You won’t believe this, but once upon a time, Before I Go To Sleep and Gone Girl were unheard of. The idea of a girl on a train would have been met with shrugs, apathy, and mutterings of “sounds boring. And what’s with this ‘girl’ thing? Aren’t you supposed to say ‘woman’ nowadays?” Not every single plot on the planet had to have a twist. Not every ending was the shock of the century. And James Patterson wrote his own books.
There was more than one genre to talk about. Okay, there was a lot of crime – mainly alcohol-soaked police procedurals with serial killers who killed women in endlessly creative ways – and chick-lit, featuring ditzy heroines who fell over a lot in designer heels in front of *spoiler alert* men who loved them ALL ALONG. But cops and shoes weren’t everything.
This was a time when the misery memoir was front and centre on the shop shelf; strictly heterosexual Mills & Boons were smuggled out of supermarkets underneath the potatoes; Dan Brown was considered to be an author, and crossover fiction was something with a bright pink bra on the cover.
That was then. But this, you may gather, is now.
Books have turned trendy, but sadly, this does not mean more of them are selling. As I’ve been bleating on about now for weeks, it’s more that books are being hammered into pre-existing trends, and nobody’s coming out with anything new. The Industry – a giant motorised metal behemoth not dissimilar to a meat grinder, sucking in fresh-faced authors on one end, and cranking out ‘pacey’ ‘psychological thrillers’ with a ‘never-before-seen twist’ on the other – has decided that everything new must be in Le Genre Du Moment, and that’s the end of that.
I’m as susceptible as the next cynic. I read Grip-Lit, and by choice, too. I know I’ve given out about the genre in the past, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been enjoying the best of it. I just finished a couple of polarising crackers. I loved them. Other people didn’t. Still, there was enough buzz about them to get me interested, or have them recommended to me, and then I myself enjoyed them. But I’m sated now. I’m ready to move on.
WARNING: Tenuous Analogy Alert
I like Italian food. I also like Chinese, Indian, and casseroles; vegetables, bread, and cake. But I don’t want any of them more than twice in a row.
Two days of Chinese food and I’m ready to inhale a vinaigrette-sprinkled salad like I was born two stone lighter. A half-day of sugar-laden indulgence and I’m ready to beat myself over the head with a strong broth. (And before you ask, no, I don’t know how I’d do that. Stop poking holes in my argument.)
My point is, I don’t want any one thing all of the time. I don’t care how good it is. Two twisty thrillers in a row is my absolute limit. I need several palate cleansers after it, and those palate cleansers are a far bigger market than the grip-lit which preceded it.
Whether that cleanser needs to be heavy or frothy depends on the depth of what I’ve just been reading. If it was a pacey pulp effort, I might want a good dosage of literary posturing. If it was harrowing, I might want a satirical romp in a cheese shop. (I’m not kidding. Edward Trencom’s Nose actually exists.) Alternatively, I might need a good historical feud, some epic violence, or forbidden love to recalibrate my tastebuds.
But instead, what am I offered? More Grip-Lit. That’s all. Because The Industry has decided that Grip-Lit is all that’s selling at the moment, and therefore, all they’re prepared to market.
Where would Ken Follett be if The Industry had told him “nobody will ever want to buy a 1,000-page book about the building of a 12th century cathedral. Even if you do put sex in it”? What would have happened if Stephenie Meyer’s publisher had thought “vampire romance pretty much ended when it began with Bram Stoker, and Anne Rice just got lucky”?
Time To Stand Up For Our Writes
So my question to you is: as readers, as book lovers, as people constantly on the lookout for your next big dirty dose of Book Heroin – what do you WANT?
Pretend I’m a walking wish-list which is about to be delivered to a publisher on a silver platter. With a bribe. Pretend that this pathetic little blog is a direct telephone line to the most powerful heads in the business.
You see, right now this minute, the Big Hair are all at the London Book Fair, feverishly scouting for The Next Big Thing. I bet you they won’t find it. I bet you they’re going to come home with more Grip-Lit instead. I’d rather they didn’t.
So, do tell your Auntie Tara. What do you want to read next? What did you once love but can’t now find? What sort of book used to keep you awake at night, but is now living in an artisanal cottage somewhere on a witness protection programme? What used to be your favourite fictional fodder, but is now considered uncool or unpublishable?
What about good old-fashioned Horror? Spy thrillers? True crime? Bonkbusters with actual storylines? Literary wonders composed entirely of adjectives and the word “hatstand”? Epic family sagas about people who once owned a coal mine but then owned Hollywood? What?
I really want to know. Because something’s telling me that unless we start shouting about our own bottom line – the fulfilment of our reading needs and desires – we’re going to be swimming in increasingly watery plot ”twists’ for another eighteen months (to ten years).
Talk to me. Tell me.