Talking to the Dead … a post-publication report

Excuse me, has anyone seen a murderer?

The remarkable thing about publishing a book is that almost nothing happens. In the old days, of course, you started to find your book popping up in bookshops. Even then, there were weird absences. Major bookshops which had unquestionably ordered the book but no books instore and no members of staff knowing anything about it. If your mother is like mine – and she probably is – she’ll have cooked up some dark conspiracy theories about why this might be.

These days, though, there’s not much need of conspiracy theories. Book retail is in crisis in the UK. Waterstones has more or less stopped ordering hardback fiction from anyone but known bestsellers. WH Smith the same. In effect, both retailers have abdicated proactive bookselling.

Newspapers were never guaranteed or prompt sources of reviews, but they did carry some heft all the same. These days, review pages are thinner than ever they were, and there are so many other sources of commentary now that a good review in a major newspaper may not influence sales very strongly or for very long.

Indie stores still do a wonderful job – but there’s a question of whether £17 crime hardbacks constitute a worthwhile product these days. And Amazon, gawd bless it, sells one hell of a lot of copies, both book-books and eeeeeee-books – but it’s still only one outlet.

So for the poor old author, these are strange times. Talking to the Dead has got lovely reviews from numerous high profile crime bloggers, including Crime Fiction Lover, Crime Thriller Girl, Milo Rambles and more. It’s also had lovely reviews from readers on Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com and Goodreads.

But what does any of that mean for sales? How does a book by a largely unknown author take off if you can’t find it in a bookshop? Can a book – however good – go viral, if the starting price is £17? How does a publisher add value these days, when their old tools are starting to wither?

Knotted & glued: a very tidy job.

I don’t have answers to these things. (Except that I don’t think books go viral at that price point. No book ever has.) Trouble is, no one else knows the answers either. We’re at the most troubling stage of the transition to digital. The old order is collapsing and the new one hasn’t yet arisen.

Strange times, strange times. Me I’m doing what I’ve always done: tied black cats into knots and throwing mirrors into ladders. It hasn’t worked yet, but you never know …

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  • Really interesting write up, thanks. It certainly is interesting times. Fingers crossed for reviews, endorsements, word of mouth and, well you know, sales.

  • As you say, it’s interesting times. In a world where (at least on Twitter) a second can barely pass without an eBook being promoted, I do wonder how ‘traditional’ booksellers can compete. That said, I personally love having an actual, physical book. In fact, if I like a book I’ve read first as an eBook I’ll often buy it in paper format too!

    But, whether in paper or eBook format, what matters is the novel it contains. And Talking to the Dead is real quality. It deserves to be up at the top of those bestsellers lists.

  • Good post, Harry. I guess the market is wide open for a publisher who truly understands marketing and promotion in a digital age.

  • Skylark

    I’m an unknown trying to get my first book published. Five years ago, I understood the process and it all seemed very straightforward. Write well. Find an agent who thinks you write well. Find a publisher who thinks you write well. Job done.

    Now I’m not sure which way to turn and no one else seems to either! It’s good to highlight these issues, even if there isn’t yet a clear solution/direction because, hopefully, there will be publishers out there who realise that they need to rethink and come up with new strategies to cope with the transition to digital.

    In the meantime, I’ll keep plugging away at ‘writing well’ – because that’s the one thing that publishers will continue looking for whatever the changes, isn’t it?

  • Yep, it’s a tough old business. Publishers and booksellers alike are taking less and less risks these days, and agents are taking on fewer and fewer unpublished authors (so I consider myself lucky that I have mine). All we can do is keep plugging away and hope for the best.

    And vent on blogs like this to keep us going, of course 🙂

  • Very good points. I’m afraid you’re right, the hardback price will probably not help its chances of going viral, but giving work away on Amazon at ridiculous prices only gives weight to the notion that you get what you pay for. I’m a bit of a Kindle addict, I have to confess, and I do think e-publishing will emerge as the way forward, but these transitional times are certainly going to be challenging for everyone.

    And stop with the black cat-bondage immediately. Shades of…no, we definitely won’t go there!