Amanda at Mad Genius Club posted last week with some musings on the current publishing scene – er, that is what I took to calling the Literary Industrial Complex, back when I first went indy around 2008 – Indy Publishing that is. When people ask me who my publisher is, I look at them loftily, and reply, “I own the publishing company!” Which I do – a nice little small enterprise that I came into as junior partner, and which the original founder sold to me when she regretfully concluded that she could no longer carry on. We do other authors’ books, as well as my own; regional and small-press stuff, nothing which would ever excite the interest of the Literary Industrial Complex or the minions thereof. No point to it at this late date; as one of the other indy authors I associated with at the time often repeated – “If readers love-love-love the book, they don’t really care who published it.”
I’m basically sitting off to the side, watching the various Literary Industrial Complex shenanigans with the detached interest of someone driving past a really complicated multi-vehicle accident on the interstate; one of those which features smashed vehicles off on the shoulder or the median, in grotesque positions, attended by lots of law enforcement, fire engines, ambulances and wreckers. Nothing much to do with you, you think – but that you do drive a motor vehicle on those streets, and such a smash-up is a possibility, even if statistically only a remote one. Books, authors, audience, readers – those of us in the indy author community do have that much in common with those who have caught the brass ring of the Literary Industrial Complex. The blessings of publicity which that happy situation can bestow upon the poor scribbler of fiction are enviable indeed: nothing like a generous advance, lashings of pre-release publicity, an Oprah pick, long lines at well-publicized and organized signing events … the stuff of which indy authors can only dream or perhaps nightmare about.
For myself, I wouldn’t mind a Cat-5 Hurricane storm level of condemnatory Twitter interest. It would do marvels for sales of our books and raise our visibility and I would care nothing because I barely use my Twitter account, as 9 out of 10 Twitteratti appear to be raving loons. My spoilsport daughter forbids this, pointing out that there are vicious and violently inclined raving loons out there; don’t want trouble, don’t start trouble.
The current no-holds-barred bruhaha concerns American Dirt by one Janine Cummins; a breathless and much heralded novel about Mexican mother and son escaping from cartel violence in Mexico by joining a migrant convoy and entering illegally into the United States. The author has garnered a boatload of criticism for this; not so much for justifying confounding immigration law by holding a literary pity party for the victims of cartel violence in Mexico, but for doing so while not being of Mexican heritage. Apparently, this constitutes a thoughtcrime of cultural appropriation. Well … apparently, trying to imagine the life and concerns of someone completely different from you, culturally, racially and every other way, is now an indictable offense against wokery. I suspect that Ms Cummins’ bigger crime in the eyes of writers of indisputably Hispanic background was that she got all the generous goodies of a huge advance, heaps of publicity, the Oprah pick, maybe even Hollywood movie interest – over and above those goodies to which they felt they had a better right.
Nothing much to me, of course; I’m just not that interested in reading American Dirt or even anything much on the anticipatory Literary-Industrial Complex horizon. I looked at this linked story; the most hotly anticipated new releases of early 2020 and was left underwhelmed, first by the covers … seriously, is there a fashion now for artfully-minimalist covers? A couple of primary colors, primitive shapes and blah typefaces? This is the best, the very best that the Literary-Industrial Complex has to offer, as regards to cover art to what is supposed to be, after all, the first and best chance to make a good impression on a potential reader/buyer? Dolly Parton once remarked in another context, “You have to pay a lot of money to look this cheap.”
Casey Stengal also asked plaintively, “Can’t anyone here play this game?” once upon the day. Fortunately, we indy-inclined authors can, when it comes to scribbling entertaining yarns to allure the casual reader. Which is good for us – especially considering the looks of our Literary-Industrial Complex-sponsored competition of late. Discuss as you wish – and consider checking out the weekly Sunday morning Ace of Spades HQ book discussion thread; talk of books, reading recommendations and a weekly picture of ghastly pants.
16 thoughts on “Books That I Cannot Wait Not to Read”
I followed through to the list of books. Nothing even seemed to be worth the trouble of actively ignoring. I already can’t remember 90% of it.
The problems that I see with self-publishing revolve around the upfront costs: good editing (at least until I’m good enough) and cover art. And publicity, of course.
I admit the books listed make me consider virtues of modern literature as a fuel source.
The criticism of “cultural appropriation” is possibly best answered by a comment I saw a few days ago to the effect that “If cultural appropriation is so wrong, then what is the reason to be so excited about “diversity”?.
Good one, SB. LOL
Now that book stores are mostly gone, we are all choosing books based on little thumbnails on a screen so the cover has to be simple and the type readable at that size and I’m using a 28″ 4k monitor. The challenge on a phone is far worse. Still, neither the titles or the covers gave me any clue what the books were about so I started to read the blurbs.
I could only tough it out for the first three or four and still found nary a mention of what the book in question was actually about. I am surprised that there isn’t a worldwide shortage of adjectives. Maybe there’s a process analogous to oil refining where they can distill out the plot and characterization and convert it into adjectives.
It would seem that most of the authors exist on a level far removed from my mundane existence. I think I’ll let it stay that way.
With almost all Kindle books, you can get a free downloadable sample. This is usually enough to get a good idea as to whether the book is something you’d like…exception for certain books that have three layers of Introductions, so that sample ends before you get to the main text.
Regarding reviews, I generally find the reader reviews to be much more helpful than the “professional” reviews, which are typically written in a very hackneyed style (“a real page turner”).
The current no-holds-barred bruhaha concerns American Dirt by one Janine Cummins; a breathless and much heralded novel about Mexican mother and son escaping from cartel violence in Mexico by joining a migrant convoy and entering illegally into the United States. The author has garnered a boatload of criticism for this; not so much for justifying confounding immigration law by holding a literary pity party for the victims of cartel violence in Mexico, but for doing so while not being of Mexican heritage. Apparently, this constitutes a thoughtcrime of cultural appropriation.
My guess is that there was some personal vanity about her writing on this topic- to show how enlightened she was.I also suspect that she didn’t really know much about what she was writing and wrote some descriptions that were howlers. I would need to read the book to decide. At least she went to the borderlands to research the book. As I see it, her issue is not cultural appropriation, but probably being a bit too preachy and writing about something she doesn’t intimately know.
Having worked with Venezuelans both in the US and in Venzuela, I used to comment on Venezuelan blogs, though now I am burned out. On a number of occasions, I got rather peeved at Venezuelan commenters- or Venezuelan blog authors- commenting on the US when they didn’t really know what they were talking about. Sgt. Mom, such as the Venezuelan computer scientist living in Europe who told us that US Armed Forces recruits from the dregs of society- I easily refuted that w appropriate links. Or one blogger, courtesy of having spent a year at a university in Boston, thought he knew New England. As I New England native, I can testify that he didn’t. At least not to the degree he believed he did.
In summation, even though she researched it, I suspect that she didn’t know that much about what she wrote. Though James Michener did a good job on his meticulously researched novels, so I should reserve judgement until I actually read her novel.
I am reminded of reading a book by Isabel Allende about a 19th century Chinese immigrant to California. The Chinese encountered racism in California, Isabel correctly informs us. However, Isabel Allende left something out of the story. During my grad school days, I had some Chinese- as in from the PRC- roommates. Good conversationalists, neat, polite, paid bills on time. However, I also concluded that the Han can be rather racist. Some sounded as bad as Klansmen in talking about blacks. In addition, they were rather clannish- nearly all their acquaintances were Chinese. IOW, on the racism/ethnocentrism angle, Chinese are both victims and agents. As we all are. Which made Isabel Allende’s novel a bit tiresome.
Reading changing book markets, I am reminded of recently looking at a book on Nicaragua that I photocopied three decades ago. At the time I was interested in Nicaragua, and photocopying was the cheapest way to acquire it. It wouldn’t have been found in a used book store.
The publishing industry seems to be even more insular and insane than the movie industry–making money is only very secondary, writing books that the wrong sort of people would like would completely ruin your reputation, etc. It’s kind of always been like that, though, no? “Pulp” has always sold well but been on the fringes of the “respectable” part of the industry, hasn’t it? The problem is how to find the good, readable stuff. Looking at reviews of books in any “mainstream” source is like peering into an insane asylum.
The American Dirt fiasco is hilarious, for those of us on the outside. I kind of hope it’s a great book, that would make the situation all the more delicious.
except hilary mantel’s wrap up of the Cromwell saga, none appeal, it’s like they are parodies of left wing group think,
Granted – book covers have to look good/be attractive in thumbnail … but those just looked awful and amateurish at any size. And Brian, you are quite right that the mainstream establishment publishers (all five or six of them) are terribly self-insulated, in as much a bubble as Hollywood. Better to be woke, than appeal to a wide audience. Making a bundle off an un-woke book is apparently off the table. Although there are some exceptions…
The other way that mainstream publishers are screwing themselves is by demanding as much for an ebook version as for the paperback printed version. That is absolutely killing them. The conventional wisdom among indy writers is $3-5 for an ebook is about right, but mainstream publishers ask for three times that much. Their ebooks don’t sell well, and they conclude that ebooks aren’t popular. No – it’s just that they are pricing them too high.
I suppose my real point was that there was nothing about any of those covers that made me want to spend even the time to click through for some sort of description let alone spend time reading a sample. So we agree.
John D. McDonald published first in mass market paperback for many years after he could have done the conventional hardback paperback a year later thing so he didn’t have to share the paperback royalties with the hardback publisher. He figured he was ahead financially and didn’t care about the prestige.
And finally, the first time I ever heard of Judith Reagan was when she published Rush Limbaugh’s first book. Then she was lionized for realizing that there was a ton of money in ditoheads, today she would probably have to go into witness protection.
I’m surprised no one has mentioned the current debacle over Barnes and Noble and their attempt to do some “progressive” re-branding of classic books and their covers.
The abject groveling from the B&N folks is fairly pathetic, since it’s pretty obvious that the company was just trying ANYTHING that might get young people to put down their smartphones and actually read something decent. But no, the Twitter crowd will have none of that.
Tip for the diverse crowd – Want to read books by authors that look like you? Then get off your ass and write a book worth reading and get it published. If all of those straight, white men that you loathe so much can do it, then it can’t be hard can it? (It always cracks me up when a overwhelmingly female-dominated profession like publishing demands that there be more diversity in anything. Pot, kettle, etc….)
“Books That I Cannot Wait Not to Read” reminds me of a long-time comment of mine regarding the hype and hoopla around whatever the next Big-Big-Big release from Hollyweird; I’d say that I was intending to wait until it came out on cable and then miss it.
And I’m continuously amazed that the left cannot internalize the fact that they no longer control the message. They are counting on the poor memory the public displays about their blunders and the way that too many Republicans wanted to run “nice” campaigns. They don’t see how many wonderful ad spots they are handing out, and don’t understand what’s going to be in people’s faces come September.
Wow, describing “Little Gods”by Meng Jin
, “Jin raises difficult questions about history, life, and self. For example, are the young protesters on Tiananmen Square driven by their pursuit of a righteous cause or their desire for expansive attention?”
Fired the agent and went Indy. No sour grapes, but I cannot compete with the Hillary books and the super-woke books and the middle-aged women psuedo rape books that the Publishing Industrial Complex wants and pushes. Pulp fiction: good guys and bad guys, dames and bums. And a damned good cover. I love me some Child and (RIP) Grafton and the others who have emerged victorious (after long hard scrabble years) and gladly buy them or library them when they emerge, but I miss the MacDonalds and Ross’s of ago. I do love good Sci-Fi as well, with real science, real story, and some big damned heroes.
As far as I know, Barnes and Nobel were just putting dust jackets on the public domain books they’ve been selling for as long as I’ve known them. I wasn’t that impressed by the art I saw but assuming the text was the original I sure don’t see a controversy.
A good many years ago I picked up a copy of “Tom Sawyer” as a gift for a child. Something prompted me to look closer and I discovered that it had been “improved” to supposedly eliminate the controversial parts. It became one of the very few books that I have ever simply thrown in the trash. Normally I leave that to Half Price.
My wife said it was hard to find an uncut version of The Secret Garden. Apparently editors thought it long, and too religious, and trimmed accordingly.
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