Tag: novels

Instant rejection

Yesterday, someone asked me if I had read any good books lately. It may be the first time that’s happened in a decade. The exchange that followed was revealing and educational for anyone thinking of selling a book.

I told her Comanche Moon was pretty good and her response: “That sounds like a western,” meaning she would never bother with a western. She didn’t have to see the cover or read a page or two. She heard the title and rejected the book immediately.

Even though I thought she might enjoy the book despite it being a western, I didn’t press the issue. Instead, I told her she might like Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter. This suggestion seemed to satisfy her and she said she would look it up and try an e-book sample.

No word as to whether she started reading Beautiful Ruins, but that’s not important. The lesson here is that a casual reader will reject your book in a heartbeat if there is the slightest chance it doesn’t fit their idea of what they want to read. A title or a cover can turn away a reader before they ever give a chance to the writing or the story. Readers have preconceived notions about what they want to buy and if an author doesn’t deliver the goods from start to finish, there will be no sale.

Who are the greatest writers of our day?

As an English Literature major in college, I studied many great writers of the past. The old writers were celebrities of sorts, or so the stories seemed to suggest. Everyone knew of Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway or William Faulkner. What writers do we speak of today?

If someone asked me who the best writers of the 21st century are, I wouldn’t have an answer. Maybe that means writing is totally irrelevant in our world today. If asked, I think most people automatically mention the old writers as the best. Jane Austen is still a big name today, thanks to movies made of all her books. Do people actually still read her books or just know her name from the movies?

If I asked my niece or nephew, who are both in high school, whether Jane Austen was a good writer, they would both answer yes. If I asked whether they had read one of her books, they would both answer no. Around Christmas time I asked them if they were familiar with A Christmas Carol. They were, but only the movie. They had no interest in reading the book by Charles Dickens.

Colson Whitehead won the Pulitzer for fiction this year for writing The Underground Railroad. Is Colson Whitehead one of today’s great writers. Whitehead has a twitter page and six novels to his credit, according to a Google search. Do modern great writers have to have a twitter page? Must they write novels?

Bob Dylan won the Nobel prize for literature last year. He doesn’t write novels. He falls loosely in the poet category, if you consider modern-day song writers the equivalent of ancient poets. Do poets still exist outside of songwriters?

These are some of the questions floating through my head on this Wednesday night. Who do you think are some of the 21st century’s greatest writers?

Best laid plans

Most of us have at least heard of Lonesome Dove, a western novel turned TV movie years ago. I occasionally read from the book and just ran across a quote worth sharing. One of the main characters named Woodrow Call offers the following thought on making plans:

“Though he had always been a careful planner, life on the frontier had long ago convinced him of the fragility of plans. The truth was, most plans did fail, to one degree or another, for one reason or another. He had survived as a Ranger because he was quick to respond to what he had actually found, not because his planning was infallible.”

As much as I try not to plan things out too much, I fall into that trap a lot, so the quote served as a great reminder to me to take life one day at a time. It applies to all walks of life, but can easily apply to the life of a writer. There is a lot of advice floating around out there for aspiring writers, but in the end a writer just needs to write and see where the effort leads.



Is browsing in bookstores still a relevant source of sales?

If your town is similar to mine, few bookstores exist. As far as corporate chains, or large, recognizable book-selling brands go there is only one such store in my town. In the past few years, I’ve set foot in that store twice, both around the holidays, in search of gifts for family members. 

So, if my patterns are similar in any way to the masses, which I would guess they are, few people browse in bookstores anymore. I’ve read reports that print books made a comeback in recent years, that people are choosing to hold a real book in their hands over a tablet, but are they going to the bookstore to purchase those books? If print books are really making a comeback, will we see bookstores make a comeback? 

This is an important question for aspiring writers, because one has to decide if potential readers are going to find their book in a real bookstore. If a writer decides he or she won’t find a large number of potential readers within a bookstore, that means the readers will more likely find an author’s writings online or in a digital bookstore. If you wrote a book in the past decade, there is little to no chance I have seen it in a bookstore. 

If you wanted to get my attention and sell me a book, you would need another advertising vehicle. I can’t remember the last time I saw an advertisement for a book, but I see plenty of ads for movies that say, “based on the book.” I’ll admit to reading a few of those. The only other way I come across books is by browsing online or by recommendation from friends.

I can count recommendations from friends on one hand without using all five fingers and not one of those recommendations led to a book I liked. The only book I liked in the past decade from browsing a bestseller list was Gone Girl. I’ve struck out with so many books using the browsing method that I am unlikely to keep browsing, so where does that leave me as a reader?

I see plenty of blogs advertising books written by independent publishers, but not one has convinced me to buy their book. Unfortunately, if you are trying to sell your book with a blog or social-media account, you come across as amateur and nobody wants to buy a book from an amateur. 

As a reader, I am often left reading classics that have passed the test of time and are known to be good reads. That way I don’t waste my time on some random book. The independent modern writer is not reaching me, the modern reader, with books of print or electonic variety. 

I don’t know what that means for the modern writer, but it is possible that the traditional idea of a book is dying, even though readers are supposedly returning to print books. Give me all the stats you like, I see no evidence in my daily life of people going into bookstores or talking about the latest Kindle read. 

An afternoon of samples

Sometimes I make up my mind to read a book without sampling the book at all. This happened recently with Dragon Teeth, a posthumous novel from Michael Chrichton. The problem is, sometimes I get half way through these books and become bored, so I skip to the end and find out what happens and them move on with my life.

This method of fast-forwarding happened with Dragon Teeth, so this afternoon I vowed to read some samples of new books in hopes that one would grab me. Straight from the bestseller list, I downloaded e-book samples of The Buried Giant, A Dance of Dragons and The Wedding.

While none of these books were particularly poor reading experiences, none of them made me want to buy the book, which brings me back to a lesson I’ve had to relearn many times: Not every book is for everyone.

As a writer, it’s easy to sit down and try to think of a book that the whole world will love, but that’s impossible. Everyone has different tastes.

My search for a sample I can’t put down will continue and I’ll let you know if I find one. Have you ever read a sample that grabbed your attention and prompted a purchase? How often do you buy a book without sampling and has that ever worked out well?

Making money in death

According to an article on the internet, Michael Chrichton’s books are more popular than ever since the Jurassic Park author died in 2008. Actually, the article said Chrichton’s works are more popular than ever, citing the success of new Jurassic Park movies and the Westworld series on HBO, moving pictures apparently being a better indicator of success than novel sales.

A new Chrichton novel just released this month, a novel called Dragon Teeth that has some connection to the Jurassic Park narrative, if cover art is an indication. I started reading this new book yesterday. While reviews aren’t strong, I’m enjoying the opening chapters.

While reading, I couldn’t help but wonder who is really making money from Chrichton’s posthumous release. Is it the Chrichton family? Is it the publishing company? Logic would say it is both. Laziness prevents me from researching. One thing we know: Michael isn’t making a dime.

Why do so many artists sell more work after they’re dead? Is death just good publicity, or are consumers expecting to find some secret of life wrapped in the work of the deceased, as if the artist has had his or her final say and now we can all start to examine?

Are there any other forms of work that can earn money after the creator has died? I can’t think of any. Does that make art hold infinite value or is it just sad, because many writers can’t enjoy the fruits of their labor while they were alive?

What if you wrote a book that nobody liked or paid for while you lived, but then it became a massive success 100 years after your death and was lauded by critics and consumers alike; wouldn’t that upset your soul just a little?




An extension of Hollywood

If you browse through the new books the booksellers are trying to sell us on a daily basis, it becomes clear that those books are just an extension of Hollywood.

There are even books written by actors and entertainers. There are also books that are going to be made into movies or that already have been made into movies. If you think about it, a writer’s career is almost always determined by the success of the movies made after their book.

I know many people who have never read a Stephen King book, but know all his famous stories. Would Stephen King be so popular if it weren’t for the movies? I doubt it. His book It was on the bestseller list this week. Why? Because there is a new movie coming out this summer.

What is it with the fascination we have with the movies? I’m as guilty as anyone for reading books that are becoming movies. Over the winter I saw an ad for a movie called Tommy’s Honour. It’s a golf movie and I’m a golfer, so naturally I read the book. Until I saw that movie ad, I didn’t even know the book existed.