Thursday, July 19, 2007

The birth of bestsellers 2

Also in today's blog
An undiscovered [by me] Paul Scott novel

Here, extracted from George Greenfield's Scribblers for Bread [Hodder & Stoughton 1989], is the second part of his theory on how bestsellers happen.

"The second way is the gradual approach. The author in question usually starts more than moderately well and turns out to have a steady, sometimes prolific output where each succeeding novel fares that much better than its predecessors. Examples would include Paul Scott, Dick Francis, P D James, Ruth Rendell and Wilbur Smith. In each case it took perhaps ten to twenty novels, often published at yearly intervals, for the respective author to break into the charmed circle of top-selling novelists, although Heinemann did print and sell 20,000 copies of Wilbur Smith's very first novel. Both Dick Francis and P D James benefited through a latish breakthrough in the United States, which reflected back favourably on their British status. In all the popular arts – films, television, the novel – America since the war has had a far greater influence on European sales than we often care to admit. Unless the subject matter is highly arcane, a bestselling American novel will almost certainly hit the British bestseller lists, whereas many bestselling British novels will get nowhere in the States."

Can it really be almost 30 years since Paul Scott died? On his page at Wikipedia, I read "Scott published his first novel Johnny Sahib in 1952 (after seventeen rejections) to modest success. He continued to write and published a novel every year or so until deciding in 1960 to try to survive as a full time author."

It's interesting that even in the early Fifties, when publishing was still "an occupation for gentlemen" and publishers and literary agents were not inundated with book proposals to the extent they are today, he had so many rejections.

Looking for Johnny Sahib at Amazon UK, I came across a Scott novel I hadn't heard of, Six Days in Marapore paperbacked by the University of Chicago Press in 2005.

There's an interesting piece "Paul Scott as a Postimperial Author" by Jacqueline Banerjee, Ph.D here.


At 19 July, 2007, Anonymous Kit Berry said...

Hi Anne,
Just discovered your blog via a book shop link, and was very interested in your thunderclap v slow-burn article as two routes to becoming a best-selling author. As an up-and-coming hopeful, I'm very keen to be the former! Do you do book reviews too? You may be interested in looking at the first book in the series I'm writing (two titles published, third due for this autumn, will ultimately be five in the series). I'm developing a wonderfully loyal cult following, and there were two other things you mentioned which I found relevant to my position in the tricky world of publishing.

Firstly your piece on old age - the very elderly mother who keeps herself active and alert through her interests. I wrote my books really with the young adult market in mind - the two main protaganists are in their teens, although they do obviously grow up as the series progresses. However I soon realised from e mails and letters received that my audience was far wider than originally conceived. Men of all ages have discovered the books, often through their partners, and are vociferous in their feedback. But even more surprisingly perhaps - I've received four letters (they don't tend to e mail!) from ladies in their eighties saying how much they enjoyed the Stonewylde Series. This amazed me!

Secondly, you wrote about success in the USA as sometimes being a precursor to success in the UK. I've had so many enquiries from the States and Canada about getting hold of my books, that we're going ahead and publishing over there next month. I've set up distribution etc, and have one review coming out in September, so hopefully sales will take off over there. There's certainly a lot of interest without much input from me.

You may find it interesting in your capacity as book blogger to chart the progress of the Stonewylde Series. It's quite unique, and has none of the hype and money thrown at it that accompanies a launch by a major publisher. This is home-spun stuff, and it could be an interesting case-study in your "Rise of a best-seller" thread.

Anyway, I hope you find this of interest, and I shall continue to read your blog with interest myself.

Best wishes
Kit Berry

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