I must confess that my exploration of the world of book promotion had left me somewhat confused and I realised that many of my ideas seemed to be at variance with what appeared to be the current convention. So in my perplexity I decided to seek advice. What I wanted was a writer who was both successful and produced work of real literary quality. But where would I find one?
It was then I remembered Calus Morphian. He seemed to fit the criteria and with no hesitation I invited myself round to dine with him. After all in the past he’d come to me for advice. To be fair to Calus, he was delighted to see me and gave me an excellent evening meal, washed down with a number of bottles of good wine.
So I waited until after the fourth bottle before broaching the subject that had been nagging me, what on earth sold? What should this Webster fellow be writing to make my task as a promoter easy?
Calus, rendered more vocal by the wine, and perhaps even more by the Urlan plum brandy we had drunk after the meal, tapped his nose, “Between you and me Tallis lad, just between you and me.” He stood up and led me down a side stair into an empty printing works. This was unexpected, but I could see how a subsidiary income could help with the finances.
He tapped the press, “Not a cheap hobby running one of these beasts Tallis my boy, not a cheap hobby at all.”
“So how do you fund them?”
“During the day they never stop, printing, printing, printing; have to spread the cost.” He walked, a little unsteadily to a large alcove and gestured around. The walls were a mass of shelving and the shelving was largely full of very slim volumes. I felt the back of one, it was poor quality paper. “This is what feeds the press Tallis my boy, cheap stories of forbidden vampire love, or demon love, or love with a score of fantastical, imaginary or hopefully extinct creatures. I pose as a quack; get two lunatics down from the lunatic asylum claiming that it’s part of their treatment. When they get here I lock them in a side room with a couple of bottles of cheap wine and don’t let them out till they’ve written me four thousand words of down-market erotica. They give it to the foreman who sets it straight into the metal and before they’re back up at the asylum, we’re already printing.”
I was shocked, “And it pays?”
“Absolutely, cheap paper, cheaper ink, knock out a thousand copies during the week and by the time my two tame creative spirits are released into my tender care the following week, we’ll have sold all thousand and are ready for the next thousand.”
I took one of the books off the shelf and shuddered at the cover, where a creature which was perhaps best confined to the darker corners of a bestiary was ‘paying court’ to a young lady wearing virtually no clothes. Calus looked over my shoulder, “That one was embarrassing.”
I flicked through the few cheap pages, “I could well imagine it was.”
Calus continued unheeding, “Yes we tried doing two stories that week and inadvertently combined the last half of one story with the first half of another. Nobody noticed.”
“What did your readers say?”
“As I said, nobody noticed.”
He led me out of the alcove. “We don’t make a lot of profit out of them, but they cover the cost of the presses, as most of the money goes on printers’ wages, and the various retail outlets also take a fair chunk.”
“I’ve never seen them for sale, who sells them?”
“Not entirely sure Tallis my boy. I initially thought that a retailer wishing to sell stories about romantic encounters between people and giant lizards would be pretty grubby, but even some apparently respectable stores sell these. The money is too good.”
“I never recognised the author’s name.”
“You wouldn’t do, we make them up as we go along.” We were back by the presses now so I asked, “Is that the only way to make money?”
“No but it’s the easiest. Nothing sells like copulation and the more complex and convoluted you make it, the better the paying customers seem to like it.” “I think I’ll have a problem with my author here Calus, I don’t think he could write erotica.”
Calus made a dismissive gesture, “Too ethical, too high minded?”
“No, I think he’s just got too strong a sense of the ridiculous.”
Calus nodded thoughtfully, “Yes, I can see that being a problem. It helps if he has access to morally uninhibited madmen.”
I shook my head regretfully. “I don’t think he moves in a refined enough social circle to give him access to those.”
Calus led be through to another alcove where there were innumerable formes all with their type in place. “The next two best selling genres are thrillers and romance. They are my bread and butter.”
Again I was surprised; certainly I hadn’t seen his name connected with anything from these genres. He took me out of the alcove and pointed to a pile of novels on the table. I picked one up, I recognised it, indeed I had read it. An epic tale of daring-do set in Uttermost Partaan. The author Dag Wart had created a series of stories based around the adventures of a condottiere from Port Naain and his efforts to thwart the city’s enemies. They’re good stories, each a pleasant evening’s reading, and they’re excellent to relax with. It’s just I would never admit to reading them when in society.
“You need discipline to write these Tallis.” He picked up the book with a look of genuine affection on his face. “Every morning I rise, breakfast, walk for an hour, and then return home for a cup of coffee and I write a thousand words as Dag Wart. Then I have a light luncheon, walk for another hour and write another thousand words as Volumtua Goldenhair, romantic novelist. I do this for ten days, and then I have five days off, often at my house in the country before returning for another ten days hard work.”
I was doing some careful calculations on my fingers at this point, “So every year you write three of your thrillers and three romantic novels.”
He smiled at me, “Yes, I’d do more but you have to allow time for editing.”
“So what about your literary work?”
Calus led me to a separate alcove. Here a small quantity of the finest quality paper was being carefully trimmed to size. “Well young Tallis, when I’m having my five days off, an idea will occur to me and I’ll jot something down. Across the course of a year I’ll work things up into a slim volume of something special.”
“It is special; I’ve always said your prose was almost poetry.”
He smiled at my praise. “Yes, I try to keep up the standard. But guess how many I sell of these books?”
Here I was stumped. I hadn’t the faintest idea, “A couple of hundred perhaps?”
“Each book written by Volumtua Goldenhair will eventually sell a thousand copies. Those written by Dag Wart can sell upwards of fifteen hundred. They’re both reassuringly profitable because the printer’s wages are paid by the bizarre erotica. So between the three sources, I make an excellent living indeed. But one of my literary works will sometimes sell as many as forty copies.”
“Forty, how is that possible?”
“Simple, how did you read my works?”
Embarrassed I said, “I read the copy in the Misanthropes Hall.”
“You and how many others?” He shook his head sadly, “If those who claimed to have read them purchased a copy, I could leave my madmen in their asylum. Not only that but Dag Wart and Volumtua Goldenhair could both retire.”
He led me back upstairs and once more in the dining room he refreshed my glass. “Does that answer your question as to how to make money from writing novels?”
I confess to sighing. “It does, but I’m not sure it helps.”
“What does he write?”
“Fantasy stories which contain within them a crime that is solved or a mystery unravelled.”
Calus topped up my glass again, his expression sympathetic. “Your best hope is to somehow overcome his sense of the ridiculous. Erotic tales of forbidden vampire love would be so much easier to sell.”
I just shrugged hopelessly, “You know what it’s like with novelists, they’ve no grasp of the real world.”
You could do your bit to help poor Tallis, simply purchase a copy of
As a reviewer said, “This is another of the short stories from Port Naain, a place in which I can thoroughly believe. Someone’s threatening, even killing, people and leaving a coin as an earnest of their intention. Benor foils one of the threats and becomes drawn in.
Lovely characterisation and a real sense of place make these stories favourites with me.”