Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Crime Fails to Pay or why past performance isn’t an indicator of future results

I’ve been swapping a couple of emails with Declan Burke, author of The Big O and Eight Ball Boogie.  I was trying to get hold of a copy of Crime Always Pays, the sequel of sorts to The Big O.  He’s ended up distributing it via Kindle having had all kinds of troubles with editors (e.g., leaving a company) and publishers (e.g., being taken over and slashing authors from the list; doing little to no marketing).  The result, not unsurprisingly, has been relatively modest sales driven principally by word of mouth.  Word of mouth can get you so far, but a bit of marketing rarely hurts a product and nor does a champion inside a company.  The sense is that those modest sales are now a bit of a millstone as they are viewed as an indicator of potential future sales on new works.   Having received loads of critical acclaim from reviewers and readers (see Declan’s must-read blog for examples), here is a very talented author seemingly marginalised by an industry that is increasingly seeking to de-risk their investment by judging authors and their works against a narrow set of criteria, rather than nurturing and supporting them.  There are plenty of authors and bands who have worked away producing acclaimed work for years, perhaps not making mega-bucks but nonetheless not losing anyone money, before going stratospheric.  If a condition of a writing career is immediate success then there is every danger of producing an entire generation of one book authors, killed off and demoralised before they’ve had chance to blossom into mature, successful writers with an established reader base.  It’ll also work to reproduce a certain kind of formulaic writing and stifle creativity and risk-taking – think of Hollywood film making at the minute.  I find it astonishing that I’ve had to write to Declan to ask for a copy of his book because I don’t own a Kindle and there is no way to purchase a paper copy.  This is a guy producing quality stuff, with a demonstrated track record of acclaim, if not mega-sales.  If I had the cash, I’d set up my own non-for-profit press with the express aim of giving talented authors an outlet as they build a readership and prepare to go stratospheric (or at least mid list).  My review of Crime Always Pays will appear in a couple of weeks.  Now I’ve managed to get my mitts on it, it’s slotted in near the top of the TBR.

6 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Rob - Thanks for bringing up this topic. For authors who don't have a powerful publishing house behind them (especially authors whose names are not "household words"), this is a very big issue. I'm glad you got your copy of Crime Always Pays. I want to read that one, too!

Kiwicraig said...

Great post, and good points, Rob. It is a shame that this type of thing happens so regularly. As you say, there can be breakout authors/bands etc, but if we don't give people the opportunities, then we'll never find out. Linwood Barclay is one recent example. He was writing humourous novels and little comic crime thrillers for years - selling not much but still writing - and then he got launched into the thriller writing stratosphere with NO TIME FOR GOODBYE. Now he is way more noticed by media, awards, booksellers, and readers. And these things snowball...

I fully understand your thoughts re: the non-profit press too. I've had some similar thoughts about Kiwi crime, or re-publishing overlooked stuff from the past 20 years etc...

It's also analogous to some sportspeople - you see 'journeyman' players beavering away on some teams, but then when they get the right situation, sometimes they become stars (better 'fit', better coaching, better support etc). There is a lot to be said for the 'nurture' part of success...

seana said...

Declan has had some bad luck which has nothing to do with the merit of his work. I work at an indie book store, last of a breed, I think, but I will cross enemy lines for long enough to tell you all that you can download Kindle for free on to your computer and thus read this book. Do it, rate it, and maybe that will give him some ammo.

Sean Patrick Reardon said...

Rob,

Great post.

Like you, I was wondering how the hell I could read CAP, and I didn't even know it was the sequel to TBO. I don't own a Kindle, but I downloaded it from Smashwords for 1.99 as a PDF. I'm in the middle of it, but it is as good if not better than TBO so far. I'll reserve final judgement until I finish. Smashwords will also let me publish a review, because I purchased it.

Rob Kitchin said...

Craig, agree with all your points. My sense is that if Declan was given the benefit of the right team, then thinks would shake out differently.
Thanks Seana and Sean for the tips on how to get hold of CAP, I'll make sure to include in the review once I've read the book. And wouldn't it be great Seana if readers could buy it in your store. One day perhaps!

Paul D. Brazill said...

Smashing post. Declan is an example of someone who writes books that are very easy to like. AND he can write. Should be a star by now.