Friday, June 20, 2008

The Punch of Richard and Judy

Despite watching very little television myself, I don’t underestimate the punching power that TV presenters’ Richard and Judy have on the fortunes of an author. So as the 2008 Richard and Judy Bookclub selections are announced, let’s ponder on what being anointed by the husband and wife team can give an author in terms of sales.

Earlier this year, I met up with Roger Jon Ellory, a writer I have followed since his debut. In 2003, I selected his Candlemoth for inclusion in the 2003 January Magazine gift guide. Here’s what I said about the book at the time:
Candlemoth is a rather strange debut novel set within the U.S. penal system. Its cover has a Thomas Harris flavor, but its style is closer to Stephen King's novella "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption." The story opens in Sumter, South Carolina, in the early 1980s. Thirty-six-year-old African-American death-row prison inmate Daniel Ford -- incarcerated for killing his best friend, Nathan Verney, in a jealous rage 12 years ago, and only a month away from taking his seat in the electric chair -- decides to tell the story of his life to the prison's white chaplain, Father John Rousseau. From there, the book becomes a long and tortuous tale of love, betrayal and the linkages between Ford and Verney. Its setup gives British author Roger Jon Ellory the opportunity to moralize over potent issues such as capital punishment, the consequences of one's life choices, the price of friendship and the troubled state of U.S. race relations. All wrapped up in a sentimental prison yarn.
I followed Ellory’s career, enjoying his work as his writing matured. Despite being nominated twice for the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger, and prior to the Richard and Judy nomination, he was struggling finding an audience, as I reported at The Rap Sheet. Roger explained the problems he had on the release of his fourth novel City of Lies:
The book was released last week -- September 6th -- and though I would have wished for fireworks and fanfares, for London bookstore opening parties, for readings and signings and splendid reviews in The Times, The Telegraph, The Guardian, The Observer, this was -- unfortunately -- not the case! What I got instead was a disgruntled store assistant telling me that ‘this book you’re talking about … the “City of Lies something-or-other” that you say should be on display … well it isn’t. We don’t have any. What do you want me to do about it then?’

What I got was Amazon telling me that if I ordered ‘City of Lies’ it would take four to six weeks to arrive as they had none in stock. What I got was a visit to four independent shops in [my home city of] Birmingham to discover that the book was nowhere to be seen! …These are the real realities of authorship I’m afraid. We all have them. Even the greatest authors in the world, the ones who sell hundreds of thousands of hardbacks, whose paperback releases top Number One in the Sunday Times Bestseller list three weeks before they’re even available ... even they have had such experiences...
Fortunately, Ellory has remained upbeat. In a subsequent post, he explained that his fifth novel, A Quiet Belief in Angels, was due to be released.

His fortunes soon changed when A Quiet Belief in Angels was chosen as a Richard and Judy selection. I met up with him at the Orion Publishing party earlier this year and asked him what effect this nomination had on his career:
Ali Karim: So, Roger, how do you feel, now that A Quiet Belief in Angels has been picked up by Richard & Judy?

Roger Jon Ellory: It has been unimaginable. Truly! To put it in perspective, the paperback print run for my last novel, City of Lies, was something in the region of 7,500 copies. Yesterday, I received a call to say that another print run of A Quiet Belief in Angels had been authorized, which now brings the total number of copies in circulation to 221,000. I know how tough it can be to break into this fiction-writing business; wasn’t it Hemingway who said that in comparison to writing fiction, horse racing and playing poker were sensible business ventures?
When I e-mailed my congratulations, Linwood Barclay said he was bowled over when he discovered that No Time for Goodbye had been selected by Richard and Judy.


Post a Comment

<< Home