I’ve published a whole lot of books. 32 and counting. But I’ve written far many more. And often, the ones I remember most are the ones I couldn’t sell. Why weren’t they pubished? Well, maybe sometimes, they just weren’t good enough. (A bitter thought, but possible.)
I love to write historical romance. At times, though, I tried for a change of pace. In some of those cases the book may have been acknowledged as good, but the subject wasn’t what I’m known for: Historical Romance. More often, I was told my timing was off. The subject matter I wrote about wasn’t “hot.” “Straight” Historicals weren’t “in.” Historical mysteries were “over.” “Nobody wants to read about the Civil War now.”
Sometimes the fault lay in the fact that the book didn’t easily fit into category. Any category. Where your book is placed in the bookstore is of prime importance, so you must have a category. These days, the publishing world is codified. It’s right there on the book jacket in the ISBN – the code it is given. That shows the bookseller where to place it in the store. Even “new literature” has its codes and labels, from “Coming of Age” novels to “Mid-life angst sagas.” And if it isn’t easy to place, it’s often the kiss of death.
There are trends and if you don’t fit into them, you don’t fit anywhere. How would “Moby Dick” be published today? Not that I am for a moment comparing anything I ever wrote to what I think is the Great American Novel! But where would a code place a novel about an obsessed sea captain and a rogue whale? Nature studies? Crime fiction? Criminal Psychology? Or maybe: Sea Mammals? I dunno. It’s a classic now and that makes it simple: “Classic Literature.”
The truth is that with modern book outlets as they are, it’s difficult to get a novel out that doesn’t fit into a slot. I think that’s the American public’s loss. The same thing holds true for movies and TV shows. Write something new and utterly different and then you might as well sit with a cup selling pencils, because it’s going to take a miracle to make money. Sometimes miracles happen.
Once there is a splash, however, everyone jumps in. And pretty soon there’s a redundancy. The problem for the writer is how to make that first splash. We know that you, Gentle Reader, are ready to read anything good, and see any film or TV show that is well done and interesting. But how do we convince the publishing, marketing, film-making, TV producing world to know that?
(And I don’t mean just: MOBY DICK, THE MUSICAL, with a singing whale and a tap dancing Captain Ahab… though that IS a thought…..)
Note: Yes Virginia, there is a MOBY DICK THE MUSICAL. We wenches are as shocked as you are.