BOOK & BLOG
August 22, 2010
Books of the Week:
These three books couldn’t have provided a greater contrast, obviously. Though I hesitated to revisit the pain and anguish of the event, I’d heard so much about Columbine that I thought I’d try it. Anticipating I wouldn’t finish it, I even bought a used copy. To my surprise, I read it quickly and without a pause. Cullen’s style and his conclusions after an intensive study of all the available material make the pages fly by; it’s both understandable and suspenseful. And if you remember the first conclusions thrown out by the press that Harris and Klebold were two bullied geeks determined to kill the jocks who’d persecuted them you’re in for a shock. Frankly, I’m glad my children were out of the awkward-teen phase when I read this book.
Another book I wouldn’t have picked up in the ordinary course of things is Married with Zombies, an Orbit paperback. I believe this is Jesse Petersen’s first book, and there’s enough that resonated with this reader to keep me reading. Though there are some passages I didn’t totally love, this novel about a couple on the brink of divorce (who arrive at their marriage counsellor’s office to discover her eating the previous clients) is actually more about the marriage than the zombies, and Sarah and David come through loud and clear. They’re flawed, opinionated, and almost stuck in their antagonistic grooves, but when the zombies arrive, they unite.
Simon R. Green is a great favorite of mine, and I think From Hell With Love is the best Edwin Drood book so far. As usual, the immense and secretive Drood family is facing enemies from without and within, and as usual Eddie is the family member who stands between the Droods and doom. He pays a huge price in From Hell, but he never despairs, one of the great things about Eddie. And I sure want a suit of that Drood family armor.
What’s the boundary between self-promotion and sheer obnoxiousness?
When I was first published (back when dinosaurs ruled the earth) a book sank or swam without much input from the writer. Writers didn’t send out email blasts, or go on Facebook, or Twitter, or send bookmarks to everyone. Now that there are so many more ways to communicate and the market is so ferociously competitive, the self-promotion factor has risen by a hundred percent.
Publishers now expect writers to self-promote, since it’s well known publishers almost never put money into publicizing a first-time writer or even a third-time writer. Many writers sink any money they’ve made into promotion, figuring that it’s spending money to make money. And in their pursuit of their career, a few writers forget that there are boundaries and limits. Their book becomes a monomania.
If they’re on a panel, they take the mike at every opportunity and mention their own protagonist and their own writing process to the exclusion of the other authors on the panel. They’re not interested in give-and-take, but in using their podium time exclusively to further their ends. It takes a strong moderator to hold them in check. The display is not easy to watch.
They urge their reading public to help them promote in various ways, up to telling their readers to buy from certain stores. I could go on and on.
The thing is, I understand this and I sympathize. The market is shrinking, crowded, and writers are getting cut right and left. And it’s easy for me to stand back and criticize. I’ve made my bones, so to speak. I don’t have anything to prove any more. And I certainly don’t have anything against believing in your own work!
But it seems to me that beyond a certain point, such efforts are counterproductive. I still believe that good books will rise to the top, and I still believe that word-of-mouth is the most effective sales tool EVER. (Maybe I’m naïve in this, because I’ve certainly seen books go to the top of best-sellers lists, books that in my opinion were not well-written. Surely someone was juicing the sales, and it worked.)
I don’t know how I’d react if I were starting out today. Possibly I’d follow the same promotional path. But there is such a thing as generosity with other writers, and frankly, I think good manners look better than monopolizing every scrap of attention.
So, what’s the boundary? I don’t know. I only know when it’s been crossed.
© 2010 Charlaine Harris