Friday, 27 November 2009


By Richard Jay Parker

Was interested to read this article about TV producers becoming increasingly reliant on published books for their drama source material. It appears it pays to have free in-store book promotion for their shows.

Nothing groundbreakingly new there but having just heard from my agent that ITV have been saying some very positive things about STOP ME and are still considering it obviously makes it all the more interesting.

I've been here before though - from the writing side as well as the other. Having been a BBC/ITV script editor and producer as well as script writer I've been lucky enough to be part of the process that has seen my ideas realised on the small screen. I've also attended a hell of a lot of meetings that have seen the initial enthusiasm about a project gradually abraded until it withers on the vine.

It's all part of the development process and, after a point, not a lot of it has to do with the quality of the writing. There are so many pitfalls that are beyond the creator's control. The TV production process is about filling specific slots, furnishing personalities and answering to a demographic. It's always been an eye-opener for me.

For instance, a series I produced was allotted a larger budget for its trailer than we had to shoot all thirteen episodes. Last year I wrote a script for a short horror movie fully expecting it to languish on a shelf and never see the light of day. The producer found a location, assembled a cast and had it shot within two months. That was August 2008. The score has been added but now we're waiting for an actor to dub one word on the soundtrack. So if it does hit the festivals in the summer of 2010 it will have taken two years to reach the screen.

But I keep going back for more and although I should know better by now I do still get excited when I hear somebody is thinking of my work in terms of the big or small screen. I suppose as a script writer it's always going to be a consideration when I write my books.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

A Battle Worth Fighting

I'm very excited to see CUT SHORT reviewed on the BEST BOOKS OF 2009 list in Publishers Weekly in the US as the only title starred in the Mass Market section. You can read the review here:

On a very sad note, we appear to be losing Borders. I have written about this on my blog but want to reiterate my thanks here to all the staff who have been so friendly and helpful towards me personally in my events at Borders.

People are already asking “whether there is a place for traditional shops selling books on our high streets” (James Thompson in the Independent 24 November 2009)
This seems to me to be a battle worth fighting. We should all be encouraging everyone we know to “Buy a Book for Christmas in a Real Bookshop”. First the independents, now Borders, Waterstones will be the next to fold. By this time next year, it may only be possible to buy books online, other than blockbusters from supermarkets, or a title from a limited range at WH Smith’s. (Remember Woolworths? Who’s next?)
It’s not enough to bleat. “A civilized city without bookshops – or without enough bookshops – struck me as a contradiction in terms. And then I realised why I'd only belatedly discovered that Borders and Waterstone's weren't where they'd once been. I hadn't visited them for months.” (Tom Sutcliffe in the Independent 24 November 2009)
If readers don’t buy at bookshops, there will be no bookshops. Maybe that isn’t important, but if it matters to you – GO AND BUY A BOOK IN A BOOKSHOP. If enough people do, maybe we "ordinary people" can turn this around. At the very least, we will have tried. Those of us who believe bookshops are worth saving, let's not lay down and die just yet.
Leigh Russell

Monday, 23 November 2009

To Fight ... or not to Fight

As anyone who has ever tried to argue with me can testify, I can be as combative, niggly and unrelenting as a pitbull with a migraine. I also like taking the piss, chiefly of myself, but also of others. Sometimes, however, I pick the wrong fight ...

Which is why I've deleted the post I put up earlier today. On reflection, i got the tone wrong and what was meant to be banter was clearly not taken as such. I could waste a great deal of time defending myself and digging a deeper hole, because the fact is i stand by my substantive points about (a) the irony of the Curzon Group being attacked for attacking people, and (b) the effectiveness of controversy and argument as means of generating attention ... but, really, life's too short.

So I'd rather hold my hand up and say, 'Enough already.' I got this post wrong. Let's call it a day and move on ...

BORDERS the bookshop (...the what?)

I know it's not my turn to post but I want to share a little about my experience as a teacher. The closer my examination classes come to the end of their course, the more spats they have, fussing at one another over petty offences. More accusations of swiped pens, stolen bags, pushing in the lunch queue, and worse. Teachers have to remind them to focus on what is important - the charmingly called 'terminal examinations' that are fast approaching - while the pupils continue to seek to distract themselves with squabbles and scraps.
I've never been involved in a writers' spat before. I'm new to all this. It's fun, and I'm chuffed to be quoted in The Guardian (!) but I can't help wondering why we are devoting so much energy and words to the Curzon 'manifesto' when A MAJOR BOOKSHOP CHAIN IS ABOUT TO VANISH. We have our own terminal event looming. Does point scoring over who said what to whom about what really matter right now? Seems to me we have a REAL battle on our hands - but no one seems to have noticed.
Leigh Russell

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Back to the future?

By Clem Chambers.

Having worked on bleeding edge media since my teens I can't help seeing seismic shifts coming to the book world.

So I have been agonising about the future of books again, as e-readers start there inexorable march.

It has suddenly occurred to me that while the marketing structure of the physical novel will probably implode, there is room for a reversion-ing of the content.
Charles Dickens did not write novels, he wrote part-works that appeared either weekly or monthly. The book publication came later. This was because at the time, best business model for making a living in writing was serialisation, followed by reading tours. In due course the book format superseded that way of doing business and wiped the old distribution model out. Likewise the e-reader will sweep the dead tree novel.

There was plenty of serialisation going on after the novel rose to ascendancy, but the format waned into insignificance.

While music is still dying on the vine, movies are reinventing themselves with 3D and end to end digital distribution. They are cleverly plugging the levees breached by piracy in a drive to keep their industry alive.

With the re-invention underway of movies, that media has a viable business model for at least another decade.

While novels as books might be about to begin a slide into commercial oblivion, the model of part-work, key to Dickens, may make a comeback. Distribution platforms like iTunes give hope that new formats may emerge that can control or at least limit IP theft. Books with a client server element may provide another jump off point for a new model for fiction.

Its comforting to realise that writing is not locked to a single form and that text just might be able to morph itself to a new media format and thereby escape the maw of ubiquitous piracy.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Our Battle With Steve

by Matt Lynn

The Guardian's diary has picked up on our, er, discussion with Steve Mosby over on his blog and ours.

But, hey, before this turns into WWIII, maybe we should call a truce. I'm not sure there is anything left to be said on the subject anyway. And, Steve, we'll buy you a drink at the next thriller festival.


By Richard Jay Parker

Some weeks it’s difficult to know what to blog about. Sure there’s always something in the news to whinge or theorise about but if I need reminding about the real issues in the world I take one of my regular visits to Matt Beynon Rees’s blog HERE.

Matt is the author of the Omar Yussef novels the first of which (THE BETHLEHEM MURDERS) I recently read and greatly enjoyed. If you have a moment, take a look at this week’s blog about novel research and then scroll down to the one about soldier suicides. In fact, if you have more than a few minutes, scroll down and absorb as much as possible. It’s a sobering reading experience.

But as well as controversy and life and death there’s also his thoughts on Stewart Copeland and the perennial struggle to think of original places to kill his fictional characters. Matt lives slap bang in the middle of what he writes about and combining his beleaguered home turf with some engaging detective stories makes for a powerful cocktail. Miss Marple would be dead in the water.

I’m no newcomer to eking a living as a writer but the book arena is pretty new to me and when I made some tentative steps to try and hook up with some fellow authors I wondered if they were going to be as prickly and bitchy as some TV writers proved to be in the past. Even though he didn’t know me from Adam, Matt was the first to encourage me to promote my first book on his site and was unerringly generous when he had no reason to be.

It’s been largely my experience since my book was picked up for publication. There seems to be plenty of negativity in the industry at the moment but whenever I convince myself that I have anything to really worry about I give myself I a cold shower with Matt’s blog. It’s an experience I’d recommend.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

The Joys of being an Author

I've been going through The Editor's suggestions for ROAD CLOSED, the second in my series of crime thrillers.
Was it hard work? No, not at all.
Has the experience changed me? Of course not. Look at my picture. Do I look any different?
That's about as coherent as I'm able to be right now. I promise to produce a scintillating post next week to make up for it - witty, entertaining and challenging. Right now, I have one more job to do before I go to bed. Where's the corkscrew?!!
Leigh Russell (but you knew that from my picture, didn't you?)

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Our Manifesto....

Even though it is more than six months since we launched, our manifesto is still causing a few ripples. The crime writer Steve Mosby had a pop at us the other day, accusing us of all manner of heinous crimes.

I've already suggested to Steve that if spends that much time thinking about the Curzon Group, he should probably get out more -- and he's a decent enougyh bloke to accept that point.

Still, I thought I should clear up a couple of misconceptions about what this group is all about.

First, we're not telling people what to read, as a few bloggers seem to imagine. Even leaving aside the ridiculousness of imagining anyone would listen (are there people browsing through Waterstone's thinking, nah, I won't buy that book because the Curzon Group won't like it?), it just doesn't follow. If Gary Rhodes writes a book on British cookery, he's not saying don't eat pasta or sushi, and no one would imagine he is. He's just saying here's a tradition of our own cooking you might like to explore.

Neither does promoting British thrillers - and our own in particular - mean we are 'attacking' books from other countries.

For example, if the Malaysia Tourist Board runs ads suggesting you take a holiday in Malaysia, they aren’t having a go at Thailand or Indonesia. They are just suggesting Malaysia is a nice place to visit, and you might like to have a think about it.

Or if the Invest in France Agency promotes building factories in France, they aren’t declaring war on Germany or Spain – just drawing attention to the virtues of their own country.

So it is just bonkers to say we are telling people what to read, or suggesting other thrillers (or indeed books) aren’t good as well. We do think that some of the big American names – Patterson, Brown etc – are over-hyped, over-promoted rubbish. And we do think there needs to be more space for British thrillers. But, of course, there are some great American thrillers out there, as there are from Europe, and elsewhere. There are some great British thrillers as well, although they don’t (in my opinion) come from the same tradition we’re talking about.

I appreciate that some people don’t like the kind of books we like, and obviously that’s fair enough. You may also think we aren’t worthy to polish the boots of the writers we admire, and that’s a fair opinion as well.

But I don't think the Group needs to apologise for promoting a certain style of writing that we all admire.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Who'd be a writer right now?

Is there any future at all in being a professional writer? I've just been thinking about that. Let me explain ...

Like a lot of authors, most of the interview requests I get come from specialist blogs, fanzines, e-zines and so forth, and they usually take the form of emailed Q&As. I actually enjoy doing them because they make me feel like I'm writing without actually sweating on a novel, plus I get to say exactly what i want - for better or worse - and communicate directly with readers. Also, from time to time I get asked a question that really makes me stop, think and re-evaluate.

For example, I was recently sent an interview questionnaire by Joseph O'Donnell, who runs a magazine called The Eerie Digest and had very kindly asked me to appear in the January edition. One of his questions was ... "We have many young writers in a college program that we have created. What words of advice can you share with them?"

This is part of what I answered ...

"Find another way of making a living! No, really, I say the same thing to my daughter, who is an incredibly talented writer, nominated for a national student journalism award (which she may win: at the time of writing it’s yet to be determined) and just about to graduate from college. With the apparently unstoppable tyranny of the internet and free content, and the parallel decline in respect for intellectual copyright or the skills of professional writers, I really wonder how anyone is going to make a living from the professions that have sustained me for the past three decades. I mean, I truly believe that a properly-informed democratic society requires professional news-gathering organizations, trained specialist journalists and paid-for news media. I also note that the bloggers who most loudly proclaim the death of print would have nothing to blog about if old-fashioned journalists weren’t digging up the stories they then comment upon. But that seems to be an opinion which the market is rejecting, as the diminishing salaries, word-rates and job-opportunities for journalists clearly indicate. Likewise, I think it could be very difficult for conventional fiction writers to stay in business as the book trade, and indeed the whole pastime of reading, appear to be in meltdown. Clearly, humans need and want to be told stories. Equally clearly, some people have more of a gift for that than others. But I think it’s going to be harder and harder for authors who are not already celebrities or do not happen to luck into a market phenomenon like the Harry Potter, Twilight or Da Vinci Code franchises to make a decent living. So at the risk of seeming negative, my advice to all but the most talented, most determined and most obsessive young writers would be to get a job that allows you to make a decent income and have time to write on the side. Either that, or head for Hollywood in the last few moments before network TV and the movie studios crumble into dust! Oh … or go write the stories for video-games. That may just be where modern storytelling is actually being regenerated and redfined."

The rest of the answer (yes, there was more!) and the rest of the interview will be available at The Eerie Digest from 1 January 2010. Naturally, I urge everyone to read it! And I'll be making the invitation again - even more forcefully - nearer the time, as well!

Friday, 13 November 2009


By Richard Jay Parker

Allison and Busby have just sent me the electric blue cover for the paperback of STOP ME. You can see it here. I’m very pleased with it because it feels like the paperback will be a different entity to the orange, large cover, trade edition.

This brings me back to last week’s discussion re covers and their importance. As a lot of you agreed, covers certainly aren’t the be all and end all when it comes to purchasing a novel. Covers are only part of the equation. If you’re an established writer I think they become less important because people are responding to a name rather than a catchy image. As a new writer though you need something on the front of the book that will take a curious reader to the next level.

It’s then down to that synopsis on the back. If the story doesn’t appeal or doesn’t raise its shoulders above similar fare then I think even the most discerning reader may pass.

The whole book buying process is amorphous, however. What about word-of-mouth for instance? I have a shelf full of great books with lacklustre covers that I bought because of a recommendation. Similarly there are a lot of books with great covers that stink. Thankfully, it’s the contents of the book itself that are the real test of a book’s durability. Celebrity books aside that is – see last Friday’s blog.

I know many writers are alarmed about file sharing - new e readers robbing authors of valuable income. But people have always passed on books they’ve enjoyed to friends, family and neighbours. And if that second person then enjoys the book it’s likely they’ll purchase another one – a book they wouldn’t have entertained if the first party hadn’t handed it on.

Of course, files are different to physical books and the ease in which this is done will be incomparable. However, people have only so much time to read and with greater numbers of books racking up in their memory does that friend sharing an ephemeral file rather than something as tactile as a book really have the same impact?

It all remains to be seen but one thing is definite – after a certain point, the process by which a book becomes popular is out of the hands of publishers and authors. If it has a great cover, some nice blurb and a good position in Waterstones it’s a good start but after that it’s down to whether the readers respond to the contents. And, as cogs of the publishing machine, it seems we should all be concentrating on getting that right.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Names and pseudonyms

Tom Cain (not his real name) and I had an interesting discussion about names at the last Curzon Group meeting, over a glass of red wine, olives, bread and humous . . . It’s a hard life, this author lark.
“What’s in a name?” Juliet demands. The name, she declaims, does not give the rose its delicate scent. Romeo would still be the same man under a different name. Yes, that’s true. But (always watch out for the ‘but’, I tell my students. It looks insignificant, but changes everything) Romeo is a Montague and that name, coupled with hers, spells tragedy.
One of the most powerful lines in Arthur Miller is John Proctor’s refusal to sign his name to a false confession. His inquisitors cannot understand why Proctor rejects their offer to save his life. All he has to do is sign his name and he will survive. He refuses, at the last minute, “Because it is my name.”
Why are names so important? Most of them are arbitrary and many are, frankly, weird, when you think about them.
As authors, I’m sure Tom and I are not alone in feeling a sense of liberation when using our pseudonyms. It is reminiscent of childhood make believe. It’s fun. When I give talks and sign books, I am not my usual shy, awkward, unprepossessing self. I step into role as The Author. However, this is not an act, any more than when I say I am a wife, or a mother, or a teacher. I am all of these things.
Using a pseudonym is like putting on a mask – not thinking Lord of the Flies here, (although maybe that’s not so far off the mark?) more Venice carnival . . .
As for names of characters in my books – that’s a whole discussion in itself.
As Juliet discovers, names are so unimportant, but they can change everything.
Leigh Russell (not my real name)

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Annoying Things People Say To Writers....

by Matt Lynn

Tom's splendid post yesterday about film rights has prompted me to think some more about the slim volume I'm planning to write one day called 'Annoying Things People Say To Writers'. One of the hazards of this job is that people have no idea how it really works, but of course they think they do.

The result? If you mention that you are a writer at a dinner party, they make really irritating remarks. Such as....

1. 'All you need to do now is sell the film rights'.

What am I meant to say to that? Oh, yeah, thanks, I'd never thought of that. But I'll get it sorted on Monday morning. Thanks for the idea.

2. 'I've been meaning to write a book when I get the time'.

Listen, if I meet a dentist, I don't say, 'Oh, I've been meaning to do some root canal work, I just never get a minute.' Or if I meet an airline pilot, I wouldn't say, 'Oh, I'll take an A330 for a spin when I've got a day off.' I recognise that those jobs require years of dedicatd training and practise. And yet everyone seems to think they could knock off a novel, easy-peasy, if only they could find a spare minute. It is more than a little rude to suggest that what we do is so simple anyone could do it in a few dull weekends.

3. 'Can I have the name of your agent'.

Why do people imagine we want to give out the contact details of our agents to everyone we meet? They can look it up for themselves. I've just given up on this one, and I now hand out my agent's details automatically to everyone I meet. At my wife's parents house in Cardiff a little while ago, I met this 90-year old lady who used to live next door to my wife when she was small. Turns out she's been working on a historical romantic epic of several hundred pages. I humbly gave her my agent's details. I bet he was pleased to get that one.

4. 'I looked in Smith's and they didn't have your book. I just thought you'd like to speak to your publisher about that.'

Listen, an author is psychologically incapable of walking past a bookshop without going inside to check if they have his book, and, if so, how many copies. Even Dan Brown does it - I've seen him, moving the display bin a bit further to the front of Waterstone's. Trust me, if they haven't got my book in stock, I already know -- all you are doing is rubbing it in.

This one will be continued next time someone says something really irritating to me -- which won't be long I'm sure.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Hooray for Hollywood ... or not ...

I woke up on Saturday morning to find an email from my agent in LA waiting on my iPhone ...

OK, all right, he's not MY agent, exactly: he's the sub-agent hired by my real agent who works in a small office just off the North End Road in West London, which isn't quite so glamorous ... but anyway ...

The two scriptwriters who have spent the past few months, in between their other projects, honing The Accident Man into a potential high-concept movie franchise had, the message said, concluded their negotiations with A Major Studio and been given a deal. So now all I have to do is wait to see what I'm offered for the movie rights to my actual book, sign on the dotted line and then the whole project can enter the strange half-life of 'development', in which a script is written (and re-written, and re-re ... etc), a director and stars are sought and the producer does his level best to create a package that will persuade the Major Studio to shell out the mega-money required to go ahead and make a thriller like The Accident Man.

Assuming it's still called The Accident Man ... or has a hero called Samuel Carver ... or bears any resemblance at all to anything I ever wrote. Because I, as the author, am by far the least important person involved in the project and my opinion counts for less than Jack Shit.

This is something that the average punter - quite reasonably - does not understand. People assume that having spent years creating my characters and writing stories about them, I might have some idea about who would be good to play them. They imagine that I would have a say in how they would be portrayed. Above all they think that I have just become very, very rich.

All these presumptions are 100% wrong for any author who does not happen to be Stephen King, Dan Brown or JK Rowling. The major casting will be determined by which actor likes the script, is available, seems marketable to the studio and is prepared to work for the fee they have in the budget. The story will be far, far more influenced by the lowliest, dumbest 'creative' executive at the studio, making notes on the fourteenth draft of the script, than it ever will be me, or what I wrote. And as for the money, forget it. You hear about mega-deals for authors and sometimes the stories are true. More often they're grossly inflated inventions, dreamed-up by agents and PRs. Studios are cutting back savagely on all non-essential spending, and book-rights certainly come into that category, especially when the book isn't already a massive global bestseller. Plus, all you get when the book is first picked up is the 'option' payment: i.e. the studio acquires an option on the right to buy the book outright at some point in the next 18 months. The full value of the contract is only payable on the first day of production, and 99% of all film projects never get to that point. So I expect to get an option in the low tens of thousands of pounds. If the film gets made, I'll get (very) low six figures. Nothing remotely wrong with that, of course: but I won't be retiring on the proceeds just yet.

I know this because I've done a deal for Accident Man before, the last time it was in development at Another Major Studio. Back then I took a look at the contract, observed how cheaply I was selling my soul and started moaning to my agent (the real one, just off the North End Road) that I was being ripped-off. He pointed out that would only be true IF the film got made and IF it was a huge hit. In that case, yes, the amount I'd be getting was absurdly low. BUT ... if my book had just been the basis of a global mega-movie, then I'd immediately start selling a load more copies, and get a ton of massively-improved publishing deals, and be in with a chance of a far better price when the studio made the sequel. So I'd be laughing.

Plus, I'd get the words TOM CAIN, all by themselves, in big capital letters on the screen smack-bang in the middle of the opening credits, So I'd essentially be giving away my most cherished artistic creation, just so I could sit at my local multiplex and gaze at my (false) name.

Is that a deal worth making? Oh, come on, what do you think? Of course it bloody is!!

PS: It's not always a bad idea for studios to change books, irrespective of the author's wishes or intentions. The only elements of The Bourne Identity that survived from the Ludlum book to the Doug Liman film were the title, the name Jason Bourne and the opening sequence that set up the character and his predicament ... oh, and the idea that Bourne picks up a girl along the way. But since they're the only good - even great - things about the book, that was an entirely sensible decision. The Accident Man, of course, is brilliant from beginning to end, so any deviation from the original would be an aesthetic abomination ... ;)

Friday, 6 November 2009


With everyone’s schedules as busy as they are it sometimes seems like a small miracle to be able to synchronize enough authors for a Curzon Group meeting. Wednesday, however, we mustered a respectable turnout and also had the pleasure of some new company.

Zoe Sharp travelled down from Cumbria with her partner Andy. Zoe is the author of the hugely successful Charlie Fox series of thrillers about a female bodyguard as well as being a real life action woman. She has now joined The Curzon ranks and we're very excited to have her as part of the group.

Elizabeth Corley had just flown in from Germany but miraculously made it in time for the second course. Elizabeth's uncompromising but poignant series of DCI Fenwick books are immensely popular and a firm favourite with fans of eloquently written procedural crime. We're now lucky to count her as a member as well.

Was also great to have the presence of Tom Cain who seemed very happy with the cuisine.

So a very worthwhile evening and one that should have been at least a couple more bottles long. Next time, however, we’re going to overbook by at least two people so nobody has to dunk their elbows in the humous.


By Richard Jay Parker

This week I read an article that predicted that not only would the Christmas non-fiction list be dominated by celebs but the fiction list would be as well.

So that’s fiction written by celebs but not actually written by the celebs but by someone else.

Which means that the only informed judgement a purchaser of this book is making is based purely on the face on the cover. They’re buying the cover and probably few are even glancing at the back to get a taster of the most vital part. It’s the equivalent of buying an album with a different recording artist on the disc. That would be ridiculous, wouldn’t it?

It’s impossible to write a blog like this without coming across as bitter but I’m after something more basic here – sanity. Aren’t books about unique voices? It’s why I have a rack of autobiographies on my own shelf. Aren’t books about being in the expert hands of a storyteller or being enticed by an engaging synopsis on the back cover? Covers are important but ultimately they’re eye-catching, complimentary packaging and not the sole reason a discerning reader takes a gamble on a new name.

Discerning is a very relevant term here. I don’t blame the ghostwriters. Its well-paid work and bizarrely the only way some authors can get their work exposed. I also don’t blame the publishers. People will buy these books – in greater numbers than they will established writers, let alone new writing talent. But it can’t be the readers fault, can it?

Question is, are these readers the sort of individuals who normally go for a Trollope but instead this Christmas decide to plump for a McCutcheon? Any discerning reader will surely grimace as they pull something so manufactured and soulless off the shelf.

Is this a new breed of 'X Factor' reader and do the books actually get read bar the first few pages? And does it matter about this new breed if there are still the same amount of readers buying genuine fiction? The answer is - I really don’t know. The fact that people part with their hard-earned for these ‘books’ beggars belief. Let’s just hope it’s a trend that is as transitory as the careers of the celebs who have agreed to put their names to them (and we can’t blame them for making hay while the sun shines). If it isn’t it means that the careers of talented authors who exist only to write and not monopolise every form of entertainment will probably have as much longevity.

Somebody – other than a real author – has got to step up soon and tell the emperor that he’s butt naked.

Thursday, 5 November 2009


Matt Lynn posted about ghost writing, where books purport to be written by authors who often haven’t even read them. One high profile celebrity expressed surprise on hearing about something included in her autobiography. ‘Oh, did they put that in?’ she asked her interviewer. (Sorry if I’ve mentioned it before – it creases me up every time.)

It is common knowledge that publishers buy places on best seller lists, chalk up ‘sales’ of deliveries to bookstores, even when the books are subsequently returned unsold – the whole industry is, like other industries these days, a charade based on image and appearance. The reality of the substance behind all these shenanigans is very different to the show. We live in an age of appearances.

So it should come as no surprise to learn there is a website offering “honest and heartfelt reviews of your book” on amazon. “The average self published book sells less than two dozen copies in its lifetime, leaving the author in debt, and the millions of potential book buyers oblivious to the valuable information included in the book” this website tells us. Well, OK, part of that is probably true. Not sure about the “millions of potential book buyers” though . . .

“The time has finally come where you, the self published author, can get quality, real life book reviews” the website announces. This claim is substantiated by genuine testimonials. One satisfied customer tells us his book “now sells thirty copies a month”. His amazon page has “no customer reviews” so the reviews he bought are not only effective, they are invisible! It truly is miraculous.
Another author is quoted as saying “I wanted you guys to know that when I read your reviews I cried like a baby. At last someone gets me.” It’s good to know that, finally, someone appreciates her genius - and it only cost her a few dollars.

Not only does one review cost just $15, it will be posted on amazon “within a week”. And all the reviews are “quality, real life, honest and heartfelt.”

Like so many other legal scams, this review service exploits the delusions of the vain. Do these writers actually believe the praise they pay for is genuine? Not only are they fools, they miss the adrenaline rush of stumbling on a review posted on amazon. I’m always thrilled when I see another five star review of CUT SHORT on amazon. Admittedly I’ve never “cried like a baby” when I’ve read my five star reviews, but at least the reviews of CUT SHORT – unsolicited and unpaid for - are genuine.

So can we trust anything as genuine these days? I think I’ll stick to fiction. At least it doesn’t pretend to be true. And you can buy almost three of my books for the cost of one review . . .

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Ghosting for Slebs....

by Matt Lynn

Lynda La Plante created a stir at the recent Specsavers Crime & Thriller Awards with an attack on 'celebrity' fiction by the likes of Katie Price, Martine McCutcheon, and soon, heaven help us, Cheryl Cole.

She chewed up the assembled publishers for spending their money on 'drivel' rather than supporting real authors. "The publishing industry is going to implode. They can't pay the millions to these celebrities," she complained.

In the Telegraph, Nigel Farndale wrote a perceptive piece about her attack, arguing that ghost-writed rubbish for Slebs was as likely to put off young people from reading as encouraging them. And Martin Amis is planning to make Price a character in his next novel (I'm looking forward to that).

One point that people miss however is that ghost-writing is far more common than people realise. And the readers are, essentially, getting ripped off.

In fairness, someone like Katie Price makes no pretence of writing her books. The ghost gets credit, and is well-known.

But, as someone who did a fair bit of ghost-writing before writing 'Death Force', I am well aware that is far more widespread than most people realise. Quite a few of the thrillers on the best-sellers list are ghosted by 'authors' who actually claim to the writers of the books.

That strikes me, looking back on the experience, as far more deceitful.

There is no question that the books are a lot worse than the writer could do if they were working under their own name. The first couple of books I ghosted I took quite a lot of care over. But after doing it for a about five years, I was just churning them out fairly cynically for the money. The 'author' couldn't be bothered with the book, nor could the editor, and, after a while, nor could I. The plots were full of holes, the characters weird, and the typos horrendous: in one of them, even the dedication was mis-spelt, although I was probably the only person who noticed.

So people are gettting a sub-standard, slap-dash book, that no one really cares about.

And it is very hard to see how anyone really benefits from that.

With another hat on, I spend a fair bit of time as a business journalist.

And one thing you notice that really distinguishes good businesses from bad ones is that the they care about making a decent product.

The publishers putting out sleb fiction seem to have forgotten that. I suspect at some point they will pay a fairly heavy price for that.