Rob Kitchin’s post about the publishing industry looking for minor variations on a theme rather than new and interesting works has prompted this particular ramble. I can sense Rob’s frustration as an author trying to get something ‘different’ published and I thought I’d share that readers (or this reader anyway) are equally frustrated. Sadly I don’t have any great insight into getting publishers to acknowledge this.
Over the past 2-3 years I have changed my reading habits considerably. I used to read loads of the ‘well done but already done’ books that the publishing industry loves. I relied almost exclusively on what was on offer at local chain stores which was usually the massively popular authors (James Patterson, Kathy Reichs, Patricia Cornwell, Karin Slaughter etc). If that’s not all the chains stock it’s pretty much all they promote and they usually offer them cheaper than the quirky or the translated or the oddball books and price is a big factor in book buying in Australia. I was actually starting to read far less than I’d ever done because I was bored to tears by most of it but didn’t know where to go to find stuff that might interest me.
Sometime during early 2008 I stumbled across the Aust Crime Fiction website and was simply astonished. There were Australian crime writers? Who knew? I’m being a little facetious there (I’d read books by Jennifer Rowe, Gabrielle Lord, Shane Maloney and one or two others) but I had no idea there were dozens of Australian crime writers. I had soon tracked down a few new titles and was enjoying the pleasure of reading something different. After that one website I got a bit more deliberate in my searching and discovered even more brilliant resources, like Euro Crime, and started following a few book bloggers who seemed to be enjoying their reading more than I had been.
And so a monster was born (a monster being defined as a 150+ item TBR pile).
In 2009 I finished 126 books and 74 of them were by new to me authors. So far this year 41 of the 79 books I have finished have been by new to me authors. Over the past 18 months I’ve read 28 books that weren’t first written in English which doesn’t sound like a terribly high number until you consider that in the 40 years prior to that I’d probably read about 3 translated books in total (and one of those was The Little Prince when I was in primary school). In short, I have been taking risks as a reader and have been on what I called a few weeks ago a discovery kick.
Of course I haven’t loved all the books but I am enjoying the experience as a whole. I am reading more books more eagerly than ever because each new book, each reading risk, offers the potential for something wonderful. And along with the comfort reads (there’ll always be a place in my heart for a jolly good English police procedural and ‘my’ American private detectives) there are books that aren’t easily categorised. The books that Rob calls well done but not already done. My favourite books of the last two years (2008 and 2009) are a world away from what my lists of the previous years would have been (if I’d kept lists then) (which I didn’t).
But on the increasingly rare occasions I venture back into a local bookstore I don’t notice much change from what I call the dark days. Because I know what to look for now I can fossick out the lone copy of the odd translated book but it’s still the Pattersons et al that are promoted on most of the shelf space. Sure this week all the stores have displays featuring Truth by Peter Temple but it wasn’t nearly as prominent when it was published back in December (I found a single copy on the bottom shelf of a local store only a few days after the book’s publication).
Do publishers believe we all want to read the same thing over and over again because it’s true? Or do they make it a self-fulfilling prophecy by commissioning few alternatives? Why are they looking for the next Stieg Larsson (I must have read two dozen articles on this theme in the past 10 days)? Surely they can grasp that at least part of the reason the Millennium trilogy has been so successful is that it is quite different from what’s already on people’s shelves. Readers have enjoyed those differences. Embraced them even. Wouldn’t it be great if the publishers were looking for the next batch of new authors with something different again to offer?