This is a topic I have been thinking about for a while.
I have been building my collection of Hard Case Crime novels and reading about some of these pulp and post pulp era authors and the struggles they faced in their careers. Some produced significant numbers of books under various pen names and often for small returns on each book.
But they were writers and writing was how they made a living. We all know names like Laurence Block and Ed McBain but few of us couldn’t even imagine trying to locate every books they ever produced, let alone read all of them.
It seems to me that a significant number of authors these days have a different attitude. It seems they feel they are artists. They produce a book and it is a great and wondrous thing, like a work of art. It must be appreciated and they expend a great deal of effort promoting and discussing it.
I recall an author I spoke to some time ago when they were promoting their book. I asked the standard questions: Tell me about the current book in the series, what are the plans for the next and what projects do you have in the works. They had a short story I found interesting and I asked them if they ever considered turning it into a novel. They told me their publisher wasn’t interested so there was no point. So I suggested they see if they could get another publisher and get it published. It would expose them to a different audience and might even be fun. Well, they looked at me like I just said their mother was a hooker. They told me they had a publisher and they were required to produce one book a year. That was all the writing they needed to do.
I have also heard of authors who said that if they didn’t have a publishing deal, they wouldn’t write anymore.
When I see that, it makes me wonder if they even like writing.
There is that old saying: “A writer writes.” It seems in the age of self-promotion and self-marketing, we have lost sight of that simple axiom. Often I hear people say “if I don’t focus on marketing instead of writing, I’ll lose my deal.” Well, I say back that no one buys books because they think the author is a great promoter but because they think the author is a good writer.
If you can write well, you can find another publisher. Maybe it won't be the biggest and best in New York but the book is out there.
I am reminded of “American Skin” by the multi-talented Ken Bruen. This book was published by a small press to rave reviews. But he was not contracted to write it and yet he did. Why? Because Ken is a writer. He is writes everyday because it’s his job and he takes it seriously.
I also think of James Sallis. I am willing to bet a number of people will say who? James is a prolific talented writer who has a wide portfolio
. He is another example of that drive that a serious writer has.
I think it is sad that so many authors just want the big deal so they can slap together a book in a few months and they kick back the rest of the time pretending they’re minor celebrities.
When an author treats writing like a something you do so you don’t need a job, how much real success can you have? I have heard of a few six-figure advance guys who, a few years later, have dropped off the face of the earth. Successful writers who have longevity in the business work hard writing.
It is never about holding up your book in one hand and patting yourself on the back with the other.