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.