Tuesday, October 25, 2005

International Thriller Writers

M.J. Rose is a lady of formidable energy, and it turns out that she is involved in yet another enterprise. On her blog Buzz, Balls & Hype, M.J. has a piece about the International Thriller Writers organisation. This is an outfit set up by some of the world's top thriller writers, and its web site contains a mass of information which is of interest and value to anyone who reads thrillers, and particularly, I suspect, to anyone who is trying to write one.

There are, for example, articles about the art of writing, by some top names; a suggested reading list of classic material; a news page; information about a ThrillerFest to be held in Arizona in 2006; and a whole lot more. Oh, and there is also a free thriller-readers newsletter.

M.J. Rose is on the Board of Directors and also chairs the marketing committee. No, I have no idea how she does it either. Must be some sort of crossroads-at-midnight deal if you ask me.


Iain said...

At the risk of hubris, I must take issue with Your Grumpiness. I have to say that I regard all encouragement of aspiring novelists as irresponsible. Having (and not for the first time) recommended a website to such innocents, you deserve to be shot.

I have previously drawn a distinction between the publishable and the unpublishable classes. Essentially, the former is composed of celebs, people with connections, and, at the margins, those with saleable CVs (i.e. life stories which publishers think marketable). Everyone else is unpublishable.

Lest there should be any misunderstanding, let me make clear that non-fiction is different: if you are uniquely qualified to write on a particular topic which the marketeers think saleable, then you might have a chance. And a specialised fiction publisher such as Mills & Boon, trading on imprint rather than on authors’ names, clearly constitutes an exception to the rule. Otherwise, what I am saying applies to major fiction publishers in general.

Some years ago, I approached a number of such publishers in the UK with a questionnaire designed to establish what the chances of the unpublishable classes really are. Replies were somewhat coy, but my tentative conclusion was that no more than one in four thousand of their submissions is accepted.

Take the case of Francis Ellen. (And please believe me when I tell you that I am not Francis Ellen and have never met him.) Last year Francis Ellen self-published The Samplist, a novel which I would warmly recommend for sheer entertainment value. (If you try it and don’t like it, don’t blame me: I know it to be good, but I can’t guarantee anyone else’s reaction.)

Well, The Samplist having garnered outstanding reviews everywhere up to and including the Times Literary Supplement, the author hoped that he might interest a big publisher, who would be able to get it into the bookshops (which otherwise were not interested) and give it the marketing necessary for it to take off. He hoped in vain.

Now the strenuous efforts of Francis Ellen, highly computer-literate and not publicity-shy, to promote his novel online and elsewhere, have been to little avail. So tell me, if you are an aspiring novelist of the unpublishable classes (if not, use any connections you have, but don’t kid yourself that you’re in the same boat as everyone else), what makes you think that you might succeed where Francis Ellen has failed? Publication of a first novel is not guaranteed even for the publishable classes. For the unpublishable classes, rejection, as nearly as possible, is. It’s a mug’s game.

Bernita said...

Dear me, iain's post is reminiscent but opposite to the usual cry of (insert best-selling author's name here)winning-the-lottery example.
Thank you, Grumpy, for the link. A lot of interesting advice to be considered there.

Anonymous said...

Bloody hell missus. I'm not dead yet; and neither is my novel.

I didn’t get your bizarro-world lottery analogy at all. I think young Iain was saying that he thinks the novel (The Samplist) is a good read and that he believes it should be picked up by a major so that it can sit on shelves beside all the hundreds of thousands of other books. There’s no requirement for any lottery win here. Simply a little business acumen on the part of those who have the power to place sad, pathetic, self-published, self-regarding sad sacks into the heady world of the ‘properly published’.

Thank the gods for people like Iain. He read my novel and enjoyed it and had the decency to take the time to comment upon the brain-dead publishing industry. (I know...I know… if it were good enough it would have been picked up by one of those crack literary forensic teams publishers spend millions to train.)

Of course, having had only five or six people at different publishing houses ‘love’ it is not yet enough to propel my dark-side lottery winner into the light. You see, they worked at different publishers and therefore I have to wait until they work at the same publisher, or they have to wait until I walk into Chatto with an AK-47 to do some homespun PR before you’re inspired to wonder whether it might be worth asking for down at the local library instead of simply cringing.

You see, publishers and agents like to get passionate and excited about these things. Without the passion the advertisers tell them to stuff their advertising budgets up their arses and distributors need to see at least the suggestion of a wet patch on trousers before they’ll order a pallet. One simply cannot sell a book that is merely good. You see, proper publishers have tons of books reviewed by the TLS so when I say mine got a good review from the TLS and a terrific review from BBC Music Magazine and a tremendous one from the British Science Fiction Association, well, they hardly fart. I suspect that’s because they work for large companies.

You know, the bird that does the reviews on The New Scientist (who asked for two copies and promised a review before bumping it) said she liked to help small publishers, then she cited a company that turns over 350 million pounds a year as an example of the type of company she likes to help (as well as yours truly who got no help at all from her and she should fork out for the books instead of selling them for a quid apiece and they end up killing my Amazon sales).

I’m not rich missus but I’ve sold more copies of this novel than you might imagine. I believe (again, apologies Iain, if I’m overstepping the mark) that if the book were available in three or four hundred shops instead of the three or four that actually stock it, I might get to do the kind of simple arithmetic so lacking in the publishing world.

If you’re looking for advice here’s some good advice: Know that trying to get a book into a single shop is about as hard as getting published (every time you do it). Yes, you heard it here first. After getting reviewed (on my tod) by Scotland on Sunday, The Arts Show on the BBC, The Scotsman, The TLS, The Guardian (wankers) and other major media hangouts (where they actually have people with rifles who shoot the self-published on sight; and I owe two fops at The Telegraph a slap in the puss) a book shop manager asked me to send him a synopsis. This was after I was ‘approved by the head office’ of his giant conglomerate that I won’t mention here because Waterstone’s are a bunch of pea-brained dimwits who will kill this industry if we (people who write books, people who enjoy them, and people who cringe in public instead of just reading the fuckers) don’t stand up to them.

If this is a reverse lottery then in reverse-world pinheads get to stand on your neck.

We should boycott the bastards. Well, I already have. You should boycott them. In fact, even better, don’t boycott them. Put your hand in your pocket and buy my book.

Here’s another example? (Lest my point be missed): A film company recently turned The Samplist down because they thought that broadcasters would find the music world (where apparently my novel unfolds) “Alienating”. Does the English language contain the capacity to capture that level if idiocy? This from a company that brags about producing Eddie the Eagle! (If only I’d studied harder, gone to Cambridge and snagged a job as chief doughnut and coffee buyer at a film company I might have the foresight to see that Eddie the Eagle would conquer Hollywood.)

Fiction needs to be consistent while reality is filled with publishers who insist on giving us ‘reasons’ why they’re not excited enough.

Fucking dimwits. I actually produced the music ‘played’ by the fictional virtuoso that my fictional characters create; I did it almost exactly as described in the novel. Each individual note built from hundreds of samples with hundreds of variables to control and sculpt into a convincing performance. So far, I’ve been told by experts that are not full of shit that it sounds real. Other experts think it’s a fucking game and try to find the clues that I actually introduced deliberately in order to fool the human ear into thinking it’s hearing Bach instead of binary. I didn’t even try to produce the level of virtuosity that I claim in the text: They would have slaughtered me had I done so: But I can do so. I simply wanted to provide a flavour that publishers might see has PR value. CGI for the ear! A novel for the iPod Generation! A fictional character who can be populated by hundreds of real live musicians? An eternal musician forged in fiction?

Like I said lady. I’m not dead yet.

Francis Ellen. Author of (dear me) The Samplist

Available on Amazon and returned to Gardners from a shop near you.

Interview with Francis Ellen at: