3 October 2011

Thank you, readers

Amazon is sometimes portrayed as the 800-pound gorilla in the ebook jungle, and maybe it is, but for an author who wants to be read that gorilla runs the biggest game in town. In mid-September The Penal Colony was offered there for nothing (after I’d zeroed the price at Smashwords), and it quickly climbed the freebie charts. Since then, many tens of thousands of copies have been downloaded, and the number of reviews is growing.

About a year ago I posted a piece here, in which I opine that:
If you write “creatively” at all, the only valid motive is self-realization. You should not expect, and certainly not demand, that other people should read your output, still less pay you for it. If they do either, you’re well ahead of the game – especially if they pay.

When a reader takes the time to read your book, he or she is doing you an honour. That has an uncharacteristically sentimental sound coming from me, but I believe it to be so. Every reader creates a new version of the novel’s world, informed by a unique set of experiences and values; each individual sees the characters differently and places different emphasis on this or that aspect of the story. It’s both intriguing and sobering for an author to know that, all over the world, hundreds or even thousands of different people are simultaneously engaged on a unique creative act inspired by his original, and now rather distant, imaginings.

It’s also intriguing to get such vivid feedback as the online reviews and to see the range of reactions expressed there, some diametrically opposed to the signals I thought I was giving out. For example, one reviewer suggests the depiction of the “Village” is something of a right-wing wishlist, which surprises me, because the book was written partly as a warning: I thought I had made it evident that the whole setup was (a) a Bad Idea and (b) being run corruptly. Indeed, during the Conservative Party Conference in October 1987, just before the London publication, a pressure group called Tory Action prompted the tabloid headline “Cage the thugs on an island, say Right”.

Some readers complain that the ending is too abrupt and would like to know what subsequently happens to the characters. This is flattering indeed, because it means they have almost become real people in those readers’ minds! Let me say that I was working to a space limit, not especially strict, but at 103,000 words the book was already pushing at the acceptable length for a thriller of that sort. During a lunch with Judith Kendra, the sympathetic commissioning editor at Grafton Books who encouraged this project, I believe I even mooted an extent of 80,000 words. More importantly, I conceived the story as being the experiences of the protagonist vis-à-vis the island, and the moment they cease so does the narrative. A generally favourable outcome and the abolition of Category Z may be assumed …

Thank you, then, readers, for giving my novel a new lease of life and for validating the work that went into it all those years ago. It’s an extraordinary feeling.


Anonymous said...

I assure you that readers are equally gratified when writers are able to give their best and write a novel that stays with us long after we get to the last page or when we've debated with friends as to what should have or shouldn't have happened in the story.
Thanks to you and thanks to all the writers for giving us an opportunity to see life in a different perspective.
Thank you. :)

- Mauie (The Traveling Reader)

* Found your blog, btw, through Teleread.com via @AuthorAnswers.

Moe The Cat said...

Thank you for all the fine work you've made available to us, Richard. I hope offering The Penal Colony for free brings some readers to your other works, especially The Tide Mill and The Drowning.

Richard Herley said...

Wow -- thank you both!

graham smith - essex said...

The most amazing thing about 'The Penal Colony' is how a book written some 25 years ago can so suddenly be transformed into a modern day #1 best selling e-book.

Thank you Richard for producing such a superbly written book and thanks also go to Amazon Kindle stores for bringing your work to so many kindle readers attention.

Ogri said...

Just finished The Penal Colony and I loved it. I didn't get the feeling it was written 25 years ago at all, it seemed very fresh.
I really liked the grittiness, I could smell the biting sea air and the stink of fulmar oil.
Thank you so much for making this freely available, I'll be on the lookout for your other work now.

Richard Herley said...

Thanks, Ogri, that's very gratifying, of course. I'm glad the book's out there and freely downloadable, first because it seems many readers genuinely engage with it, and secondly because, when it was out of print, the work I poured into it during 1985-6 was dormant and going to waste. What remained was No Escape on DVD, and the less said about that the better.

My third motive is the hope of reaching a wider audience with my other, paid-for, titles, but really I'm just happy if people get a kick out of Penal Colony and leave it there: I have no problem with that.

Ken Esq said...

I left a review on Amazon, but after finding this site I thought I'd thank you for an entertaining story. I'm going to give some of your other books a read as well.

Oh, I went on Netflix to check out No Escape. I take it you didn't have all that much control over the screenplay? Your story was far, far better than the movie.

Richard Herley said...

Ken, thanks, and I'm very glad you liked that book. As for the movie, I had no control whatever, and didn't even know what they were up to :-)