RARA-AVIS: RE: Selling hardboiled

From: Dick Lochte ( dlochte@adelphia.net)
Date: 22 Aug 2004

Tim Wohlforth wrote: "My sense is that he (a top agent)'s right. I think it is easier for a new writer to break in with a cozy ..." than a hardboiled and/or noir novel.

My opinion is that in the publishing industry (just as in the movie industry and the television industry and the breakfast food industry) presentation is just as important as product. As William Goldman has pointed out about film executives, nobody knows anything. It's all imagined trends and buzzwords and faulty logic. Ignoring the success of Crais or Grafton or Paretsky or Kellerman or Burke or Parker or at least a half dozen others who regularly hit the bestseller lists, editors think the private eye-first person narrator type of novel is passé® (Try coming up with ten cozies who make the lists.)

So ... If John Macdonald were to have just written "The Moving Target" last week and an agent were to submit it as "the best private eye novel I've ever read," there would be few if any takers. However, if that same agent were to submit it as "the edgiest crime novel I've read in years," the result would probably be much more positive. My sense of it is that "edgy" has been trumping "cozy" at publishing houses for a while now. This could have started back with Lehane's "A Drink Before the War," as much a genre private eye novel as has ever been written, that was billed as "a novel of suspense." The jacket uses words like "gritty" and "disturbing" and, yes,
"edgy." You won't find either "hardboiled" or "noir" anywhere in view.

Tim singled out St. Martin's as a house with a preference for cozies. I haven't been clocking their mystery titles, but my guess is they're also publishing a whole lot of "edgies." Here are a bunch just off the top of a recent pile -- Ken Bruen's "Blitz," Mike Silverling's "The Sterling Inheritance," Lono Waiwaiole's "Wiley's Shuffle," Brendon DuBois' "Buried Dreams." The other houses -- Doubleday, Random, Knopf, et al -- clearly are not looking for the new Lilian Jackson Braun or even the new Don Westlake, though they probably should be. They're after the new Deaver or Cornwell or Co ben.

The bottom line is: what kind of book do you really want to write? If you're just as happy plotting out a cozy, then go for it. But don't try a cozy because you think it will be an easier sell. Those are few and far between.

Dick Lochte


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This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 22 Aug 2004 EDT