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    Interview with Stephen Lawhead
Interview by Ciara Grey


This issue, we are proud an interview with New York Times best-selling author, Stephen Lawhead. To correspond with this interview, we are also reviewing his latest release

Fiction Factor - What prompted you to sell your novels online?

Stephen Lawhead - My website, http://www.stephenlawhead.com, came about because there were already several fan sites which, however enthusiastic, provided a fair amount of misinformation. Even so, I resisted taking the plunge, thinking it was all too complicated and I didn’t have the time, etc.

In the end, I was convinced by my editor at HarperCollins who said, "You don’t have to like it. You don’t even have to agree with it. Just do it. You’ll be able to measure the benefit."

Well, we launched two years ago, and I have to say, I really enjoy it. We post reviews, and notices of upcoming releases, competitions, and all sorts of things. And one of the benefits is making my books available to people right at the point where they’re interested.

FF -Has it boosted sales in foreign countries?

SL - I believe so. There is a page on the website for people to leave a question, message, or what have you, and I hear from people all over the world – Finland to Tasmania, and beyond – even China.

Also, we have a bibliography page listing all the different foreign editions; so if, say, a French reader wants to find out if a particular title has been published in France, they can quickly look it up and then order it.

FF - Are there any drawbacks to selling online?

SL - A few. The main one is you have to be set up for it and prepared either to devote time, space, materials, and energy to do it yourself, or get someone to fill the orders for you. Either way, you are going to be involved up to your eyeballs. Most writers I know would rather spend their time writing. I try to keep to the role of conceptual manager, and ‘farm out’ as many of the other chores as I can.

FF - Is your publisher pleased with the results of these sales?

SL Publishers are pleased with every sale.

FF - What other things do you do to help promote your novels?

SL - I’m open to about anything. Mostly, it comes down to in-store appearances – signings, readings, cheese and wine evenings, things like that.

The most successful (and costly) promotion I’ve done, however, came in the form of a tour I undertook with two professional musicians for the release of The Celtic Crusades series. We put together over an hour of Celtic music and readings from the new book and some of my other Celt-inspired novels. The tour was sponsored in part by the Borders chain in the US, and we did 22 performances in 21 days along the entire West Coast – beginning in Seattle and ending in Los Angeles, hitting every major town along the way.

It was fantastic. Where people might not come out to hear yet another weedy author read from his book, they will come out for an evening of good music. The publisher liked it because we signed and sold hundreds of books, and the musicians liked it because they could sell their CDs.

Borders liked it because they could sponsor a first-rate event to bring people into their stores, and all it cost them was the advertising.

FF - Would you consider publishing through e-books?

SL - One day, perhaps. But not at present, and not until ebook publishers get their act together and give authors a fair shake. Right now there are negotiations under way with most major publishing houses to bring ebook royalties into line with traditional contract rates, or better; so we’ll see what the future brings.

FF - Do you think test marketing through e-books is a good thing or a bad thing?

SL - Anything that gets people reading your book is a good thing. I’d put chapters on milk cartons if I thought it would shift books.

FF - Do you think e-publishing will take over traditional publishing?

SL - It could happen, I suppose. But the book is already supremely user-friendly – no batteries, no clunky interface, no awkward screen, no glitches; also, it’s completely portable, never crashes, instantly accessible, etc. Given all that, it is very hard to see how the electronic book can improve on the plain old ink-on-paper variety. And no matter how many people fall in love with the new technology there are always going to be millions more who like the good ol’ book just the way it is. Having said that, I don’t see any reason why the two cannot peacefully co-exist.

FF - How did you break into the publishing world?

SL - I wrote a book. Really, that was it. I sat down and applied myself to the job, and when I finished, I sent it off to a publisher. A few weeks later, I got a call from the editor saying they wanted to buy it. It was just that simple.

Unfortunately, the figure they had in mind for a purchase price, and the figure I had in mind – considering how long it took me to write, and what I needed to live on in order to keep on writing – were so far apart that what should have been a very happy day for me was the just first of a long series of astonishing disappointments.

But, I persevered, and somehow managed to stay in the game long enough to build a little momentum. While I’ve never had a runaway bestseller, I have the next best thing: books that are still on the shelf 10 or 15 years after release, still selling, still ticking over. I am beginning to think that is actually better in the long run. There are as many one-hit wonders in the book trade as in the music biz.

But I am in it for the long haul. I want my books to be read and enjoyed for many years to come.

FF - Thank you answering our questions. We appreciate you taking the time.

Visit Stephen Lawhead's site (
http://www.stephenlawhead.com) to see more of his work. You can read Fiction Factor's review on Mr. Lawhead's latest release Avalon here.


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