Re: RARA-AVIS: Changes in crime writing/publishing/reading

From: Dennis Lynds (
Date: 28 May 2005

----- Original Message ----- From: "William Denton" <> To: "RARA-AVIS" <> Sent: Thursday, May 26, 2005 9:45 PM Subject: RARA-AVIS: Changes in crime writing/publishing/reading

Dennis, you've mentioned some of the changes in
> crime and mystery writing, publishing, and reading over your decades as a
> writer. How do you think things stand now? Readers of the more
> hardboiled and noir stuff, like us, have had some really good writers come
> along in the last decade, but I don't know how much they get read by the
> average mystery reader, or average reader. Lots of midlist writers are
> finding things tough. If I remember some recent statistics right, more
> books are getting published, but fewer read. On the good side, the
> Internet has made it easier for people to find out about and buy books
> from small presses and other continents. Do you think things are changing
> for the better? Are you glad you started out when you did?


    You have actually asked many questions in this paragraph, and I'm not at all sure I'm the right one to answer most of them. About all I can do is give you some rather general impressions.

First, new hardboiled and noir authors. It's my impression that they are mostly published by small houses specializing in that subgenre, not widely read even by devoted mystery readers, and that their authors no matter how good cannot make a living from their books alone. The possible exception I know about being Ken Bruen, who is almost as prolific as I was the first ten years or so, and---a key point---is now published by mainstream publishers. Whether he makes a living without his movie and TV sales I don't know. Of course, where you live is important too. I expect Galway is cheaper than the London, New York or Southern California areas.

On midlist authors. When I started you could make a living, if a somewhat precarious one if you put out enough books. I don't think you can do that today. You have to aim for a large market and today that seems to be thrillers and mysteries that work as thrillers. You are labeled midlist by the kind of book you write. To breakout of midlist your book must look like a thriller, sound like a thriller, act like a thriller. There must be a feeling of SIZE, import, large menace for the hero to defeat.

(There are essentially midllist authors who do very well, but most of them built a readership years ago in a different era. To do that they had to have a broader appeal, mostly to women, than your average hardboiled book.)

The internet, small publishers, and internet publishers. Yes, the Internet makes it easier for a reader to find out about a book, but you have to know what you're looking for before you start. The independent book store of my day, there were no chains when I started except small regional chains, performed the same function and did it well.

Small publishers have made it easier to be published, but harder to make a living. In fact, I don't believe anyone can make a living from small publisher books. (It is also my impression that most small publishers do not want true hardboiled or noir, so are not much use to those writers.)

Internet publishers. You can get anything published today if you are willing to pay for it. But that was also true in my day, except you had to do all the work of book preparation for the printer yourself. The problem here is that ANYTHING is published, great, good, bad, awful, illiterate, or genius with no outside editorial judgment at all. It's like saying anyone can walk out on the field in Dodger Stadium wearing a Dodger uniform and be a professional ball player. No skill or talent required.

On the other hand, there are many Internet POD publishers who do pay you in advances and royalties, or just royalties, have editorial oversight and judgement, and are as legitimate as any small publisher. Unfortunately, they publish mainly reprints, although not exclusively, and their publication of original works will continue to grow.

The problem of all small publishers, Editions or POD, is distribution.

I can't say if things are changing for the better or not. A really good writer will always find a way to be published, and, with luck, to make a living from his or her writing.

I started at a good time for the detective story, so I was lucky. Midlist advances were almost as much as now, and living was much cheaper. New detective writers had not appeared for many years. The generation that started just before and after WWII was still dominant. Then Don Westlake and I started our detective series, followed in a year or so by Pronzini, Gores, Colin Wilcox, Robert Parker, Larry Block, Lewin, Greenleaf, Valin, and many others---all between the late sixties and early seventies. Few of us "broke out" but we made a living if we wanted to work hard enough.

That is probably not so different today, new writers with new styles will always come along. How much impression they make on the marketplace is another matter. To be a truly successful writer who makes his or her living at it today you must give the publishers the kind of book THEY think will command a large audience so they will get behind you and spend money to make money.

Everything moves in swings. (What would you expect from a good Freudian Marxist.) Through most of history even the greatest writers made their living from something else, in our time mainly as professors.

So forget about the marketplace. Write your book, throw it out there, and see if anyone bites. Then write another book.

For what any of that was worth.

Finally, thanks for inviting me, Bill. I had expected more questions from more people, but ten years of no novels is a long time, and the new generation of readers doesn't know me or my books, especially the later ones.



Are you asking about the ability to get published, or the ability to make a living from what you write?

------------------------ Yahoo! Groups Sponsor --------------------~--> What would our lives be like without music, dance, and theater? Donate or volunteer in the arts today at Network for Good!

RARA-AVIS home page:
  Yahoo! Groups Links

<*> To visit your group on the web, go to:

<*> To unsubscribe from this group, send an email to:

<*> Your use of Yahoo! Groups is subject to:

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 28 May 2005 EDT