Monday, 21 September 2009

"Difficulties of promotion, etc"

So there it was in my inbox, a note from Leigh Russell informing all us Curzoneers that, 'Barry Forshaw would like a line or two from everyone about getting published, difficulties of promotion, etc.'

A line or two?? Barry's a top man, but if he thinks he can restrict a bunch of authors to a line or two on our favourite topic for self-pitying moans, whines and bitter complaints, he's got another thing coming. A chapter or two would be more like it. An hour or two of non-stop grumbling. A career or two of unrelenting frustration, made only worse by poisonous envy of those who have somehow escaped the swamp of commercial failure to graze in the sunlit uplands of wealth and fame (the bastards!) ... Oh yeah, this is a subject we can ALL talk about.

Hands up any writer who has not, when passing through an airport or major railway station scanned the shelves for a copy of their latest book and, on finding it (and its predecessors) absent called up their agent/editor/spouse/mother in a spew of childlike rage that MY book isn't here and EVERYONE ELSE's is and that IT'S JUST NOT FAIR! Let's be honest and fess up to the worm that writhes and seethes in our guts when we see another author's advertising poster, or in-store promotion, or gurning face in a Waterstones catalogue, or grinning publicity appearance on a TV talk show.

... Or even just another author's review. I could rant for an entire year's worth of blogs purely and simply on the way that books pages ignore genre fiction. Music reviewers cover the latest releases from commercial acts, even if they'd rather be swanking about their insider knowledge of the latest developments in Mongolian trance/nose-flute fusion. Movie critics drag themselves off to Transformers: Triumph of the F*ckwit Teenage Morons, or My Big Flat Patronizing Emotionally Retarded Chickflick, even if their true passion is gay animation from Iran. Why? Because 99% of their their readers - even broadsheet readers - like the commercial stuff and want a guide to what they should see or avoid.

Only on literary pages to editors deliberately ignore the books that will fill most of the places in any bestseller list - and which their readers are presumably interested in - because they think its beneath them, intellectually inferior, basically a tad common. In 2006, for example, Martina Cole's thriller Close was the best-selling hardback novel in the UK. And it was not given a single review in any national paper. The same snobbery applies on features pages. Lee Child was seven or eight books into the Reacher series before he was interviewed. I was once commissioned to write a piece about thriller writers (explaining this strange breed for cultured readers who would never dirty their hands with such rubbish) by an editor who said, "Have you ever heard of someone called James Patterson? Apparently we should include him."

Yes, sweetie, he's one of the three or four best-selling authors in the world, so we probably should.

The problem for authors is that unless we are already famous, very controversial or very photogenic (by which I mean hot, female and under 35), we have nothing with which to grab media and thus public attention. We're not on the telly. We can't go out on the road and work for an audience the way musicians do. And there are just too damn many of us. The real gristly, unpalatable truth is that it should be much, much harder to get published. To be fair to the literary editors, they can't possibly cover the countless thousands of books that spew out onto the market-place. And to be fair to the publishing PRs whom every author complains about when their book comes out top precisely zero fanfare, they are swamped with titles competing for their attention, too.

If 90% of all working authors were politely informed that there was no market for their work, so could they please consider an alternative occupation, it would provide a very nasty shock to a great many people. On the other hand, the 10% that were left would, I am quite certain, have a great deal less to complain about.

And by the way, I am not assuming that I would be in that 10%.

Tom Cain's latest novel Assassin is available almost nowhere, so far as he can see ...


  1. Well my mate Sakinah swears by Lulu, she's gonna bring out her book there alongside all her football hooligan mates LOL!


  2. Ahh, Tom, I've seen you're book lots of places. Instead of mine....arghhhh. No, seriously, that's a really good point about reviews. As you say, just because its commercial, no reason not to review it. There are good thrillers, and bad ones, good chick lit, and bad chick lit. But because it isn't reviewed, readers have a hard time telling good from bad. Which hands a lot of power to the supermarket buyers, WH Smith buyers etc. Maybe with the death of newspapers that will start to change, if some really good reviwing blogs start to emerge.

  3. Clearly I'm missing something. The self-pity and bitterness seem to have passed me by - perhaps I'm not ambitious enough, but I'm just having fun as an author. My book's selling well, in its own modest way, no pressure, no worries, I'm really loving the whole experience of being an author. As for "the sunlit uplands of wealth and fame" - my (very real) envy of the Dan Browns of this world is laced with pity - but it's not all for myself. Would I change places with a blockbuster writer? Honestly? I'm not sure, but I suspect not. I'm happy as I am. So what's wrong with me? Now that might take a chapter or two . . .
    I agree with Tom's grouse about reviews, by the way. And yes, I think too many writers are published - even without the hordes of self-published authors (why do they bother?)

    By the way, Tom - I see your book prominently placed in bookshops wherever I go . . . You'd better watch your back next time we meet . . .