I was asked recently what I thought were the ingredients for a best-selling novel and after I’d stopped rolling on the floor, mopped up my tears of laughter and lain in a darkened room for an hour I thought I should try to come up with an answer.
If there is a recipe for best-sellerdom I suspect it calls for eye of newt, toe of frog and other hard-to-find items. It does help to be very very famous before you or your ghost writer write a word. The source of your fame doesn’t matter. Even if you’re only known for having very large breasts publishers will camp outside your house with sacks of money and refuse to leave until you accept at least six figures. Sometimes the
crock book you’ve written will earn back what it’s cost your publisher but usually it won’t. Like you could care? Because you already got the money.
Then there’s the rest of us. The worker bees. It used to be possible for a writer to make a living wage. These days we’re lucky to get paid anything. Therefore one has to hope for a freak publishing phenomenon. A movie deal can help, or being taken up and enthused over by Richard, Judy, Oprah, or someone famous for having very large breasts. Dying can sometimes help a writer’s career too. Which must be really infuriating, if the deceased is in any position to feel annoyed.
Once a book starts to roll there may come a point where its own momentum carries it to high sales figures. People will buy it because people are buying it. But most novels, even ones that get good reviews, disappear from view. Every writer has her fans, God bless them and long life to them. A best-seller though requires hundred of thousands of fans. It’s just the way the market is nowadays. Either you’re HUGE or you’re clipping coupons.
Am I bitter? No. Perhaps a little envious of any writer who can afford to take a few months off before she needs to work again. I wish I could see any hope of publishers spreading their bounty more evenly. A bit less for the celebrity deals would mean a bit more for everyone else.
As for Fifty Shades, the really frustrating thing is that every publisher is now going to be chasing something similar for their own list. That’s what happens when the accountants run the show. My husband says if that’s the case, I know what I have to do: write a throbbing, tumescent corker. To which I reply that I’m more likely to grow very large breasts. And he says, ‘Sounds good to me.’