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Author Success Strategy: Work for a Publishing Company!

January 22, 2019

When The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn came out last year, it was a bestseller immediately.  A bunch of famous authors like Stephen King and Ruth Ware wrote extremely favorable reviews that were plastered on book site promos and the book cover itself.  Stephen King even made up a new word, calling it “unputdownable.”

The Woman in the Window was going to be the next Gone Girl.  There have been a bunch of novels over the last few years that were supposed to be the next Gone Girl, but not many of them got praised by Stephen King.  When I read the book, I thought it was average.  The character wasn’t that interesting, and the author seemed to try too hard with all the film noir references.

I knew something was odd.  The author A.J. Finn had never published a book before, but this author’s first novel was a #1 bestseller immediately.  At the time I wondered how this no-name author had gotten the publishing company to put so much publicity and Stephen King’s praise into this book.  If it had been J.K. Rowling with a new name or a book coauthored by James Patterson, I’d understand.  But it seemed weird that this bland novel by an unknown first-time author was a bestseller the very first week it came out.

How did this happen?  I wondered, and I hoped the first-time author had a strategy that I could use.

The answer is kind of anti-climactic (especially since I put it in the title of this blog post).  A.J. Finn worked as an executive editor for William Morrow, the company that published the book.


The Woman in the Window might technically be A.J. Finn’s first novel, but he’s not some nobody schmuck sending query letters to literary agents and wallpapering the den with rejection letters.  A.J. Finn’s real name is…  well, it’s in this link to an NPR story about him, , but it’s not important what his real name is, at least it’s not important to the point of this blog post.

I think promoting A.J. Finn and The Woman in the Window as a rookie author success story last year was kind of lame.  An executive editor has advantages that regular shmucks (such as bloggers like me) don’t have.  Maybe the publishing company should disclose that to the public when it puts out this book: “Hey, this book was written by an executive editor in our publishing company, and it’s really good!  Even Stephen King and Ruth Ware say so!”

I’m not even faulting the author for working on a novel while he’s an executive editor for that publishing company.  If that was his plan the whole time, that was a great plan.  If he hadn’t planned it, then it was great improvisation.

But he’s not really a first-time author.  Technically, under the letter of the law, he might be.  But everybody knows he’s not.

The only thing that annoys me about this situation is Stephen King’s use of the word unputdownable.  If you’re going to make up a new word like unputdownable, use it for a better book.

Stephen King’s unputdownable review makes me again question King’s judgement in book reviews.  I put down The Woman in the Window very quickly.  I also made the mistake years ago of pre-ordering a book based on Stephen King’s review in an weekly entertainment magazine.  The book that King praised was so mediocre that I don’t believe Stephen King actually read the book.

I can’t prove that Stephen King doesn’t read the books he reviews.  I just don’t believe that he does.   I believe he WRITES the books he’s written, though, and that’s more than a lot of authors do.

Anyway, the lesson here is that if you want to be a famous bestselling author, work for a publishing company.  I’m probably too old (and cranky) for that now.  But some of you youngster bloggers and readers out there can do it.

No matter what, though, please do NOT write the next Gone Girl.  I liked Gone Girl, but we don’t need another one.


What do you think?  Is it honest to call an experienced executive editor a “first time author”?  Is working a for a publishing company a brilliant strategy, a cynical strategy, or both?

  1. “unputdownable” is a valid word. My copy of the OED defines it as “adj colloq. (of a book) so engrossing that one has to go on reading it.
    I don’t know about a debut novel by someone working in publishing; suppose it was a newspaper journalist or a magazine columnist or even a poet who produced a first novel, would there be any problems with that? I do think the author’s main work should be mentioned whatever it is, together with their previous experience of writing-related work.

    • “Unputdownable” is a valid word.”- Aaaarrrgh! I guess Stephen King is bringing “unputdownable” back, but Word still keeps red-lining it when I type it out.

      “Suppose it was a newspaper journalist or a magazine columnist or even a poet who produced a first novel, would there be any problems with that?”-

      They usually use their real names, not a pseudonym. I think the pseudonym makes it a little dishonest.

  2. In an old Are You Being Served the floor staff of the Chase Dept story gather to pay tribute to the septogerian Mr. Grace. They present a biography. Telling how young Mr. Grace started selling apples from a pushcart. After a year he had two pushcarts. After seven years he had five pushcarts. And then his father and left Mr. Grace the store. Hurray for Mr. Grace! Anyhow, that’s one way to be employed by big publishing company and publish first novel to such great acclaim.

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