Straight Jacket – Once More Into the Breach…

Today is the 9th of August.

Besides being the anniversary of Nagasaki, it is not (for me) an auspicious date. It is simply the date at which I have started to record my ruminations regarding my next project – Straight Jacket (published by High Horse Books, Melbourne). I have decided to do so on the ninth of each month – sort of my own personal reality show in which I report and speculate on the story so far. Will Straight Jacket be a success, or will it get voted off the show by the bookstore audience? Stay tuned.

I have reason to be confident.

My first book, Mr Cleansheets, did reasonably well. Several thousand people read it and many saw fit to contact me to express how much they’d enjoyed it. It got good reviews. So I ought to have plenty of fans keen to read the next book.

On top of that, Straight Jacket is (I believe) an improvement on Mr C and likely to appeal to a much wider audience.

So there you go, by all logic I’ll be a famous author by Christmas.

Logic, of course, has nothing to do with it. If my book is to be successful, it must somehow emerge from the Darwinian Struggle of the bookstore having killed off rivals penned by already famous writers supported by the mighty apparatus of the high-end publishing industry. It’s a Frodo versus Sauron contest and, much as I loathe hobbits, I’m Frodo – without the Ring.

Of course, books by obscure authors really do manage, from time to time, to punch above their weight and become bestsellers.


Most bestsellers are bestsellers simply because of who wrote them. I was fascinated by JK Rowling’s recent experiment when she submitted a book under a different name – possibly even had it rejected somewhere – got it published and it did nothing until someone leaked. And then, of course, it went berserk – a previously ignored book started selling like hotcakes because of the JK Rowling brand.

But for those books that do manage to succeed on their own terms, without the marketing clout of a major publisher or the power of a successful author’s brand, what is the defining characteristic or quality that lifts them out of the pack? How do they capture the zeitgeist, or the mood of the public, and turn their creator into a new titan of the publishing pantheon?

It’s not just quality of writing, because there have been some appallingly bad books become bestsellers. I can think of three Australian authors who have been staggeringly successful despite the fact that they do nothing more than generate mindless pap with just enough violence to prevent their work from being classified as pornography.

So it’s not the writing. Could it be the subject matter? That might have something to do with it, but there are plenty of books covering the same field and they don’t all fare equally well in the bookstore.

So could it be the main character(s)? Could there be some special quirk of the narrator or narrative voice that strikes a chord with readers at a particular point in time? I’ll bet that’s an important part of it, which means I’m running a bit of a risk. The narrator of Straight Jacket is Morgen Tanjenz, and some may find him unpleasant.

Morgen is a life sculptor. He’s very rich, very smart, and breathtakingly arrogant. He has total contempt for most human beings and is on a crusade to ‘combat the small venalities of the bourgeoisie’. This means, in effect, that he secretly pulls strings in the background to land people in the shit if he thinks they deserve it.

He also takes drugs, drives under the influence, associates with criminals and treats women appallingly. (He’s not sexist though – he treats men just as badly.) Worst of all, he’s a lawyer.

And yet, everyone who’s read the book so far loves him to bits.

So could I have found the secret formula?

Might I have created a character who so resonates with readers that they become champions of the book and recommend it to others?

Because in the end, that is the only way a book without major marketing clout or established authorial brand can succeed. Lots of people have to like it and get other people to like it also – sounds simple, but there’s nothing harder in the soul-destroying world of professional publishing.

So go on…if you enjoy Straight Jacket, make sure you let others know about it. Become part of my army of darkness that flies out to tell the world about Morgen and his amusing antics. (You might also imply that Straight Jacket was really written by JK Rowling.)

In any case, I’m getting way ahead of myself. The book isn’t even published yet, so I’ll next report on the 9th of September when Straight Jacket will have been in the shops for a week. I might even have seen some reviews by then.

Fingers crossed.

(A sample of Straight Jacket can be read at )

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