Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Greg Iles, and the risk-aversion of the publishing industry

It is one thing for the publishing industry to be risk averse when assessing the work of Mr. NoName Author. But what about Greg Iles?

MISSISSIPPI author Greg Iles' best-selling novel Natchez Burning—all 790 pages of it—is just the first book in an expansive trilogy about race and retribution in America.

As Iles relates, even he has struggled with an industry that wants to throw all of its weight behind a smaller number of guaranteed blockbusters.

After taking time off due to an accident that nearly claimed his life, Iles had difficulty securing industry support for a new project a few years ago:

I had to find people willing to go with me on this journey. Within six months I no longer had the same agent or publisher. People are used to the idea of trilogies because of the success of these YA series. But in mainstream fiction you don't see three novels, each of 200,000 words.  
It was a huge risk and nobody knew what would happen. But we just bet the farm on it. Then a couple of reviews came in that were really good.  
And then Ken Follett Tweeted that Natchez Burning was the “best thriller in years.”  
Not of the year, but in years. Then I thought, you know, maybe something’s about to happen here.

Several points are worth noting in closing:

First of all, Iles has always gone off in new directions. His first two bestsellers were World War II espionage novels. Then he wrote several (also bestselling) standalone thrillers.

Then he began writing a series set in Natchez, Mississippi. Since at least 2009, practically all of his fiction has been set there.

Honestly speaking, I preferred his earlier (pre-Natchez) work. (IMO, Iles peaked with 24 Hours and Sleep No More.) And while I appreciate Iles’ desire to produce more message-based fiction, he is hardly the first author who has set out to Say Something Significant about Race Relations in America. Arguably, that ground has been trodden and over-trodden a bit too much in recent years—especially by progressively minded white males.

Finally, even a big-name author like Iles acknowledges the importance of social media nowadays. A very few authors are so big, and so enshrined in household name status that they can probably afford to ignore social media altogether. (Stephen King comes to mind here.) But most can’t. The field is simply too crowded and competitive.