This week’s revelations about J K Rowling’s pseudonymous detective book The Cuckoo’s Calling – as Robert Galbraith – highlights the point that no writer worth their salt writes because they ‘want’ to be famous…but celebrity sells books. Unfortunately.
I’ll explain. I was having lunch at a cafe earlier this week with another writer when we were interrupted by a passer-by who knew him and enquired after his books.
My colleague wasn’t famous. I’m not famous. But New Zealand isn’t a large place. Wellington is a small city by world standards. That’s ‘being known as a writer’.
On my experience ‘being known’ is a consequence of persistence and brand – but it doesn’t guarantee sales. I’ve been writing books for years. The majority have been published by Penguin and Random House and consequently backed by their publicity machines. It hasn’t meant fame (which, truth be told, is my worst nightmare) but it has meant ‘being known as a writer’ in some circles, which is OK. It means people buy some of my books in series and I get review comments like: “If anyone is best equipped to pen a definitive study of one of, if not the, greatest military leader in New Zealand’s history, it would be Matthew Wright” (Mark Taylor, The Southland Times, 20 April 2005).
However, it hasn’t translated into a rising pattern of sales. Each book varies radically.
My worst seller was a science fiction history, Fantastic Pasts, which tanked.
My best was a general history of New Zealand which sold – and sold – until it went out of print temporarily (watch this space – soon).
The bigger factors are a heady mix of market desire for content, price-point, presentation – and competition. Timing is crucial. Get that combo wrong, and the book will tank even if you’re known. Get it right – and nobody can quite anticipate how – and you’ll shift stock.
I think luck plays a part, too. Your thoughts?
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013