Monday, March 28, 2016

Scratching My Niche

Not to be a pain in the ass about it, but I’m still floating from what has to be my best week as a writer. First the announcement that Down and Out Books is not only bringing out the third Penns River novel (Resurrection Mall) next year, but will re-issue both Worst Enemies and Grind Joint to keep the series together. Then the thrill of getting to read at Noir at the Bar: The Final Curtain with a group of writers I would have been happy for a chance to listen to, let alone be included with. That’s a good fucking week by any measurement.

It’s the Down and Our deal that will (hopefully) lead to more lasting ramifications, and I couldn’t be happier to end up with them. Seriously. “But wait,” I hear you say, because you’re the argumentative sort who lives to derail my train of thought. “Might you not be happier with a six-figure advance, and a national book tour where you’ll meet hot, literate women at every stop whose libidos are surpassed only by their imaginations?”

Actually, no.

I made peace with the big New York publishers quite a while ago, and I harbor them no ill will. I understand why they passed on my work despite consistently favorable comments about the stories and the writing, and the enthusiastic support of three (count ‘em: three!) different agents.

To wit:

  • My books have ambiguous or melancholy endings. I don’t write true noir—the Sole Heir™ and I have dubbed my writing style as gris—and the endings aren’t upbeat enough for mainstream audiences to dig into. Hell, my cops don’t always even catch the crook. (They do at least figure out who it is.)
  • No romance. Some sex once in a while, but my protagonists each have personality traits that do not bode well for feminine engagement.
  • Unapologetically hard-boiled style. Like it or hate it, my books don’t have what I call “bestseller style,” calculated not to offend anybody and possibly hurt sales. I mean no offense by that term. Lots of excellent writers take a little of the edge off and still write books even I enjoy. My talent doesn’t run in that direction. It is what it is.
  • Foul language. Yes, Virginia, in 21st Century America there are a lot of people who don’t care what horrible things a character does to another human being so long as said character doesn’t say “fuck” in any form or “cocksucker” or—dare I say it? Dare! Dare!—“cunt,” which is often a complete deal breaker. In the words of Ray Barboni, I say, “Fuck that.”
  • The Penns River series (and standalone Wild Bill) use multiple points of view, which I guess confuses some people. Frankly, I like the idea my small cadre of avid readers is smarter than the average bear and can hold multiple thoughts in their heads at once, so to those who think my books might be too complicated, I say, “Fuck that, too.”
  • I’m a sixty-year-old, overweight, ordinary-looking man. There’s no way for the marketing people to make that sexy and the bean counters are afraid to invest in a franchise because they think I’ll die any minute.

Down and Out gets that. They get what I’m trying to do and they get that there’s not an audience of millions for it, and they’re okay with it. I’ve read several of their authors, researched others, and they publish books that appeal to the kinds of readers that are inclined to like what I write. I have friends who work with them and every indication is that Down and Out treats its authors the way I want to be treated. I don’t need to be coddled. Just don’t bullshit me. Tell me what you’re going to do, what’s expected of me, then do it and I’ll hold up my end.
To steal a line from Rick Blaine, “Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”


pattinase (abbott) said...

I often think that two decades earlier, I would not be published at all probably. It's the rise of these small publishers that have allowed it to happen. I also know it would have meant much more to me twenty years ago. Or more.

J.L. Abramo said...

Eric Campbell and Down & Out Books resurrected Jake Diamond simply because Campbell was a big fan and felt the work needed a second chance. D&O quickly reissued the three Diamond books and then gave me the opportunity to get GRAVESEND out in the world. BROOKLYN JUSTICE is my seventh title with D&O, and I have been treated with great respect. Glad to have you aboard, I believe you will find it a friendly and supportive home.

Dana King said...


I've had a couple of agents tell me over the years I would have had an easier time with the Nick Forte books had I been in the market twenty years earlier. That never really bothered me, for two reasons:
1. I wasn’t in the market twenty years ago.
2. Signing when I was younger and less experienced might have led me to believe that’s how things are supposed to work and I would not have appreciated it nearly as much. Now I’ve been through the process for fifteen years, seen the conflicting forces on agents, how some publishers work, heard the stories of what to expect from the larger houses, and I’m perfectly content with the position, and the deal, I have. I can’t say that would have been the case ten years ago.

Dana King said...

That’s what everyone has told me, and matched with everything I’ve seen since I became aware of D&OB in Albany. All my dealings with Eric and Lance have been everything I expected and hoped for, and I’m delighted to be included with a crew of writers such as yourself. I’m looking forward to it in every way.

Charlieopera said...

It's all good ... and a beautiful thing when we come to peace with ourselves, our writing, the market, etc. I remember very well reading your stuff one night and turning to the boss and saying: "How the hell is this guy not published?" It's great to see this stuff happening for you.

Dana King said...

Thanks, Charlie. The Stark House deal would not have happened if not for you, as I had pretty much resigned myself to self-publishing. This deal might well not have happened had it not been for that exposure.