Friday, 18 November 2016

Another book review: Best Seller

A couple of weeks ago I used this blog to talk about my books and suggest that people might read them. Posts here usually get a respectable number of views, but not that week. As an author published by very small press (Accent Publishing) with limited marketing budgets, much of my life is spent not writing but desperately trying to promote my books. My reviews suggest that the books are reasonably successful but my sales figures suggest that my promotional efforts are not.

It is a constant source of frustration to self-published or small press authors that they feel that sales are often more the result of a good social media presence and successful promotion rather than the literary merit of the books themselves.

Terry Tyler is in a better position than most to write about the angst of the self-promoted independent author. A prolific and successful writer, Tyler also has a strong social media presence. She understands how to use Twitter to sell books. (I wish I did.) She blogs, too. She's generous with advice and will happily promote other people's work if she thinks it's good. She is, all-in-all, what in a gender neutral (if dated) way you could call a Thoroughly Decent Chap. Yet, with all her hard work and talent, you will not see her books in WH Smiths and she will not be promoting them on The One Show.

Perhaps it is her frustration at the blatant unfairness of the system that has produced the novella Best Seller. (She calls it a novella although it is at least as substantial as many novels.) [Major spoilers ahead, though the plot is hardly going to surprise anyone.] It's a book about a struggling author who concentrates on writing at the expense of maintaining a respectable social media presence and thus manages to sell even fewer books than me. The villain of the piece is a pretty girl, with excellent social media skills and an able publicist, who persuades our struggling author to write a series of books as a ghost-writer. The books are, of course, enormously successful but, contractually forbidden from producing any books of her own, the talented young writer kills herself.

This could easily have been a maudlin expression of self-pity by Tyler, but in fact it's a jolly good read. We learn about the ghost-writer’s plight through a friend of hers who is, in turn, tempted to pass off somebody else's work as her own. Lacking professional support and handicapped by a conscience, her efforts end badly whereas the pretty villainess recovers from the disgrace when her fraud is exposed and is clearly on her way to bigger and better things. (Hi, Zoella! How’s it going?)

Best Seller does offer some real insight into the modern world of independent publishing and a profoundly depressing insight it is too. It's a good thing that Tyler has a relatively light and bubbly style that carries us through a story that could easily leave us too miserable to read (or in my case write) anything else for a while.

Tyler is in a long tradition of books by authors criticising the unfairness of the publishing trade. Gissing’s New Grub Street (published in 1891) shows the talented and able Edmund Reardon dying in poverty while the superficial hack, Jasper Milvain, ends up with the girl, the money and the publishing deal. Over a century later, it seems that nothing has changed. Still we battle on. Writers gonna write and all that. Terry Tyler demonstrates that, despite everything, there are still good writers out there, writing good stuff.


  1. Tom, thanks so much for this. Oddly enough, it wasn't written through frustration with the industry; although, yes, it is annoying that mediocre stuff can get a trad pub contract while the best writers can go unnoticed through not writing in a 'saleable' genre, I tend to just think, well that's the way it is. I work with what I have, and I'd rather spend my blogging time writing novels or helping to promote stuff I think is great, than getting bitter about the industry; life's too short for whining about stuff you can't change!

    That aside, the idea for this came from an episode a few years ago, when someone I know tried to pass off something I'd written as her own, to a literary agent (who was going to take it on). I was described as having 'edited' it, when actually I'd taken the other person's semi-literate notes and made them into a publishable seven first chapters. I also wanted to write about the shabbiness of the media, and how they make 'celebrities' about of nobodies, and how throwing money behind that nobody can make all the difference. Because what was Eden? She was a pretty girl who pretended she'd written 3 popular fiction novels. That's all. Yet with the right vehicle behind her, she became reality show and therefore traditional publishing worthy!! The public were manipulated into liking her....

    Btw, the 'novella' thing - a novella is between 15K (I think) and 50K words, I believe, after which it becomes a novel. Best Seller is 40K. Thanks so much for reading this and your thoughtful analysis!

  2. congrats Tom, so pleased things are going well for you. :)