Hey Publishers: Could You Skip The Bloody Safety Briefings And Deal Me Some Book Heroin Please

Hey Publishers: Could You Skip The Bloody Safety Briefings And Deal Me Some Book Heroin Please

Imagine an addict who not only couldn’t get a fix, but hadn’t even an idea where a fix could be got, no matter how much money or time or how many henchmen they had to search for it.

Six to eight months of the year at least, I’m fine. I can happily dip in and out of my book stash and read for twenty minutes, or until it’s time to stop reading. I can get by on what I have. But I’ve got the shakes these days, and not a heady cure in sight.

Do you ever find yourself reading something and, although it’s perfectly pleasant and all that, and an adequate way to while away the hours—ever get that sneaking suspicion that it’s the literary equivalent of a prescription drug? You’re reading something that’s perfectly palatable. It cures some of your symptoms, but hardly ever gets to the root of the problem.

Literary Aspirin

Prescription books have formulas. They have a precise chemical composition which the author has often been regulated into producing, with the following side effects:

  • Crime novels where the whodunit is overly concerned with the howdunit and the howinvestigatit, rather than fleshing out the whydunit or the whoitwasdunto with original and fresh character traits
  • Romance novels where the brooding hero and sexually innocent heroine spend two-thirds of the book pushing each other away because of perceived or non-existent slights and misunderstandings
  • Historical Fiction where all the children are sweet and loving and the women are guilt-ridden or stoically impoverished
  • Women’s Fiction where protagonists are chronically nice people and any deaths, if they occur at all, are meaningful
  • Literary Fiction entirely composed of gimmicks or short sentences and adjectives which take the place of verbs

I don’t want prescription drugs. I want heroin. Book heroin is an unregulated chemical compound which fills your every waking minute. When you’re not reading it, you’re thinking about it. When you are reading it, you are not wherever you are. You will push everything and everyone away until you get to the other side.

Book heroin is full of people who feel familiar but do unfamiliar things in a believable way. It feels like the characters know you, and are studying you as much as you’re studying them, even though you’re doing the ocular equivalent of licking the windows, gawping at their car-crash lives.

I want to make facial expressions when I’m reading that don’t include eye-rolling. I want to go from eyebrow-raising to pupil dilation, from facial dimples to damp tearducts. I want to stay up reading until stupid o’clock and get up the next morning not even tired because I’m still high on the book.

The Magic Formula

I get none of this from prescription drug books which are variously categorised into one narrow definition such as Crime, Thriller, LOL-Free Lit-Fic, or Romance. They are 500mg of paracetamol against a raging migraine. They are doughnuts made out of kale. Alcohol-free beer. Holidays with someone else’s children. Roughage.

Sometimes I wonder if the problem is that big business publishing is so concerned with average book sales that they won’t risk anything out of the ordinary which could really grab readers by the goolies. For example, right now they don’t seem to like cross-genre stuff, purely because they’re not entirely sure where to market it.

Marketing Says No

Comedy isn’t allowed at all unless it’s full of violence (men’s fiction) or romance (women’s fiction). Violence isn’t allowed in Romance. Romance isn’t allowed in Crime or Psychological Thrillers unless it’s destructive. Anything fantastical must be segregated during the frequent periods when magical realism is out of fashion.

And combining the lot is definitely not allowed, because then a book can’t be bashed into this ruinous niche marketing template that’s taken over the entire business.

Hey Publishers: Could You Skip The Bloody Safety Briefings And Deal Me Some Book Heroin Please

Not In My Name

I did a quick and thorough scientific survey of myself, and came up with some incontrovertible findings.

In the last 15 years or so, fewer than 10 of the books or book series I read qualified as pure book heroin, in that they made me fall in love so hard that they took over my brain, actually interfering with my ability to live a normal life.

One of these was written in the 1940s; one in the 1970s, and one in the last 5 years. A couple turned out to be literary prizewinners, one was a story which defied description and has never been emulated. They shall remain nameless, because I have no intention of boiling this down to mere book titles. But all, and I mean all of them, had one thing in common.

None of these books could be classified into a single homogenous genre. Some of them could be described by that most begrudging of terms, the Potboiler. But they all had combinations of all the best ingredients: love, crime, mystery, fantasy, witty dialogue, tragedy, obsession, devotion, malice.

Crime becomes more thrilling when passion is involved. Violence is more palatable when combined with comic relief or cathartic sorrow. But to make a real page-turner, good people must make terrible mistakes, and bad people must capitalise upon them. That, after all, is human experience.

For now, I’m still looking. I’m also well aware, by the way, that after book heroin there is an inevitable comedown. But with this kind of hunger, this need, it’s a side effect I’m going to accept.

What do you think? Are you getting enough of a hit from genre fiction? Or like me – is it wrecking your buzz?

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  104 comments for “Hey Publishers: Could You Skip The Bloody Safety Briefings And Deal Me Some Book Heroin Please

  1. Jack Tyler
    February 7, 2017 at 7:51 am

    Oh, yes, my friend, the reader’s lament is also the author’s lament, and they also have the same cure. Writers fortunate enough to get publishing contracts, and then produce something that sells, are shoehorned into their niche, and never allowed to step out of it again. Once you produce something that makes a bundle for a publisher, you are then expected to repeat it, ad infinitum, until the end of your career. If you hope to get another book deal, you will find yourself repackaging the Last Big Thing again and again until the poor old thing not only won’t run anymore, it can’t be coaxed out of the barn with a cattle prod. And how can anyone as creative as an author be forced to do this? Easiest thing in the world: “If you want to be published with this house again, you’ll…” So Blazing Swords becomes the Blazing Swords Trilogy which becomes the Blazing Swords Saga until the writer has been squeezed dry of every idea he can come up with.

    So, what’s the solution to this dilemma? Indies! Yes, independent, or self-published authors. I know what you’re going to say, that no one (meaning an editor) is standing over an indie with a whip and a chair, forcing him or her to follow the rules of grammar, plotting, and story development. Yes, it’s true that you can go through a hundred or more indie titles looking for one author who knows how to string words together into coherent sentences. But they’re out there, they can be found, and they’re worth looking for, because here’s the thing. While house authors are walking around the middle of Literatureville hoping against hope to discover an unexplored corner, indies are out there beyond the edge of the map exploring the uncharted reaches, planting the flag on unseen shores, surveying the territory that will become the Next Big Thing. Listen if a friend recommends an indie. Become a regular reader of blogs that offer frequent reviews of indies. Stalk Amazon, using the “Look inside” feature. There’s a whole wide world of breathtaking fiction out there, and you’ll never find it by staying in the comfort zone, and choosing your next book from the Big Five catalogues. Dare to explore. Demand what you’re entitled to, and accept no less. Come on out to the real final frontier; you’ll never want to go back again!

    Liked by 11 people

    • February 7, 2017 at 10:02 am

      I see the wisdom of what you’re saying, Jack, but I don’t see this as a simple matter of Traditional Vs Indie. It’s much easier for me to lay out here what I want in a book than it is for me to write it, I know, but I’m not getting what I want from Indies either at the moment. Besides, Indies are just as subject to the marketing traps as everyone else.

      What I’d really like to see is the entire industry getting out of this genre obsession and making some changes in order to sell good rounded stories to interested readers. That’s all. Also, I’ll defend the series to the death. I know it can be painful for some authors, but they wouldn’t have to produce them if readers didn’t want them, and ultimately, I’m championing the needs and wants of the reader here.

      Liked by 3 people

      • February 7, 2017 at 12:41 pm

        What’s really scary is the idea that (some) libraries are abandoning the Dewey and setting up bookstore categorization. They say it is to make it easier for the browsing patron. They say it is for the reader. I call b.s.

        Liked by 5 people

        • February 7, 2017 at 2:37 pm

          I suppose everyone is struggling with how to categorise books for sale or lending. That I can sympathise with. I just wish it didn’t feel like they were being published in the same way.

          Liked by 1 person

        • February 8, 2017 at 1:01 am

          Dewey Decimal Classification is considered “old school.” Nobody wants to learn how those stupid numbers work. Everyone’s in a hurry and just wants to pop in to the library and find what they want. (I was a cataloguer for more than 30 years, so I know what I’m talking about). This trend sort of parallels the formulaic publishing one, doesn’t it?

          Liked by 4 people

    • February 7, 2017 at 12:39 pm

      This is a world of pigeonholing, categorizing, and polarizing. The defining of a book category wouldn’t be such a bad deal if it wasn’t always peppered with judgment. Such and such is “high literature,”such and such is “just” genre fiction.

      Liked by 2 people

      • February 7, 2017 at 2:40 pm

        I don’t have any problem with either of those categories as long as there’s a story, well told, and incorporating ingredients from more than one genre!

        Liked by 3 people

    • February 7, 2017 at 3:39 pm

      Thank you for saying so eloquently what’s been on my mind from the moment I read Tara’s post!

      Liked by 2 people

      • February 7, 2017 at 3:46 pm

        It was a great comment, Nick. What are the chances of traditional being influenced by indie in the right way from now on, as opposed to the other way round?

        Liked by 2 people

        • February 7, 2017 at 3:52 pm

          Most Indies are nuts, so there’s that. And yes, I know I’m one.

          Liked by 4 people

        • February 8, 2017 at 1:07 am

          Many indies try to emulate trad-pubbed books, thinking that’s the formula for success. There are a million “Ten Ways To Write Your Novel Good” lists that all say more or less the same thing.

          Liked by 1 person

          • February 8, 2017 at 11:17 am

            None of which necessarily works either, Audrey! Oftentimes the moment someone’s packaged up a sure-fire strategy into a pithy soundbite, it’s already out of date.

            Liked by 1 person

            • February 8, 2017 at 6:21 pm

              True! Writing is an art. There is really no formula. Could be why it doesn’t work well as a ‘product.’

              Liked by 2 people

  2. February 7, 2017 at 8:44 am

    To be fair to publishers (and authors), Amazon has a huge effect here. We are told that we must nowadays write ‘series’ books, because Amazon (dictated to by America, where readers seem to be unable to let go of characters and want to read about the same people in the same place (doing the same things – sorry, I didn’t say that)). So the moment you produce Book A, original as it might be, you find yourself tied into reusing the same locations and the same characters and the same genre, which, round about book nine, means you’ve used all the people and have to now start on the dogs and cats.

    I’ve kind of wangled my way round this by having all my books set in the same place (North Yorkshire), but using a completely different cast, and with each book being completely stand alone. But I know others who are trying desperately to wring a Book Four out of a setting and cast list that was only ever designed to support one book.

    Liked by 7 people

    • February 7, 2017 at 10:06 am

      As I was saying to Jack above, I’m afraid that it’s not just Amazon who are demanding series fiction – it’s readers, and they’re not just in America. I’m guilty of it myself. When we see a cast of characters we absolutely love, we want more of them. The difference Amazon has made for me is that now, when I find a series I like, I can devour the whole lot in a fortnight. Before I would have had to wait. But I also like the idea of same place novels, or same family stuff, where each story is standalone, albeit about a different family member. But it is symptomatic of an idea or character which has got the magic formula just right.

      I know I’m a sheep. You don’t have to tell me!

      Liked by 2 people

      • February 7, 2017 at 12:42 pm

        I like revisiting characters, places, etc.
        Series novels have the advantage of tapping into a ready-made audience.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. February 7, 2017 at 8:46 am

    1. Shakespeare did it pretty well. ie Hamlet. Or Thurber’s MacBeth Murder Mystery.
    2. I am Sooooo tired of teenage ninja mutant vampire mysteries.
    3. Most important- love this article.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. tbrpiledotcom
    February 7, 2017 at 9:15 am

    The answer, I think, is to look away from the big publishing houses. There are some brilliant small presses with some brilliant books: Tramp Press; Liberties; many, many self-publishers, for example. It might be more difficult to come across the books that are good, but follow Goodreads reviewers and bloggers (cough) that review the types of books you read, try one or two of the books to see if you are in accord with what they like, then follow them and branch out with their recommendations – there will be some misses, but you’ll also discover new books and new authors that you love.

    I have never really understood the advice that to make money you have to write a series. I assume it is right, as so many people ‘in the know’ say to do that. But surely you are never going to sell more of one of the books than you do the first one: if people like the first one, a percentage of them will read the next; if people don’t like it, you’ll lose them as readers. Stand-alones or short planned series are what I look for – if I like the author’s writing, I’ll try another of theirs whether or not it has the same setting and cast.

    Liked by 3 people

    • February 7, 2017 at 10:11 am

      Yes, that’s an excellent point on small presses. Some of my favourite books are published by publishers nobody’s ever heard of and they should be supported with all of our might. And I know there’s a lot of talk online about book bloggers at the moment, but it can never be overstated that they are carrying out a task which was long awaited and unfortunately, also long maligned.
      It seems that the series is a polarising notion. Having said that, they are in the minority when it comes to my own personal book heroin.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. February 7, 2017 at 9:23 am

    I am so with you, particularly on Romance – one of my favourite genres when it’s done well. But all too often it’s the same old same old, as you’ve outlined, Tara. We all know the hero and heroine are going to fall in love at the end, so why can’t they get on with it then do something different for once? I find myself following authors rather than genres, but that can be limiting for someone who’s always on the lookout for something new. It’s so tiring pushing book after book aside because I’m bored after the first chapter, but as I know there are some great authors out there, I’ll keep on looking…

    Like

    • February 7, 2017 at 10:15 am

      You’re right – it IS tiring. I’ve spent days following links looking for books and still come out with a damp squib at the end. Which is why book bloggers are becoming even more important. Their reviews have become my only signposts.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. February 7, 2017 at 9:41 am

    Perhaps you need to take a break from fiction and be scourged by a large dose of reality until you are gasping for an escape back into the world of make believe?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. February 7, 2017 at 10:05 am

    Great piece. Totally right. Too much dross out there. Largely because most people I think don’t want heroin, they want to enjoy reading, but not be too disturbed by it. Kinda like my uninformed taste in classical music – I want something pretty in the background – or wine – I want it to taste nice, but don’t want to pay much.
    Anyway, most importantly, what was the book from the last five years? Pray tell.

    Liked by 1 person

    • February 7, 2017 at 10:27 am

      I like the idea of genre fiction as background music or wine at a dinner party, Oran. I suppose you could equate it as a safe option for book clubs either. Reading group discussions which are pleasant and polite, but utterly passion-free. We should write a piece for the Guardian about the elevator music/dinner party fiction genre, make the term go viral and dine out on it for the rest of our literary lives.

      Regarding my book heroin, there is a method to my madness in not revealing any of them. The reason is because lots of people won’t like my book heroin. Some of it was best-selling, some of it wasn’t. But if you disagree with my picks, you might disagree with my entire argument, and that would make me cry, which is a bad thing. Honest.

      Liked by 2 people

      • February 7, 2017 at 7:35 pm

        Wont make you cry, but it was Da Vinci Code wun’t it?

        Liked by 1 person

        • February 7, 2017 at 10:24 pm

          You might say so, Oran, but I couldn’t possibly comment. And I don’t mean that in the House Of Cards sense!

          Like

  8. February 7, 2017 at 10:06 am

    “One of these was written in the 1940s; one in the 1970s, and one in the last 5 years. A couple turned out to be literary prizewinners, one was a story which defied description and has never been emulated. They shall demain nameless, because I have no intention of boiling this down to mere book titles. But all, and I mean all of them, had one thing in common.”

    😳sad because I was willing to fish for them. Now I’ll never know 😦

    Liked by 2 people

    • February 7, 2017 at 10:30 am

      I am a mean and horribly person, Lizzy. This is a fact. And I will never reveal what these books are, because I’m afraid they will skew the discussion too much. See? Told you I was mean and horrible.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. February 7, 2017 at 11:12 am

    So true, Tara, so true. I once had an agent tell me that, now that I had sold my first book (non-fiction), I needed to go out and write another one just like it. I told her I wanted to write fiction. She told me that I couldn’t do that, and that once I had established a genre, I had to stick to it. Well, to pardon a wonderful UK term: Bollocks to that! What’s the point in being a creative person if you aren’t allowed to be creative? I reject the notion that I must stick to one genre. I want to explore writing in the broadest manner possible. Hence a memoir, a science book, a children’s book, a science fiction novel trilogy, and now I’m working on a biography and a fantasy novel. The industry “rules” that you listed (and that my former agent reiterated) will probably prevent me from ever getting rich and famous, but at least I get to write what calls to me at the moment and not what someone says I have to write.

    Thank you again for an enlightening and insightful essay.

    Liked by 5 people

    • February 7, 2017 at 2:43 pm

      You’re welcome, Jim! Sorry to hear about your book trouble. I can’t say I understand the issue with slipping into fiction from non-fiction. Now, if you were to change from hard-core violent spy thrillers into YA romance, I can understand that a publisher mightn’t want to cause confusion in terms of an author’s brand, even though many people seem to manage. But non-fiction to fiction doesn’t seem like anything which would cause confusion to me.

      Like

  10. February 7, 2017 at 12:30 pm

    I so get this. I have lots of friends, am a normal individual, but when it comes to books there is something odd about me. I don’t like most of the big reads, the popular bestsellers, yet I have no loved genre only ones I do not like.
    In the past year I have only loved three books, one of which no one has ever even heard of despite it being a relatively newly published book.
    I also think reading a book is like poetry, what you crave today you are not in the mood for tomorrow. We need to be able to feed those different moods.
    Unlike you I am lucky in that I do love non fiction and a good memoir which no one has ever heard of, often tells an amazing story, so I do get a bit of a fix more regularly.
    Good luck in your search. Some day I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours!

    Liked by 2 people

    • February 7, 2017 at 2:49 pm

      There are definitely books for every mood, and books for every person, Tric. Unfortunately it feels like there are fewer of those than there might be if publishers weren’t ploughing so much money into already sure things from big names who don’t need the boost. I also like non fiction and memoir, though – never let it be said that I only read fiction (the titles of which remain secrets until the day I stop pontificating on the internet! 😉 )

      Like

  11. February 7, 2017 at 12:45 pm

    Yes, yes, yes!

    Partly, it’s because I’m getting old and reading with more critical faculties. But rereading some older books (and knowing that I am guilty of all sorts of sampling errors), there really is simpler fiction being published, but it is also being enthusiastically consumed, there really is a huge market for books that don’t demand higher thought processes, where it is clear where the Good side is, and conflict is resolved in a few pages.

    And don’t get me started on the Goodreads most popular lists, or Amazon bestseller lists, or (deep breath) the ironic hipster genres that are springing up.

    Liked by 2 people

    • February 7, 2017 at 2:51 pm

      You are NOT getting old, Fionna. You are merely learning better how to deal with your genius as time goes on. Fact. Part of that journey involves tolerating the cliché and stereotypes of genre fiction. Which is all fine, unless you’re like us, vowing to go down fighting.

      And ditto on the ironic hipster. That was cute for 5 seconds (before anyone else heard of it, obviously)

      Like

  12. February 7, 2017 at 12:45 pm

    Reblogged this on Petra Engisch and commented:
    A few words from “Tara Sparling writes” about reading, genre, bookstores, and how we can find our niche.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. February 7, 2017 at 12:49 pm

    Reblogging this. I found myself nodding vigorously at so much of what you say, I had to share it.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. February 7, 2017 at 3:20 pm

    Thanks for injecting some Thursday vibes into Tuesdays. You picked the right day enliven. I tend agree with everyone on Tuesdays, too. It’s easier. So, yes to everything everyone else has said.

    Liked by 1 person

    • February 7, 2017 at 3:44 pm

      I don’t know why I changed my day, Specuness. I’ve actually been finding it disturbing that the only time I seem to be able to pull out a post these days is on Tuesdays. I thought with help, I could get back to Thursdays, but now that you’ve said Tuesday is the right day, I feel lost altogether. Do you do calendar counselling?

      Liked by 2 people

  15. February 7, 2017 at 3:41 pm

    Reblogged this on Nicholas C. Rossis and commented:
    Another great post by Tara!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. February 7, 2017 at 4:00 pm

    I despair at all the celeb and u tube writers that get all the big house marketing teams excited these days. Okay I might not be a heroin writer yet or may never be but the fabulous effort and hard work that goes into a page churning work of art should be exulted and honored! Not abandoned and replaced with mind boggling dirty underwear writing!

    Liked by 2 people

    • February 7, 2017 at 4:06 pm

      A book blogging friend of mine describes that rubbish as an Instagram feed in a book, Jackie, and I agree with her. Seems the only thing that gets big house marketing teams excited nowadays is the idea of marketing books for people who don’t read, or even like, books. If more risky book heroin was published, we’d have less of the celebrity downers.

      Liked by 1 person

      • February 7, 2017 at 4:30 pm

        Sometimes I wanna throw my kindle, iPhone, and or tablet out the window and get my life and children back. Been meaning to read Fitzgersld for 5 years! Oh dear! At least I don’t use Instagram much!
        I’ve been rewriting my first novel for over 10 years and it’s getting there but art takes time, experience, knowledge and love. Oops a lot of work too!

        Liked by 1 person

        • February 7, 2017 at 4:55 pm

          Yes. But we hope that the rewards are invaluable, eh? And time, experience, knowledge and love sounds like the perfect ingredients for a book to me.

          Liked by 2 people

  17. February 7, 2017 at 4:20 pm

    Great post, Tara. Book heroin? Where can I get some? I haven’t had that addicted feel in a while and I miss it. I want to go into withdrawal when I’m not reading it. The conclusion of the survey of yourself produced some statistically significant results: that the addicting books are those that step out of the formulas, the potboilers. Makes total sense. I’ll bet they’re just as fun to write as they are to read. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • February 7, 2017 at 4:57 pm

      I miss it too, Diana… so badly, even though it’s been a couple of years since I last had it. I don’t know if it’s the change in the light or what at this time of year that makes me feel like I need it all of a sudden. As for potboilers, there’s a reason they pay their way. It’s because they’re so bloody good that people buy them in large quantities. Isn’t that what it’s all supposed to be about?!

      Liked by 1 person

      • February 7, 2017 at 5:35 pm

        I want you to share your book heroin list… pretty please. Even just a couple… I need a fix.

        Liked by 1 person

        • February 7, 2017 at 10:28 pm

          Do you know, if I was a betting woman, I’d say you’ve probably read them already. Let me peruse my heroin shelf and have a think about it. I have your email address. It’s the paralysing fear that lifting the curtain might lose me my superpowers!

          Liked by 1 person

  18. February 7, 2017 at 4:46 pm

    Yes. So much this. My hope is that small press and indie can take on this problem, and I think they do try. But the challenge is finding the good stuff. Small time dealers don’t always have reliable product.

    Liked by 2 people

    • February 7, 2017 at 4:59 pm

      Indeed they don’t. But I wonder how many writers get discouraged with rejection from the prescription publishers, and never even bother submitting to the small presses? Because if that happens, everybody loses.

      Liked by 2 people

      • February 8, 2017 at 1:19 am

        Many (like me) resort to self-publishing, which means their books get lost in the ever-growing bookstack. Others just give up altogether, which is even sadder.

        Liked by 3 people

        • February 8, 2017 at 3:06 am

          Yes. There is so much noise in publishing. It’s increasingly difficult to be heard.

          Liked by 3 people

  19. February 7, 2017 at 5:41 pm

    I had quite fallen out of love with reading because of many of the modern books and went through a phase of about 2 years when I only read classic literature. I started blogging about six months ago and have met so many amazing bloggers and been introduced to some wonderful indie books through these relationships. It has quite restored my faith in books and I am reading a spectrum of books again.

    Liked by 3 people

    • February 7, 2017 at 10:46 pm

      Falling out of love with reading is horrible, and I’m sorry you had to do so. I feel like doing that sometimes when I go on a run of formulaic, lacklustre books and it scares me. Aren’t book bloggers wonderful? (I mean the real ones who do reviews, by the way, not me!!)

      Like

  20. February 7, 2017 at 5:56 pm

    This is why I’m staying as an indie publisher – because you don’t have to pander to marketing tropes and all that nonsense, or mess around too much with feckin’ Amazon… 😀
    Of course, if a movie deal came within snapping distance I may have to swallow my pride and get legit, but it would have to be a bloody good deal! 😛
    For the reading side – you could do worse than try a self-publishing titles book club like Rave Reviews – their catalog’s full of indie goodies and you usually do attract actual reviews once word gets out that your book’s a corker! 😉

    Liked by 3 people

    • February 7, 2017 at 10:49 pm

      If you get that movie deal, Jan, you’ll be calling the shots, so don’t go doing anything you don’t want to!

      Liked by 1 person

  21. February 7, 2017 at 6:01 pm

    The whole damn thing is a conundrum to me. To the point that I’m beginning to think my taste as a reader has either gone completely off the rails, or these formulas have succeeded in homogenizing books to the point of pabulum, and that one is obligated to read through piles and piles of them just to find the few that will stand out as memorable. So, yes; I agree with you, Miz Tara…damn the formulas!!

    I tend to read literary fiction, upmarket fiction (whatever the hell that is), good women’s fiction, good men’s fiction (again, what IS that… Richard Russo? Nick Hornby? I dunno. I just read it.), etc., and after a few reads, I too often start to see the invisible, unspoken, woven-between-the-lines formulas eking out all over the place. And once I see that, I sigh. I usually read on — though occasionally not — and sometimes these formulas, these trends, are found even in books with tremendous industrial support and accolades. It IS rare to find that glorious standout. Is it me? Maybe it’s me. I don’t remember being as picky and selective as a youngster, but then I briefly liked the Monkees, so there’s that.

    Certainly as a writer my confusion is complete. I write the kinds of books I would want to read; I assume most writers do. Yet as I attempt to “go traditional” — after two self/indie rounds that were artistically satisfying if commercially limited — I am once again reminded that getting the nod of gatekeepers is as confusing and circuitous and maddening as guessing the number of jelly beans in a jar. They can hint at how many, but no matter what your guess, you’re usually wrong. I’m told some people actually get it right, though I’m not sure those rumors are true.

    Anyway, because I will always remain a lover of both reading and writing, I will continue to do both despite the confusions and conundrums. But still…. book heroin would be so good, wouldn’t it? 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

    • February 7, 2017 at 10:56 pm

      I’m torn too regarding the traditional model. Lorraine. Some of the books I’ve read in the last decade certainly seemed over-edited to the point of homogeneity. Some books were fresh and exciting but such a mess you wondered was the editor on heroin while they were editing the damn thing. Where’s the happy medium? And is anyone in publishing trying to find it?

      Liked by 1 person

  22. February 7, 2017 at 6:42 pm

    I let my agent go because she pigeonholed my first manuscript as women’s fiction (what a ghastly narrowing presumption) and point-blank refused to read anything else I subsequently wrote. I was typecast, but I cracked my knuckles over the keyboard and wrote a middle-grade magic realism time-slip fantasy, two science-fiction novels with an A.I. main character, a ‘paranormal’ (sigh) art history romance, a Y/A time travel mystery, two fanciful biographies – one a famous artist, the other an obscure artist (who’s actually famous in Canada which means squat to the U.S. of A), and a love story (*love story being a wholly separate animal from the romance genre).

    Last fall at a writer’s conference, I pitched the same book to two acclaimed writers of the ‘craft of writing genre’. One was a New York agent; the other a best-selling book coach. The agent was first. To save myself from the embarrassing ‘eyes-rolling-with-involuntary-almost-imperceptible shudder-and-sigh-thing’, I shoved the dreaded word ‘paranormal’ into a drawer (the word that tars and feathers an ethereal story into a pit churning with horror and violence) and presented the title as a romance.

    Eyes down after 3 seconds on page one, the master looked up and announced “this is literary fiction.” I detected a slight hurt, accusatory tone. So, I pitched the second presenter, this time naming the monster for the very genre an expert had just proclaimed it to be. Three seconds in, Master 2 looked up and said “Why on earth would you want to call anything literary fiction? That loses 80% of prospective readers, right there”. They both asked for pages. Go figure.

    I got the crap question from both of them. Who is your ideal reader? My answer was a splutter of apology. I had a vision of Tim the wizard (Monty Python’s ‘Holy Grail’) casting me into the abyss without hesitation.

    I faced Tim. When I write middle-grade, I write for the twelve-year-old in all adults; when I write romance, I write for the ghostly lover in all of us; when I write Science-Fiction, artificial intelligence is genuinely human; when I write about the future, I write about the ancient past; when I write about art history and lost paintings, I write for the creative Sherlock Gene in the everyman; when I write paranormal, I write about extrasensory perception, telepathic communication, lucid dreaming and the autistic point of view.

    I write stories first and genre last.

    Evolution has created the ideal reader. The mating gene, the Sherlock gene, the artist gene, the curiosity gene, and the story gene, are real.

    Oddly enough, the word ‘gene’ is embedded in the word ‘genre’.

    Liked by 4 people

    • February 7, 2017 at 11:12 pm

      Great comment, Veronica. What interests me most is that it seemed like everyone you spoke to was looking for you to market your book to them by genre, and calling you out when they believed you were doing it wrong. Isn’t it their job to market the damn thing? And if you’re presenting a couple of alternative genres, surely it’s not too much to ask for them to choose the most saleable one and go with that? I’m all for presenting your book in the most marketable way possible in order to get a deal, but at some point an agent or publisher is going to have to do what they’re supposedly trained for, no?

      I’m with you on the love story/romance thing, by the way. I absolutely adore love stories. The sadder the better. Romance makes my eyes roll, and not in a good way.

      Liked by 1 person

  23. Shona Rusk
    February 7, 2017 at 8:54 pm

    Not so sure all book clubs have pleasant polite conversations that are passion free!!! Speaking from experience they can start off polite, but if people have an opinion, if only takes a glass or two of wine for it is slip out as easily as easily as the wine slips down. Once that opinion is out, the conversation takes on a new energy.The book club idea is not so bad when you have a group of diverse and well read people. It means that you have 12 people other looking for that good read that is not just more chewing gum for the brain and my experience is that 12 brains are definitely better than my one. Though I admit, it can be difficult enough to find that book that you would ask 12 others to read and hope that they will find it engaging enough for a spirited conversation at the next club night.

    Liked by 1 person

    • February 7, 2017 at 11:19 pm

      You’re absolutely right, Shona – I would never accuse book clubs of being passion-free – which is why I think some people desperately search for ‘safe’ titles to keep the screaming at a minimum! Chewing gum for the brain is a great way to describe some of the stuff out there. The ideal book might be one where people can generally agree on the motivations of the characters but the premise throws up some healthy discussion topics. And then the wine comes in, and nothing matters any more 😉

      Like

  24. February 7, 2017 at 9:47 pm

    Well, I’ve read a lot of books lately, and only one stands out for me, and that is Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd. YA, yes, but with a twist… a very Irish 1970s twist. And altthough there was a first kiss in it, it wasn’t a romance. In fact, there was lots of stuff in it which didn’t fit the stereotype, and nor was it trying to be clever. Right now, I’m reading 1984… again. Like a lot of people, seemingly. And I’m still as gripped as I was the first time. Written in the 1930s. Some of my all time favourites were written decades ago, and have never let me go. Not many books do that to me now. In fact, I think I may go to bed early instead of studying, and spend some time with Mr Orwell. I know, he’s been dead a while, but still…

    Liked by 2 people

    • February 7, 2017 at 11:21 pm

      There’s two more books which don’t fit a genre stereotype, knocked people’s socks off, and defy the rules. If you’re right, Ali, and I’m right, that must mean that anyone who argues against it has lost the will to live, eh? Or to read, at least!

      Like

  25. February 7, 2017 at 10:34 pm

    Reblogged this on blogging807.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. February 8, 2017 at 4:06 pm

    Wow, you’ve hit a nerve there! 79 comments before mine. Absolutely agree. Nowadays it’s all about marketing and what sells best so books become formulaic with any that are out of the ordinary relegated to the slush pile. Maybe we can’t expect to read many books that can be regarded as book heroin. After all, we are looking for a book tailored to our needs, hopes and expectations. And as each of us is different… Maybe ten that have made the mark is a good number, and for the rest we just enjoy at a lower level, keeping the special ten on a special shelf of our bookcase.

    Liked by 2 people

    • February 9, 2017 at 12:31 am

      I wonder if these books are really tailored to our needs and expectations, though, Dorothy… I didn’t expect anything from the books I loved so much other than what I got on the cover, and I never believe a cover! What I want is a well-rounded story that has elements of all the best yarns, hopefully combined with witty dialogue and attractive prose. I hate to think that’s actually a tall order.

      Liked by 1 person

  27. February 8, 2017 at 5:59 pm

    Me too. I’ve just read three books and I want to shake all the authors (mostly great research/insipid characters), and then I worry that I have become some kind of book snob, and then I worry that my novels are even worse than theirs, then I go to my ToBeRead pile and thumb through it listlessly. I love reading, so what is going on? Reading bliss in the last year – I re-read Kim (mind-blowing all over again); Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things (like no other book I have read); Katherine Swift’s The Morville Hours (doubt that’s your bag); Mary Roach’s Stiff: The Curious Life of Human Cadavers (informative, shocking and often gloriously funny), Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal (intelligent in-depth look at tricky subject).

    Liked by 2 people

    • February 9, 2017 at 12:34 am

      I’ll let the authors plead the fifth on this one, Hilary, because I’m placing the blame elsewhere for now. Would you like to form a publisher-shaking posse instead? We could go around to all the major houses in London and shake some of them, smack some others, and make time for a lovely pub lunch. In the meantime, thank you so much for supplying titles. You’re a better man than I am, and I’m off to look them up forthwith.

      Like

      • February 9, 2017 at 10:41 pm

        Sounds like more fun than picking up another book! I could supply titles, because I didn’t write the post. I think you are right to hold back, as specific examples will only work for some of your readers (and you wouldn’t want to lose the others).

        Liked by 1 person

        • February 9, 2017 at 10:48 pm

          Or I’d have to bar anyone who didn’t agree with me 100%, which might mean tears and scandal (or perhaps no readers)

          Liked by 1 person

  28. February 9, 2017 at 4:02 pm

    Amen, sister. Amen.

    Liked by 1 person

  29. February 10, 2017 at 6:55 am

    This is the point where I should suggest you try Ravens Gathering, but modesty prevents me from doing so.
    I found it very difficult to categorise when I wrote it – it’s ended up somewhere between horror and fantasy on the listings, though I think it’s a thriller and there are elements of police procedural. I hope there’s a little humour in there as well.
    A point you make, though – and the real reason I’m referencing it – is that marketing people like a genre, so even if writers are creating the stuff that grabs you by the goolies (and I’m really curious about that, come to think of it), it’s hard to get it published. And if, like me, you decide to “go Indie” you’ve then got the problem of trying to raise your profile sufficiently for readers to be aware you exist.
    So (and I’ll shut up in a minute), although it’s written with your usual sparkling wit, you’ve made a very serious point. And I really hope your goolies are grabbed very soon, Tara

    Liked by 2 people

    • February 11, 2017 at 4:44 pm

      Never thought I’d hear that from anyone and think “aw, that’s so sweet”, Graeme 😉 But yes. Still waiting for the grab here on a non-genre-specific basis. Sigh.

      Liked by 1 person

  30. February 11, 2017 at 9:45 am

    As always Tara, you are bang on point. F*&king marketing is killing originality. But this is standard practice right throughout the arts (movies, music etc). The gatekeepers decide what we’re going to like and we end up with a very bland representation of what was originally, probably quite interesting. You’re right, we should support indie publishers but like other people have said, we should maybe stop indie-author-bashing and assuming that they haven’t a clue what they’re doing. Indie music has always had a niche appeal and I think indie publishing could be the same – an alternative to the mainstream.

    Liked by 3 people

    • February 14, 2017 at 9:39 am

      Whether it’s books or music, indie or traditional, distribution and marketing are always a major problem for artists. Unfortunately it’s a hell of a lot easier to get someone to watch a 3-minute song clip on YouTube than it is to get them to download and read a book they may not have been looking for. But more change is ahead, of that we can be sure.

      Liked by 3 people

  31. Sue Bridgwater
    February 13, 2017 at 11:23 am

    Reblogged this on Skorn and commented:
    Sad but oh, so true!

    Liked by 1 person

  32. February 14, 2017 at 1:21 pm

    It doesn’t help my reading list when my favourite authors shuffle off their mortal coil (Douglas Adams, Iain Banks, Terry Pratchett) but WordPress has thrown me some interesting alternatives. The best two books I read in 2016 were by bloggers: Sunwielder by Diana Wallace Peach (who has already commented on this post) is just brilliant (fantasy, love, violence, but all revolving around believable characters); and The Devil’s Mouth by Matt Kincade (vampire-hunting, rock’n’roll-loving, Hawaiian-shirt-wearing, Samurai-sword-wielding cowboy with a quick wit and a broken heart). Both of them are ‘potboilers’ that, despite elements of fantasy, trample all over the carefully cultivated fields of publisher genre. They’re great fun, lots of pace, serious and emotional.
    The big publishers can knob off. I’m getting my reading kicks through the indie scene where literally ANYTHING can happen.
    🙂

    Liked by 2 people

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