And isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?*

I’m starting to think JK Rowling has it in for me.

It started when I was interviewed by a journalist for a piece about the Robert Galbraith/JK Rowling phenomenon.

The story by now is legend: that JK Rowling, author of the Harry Potter heptad — the best-selling book series in history — earlier this year published a crime novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling, under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith; and that before Rowling was revealed as its author, The Cuckoo’s Calling had received favourable reviews, but sold fewer than 500 copies in hardback in the first three months after its release. In the week of 14-20 July following the revelation that Rowling was the author, the book sold 17,662 hardback copies.

Authors from Ian Rankin in Scotland to PM Newton in Australia were quick to point out the object lesson.

“So a debut novelist, garnering good quotes from famed authors for the cover plus good reviews, can expect to sell only a few hundred copies,” Rankin tweeted.

“Yup,” PM Newton replied with a wry nod in her article for The Drum. What happens to “a well-written book, adorned with blurbs from respected authors on its cover, reasonably well reviewed and blogged about,” she says, “is pretty much nothing.”

Newton goes on: “it takes time to build an audience. It was not until Black and Blue in 1997, the 15th book Ian Rankin published and the 8th in the Rebus series, that he finally broke through.”

Likewise, while Australian crime writer Peter Temple consistently won awards for his crime fiction, it was his 8th novel The Broken Shore, that catapulted him to fame.

PM Newton wonders “in a market under pressure…that seems increasingly tailored to the next big thing”, how long can publishers afford to be patient with quality authors who garner good reviews, even awards, but whose work enjoys only modest sales?

Perhaps it was with this question in mind that my own publisher put me forward for a media interview on the Galbraith/Rowling phenomenon and how struggling authors can hope to break through all the noise.

Like ‘Galbraith’, my books garner good quotes from famed authors for the covers. Garry Disher said my first novel “delivers on the ironies and moral complexities of the best crime thrillers.” Kerry Greenwood called my second novel “clever and funny”. Leigh Redhead describes my third book as “a cracker of a read”. My novels have won and/or been shortlisted for awards, but sales remain modest.

So I agreed to speak with the journalist. I put some thought into what I’d say and took her call on my day off when I might otherwise have been writing.

She asked how writers like ‘Galbraith’ and me break through all the noise. I told her that it helps to stay focused. I might have quoted Ray Bradbury on him and his friend, special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen, deciding from an early age not to worry about what other people were doing but to “focus on your passion — burn it with your glance.”

I said that I keep working at my craft, aiming for better quality books in the hope the next one will capture the public imagination. I tell her with a wry smile that I take the long view, knowing that some of the most famous writers in the world today were not famous during their own lifetimes.

We also talk about the publishing industry. I say how fortunate I am to have a publisher who believes in me, and tell her  how hard I work to repay that trust. All the same, I acknowledge the pressure on publishers and writers alike when it comes to making money.

I wonder aloud if Australian authors are disadvantaged by the fact that our ebooks are priced so uncompetitively on the global market, at the same time recognising the irony of suggesting my books should cost less.

I say there is a role for writers to help promote other writers whose work we believe deserves a higher profile. I drop names like Honey Brown, Wendy James and Robert Gott into the conversation.

I share what Garry Disher once told me about the difference between a published and an unpublished author being not talent, but perseverance. And I reiterate that I try to stay focused and write the best possible books that I can.

The journalist thanks me for my thoughts and my time. The article, she says, will appear in the Saturday issue of the paper.

Unfortunately for me, that same weekend, a British law firm admitted that one of its partners had leaked that The Cuckoo’s Calling was written by JK Rowling.

So in the end, my interview as a struggling artist, which offered a rare moment to break through all the noise, was passed over in favour of an update on a story about the most famous author in the world — once a struggling artist herself.

I did have a profile piece published in The Hoopla. You’ll find it buried under another headline about JK Rowling.

*To quote Alanis Morissette.

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About Angela Savage

Angela Savage is a Melbourne-based crime writer, who has lived and travelled extensively in Asia. Her first novel, Behind the Night Bazaar won the 2004 Victorian Premier's Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript. She is a winner of the Scarlet Stiletto Award and has thrice been shortlisted for Ned Kelly awards. Her third novel, The Dying Beach, was also shortlisted for the 2014 Davitt Award. Angela teaches writing and is currently studying for her PhD in Creative Writing at Monash University.
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25 Responses to And isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?*

  1. amandacurtin says:

    Who would’ve thought…?

    Like

  2. kathy d. says:

    Ouch! This is tough. The Fates are not helping with The Dying Beach’s promotion.
    I’m of the view that all of this with J.K. Rowling is a very well-orchestrated public relations ploy by her publisher. Why wouldn’t her name be leaked if sales were low? Now they’ve zoomed.
    The Hoopla profile is nice.
    It seems as if publicity, publicity and publicity — as well as perserverance are needed. (Maybe a James Patterson quote would help! Just kidding.)
    Hopefully, you’ll be interviewed in many publications online.
    I don’t know. A friend of mine who is a social justice activist uses social media to the max, constantly twittering, flickering, posting on facebook, texting, etc. about activities and news. It helps.
    I don’t know how applicable this is in the publishing world and also you have a job and family, so it’s not easy to be getting the word out about your books constantly. It’s a big job to do this.
    Best wishes on this — and I keep checking around and I see The Dying Beach on Kindle at Amazon US but I’m holding out for paper.

    Like

    • angelasavage says:

      Kathy, believe me, the constant twittering, flickering, Facebooking, etc, is as essential to the publishing world as it is to activism. The irony — and there’s a lot of it going around in this post — is that the more time you spend servicing social media, the less time you have for actual writing. Added to that, you need (I believe) an interesting and engaged online presence: endless self-promotion doesn’t win you any fans. You need to interact. And that takes time, too.

      I look forward to the day when the Jayne Keeney novels are so huge, I can afford to employ someone else to service my online profile — ironically (there we go again) what many top selling authors do so they can get more writing done 😉

      Like

  3. Melissa Wray says:

    Ironically … Alanis Morrisette was the first concert I ever went to! A great snippet of your interview nonetheless, thanks for sharing.

    Like

  4. Shelleyrae says:

    It is unfair, I hope Jayne Keeney finds her legions of fans

    Like

  5. Angela – It is bitterly ironic (and that’s a great title for your post too). It’s very, very hard for an author to break through and get attention, and I agree with you that the one thing we can do is promote the word of other authors whose books we like. Other than that, it takes time, perseverance, and somewhat of a sense of humour about it all. Oh, and as for The Dying Beach? I’m loving it!

    Like

    • angelasavage says:

      Margot, I am one of many authors who are grateful for the brilliant work you do in promoting our work. I’m delighted you are enjoying the new book. And I couldn’t agree more about time, perseverance and a sense of humour being crucial in maintaining resilience in the face of setbacks.

      As for the title of my piece, I acknowledge your dexterous use of song titles for blog posts as my inspiration 😉

      Like

  6. Samantha D says:

    Hi, Angela,

    Just to reassure you, you are out there.

    I’ve read just as much about The Dying Beach as The Cuckoo’s Calling in the last few weeks. Maybe not in The Guardian or the US press, but definitely in the local media.

    Regards

    Samantha

    Like

    • angelasavage says:

      Hi Samantha,

      Thanks for weighing in and for the reassurance. While not in the same stratosphere as JK Rowling, I am actually very grateful for the profile I do have. My publicist does a brilliant job for me. Hell, I’m lucky to have a publicist!

      Rest assured, this post comes from a place of humour, not bitterness. The beauty of having a blog is that even when your words don’t make newsprint, there’s always some place to put them.

      Thanks for stopping by,
      Angela

      Like

  7. It shows my age, but when sh*t like this happens I find myself mentally going into Cpt. Binghampton mode:

    Hang in there Angela.

    Like

    • angelasavage says:

      Very funny Pam! Rest assured, as I said above, this post comes from a place of humour rather than bitterness.

      I should also state for the record that despite my tongue-in-cheek choice of photo to accompany this post, I’m actually an admirer of JK Rowling. I respect her for giving away so much money, and for her commitment to the release of children from detention.

      Like

  8. Felicity says:

    Couldn’t agree more, Angela and I share your pain. As for the Cuckoos Calling, JK has been lauded for her bravery at publishing under a pseudonym, but I can’t help thinking it would have been braver if she’d submitted it to the publisher anonymously, like the majority of authors who end up on the slush pile. I wonder if Cuckoo would even have been considered? The playing field would truly have been level then!

    Like

  9. Narrelle says:

    Thanks for this thoughtful post, Angela. It really is very difficult, trying to get your voice heard out there, isn’t it? I’ve had consistently good reviews for all of my books, but my sales are low and for all my attempts to raise my profile, I’m still basically not even a dirty spot on anyone’s radar. It’s so difficult to get traction. I feel like I’m on one of those soapy slides on the side of the hill, soaped up to the max myself, and unable to move up that hill one step before sliding back down again.

    I suppose, to stretch that poor analogy to its limit, I can say that at least I’m clean. Whatever that means.

    In the meantime, slippery as that slope may be, I’ll keep at it. And I agree – I am all in favour of making big noise about the Australian writers whose work I love (like Jason Franks, Mary Borsellino and Tansy Rayner Roberts) and I will blog and tweet and Google+ the hell out of them, because they deserve a wider audience. I don’t know how much my little voice in the wilderness helps, but I hope it helps even one more person find their work.

    Like

    • angelasavage says:

      Narelle, while your line about being ‘not even a dirty spot on anyone’s radar’ made me laugh, I feel your pain. It can be hard to maintain confidence, resilience and enthusiasm in the face of what seems like indifference. I think Margot Kinberg is right when she points out above that time, perseverance and a sense of humour are essential for survival. And while we’re on the subject of Margot, do check out her blog Confessions of a Mystery Novelist as an exemplar of how to promote the work of other writers — though by the sounds of it, you are already doing a great job.

      And I do think it matters if you can help even one person find another writer’s work: you never know what opportunities that one person might bring with them.
      Bon courage!

      Like

  10. haydn savage says:

    It is also ironic that your article/criticism became a major piece of reporting

    Like

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