I have a busy week ahead of me as I start the process of putting a potential new JFB author through the publishing and acquisitions meetings. I won’t bore you by repeating the process – you know how it all works now – but I tell you this so you’ll feel suitably sympathetic as Nicola, Andrew and I do our damnedest to explain to our Quercus colleagues why the particular author deserves to join Jo Fletcher Books… So please keep all appropriate digits crossed for us, particularly on Thursday morning.
The reason I mention this is not just for the fun of seeing twisted digits all over the place, but because we have a slight problem with this particular acquisition, because this is not a brand-new writer for whom all doors are open, but someone whose name will be (should be) well-known to you. And that name should have readers jumping up and down in excitement (it certainly had me jumping up and down in excitement!)…
So what on earth is there to be worried about, I hear you ask? What on earth can the ‘slight problem’ be?
And the answer is easy: it’s that the writer is trying something new.
Now, rest assured it’s worked a treat and the book is wonderful (I promise you I will never take on an author just for the name; if the book’s not good enough, then it doesn’t get that snazzy JFB colophon on the spine, simple as that). But it is different, and different always worries sales forces. You can see their point: imagine the sales pitch if someone who’s made a name for themselves as a writer of literary fantasy suddenly decides the next book’s going to be a John Norman pastiche called Pleasure Slaves of the Counter-Earth, or if a best-selling writer of hard-nosed detective fiction decides chicklit is really the place to be. And don’t laugh: it happens far more often than you might realise – and at least half the time, the new genre suits the writer in question much better, which is of course, the tack I shall be taking.
You can always use a pseudonym if you’re making a dramatic change in style and/or subject – a very close friend of mine made far more money as a female writer of gothic romance than he ever did writing some of the best horror of the 1970s and ’80s, and another’s doing really well in historical fiction after moving through two other related genres… But a new name is not always the answer, not least because not every author wants to do that.
In any case, that’s not an option here, and so our job is to persuade our colleagues that different – in this case at least! – still means commercial, and that, just as importantly, there’s no reason at all why anyone who loved the previous book wouldn’t enjoy this one just as much.
And then I’m off to tell the two authors who delivered (books, not babies, just is case you got momentarily confused) at Christmas that each of them has produced something very special indeed. So, Tom, Sebastien and David: thank you! Our Lady of the Streets, Greatcoat’s Lament and Unholy War are what are known in the trade as absolute blinders. Beloved Reader, I know you are going to love them all.