Bookseller Jim Hwang’s musings about the problems apparent in publishing, especially where mysteries and series mysteries are concerned, make sense to me. I also believe that mystery readers love series books and like to follow a series and a character. These standalones might get a lot of promo and make a small splash for a little while, but they don’t have lasting power. The “big book of 1994” is probably completely forgotten by now, isn’t it? But we still read (say) Janet Evanovich, Diane Mott Davidson, and John D. MacDonald. Those series characters are our friends, and we come back to them. More money could be made if publishing would just change its crazy, crazy business model. (And get rid of the “you can tear off covers and return them and get a full refund!” rule. Many changes would go hand-in-hand with that. I do not believe books are simply “product” or “widgets” like so many Easter eggs or Hallowe’en pumpkins to be lined up and sold.)
He writes: “There’s a level of NY publishing that’s both crazy and impervious to change: the top of the market, the relentless and idiotic throwing of big money after ‘hot’ commercial properties that lack pedigree. These are the first novels that get six- (seven-?) figure advances, the high-concept thrillers and suspense novels that publishers try to bully into the marketplace with big marketing campaigns that more often than not are doomed to failure — in the sense of being a building block in an author’s long-term career. This is roll of the dice publishing, designed only to make a splash without regard to what happens next. Because NY publishers are so bad at this kind of stuff, history is littered with failures — Douglas Kennedy, Jilliane Hoffman, etc. — many more failures than successes. (Given the poor quality of THE THIRTEENTH TALE, I’ll be really interested to see what happens to Diane Setterfield.[…])
“We recognize how foolish all this is, but we also know that no matter what we say about this, NY publishers are going to continue to behave this way. To some extent, they have to, but more for corporate strategic reasons than for the advancement of an author’s career or the genre in general. […] What [readers] want is simple: every time we pick up a book by a new author, we’re hoping to fall in love. When we find true love, what we want is to be able to hang out with the character we adore, stand by him or her through change and growth — adventure after adventure, book after book, for better or for worse.”
“[I]n the top ten listing for 2006, four of the titles were by James Patterson. Only one [of these] was written by Patterson himself. The other three were ‘co-written.’ Perhaps James can co-write nine books next year and one of his own, thereby grabbing all ten spots.”
Heh. However, it’s sad that people are buying those pseudo-novels with three-page chapters and such silly writing. I only know this because a fellow in the last real-life FtF writing group I attended was consciously trying to “write a Patterson novel.” His writing was even more atrocious than Patterson’s, which means I expect to hear about his ten-book contract any day now.
Seriously, though, go read.
In the comments thread, there are entries from such stellar authors as Carole Nelson Douglas and Barbara D’Amato.