Wednesday, September 14, 2011
"Ooo-ooo-ooo! I wanna be Just Like You!"
Trapped at the register from 8:00 to 2:00, most of that time alone, without a break of any kind; and just as I was about to take my first bite of lunch they called me back. When I finally returned to my own desk and started going through the book catalogs, I literally could not keep awake.
To be fair, the cause of this sleepishness was as much about boredom at what Macmillan and its various imprints were offering me as it was about my tiredness. Really, across the board, the Winter frontlists have been unexciting at best. Even Penguin, which usually has some interesting titles, had a dreary array of "sleepers" -- I mean that in the literal sense -- on offer.
Nothing succeeds like excess, so when one publisher tries something new and has a hit out of it, all of the other publishers (and even the original publisher) fall all over each other getting things onto the market that look, sound and read just like the thing that was the original big hit. J.K. Rowling has a lot to answer for, in one sense, for the outpouring of young sorcerers that gushed onto the marketplace in the wake of Harry Potter. There's even a professor employed at my college, a well-known figure who has appeared on Oprah, who hopped on the bandwagon last year with a very Harry Potterish series of her own. The college being what it is, we're all logrolling like crazy, me included . . . but you'd have to hold a loaded gun to my head to get me to read the thing, and depending on my mood at the time I might just tell you to pull the damn trigger.
The same thing happened with The Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Jay Kinney sells a bazillion copies of his first two books, and now suddenly the Middle Reader catalogs are overflowing with knock-offs: The Dork Diaries and Ellie McDoodle to name just two. Alums of this institution are not slouching in this department, either. the author of the Big Nate series matriculated here.
It's no different in adult publishing. Roughly ninety percent of the sales pitches I read and listen to either begin or end with the stock phrase: "It's [Insert Bestselling Book Title Here] meets [Insert Bestselling Book Title Here]!!!"
"The Help meets Salem's Lot in a genre-bending bid to cash in on two completely different markets!"
Sometimes they don't bother with individual books, but just use author names instead.
"Fannie Flagg meets Stieg Larsson!"
"V.C. Andrews meets Jan Karon!"
"Patricia Cornwell meets Margaret Wise Brown!" (That's a Double Header joke. Can you guess why?)
A different way of marketing "same as" material is to say, "Fans of [insert Author or Book Title Here] will LOVE this complete rip-off!"
The one I'm looking at right now in the Macmillan catalogue is, "For fans of How to Train Your Dragon comes a fantastic new series about a boy and his dragon."
First: Are there any fans of How to Train Your Dragon? Second, this idea is so old that it pre-dates How to Drain, ehm, I mean Train, by about a hundred years. When it comes to dragons, I get off the train at My Father's Dragon and its two sequels by Ruth Stiles Gannett.
Meanwhile, I have to note that no one is pitching books as being "for fans of William Faulkner" -- or Margaret Atwood or Kurt Vonnegut for that matter. Honestly, I'm not sure that Faulkner would be able to get his books into print if he was starting out today. He's not "just like" anything else.
Here are some Hot Book Trends that I'm sick to death of.
1) Zombies. "Take my zombie -- PLEASE!" It's a vile movie genre that's been way overdone, and it's rapidly becoming a vile book genre that's been way overdone.
2) Metrosexual, kissable vampires. Somebody please explain to the breathless, heart-pounding Romantic Dolts that a Vampire is a CORPSE. I don't know about you, but I ain't kissing any corpses! In a related area -- female Vampire Hunters, Laurel Hamilton et al. I literally can't GIVE AWAY books by Hamilton and Charlene Harris. Everyone is sick of this shit. Why don't the publishers stop it?
3) Anything with Nicholas Sparks's name on it. The man should have his typing fingers amputated.
4) Anything that's "for readers of Nicholas Sparks."
5) Anything written for an adult audience that's narrated by a dog or "co-authored" by a cat. The Art of Racing in the Rain? Get behind me, Satan!
6) Anything by egomaniacal "comedians" like Chelsea Handler or Sarah Silverman or Tina Fey. Y'know what, guys? Dorothy Parker created the genre decades and decades ago, Fran Lebowitz refined it, and Parker and Lebowitz have the additional virtue of actually being funny. Handler is just a Dick, Silverman is just Wet, and Fey -- isn't much more than a face, really.
7) Anything with the title: "The [Insert Perceived Romantic Occupation Here]'s Wife." Or Daughter.
I could go on at length, but I'll end with this pet peeve: James Patterson has about two hundred and thirty seven books published every month under his name. He hasn't written ANY of them in years. I have to stock the bloody godawful things because every single one of them goes on the bestseller list for about five minutes. Then it's gone, and I'm stuck with literally a shelf full of ghost-written garbage with this clown's name on it.
No more. I'm going on strike. James Patterson, Clive Cussler, Jane Greene and several other popular no-talents are hereby banned from my store.
'Course, Garrison Keillor, Robertson Davies, Tom Sharpe and Alasdair Gray don't sell either, but I like them. We can but put the good stuff in front of the zombies and hope that they will take notice.