Matt Hilton quit his career as a police officer to pursue his love of writing tight, cinematic American-style thrillers. He is the author of the high-octane Joe Hunter thriller series. He has a new novel out featuring Tess Grey. Matt met me at The Slaughterhouse where we talked about his new release and the publishing landscape.
Tell us your latest news.
After publishing ten books – and a bunch of short stories – in my Joe Hunter thriller series, I felt it was high time to stretch my wings with some new ideas, and write something featuring brand new characters. I’m pleased to announce that the first in a new series has just been published by Severn House Publishers, called Blood Tracks. Readers of my action thrillers will be happy to note I haven’t strayed too far from the path, but I’ve also added more of a mystery or suspense element to these new novels to appease readers of regular crime fiction too. The books feature Tess Grey, a medically discharged Sheriff’s deputy, who accepts the job of tracking down a witness on behalf of her local DA’s office. Being from Portland, Maine, in the USA, with a trip to the bayous of Louisiana on the cards, Tess hires the services of renegade ex-con Nicolas “Po” Villere as her guide. They are an odd pairing who should not work together, but the old adage that opposites attract is true in their case. While they search for Crawford Wynne, they too are being hunted, and the two must work together to defeat a determined and sadistic killer. I’m chuffed to see that the reviews Blood Tracks is receiving are good ones (wipes sweat off brow), and on the strength of the first book have been commissioned to write the second in the series for release in November 2016. Fans of Joe Hunter need not fear, Joe Hunter 11 – No Safe Place – is already in the bag and I’ll have news on its publication soon.
How has the publishing landscape changed since you were first published?
My first book was published in May 2009, and since then I’ve watched the face of publishing change quite dramatically. Just as my debut was hitting the shelves, the financial crash had
just more or less happened and there was a lot of panic and insecurity going on in the publishing industry with smaller publishers disappearing or being snatched up by the large houses. Editors and others working in the industry were making a dash for new more secure positions so there was a period where there was a lack of continuity in publishing for a while. I think my launch (at the time Hodder’s biggest thriller launch off 2009) kind of fizzled instead of getting any major notice. The problem at the time was that the bookshops were all in a panic, with lots closing down and even a chain like Borders disappearing practically overnight. People/authors thought the advent of Amazon would replace sales lost in bricks and mortars stores, but for mid-list authors and those from small independents it wasn’t the case. Ebook sales have never met the early loss of sales of paperbacks for most authors making inroads into the bookshops at that time (some of course have been massively successful via ebook sales, but they’re few and far between by comparison). Also, most of the supermarket chains stopped stocking paperbacks and only took hardbacks from the massive white-collar sellers and celebrities, so it really damaged mid-listers’ sales. Because the opportunities for selling large numbers of paperbacks have disappeared for most authors now, the shape of publishing has definitely changed to match, where the large publishers now throw all their marketing budgets at the sure fire bestsellers and the fad books that come along. Large advances are pretty much a thing of the past (though not totally unknown), and interestingly a lot of new authors signed up these days by the big publishing houses have usually already shown a proven record of sales via Ebooks etc. There have of course been leaps in publishing opportunities for authors who weren’t fortune enough to snag a publishing deal, self-publishing Ebooks and audio books being great examples, and I think it has helped in the rise we are seeing now in some of the independent publishers who are turning out excellent books, and also offering quality material from authors who might not have been given a chance via the traditional route. As an author I see myself as being a hybrid of traditional and indie publishing, so have reaped the benefits of both (but also suffered the failings of both at the same time), so don’t claim that one route is better than the other. Personally my traditionally published books have been my best-sellers and my self-pubbed stuff has failed to find a large audience, so I could argue that the traditional publishing model has been best for me, but that’s all a matter of personal opinion, because the traditional publishers have also shut down my creativity and won’t touch anything I’ve offered them outside of my usual thriller output: to do so I’ve had to take my new series to a different publisher. I understand why, and am not bitter, but at the same time I’m thankful that the self-publishing opportunity is there to get my wilder stuff out there (I also write horror, supernatural and sci-fi novels my usual publisher won’t entertain). So, yeah, in a nutshell, the industry has been good and bad to me in ways, but it is also ever changing and I don’t know what’s around the corner. Who knows, this time next year I might be praising one method over another in direct contrast to what I’d do now. I only hope that I’m still published, and will be happy however the books are making it into the hands of readers.
What do you think the future holds for publishing?
I’m largely speculating here: I think there’s a move afoot from the major publishers to reclaim sales on actual physical books. Whether or not I’m right, I’ve noticed that the prices of Ebooks published by the major publishers and even some of the indie publishing houses have suddenly jumped up in price, and I’ve a feeling this is to make readers think they are better off buying the hard copy rather than a digital download for much the same price. With my latest Joe Hunter novel the hardback was on sale for only a couple of pounds more than the Ebook was, and the Ebook was almost twice the price of the soon to be published paperback – subliminally I guess this might urge some readers to put off buying either the hardback and Ebook and wait for the paperback publication instead. I’m not sure what the thinking is behind this pricing model my publisher has followed (I’ve asked and only got an unclear “let’s wait and see”-type answer) and to be honest haven’t seen an uplift in hardback sales, only a decrease in Ebook sales to date. Hopefully when the paperback does hit the stands it snaps up all those lost sales, but that’s yet to be seen. It’s not only my Ebooks that have been priced highly, I’ve noticed the same to be true for many of the big names, so can only guess it is some kind of combined strategy to take back some of the market dominated by Amazon. As far as the bigger picture is concerned, I see the big publishers/big names continuing to dominate the charts, and getting their books in front of readers, while the mid-listers continue to struggle to get any notice. Saying that, there are a few good independent publishers on their way up, so we are seeing more choice and diversity. Ebooks, I reckon, will continue to sell, but I think the boom times are largely over and those authors making a healthy living off Ebooks might see their income shrink in the coming years. New technology will always appear, and I’m wondering if the next big thing will be audio-visual, or even interactive books, read/played via apps, maybe even with some kind of CG visual tie-ins – I don’t know, maybe I’m looking too far into the future but I can’t imagine it being too far off (just remember you heard it here first – all patents pending), especially for children’s and YA books and for certain genres. As far as physical books are concerned, they’ll still be there, and will be for a long time to come, but whether or not they are the readers’ first go to choice for entertainment remains to be seen.
What else is on the cards for you this year?
For 2016 I hope to see the publication of two books, the first being the eleventh in my Joe Hunter thriller series currently published by Hodder and Stoughton. It’s called “No Safe Place” and this time sees Joe Hunter accepting a job to protect a small boy whose mother was the victim of a house invasion – the trouble is that the boy’s father is objectionable to the idea and doesn’t make Hunter’s job easy, particularly when the father realises Hunter considers him a suspect in his wife’s murder. Previous Hunter novels have been full of slam-bang action, and although there’s still plenty of action in this one, it is with a different and more domestic emphasis. I’m hoping Hunter fans will love what they’ve come to expect from my books, and new readers will be pleasantly surprised and go on to pick up the back list. Also next November (2016) will see publication of Blood Tracks 2 (working title only), with the return of Tess Grey, Nicolas “Po” Villere and the larger than life Pinky Leclerc as they try to locate and save an abducted woman while being caught between three bad guys all with the intention of reaching the girl first for their own reasons. The book is written, and I’m now thinking of penning a couple of standalone short stories or novellas featuring Hunter, Tess and Po, and maybe even another action hero character of mine called Dirk Ramm to fill the void between books. I’m also working on a collaborative effort at the moment, details of which it’s far too early to share, and whether the project gets off the ground or not is still in the lap of the gods. Plus, knowing me, my urge to write something creepy or disturbing will probably rear its ugly head, so don’t be surprised if you see another horror or supernatural tale from me turning up.
Matt thank you for an informative interview.
Matt Hilton’s Amazon author page