By Peter Stuart Smith (AKA Max Adams, James Barrington, James Becker, Philip Berenson and Jack Steel)
One of the slightly strange realities of the publishing business is that books have to be both similar and different, at exactly the same time. On first reading, that sentence probably doesn't seem to make too much sense, but it is nevertheless true. When a writer submits a manuscript to an agent or publisher, the work has to achieve two things simultaneously. It has to be sufficiently familiar in its scope and concept that the person reading it will immediately be able to pigeonhole it. He'll be able to recognize that it's a police procedural book, or a romance, or a comedy or whatever. But at the same time, the manuscript has to be sufficiently different to everything else published in that particular genre to be identified as something new.
Most of the time, this all works out rather well. The author knows what he's writing about, and the agent will recognize the genre and be able to submit the book to a publisher who works in that field. And the man browsing the shelves in the bookshop will be able to go directly to the section which holds the kind of stuff that he likes to read.
The problem comes when an author has an idea for a book which simply doesn't fit into any convenient genre. Many years ago, when I was trawling the pages of the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook searching desperately for an agent who would be willing to take me on, I had an idea for a book of precisely this sort, a cross-genre work. What was rather odd was that I did find one agent who was prepared to accept both me and the novel and try to sell both, but in the event I got a better offer and went elsewhere.
This book was first entitled Trade-off, and the majority of the text reads like a straight, mainstream thriller, with a missing girl snatched by a ruthless gang while her boyfriend – a British police officer on an exchange posting with the FBI – criss-crosses America searching for her. The problem comes at the end of the book, when it becomes clear that the bad guys are working for a most unusual organization, and that takes the book out of the thriller category and puts it somewhere else. But this other factor (and I'm not going to tell you what it is, because I'd like you to buy the book and find out for yourself) does not form a sufficiently large part of the manuscript to justify placing the book in a different genre.
It's a true cross-genre, and hence difficult to sell, novel, and despite the best efforts of my agent, we've never found a publisher willing to take it on, despite the fact that I've now achieved a reasonable reputation as a writer, and all my books sell quite well.
For a very brief period, the book was being offered by a small American publishing house which specialised in ebooks in the early days of this publishing medium, and it turned out to be pretty much their biggest selling title. But that didn't last long, and when the firm went out of business, the rights reverted to me again.
I read what Matt Lynn said in an earlier blog entry, and so I decided that it was worth having a go at selling the book myself, as a Kindle download. Fortunately, I already had a cover which had been produced by the American company, so that was one job I didn't have to do. What surprised me was how easy it was to format the book so that it looked OK on a Kindle, and how painless the upload process actually was, which I think both pleased me and depressed me in almost equal measure. This demonstrated very clearly that anybody can write almost anything and have it available for the world to buy and download in a matter of minutes. And in the world of publishing, more choice of material is not necessarily a good thing, simply because until you buy the book you have no clue if the author can actually write or tell a story. But that's a topic for another day.
Anyway, the short version is that the book, with its original cover and revised title – it's called The Omega Protocols – and with a completely different author's name – Philip Berenson – is now available for the world to buy on Amazon for what I personally think is an extremely modest price.
If any of you do buy it, please let me know what you think it.
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