Bookseller Jim Huang has opened his blog with an interesting post on the state of mystery novel publishing today…
Where the business gets fouled up is in how is goes about trying to create blockbusters, in what publishers perceive is necessary to create a bestseller. Mostly, the approach boils down to “throw money at the problem.” They basically do this for one reason, so that the house can turn around and brag about how much money it’s spending. We’re supposed to be impressed that Putnam paid Jilliane Hoffman a seven-figure advance for her first novel, that they planned a $300,000 marketing budget and announced a 250,000 copy first printing. So impressed that as a bookseller, I’ll be compelled to stock lots of copies and that you as a reader will be compelled to buy it.
On the back cover of the advance reading copy of Hoffman’s RETRIBUTION, there are more words describing the marketing than there are describing the book itself — a lot more – and the few words devoted to describing the story are generic clichés. When Hoffman herself talked about the book at the Dearborn Library last fall, it was the money and the movie deal that she described. Readers — and we are all readers first — don’t relate to your advance. We relate to your book. In pitching this book on the basis of dollars and print-run, all Putnam does is bring to mind Oscar Wilde’s comment about people who know “the price of everything but the value of nothing.” That’s Wilde’s definition of a cynic, and it seems especially apt for a business with Jason Epstein’s attitude.
Three months into the book’s release, Nielsen’s Bookscan, which claims to cover 70% of the market, said that RETRIBUTION sold 16,000 copies. If the percentage is right and you do the math, you end up with total sales of 22,860. Under the circumstances, that’s pitiful. Personally, I’ve sold one copy.
I’ve been suckered by a few of those books… BREATHTAKER and DERAILED come immediately to mind.
5 thoughts on “Jim Huang Starts Blogging”
Lee: Here’s my comment on DERAILED from my own blog of 7/25. Ed Gorman liked the book a lot more than I did.
A few days ago Ed Gorman gave an all-out no-reservations rave review to James Siegel’s Derailed. Naturally I figured I should read it, so I went directly to my local bookseller (Wal-Mart) and bought a copy.
I can see why Ed liked the book. It’s a juiced-up version of a Gold Medal original: ordinary guy gets into deep doo-doo. He does everything wrong, and things keep piling up until it seems they just can’t get any worse. And then they get worse. It’s the sort of thing Harry Whittington excelled at, except hyped to the tenth power.
So I sort of enjoyed it, but I had some problems. One is that if you’ve ever read more than a couple of Gold Medal books, the “big surprise” is going to come as no surprise at all. Maybe that’s OK. Maybe Siegel doesn’t really expect us to be surprised. But another problem is that Siegel uses a deus ex machina that would make Euripides blush. It’s just too much. Or maybe I’m just being picky. You’ll have to read the book and decide for yourself.
Ed said he thinks the book might well become a classic. I don’t. To me it’s just another disposable best seller. Well executed, but not that memorable.
I, too, was surprised at Gorman’s flat-out rave, but then, I read 30 pages of DERAILED and put it down and haven’t as yet picked it back up…probably telling me something. Someone I trust once described the book as the perfect thriller for people who don’t read widely within the genre, which makes sense, especially considering Bill’s comments.
I agree with you, Bill. DERAILED felt very tired and familiar to me… and I could feel the author straining so hard to shock and surprise me, and failing. Then again, I’m one of the few who felt DAVINCI CODE was a major disappointment — clever plotted but horribly written.
I remember “The Big Picture” well and wrote about it way back when for a small South Carolina newspaper (the same one where I published my take on Lee’s “Beyond the Beyond.”)
It’s a pretty standard review, but I like a bit of the conclusion: “Kennedy wants us to think about how we live the life we have, rather than the life we want. The trouble is that this contradicts the story. Examining issues of escape and life are themes best suited for literary novels, not for books where the proper application of explosives helps a man follow his bliss.”
Generally, Huang nails his points like a Rumanian gymnist. Like it or not, this is a business. If you want to be an artist and write your version of “Ulysses,” there’s nothing stopping you, but don’t be surprised if you can’t figure out a way to make it sell.
Look at Nicholson Baker, who is a master at self–promotion, not through what he does (such as sucker punch book critics), but through what he writes (e.g., a novel about the assassination of Bush). That’s a rare ability.
I couldn’t agree with you less about “The Breathtaker.” It has originality and vivid writing. A cut above the usual crap IMO.