Jun. 29, 2009

On Moving to a New Publisher in the UK

I have held off announcing this until things were certain, but last week I agreed to move to a new publisher in England, Orion. Orion is a terrific house and a good fit for me. Their crime catalog reads like an all-star team: Michael Connelly, George Pelecanos, Ian Rankin, Walter Mosley, Harlan Coben, Joseph Finder — the list goes on and on. (One of my favorites, Alan Furst, too.) Coincidentally, my new editor at Orion, Bill Massey, used to work at Bantam-Dell in New York alongside my U.S. editor, the great Kate Miciak. So the stars seem to have aligned, and I am tremendously happy to have landed in such good hands.

For a while now, I’ve thought of my next book — as yet untitled, to be published in fall 2010 or spring 2011 — as a fresh start. In the five or six years since my first book came out, I seem to have become that pitiable creature, the critic’s darling. Which is to say, my books have had glowing reviews but anemic sales.

This is in no way the fault of my previous U.K. publisher, Transworld, where I and my books were treated royally. I suppose it is partly an example — one of many, many such examples — of the serendipity of publishing. As anyone in publishing will tell you, there is a lot of luck involved in making a best seller. Jonathan Galassi remarks in this month’s Poets & Writers magazine that the whole business is a “crapshoot”:

One of the hardest things to come to grips with is how important the breaks are. There’s luck in publishing, just like in any human activity. And if you don’t get the right luck — if Mitchi [Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times] writes an uncomprehending review, or if you don’t get the right reviews, or if books aren’t in stores when the reviews come, or whatever the hell it is — it may not happen.

But my indifferent sales numbers have been my own doing, also. A writer simply cannot hope for commercial success — no matter how good his books are — if he does not produce regularly. And I haven’t. Maybe I just did not understand how unforgiving the market is for unreliable producers. Now I do.

The problem has not been that I write too slowly. If my words-per-hour rate is slow, no doubt I make up for it by logging a hell of a lot of hours at the keyboard. No, the real culprit has been poorly chosen projects that were begun and then scrapped, at considerable cost in time and labor. The solution, I think, is to have my next project lined up with certainty — vetted by editors, with the basic development of plot and characters already done — so that, the moment I finish one book, I can begin drafting the next. A writer cannot wait until he finishes one book before thinking about the next. Obvious as that sounds, it’s been a hard lesson for me.

With all that said, I feel like I am on the cusp of a run of good books. A writer is in the unfortunate position of having to learn his craft in full view of the public. His mistakes are there on the bookshelf for all to see. I have at least a few of those early blunders out of the way now, and I am ready to relaunch, a little wiser this time. The switch to a new publisher feels like a part of that transition.

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