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Friday, February 29, 2008


i can haz editorial kontrol?

Mika thinks she could write my novel much better than I can. She's already been on the keyboard and tried to rewrite the beginning.

Now it reads 'HhnhChapter One.' Clearly she intends to write a visceral, gritty thriller complete with sound effects. I have had to evict her from my study out of pure professional jealousy. I can't be threatened by new writers like that.

The thing is, actually some unsuccessful writers are under the impression that published authors would like to block talented newcomers because they present too much competition. For the record, it doesn't work like that.

The book market is not a fixed chain of supply. There's only room for one electric company in every house; the market is finite. Most people can only afford one car; there's a limit to how much food people can buy in a week. But books just don't work like that. Nobody grinds to a halt because they don't have a novel in their hands. If you go into a bookshop, you may have a specific book in mind, but if you're browsing, you could end up doing one of several things: a) Buying nothing; b) Buying one book, and c) Buying several.

In those circumstances, a new author is unlikely to be a major threat to an established one. If both Jane Newbie and John Oldpro are good authors, the likeliest outcome is C; the shopper will pick up an Oldpro trusting it'll be good, and take a chance on the Newbie as well. If the shopper has a finite budget, then there's an element of competition - but who knows which way it'll go?

It's highly unlikely that Oldpro will be so concerned that he'll want to scupper Newbie. For one thing, odds are quite in his favour; somebody with a limited budget is probably going for the safe buy, which is to say, buying the Oldpro and asking the local library to order the Newbie so s/he can read it on spec. But even if the buyer goes for Newbie, Oldpro would have to be a pretty sour puss to object.

Because, the thing is, no successful writer dislikes books. Writers love books; believe me, you couldn't spend your whole day trying to create more of the darn things if you didn't enjoy them for their own sake, rather than just for the sake of your ego. If you want to show off, there are easier ways than becoming a novelist. Writers like books. Hence, if Newbie's book is close enough in aesthetic to be in any kind of competition with Oldpro's, there's a pretty good chance that Oldpro would like to read it. Heck, he'll probably enjoy it. It's not in the interests of established writers to block promising newcomers; it means they don't get to buy their books.

Like many conspiracy theories about writing, this theory is based on the a priori assumption that your book couldn't possibly be rejected because the person reading it doesn't like it, which is never a sound starting point. But the basic point is fairly simple: literary success is not a simple you-win-I-lose zero-sum game. Who knows whose sales affect whose? It's perfectly possible that Newbie's success might actually lead more people to buy Oldpro's books - all those 'if you liked this you might like that' things on Amazon and in bookshops can have that effect. Writers grumble when other writers are more successful than them, because they're insecure, but it would take an exceptionally irrational writer to actually block the success of a newcomer.

I am blocking Mika's literary success, of course, but that's mostly because I don't want her to shed on my expensive computer, or to kill herself chewing the wires. Similarly, Oldpro might refuse to plug Newbie's book, but he probably has reasons other than competitive jealousy. Usually it's because he honestly doesn't like her book and is worried that a plug will end up shedding on his reputation as a man of judgement. It's a complicated world, and second-guessing motivations seldom does anyone any good. Better, really, to buy them off with a fish treat. It worked for Mika, anyway.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008



I'm feeling tired, cold and sad today, with nothing much to say. Here's a picture of my cat Mika instead. The red surface she's lying on is, in fact, my arm, clad in a fleece, which ought to add to the cuteness factor.


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