RARA-AVIS: NYC Publishing and Noir

From: Sandra Ruttan (sandraruttan@gmail.com)
Date: 12 Mar 2010

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    I think Jon has hit the nail on the head here, which is in essence exactly what Brian was getting at already. There's a demand for dark works, but it's primarily niche, and the sources that are meeting that demand are independent publishers.

    Has publishing in NYC changed? No, not the core of it. At the core, publishing is an industry, and publishers want to make money. Editors may still get excited about concept/theme/story for the sake of the writing, but the reason you have to jump through hoops and have meetings with guys on the marketing team before you sign books is because what's most important is whether or not they believe they can sell the book. That's the root of it. And determining what you can sell means determining what there's a demand for. Publishers are going to pay for and invest in a work based on what they perceive is the demand for the work in the current market. You can't compare the market today to the market in Jim Thompson's time - that's ridiculous.
     That's 50+ years ago. It would be like expected car companies to form business plans based on the demand from five decades ago. It's ridiculous.

    What's being published may have changed, but that's not the same as saying that NYC publishing has changed at its core. If, in a few years, demand changes, there may be a lot more dark offerings coming from the big publishers and it may take small independents to rise up and publish cat mysteries. We see these same shifts in other forms of entertainment - look at TV programming. Reality shows are in, everyone jumps on board. Reality shows are out, everyone jumps off. Dramas cost too much to produce so we'll try moving Leno up, but that backfires and everyone scrambles back to dramas. It's all a game of trying to figure out what people want and give it to them.

    If NYC isn't readily embracing noir, it isn't because NYC is anti-noir... it's because they don't see a large enough demand to publish more than what they are. Let's be careful before we say nobody's publishing dark works, because there are several authors, including ones on this list, who are published by major NYC publishers and write as dark as anyone out there. Ken Bruen isn't getting paid peanuts.

    As a writer, there's a conundrum you can face. Well several. You can decide you want to put the technical quality ahead of all other concerns... and not ever see your work sell because, technically brilliant as it is, the tone or story is all wrong for the market. Or you can decide you want to be marketable, and write commercial paint-by-the-numbers crap.

    If you're lucky, you get to fall somewhere in between. You slip in there, and can write with quality, and write something you're passionate about, and still get the sales to stay alive, but the market is nowhere near what it was in the days of selling 750k copies of some of those classics that have been referenced. You didn't have the competition from TV, movies, computers streaming programming 24/7.

    I recently read one of the big push books for the year - Still Missing by Chevy Stevens. It's a debut and it's got a six-figure marketing campaign behind it, and from St. Martin's. (Aren't they known for being cheap?)

    Now, there may be a few spoilers here, so skip the next paragraph if you don't like that...

    I read this book and in the past I've been told people won't read books when women are raped and children are in peril or killed, and I'm wondering how the hell this book got a six-figure deal. I never want to read a goddamn detailed rape scene ever again. Killing a baby? A baby? How does this book break these rules and get a big deal? Was it the writing, the concept?

    End spoilers...

    Who knows. Who really knows. But one thing I'm convinced of is that if, at the end of the book, the protagonist ate a gun, it wouldn't have gotten a six-figure deal. At least, not in 2010.

    Cheers, Sandra

    On Fri, Mar 12, 2010 at 11:10 AM, New Pulp Press <bassoffj@gmail.com> wrote: The question: is it lack of demand or just lack of distribution/marketing? I tend to believe that the demand is there but not enough for the NY publishers to bother with. NY publishers have no use for a niche readership, even if the niche is a fairly big one like noir fiction. The good news is that the dark books we crave are out there, you just have to poke around a bit...
    > Jon Bassoff
    > New Pulp Press

    LULLABY FOR THE NAMELESS Dec 09 Dorchester

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