Wednesday, April 22, 2009


A post over at Declan Burke's always interesting Crime Always Pays here discusses whether the general public or publishers are responsible for brilliant writers not being published, or not selling enough books to make a living. 
This does not apply to the phenomenal triumvirate of John Grisham, Dan Brown and James Patterson who must be responsible for the deforestation of half the planet given their combined sales. 

Are the general reading public morons? Or do the publishers just treat them as such?

If I could make three wishes to help improve the quality of the books being published what would I wish for, and could anything bring about a change for the better? 
The situation to me seems governed by the publisher's fear. Fear that if they don't pay the well known author an obscene advance, and in the process reject those superb books from aspiring writers, he or she will go elsewhere. Fear that if you tell them their last five books were really absolute tosh and they should take a look at their own early books to see just how far their standard has fallen, they will go off to a rival firm. 
This is the same argument that is used to justify the top banker's huge bonuses. We only lost 250 billion dollars with you running things so you must be absolutely vital to the bank. 

So here are my three very simple wishes:

1] Publishers should be brave. "Hang on Dan, I recall I read all this plot about 20 years ago and the name Leigh Teabag just won't work."

2] Blurb writers should actually read the books. Blurbs should be subject to the Trade Descriptions Act, and this might prevent the nonsense that entices the reading general public into the spider's web of the big name writers. Those gushing reviews that compare the writer to everyone from Ernest Hemingway, Eric Ambler, Enid Blyton and the Venerable Bede should be banned. 

3] All property and house renovation programs on the television should be replaced by book programs that educate the viewer. If Richard and Judy can push a complex novel, such as The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld, into the best seller lists it is clear the public will buy good books if they are put in front of them.

This would at least be a small step to a situation where good writing is rewarded and the reading public would buy books based on their quality rather than on just name recognition. 


Blogger Dorte H said...

I do hope your wishes will come true, Norman!

Are the general reading public morons?
Sadly, having participated in my writing course for 8 days, I fear that many Danes are. The system is that we hand in texts (online), and the other 2300 participants can comment on them. If you knew how many people in there advise fine, promising writers to avoid ´difficult words´ and write shorter sentences.

6:51 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

How short do they want the short sentences to be?
I can still remember a book by Andrea Cannobio, which I reviewed for Euro Crime, called The Natural Disorder of Things.
I counted one sentence in at 193 words. One hundred and ninety three!
Mind you The Crime Writer's Guide to Police Practice and Procedure {Michael O'Byrne} I posted about previously ends a very interesting postscript about his favourite detectives spoilt by with an 82 word sentence finale.

I don't mind difficult words but they have to be words in fairly common use. Sometimes I think authors have searched a dictionary to find a word that will make them appear literate.

Good luck with your writing course it sounds great fun, and you are brave submitting yourself to such a system.

7:47 AM  
Blogger Dorte H said...

"How short do they want the short sentences to be?"
Perhaps 193 words are too much of a good thing. But some of these ´readers´seem to think 10 words and two main clauses is the limit.

I do enjoy my writing course, so far at least, but that is because I have been struggling hard to find a group of people who write well and like crime fiction.
Actually, I am trying to summon the courage to rewrite my latest piece in English and post it tomorrow. It is criminal, of course, but it is also a bit ´hot´ so I don´t know how many of my readers will be shocked by such a story - written by the vicar´s wife :O

9:51 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

I can hardly wait for this "hot" Danish story. :o) Courses that allow some range of free expression are fine but I did a computer course online years ago, when the internet was dial up, and after enjoying the first part to create a web page we had to do formal set assignments and essays for part two, and I did not have the patience for all that.

12:44 PM  
Blogger Bernadette said...

Good Luck with your wishes Norman. I'm not going to hold my breath (for fear of turning blue) but I do share your sentiments.

We have a book club on TV once a month here - there's a chatty host, 2 supposedly well-read and erudite folks and 2 guest readers. Last month they read PD James' The Private Patient and all of them, including Peter Corris who has written 34 crime novels himself, panned it and, basically, said what you've said in your first point - someone needed to tell her some home truths. I don't know if they're right because I haven't bothered to read it (the previous book in her series was my last James) but it's the only time I've ever seen the whole panel agree and be so vehement in their criticism.

I think my own wishes to add to your list would be to do with bookstore owners being more creative in the way they sell books. Being in a small city (1 million people) there are only chain stores and they'd rather carry shelf after shelf of patterson's every written utterance than throw in a few new or unknown or mid list authors. And perhaps I would go so far as to wish that the huge sections of their stores devoted to worthless 'self-help' jibberish (e.g. the secret) and biographies of sports 'stars' be consigned to the fiery pits of hell.

12:53 PM  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

All your wishes are worthy, though perhaps just the second is practical.

I haven't read P.D. James, but I'm encouraged that panelists would take a book seriously enough to criticize it so sharply. I like to think even P.D. James might agree.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

12:46 AM  
Blogger Tim said...

Let's not equate books which Richard & Judy manage to push into the bestseller lists with books which have been read :-)

2:19 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Bernadette I totally agree. Biographies of people famous for being famous and books by celebrity chefs with a very limited vocabulary and a history of bankruptcies behind them fill the shelves of our bookshops and supermarkets.
We do have the sports "star" books but as we only have some sporting success once every decade this is not so great a problem.

Tim you are not suggesting people would buy a book to appear erudite and intelligent and leave it on the coffee table to impress guests, are you. Now where did I put that Stephen Hawking book. ;o)
Poor Richard and Judy have now been exiled to some obscure cable channel which I haven't watched but may do if I can find it.

3:42 AM  

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