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The good, the possible and the ugly

I find I have a strange relationship with the different books I've written over the years, a relationship, I'm afraid that is primarily driven by money.

When a book first comes out, and it's fresh and new, I love it and do my best to promote it how and where I can. But with the slightly older books, an invisible split opens up. Broadly there are three categories a book can end up in - 'in profit', 'on the way to profit' or 'will never make it.'

If a book's in profit, it's a no brainer. It has earned enough from royalties to pay off the publisher's advance. This means every copy sold puts some new pennies in my pocket. So I will do everything I can to keep such a book in the public eye (and to keep it in print, but that's a different story).

A book that's on the way to profit looks likely to get there in the next year or two. So it's well worth nurturing and trying to get more sales. But for some, the gap is too immense. While they go out with the usual possibility of becoming a bestseller, for some reason they don't make it, despite everyone's best efforts. After about a year it becomes clear that there's really no point flogging a dead horse. I still hope it stays out there - it might have a strange resurgance - but putting a huge effort into keeping it visible isn't worthwhile.

This may sound very mercenary, and it's certainly sad, because some of the books that don't do very well are, in my opinion, among the best - but with only a limited amount of time and effort available, it's essential to concentrate that effort where it will result in payback. It's logical and necessary - but it sometimes feels like abandoning your children.


  1. Of course, every book one writes one imagines to be The One, The Bestseller, The Book That'll Generate Truly Life-Changing Amounts Of Cash.

    The truth is that one can never know. When my first trade title, Deep Time, was picked up for £££ by an editorial wunderkind who had a reputation for picking unlikely bestsellers, I asked him how he knew which would fly and which wouldn't. His answer was candid - one can't. So many imponderables rule the fate of books, such that he'd seen good books stiff and bad books make lots of money.

    In the end one's expectations are lowered. Books, for me, contribute to discrete aspects of life. So whereas the advance on Deep Time paid for Mrs Cromercrox to take three years off to have Cromercrox Minor, most things are a lot smaller. Before the Backbone paid for some nice booshelves; the German rights to The Science of Middle-earth paid for a nice cooker hood in the kitchen, and so on.

  2. Really interesting, Brian. I must confess to losing that burning drive about "Tangled Roots" the closer I get to finishing book 2. It's good to hear it said out loud, though.

  3. Cromercrox - Absolutely, you gets what you can. Some of the books I wrote years ago earn about £10 a year - but, hey, that's a (small) takeaway.

    But the point was rather that sometimes I make more effort to sell slightly older books that are in profit rather than more recent ones that never will be. But the new ones get the love every time.

    Sue - Yes, although books are often likened to children, I think it's much harder to keep the same enthusiasm for older titles as new ones come along. And anyway, all your friends get fed up of hearing about book X... so it's time to go on to being boring about book Y. (Not that I'm suggesting you are about Tangled Roots - I meant me!)


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