It was only last week that CRIME ALWAYS PAYS went live on Kindle, and already there’s so, so much to report. For one, CRIME ALWAYS PAYS knackered Mack Lundy’s Kindle mid-flight. Sorry about that, Mack. That blip was supposed to be a dry-run for my cunning plot to activate the virus I’ve coded into the text of CRIME ALWAYS PAYS in order to knacker the entire Kindle system on October 28th ...
Sales-wise, it’s fair to say, things could have gone better. CRIME ALWAYS PAYS entered Amazon’s Kindle charts at # 8,245 and soared almost immediately to # 1,235 before it promptly plummeted out to # 13,889. On a chart, the graph would resemble the orbit of Halley’s comet. So that’s not good.
On the other hand, the book did get the latest in its many write-ups from the lovely Book Witch. Quoth Ms Witch: “It’s simply a very amusing and mad crime novel, which any crime fan should enjoy.” So that’s good.
Then Duane Swiersynski announced on Twitter that he’d bought a copy, which was good, but there’s been radio silence ever since, which is not good. Duane? I operate a value-for-money payback guarantee, so if it didn’t buzz your bajingas, just let me know where I should send the cheque.
And then … Actually, no, that’s it. Just as well, really. It was all getting a bit frenetic there on Monday, and I am, to be quite frank about it, a parcel of vain strivings, loosely tied, methinks, for milder climes than these. Or words to that effect …
In a nutshell, then, the week was a pretty fair reflection of the amount of work I put into promoting CAP, which amounted to little more than a blog post and a couple of tweets on Twitter. Now, it’s still early days, and the UK Kindle is coming this month, apparently, so that might make a difference – but even at this early stage it looks as if my avant-garde experiment in laissez-faire promotion is paying off handsomely. What I’m trying to prove in this experiment is something I already know, which is that it’s impossible to achieve a working wage in the publishing industry without having to work ten times as hard as you would in a job that pays minimum wage. Even the fact that I’m talking about writing books as ‘the publishing industry’ is fairly damning. The fact is, though, that it is an industry, and as with all industries, it’s the best capitalised endeavours that will rise to the top. Which is to say that, generally speaking, publishing a book these days is a pointless endeavour, if your aim is to reach the maximum number of readers possible for your particular kind of book, unless you’ve got pretty explicit incriminating photographs of the guy or gal behind the advertising budget. Forget quirky titles, and great stories, and viral marketing, and book trailers, and blogs and word-of-mouth and every other one-off fluke success story you’ve ever heard – as far as I can make out, it’s all about the promotional spend.
Apart from the paltry few hours it took me to write CRIME ALWAYS PAYS, the spend on the book has been pretty minimal – about $20, or thereabouts. Which is why it is currently languishing at (checks Amazon Kindle listings on Friday night) # 5,711. Which is, okay, better than it was earlier this afternoon, but still not causing Dan Brown any sleepless nights.
Meantime, I’m using the time that I’m not blogging / promoting / shilling to write. It’s going well, thanks for asking – I’m having fun screwing around with conventional notions of ‘story’, ‘novel’ and ‘book’. If I’m honest, I’d have to say that it is by a country mile the least commercial story I’ve ever written, and if I’m totally honest, I’d have to say that that’s deliberate. One reason for that is because, in the last year or so, I’ve had three books picked up by an editor at a pretty reputable U.S. publisher, and three times he has failed (no fault of his own) to get them past the bean-counters. Two of the three were straightforward enough, being a crime caper and a PI story, while the third was (to be fair to the bean-counters) rather more unconventional. The problem for me is that it’s the unconventional one that I found to be the most fun to write; and, if I’m not going to get published anyway, then I might as well keep writing, in the scarce few writing hours I have every week, the stuff that’s fun.
It’s also, I think, a bit of a reaction to an industry that is becoming increasingly sterile and homogenous. There’s no getting away from the fact that that’s a very subjective take on things, and obviously it depends very heavily on the books I’ve been reading. I’ve read some terrific novels this year – Gene Kerrigan’s DARK TIMES IN THE CITY, Stuart Neville’s THE TWELVE (aka THE GHOSTS OF BELFAST), Robert Wilson’s THE IGNORANCE OF BLOOD, Ed O’Loughlin’s NOT UNTRUE & NOT UNKIND, John Connolly’s THE GATES, Alan Glynn’s WINTERLAND, Scott Philips’ COTTONWOOD, John Banville’s THE INFINITIES – but apart from re-reads – James Ellroy’s LA CONFIDENTIAL and Raymond Chandler’s FAREWELL, MY LOVELY – the only books that truly blew me away were GENIUS, a biography of Richard Feynman by James Gleick, 1974 by David Peace, and I AM ALIVE AND YOU ARE DEAD, a biography of Philip K. Dick by Emmanuel Carrère.
The Richard Feynman biography was mind-blowing because it incorporates a history of 20th century quantum physics, which, as is always the case when I dip into quantum physics, is akin to leaving my brain behind on a roller-coaster to fend for itself – I don’t know much about what’s going on, but it’s a hell of a ride. The same, I suppose, applied to 1974, but what I particularly liked about that was David Peace’s ability to bypass my eyes and lodge his words directly in the cerebral cortex – I’d imagine it’s the way a trained composer, say, ‘reads’ music off the sheet. What I liked about the Philip K. Dick book was the way Carrère screwed around with the biographical form, blending Dick’s professional and personal fictions and fantasies to the point where they became something of a double-helix, and it was virtually impossible to tell where one ended and the other began.
I have no idea of how well, or otherwise, the three books sold when they first appeared. I do know that all three, if not exactly life-changing reads, had the capacity (had I read them at a more impressionable age) to change the way I perceived books: to re-evaluate what a book can deliver, and the way in which a story can be told. I’m not trying to say that they were ‘unputdownable’ (the Feynman book, especially, required putting down on nearly every second page), or that the writers were such slick craftsmen that the pages seemed to turn on their own, so that I found myself transported to a world of the writer’s creation, blah-de-blah, nor offer any of the absurdly reductionist opinions that the commercial publishing world seems to value so highly. I don’t read to be ‘swept away’, or ‘entertained’, or distracted from my commute or to while away the hours on a beach – I read to be challenged and provoked, to be goaded into a greater awareness of my place in the grand scheme, etc. Most books these days, and fiction in particular, seem to want to be the literary equivalent of either Valium or Viagra, but life’s too short, and the world too wide, to waste it on third-rate knock-offs of stories that were already old by the time Aristophanes got around to spoofing Athenian intellectuals with CLOUDS – of which, I should say, bringing us full circle, CRIME ALWAYS PAYS is a fourth-rate example, which may well account for why it is currently (checks Amazon Kindle rankings on Saturday morning before uploading post) languishing at # 14,199. Hence the new departure.
All of which is a roundabout way of saying that, if I’m going to be a pathetically failed writer, then I’ll be a pathetically failed writer on my terms, not the industry’s. Yes, that ‘clunk-click’ you hear is yours truly bolting the stable door after the horse has bolted – and yes, you’re perfectly entitled to wonder whether I’d be so critical of the industry had one of my books being bought for a tidy sum in the last year or so. The answer, I’m pretty sure, is ‘Yes, I would’ – although I wouldn’t be blogging about it. I’d probably just bitch about it in private, and then go and write something similar to fulfil the contract, and put the interesting story that I’d really like to write on the back-burner, for another year at least.
I guess I’m pretty lucky. I’m happy and healthy, I like my job, I can pay my bills, and I can – given that very few people in the publishing industry care either way – write whatever the hell I want to write. I’ll probably end up publishing the new story to the web next year, to the electronic equivalent of a few embarrassed coughs, but hey, it’s mine own. Life is good.
“Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.