Wednesday, 11 May 2011

An Interview with Chris Longmuir

MJM– You have 3 words, describe Night Watcher.

Chris – Scary, dark story.

MJM – You now have another 21 words – give us some more details.

Chris – Psychological thriller featuring two different kinds of stalker. A woman seeking revenge and the disturbed Night Watcher who has killed before.

MJM – Your first published novel – Dead Wood – won the Dundee Book Prize and a very nice, large cheque. Tell us how that felt.

Chris – I wish everyone could have had that experience. It was exciting, fabulous, mind-numbing and surreal. There aren’t enough adjectives to describe it.

It all started one afternoon in November 2008, when I received the phone call. The woman at the other end asked if I was sitting down, my stupid reply was – did I have to be – and yes, it would have helped if I’d been sitting down, but as usual I walk about with the phone in my hand. When she told me I had won the prize, I thought it was a scam, but she assured me it was real. I think that was when I kind of went numb and everything started to jumble about in my brain, so I can’t really describe how I felt, only that I needed to tell someone, otherwise my brain would burst. So I told my two best friends, Liz and Betty, they read my manuscripts – Liz for grammar (she’s picky) and Betty for continuity (she’s the one who will pick up anything that doesn’t make sense). 

After that I went back to the disbelieving state again and was sure someone was having a joke at my expense. Then the letter came. It was from the Lord Provost of Dundee, and that was the moment it became real for me. The only thing was, there were two conditions. The first one was that my title would have to be changed – I had called the book The Screaming Woods which I thought was a good, catchy title, but I would have agreed to anything at that stage. If they had said ‘jump’, I would have said ‘how high’. The second condition was I had to tell no one I had won the prize, there was a moratorium on the information until the publication day. I panicked. I’d already told Liz and Betty, and I was terrified they would take the prize away from because I’d gone against the moratorium, so Liz and Betty were sworn to secrecy. 

There was another problem with this, because it prevented me from approaching an agent for representation until after the book was published. You can imagine what any agent would feel when I approached them afterwards.

I know it sounds trite but when I feared I would lose the prize, it wasn’t the cash element I was afraid to lose it was the publishing part of the deal. I don’t suppose anyone other than a wannabe writer would understand that. But I had been writing for twenty years, the past ten of which I had been trying to get novels published. So publication was a big deal for me.

I entered into the next phase, the surreal phase, after a meeting with the Book Prize organisers. You see everything went quiet for months after that, so it became unreal, as if it hadn’t happened. I heard nothing until April 2009, and after that things started to move. There was the contract to sign, the editing to get through. The removal of 7,000 words, the addition of 7,000 new words, a further removal of 7,000 words – where did those 14,000 words go I wonder now, but boy it was a learning experience in the value of editing.

So finally the launch. I was whisked up to Dundee with a mesmerised son who hadn’t a clue why I had demanded his presence. It was a whirlwind experience with interviews by the news media and the telly, followed by a publicity shoot in Templeton Woods, which one photographer described as ‘spooky’. Then the big fancy reception where my identity was revealed and the cheque handed over. Oh, and at last, the joy of signing my very own book. I felt I had reached the heights of success.

MJM – From the irony in your tone, I’m guessing you came back down to earth with a thump?

Chris - Alas, even though the first print run sold out within four months, and we are now into reprints, the publisher declined to publish my second book. So my fame was fleeting. Never mind, I thought, someone else will want it. But I hadn’t bargained on the recession which hit publishers as much as anybody else, and after two years of prostrating myself to publishers and agents, I’d had enough, and Night Watcher was published as an eBook.

So now I am testing pastures new (yes I know that’s a cliché) and hoping that people will like Night Watcher as much as they liked Dead Wood.

MJM – I know it’s early days but what has been your experience of ‘going solo’ with the e-book format so far?

Chris – In one word ‘liberating’.

I spent the last two years wondering if I would ever get my second novel published. I started to doubt myself, as most authors do. Going from the heights when I thought Night Watcher was brilliant, to the lows when I thought it was crap. Luckily my readers seem to like it. I had periods (the crap ones) when I did nothing to seek publication, and periods where I sent it to publishers and agents hoping I would strike lucky. In the meantime the hassle of chasing agents and publishers was getting in the way of writing the next one.

So when I finally made the decision to e-publish it lifted a great weight off me and I now wonder why on earth I didn’t do it before. As you know I’m a bit of a techno geek, so I researched how to go about making Night Watcher an e-book. In the process I discovered masses of information out there, and at the end of the day it wasn’t too difficult.

Having taken the plunge, Night Watcher is now on sale for Kindle, Sony Reader, Nook and iPad.

MJM – What have been the pitfalls?

Chris – The main problem after publishing is, of course, promotion. How on earth was I to get my book noticed in a saturated market of other e-books, particularly when some of them were selling for pennies. I decided that I wanted to sell it relatively cheaply, but not so cheaply that readers would think it couldn’t be up to much. So I decided on $3.99, which works out at £2.82 (Amazon added VAT) as that seemed to be a price that was affordable but did not devalue the book.

The other aspect is the time taken up with promotion – a new blog to service, keeping my web site up to date, posting on a variety of forums. I discovered Kindle Boards which is fun. Facebooking regularly, Tweeting (hadn’t done that before and still learning) Begging readers to put reviews up, and whatever I think will attract readers’ attention. One thing I discovered is that many of the Kindle forums, with the exception of Kindle Boards, don’t take kindly to self promotion, and the comments can be quite cutting.

Perhaps the biggest pitfall for an e-publishing author, and that is the matter of tax. As a UK author, tax is paid in the UK, but if you sell in the US you are also liable for US tax – a double whammy. There is a way round this which is quite convoluted. The UK has an agreement with the US that British earners should be exempt from US tax, however to qualify for this exemption an author is required to get an ITIN (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number) from the US tax authorities (IRS). The only way to get this is to send or take your passport (original) to the US authorities along with the necessary paperwork.

However you also need an IRS mandated signed-on-letterhead letter from your publisher or distributor and as far as I am aware Amazon do not supply this. Smashwords will supply the letter but only after you have earned $10 from your sales.

The ITIN once obtained can be used to send all e-book publishers, including Amazon, the necessary forms to exempt the author from paying US tax.  I have applied for my letter which will take 6 weeks to come and after that I will be applying for an ITIN. Once the procedure is complete I’ll put up a blog on the process.

Be aware, an author who does not apply for an ITIN will lose 30% of earnings to US tax.

MJM – What's your next project?

Chris - I have 2 writing projects and 1 editing project on the go just now. I have started a historical crime but I want to keep the subject matter under wraps for the moment because this is something I don’t think has been done before. I’m also a third of the way into another contemporary crime based on a girl who has been missing for 5 years and internet predators. This is another dark one. My editing project involves resurrecting the first novel I ever wrote – wait for it – it’s a historical fishing saga. I had intended to leave that one in the bottom drawer but it’s actually quite a good story, so I’m revising, polishing and editing, in preparation for making it an e-book. Won’t all my friends be surprised?

(and there we finish on a big lesson to all new writers – you need to keep working!)


  1. Looks good, Michael. I've just got my head up from revision/editing h***. Tomorrow I need to read the whole manuscript to make sure it still makes sense and to make sure I haven't added more proofing errors than I removed. The blog has cheered me up. Onwards and upwards!

  2. it was interesting to read how Chris won an award.
    A nice little interview, Michael!

  3. Just you keep at it, Chris.

    Thanks, Dezmond.

  4. Excellent interview, Chris and Michael. Night Watcher is so good, I can't believe the publisher didn't snap it up! Their loss - good for you getting it out there, Chris.

  5. Great interview. Thanks for telling us about your experiences, Chris, and for the tax info which sounds like a huge hurdle to sort out.

  6. Great interview, really enjoyed it. My first attempt to post a comment vanished so apologies if something appears twice. Was interested in Chris describing e-Book publishing as 'liberating'after getting nowhere with agents/publishers depsite the success of Dead Wood. Way to go.