First, I was upset that I was being made to pay full price for a hardcover. Barnes & Noble: I want to support you. I really do. And I ended up buying the book I wanted. But when I got home, I checked Amazon -- and the price was $10 lower. Yes, a full $10. I work in publishing, for God's sake -- I'm not a rich man. That 10 bucks means something to me. I have a vested interest in this business, and I want bookstores to stay in business and thrive. Couldn't you have given me a token 10% off or something? You need to figure something out. You really do.
Before Borders went out of business, I used to call it the "Mary Higgins Clark Store." Variety was generally pretty poor, and no matter where you looked, you saw books by Mary Higgins Clark. The B&N I visited was approaching that model -- the same authors everywhere you looked: near the front door, on the end caps, on the first floor, on the second floor, even on shelves under misleading signs. This particular store was the Gillian Flynn store -- the books were EVERYWHERE. I'm a fan, and I'm delighted by what GONE GIRL did for the business, but surely SOME of that shelf space could have been devoted to OTHER books by OTHER writers?
What depressed me even more was seeing the same old tired writers featured and displayed everywhere. I jotted down a list of them, which I won't reproduce here. My list has 18 names on it. Anyone could probably figure out who they are. One's a factory, one writes the same book over and over again, one writes thrillers with cardboard characters, one churns out a supernatural book every year, blah blah blah. I can't blame agents and publishers in general for feeling despair when this is the sort of stuff that we are pushing at people. It's like watching an episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE, where people are force-fed mediocrity and made to love it, or lemmings line up to buy something truly mediocre just because they recognize the name.
Where are the fresh voices, I asked myself, as I prowled every corner of that store. They were few and far between.
But then I found them -- in an unexpected place: young adult publishing. Wow. What a vibrant section, with books published the way adult trade fiction used to be published. That fact gives me hope -- today's young adult readers will turn into tomorrow's older adult readers, which means more opportunity for some new names on the best-seller list. I wish I knew more about this market but alas, YA is just not my area of expertise. Still, I had a lot of fun browsing that section of the store, until I came across a book with yes, you guessed it, James Patterson's name on it. My wife threatened to force-feed me a Xanax.
But then I found what I was looking for... that fresh book that I had to have. It is Edgar Cantero's The Supernatural Enhancements. It's not just that the cover is beyond fantastic. It's a book that takes chances, a strange mixture of epistolary novel, dream journal, screenplay. It starts out as a haunted-house book told by a millennial and morphs into a DaVinci Code-style thriller about secret societies, cryptography, and ancient secrets. Truthfully, it's far from perfect. The writer is quite young, and it shows; but there are moments when the writing sings and I see what Edgar Cantero can become. At times the book feels like a collection of the author's hobbies, and I lost count of the number of threads that are introduced and get lost, never to be seen again.
The whole is greater than the sum of the parts, though. I want to shake the hand of the agent who took this on and the editor who bought it, as well as the artist/typographer who designed the interior and the illustrator who designed the book jacket. The book was shelved with a bunch of new entries by old timers who haven't turned out an original work in years, which made The Supernatural Enhancements seem even more fresh and intriguing in comparison. It's not for everyone, and I like that about it. It doesn't use the same old tired formulas, but rather mixes things up and makes them spooky and intriguing. This is the kind of publishing I want to do -- and think that I do -- and I just wish I could do more for all of these books than I have the power to do.
[Speaking of old tired formulas -- I read flap copy on a bunch of the books on the publisher-paid table at B&N. Three of them-- of about 20-- told me in the first paragraph about the male protagonist and his recently dead wife or kid. How many times are we going to publish that character, with that same boring backstory. Ack! Aargh! Xanax, please.]
In the meantime, though, do check out The Supernatural Enhancements and see if it is for you.