Published by graham on Mon, 10/07/2013 - 13:28
There have always been two key challenges for the aspiring writer: getting yourself published and then keeping your readers (and hence your publisher) happy enough to warrant more books. In times gone by I always thought the former mountain would be the hardest to climb but after more than thirty published titles it’s beginning to dawn on me that keeping your work out there isn’t quite as simple a proposition as I once imagined. Forget getting to the summit. Just staying on the hill is becoming a serious ask.
Why? Partly because there isn’t much money about and partly because publishing itself is changing at the speed of light. From where I – and many other writers – are sitting, a comfortable perch in the mid-list is rapidly becoming history. Gone are the days when a blip in hardback sales would draw little more than a sympathetic wag of the head. The old publishing model, beset by the likes of Kindle and Amazon, is dead. High street bookshops are fighting the retail tide. In-house staffing levels in the publishing biz, already pared to the bone, are getting leaner. Salvation has to come from hard data. Sell, sell, sell.
So far, so obvious. But selling means profile, getting your name out there, seeding word of mouth, making sure you’re never the sweaty victim of the killer question: what’s your name again? Much of this stuff, thanks to social media and websites like Goodreads and Pinterest, you can do from your PC (or tablet) but sales directors are right when they insist that nothing beats meeting the scribe in the flesh.
And so the diary quickly fills up with festivals, reviewers’ lunches, library talks, prize competitions, bookshop events, and umpteen other ways to level the ground between you and that swelling army of readers just dying to lay hands on your latest tome.
The sheer weight of time this demands is awesome but then you realise that a hardback sale of just 3000 – in a thin week – can get you into the Top Ten and so you say yes to the next invite, and the one afterwards, and the one after that. Quite how you make the time to write another book amongst all this clamour is a mystery but the brutal truth is that you need an ever-growing readership to get the next one even commissioned and so you have no choice. Self-publicise or die.
And so you do it, discovering a thousand moments of surprise – and often delight. People are much nicer, and more curious, than you ever realised. They’ve also read most of your work and – a confession – know a great deal more about chapter three of a long-ago thriller than you do. Plus the very fact that you’re a writer, than you turn words into stories (and money), that you do something very ancient and very special, still commands not just attention but – dare I say it - respect.
All this is grist to the creative mill. It’s also, on many occasions, a real pleasure. Then comes one of those moments when a surprise wings its way in from left field and truly makes your day.
So welcome to the world of Mastermind. This coming Friday, one of the contestants has chosen the novels of Faraday and Winter as his specialist subject. My agent is thrilled. My publishers are tweeting their hearts out. And me? I’m intoning a special prayer to the Gods of Opportunity.
Friday. 11th October. 20.00. BBC Two.