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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Factors in Murdering your Murder Book Career

Can a budding mystery writer ruin his career by badmouthing his publisher? Well? What do you think?

Can a guy get fired by slamming his employer in the press?

"I'd never do that."

I didn't mean deliberately. Like writing a letter to the editor. I meant by complaining to a "friend" who tells the boss. Or by mentioning something to a reviewer "off the record."

Mark Pepper wrote two published novels in the horror/thriller genre which, he says, received excellent reviews. In two guest posts Pepper describes a series of events that he believes destroyed his relationship with his publisher and consequently damaged his chances of pursuing a career as a novelist. He also adds that there was a lot more to his decision to give up on writing novels than that one event.

Apparently Pepper's publisher failed to mail out copies of his book, Man on a Murder Cycle, to six magazines he thought would provide additional good reviews. One might see that as a misunderstanding, but Pepper vented a bit of his frustration to a "journalist" that was interviewing him for the book. Pepper admits it was a "gaff" but naively believed that his request to the journalist to consider his remarks "off the record" would be honored.

Of course, the reviewer wrote a great book review, but finished with a comment about Pepper's frustration with the publisher. This was followed by a call from the editor expressing disappointment and the swift rejection of the submission of his next book.

Of course there is no way of really knowing what prevented the publication of the third book. Were any of the following significant by themselves in ending his novelist career? Or was it some strategic combination?

  • Badmouthing the publisher in public. Pepper's posts place more venom or bitterness on the journalist than on himself, but either way, the result was the same.
  • The book submitted was in a genre no longer of interest. Pepper suggests that the Horror genre, fueled by Stephen King, had lost its steam. I do not know about that, but I suspect some would debate the point.
  • The book submitted was in fact poorly written. Of course, we have no way of knowing that.
  • The book's value was lost on the publisher's editor because she was so Canadian. Huh? Yes that is in Pepper's self-absorbed account.
  • His agent gave up trying to find another publisher because Pepper's reputation was tarnished. Pepper claims that his agent was loyal but that they parted ways after a while.
  • His agent was ineffective.
  • Pepper himself gave up interest in getting the third book published. I recently heard a panel of agents (at Crimebake 2009) say that a certain percentage of their clients lose interest. In fact, Pepper identifies a variety of personal reasons for moving on to other things.
None of these speculations take away from Pepper's lesson. Take your pick:

  • If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all.
  • Don't bit the hand that feeds you (as the editor commented to him afterward).
  • Don't shoot your novel in the back.

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