, and intelligent … but also raw enough for our modern times.  Highly recommended.” from Lee Child (I owe him a scotch for that)!

But the good thing is, my main books are going from strength to strength.

The first thirteen have now been snapped up by Simon and Schuster as well, and they are already uploaded as ebooks. With luck the rest of the series will soon join them. And then there is the latest book: Templar’s Acre, which will be out next summer.

It’s a new diversion for me: a prequel that tells the story of Baldwin’s early years, and how he came to join the Templars. It was enormously good fun to write, and I’m hoping it will explain a lot about him to folks who’ve enjoyed his stories so far!

So, in the run up to Christmas, I am hoping that my latest ebooks will attract some interest. If you have missed any of them, take a look when you get a chance and see how you feel.

And now, I’m going. I have more work to do tonight … well, I’m off Morris dancing, to be honest. I look forward to a few too many beers to keep me warm!


15 Responses to “Slowness and Ebooks”
  1. Old Trooper says:

    Michael Jecks is a superb author in that he is not only a ‘great story teller’ but absolutely insists on doing the best he can to research the history, etc. involved in his works. He is a ‘primary source’ type of fellow who doesn’t just make up the history as he goes along to sell a title. I have read all of the Templar associated series as well as most of his other titles or where he was a contributing author. To sum it up, “Always satisfied!” He is also not above constructive criticism or suggestions. I have seen or heard of some author’s or editors who when caught in blatant error(s) [some being very significant errors] get most offended that a reader might find fault with them even if the fault is very real.

    “Act of Vengeance (add Jecks to search term when going to Amazon to ensure you get his book; titles are not copyrighted so you may find the same or similar title otherwise),” while being a departure from his primary genre of medieval historical fiction, is a ‘knee slapper!’ I found this ‘spy thriller’ to be a fascinating read. If you like it too, tell a friend as I have done. Publishers don’t seem to have the funds to do much in the way of advertising, so word of mouth (concise statements of “I liked it” in online reviews) helps good authors like Jecks.


  2. Dennis Bowden says:

    Hello Michael,Just a quick one, were you ‘Morrising’ in Bath at the weekend? Dennis Bowden

    Date: Tue, 11 Dec 2012 16:12:27 +0000 To:


  3. Jack Eason says:

    I have just posted a piece to my own blog regarding the importance of research Michael. Judging by the low response rate, I can only surmise that so many writers these days believe they can get away without research – more fool them! :) Take a look at:


    • Old Trooper says:

      Yes, Jack, you are quite right!


      • Jack Eason says:

        I posted this comment earlier on the link to my post on Facebook to get a response from all those who call themselves writers:

        “So people, can I take it that from your total lack of response, as writers, none of you bother doing any kind of research? At the very least, read the comments.”

        All I got for my trouble were weak excuses like “I have no time to respond”. And yet they have the time to play around of Facebook.

        Old Trooper, if that was your comment to my blog post – thank you. :)


      • Old Trooper says:

        You’re very welcome.


  4. Jack Eason says:

    One last point – If it wasn’t for the amount of historical research Michael does for his books to make them believable, would people read them? I think not… :)


    • Old Trooper says:

      Das ist zum größten Teil wahr. Aber, Sie haben die Leute, die meckern, weil sie nicht mögen historische Tatsachen, die ihnen missfallen mag.

      That’s true for the most part. But, you have the folks who like to gripe because they don’t like historical facts that displeases them.


  5. One of the few rays of (fading) sunlight comes from we authors being able to reissue our out of print titles in electronic form – and take a royalty of 70-80% (if we can find enough readers to find and buy them, without a publisher’s publicity machine to help us out). Meanwhile, to convince readers that they oughtn’t to pay for anything they read, Amazon and co issue hundreds of classics for free or 99p. Every Sherlock story, for example, for nothing? And we thought Charles Dickens and Walter Besant won this battle over a century ago!


  6. Here’s my thoughts in response, Michael – given I’m a prime perpetrator of self-published work.

    The sudden explosion of cheap ebooks and self-pubbed novels this past few years has almost certainly damaged the traditional publishing model (hopefully not irreparably). It will certainly have changed it for good. My profound hope is that it will be a flash in the pan and that things will gradually level out to somewhere between the hold the publishing houses used to have on the business and the recent freedom for the unselected to try their luck. I would hope we will reach a point where only the better of both worlds make it out there, even if that doesn’t include me.

    Even in the self-published world, the disparity between paper books and ebooks is palpable. My paperbacks sell at roughly 1/20th the rate of my ebooks. I put this down partially to the ease of purchasing, delivery and reading of an ebook compared to a tree book, but mostly to the fact that my paperbacks retail at around £9 and my ebooks at about £2. I know what I’d choose in this economic climate myself. And without giving anything away, my profit from an ebook is considerably larger than for a paperback, so I’m happy with that situation.

    I can see the argument that an ebook should reflect the price of the work the author has put into it and be on a level with the paperbook, and it’s a convincing enough argument, but practicality sadly suggests that lower ebook prices are the way to go. As a man who does the whole ebook process myself (and I would imagine you are seeing the same thing in your forays) the low price does not damage profit. Given the high prices of many traditional authors’ ebooks and the low royalties they eventually receive from them (I have asked around), one has to question where that huge wedge of profit goes. I feel that a small portion of it is due to the people who produce it, but it’s not that crippling a job, so a sizeable chunk more should be passed on to the author or deducted from the customer’s price than appears currently to be the case.

    The upshot, I guess, of my rambling is that from the currently successful models I’ve seen, ‘Less is more’. People who sell cheaper ebooks are selling well and making more from it. In the current climate the traditional publishing houses may have to follow suit to maintain their place in the market. It interests me that some of the extant published histfic authors are making inroads into this market and bypassing some or all of their publishing support in doing so (your own productions, Justin Hill mentioned doing so, and Chris Cameron’s excellent Tom Swan serial are examples).

    And so a reply became an essay in itself. Hopefully that’s come out as a serious explanation of my viewpoint in the whole thing and not as an arrogant rant! I support good books however they come and buy both paper and e-format.




    • Yikes, I just realised that a comment there makes it sound like I don’t appreciate the amount of work the various editors and so on do in a finished ebook. Not the case. I just meant that the lower overheads in ebook vs treebook should allow for either lower consumer price or higher royalties. Jeez! Up myself or what?


      • Thanks for the response, Si, and sorry it’s taken me so ruddy long to get back. Colds and Christmas got in the way! I do agree – but I bemoan the loss of marketing, of sales, of all the backup systems that there are in publishers. As things are, I’m doing more marketing than writing, and the income is squeezed as my royalties get reduced. It’s a pain – but still, it’s the world we’re in, and I’m not giving up!

        Good luck with 2013.


  7. billo says:

    I am a fan of your books, but own a Nook, not a Kindle. I cannot, thus, read your new books on my reader. If the future of publishing is in ebooks, why not hit all the popular platforms?


    • Well, I will do – but it’s just time for me. I’ve got the format for Kindle set up and it was quick and easy to output the short stories onto that format. With Act of Vengeance, it will be out in all formats shortly, but we were offered a great marketing scheme over Christmas if we kept the book unique to Kindle. Soon, I expect it will migrate to the other formats. Hope that helps!


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