Recently two authors on the mystery listserv Dorothy L announced their publisher was dropping their series. Dozens of mystery readers/fans expressed dismay and disappointment. They wanted to know what they could do to help keep the series alive. They wanted to start a campaign! The outpouring of support for the first author inspired a small publisher on the list to step in and pick up the series. Read more →
Screenwriter William Goldman is famous for saying “nobody knows anything” about the people running Hollywood and the entertainment industry. Recent book discussion chatter about one of the Edgar winners leads me to think this is true of the publishing industry as well. (I’ve had my suspicions for a while.)
China Lake by Meg Gardiner won the Edgar for best paperback original. I have not read this book and, considering what my listmates at 4 Mystery Addicts and Dorothy L have to say about it, I probably never will. But based on dozens of comments, I have to wonder how it beat out every other paperback published that year.
Here’s just a sampling:
- “I felt the protagonist, who had the maturity level of a 10-year-old, spent most of her time being too stupid to live, the police were portrayed as complete idiots—from the very beginning. From the structure of the chapters, to some of the worst metaphors I’ve ever read, to terrible dialogue, there were times I felt as though English were the author’s second language.”
- “The only thing that kept me from throwing China Lake against the wall was I was reading it in e-book form and couldn’t throw the computer that far.”
- “Our mystery readers’ group read China Lake and the highest rating it received was ‘okay,’ otherwise it was rated ‘not recommended’ or ‘did not finish.’”
- Hated the Gardiner and DNF’d it. (meaning Did Not Finish)
If you’ve read the book, please share what you think.
The point here is not to criticize this author. We’ve all had negative reactions to our work. What I mean to say is that the publishing industry (and the awards process) isn’t logical. There is no scientific way to measure the quality of a story. Strangely enough, the contradiction inherent in this novel winning an award gives me hope for every talented writer who has yet to be widely recognized. If a book this criticized can win an Edgar, then your book can win over an agent, find a publisher, and be loved by readers and reviewers.
Do not ever give up because one agent said you couldn’t write or five publishers said no thanks. I’ve had publishers tell me they loved my novel, then say no thanks anyway. The lesson here is to try not to make too much sense of it. It will drive you crazy. Just keep writing and improving. There’s hope for everyone.
If I have learned one thing in these past few years of writing/reviewing, it is this: The reading experience is completely subjective. Of course, we’ve always known that some people like romance novels, while others read sci-fi. But even within a genre such as mysteries, the opinions about a single novel vary greatly. As proof, year after year, the 4 Mystery Addicts listserv asks everyone to send in their top 10 reads of the year and their bottom 10 reads. Inevitably, several books repeatedly make both lists.
This year, 17 books made a least one top and bottom list. Here’s the five most loved/hated mystery books (according to 4MA), with the first number in parenthesis representing how many top 10 lists it made, and the second number representing the bottom 10 lists:
- The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson (20, 3)
- Blue Heaven, C.J. Box (7, 2)
- Diamond Dove, Adrian Hyland (5, 1)
- Child 44, Tom Rob Smith, Tom (5, 1)
- The Various Haunts of Men, Susan Hill (4, 2)
Another mystery listserv, Dorothy L, also asks for best reads of the year, and oddly enough there’s very little overlap in the two groups’ favorite books (with the exception of Blue Heaven and The Brass Verdict by Michael Connelly).
It’s also been interesting to observe reader discussion about Oprah’s recent pick, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski. Some readers rave about it; others find it completely unreadable. Stephen King’s Duma Key has generated even more conflicting reaction.
Why do some books make the lists for both best and worst of the year? You tell me.
What were your favorite books of last year? Your least favorite? Have you ever read a book and loved it, then read it later and hated it?
Sex sells. That’s what marketers always say. And it seems to be true for tight-fitting jeans and toothpaste. But it is true in crime fiction? In my experience—not necessarily.
Some of the best reviews I received for my novel, The Sex Club, started out with a disclaimer like this: “I didn’t think I would like this book, but . . .” The readers/reviewers went on to say that the title (and sometimes the cover) had originally turned them away, but that they’d read it because another reader raved about it. They ended up loving the story, but still, their initial aversion concerned me. So I asked members of Dorothly L (a mystery discussion forum) what they thought about the title. Many said they would never pick up the novel in a bookstore or library because of the title.
So then I wondered: How many bookstores and libraries had decided not to stock my novel because of the title? From the comments of a few, I believe there might be many. After realizing this painful reality, I started adding this footnote to all my communications about the novel: “Despite the title, the story isn’t X-rated.”
It is not a good sign when you have to explain or make excuses for your title.
On the other hand, many writers on the CrimeSpace and Facebook networking sites have posted great comments about The Sex Club’s cover and title. One writer posted, “Judging by the title, that’s a book I HAVE to read RIGHT NOW.” Many others have simply said, “Love the cover!”
During a discussion with writers about the word sex in a crime fiction title, the reaction was also mixed. One writer said, “If sex is in the title, isn’t that a lot of emphasis, leading the buyer to think the book might be in the wrong section of the bookstore?” A quick search of Amazon brought up only one other mystery title with the word sex —Sex and Murder (A Paul Turner Mystery). But at least that author was smart enough to get the word murder in the title too.
My conclusions: 1) If I had it to do all over again, I’d change the name, 2) Bookstores and libraries are critical to sales, and authors can’t afford to alienate them or their patrons, 3) Mystery readers prefer dead bodies to warm ones.
What’s your reaction? Do you shy away from books with sex in the title? Do you mind a little sex in your mysteries or do prefer that the characters stay on task?
I’m at that point in my new story where I need to settle on some character names. I’m writing a series, so the recurring character names are decided (like them or not). For others, I often grab a moniker for the moment and keep going if the writing is flowing, then go back and search/replace when the perfect name comes to me. Sometimes, the first name that comes to me is the right name. I love it when that happens.
I have also changed the name of main characters after writing the entire novel. I hate when I have to do that. After thinking about a character as “Sierra” for six months, it’s hard to let go of that identity. And now it’s hard to remember her new name when I’m discussing the novel, which is embarrassing. But I changed it because I had too many female characters whose names ended with “a” (the schwa sound).
What I need now are bad guy names, and I feel stumped. So I’m having a contest.(My brother asked me to name one of the antagonists after him, so one down, two to go.) One of the bad guys runs a strip club and various other sleazy deals, and the other is the ultimate con man/misogynist, who puts on one face for the public while engaging in the worst sort of behavior behind the scenes. That’s all I can say without giving away the mystery.
I’ll give away two copies of THE SEX CLUB — one to each of the top two submissions. You can post your submissions in the comments section, which could be fun for others and/or e-mail them to me, using the link on the right.
True character-naming story: When I was writing THE SEX CLUB and needed a name for the psycho bomber lady, I picked Ruth because it’s short, strong, and Biblical. I picked Greiner because it’s the name of a street near my house. Three years later, I was horrified to learn there was a woman named Ruth Greiner who is an avid mystery reader, leads a mystery book club, and is on the same popular mystery list serv that I am. She got wind of the name through a review of THE SEX CLUB in Mystery Scene magazine and e-mailed me to express her displeasure. (So don’t submit one of your relative’s names, unless he/she never reads anything but Mad magazine.)
Even if you don’t enter the contest, share your “I wish I could take it back” character-naming story!
The big discussion at Dorothly L this week is about the author rule for conventions, particularly Bouchercon, which had lax rules. Left Coast Crime in Denver this year apparently had a stricter rule, and as a result, some authors were offended and did not attend.
Boiled down, The Rule (as it is known) is that if an author participates financially in the production or editing of his/her own work, then that person is excluded as an author. It seems that the purpose of the rule is to keep self-published authors from wearing a badge that says “author” and from participating on panels. Exceptions are made for authors who have been short-listed for awards or won awards.
Which brings up the first interesting point. If self-published authors are sometimes nominated for (and occasionally win) awards, then clearly there are great books that are sometimes rejected by major publishers. Because most self-published books aren’t even allowed to compete for awards, we don’t really know how many great self-published books are out there. Supporters of the rule would say, “But we’re trying to keep the crap out.” And everyone knows there is a LOT of self-published crap. But what about traditionally published substandard novels? How do you keep them out? Shouldn’t novels be judged by their content, instead of their publisher?
One idea is to have two or three participants read each author’s latest work and decide if it is worthy, regardless of publication method. I started to write “but that’s not realistic” then thought “why not?” You could require every author who wants to attend the conference to read one or two selections from other authors and to provide an anonymous evaluation (or a simple yes/no)—and also to submit their own work to the process. What could be fairer? (This was the basis for Project Greenlight in the film industry.)
The second gray area is the concept of “financially participating in the production and editing” of the novel. Don’t most authors pay to have their work evaluated and/or edited before they even send it to an agent or publisher? (I certainly do!) And what about marketing? I think it’s safe to say that all publishers want their authors to participate financially in the marketing of their novels. Why is it okay for authors to spend thousands of dollars on travel, bookmarks, and mailing free copies to book clubs, but if they spend their own money to hire a graphic designer to produce a better cover than what their publisher has in mind, then suddenly they are not a real author?
I commend Bouchercon for keeping participation open, and I understand the concerns of those who think the rule is necessary. I also think there is room for a better way to determine who is labeled an author at conventions and who is not. What you do think?