OTF: Elmore Leonard on the Publishing Industry (Sort of) and The Hack Novelist

Get Shorty by Elmore LeonardElmore Leonard is one of the most underrated writers out there. Funny thing is, either you list him in your top five writers, or he’s not on your radar whatsoever.

I think part of the problem is that he’s a genre writer of sorts — writes crime fiction, in fact. He’s had several books turned into movies including Get Shorty (a great movie in itself), so chances are you have heard of him, even if you haven’t heard of him.

In any case, I just finished reading Leonard’s Road Dogs. I love his style. Hemingwayesque without the pompous attitude towards simplicity.

In the book, an FBI agent says to the protaganist, Jack Foley:

“The publishing business isn’t about writing, Jack, it’s about selling books.”

Of course I’m not sure this is Leonard’s take on the publishing industry, but it makes a lot of sense. I’ve seen a lot of new writers confuse the two: a good book automatically means it will sell well. How many times have I read the comment in a blog somewhere, “the cream rises to the top”?

Newsflash: it’s all shite.

Writing a great book is only half the battle. Don’t get me wrong, it is an important half — in most cases, it’s a prerequisite to actually selling scads and scads of copies, unless your name is something like “Paris Hilton”.

But if your book says “by Joe Shmoe” on the cover, writing the best book in the world doesn’t automatically mean riches. The book business isn’t about writing. It’s about packaging and marketing and finding readers and selling that writing.

One new writer I’ve been following is the Hack Novelist, who is considerably further than me on the writing arc — he’s completed his first novel, and is preparing to publish it. Except that he’s publishing in a rather unorthodox way: he’s giving it away on his blog (at least for now).

I, and others, chimed in to say he should be selling his book, not giving it away. But he explained that it is part of his thought-out plan to give the first book away, gain a readership, and sell the next book, sort of like the music industry.

I’m still not convinced it is the very best way — but I’m cautiously optimistic for his sake. As I told him, these are crazy, exciting times in the publishing industry. You never know what’s going to work until you try it.

I’ll be following closely…

Here’s the Hack’s post. And here’s Hack’s first novel, Remnant (serialized, first installment).

UPDATE: Just saw a new post, in which Hack explains his decision in more detail.

~Graham

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