Friday, January 20, 2012

Tim Hallinan Revisited

Timothy Hallinan is the Edgar and Macavity-nominated author of the traditionally-published Poke Rafferty Bangkok thrillers (most recently, The Queen of Patpong) and the Junior Bender mysteries, which are ebook originals. Earlier this year, he conceived and edited a volume of original short stories by twenty first-rate mystery writers, Shaken: Stories for Japan, with every penny of the $3.99 price going to the 2011 Japan Relief Fund. He lives in Santa Monica and Southeast Asia, and will be featured in the book, The Mystery Writers, with Sue Grafton, Lawrence Block and others, scheduled to be released in March 2012.

Tim, why did you decide to go the indie route with your new ebook series?

The real answer is that the money we were offered by the publishers we approached wasn't very good. I looked at the offers and thought, “I'd rather own the books.” And I'd already put up some of my Simeon Grist series from the Twelfth Century—sorry, the 1990s—and people were actually buying a few hundred copies each month. I figured if those books were selling, new ones would sell even better. And they have.

In fact the first one, Crashed, sold so well that we got a substantially bigger offer for Little Elvises and reprint rights to Crashed. After a life spent lingering outside publishers' doors in the hope someone would offer me a glass of lukewarm water, it was kind of nice to say no.

What inspired your Junior Bender series?

While I was trying to finish the third Poke Rafferty book, Breathing Water, I kept hearing this voice in my ear, trying to tell me a story in the first person, and every time I listened, it entertained me. I finally put Breathing Water aside for five weeks and let Junior tell me the story of Crashed, which is the fastest I've ever written a book. I put the first draft in a drawer, gave a couple of additional months to Breathing Water, and then edited Crashed and went straight to work on Little Elvises.

Part of the appeal was Junior himself; he's a burglar with a moral code who works as a private eye for crooks. In one sense, he's just a middle-class guy who's unhappily divorced and loves his teenage daughter more than anything in the world, and in another, he's risking his life trying to help clients who will not be good enemies if he fails, and he's trying to catch people who are crazy enough to commit crimes against criminals. He's at risk no matter how things come out.

Tell us more about your ebooks.

Well, they're the funniest books I've ever written, and that counts as something for me, because laughing, for me, is right up there with eating. They're meant to be funny and thrilling at the same time, and I'm not the best judge, but the reviews are 99.5% 5-star (only one 4-star in the batch), so that must mean something.

I've always loved to write crooks, and Junior gives me the chance to fill entire books with them. In Crashed, the main crook is Trey Annunziato, a beautiful woman in her early thirties who runs the biggest crime family in the San Fernando Valley and is trying to take everything legal because she's looked at the techniques the government has developed in the war on terror, and she knows that when the cops get back to catching criminals, criminals won't stand a chance.

And in Little Elvises, we meet an old-time, mobbed up Philadelphia record producer who took handsome Philly kids and turned them into pallid imitations of Elvis, plus the oldest still-dangerous gangster in the world, who is based on a very real person who was the California pointman for the Chicago Jewish mob. (One of Capone's guys said, “If it wasn't for the Jews, we'd still be hiding money in mattresses.”) This man, whom I won't name, who was for about 40 years the most powerful person in the state. No contest. Half the banks in Southern California were originally opened to launder money.

How well have your ebooks sold so far? Are you pleased with the results?

They've done okay, The reviews have been great and it's a few thousand dollars every month. I'd like them to do better, but I just HATE promoting myself. I can't drop in on every online conversation in the world and say, “Speaking of the economy, my book Little Elvises takes an offbeat look at the underground economy.” It makes me wince when I see other writers do it, and I won't.

I also loathe Twitter, which is undoubtedly hurting me. I've got like a thousand followers and I have no idea what to say to them.

How have you promoted your ebooks?

Well, that's sort of the issue. I really haven't, other than blogs like this one. I accidentally did a very successful promotion for Little Elvises. I had two covers and couldn't make up my mind, so I put them on Facebook and asked people to choose. And did they ever. And then I did the same thing on my website and in my almost-nearly-sort-of-monthly newsletter, and literally 800 people stopped their lives long enough to cast votes. So I gave away a bunch of the e-books, and that was the promotion. And Little Elvises really took off in its first week out.

My primary promo device is the newsletter. My website is loaded with information for beginning writers – it's about 80% of the site, and people have been writing to thank me or ask questions for years and years. And I also get a surprising amount of fan mail. All those people are on my newsletter mailing list now—about 6,000 of them—and I see a sales jump every time I send one out.

I work hard to make the newsletter more than just a plug – each has a theme and got reviews of good books and nice images, and nobody unsubscribes, which is saying something. Anybody who wants it can e-mail me at thallinan@gmail.com.

What advice do you offer writers contemplating the indie route?

Pretty much the same advice I have for everyone. Write the book you want to read and when you're finished, make it better. Proof-read everything ten times.This book is supposed to be you at your best, so you don't want it to be riddled with dumb mistakes.

And do a better job with promotion than I do.

Thanks, Tim. You  can visit Tim at his web/blog site: www.timothyhallinan.com, my site/blog/Finish Your Novel  area. He's also on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000623782839 
and Twitter: TimHallinan on Twitter.