By Mark Young
One of my favorite authors is Ernest Hemingway. As I prepared to interview our guest—international bestselling novelist Vincent Zandri—I could not help but make comparisons between these two men. Both men traveled extensively in Europe, loved to write, spent an awful lot of time in cafes and bars, and enjoyed the outdoors.
There are differences. Hemingway and Vincent became freelance journalists, but I am sure Papa never dabbled as a punk rock band member or studied the world’s first wind turbine-powered skyscraper in Bahrain. To be fair, these things did not exist when Hemingway was earning a couple of Pulitzers for literature, but I doubt he’d have moved in that direction if they did.
In many ways, though, Vincent seems to have followed the Hemingway template for living. He regularly crisscrosses the Atlantic, spending a part of the year in New York City and other parts in Italy and elsewhere. He has been able to choose a lifestyle that allows him to wander, gathering great material for his novels while making a living.
Mark: Thanks for joining us today, Vincent. In one paragraph, how would you characterize Vincent Zandri, the novelist, for our readers?
Vincent: Well that’s a tough one. First and foremost, I’m a hard worker. You have to be in this business. Maybe to the point of obsession. But I’m also still learning. I suppose I will always be learning as a writer. This is a solitary existence and I live in my mind a lot more than the average man or woman. But I try and balance the cerebral life of the writer with the physical, making sure to spend as much time away from the typewriter as it were, as I do in front of it. After all I wouldn’t have anything to write about if I stayed put all the time. Thus the frequent flier miles.
Mark: I know you’ve written several articles about your experiences moving from traditional publishing to following an independent publishing path. At one time, your novels were released by traditional publishers like Delacorte and Dell, and then you decided to become an indie author, working with outfits like Stonehouse Ink. Recently, you signed a contract to publish through Amazon’s imprint, Thomas & Mercer. What led you to make these changes?
Vincent: Somehow it just seemed like a no brainer to sign a couple of deals with an indie press like StoneHouse/StoneGate Ink when they were offering an incredible 50% royalty rate on e-books. Plus they were getting the editing and cover art done in a matter of a few short months as opposed to a year or two like the biggies. My agent at the time strongly suggested I give the e-book-heavy independent house a try once they offered up a couple of contracts. And it was one of the best moves I’ve ever made in my life. Those deals led to my selling a couple hundred thousand e-book editions of The Innocent alone and that’s what led once more to a major deal. So I guess I’ve come full circle. But this time, the major publisher is similar to the indie, in that they are very e-book heavy and they are also marketing geniuses. Not to totally blow their horn, but Thomas & Mercer/Amazon is the place to be if you want to make a great living as an author.
Mark: Give us your viewpoint on what is happening in the publishing world and what the future might hold for new authors?
Vincent: At this point, I believe that things are changing all the time. What worked a year ago in the indie world, such as pricing your books at .99, doesn’t work anymore. Now you have to do freebie specials to get people to notice. So what happens next year? Do we pay people to read our books? I’m being a comic hear, but the reality is that the major publishers are very aware now of what works in the e-book market in particular and what doesn’t. Now they are beginning to offer competitive royalties and they are pricing their e-books for less. So it’s just a matter of time until the “indie experience” as it were, no longer works for the majority of authors who insist on self-publishing or signing with an indie label. Plus the market is becoming flooded with sub-par material, and many Kindle readers and the like, are fed up with bad work. In the end, it will be business as usual. The good work will float to the top and the bad stuff will sink, and fade away.
Mark: I understand that Thomas & Mercer will be releasing your new novel, Murder By Moonlight as well as many of your previously released novels. What is Murder By Moonlight about and when can we expect it to be available?
Vincent: “Murder” is based on the real life story of Chris Porco, a young man who is doing a couple of life sentences for taking an axe to his parents while they slept. He killed his dad but his mother somehow survived the attack. Originally she fingers Chris as the killer, but later on recanted. One of those a-mother’s-love-for-a-son-overrides-everything-even-murder kinds of things. Murder by Moonlight is a fictionalized account. Despite the seriousness of what happened, it was a lot of fun to write since, as an novelist, I can wax poetic and use artistic license while not being bogged down entirely by factual material. The murder and attempted murder took place in an Albany county white-bread hamlet called Bethlehem. You can’t make stuff like that up. It should be available in the late spring.
Mark: How would you compare working with Thomas & Mercer compared to working with traditional publishers like Delacorte and Dell? What are the similarities and differences?
Vincent: It’s sort of the same experience in that there’s the whole agent, publisher, advances, contracts, release dates, publicity department, etc. kind of corporate atmosphere stuff. But much different in that these guys actually want your input every step of the way. Even in the content editing phase, they take the attitude that the author is the boss. The suggested edits are just that. Suggested. However, my content editor, a guy named David Downing who is a fiction writer and MFA in writing teacher, did an unbelievable job getting me to really reach for the essence of the novels. It was very hard work, and I’m still pretty tired from the whole thing. We did five, back to back edits in a row, plus I finished the first draft of a new novel called Precious. This was also at a time when my father dropped dead after going for a run, so it’s been one hell of a few months. But that’s where you can find the major difference between Dell and T&M. When my dad died, these guys were on the phone with me telling me not to sweat deadlines, take care of your family first. They sent me wine and food and sympathy cards. You didn’t get the “personal treatment” at Dell. I made some nice friends there, and partied a lot, but it wasn’t the same. I’m happy where I’ve landed.
Mark: Recently, Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million announced they would not be carrying Amazon titles. How do you see these business decisions affecting writers like yourself, Barry Eisler, and Joe Konrath, who’ve decided to team up with Amazon?
Vincent: I don’t care. Seriously. I don’t care. Here’s the way my royalty structure is broken down: 80% Amazon; 10% B&N; 10% miscellaneous. Or something like that. It’s pretty much the same for the others you mentioned too. Those authors published at the Big Six will realize a bigger sales number at B&N, but that’s because the corporate giants cater to those stores more than they do the reader, who is the real, inevitable client in all this. Amazon caters directly to the client, not the bookstore. That’s why they are taking over the world. Not because they are cut throat business people, but because they are the first operation to actually do things the right way by directly connecting readers to the authors they want to read. It’s really very simple and beautiful in its lack of complication and sincerity.
Mark: I read that you might be writing a screenplay? Can you tell us something about this venture?
Vincent: ‘Might’ be is the key phrase. And I’m not actually writing the screenplay so much as my books are always getting reads from movie companies, producers and actors. I expect to connect one day and have a movie made, but I’m not holding my breath in the meantime. If I had a buck for every time an agent told me to be available for a phone call with the likes of George Clooney or Dustin Hoffman or DeNiro, I’d be a wealthy man. Like Papa Hemingway said, Hollywood is a strange business. You drive across the desert due west and stop when you reach the state line. There will be a car waiting for you there. A man will get out. He will be wearing sun glasses and a black suit. You hand him the book, he hands you the money. You nod at one another and head back to your respective rides. No words need ever be exchanged.
Mark: Many of us can only travel vicariously through the lives and experiences of others. Since you are a world traveler, is there one place in your journeys that you’d pick as the best place in the world to live and visit—or are you still searching?
Vincent: I’m always searching. And I’m one of those persons who can be living in Florence for a month or two and lament that I’m not in Paris or Istanbul or New York. I guess it’s like writing. I’m always exploring and seeking out new opportunities that will improve both my life and hopefully, the lives of others. I leave for Italy again in early March so I can finish up some research in Venice. Venice is a nice place to go and take stock of your life. If you can’t get some thinking done in a place like that, you don’t think. If you don’t feel blessed while you’re there watching the boats bob in the Grand Canal in the never still gray water, then you are without a soul. I’m a thinker and I feel blessed. I’m a lucky man.
Vincent Zandri is the No. 1 International Bestselling author of THE INNOCENT, GODCHILD, THE REMAINS, MOONLIGHT FALLS, CONCRETE PEARL, MOONLIGHT RISES and SCREAM CATCHER. He is also the author of the bestselling digital shorts, PATHOLOGICAL and MOONLIGHT MAFIA. Harlan Coben has described his novels as "...gritty, fast-paced, lyrical and haunting," while the New York Post called THE INNOCENT, "Sensational...Masterful...Brilliant!" In March, April and May of 2011, he sold more than 100,000 Kindle E-Book editions of his novels. In September 2011, he signed a "very nice" deal with the Thomas & Mercer crime imprint of Amazon for the publication of his new novels, Blue Moonlight and Murder by Moonlight, along with the re-publication of many of his back-list titles, including The Innocent and The Remains. Zandri's list of publishers also include Delacorte, Dell, StoneHouse Ink and StoneGate Ink. An MFA in Writing graduate of Vermont College, Zandri's work is translated into many languages including Dutch, Russian, and Japanese. An adventurer, foreign correspondent, and freelance photo-journalist for RT, Globalspec, IBTimes and more, he lives in New York. For more go to WWW.VINCENTZANDRI.COM.