Sunday, July 16, 2006

The Blockbusters

Just a short post this week, as I've spent the last seven days revising The Unquiet and I'm developing a relationship to my keyboard that bears disturbing similarities to a prisoner's relationship to his ball and chain.

Actually, to be honest the last couple of days haven't been so bad. I had deliberately left the last three chapters of the book unwritten, in part because I had been researching in Maine and wanted to revise earlier sections of the book while that material was still fresh in my mind, but also because I was reluctant to 'finish' the book just yet. With thirty chapters written, I knew how it was going to end, and was quite looking forward to putting those final touches to it.

Mind you, had my plane gone down in the meantime the discovery of the unfinished novel would have been rather frustrating for my agent and my editors. I wonder would someone have been tempted to finish it for me and, if so, would that person have come up with a similar ending to the one that I eventually added this weekend? It's an interesting thought. The book's ending was quite clear to me, but someone else would probably have come up with something very different from a reading of the earlier chapters. The Unquiet is a very ambiguous book, and Parker does not get all of the answers that he might have wished for. Instead, he is left to posit a number of possible explanations for what has occurred, each with evidence to support it but not enough to offer a final, definitive solution. In that sense, the mysterious 'other' assigned to complete the manuscript would have found a number of potential endings available without any sense of which one the now-deceased author had considered most appropriate. The fact that I have lived long enough to finish the book will, therefore, probably come as good news to my publishers, saving them a lot of agonizing and head-scratching.

There was slightly less welcome news for me this week when one of the English newspapers announced that this autumn would see the "Battle of the Blockbusters". Apparently, rather a lot of high-profile books are being published this autumn (or this Fall if you're reading this on the right hand side of the road). John le Carré, my compatriot Roddy Doyle, William Boyd, Martin Amis, Peter Ackroyd and Robert Harris all have books ready to appear, and all sorts of mystery writers have books on the horizon. (And in case you're wondering why those authors have been mentioned by name while the mystery writers have not, I am simply following the lead of the Bookseller magazine in England which has filed The Book of Lost Things under "Literary, Historical and General". So there.)

This issue of when a book should be published is one that concerns publishers, authors and booksellers a lot. January used to be a quiet month, and therefore a good time to slip out books that might otherwise have been lost in the summer or Christmas rush, but then so many publishers spotted that it was a quiet month that it ceased to be quiet at all, and now I really don't think there is a 'good' time to be published. Nevertheless, this autumn promises to be particularly busy and it's given me one more thing to worry about as the publication date for the new book approaches. There will be a lot of big authors competing for space on bookshelves and bestseller lists, on review pages and in shop windows, and I don't want my little book to get swamped in the rush.

There's nothing that can be done now, of course, except to hope that it holds its own, and that maybe those who enjoy it will tell others, thereby giving it some freedom from the vagaries of lists and press coverage. In the end, books live or die by the recommendation of readers, by one reader suggesting it to another as worth exploring. Newspapers, bookstore promotions and bestseller listings all help, but ultimately it is the ordinary reader who will decide a book's fate.

And that, of course, is as it should be.

This week John read

Cold Moon by Jeffery Deaver

and listened to

Don't Let The Stars Keep Us Tangled Up by Cortney Tidwell
Another Fine Day by Golden Smog


anne frasier said...


i have a fall release and i was hoping that would be a quiet time.

just kill me now.

i'm always wondering what will happen to my ms if i choke on a peanut butter sandwich or get shot buying gas. will someone else finish it? a relative? editor? ghostwriter? will it just be forgotten?

golden smog -- a minneapolis band -- woot!

hrhg said...

LOL maybe you should have left a brief note just in case, telling everyone what *not* to do with the ending???

Glad it wasn't necessary, though, as I would prefer to read what you wrote (and those who know you would prefer to keep you this side of the veil, I'm sure... ;) )

John said...

I can't wait for your new book - and The Unquiet, although I dare say that won't be out until late 2007?