Saturday, September 01, 2007

Pre-holiday clearance

The Guardian recently carried an article by Scott Rosenberg, a co-founder of and author of Dreaming in Code. He blogs at

Scott's subject was blogging, and he views it from something like a ten-year perspective. This is worth reading if you're thinking of starting a blog, or if you're already writing one and sometimes wonder why you're doing it.

My favourite quote from the article: 'Blogs have realised [i.e. made a reality] that old wisecracking twist on an Andy Warhol aphorism: that, someday, everyone will be famous for 15 people'.

On his own blog, in a post dated 29 August, Scott reflects on his Guardian piece and adds some further notes on correcting what appears in the first draft.

Chandler McGrew is a writer of hard-edged supernatural/suspense thrillers which are -- according to more reviewers than most of us get in a lifetime -- in the Dean Koontz tradition. This is not a sub-genre that I deal in much myself, but Mr McGrew and I occupy the same position in the literature versus commercial fiction argument. As his recent blog post testifies.

It has often been argued here that the greatest problem that writers face today is obscurity -- being lost like a piece of flotsam in the vast flood of publications. Compared with this problem, the risk of piracy is negligible. If only we could write something that people would think worth stealing!

All of that being the case, I have often published the full text of some of my novels online, in the form of pdf files; and indeed I would put all my stuff online but for the fact that it takes time, some of it is not available in digital form, et cetera.

Well, here's another supporter of the same point of view. His name is Jon Evans, and he's an established novelist. His third novel, a thriller called Invisible Armies, was recently published by Hodder & Stoughton. Now Jon is publishing a new novel as an online freebie in serial form.

The book is entitled Beasts of New York. It is very different from his thrillers: it's an urban fantasy about the animals of New York City, with a squirrel protagonist. Jon calls it a 'children's book for adults.' See the book's FAQ for details, including more on why he's doing this.

Jon also has an article on the question of obscurity versus piracy, and other related issues, in this month's issue of Canada's news magazine The Walrus.

The UK's Oldie magazine, aimed at the grumpy old people in the UK (a big market), has issued a books supplement with this month's copy. This is evidently to be a quarterly affair.

Well, everyone seems to be worried about the diminishing amount of space which newspapers and magazines devote to books, but personally I'm surprised that they give books as much space as they do. There are other things in life, you know.

Pick that man up and take him outside for some fresh air. He's only pretending to be shocked.

One or two readers have recently commented on the fact that my novels and other books are published under a variety of pen-names. This is true, and for a variety of reasons.

All my recent stuff (since 2000) is published through my own small press, Kingsfield Publications. And even a few years ago, it was clear that self-publishing under one's own name was not a smart move. So that's one reason why I used such names as Patrick Read and Anne Moore.

The other reason is that I write books which are in somewhat different styles, and certainly in widely differing genres. And I thought, at the time, that it might help readers if I 'branded' them in some way.

I now think that I was probably wrong on all counts. I don't think anyone with any brains automatically dismisses self-published books any longer. Such books are just as (well, almost as) likely to be taken seriously as any other kind.

As for branding, that didn't work either. An editor in a mainstream publishing house remarked to me, a couple of years ago, that my three 'Anne Moore' books are, in fact, so different, that no editor in her position could publish them as a package by one author. It would be 'too confusing' for the reader.

So if I was publishing those books today, I would put my own name on all of them, and the hell with it. The descriptions make it pretty clear, I think, what is on offer in each case, even though they do differ widely and sometimes wildly.

As far as young and wannabe writers are concerned, please be aware that my example is not one which you should follow if you want to have some sort of 'career' in mainstream publishing. Definitely not. The way to success is to identify the genre in which you are most likely to succeed, pick a clearly defined sub-genre in that overall genre, and write a series of books which are, effectively, the same book each time, but with enough variation to hold the reader's attention.

Good examples: Agatha Christie (who grew bored with repeating herself and occasionally wrote books as Mary Westmacott, just for a change), and P.G. Wodehouse.

In my own case I grew bored with that same-novel-every-time game fairly early on, and decided that if I couldn't have fun I wasn't going to bother. Hence the absence of worldly success. But I had a good time writing them though.

Oh dear, you have to laugh, don't you? Well I do, anyway.

A couple of times in the recent past we have noted the attempts by Saudi billionaire Khalid bin Mahfouz to silence the criticism of himself which was contained in a book published by Cambridge University Press. He did this by suing CUP for libel through the UK courts; the English libel laws permit, in effect, a form of libel tourism.

In my last discussion of this, on 16 August, I suggested that anyone who abuses the English laws on a grand scale, too many times, eventually achieves precisely the opposite effect to that which is intended: a circumstance which I find greatly entertaining.

The most recent discussion of all this is to be found in the 29 August edition of the San Francisco Chronicle. The article repeats much of the known facts, and then describes some of the 'opposite effects' which I mentioned last time.

Link from Lori at Bonusbooks, who has a keen eye for this kind of thing.

Richard Charkin, head man at Macmillan, has, as ever, some sensible things to say about rationalising the present royalty system.

I think that his proposals (not new) are sensible, but I want to make a comment from the writer's point of view.

Big publishers -- and most small ones too -- are in the business of making money. Hence they constantly try to economise on costs. And one of their major costs is payments to authors, in the form of advances and royalties. In any reform of the royalty system, it will be a major objective of publishers to try to reduce, in total, the proportion of their income which is passed on to authors. Equally, in discussion of such reform, it will be the objective of literary agents and the Society of Authors (in the UK) to ensure that writers do not end up being paid less than they were under the old system.

So that's one good reason why writers and agents may not be too keen on the Charkin suggestion. Which at present is little more than a provocative prod into the body politic to see what happens.

For a full (very full) discussion of payments to authors, please see my discussion of Advances, published here in June 2005. It comes in three parts, which are, unsurprisingly, part one, part two, and part three. But do be aware that these are not short posts. To absorb them fully, I would guess that at least half an hour is required.

Duncan Fallowell, writing on Madame Arcati's blog, says that Richard Booth has sold his Hay-on-Wye book business, but has kept control of the castle.

If you have no idea what all this means, read my description of Hay-on-Wye (centre of the used-book universe) from 26 September 2005.

Virtually every newspaper in England has published a report about books that people leave behind in hotel rooms. Here's a typical example from the Daily Mail.

The report was compiled by the Travelodge chain, and it tells us that the book most often left behind this summer was The Blair Years, which is an edited diary written by the former press secretary of our beloved (and much missed) leader, T. Blair, Esq.

I wouldn't normally bother you with such tedious nonsense, but I think it's worth pointing out that here we have yet another example of the fertile imagination of the p.r. persons of this world.

Personally I do not believe for an instant that this alleged survey ever took place at all (despite what it says in the press release). I think this was made up, from start to finish, with Campbell's book being chosen for the number-one spot because it was the book thought most likely to catch the eye of news editors, most of whom have rather mixed feelings about A. Campbell.

Some hard-pressed p.r. person, under orders to get the Travelodge name some publicity or else, sat there sucking his pen and thinking, Hmm. August is a quiet month. What can we do about the things that people leave behind them? Let's see now. Vibrators, of course. Handcuffs. Nah, a bit too risque. Clothes? Who cares?

And then, bingo. Books! Campbell! Result, hundreds of column inches.

Your job, as a writer: think of ways to manoeuvre yourself into topping the poll in a similar sort of story.

Finally today, something which outshines all the others.

In early life, Lucilla Andrews was a nurse. She saw plenty of service during the 1939-45 war, and she wrote a memoir of those difficult few years: No Time for Romance.

Later on, Lucilla became a famous romantic novelist, and last year the UK Romantic Novelists' Association gave a special lunch to honour her, together with two other venerable members of that association.

No Time for Romance was one of the books used by Ian McEwan when he was doing research for Atonement, and the Financial Times magazine today has both an article about Lucilla and an extract from her memoir.

I recommend that you read the extract (scroll down) if nothing else.


Clary Antome said...

On Travelodge+Campbell:

Dear Mr. Grumpy,

is it my impression or are you suggesting that fame (i.e., recognition of one's creative 'value' in this society) can only be expected when we engage in doing something utterly silly that may catch other people's attention?

Whatever happened to true talent? Intellect? Wisdom?

Then again, that's usually quite a bore. Give us gossip any time. And lots of noise. And a good PR campaign. You've got to pay a price if you (quite unwisely) wish to stop being just another anonymous ant amongs billions.

Anonymous said...

That was a touching tribute to Lucilla Andrews. The extract is powerful--as was she, obviously. How wonderful that she lived her dream of writing through her romantic novels, yet left such a powerful memoir.

Anonymous said...

Lucilla Andrews — what a lady! Talent blooming out of experience - what more can be said?

'Your job, as a writer: think of ways to manoeuvre yourself into topping the poll in a similar sort of story'

Mm. How about going around nursing and residential homes and surreptitiously slipping a copy of Blazing Embers under the pillows of all the residents? Oldie's Favourite Bedtime Reading survey?
Nah! The care staff would sneak it off to read it themselves.

Anonymous said...

Lovely article on Lucilla Andrews by Juliet Gardiner. She has also written the foreword to the new edition of "No Time for Romance", which has just been reprinted in paperback. There aren't many books that make me weep but that one does. Precisely because Andrews never says, 'This ought not to be happening,' you realise how unimaginably dreadful it all was. But she copes, she grows up -and reading it you feel humbled. Well, I did.

Terrific stuff and a real page turner.

Glenn Ingersoll said...

I recently discovered that a blog post had been stolen. Seems another blog which looks to have been set up solely to gather visitors who might click on its google ads had snatched the post because it contained words that would fit its theme (& maybe garner search engine hits?) ... this was probably automated as the thief blog (spam blog?) is loaded up with posts from a variety of sources, none attributed to their true author. It doesn't look like the culprit is out to make a name for itself as an artist but, like spam, if you have superlow overhead you can make money when the income is pennies and if that means stealing to fill up your destination with content and it's easy to steal ... not that I think thief blog is gonna make more than a pfennig off my little blog post about visiting London in 1988.

Eigon said...

Hay Castle was never on the market - it is The Limited Bookshop which has been sold, a huge, rambling place in the middle of town which was once an agricultural machinery showroom.

Mary Witzl said...

I can't get enough of good memoirs, and now you've introduced me to another one. I never would have guessed that the author of Doctor Kildare was such a fine writer.

Anonymous said...

Very briefly.

I've just read the FT extract from 'No Time for Romance'.

Now I know where Ian McEwan went for some at least of the impressive detail in one of the most memorable scenes from 'Atonement'.

I understand it's now being filmed. But I'd recommend reading the book.

Anonymous said...

Just had another look at the GOB's post, and discovered I needn't have bothered telling people about 'Atonement'. Never mind. It's good enough to mention twice. Or three times.

Zen of Writing said...

Read Moore? Perhaps G. O. Read-Moore?

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jim smith said...

The extract is powerful--as was she, obviously. How wonderful that she lived her dream of writing through her romantic novels.
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