Yesterday I walked into a local bookstore (indie) that I like, to do some browsing. I was immediately confronted with a full stack of Stephen King's latest collection of short stories, The Bazaar of Bad Dreams. Great title and great cover - and while I'm not particularly a fan of King as a novelist, I do think he is a terrific short story writer. So I bought the book, along with a few others, and went on my merry way.
But ... there is a dark side to all of this (fitting, because we're talking about Stephen King, after all). My initial reaction upon walking into the store and seeing that book was, "Why didn't I know about this?" After all, I'm pretty up on what's going on. I get all the emails, am on all the major listservs, read all the industry rags. And somehow the fact that this one was coming passed me by. I don't even remember seeing it mentioned in Library Journal's emails, and I read every one of those start to finish.
It made me start to wonder if we, as an industry, have given up. Yes, Harper Lee's GO SET A WATCHMAN was released with the kind of fanfare that we should see more often (I can only imagine what it cost -- then again, I bet a lot of the publicity was free due to the media loving the mystery of Harper Lee and her one best-seller). But so many books come and go with no publicity, no fanfare ... on the shelves today, gone tomorrow, before anyone's had a chance to look at them or discover them. I know for a fact that I've found some great books solely because I was in the bookstore at the right moment. A week or two later, those books were gone, and I never saw any further chatter about them. Which means that if I hadn't been in the bookstore at that exact moment, the book would have completely passed me by.
The publishers may not be publicizing books - maybe because it does so little good and costs so much money, in an era where most of our major publications no longer bother to review books. That depresses me -- that we realize that our only hopes of a big success are a book going viral (a la GG--and everyone who reads this blog will know which book I'm referring to), so we just sort of sit back and pray. With writers like Stephen King, we know the sales are guaranteed, so again - we sit back and let it happen.
I get depressed, too, because I feel like we, as an industry, aren't taking chances on great writers and books. So many books feel so safe, as if written by committee. Reading the flap copy in that indie bookstore, I felt like I was reading the same thing over and over again.
Of course, as anyone will tell you, it all comes down to money. The publishers aren't making any money, but I know who is--all of these book packagers and marketers, like Amazon, who sell writers (some talented, many no-talent hacks) a dream that they can make millions and hit the New York Times best-seller list. I've lost track of all the emails we get from This One, That One, and The Other One telling us that they'll market the hell out of our books and make us a household name. We know better--but most people don't. Every day I see ads on Goodreads and Amazon--clear product placements that have been paid for by the writer. Many writers are fond of posting all over the Web about how many copies they've sold or how much money they've made, but the truth is: I think most of them are lying.
In this modern era, you have to be selling something that people want to buy. Most people -- and certainly the people who control the media -- don't want to buy Murder Book X by Jane Doe. They haven't heard of Jane Doe and couldn't care less. They're not going to give her any free press. Jane Doe pays good money to get her book placed on Amazon, Goodreads, and all these other "review" sites that promise the moon and the stars--and by the time Jane is done, she's deeply in the red. Meanwhile, nobody has bought her book because it sucks. Yes, my friends, that is the sad truth: There's more money to be made in these advertising and self-publishing Ponzi schemes than there is in publishing fiction in an era of piracy, book thieves, and general apathy.