Do authors dream of electric chairs?


Over the weekend, whilst recuperating in bed from a rather nasty brush with outdoor exercise (see previous blog-post), I was surfing the Internet, checking out the competition among other things. I like to read about other authors who write in my genre, especially those whose writing I have enjoyed. I learned a couple of things that have had something of an effect on me as a writer, a reader and a human being.

First guy I checked out was John A.A. Logan. I’d just finished his rather excellent book The Survival of Thomas Ford. It was a free download for a few days (why I got it of course) and one of the best I’ve read in a long time. I tracked him down on the web and found this blog-post, which is really worth reading for any aspiring author. It’s interesting and saddening.

Later, I found myself looking at the website of Damien Boyd who has been having a rich roll of the dice in the past year if his Amazon placings and feedback are anything to go by. The following blog entry, naturally, inspired a potent cocktail of emotions in me. For the record good luck to him. (There, that wasn’t so hard was it? My anger-management therapist would be so thrilled with that response…if I hadn’t killed her in a fit of rage when James Oswald got sorted from the chaff and she told me to simply get over it.) I urge you to read Mr Boyd’s blog-post now. (If you’re an aspiring self-publisher it might be best not to have any cats in the vicinity when you do this.)

Another one who’s made it over the fence. I’d dearly love to know what the Amazon UK deal entailed. Imagine being approached by not one but two literary agents and a tv producer and then Amazon trump them all with a deal. (Deep breath, Oliver.)

John Logan has all that great stuff said about his book by people that count – the gatekeepers – and it is very good in my opinion, but he can’t get a publishing deal and Damien Boyd knocks out a few police procedurals (I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with them. I’ve only read one) and gets courted by the same people who have just ushered Mr Logan out of the back door.

I don’t want to make comparisons on the quality of the writing of these guys. I’ll leave that to others. But it does show you that even if you write a bloody brilliant book, if the people who judge these things don’t see publishing it as economically viable then it won’t get published. Market forces, I think they call it. What a travesty, I call it. But I must admit to understanding it. It should not be forgotten that publishing is just a business to these people, a money-making merry-go-round and if your prose don’t fit, you’re screwed.

I do feel for Mr Logan. It must be particularly frustrating to be told by the people that one needs to impress that you’ve impressed them in spades but it doesn’t matter because the bean counters don’t have a good feeling in their water about it and so they aren’t going to publish you anyway. How many books and authors a year suffer the same fate, I wonder. How many fantastic lumps of writing get rejected simply because of the bottom line, trends or fashion or whatever you want to call it? It must be devastating to hear, ‘Sorry, it’s brilliant but that’s not what matters.’ I mean, where do you go from there as a writer? Thankfully, I haven’t had to deal with that kind of rejection. (Yeah, I know what I’m saying there. Very funny.)

If anyone is looking for arguments as to why the ebook revolution and the self-publishing of ebooks are good things or not, you should look no further than the examples of both of these authors. Mr Boyd might not have made it if he hadn’t had such a terrific response to his self-publishing venture, and without the option to self-publish, readers would have been denied the opportunity to read Mr Logan’s excellent writing.

I hope Mr Logan’s writing gets the recognition it deserves from readers and that one day soon he finds himself in the position of having those same publishers who wouldn’t take him on standing on his doorstep with their hats off, looking a bit sheepish. (Cue boiling oil from the battlements.)

10 thoughts on “Do authors dream of electric chairs?

  1. Hi Oliver, hello from the wind-lashed Sussex coast where it’s currently raining sideways. Thanks for posting these links; interesting. Having read books from both of these authors my guess is that of the two Boyd is the more mainstream and the more easily categorisable. Hence the galling publication deals. And ‘As the crow flies’ wasn’t at all bad. ‘The Survival..’ on the other hand was more left field.
    Neither of them made me laugh though or even raised a smile. When are you going to give us a good old fashioned heist story where you can combine your talents for thriller writing and comedy?

    • Hı Sarah
      I hope the rains stay in Sussex and don’t drift across to Romney Marsh. My roof leaks.
      I agree with you on your remarks of the books’ appeal. If Boyd’s first is indicative of the other two then they are lighter, simpler entertainments, which will certainly have a greater audience than Logan’s which is certainly darker and deeper and less genre specific.
      A heist story? Mmm…it’s never occurred to me. It could be fun. I do like a good heist film. (‘The Score’ with DeNiro is my favourite).I’ll put it on my to do list. 🙂
      Best wishes.

  2. Thanks very much for the kind words, Oliver, and it’s great to hear you enjoyed The Survival of Thomas Ford so much!

    I think, after writing for 25 years now, I’ve become a bit philosophical about publication/book deals etc…or even Success/Luck/Failure…and what they mean.
    Also, regarding expectations-of-success etc, I’m keenly aware that three of my favourite novels, and among the best I’ve read – The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa – A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole – The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov…were not even published at all until after the author’s deaths (11 years afterwards in Kennedy’s case; 27 years after in Bulgakov’s)
    I’ve also blogged about the travails of Lampedusa/Kennedy/Bulgakov on “Author’s Electric” (or “Electric Chairs” as I will now always think of it thanks to your post!)…I wrote about them and their work in a post called “Fending Off the Next Dark Age”:

    So, the question of Luck regarding writers, where Luck lands or falls, or doesn’t, makes quite a fascinating study.
    I think the trick may be to somehow keep doing the work, without worrying too much about the outcome?

    Of course, learning that Trick is probably, in itself, a Life’s Work.

    Thanks again!
    All best,

    • Hello John
      Many thanks for your time to comment here.
      Even after my short time being a self-publisher I quite agree with you that lady luck is one of the key elements in achieving any degree of success. This goes for Amazon, too. If one is fortunate enough to find oneself promoted a little by the ‘Patron Saint of Self-Publishers’ it can make all the difference between a modicum of success in download terms and the wilderness. It’s all in the algorithms, I understand. And who understands those? Not even Amazon I reckon.
      A Confederacy of Dunces is the only one of the three books you mention that I’ve read. Loved it enough to discover something about the author. Another publishing tragedy. Or just bad luck for him.
      Having the ‘luxury’ of a day job I find that I am able to indulge myself regarding my writing. (You should see the mess of genres my latest project is making.) I feel no pressure to churn out the books that seem to sell well on Amazon. But if I had to write for money to pay the bills…
      I shall now and go and check out the link you’ve attached. I really enjoyed your other one that I included in my original post.
      Best wishes for the future.

  3. There’s not a lot I can contribute to this, Oliver, Logan has said it all. I have been writing for 30 years with a ten year break when I put all my creativity into devising learning aids. Even though I’d had some success, I got so despondent with all the rejection slips, I thought I would never write again and tore up several manuscripts, and reams of notes. But they have remained in my head and now I am working on one I destroyed all those years ago.
    It is almost a year since I published my first book on Amazon, and from the beginning, I knew if I wanted to write general fiction, I would have my work cut out. But I have been satisfied with what I’ve sold, and nothing will stop me writing now. I said a few weeks ago, I will probably be recognised when I’ve kicked the bucket. How’s that song go? ‘You don’t know what you’ve got, till it’s gone.’ Some authors, like a lot of painters, are not fully appreciated until they’ve passed away. But what a legacy they leave.

    • Hi Pat
      Thanks for your comment, as always.
      I found John Logan’s blog post fascinating, obviously.
      For people like you and me, and Mr Logan, Amazon and self-publishing really has been a brilliant option. None of us need die in obscurity now. (Just infamy in my case.)
      Keep going and all the best.

  4. Hi, Oliver,
    I am working on becoming either famous or infamous, I really don’t care which. It is rather fun, though, trying to become infamous, especially when everyone around you thinks you’re in the first stages of dementia. It’s surprising what you can get away with at my age.
    Keep writing.

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