Does a Book Release Now Have to be an Event for People to Take an Interest?
I have previously written about how the tougher and tougher market for theatrically released films since the advent of TV has meant that films’ backers need their movies to be perceived as events that the audience will want to see in the theater now rather than wait three months and stream at home to get very many people to buy tickets.
These days I think the same thing is happening with novels.
Simply put, people used to consume novels casually and frequently in the course of their daily routine — during a commute, while looking to relax before bed, etc. opening one up. In doing so they often followed some genre, some author, some series fairly faithfully, so much so that the most popular authors commonly building careers out of some formula, or the continuing adventures of some character, in a manner reminiscent of catching up with the latest episode of some TV show. (Indeed, Mack Bolan had a dozen adventures a year in the ‘80s — not unlike what a season of a show might offer — while hardback heroes like Jack Ryan or Dirk Pitt, or later, Alex Cross or Kay Scarpetta, often had new adventures annually or biennially.)
However, just like the old pattern of movie theater-going, that whole model of producing and enjoying books is collapsing due to the convenience of other media (just as it became easier to watch TV than see a movie people can watch a show or play a game just as easily as read a book during their commute or anything else, and more disposed to do so too), with this likely having much to do with the decline of the paperback (the end of The Executioner was a non-story in the media), and the way the bestseller lists look these days. Those hardback authors who crank out, for example, procedural-type thrillers regularly, seem to me in the main old stars doing so for the audience — or what remains of the audience — they won long ago, because younger people are simply not becoming casual readers, and heavy consumers of novels in the process, in that same way. Thus do we see James Patterson still making the list — but we don’t see new writers of comparable thrillers getting up there in the ranks with him. Indeed, where the names on the covers are concerned the paperback rack at your local convenience store or supermarket (in general, dominated by the paperback editions of last year’s bestsellers) is virtually indistinguishable from what it was in the ‘90s.
Those very few “newer” novelists we see make it really big these days generally seem to offer something more idiosyncratic in content, and are more often aided by he publicity potential of the author themselves — with Della Owens’ Where the Crawdads Sing exemplary. The book is admittedly describable as a murder mystery — which makes selling it that much easier — but no basis for some series whose latest entries people will snap up when they hit the market each and every year, with other features of the narrative (its sociobiological perspective, its politics, etc.) critical to the draw, while it probably mattered a good deal that the author was already a famous and not uncontroversial figure. (Again I am reminded of the vile king of the Paris publishing scene Dauriat sneeringly telling young Lucien de Rubempre that what he does is take “distinguished names,” “reputations ready-made,” and via crass and corrupt means for manufacturing “success” — “the claqueurs hired to applaud” — coin money out of them, rather than giving aspiring authors a chance to become famous by actually writing, and that they are fools to expect anything else from him.)
In this particular case the publisher was especially successful in making the event happen — and in the process made a bestseller not simply by attracting people in the habit of reading, but creating such an atmosphere as drew in a significant number of that ever-growing portion of the potential audience who do not read so regularly, because they were promised something special, because the author was themselves a source of interest, because they wanted to see what the fuss was about. Afterward, I suspect, many of those readers did not become more regular readers but went back to reading nothing-at least, until another publisher similarly interested them in their wares as something to which they simply must attend.
Originally published at https://raritania.blogspot.com.