My novel was self published using the services of Silverwood Books. They gave the book a copy edit,professional design (based on an image I provided), and sorted the legals.
Being a Silverwood author means I get to meet some interesting people. One chap was a publisher of ebooks (we’ll call him Carlos, he might not appreciate me using his real name), and we had a very interesting chat about the state of publishing.
You see, Carlos loves to read the classics, and in particular Russian authors. Dostoyevsky, Nabakov, Tolstoy, and so on. He was forced to read their books as an English Literature student and found them very hard going. Slowly but surely they grew on him, and now they are his reading material of choice.
I asked Carlos if the Russian authors would be published today. Without hesitation he answered “No. Not a chance.” They are too lengthy, too intense, and take too long to draw the reader in, he explained. They would not sell, so they would not get published. But he loves reading them.
When Norah Jones released her album Come Away With Me in 2002 she was unknown and the album, with its laid back feel and jazz inflection, was not considered to be commercial. Instead it sold by the bucketload and was the dinner party album of the year (that’s not meant as an insult, just one reason why it sold so well – it remains a great album).
The result? For the next 5 years or so, record labels were on the lookout for the ‘next Norah Jones’. Pity the young female solo artist trying to break through during that period.
There are many other examples of those that sell product taking the easy option. The success from nowhere of the Dragon Tattoo books, for one. It’s calmed down now, but for a while there the Foyles ‘3 for 2’ section was filled with dark covers featuring a scared woman and a Scandiavian author’s name.
Books are written for two reasons. Firstly, to sell. Secondly, because the author had no choice but to write it, to wrench the story and the characters from their very soul. A venn diagram of these two types of books could very well end up as two circles on a page.
Of course, there are many ‘worthy’ books that sell well. But is has been said that the death knell of any book club is when someone first suggests they read ‘the classics’.
Any submission to an agent or publisher requires the first 5,000 words or the first chapter. There are so many books published these days that a new one has to capture the attention quickly. A book that slowly draws you in through deep character development my take more time to capture the imagination. Agents want to check the writing style, but also how quickly the book gets to a point. Prologues are frowned upon (whoops!). Hence Carlos’s response that the Russian authors simply would not get published today.
This is not the fault of any one group of people, of course. It is a function of the market. But the fact that Carlos was at the Silverwood event may hint at a solution. Maybe the classics of the future are going to come from the world of self-publishing. There are no restrictions, no ‘writing for the market’. Maybe the next Lolita or War And Peace will be a self published novel that did not have to have to worry about finding an audience.