Liad Shoham is a successful Israeli author who recently had his book, Lineup, translated into English. As we all realize, being a successful author in one country does not necessarily mean you’ll be able to cross over to another countries especially if they have difference languages and cultures. Publishers don’t like to take chances and one must be an excellent author and present their case in order to even be considered.
Q. What prompted you, a successful attorney, to start writing crime/mystery books?
A. Well, when I started writing I was hardly a successful attorney. I was 26 years old and just graduated a master degree from the University of London. I came home to Israel and started working as a lawyer. The notion that this was the “first day of the rest of my life” depressed me. So in the evenings when I came back from work I started writing short stories based on my experiences in London. I never wrote before and discovered that I enjoyed it very much. I initially had no thought of publishing but when the pile got bigger and bigger; I decided to try my luck and sent it to a few publishers in Israel. I told no one about this and received several rejections. One of the calls was from a publishing house that said they liked my writing but did not like the book. They suggested that I try writing crime novels because I was a lawyer (although I specialize in commercial law). I immediately rejected the idea. You see, I am kind of a geek with no first-hand experience of crime, criminals or the police and the idea that I would write crime novels, sounded absolutely absurd. I said thank you for the idea, and our ways parted.
I kept on receiving denials, and I thought that was it. But then I got a call from the largest publishing house in Israel saying they wanted to publish my book London in a Pita Bread and my writing career began…
From then on I was infected by the bug. I wrote several books about life in Israel and also one about the bible. All the books were compilations of humoristic short stories and I gave no further thought to the world of crime/mystery. But then two things happened. First, my sister became a public defendant and during family dinners started to tell stories about her work. I became fascinated with these stories and kept on wanting to hear more. Secondly, a new chief editor was appointed in my publishing house. He called me to meet with him and suggested that I will try writing crime novels (once again because of my legal background). I told him no as well. I was still the same old geek with no exposure to crime. However, at that point in my life I was married and when I got home and told my wife about this she told me to try it. I did what every good husband does: I obeyed and gave it a shot.
I started working with an editor that specializes in crime fiction and I think it was love at first sight. I felt that I had arrived where I belong. To date, I have written six thrillers and frankly I am enjoying every minute.
I still work as a lawyer though. I think it is healthy for me to get out of the house to a regular job. Writing creates solitude. I feel that my works as a writer benefits from my working as a lawyer and vice a versa. Also, the one time I suggested to my wife that I should quit my job and focus on being a writer her answer was: “that is a great idea, for after we divorce”. I like being married.
Q. Israel is a small country and I’m sure that it’s tough to get published. How did you manage to catch the eye of the publishing industry?
A. Although Israel is a small country there are a lot of books being published. I think that per capita the number of books being published in Israel is one of the highest in the world. I think I was very lucky to catch the eye of the publishing industry. As I wrote, my first book was not a crime novel but short humorous stories about life of an Israeli student in London. After I published several books I asked the publishing house why they picked me and the answer I got was that I made them laugh.
Q. What are the differences in marketing books Israel vs. in Europe or the US?
A. Lineup was just published so I do not know very much about marketing books in the US. The US is obviously a very large market and I feel like a small fish in the ocean hoping to be discovered. In a way, starting in new country takes me back to the days I published my first book. I know I should say it is challenging, but most of the time it is just hard and frustrating. I know that I have a great team backing me at Harper Collins, and I hope we will succeed.
Q. The US publishing industry is not known for gambling on foreign, unfamiliar books. How did you manage to sell your books to an international market? Did you have a say in the translation/marketing?
A. You are right. I am published in Europe (Germany, France, Italy, Denmark, Russia, England and etc.), but this is the first time in the US. I think that all the credit here should go to Harper Collins for taking this leap of faith. I think that there is something very exciting about reading a foreign novel. You not only have the opportunity to read a good story but also to learn about a new country, a different culture. The main plot of “Lineup” could have happened anywhere, but the setting is very Israeli.
Regarding the translation – As I speak English, I was able to read the book (something I could not do with the Danish version, for example). I think that Sara Kitai who translated the book did an excellent job, and it reads very naturally.
Q. What are the challenges of book promotions in the social media age?
A. I think that social media is great. It creates a wider stage for books to appear in and gives rise to different opinions. As a writer it gives me an opportunity to get closer to the readers. I take very seriously what people write about my books and learn from it. In fact, before I publish in Israel I send the books to a couple of bloggers that wrote interesting reviews, to see what they think.
Shameless plug disguised as a wiseass question: Why do you love ManOfLaBook.com so much and often visit the website?
Wiseguy Answer: Unfortunately, book blogging in Israel is not very developed. I am very intrigued by this phenomenon and have been following some U.S. blogs. One of the reasons I initially picked ManOfLaBook.com is because of the interest War World II that caught my eye. Once I joined, I discovered a unique voice with some true and unusual insights.
Thank Mr. Shoham for his excellent answers and I wish him continued success in Israel and around the world.
Zohar – Man of l aBook