Now that my bookselling career is drawing to a close, I have been reflecting on some of the writers who were either really successful or were tipped as the next big thing during my first few years in the trade. I have forgotten many names, but a few stick out. For example, I remember selling lots of Fay Weldon novels and having to restock the entire backlist every few weeks. Today you'd be hard pressed to find a single title in the average Waterstone's. And whatever happened to the once-popular Tama Janowitz? Here is my list of yesterday's heroes:
Poppy Z Brite
Mario Vargas Llosa
E L Doctorow
Lisa St Aubin de Teran...
The list could go on if I had a better memory. You may disagree with some of the names chosen and it's possible that moving from London to provincial bookselling in the mid-90s has disorted my view of things. But the fact remains that many of these authors (most of whom are still alive) have dropped of the radar, replaced by new names. Why?
The glib answer is that fashions change, but there are many other factors at work. I can think of at least one writer who annoyed their publisher so much that their backlist quietly went out of print. Others were eclipsed by authors writing in a similar genre (Scott Turow's demise can be directly traced to the ascent of John Grisham).
From my perspective, there isn't one writer on the list that really excites me, with the possible exception of Peter Benson and there are enough newer writers around who are much better. You may feel differently.
To return to Fay Weldon, she once came to a shop I worked in for a signing and was charm itself. All of the customers were delighted, with the exception of one man who looked confused and disappointed. Later I discovered that he was a metalwork enthusiast who had misheard someone talking about the signing and thought that we were having a welding evening.