1. You have done what so many writers dream of and had your novel published. How have you found this experience?
Like many of the Urbane authors, this is not my first experience of being published. I was published by large traditional publishing houses in the 1990s, WH Allen and St Martin’s Press. On my return to writing I found that the publishing world had changed completely in the intervening 25 years. In the traditional model, which until recent years had no alternative (except, perhaps, vanity publishing) you gave your cherished baby, the work on which you had dedicated months or years of your life, to the publishers in return for an advance on royalties and they did exactly what they pleased with it. You had little or no say in blurb, jacket design, marketing, advertising or pricing. Many of us found it to be a poor experience, and I know even well-established and highly regarded writers who felt let down by the process. We produced commodities, books, for the publishers to dispose of as they thought fit.
The advent of the Internet has changed all that. The polar opposite to the traditional publishing model is self-publication, and anyone can do it and have their book available on Amazon and similar formats within hours. The downside is that it joins millions of other self-published books, and even if it’s brilliant it may never attract a readership.
Urbane Publications offers an intermediate model whereby publisher and author work together in partnership. Profits are divided much more equally (although there is usually no advance) and decisions are taken jointly. When it works, it is a very empowering experience but it depends on the personal relationship between author and publisher which may not always be problem-free, and authors have to expect success to come more slowly, if it comes at all. Small independent publishers cannot afford large sums of money for marketing or publicity.
2. Urbane require collaboration with authors in marketing their books. Has this worked out as you expected?
My part has been more demanding, but also more fun, than I expected. I have designed and produced posters, travelled with a suitcase up and down the country to bookshops, sold the concept and persuaded them to stock the books, and contacted scores of libraries, book groups and bookshops to secure speaking engagements and signing sessions. I am presently involved in arranging a photo shoot for a life-size poster of me wearing court robes and carrying a shot gun!
Urbane have opened doors for me, by getting me onto panels at literary festivals for example, and they have been excellent at managing the pricing and offers on Amazon, something I wouldn’t have been able to do without help.
One of Matthew Smith’s particular strengths lies in cover design; some of his covers for the fiction books have been outstanding and have attracted a great deal of enthusiastic social media comment.
3. Have you done many live author events and, if so, do you enjoy them?
To date I have had approximately 10 speaking engagements, I have 4 more in the diary before Christmas, and will organise more in the New Year. I am aiming at speaking at least twice a month.
I do enjoy them very much. 37 years’ at the Bar and singing in an R&B band allowed full rein to my love of performance, and I didn’t think through the fact that, when I retired to write full-time, that part of my personality would no longer find expression. In fact this is even better. My talks are developing into a “one-man show” with anecdotes from life at the Bar, some personal history as well as insights into the period of the novels (1940s and 1960s) and readings from the books. I am even thinking of adding some music from the periods.
4. What is your approach to the on line reviews of your book?
Fortunately I have only had one poor review, a 2* review on Amazon by someone who had obviously never read the book. You read about competitor authors putting poor reviews on Amazon, and it is my guess that this was an example, so I should probably feel flattered that they saw me as serious competition.
More generally however I often reply thanking the reviewer because I know it takes time and effort to give a review, and few reviewers appreciate the difference it makes to profile and sales. Although all of the reviews of The Brief were 5* and 4* (with the exception of the one referred to above) several reviewers had interesting insights as to the pacing of the first half of the book, and in those cases I have replied agreeing with them and have borne the criticism in mind in the later books.
I enjoy having a dialogue with my readers, and I recognise that I am still learning my trade, so insightful analysis by literate readers is invaluable.
5. When asked what you do, do you describe yourself as a writer?
I have begun to describe myself as a writer but I’m still a bit shy to do so, because it smacks of arrogance and, of course, very few people have heard of me as yet. If, as is often the case, the response is “Oh, have I heard of you?” the inevitable reply “Probably not” is a bit deflating. But my agent is working on a lead regarding a TV series, and hopefully that will all change.
6. Are you going to do this again – is there another novel in the pipeline?
There is indeed, at least three and probably more. The reviews suggest, and I believe, that I’m getting better as a writer as I learn my trade, and the third book, The Lighterman, is complete. It will be published in May 2017, and the consensus is that it’s the strongest so far.
The fourth novel is already part-written. The Charles Holborne series is a long way from the psychological thrillers or police procedurals of which there are so many exponents at present. This series is about a particular man, Charles Holborne, something of a maverick barrister with a background as a boxer and criminal himself. I throw him into the turmoil of the gangland culture of 1960s London, the corrupt police and the biased judiciary. They are thrillers, with a crime/mystery at their heart, and often courtroom scenes on the way, but Charles is on a moral and personal journey and therefore the series of books has a definite arc. He’s presently in the middle of that arc so there are several books to come, but when he’s finished his journey, assuming he survives, I will need to think carefully what to do next;
I want to avoid the stories becoming formulaic. The title of your blog “Never Imitate” is something I identify with closely. Most people who know me would say that I have never followed the path well-trod, and Charles Holborne is an extension of me.
Where my readers can find you
Facebook: Simon Michael (@simonmichael.uk)
Twitter: Simon Michael (@simonmichaeluk)
Simon Michael was called to the Bar by the Honourable Society of the Middle Temple in 1978. In his many years of prosecuting and defending criminal cases he has dealt with a wide selection of murderers, armed robbers, con artists and other assorted villainy.
A storyteller all his life, Simon started writing short stories at school. His first novel (co-written) was published by Grafton in 1988 and was followed in 1989 by his first solo novel, The Cut Throat, the first of the Charles Holborne series, based on Simon’s own experiences at the criminal Bar. The next in the series, The Long Lie, was published in 1992. Between the two, in 1991, Simon’s short story “Split” was shortlisted for the Cosmopolitan/Perrier Short Story Award. He was also commissioned to write two feature screenplays.
Simon then put writing aside to concentrate on his career at the Bar. After a further 25 years’ experience he now has sufficient plots based on real cases for another dozen legal thrillers.
‘The Brief’ and ‘An Honest Man’ are published by Urbane Publications, and are available to buy now.