The Class of Co-opetition
by M. J. Rose
The point of this collection of stories is to thrill you, the reader. And no one expects you to care that the publishing biz is in dire straits. But to appreciate the spirit in which this collection of stories came together, it helps to understand something about the publishing industry at this point in time.
With margins low, distribution costs rocketing, limited or no marketing budgets for all but the top 15 percent of titles, and little major media interest in all but the biggest authors, book sales drop a little more every year and fewer and fewer authors can live off their fiction efforts.
Ours has become a risk-averse industry that more and more puts all its eggs in the same baskets year in, year out: a few brand-name authors, yet there are more than one thousand novels traditionally published every month.
These days even some of the biggest and the best authors will attest that their job is as much about selling as it is writing, because the support they get from their publishers is no longer enough to spread the word among booksellers, let alone readers. Authors hiring outside publicists and webmasters, buying additional advertising, subsidizing book tours, not just talking about marketing but doing something about it ... all these things are no longer the exception but the rule.
You might think, because of all this, that there's an every-man-for-himself attitude among writers, each one trying to outfox the other for limited ad dollars, blog reviews, special events or promotions. Yet one group of writers who routinely practice backstabbing, larceny, and murder is doing the opposite: working together to promote each other's books.
In the fall of 2004, International Thriller WritersITW for shortwas created at a mystery and suspense book conference called Bouchercon. Our goal was to celebrate the thriller, enhance the prestige and raise the profile of thrillers, create a community that together could do more, much more, than any one authoror even any one publishercould for the genre.
Now ITW, with more than five hundred members who have more than two billion books in print, is changing the rules for how books are sold and marketed, and how writers work together.
Superstars have rolled up their sleeves to work alongside mid-list and debut novelists to apply some fresh thinking to a stale industry.
And nowhere is that spirit of co-opetition more evident than in this book. The authors of this collection are in essence in competition with each other; if you look at the statistics, the average "avid" reader only buys 2.5 books a year.
And yet this smart, savvy group of debut authors came up with a plan to give fresh verve and energy to the clichéd phrase "strength in numbers." They've turned it into "creativity in numbers."
To support these debut authors, ITW offered to mentor the Class of '07 because we recognized our same spirit in them: a group of writers willing to band together and help each other rather than view each other as competition. To do something different. And to do it right.
We wanted to help, not just because we were so damned impressed with the creativity of the idea but because once upon a timebe it twenty-five years ago or last yeareach and every one of ITW's members was a debut novelist.
And most of us remember every single difficult step of that process. For some of us that means remembering the people who helped us. Or that there was no one to help us.
And how isolating that was.
Wouldn't it be great if ITW as an organization could help the debut authors who are going to be the future of our genre?
So over the summer of 2006, the full ITW board of directors approved the idea to adopt Killer Year 2007 and take some of the tough work out of being a debut novelist by helping each author through their baptism by fire into the publishing world.
Lee Child, Jeff Deaver, Tess Gerritsen, Gayle Lynds, David Morrell, Jim Rollins, Anne Frasier, Douglas Clegg, Duane Swierczynski, Cornelia Read, Harley Jane Kozak, Allison Brennan, Ken Bruen, and Joe R. Lansdale all signed on to be mentors.
This idea of cooperation among potential rivals is a variation on a theme we're beginning to see in other places on the Web, from group blogs to social networking sites like MySpace or cultural hotspots like YouTube.
For an industry losing readers to video games, movies, digital cable, blogs, and a creeping apathy about books, it seems a no-brainer.
But, as ITW member and author Tim Malceny said about the program, "It's no small irony that it took a bunch of writers who probe the darkest side of humanity to see the light."
KILLER YEAR. Copyright © 2008 by Lee Child. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.