For Paris writers, Stephen Clarke needs no introduction. The author of the bestselling “Merde” series (A Year in the Merde, Merde Actually, Merde Happens, etc), he is the icon of success for self-published authors and a witty presence on the Paris literary scene. I contacted him after admiring the striking presentation of God Save Ze Président on amazon.fr.
Transcripts of a conversation with Stephen Clarke, over coffee, opposite the Paris Opera.
Stephen Clarke: The French eBook promotion was done by my agent Susanna Lea. A company named Versilio in Susanna Lea’s office makes French eBooks. There’s a battle over royalties with publishers on eBooks.
What are your experiences with French publishers as opposed to American or British publishers?
Susanna Lea, when she sells to UK publishers, sells all rights separately.
A Thousand Years Of Annoying The French was the number one best seller in the UK. But for America there’s a problem: for seven hundred years, Americans aren’t even in the book! The US doesn’t have a paperback, just an eBook. In the US, they sell the Canadian and British paperbacks. US publishers only wanted to do hardback.
Are you on social media?
No I don’t really do social media. No Facebook. I tweet a little, only if I see something funny, I follow comedian, who come out every ten days with a good joke, not the “This is what I’m doing right now”. I don’t tweet about what I’m writing, just funny things I see.
Do you get distracted by the internet?
I’m not distracted by the Internet. I use it a lot when writing a novel, for research. For example, I wanted to say that an event was the biggest "what if" since ... and I found something great to fill the gap.
What was it?
You have to read the book.
I don’t see how social media will help. I want to earn my living by writing books. I want people to read my books. I don’t want them to know what my favorite pasta sauce is. I’m not trying to be their friend. I believe a lot in relationships between authors and readers. I like doing readings and answering questions. And when someone writes to me, I always reply.
Susanna Lea has slogs for her authors.
What’s a “slog”?
A Susanna Lea Blog!
Who are your favorite French authors?
Camus, novels that take you somewhere. Living and experiencing vividly what’s going on. The French are not very good at the kind of novel where style disappears and narrative and characters take over like in L’Etranger. Also, Jean Giono’s great novel Regain.
And your favorite living English language authors?
William Boyd and Robert Harris. Incredibly well researched novels Enigma, Imperius and Pompei.
The Village Voice has announced that it will close and the Red Wheelbarrow is for sale. Your thoughts?
It’s sad when little English bookshops go. When I first started out with A Year In The Merde, I delivered books by hand to the Abbey Bookshop, Shakespeare’s, Brentano’s, WH Smith, and Red Wheelbarrow. Once I took ten books over to the Red Wheelbarrow on a Saturday morning. Just after lunch, Penelope rang me up “Can you bring me more? Someone bought one, read it, came back and bought all the rest for his friends.”
Abbey Books was the first place anywhere to buy or sell A Year in the Merde. I was going around Paris with 200 copies. Finally went in the Abbey Bookshop. Bryan said “It looks fun!” He turned to a client, held out the book and said “Would you buy this book?” The client said yes so Brian took copies.
I wrote the book as Paul West, a character who’s much younger than I am. At my first reading ever at Abbey Books, I pretended to be him. I told them “I lied about my age but everything else is true.”
Do you have any ideas on how to save bookstores?
Maybe a walk-in eBook download? People can browse paper copies then buy the eBook at the store. Or a policy of lots of readings, diversify, have coffee, browse and buy.
Have you been pirated?
Not yet, touch wood.
If you were a young author just starting out today, what would you do?
I’d self-publish an eBook probably. When I did it, the reason I did it was that it had been turned downed by agents and publishers. I just wanted to get it out there. I’d still try to get a book out and sell it from door to door!
What are you working on now?
My new novel is coming out in September. To promote it, the publisher wants 5-10,000 words to sell as a 99 cent eBook. It’s called The Merde Factor. It’s the latest installment of Paul West in Paris. But now it’s the credit crunch, chambre de bonne, mad neighbors, trying to get a job, going to work with French functionaries.
You’re not going to make fun of French functionaries are you? That would be terrible!
I wanted to explore a character who gets sexually harassed by someone powerful. This was really a problem- until DSK.
Before DSK, she would get fired and humiliated, anything else was not credible. DSK helped make the plot credible. The climate has changed if someone important does that now. He (DSK) actually helped me out! (note: Stephen wrote article about DSK in the New York Times)
Bestselling humorist Stephen Clarke has been published in (last count) twenty countries. His books are widely available in bookstores around the world and, of course, on Amazon and other online retailers. For more on Stephen Clarke, visit his website here.