Tuesday, August 31, 2010


"A must-read page-turner!"
-Some reviewer who never looked at the book

Glenn Reynolds has a great post up today on Instapundit about a book, which I'm going to put here in its entirety. This is how you sell a book in the modern female-driven publishing culture:
OKAY, DAN O’BRIEN’S STOLEN HORSES MAY BE A GREAT BOOK, but listening to the summary in this NPR review I was struck by the litany of lefty/Oprah cliches: A town founded in an act of violence by white settlers (check! — they’re even cowboys!), a Native American (check!) who dies because he’s denied healthcare (check!) by a greedy hospital (check!) that’s defended by a Republican lawyer (check!) There’s even a plucky female journalist (check!) with a boyfriend who . . . . won’t commit! (check, and mate!) Really, can it get any better than this?
Its disturbing to me how many agents are looking specifically for this kind of book; they don't come out and directly say it but they want "socially relevant" books of chick literature which say something important and move them as a woman. Because 75% or more of literary agents are female, and so are most editors.

Then there's the demand by agents and publishers for young adult fiction, which seeks books for teens, which has a similar sort of checklist:
  • Angsty young protagonist who whines about their life
  • Unusual abilities or powers that set them apart and make their life harder
  • Strange friend who helps them understand what they must do
  • Huge and awesome threat they want to ignore but only they can face
  • Mean bullies and troublemakers they dare not use their abilities against
...and so on. It isn't that these can't be entertaining or interesting, its that they are so overused that they become a cliche.

This kind of factory-made publishing is probably great for initial sales and even book or movie deals (hey, Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief made it into a movie). It probably even works well on the market, because teenagers tend not to have a long reading history or any particularly great level of discernment; the old and hackneyed cliche is always new to someone the first time. And with the Oprah book machine out there, you can guarantee any book that fits in the proper pattern will get lots of press and sales support, selling thousands of copies per mention in a magazine or talk show.

But they have no staying power, and people won't remember them. For every Master and Commander, there's 500 How I Kicked My Man In The Gonads chick empowerment books and 500 Teenage Werewolf Vampire Mutant Alien Versus The Bullies books. And while people treasure their Patrick O'Brian books, the others show up in the bargain bin and are rejected at used book stores because they have so many already within a year.

No comments: