Quiet time of year for everyone, resting between holidays and getting ready to ring in 2009. I was thinking about doing a Cheers/Jeers list like I'd done last year (have I really been doing this blog for more than a year now?), but I realized that most of my cheers and jeers would be the same as last year's. But there are a few cheers I'd like to add.
CHEERS to the Kindle. It's far from perfect, and Amazon doesn't seem able to keep them in stock. But I'm a big fan of the Kindle, from the perspective of both reader and publisher. I think anything that opens up the world of books (and magazines, and newspapers) to readers is a good thing. The Kindle is also a boon to those who have limited storage space for books and limited tolerance for carrying around books, which are, let's face it, pretty heavy. As a publisher I see the Kindle as a way to carve more profit out of books, since the production and distribution costs are much more reasonable than with traditional books. Will Kindle ever replace the physical book? No, but it's another option. Also, I'm a big fan of Amazon in general, which makes books available to anyone who wants to buy them and has also managed to become a community for readers.
CHEERS to publishers who publish large-print titles, for obvious reasons.
CHEERS to Barnes & Noble. This may sound odd coming from a publisher who not infrequently inveighs against the "corporatization" of book publishing and the Walmartization of society. However, I have found Barnes & Noble to be particularly open to carrying the works of small/independent presses (provided, of course, the books are of good quality--a very reasonable expectation on their part). I also see the stores trying very hard to evolve into a destination for shoppers and book lovers. Their inventory does seem to be tipping from books into other things (DVDs, CDs, gifts, etc.), but businesses need to change to keep going. And any time I have personally dealt with a community relations manager from any store, that person has been unfailingly polite and professional. Do I continue to support independent bookstores? Yes, of course. But I think B&N does a fine job of keeping book retailing in front of consumers.
CHEERS to Elizabeth Zelvin. Liz's first mystery, Death Will Get You Sober, was published this year by St. Martin's. Liz is a case study in tenacity and hard work, pulling out all the stops to make the right connections and to publicize the book now that it's out. (She's a frequent contributor to the online mystery discussion groups.) Liz is, I think, an inspiration to everyone who has a dream and sticks with it until it comes true.
2008 has been an eventful and stressful year for many, so I was thinking about my "Wish List" for 2009. Here it is:
WISH #1: I'd like to see some new mystery names on the NYT best-seller list. We're used to the usual suspects running up the NYT best-seller list: Higgins Clark, Patterson, Evanovich, Grafton, Cornwell--all the usual worthies. Some came on like gangbusters, others took years and years (and books and books) to find themselves up there. In 2009 I'd like to see some new writers making it big. There are certainly many worthy novelists out there, and I think it would be good for our industry to have a blockbuster or two. What this means, I think, is that we need a really stellar story that grabs the public by the throat--I'm thinking something along the lines of the early books by Scott Turow or James Patterson (Along Came a Spider, for example) or something like The DaVinci Code. Needless to say, I wish to be the person who brings this book to the public's attention...
WISH #2: I'd like my own reality TV show. I've been thinking about this, and I really think it could be a good idea. I and two colleagues would serve as judges on mystery manuscripts written by aspiring writers. We'd have guest judges who would comment on how well these could be adapted for films or TV shows. Of course, image would matter, since we live in a shallow society and attractive writers sell books. I see myself as the sort of Randy Jackson of the bunch, being supportive even when something isn't really my style, but pulling no punches when something is really bad. Hollywood, you can reach me at the email address listed under "Contact Info."
WISH #3: I'd like more reviewers to be open to independent press titles. I've blogged about this before, so I won't repeat myself ad nauseam, but there is still a fair amount of built-in prejudice against books not published by the Big Corporate Publishers, especially from particular review engines and conventions that have restrictive rules about whom they consider to be "published." These rules sometimes leave out fine writers published by smaller houses. If you are reading this, and you are a reviewer, I ask that you be open to at least considering books by independent houses, even if you've never heard of them before. It costs you nothing to have an open mind and to have a look at the book. If you don't want to read it/review it when you get it, that's your decision, of course. But you won't know what you've passed up unless you at least try. Just PLEASE do not sell that book on the Internet. Ever.
WISH #4: I want this recession to end so that people start buying books again. And for a million other reasons as well.
WISH #5: I wish the mystery genre weren't such an ardent task master. The "problem" with working in the mystery genre is feeling as though I have never read enough. I feel compelled to have read everything by the masters (Is it even possible?--I've read most of the Christies, but not all; only some of the Marshes; a lot of but by no means all the Rendells/Vines; many of the MacDonalds (both those guys), but also the need to keep up with all the new stuff, which is impossible. Meanwhile, other worthy titles go unopened--for example, that copy of 2666 sitting on my nightstand, which winks at me every time I pass it and reminds me that it needs to be read, sometime. Then again, it seems that when I step out of the genre, I'm frequently disappointed. I read Pynchon's Against the Day; thought it was terrible. I suffered through The Story of Edgar Sawtelle; found it awful. When a mystery fires on all cylinders, there's really nothing more entertaining, involving, and brain-engaging. And when I think about that, I realize that being immersed in this world is really a wonderful thing.
As I look back on 2008, I have a few disinct memories. I remember...
...a starred review in Publisher's Weekly of a title I'd edited from the first page to the last, complimenting every aspect of the novel. Of course the author was the brains behind the book, but that review reminded me that what I do every day matters. It felt good.
...a lunch with two colleagues in which we discussed walking away from manuscripts that had been 99% of the way toward contract. In the first case, the agent tried something really unethical and my friend washed her hands of the whole thing. In the second case, the bidding got too high, and everyone got cold feet, with the result that the book ended up completely unsold, with the writer stunned and shocked. In my case, I'd quite liked a book, but after a couple of conversations decided I did not like the writer at all and did not want to work with that person. It was only the second time in my career that I walked away from a book because I had such strongly bad vibes about the writer.
...an author of mine feeling like the taken-advantage-of spinster aunt of the mystery profession. She'd gone to a convention and bought hundreds of dollars of books by 11 new and emerging writers (I know the number, because she told me specifically), then read them and posted nice reviews of them on Amazon. Did even one of them return the favor? As of today--a year later--no one had. If you're a recently published writer, I think that keeping the rules of karma in mind is quite a good idea in 2009.
Finally, some thanks:
THANK YOU to librarians, the unsung heroes of our industry.
THANK YOU to Library Journal, which has always been open to reviewing books published by independent presses (and which holds us to the same high standards to which they hold everyone else).
THANK YOU to the writers who have written to me via this blog, answering my questions and setting me straight when necessary. I learn from every email and every response, and I hope to continue learning.
THANK YOU to the readers who've responded. Some of you have mentioned that you tend to "lurk" and don't say very much on the listservs, newsgroups, and so forth. Please do. Your thoughts, comments, and opinions as devoted readers are highly valuable, and everyone would benefit from hearing them.
Happy New Year! See you in 2009.