Phil: While tidying a pile of books the other day I notice a couple of Tom Sharpes and realised there are lessons to be learned. Between publication of “Blott on the Landscape” in 1975 and “Granchester Grind” in 1995, things changed as Mr Sharpe became better known.
First, he got to write more. Blott is 238 pages, Grind weigh in at 490. Could the later book have been exposed to less editing ? Reading it, I think so. I bet had it been the first book, we’d have lost about a third. Not that this would have been a good thing, when you are in Sharpeland you want to wallow around a bit and enjoy yourself, but it isn’t as tight a story. New authors don’t get that much leeway and publishers don’t have a large audience waiting for the latest edition who will delight in a high page count.*
Which brings me on to the second point. By the 1990’s people would buy a Tom Sharpe book. They didn’t care much what it was about, they just knew they would enjoy it. Hence, the name of the author is considerably larger than the title of the book. On the spine, the font is so scrawly, you can barely read it. The placing on the cover is interesting too; Blot has title followed by author and then a quote from the Observer review telling the reader the book will be funny. Grind demotes the title to the bottom of the page with the author name filling the top quarter. The only extra text is “A Porterhouse Chronicle”, information that is only any use to the existing fan base who will already have read “Porterhouse Blue”
As an unpublished author, what I take from this is that our book has to be tight rather than long. No lovely, but unimportant expositionary paragraphs. If it doesn’t add something, take it away. Also, it would help to become famous. If a name in big print sells books then it would help if that name belonged to the nice man off the telly or the pretty lady in the newspaper, not some ned who you’ve never heard of.
*Younger readers will have experienced the same effect with the Harry Potter series. Book 1 could have been squeezed into a Tweet: speccy kid goes to magic school beats baddies with spells and meets friends who will look good in the movie. Book 7 on the other hand used more paper than every edition of the bible combined.