The other day, I headed to my local library and strolled over to the paperback fiction section. I began perusing the titles on the spines, looking for something to check out. What did I see? A whole lotta the same. Nothing new or the slightest bit interesting.
Mysteries had “pun” titles like Cloak and Lager, about a beer-brewing sleuth investigating a murder in the local ale house. Okay…I made that up. But you get the point. They’re all cutesy titles that combine the mystery angle with the sleuth’s daily career.
Historical romances read like “How to” manuals: How To Snare a Scoundrel, or Canoodling With a Count. Contemporary romances feature the same tired tropes: secret babies, the ex is back in town, and (the squickiest of all!) I Married My Brother-In-Law. The paranormal romance selections are top-heavy with shapeshifters or vampires.
Contrast the library shelves with my Kindle app. Sure, you’ll find the pun-titled mysteries, the how-to historicals, the traditional tropes of contemporaries (even the squickiest ones), and you can be up to your eyeteeth in vampires or shapeshifters, if that’s what you want. But you’ll also find the unusual, the stuff that traditional publishing’s agents and editors said they “couldn’t sell.” These are rare gems, often found in mountains of pebbles that you’ll have to sift through. Believe me when I say, I’ve read some stinkers on my Kindle. But I can usually tell by the online blurb or certainly within the first chapter if the book is not going to live up to my (admittedly) high expectations.
And every once in a while, I find the diamond in the rough. When that happens, I feel like I’m the first one let in on a delicious secret. And my general reaction is usually, “Why didn’t NY grab this beauty?” But I already know the answer. Do you? Because these rare gems don’t fit into NY publishing’s box.
The Big Six of traditional NY publishing churn out the same product month after month, year after year. That’s what sells, so that’s what they want. They’re terrified to take a chance on something new, something unusual, something with a strong authorial voice or an odd point of view. “Different” manuscripts need not apply. Got a historical featuring a Scottish laird and an English lady? Send it to NY! Set the story in ancient Rome, though, and they “can’t sell” it. Writing a mystery where the police actually solve the crime? Fuhgeddaboutit. The Keystone Kops solved more crimes than the current crop of homicide detectives in mystery fiction. Everyone knows that the cupcake baker or the dogwalker will save the day! And they’ll do it while wearing the cutest shoes!
Don’t believe me? Look around. You’re already seeing variations on the Fifty Shades phenomenon. Black and gray covers, some books that even use the same title formation or rhythm, (i.e.: Twenty Verses of Solomon. Don’t look for that one; I made it up.) are already hitting the shelves. That’s NY publishing for you.
But there’s hope for Indie Publishing. Twenty-five years ago, Hollywood shunned the indie movie productions, films that were created outside the status quo of the industry’s studio system. Time and talent changed all that. Quentin Tarantino, the Coen brothers, James Cameron, Spike Lee, and Steven Soderburgh were among the creators who changed the game.
I truly believe the same will happen in publishing. And I can’t wait to see it.
***Next week, I’ll tackle why I’ve Embraced Indie Publishing as a Writer.
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