Praise for Declan Burke: “Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “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.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Woe Is Me, Etc: A Failing Writer Writes

It’s taken me a while, but I’ve started to realise that the thrust of Crime Always Pays has changed. Yes, it was always intended to be a blog in support of Irish crime writing and writers, but as all three regular readers will be aware, it also doubled as a platform for my own experience of being published. For the last while, though, it’s been more of a platform for my experience of not being published.
  In theory, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as the experience of not being published can just as easily be as interesting as that of being published (for the reader, if not the writer), depending on how well it’s written, not that I make any grand claims in that department.
  Anyway, for those of you who aren’t the three regular readers, the situation is as follows: I’ve had two books published to date, EIGHTBALL BOOGIE and THE BIG O, both of which were decently reviewed and both of which sold like cheese-graters at a leper convention. Which isn’t to complain too bitterly: neither book was a life-changing read, and I’ll always be delighted that I’ve had two books published, even if I never publish another. Right now, I have two more books out under consideration. One is a sequel to EIGHTBALL BOOGIE, the other is a standalone novel about a hospital porter who decides to blow up ‘his’ hospital. At least, I think they’re still under consideration: both have been abroad in the world for some months now, and for all I know, they’ve both been roundly rejected and my agent is simply sparing my feelings. Which might well be the case, he’s a nice bloke.
  Naturally, I’d like both books to be picked up, although I’d be more than happy if only one was published. Whatever reason(s) you have to write, the ultimate goal is to have the story published, so that the maximum possible number of readers get to read it. Hopefully, they’ll even like it. Hopefully, they’ll like it so much they’ll want to read more. And so I’ll get to write another book, etc.
  That’s the natural way of things, but lately I’ve started to hear a little voice in the back of my head suggesting that it might not be the best thing for me right now were either book to be published. That’s because, barring a miracle, what will happen is this: an offer will be made that will amount, in practical terms, to no more than a couple of months’ worth of mortgage payments. Following acceptance, edits and rewrites will follow (a good thing, by the way, because I like both stories and their characters, and I wouldn’t mind at all getting back into the stories, especially if doing so is going to improve them). Then the pre-publication promotion will begin, which is very time-consuming; then the publication promotion; and then the post-publication promotion. Most of this will be conducted via the web, given that I am (a) not wealthy enough nor remunerated enough to do it in person; (b) married with a small child, of whom I don’t see enough of as it is; (c) a freelance journalist who works a minimum of 70 hours per week at the job, and can’t afford to take time off, let alone spend good mortgage money on hauling my ass around the world at a time when house repossessions are starting to climb at an alarming rate back home.
  It really is becoming as stark as that. I decided over the weekend, after interviewing James Ellroy, that it is actually immoral of me to steal time to write fiction when I could be writing freelance material that will actually earn real money. And that’s not even factoring in the time I steal away from my family on the ‘writing’, a catch-all word which includes, these days, reading and blogging too. Someone who liked my books asked me over the weekend, rather facetiously, how come I haven’t sold a million books. I said, rather facetiously, that it was because no one put a million dollars worth of advertising spend behind them. It’s not quite that simple, of course, but there’s a significant element of truth in that.
  As it stands, and given the straitened economic circumstances we all live in, my priorities these days, in order of importance, are family, work and writing. There are, sadly, only 168 hours in any week, roughly a third of which are spent asleep. Factor in such necessities as eating and washing, etc., and that leaves me with about 100 hours to play with. Take away 70 of those hours for work, including the commute, and you’re left with roughly four hours a day for family, which includes basic chores and upkeep of house. That works out at about four hours per day, two in the morning and two in the evening, most of which I choose and prefer to waste in what I like to call ‘Lily-time’.
  I could sleep less than seven hours per night, of course, and frequently do. I could eat and wash less often. I could cut out the morning or evening hours with Lily, and let the house go to hell in a handcart. I could cut back on my work schedule and earn less money. With the time clawed back, I could write a new novel, in the quixotic hope that somewhere out there is an editor who (a) likes my stuff enough to take it forward and (b) has the juice to push it through all the way to publication, all of which would take roughly two years and earn me roughly three months’ worth of mortgage.
  I could do all that. Except, were this any other kind of business, I would be classified insane for even contemplating that kind of return on investment.
  I’d love to finish up with some kind of gloriously noble declaration about how writing isn’t just a business, it’s a vocation, a passion, an obsession, and come hell or high water, I’ll write the next novel and let the chips fall where they may, etc. But I can’t. Not only would such a decision be immoral, it would be foolhardy verging on insanity. Because the publishing business is a business, and I don’t have the time or the chops to make it work for me. Yes, I understand that making it in any business means making sacrifices, but in this particular business, what ‘making sacrifices’ actually means is asking others to make sacrifices on your behalf. Maybe if I was a genius I’d feel comfortable with that, or I simply wouldn’t care. But I’m not. The books I write are (at best) an enjoyable diversion, a pleasant waste of time. They’re not important enough, vital enough or relevant enough to be worth anyone else’s sacrifice, and while there was once a time when I was selfish and ruthless enough to not care about the sacrifices I was asking others to make on my behalf, that time is long gone, and good riddance.
  It’s possible, of course, that one of those books out under consideration might come good, and that an offer will be made that will earn me the kind of time I need to write over the next couple of years. Hey, in a theoretically infinite universe, anything is possible. But it’s unlikely, highly unlikely, and the longer said books spend under consideration, the less likely it becomes. It’s a great pity for me, because I do love to write, but needs must, and the most pressing need these days is the need to be practical. So be it.
  In the meantime, feel free, those of you who are struggling writers gasping for a few molecules of publicity oxygen, to get in touch with this blog. My admiration for your dedication increases by the day, and whatever little I can do to help, I’ll do.