Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Getting Published...

by Matt Lynn

Over on the terrific Crime Time website, The Curzon Group have been jointly explaining how we came to get published. It's an astute choice of subject. Every writer will know that the question you get asked most frequently is how you interest a publisher in your book.

The answers are revealing - and you can read them on the site, so there is no need to repeat them here.

But there are, I think, some common themes.

One is to know the market. Publishers are commercial operations, and they publish what sells.

Next, know their list. You might have written a great military thriller, but if they've already got one of those on their list, they won't want to publish you as well. Look for their gaps, then fill them.

Finally, persevere. Don't take no for an answer.

Of course, that said, it's a completely chaotic industry, in which no one really knows anything. So as soon as you set down any rules, they are likely to be broken.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

on being published

I really like this photo a reader sent to me of Cut Short on a lovely summer's day. You can almost feel the cool glass of Pimms in your hand as you reach down to pick up the books, and the sun on your face as you lie back in the hammock - or is it a lounger beside the pool?
I always tell my pupils to watch out for 'but' - possibly the most significant word in the language. With one syllable everything is instantly turned on its head. "I'd love to help you, but---" How many times have we all heard (and even said) that? So here it comes - the 'but' . . . but the summer is over. The evenings are drawing in. Not long ago, the days lasted until ten, ten thirty. Those long summer evenings . . . Now the night arrives so promptly, I'm not even sure when the sun sets. All I know is, I look out of the window at seven and it's night time. There's a chill in the air early in the morning. Before long I'll be scrabbling around under the driving seat of my car hunting for my little plastic scraper to dig away at the ice on my windscreen before I can set off for work. Gloves. Where are my gloves?
Over the course of this short summer my whole life has been transformed, as though a vast ‘but’ has descended on me. (I love blogging. I can ramble on, being as wordy – and inconsequential – as I please. If I wrote like this in my books, my editor would be sharpening her knife – ‘Cut! Cut!’)
Before the summer I was an aspiring writer, with a three book contract from a publisher, wondering if I’d ever see my book actually in print. Now, less than three months later, my publisher has a poster acclaiming me as a ‘popular best selling author’. Today I’m off to Havant Literary Festival to give a talk as an author. People have paid to buy tickets to hear me speak. Thousands of strangers are buying my book, which has already been reprinted.
Sometimes the ‘but’ can turn life around in a positive way. Ten weeks ago I was a writer, but now I’m a published author. Who cares about the long winter evenings? As long as I’m sitting at my keyboard, I’m happy. (“But what if there’s a power cut,” did I hear someone say?) I’d better add a very strong torch – and some batteries – to my shopping list. So that’s gloves, ice scraper, torch, batteries . . . and another bottle of Pimms. It won’t be long until the summer comes around again. Road Closed will be in the bookshops, and I’ll be a twice published author! (But nothing will match the excitement of being a first time author.)

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

The Nobel Prize....

by Matt Lynn

Labrokes have started posting odds for the Nobel Prize for Literature, which will be announced next week. Funnily enough, none of The Curzon Group are on it (c'mon on guys, one of us must be worth a million-to-one!). No surprises there. And yet the list illustrates again how wide the gulf has become between literary fiction and stuff that actually has any impact on people. The only writer in ythe top ten who I can imagine any of us have ever read is Philip Roth. The only one who could possibly be described as entertaining is Umberto Eco. And the only one who is likely to stand the test of time is Bob Dylan, and although the great man deserves it, the debtate about whether he was writing literature or songs would probably bore us all to death.

It wasn't always like this. The Nobel Prize used to go to genuinely mainstream authors such as George Bernard Shaw, John Galsworthy, Ernest Hemmingway, Boris Pasternak or John Steinbeck. They are all great storytellers, but no one like that gets a look in any more. If they did, surely Tom Woolfe would be a certainty for the prize.

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 ...

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Big bad bankers? Never!

by Cyrus Moore

In 2002, after many years in the City, I left corporate banking to set up independently. In my spare time I wrote “City of Thieves” – the story of one man’s fight to protect his honour in a world where honour holds no value.

When you’ve worked in any industry for long enough, you reach a point when you ask yourself a simple question: “Do I do what is right, or do I do what makes money?” All industries have an unethical side to them – the tobacco industry denied that their product caused cancer; the supermarket industry destroyed the quaint look of our high streets; and the motor car industry poisoned our planet. But ethics within the banking industry are fundamental to its very existence: banks don’t sell cigarettes, food or cars – they sell trust. You go to a bank, you hand over your money and you trust that the bank will return your money whenever you ask for it. When an industry is based on trust, there is always scope for abuse.

Over the last two decades, as Western governments gradually relaxed regulatory controls over the banking sector, bankers began to systematically abuse that trust. They used their customers’ money to make high risk bets. When the profits came rolling in, they paid themselves huge bonuses; but when the bets turned sour they walked away leaving the taxpayer to foot the losses.

The City, by virtue of what it is, attracts very clever people. But is also attracts greedy, evil, dysfunctional people – people that some psychiatrists might say harbour serious character flaws. In order to understand the mess the City is in today, you need to get inside the minds of some of the leading players who messed it up – minds that can be filled with a toxic mixture of greed, arrogance and self-importance. Some of the egos in the City are so far off the ground you’d need a lasso to drag them down to earth.

The culture of greed, arrogance and deceit that investment banks had fostered for years is now facing intense public scrutiny. There were many contributors to the banking crisis we all now face, but unethical working practices within the investment banking sector played a pretty big part. And despite politicians’ best efforts many of these practices still remain rife in the City today.

‘City of Thieves’ is the story of an analyst who dared to challenge such working practices. It’s a murder thriller written from the perspective of an outsider entering the unforgiving world of investment banking. Whilst the book is pure fiction, the issues it raises – particularly the rules, the ethics and the culture within the City – are very real.

All throughout my career I saw the good guys in the City fall like flies. Those who put their principles first were laughed at and shown the door. They weren’t part of the club. Greed was good. Well, today nobody is laughing at the good guys. There aren’t enough of them.

The problem with human nature is that we never really see things clearly until they smack us in the face. Back in 2003, once I had finished my manuscript, I sent it out to several agents. Not a single one was interested. Dismissively, they told me that “a story of the greedy world of banking would never sell.” Five years later the credit crunch came along and I had more literary offers than I could handle. The other problem with human nature is that we never learn from our mistakes.

[As published in Crime Time]

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Dan Brown writer and man

by Leigh Russell

At the risk of sounding like a gnat patting an elephant comfortingly on the back, I feel rather sorry for Dan Brown.

I have to come clean. I’ve only read one of his novels. Of the man himself, I know nothing. But it would be impossible to be unaware of Dan Brown the phenomenon. I wonder if he aspired to success on such an unprecedented scale, when he first put pen to paper. (Fingers to keypad doesn’t have quite the same ring, does it? When he first tapped the keys, perhaps.)

There has been some wittering about the delayed publication of his latest book. I’ve read that he dragged his heels finishing it, anxious about critical reaction. I’ve no idea if that’s true. I can only extrapolate from my own experience (as a gnat speculating about the feelings of an elephant).

So far a few thousand people have bought my first book, which launched just over two months ago. My publisher has just reprinted Cut Short (I’m a successful gnat!) and Road Closed, the next book in the series, is with my publisher, en route to the editor. After the fun of writing Road Closed, I’m nervous about the response of my publisher, my editor, and – most of all – the reaction of my readers.

I’m talking about a few thousand readers. The number is growing from a very few thousand to a fair few thousand. All those people have bought my book. An admiring teenager asked me today, ‘Do people recognise you on the street?’ I was sorry to disappoint her, but . . . no, of course not. I’m not a celebrity. In bookshops people are beginning to recognise me. As more people see my video on youtube
a few more people may recognise me. A few thousand now, and perhaps a few more thousand by the end of the year. Perhaps not. It’s small scale and it’s fun. And, even on my small scale, a little nerve wracking.

The internet has had a huge effect on personal privacy. Millions of people know Dan Brown’s face, although they are strangers to him. That sounds uncomfortable to me. As for the idea of millions of people (did I see 40 milllion?) reading my book – I have a sneaking suspicion I’d find that a little unnerving. The thought that everyone I met would have an opinion about my writing would alter how other people perceived me, how I felt towards them, and towards myself. There’d be no getting away from it. I think it would change the way I wrote. I’d no longer be able to sit in cafes unnoticed, an invisible observer.

I’m a very ordinary person. I value my ordinary life. I love who I am. I love being an author. I’m not sure I’d enjoy being a phenomenon. And for Dan Brown, there’s no going back. I wish him luck – with more than a tad of envy for his success. I’d swap places with him on the bestseller list if I could, as a writer, but I’m not sure I’d change places with him as a person.

Dan Brown Day

by Matt Lynn

First, a confession. I really liked The Da Vinci Code. Admittedly, that was in part because I’ve always enjoyed the rich vein of nutty conspiracy theories that it drew upon, but I also though it was a brilliantly conceived and executed thriller. It took two of the strongest traditions of the genre – Sherlock Holmes style sleuthing, and cold-war conspiracies – and brilliantly updated them. It completely deserved all its success.
There’s only one problem with it – and one that is particularly pressing as the tsunami of hype and hoopla over Dan Brown’s follow-up, ‘The Lost Symbol’, threatens to wash away the rest of the publishing industry. Like many really successful books, while good in itself, its consequences haven’t always been quite so happy.
Publishers, inevitably, have been trying to cash in on the book’s popularity.
In the wake of The Da Vinci Code, the Vatican seems to have taken over from the KGB as the stock villain for thriller writers. Where once, every thriller had to have a tense scene with a rogue double-agent at Checkpoint Charlie, now it is just as mandatory to have a few missing pages from the Old Testament to chase, some wacky inscriptions from a church spire to decipher, and a few rogue monks quietly assassinating people.
It works for Dan Brown. But when most other writers try it, it looks a bit silly.
Worse, the publishers are now terrified that the Dan Brown juggernaut means they have to clear all other books from their schedules. But that is probably a mistake as well. After all, lots of people will be going into bookshops in the next couple of weeks to buy ‘The Lost Symbol’. They may well buy something else as well while they are there. So this month is probably a good one to sell a book that isn’t by dan Brown.
Which is why my fellow Curzon writer Richard Jay Parker and I put a short video up on You Tube about the Dan Brown craze. We wish the Dan-ster the best of luck with the new book – there are certainly a lot of expectations to live up to. But publishers and booksellers should remember there are a lot of other good books out there. And the last thing his fans are looking for are pale imitations and rip-offs.