Promoting a novel you’ve written can be nerve-wracking, so last week I called up Matt Coyle, author of the Rick Cahill private eye series, for advice about marketing my upcoming novel The Necklace. I’d never met Matt, but I was hoping he’d give me a few minutes of his time and make some general suggestions.
Instead, by the end of that day, he called a bookstore owner he knew and set up a signing for me there; offered to interview me on his podcast; and got me onto another podcast that I’d been hoping to get on, but figured I wasn’t famous enough. I was stunned by Matt’s generosity.
The thing is, as gracious as he was, he wasn’t all that unusual. A few months ago, my publisher assigned me the daunting task of getting blurbs for my book. I was given the names and email addresses of seven bestselling crime writers.
Seriously? Why would these famous authors take the time to read my book and write an advertisement for me? What was in it for them? I dutifully emailed all seven, saying how much it would mean to me if they would consider blurbing my book. I expected all of them to say no, or simply to say nothing at all.
Shockingly, four of them said yes.
All I can say is, crime writers are just really warm people. I think they’re the nicest people I know. Certainly they’re the nicest writers I know.
I’ve been writing for TV for the past twenty years, and I’ve met a lot of wonderful TV writers. I’ve made lifelong friends. But in general, as a group, I’d say their goodness quotient is about average. I’ve talked with other writers I know who have written both TV shows and novels, like Lee Goldberg, and they agree with this assessment.
Like people in most walks of life, there are a lot of forces encouraging TV writers to be cooperative. When you’re in a writers’ room together, it’s exciting to build on each other’s ideas and create something special. Ideally, the group becomes better than the sum of its parts. Then, once you’ve written your first draft, you get help from the show runner and the other writers. Thanks to them, your script gets better.
But there are plenty of forces pushing TV writers to be competitive too, even cutthroat. Even with the explosion of cable and streaming TV, there is still a limited number of shows to write for, and limited jobs. A friend of mine says he used to hate me because his agent told him he was the second choice for two jobs that went to me. I still remember the name of the guy who got a job I really wanted and barely missed out on, writing for The Closer. Also, when you do make it onto a TV staff, everybody jockeys for recognition and promotions. Every year writers get let go; depending on the show, turnover can be over fifty percent. And the financial stakes are huge: in an instant you can go from making zero dollars in a year to half a million, and vice versa.
But with novel writing, we’re not battling each other in our pursuit of money and success. It’s not a zero sum game. So there’s a lot less envy among us. It’s not like TV, where staff writers will whisper to each other in their private offices about what a crappy writer their mutual colleague is. I’m not saying envy is unknown among crime novelists; you’ll occasionally hear crime writers criticizing a bestselling author, and no doubt much of that is jealousy. But there’s a lot less of it.
Now there may be additional, totally unrelated reasons why crime novelists are so gracious. I’ve heard the theory that we put all our evil impulses onto the page, and this frees us to be relatively good people in our actual lives. Or maybe we write crime novels in the first place because we’re wrestling with questions of good and evil, and that’s connected to a deep desire on our part to be good. Or the novel writing biz can be so difficult, we band together for warmth.
Whatever the reason, crime writers are generous people! I try to live up to that. The very night that Matt Coyle did me a solid, or three solids, I got an email from a crime writer asking me to blurb her book. Ridiculous! I’d never met her and I was on deadline. But of course I said yes.