Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Journey's End - and a new beginning

All my life I've been fascinated by writing and the writing life. From being very young, I wanted to be a published writer, and when I discovered, in my teens, that some people who achieved that ambition gave up on writing, I was mystified. When I got to know writers personally, I began to develop a much better understanding of why people might give up, and the subject has continued to fascinate me. My interest in trying to figure out why Anthony Berkeley suddenly abandoned crime fiction after 15 years of hard work and much success was, for instance, one of the main drivers behind The Golden Age of Murder.

This subject - why authors give up - tends to be one of the untold stories of the writing life. So when Christopher West told me about the reissuing of  his books,I asked if he'd like to let me have his perspective on it. I have happy memories of a wonderful Bouchercon in Philadelphia when Chris and I were both in the early stage of our writing careers; we had a lot of fun together and he attended other conferences, promoting his enjoyable novels, until - suddenly, he moved away from the genre.

Here, he tells us why. I'm very grateful for his guest comments, and, yes, if you haven't read his books, you have a treat in store:

"Journey’s end

A crime series is a living thing.  It has a life cycle – or perhaps a ‘death cycle’ would be a better expression: there are times when it seems to be in maximum danger, others when it is relatively safe and flourishing.

The first moment of maximum threat is in its conception.  That brilliant idea of Karl Marx’s parallel career as a PI just doesn’t seem so good the next morning (annoyingly, someone else will produce a winning series with this formula a few years later).  The next is probably the first book.  Publishers like the ‘throw spaghetti at the wall and see which one sticks’ approach: if the first book bombs, book two will be a hard sell.  

If the first one does well enough, you probably have a grace period.  But if, after a few books in, things aren’t taking off, trouble looms again.  New writers are knocking on the door and you are effectively in their way.  What do you do?  Call it a day?  Rebrand?  Or soldier on, hoping things will pick up?  I remember hearing Ian Rankin say that after four moderately successful Inspector Rebus novels, he sat back and refocused the series, giving it a tougher edge.  One of the great rebrandings. 

My own experience of hitting the ‘four book’ wall was different.  My Beijing detective was still doing OK and critics still liked the books, but I didn’t sense any great picking up of sales.  I toyed with rebranding, but how, exactly?  I liked the tec and the series the way they were.  (I sense that Rankin rather fancied the idea of toughening the Rebus series – if you rebrand, it must be in a way you like, or you risk the grisly fate of being tied to a character / series you can’t stand.)  In the end, my hand was forced – luckily in a pleasant way, as another writing opportunity came up.  I said a sad farewell to the Inspector and his feisty wife, and started on a series of business books.

Now Amazon has given old series a second chance.  My detective can reappear on Kindle and reach out to a new audience.  A re-edit to make things a touch pacier for the e-reader.  A little rebranding.  A sympathetic epublisher (Pageturners).  Death of a Blue Lantern, the ebook, is just out.  It’s great to be back."

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