Tuesday, 23 February 2010

White Teeth meets Jurassic Park

There was one other rule of writing fiction that caught my eye in the articles I linked to yesterday, Geoff Dyer's #1 rule:
Never worry about the commercial possibilities of a project. That stuff is for agents and editors to fret over – or not. Conversation with my American publisher. Me: "I'm writing a book so boring, of such limited commercial appeal, that if you publish it, it will probably cost you your job." Publisher: "That's exactly what makes me want to stay in my job."

I'd add a caveat: never worry about the commercial possibilities of a project if you don't care whether you're published. (You might also want to add and if you are lucky enough to possess the uniquely quirky talent of a Geoff Dyer.)

I've been doing some asking around about the commercial potential of my novel, a thriller which is set partly in the world of international finance. One publisher friend was sceptical: financial thrillers have never really sold. He reckoned as a consequence you'd have a problem with the headline pitch, which should name-check some previous best-sellers, e.g. "It's White Teeth meets Jurassic Park but set in the Cotswolds". Apparently, every book needs one.

I received some corroboration on hearing that Philip Delves Broughton (a friend of a friend) was self-publishing two financial thrillers he wrote last year despite being a published author.

But being published is hardly the end of your financial worries. There appear to be pretty slim pickings for the vast majority of authors. Advances - hardly ever earned out - are, perhaps understandably, shrinking: £1000 anyone? And split into four installments? That's hardly going to pay the mortgage during the year you take off to polish off your four hundred-page masterpiece.

Better to self-publish and be damned? No advance, of course, and no publicity and distribution machines to promote your book. But it doesn't cost you as the author a penny and if it does sell you'll earn about £1 per book rather than the circa 35p you'd earn if was 'properly' published.

Perhaps I'll head down this road too. And in the meantime, look into re-working my second novel along the lines of "White Teeth meets Jurassic Park but set in the Cotswolds".


worm said...

phew, so there's still hope for my planned 'suite' of novels - a sweetly cerebral, all-guns-blazing coming of age story, kind of 'Sven Hassel meets The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency'

Oh,and in reply to your earlier post, I figure at this rate I have about 2 more years of regular blog posting to go before I get even remotely close to my school-age standard of writing dexterity :(

Brit said...

"It's Watership Down meets Duncton Wood!" - my six-novel cycle about a community of moles who think they're rabbits.

worm said...

haha Brit, oh godddd, you've suddenly reminded me of reading Duncton Wood! Jeez, what was the 13 year old me thinking? A fantasy adventure novel about moles???

Brit said...

Authors live in Exremistan, if you follow the analogy in NN Taleb's 'The Black Swan'.

A handful of JK Rowlings and Dan Browns, then thousands on the bread-line or worse.

Brit said...

Extremistan, that is.

dearieme said...

Tweak it a bit and then try
Mills and Boon.

Vern said...

Dyer's advice is sort of good as a confidence booster and general incitement to follow your own muse, except that most publishers are very concerned about whether a book will sell or not and not so inclined to sponsor wild indulgence.

I wouldn't self publish until you'd tried the alternative first. Start at the top and work your way down is what I always say.

worm said...

found this for you just now Gaw: apparently what you're doing is the 'anchor & twist'


Vern said...

Y'know it occurs to me that if you've written a financial thriller with bits in Russia you might want to give it the tag line 'Wall Street meets the Godfather'. It doesn't need to be compared to books alone, and you can hitch two universally revered films together instead and thus catch eyes. And it certainly doesn't have to be true. Lord, no. D(ogshit)BC Pierre's Vernon God Awful was marketed as a new Catcher in the Rye and the comparison is stunningly invalid.

Anonymous said...

There seems a sizeable element of luck in getting published, so though your chances are slim it's worth a try, just to see how your luck is.

Gadjo Dilo said...

Five years ago I said to a woman I knew worked in publishing that I was starting to write a novel (which I was); she asked which audience I was writing it for; I just stopped myself from saying "I'm not writing for any given audience, I'm writing what there is in me to write!, but only just; she said "Well, if you just want to write for your own amusement then that would be fine". Bitch.

35p, eh? Bitch.

Gaw said...

Worm: It seems to me you write more than proficiently right now. Amusingly too - no easy thing.

Brit: The music industry may be showing the way for publishing's economics. I'm looking forward to there being lots of MySpace-style micro-publishing sites.

Dearieme: The cousin of a friend of mine writes Mills and Boon and you have to write an awful lot of them to get a good wage.

Vern: I think you're right. I shall whizz down that slope. And thanks for your suggestion but it doesn't really do it, I'm afraid.

Worm: It's all in The Kid Stays in the Picture...

Elb: I used to think that about, say, 25% of success was luck. Now I'm above 50% and counting...

Gadjo: Got it in one.