Book publishing and the GOB

My estimable friend and colleague Giles Goat-Boy has commented on my "Not so Grumpy Old Bookman" posting. Because the comments are a bit long now, with Dave’s fascinating extracts there also, and because Giles G-B has (in my opinion) hit one nail right on the head, I’m going to copy his comments and my reply (my reply edited slightly) here. Hope that does not break some cardinal (but unknown to me!) rule of blogging etiquette.

Giles G-B said…
There is a ring of truth to the lessons learned from GOB [Grumpy Old Bookman] but I don’t want there to be. I find it endlessly puzzling that so many people yearn to be writers and so few can be. That this is a seeming pre-condition of existing in our society worries me.Why is it that so many of us want and try to do this same thing of writing but the privilege of being published and read falls to so few? I know that’s a trite question but it feels so poignant to me somehow.I’m trying to understand how this paradox relates to the long comment above – I suspect there’s a kind of answer in there somewhere…
10:07 PM
Maxine said…
I empathise with your slight sense of melancholy. Although this is perhaps a rather pragmatic and over-simplistic response on my part, I believe that blogging and self-publishing are one answer to your question.

Blogging is a great way to hone one’s writing skills and to gain a small but focused community of readers, who, being bloggers, will comment and help for free! The readership of one’s blog, however small, represent people who find your content interesting and not only provide constructively critical feedback, but who will send you related links, material and ideas that they think will interest you by what they read.

Once the book is written (;-) ) ,with the Lulu awards bringing this into focus for me, one self-publishes one’s book and sells it on Amazon. This is going to require some (but not a huge amount) of resources, and will generate a very small (but targeted readership). The alternative is to go through the soul-destroying and ultimately random process described by Michael Allen. One might be lucky, but it sounds as if one’s psychological well-being would be better served by my suggested approach rather than relying on an incestuous publishing community.

Also, if you believe Michael Allen, book publishers will soon all be out of business anyway, unless they evolve drastically different publishing models. They’ll be scooped by other types of publisher who have evolved to deal with the web and the supermarkets (or the supermarkets and "the web" (Amazon/Google) will become the publishers and distributors) .

This is why I think that bold initiatives like Macmillan’s new writers scheme (crucially, tied in with "Richard and Judy" to select the books to publish) are great. (Michael Allen has recently been reviewing the first crop on his blog (in two tranches, here and here, with a third to come); they sound pretty readable, on the whole.) This kind of approach will break the mould and is the way the book publishing industry will survive. (You only get a J K Rowling or a Dan Brown every so often, and they are not enough to keep all "conventional" publishers in a moribund industry afloat for ever, even with celebrity "auto"biographies and the like.)

Of course the idea of self-publishing and self-distributing is hopelessly uncommercial. But it gets you noticed, gives you the opportunity to build up a readership and, ultimately, an offer from a publisher who, if nothing else, is open to persuasion by a business opportunity. Plenty of authors seem to be using this approach, if the Lulu awards and other initiatives (some described on Petrona) are anything to go by. One or two authors doing or considering this approach have contacted me or commented as a result of items I have written. I’ve mentioned Val Landi, who is doing very well with his "A woman from Cairo".

Disclaimer: Macmillan is owner of the Nature Publishing Group, which is my employer.

Saturday books part 1

There wasn’t much that interested me in last Saturday’s (18 March 06) Times Books supplement. I did note a new thriller, "The chemistry of death" by Simon Beckett. Apparently there is blurb praise from Mo Hayder, which is a good sign. On the other hand, it is clearly a very gruesome book — "repulsive" the Times reviewer (Peter Millar) calls the content. The main character is a forensic archaelologist (yawn); the author’s angle is to have him living in the Norfolk Broads as a result of a tragic personal event (yawn). Cue serial killer in village, ritual murders, "doomed inevitability" of a romance. Sounds pretty routine, although Millar does say that it is a "classy debut from a welcome new British voice" so might be worth a look when it is in paperback (skipping the gory bits).

Having looked at the book on Amazon, the hardback is priced at 5.99 pounds, which is the price (or less than the price) of a paperback in the UK. The Times is quoting 10 pounds in its review (or 9 pounds if you buy the book from them). Pricing apart, Amazon pair the book with Robert Crais’s latest, a standalone called "The two minute rule" (recommended by a colleague who has just finished it). As I’ve been following Val Landi, I know now that this means the publisher has paid for a pairing with another book at a certain selling level, but was not able to choose which book. Robert Crais was a good result for Beckett, in terms of market exposure.

There is one customer review on Amazon so far (as well as the Hayder endorsement and one from Tess Gerritson, which is a very good sign); someone from Surrey in the UK (not me!) likes it a lot. Maybe I will buy the hardback at the Amazon price, then.

Incidentally, in searching for the Times link to the Beckett review, I found an archive of selected crime-fiction reviews on the Times site. I imagine most of these are by now behind the subscription wall along with the Beckett review, but here’s the link. It is a useful list of recently published books to put on your reading list, if you like crime fiction.

Giles G-B said…

It’s more related to Frank Wilson’s call for books with scientists in, but this post about chemistry and death thrillers reminded me of Easter Island by Jennifer Vanderbes. There are two scientist main characters in it, and it’s a fun read as well.

12:49 PM

Maxine said…

Thanks, Giles G-B; one more for the list 😉

12:02 PM