Lord knows I spend enough time on this blog talking about what many other literary blogs, websites, and books also discuss ad nauseum--the path to publication. I also talk a lot about writers who have been in the game for a while, who sustain long careers.
But what truly fascinates me are those who drop off, never to be heard from again. Because I am not sure what’s a bigger fear: to never be published, or to have some degree of success and then see all of your works in the out-of-print rack, the publishing equivalent of deep storage.
I'm a curious person by nature, and my favorite question is "why?", followed closely by "what happened?" And in some ways, there's no greater mystery (to my mind, anyway) than a writer who appears on the horizon for one, two, maybe more books, then disappears. Because such instances demonstrate that the struggle to get published is only the beginning, that there's still a hell of a lot of hard work to be had afterwards. That a flashy advance only goes so far, because if it doesn't earn out, then a book or two later and you're firmly ensconced on the remainder shelves--if you're lucky. That perhaps a writer's really only capable of writing a book or two, and moves on to other things. Or that personal matters get in the way. In all the rush to bring aboard fresh faces, debut novelists, others have to be shunted aside. There's simply not enough room for everyone.
Crime fiction, especially, is a genre filled with names that appear on the horizon briefly, maybe even make a big splash, only to taper off. What happens when such a writer is in the middle of a series that has a cult following, and disappears? Was he or she dropped by his publisher, the contract cancelled because the books didn't sell? Or was there another reason? Or maybe the writer's still out there, working under a new name, even a completely different genre.
A few months ago, I was perusing the MWA’s Edgar nominee database to see if there was any correlation between being nominated and career longevity. And as I went back further in time, I recognized fewer and fewer names. Especially interesting to me were those nominated in the Best First category; one would think that if a book was considered amongst the best of that year, that the writer in question might have some talent, or some following. But even in that category, there were many, many names that simply aren’t being published anymore.
Where are the out-of-print, the dispossessed, the disappeared? Where did they go? What happened to them?
Those are the things I want to find out. And so, I'm launching a new feature, to appear every couple of weeks or so. I have a few people in mind that I'd like to discuss in depth, to put their short-lived careers in perspective, and highlight some names that are, perhaps, unjustly neglected. But I'm more than happy to take outside suggestions as well, both in the comments and directly to me.