Thursday, August 12, 2010

Look At What's Selling Now

I'm on Mainland Scotland now. After a couple of days in Perthshire we're now hanging out at my brother-in-laws at Kinlochard, in the heart of the Trossachs. Good internet connection, so I'm catching up on things internetish. So here's a link...

I came across this Lou Ander's interview at The Fantasy Author's Handbook. Lou is the editor at Pyr, a terrific science fiction and fantasy imprint. He knows this biz. He's got lots of good advice to offer aspiring authors, including:

Athans: What is the one novel every aspiring fantasy author has to read?

It isn’t
The Lord of the Rings. I can’t tell you how many people pitch me with their brilliant fantasy concept, and when I grill them on who they read, it’s Tolkien and no one else or since. If you want to sell fantasy in today’s market, then you need to have read George R.R. Martin, Steven Erikson, Patrick Rothfuss, Joe Abercrombie, David Anthony Durham, Brent Weeks. Look at what’s selling now. Read what’s selling now.

Yes, please do.

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Anonymous Ethan Iktho said...


From afar (or abroad), I think this simple sentence is just astounding. I hope you'll forget my French, I'm just talking about how one sees things and how one expresses what he thinks about these things.

Why not : "Think about what kind of books have success nowadays. Will we sell them in 2015, because these are really good books, we believe in them and if the start is slow, we know there is quality there."

No. According to Lou,you don't have to THINK about things, but to LOOK at them. Just like TV.

Words have a meaning, I was told. "WHAT" is the product, the product is the book. We're not talking anymore about creative writers, but about writers who can bring money in. And quickly.

"SELLING" follows, logical. Money, money.

"NOW" means that what's important for that kind of publishers is how much money they'll get with your book in a very short time. They're not talking about the style, what could become a classic (Lou says you don't have to read TLOFR to know a little bit about that kind of litterature. Obviously, he's a specialist.)

For me, myself and I, I think all the Lou-s in the world are quietly killing litterature. They're not talking about a book, but about a product. Being in the field, I know you have to be able to sell to be published. But some publishers still take risks, they publish books they believe in. If David didn't get a good response from the readers, didn't sell enough, our Lou would have said : "Look at what is selling now ! Not you ? Sorry, bye."

Fortunately, some publishers give credits to the writing, the story, and they believe in the writer.

Lou makes me think of all these guys in the movie industry who would have never given a buck to J. Cameron to produce "Terminator" and who have produced since horrible sub-"Terminator-s", or what's happening to McTiernan. "Die Hard" ? Money. "The 13th Warrior" ? Not enough money. Out you go, buddy. And I'm not even talking about John Carpenter. But if litterature slides this way down... wow.

To say things clearly, I wouldn't like to shake hands with this kind of "Lou-s". What about you, guys ?

(I'm not being very diplomatic, but I'm not that kind of guy. And in fact I'm not really sorry about it.)

10:51 AM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Ethan Iktho,

It's a clever analysis if you only focus on those words - and your particular interpretation of what Lou means by them. But it's also very limited. It falls very short of understanding what he was actually saying in the interview. Did you actually read the interview - or is it just my brief quote from it your responding to?

Let me explain how I interpret Lou...

"Look at what's selling now" is easy enough to interpret as you have. Thing is, I understand what he means. What he's really saying is:

"Look at what's been published in recent years as well as your old favorites. Only by doing that can you know what changes, innovations, developments there have been in the genre. You want to know these things - especially in writing science fiction - because if you don't you may find yourself recreating the wheel. Something you thought was really brilliant and innovative may have been done already. And the ideas and possibilities you may discover in new writing may actually push you into even more interesting territory in your own work."

Lou does explain these things, I think, but it's easy for me to read it that way because I agree completely. I teach fiction writing all the time. I have dealt with those Tolkein-only novelists. Some of them write in a bubble, reproducing variations on Tolkein with no awareness that decades of new writing have followed.

I've also read sf stories that people thought were just the smartest thing ever, until I pointed out that Charles Stross or Alastair Reynolds or Elizabeth Bear had written that same story a few years back, done it better, and won a Hugo for it...

For me - as for Lou - it's terribly important to read your contemporaries. If you don't you may be writing for an audience of one - yourself.

When Lou says to "look" at what's selling now he means to "read" what's selling now. I could use the same wording myself. It's spoken American English, and I don't think it suggests only looking. It means "consider". "Examine." "Pay attention to..."

Now "Selling" may be an unfortunate choice of wording. That does sound commercial. I think commercial concerns do matter, but...

Well, I know Lou personally. I know how much of a reader he is. I know how he nurtures and champions his writers. I know that he tirelessly tries to spread the word and get people reading new writers. I know that he gets behind books that haven't had commercial success and tries to get others to see the qualities in them.

In short, he does all the things a great editor should do. He's one of those editors that doesn't just say goodbye to a writer that hasn't had quick success.

Perhaps none of that comes through in that single line: "Look at what is selling now", but is there very much in the complete interview - and it's demonstrated by the type of editor Lou is.

Sorry Ethan Iktho, but you've got him exactly wrong. He's not "quietly killing literature". He's one of the good guys keeping it alive.

6:59 AM  
Anonymous Ethan Iktho said...


There's a lesson here to be understood. You explained it all very brightly, and I will try and understand: after all, it's part of my job.

Nevertheless, I'll always prefer people who use the verb "to sell" as less as possible, expecially if they love litterature.

That's just my opinion, and I may very well be wrong. But, hell, differences are what make us interesting to each othe. So I may very well stick to my diference.

Only my point of view, of course.
But I like it very much.

And Lou is a very dedicated guy in his kob, from what you say, and I believe you.

Maybe I'm just a little bit old fashioned. Nice thought, in this case, I think.



3:23 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

I understand your position. I have mixed feelings about too much attention to "selling". Sure, I understand that commercial objectives are often detrimental to good writing, but we do live in a real world - and that world runs on money and commerce. As I writer I want my work to sell as much as is reasonable for the type of books that I'm producing. The more I sell, the more I can work hard on being a better writer.

So, to me, "sell" is not a dirty word. Not always, at least. ;)

12:45 PM  

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