Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Mat Coward

Some may not agree, but it’s becoming almost as hard to stay published as it is to find a publisher in the first place. In this blog I’ve mentioned the likes of Kay Mitchell and Stephen Murray, two fine writers who have slipped from sight in recent years. And there are many more I can think of.

The other day I had an email from Mat Coward. I’ve never met him, but we’ve been in touch for a number of years. He’s written entertaining novels, and is an incisive reviewer and commentator on the genre, but his particular strength is as a short story writer. I’ve included many of his stories in anthologies that I’ve edited for the Crime Writers’ Association. Invariably, they are witty and original – ‘Nice People’ is one of several that stick in my mind.

Now Mat tells me that at present he’s not writing crime and he’s allowed his membership of the CWA to lapse. There are all kinds of reasons why this happens, and Mat is enjoying success as a freelance writer in other fields – but all the same, it’s a matter for regret when someone seriously talented decides to move away from the genre. I hope we’ll see more of his mystery fiction in years to come.


Mark Terry said...

My feeling is this is a trend that's been developing for some time. It's been commented that prior to the 1980s, publishers were pretty happy to publish 100 authors that sold 5000 copies, then they pushed for 10 authors who sell 50,000 copies.

Now it seems they want all their authors to sell 500,000 copies or they're gone.

Conventional wisdom (is that an oxymoron?) is that it takes 5 or 6 books in your backlist (and actually in the damned store) before the average reader even notices you--it's a real estate issue--but publishers are dropping authors after 2 or 3 books (or 1) and books are going out of print so fast nobody gets into the stores unless your name is James Patterson.

It's a weird dynamic and on gloomy days can make all those pessimistic projections about the demise of the book seem dead on.

Martin Edwards said...

Mark, I agree. In the UK, the Collins Crime Club and Gollancz yellow jacket imprints used to guarantee, reliable fare - and there was plenty of it. They aimed mainly at the library market. Perhaps the decline of library budgets has something to do with the - deeply regrettable - reluctance of so many modern publishers to support the mid-list.

Mat C said...

Thanks for your kind words, Martin. As (like all writers) I am always happy to bash publishers, I feel that in this case I ought to add a clarification, since my own former crime publisher, Five Star, is not guilty in the matter of dumping mid-listers - or not guilty of dumping this mid-lister, at any rate. So, credit where it’s due: I know that Five Star would have liked to see another “Don and Frank” novel from me; the main reason I haven’t written one is because Bush has destroyed the US economy - at the moment, earning in USD while spending in GBP is a short road to bankruptcy. I’m not writing for the US market simply because I can’t afford to.

The main reason I’m not writing fiction at all at the moment, for any market, is merely that I’m doing other stuff. It’s quite likely that I will write fiction again, one day.

Meanwhile, I am still reading and reviewing crime fiction as enthusiastically as ever ... well, almost as enthusiastically. I do feel that US thrillers are going through a slightly dull and samey patch just at the moment. For one thing, they have reached levels of frankly embarrassing machismo, and tedious gore-fetishism, unseen since the 1970s - and the women authors are often the worst offenders.
- Mat C

Anonymous said...

Now this really is horrifying - Derek Robinson, one of Britain’s greatest living novelists (many of whose books overlap our genre, by being spy stories), doesn’t have a publisher for his latest novel, or for the paperback of his previous book: he says so on his website: http://www.derekrobinson.info/

Surely, somewhere, there’s a publisher left who knows what good fiction looks like?

- Mat C