Friday, October 2, 2009

Selling Ideas

Since I started ranting yesterday, I figured I'd continue today. After all, anyone who knows me knows I'm good for at least two days of ranting. When I'm in rare form, I can rant with the best of them and spew tirades of madness that seem to never end. But fear not, that's only when whiskey is involved and I promise you I've only been drinking coffee as of yet today.

There are many aspects of the publishing industry that I personally would like to see changed if by some miracle the world decided to place me in charge. One in particular that really bothers me is the selling of ideas, or the publishing of a marketing concept rather than book. There's several categories to this and it's so widespread that I believe it's nearly killing the industry (or more appropriately, killing good fiction.)

Category 1: Books That Were Never Intended to Be Read, Just Sold
In this category you'll find every C-List celebrity's book, sports personality biographies and magazine-esque scrapbooks. These aren't really books, they're just stuff. People buy them without any intention of reading them. They just want to have them. 

Category 2: Books That Are Things
This is geared more toward the children's book market. Any parent will recognize this category. It's those books that are more of toy than a book. And I don't have as big an issue with these, so long as the text that's in there isn't total rubbish. Too often it is. I don't understand what the publisher is thinking in these cases. If the story stinks but the toy is great...aren't you just driving kids further toward toys? Didn't you create this category to achieve the exact opposite?

Category 3: Endless Killing of a Genre
This really needs only one word of explanation...vampire. Something hits and then the publishers plow through and buy every terrible vampire manuscript they can find until the market is so flooded that there's no shelf space for anything else. Nobody seems to care that the quality of Vampire Book #2463 is horrendous because the head of marketing in some office keeps insisting "Doesn't matter...vampires are hot right now."

Category 4: Selling the Story Behind the Story
This one is really on agents because they are the ones who are always searching for a compelling background story for an author in order to hype their manuscript and run up the media machine for the book. The actual book is less important. This has lead to the absurdity that is now known as "memoir" publishing.  It's also what causes the J.T. LeRoy scenario where a fabulous work of fiction like Sarah isn't enough for anyone to take on and try to sell, but attach a fake persona to it and suddenly it's phenomenon. 

What's lacking in all of this is the attempt to sell good books. Instead there's a drive to find books that sell good. It's easier to prey on society's consumerist tendencies than to try to promote a great book. It's easier to find something new and flashy than to build a steady readership (even though many a great publishing houses were built that way). Now I know there's people out there that will me that's just business. Believe me, I understand there is a business element in there, but I still can't help but feel it's gotten out of hand. It wasn't always like this. This isn't business, it's laziness and it's devoid of creativity.

Now, before I let all of the blame fall on the publishers, the book sellers and the agents, there needs to be some blame put on the readers too. After all, it's our buying habits that led to this mess. So here's some helpful hints that we can all follow to make the world a better place.

Hint #1: Don't buy the celebrity book because you like celebrity...only buy it if you plan on READING it. Just because you like so-and-so's acting, doesn't mean you're going to like their writing.  

Hint #2: Don't buy the new Dan Brown book or Twilight simply because everyone is reading it. If it doesn't interest you, find something that really does.

Hint #3: If you liked one book about vampires, don't automatically buy every other one. Ask yourself what you really liked about it....was it the immortal bloodsuckers, or the metaphor behind it. If so, try something in a different genre with that appeal.

Hint #4: Author loyalty! Again, if you liked Vampire Book #187, try another book by that author before blindly moving on to Vampire Book #188. Authors are like bands. If you like the way they sound, you'll probably like more of their stuff. 

That's it for apologies to the vampire writers and readers, I didn't mean to pick on you. It was just the easiest example to use. I could have substituted zombies instead...but didn't for obvious reasons.

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