Have you ever wondered whether your Amazon book reviews make any difference to the authors, and how they write? Well, funnily enough, sometimes they do. One of the very first things we did after setting up Crime Fiction Lover was check out the top 10 crime books for Kindle. Nestling in there was an interesting book entitled Catch Your Death, so we downloaded it and it was one of our first reviews here on the site. Though it was a pacy, thrilling read we had a few criticisms. Soon we were chatting with co-authors Mark Edwards and Louise Voss on Twitter. Their other book Killing Cupid also raced into the top 10 Kindle crime downloads and not long afterwards the pair got a book deal with HarperCollins. Their self-published eBooks were to become ‘proper’ published titles.
A week or two ago, Mark was in touch saying that Catch Your Death has actually been rewritten for its release on HarperCollins. It was exciting to hear that our review had been one the authors took on board when they reworked the book. We just had to know more…
First off, it would be great if you could each tell us a little bit about yourselves?
Mark: I grew up in Hastings, on the south coast. Apparently, Alastair Crowley put a curse on the town saying that, unless you take a pebble from the beach when you leave, you will return there to die. I forgot to take a pebble. Now, whenever I go back to visit my family I keep a careful eye out for runaway buses and lethal snakes. While worrying that my hometown curse might shorten my life, I want to write as many great books as I can. I now live in south London with my young family and cram writing in between being a dad and doing my full time job as a marketing director.
Louise: I used to write full time, but lost my deal in 2005 and had long ago given up even calling myself a writer. Once I got a full time day job, there just wasn’t time. Mark and I had written the two books ages ago, and when he suggested sticking them on Kindle, I was initially sceptical. I am so glad I was proved wrong!
Great news on the HarperCollins deal. When you did your rewrite for the new version of Catch Your Death, what feedback did you take on-board from our review, and others?
Mark: Thanks! Ours must be one of the first instances where the authors got a chance to rewrite the book after already selling thousands of copies, but we were determined to make the ‘proper’ version as perfect as possible, and after getting live feedback from reviewers, as well as our new editor, we had that opportunity. Crime Fiction Lover’s review complained about a lack of depth, and we tried to tackle that by adding in more back story – some scenes we had originally cut out for fear they would slow down the pace – as well as working more on the characterisation and locations. We also had a few people complain that one of the elements of the ending came out of nowhere, which we addressed by adding in a new sub-plot that fixes that flaw.
You mentioned that some Amazon reviews were helpful for the rewrite. It’s great that everyday readers contributed to the process. What further things did you learn from purchasers out there?
Mark: Amazon reviews can be an eye-watering experience for authors. Luckily, most of our reviews have been very good but we also got quite a lot of constructive criticism. One topic was around the expertise of our lead character, which we have put right, particularly in the follow-up in which you really get to see her knowledge as a virologist. Other reviewers pointed out some mistakes in the geography, which we have also tackled. And then we added to the parts readers really liked. For example, our baddie gets to do even more nasty things in the rewritten version. We did ignore some reviews though, mainly the ones that complained about the sex and violence – it is a thriller, after all! My favourite review came from a woman who said, ‘This isn’t a clean book’ and consequently gave it one star. You can’t write for the cleanliness police.
Did you do the same for Killing Cupid?
Mark: We didn’t make any changes at all to Killing Cupid. It’s already perfect! Actually, Cupid is a bit of a Marmite book – you either really get it or you don’t. It’s interesting how many readers said they found it creepy and upsetting, while others said it was hilarious. We wrote it as a black comedy. My favourite line in the book involves a tube of Preparation H and getting a review saying that line made her laugh out loud made my year.
The original independently published eBook versions of both books are no longer available on Amazon – is that a sad thing in any way? Why or why not?
Mark: Yes, it was quite a sad day in a way to see the old versions disappear, because they had done so well for us, like a couple of old friends, but we couldn’t have two versions out there. On a practical level, we lost all our old links and presence on Amazon so have had to start all over again.
What were the most exciting things for each of you about seeing our books released by Harper Collins?
Mark: I have always dreamed, in a cliched writer fashion, of holding my own book in my hands. When the first copies of Catch Your Death arrived in the post it was a truly thrilling moment. It was fantastic seeing it in the shops for the first time too. And the team at HC have been so welcoming and supportive; it’s great to work with people who are excited about your work. Publishers get a lot of stick but in our experience they are people who love genuinely books and want to produce great stuff.
Louise: The most exciting thing for me was the realization that these books represented the rebirth of my writing career. It is fantastic to be writing again, particularly in partnership with Mark. Providing that he doesn’t get strangled by an anaconda next time he visits Hastings, we are hoping to continue our collaborations well into our dotage.
Watch out for the sequel to Catch Your Death, which is entitled The Antidote. Here, a virus is spreading across California and Kate Maddox joins a team of scientists to find a cure. She’s up against the apocalyptic female cult which released the virus and they’ll do anything to prevent an antidote being developed – including murder. It comes out in January 2013.
I read and review many crime fiction books as a “hobby”. In my day job I am an editor and in the past have edited more scientific papers and commentaries than I can remember. I haven’t read these books discussed here but I admire the authors very much indeed for recognising the “editing suggestions” (in effect) that they received via these online reviews, and that they took the time to rewrite the independently published version of the book. I doubt many authors would be bothered, but I am sure that the editing process is a vital one and will provide a superior end-result. I also think it is important to ignore the inappropriate reviews and comments that are part-and-parcel of user-generated comment (ie Amazon “reviews”) and filter out what is useful. This is a very heartening interview to read!
Thanks for posting Maxine. I also think the pro-active way these authors have taken on board the thoughts of readers and reviewers is impressive. To be honest, I was a bit stunned when Mark told me they’d read our review and what we’d said had gone into the rewrite. It’s great!
Nice interview. I’m just getting my feet wet in the epub waters and loved your success story.Hope good things continue to happen for you. Glad I found this site.