Straight Jacket – Once More Into the Breach Part 2

Today is the 11th of September.

On the 9th of last month I determined to report regularly on the progress of my new novel – Straight Jacket (published by High Horse Books, Melbourne). This is like 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.

It has been a good month.

Highlights have included the following:

• Interview with the Law Society Journal
• Major promotion by the Co-op Bookshop in Sydney (in anticipation of a signing event being promoted in the LSJ)
• Arranged to do a launch at Readings Bookstore in Hawthorn
• Arranged to do a signing event at Dymocks Erina
• Arrangement of a local launch party at Avoca Beach Surf Club
• The first ratings appearing on Goodreads (all Fives so far with the exception of one Four);
• The first reviews appeared; and
• The film rights to the novel being optioned by Ealing Studios, one of the largest and most famous film studios in the UK.

And of course, publication. The book has now been out for a week and the energy and goodwill out there is amazing. Almost everyone who has read the book so far has really enjoyed it which is incredibly gratifying, not least as I believed the book to be a bit of a challenge. The reading public are obviously much sicker than I thought.

Mind you, you can’t please everyone (and I wouldn’t expect to – especially with such a sick puppy main character as Morgen Tanjenz). One reader, quite close to me, was disappointed that the book did not conclude in a particular way and that the main characters did not have particular qualities she expected. (Fear not, there is no spoiler here.) Concluding in the manner she described would have done three things:

• Forced my story into a fairly standard (and predictable) resolution;
• Made my characters similar to other fictional characters; and
• Lost all the more subtle and ambiguous consequences and connotations with which the reader is now obliged to deal and could stay rankling in their head for days, months or years to come.

Books about ordinary people doing predictable things tend not to be remembered. In fact, they tend not to be published in the first place.

I was blown away by the first review. The creation of a novel happens more or less in a vacuum. You do get feedback from friends, family and publisher, but all of them have some sort of vested motivation for believing the book to be good. It’s not until you start seeing the reviews from independent readers who have no connection with you that you can truly start to gauge the book’s worth in the marketplace.

This is even more problematic in the context of such a challenging character as Morgen. He’s a real bastard, doing some pretty bad stuff and incredibly arrogant about it. And yet I want people to love him (or at least love being with him), which is a difficult thing to achieve when the main character is such a cad. Get it just slightly wrong and the book will fall flatter than a fart joke in a colostomy ward, but to my relief, the first reviewer said Morgen is: “attractive, clever and dreadful – all excellent qualities in a protagonist. His machinations are horribly enjoyable in that kind of grim way that makes you worry a bit about your own sanity.”

Reading that review was profoundly satisfying. What it means is that there is definitely a subcategory of readers out there who will enjoy Straight Jacket – it just remains to be seen how big that subcategory is and how well we can reach them.

I’ll get a better idea of the size of my potential public when I see a review in the major papers. There is nothing more important to the life of a book than good reviews in prominent publications. Word of mouth is the best form of advertising but personal networks can only stretch so far, and you only have so long to reach a critical mass of people who can start selling for you. Before then you have to get large numbers of strangers interested in your work and the only way to achieve that is good reviews – or a massive media and marketing campaign, but neither the publisher nor I can afford that, so fingers crossed that some of the energy and goodwill I spoke of transmits itself to the independent readers in the major newspapers and literary journals.

So how do I feel right now?

Nervous, excited, full of hope, and increasingly confident that Straight Jacket is the right novel to take me to the next level. I’ve set myself the target of selling 20,000 copies, which I believe would be enough to really establish myself as a writer in Australia, and possibly beyond.

So, as I continually ask, if you have enjoyed Straight Jacket, please don’t keep it to yourself. Tell the world and make it your gift of choice at birthday and Christmas time!

After all, if you want to see a sequel, it’ll only happen if there is enough demand for it. So help me create the demand.

I’ll be your pal.

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