Thursday, April 22, 2010

Stupid Readers

Publishers and literary agents know best, hence they are the gatekeepers to the world of books.

It's the readers who must be stupid, then.

Rosie Alison couldn't get a publisher to take an interest in her manuscript, and she was too proud to use her husband's connections to make them pay attention. She's married to the man who owns the Waterstone book shops that are scattered all over England. She wanted to make it on her own merits, on the merits of her writing.

Ten submissions to ten different publishers, and she was rejected every time. Not ready to throw in the towel, she sent out another round to the small independents, and one out of nine said yes.

The Very Thought Of You was published by England's Alma Books, a small place that accepts unagented manuscripts. A small operation, and Ms. Alison had next to no publicity for her book.

Yet it sold. It generated its own buzz because it is a good read. It's entertaining.

It's not what the literary agents and the big publishers are looking for. It's what the stupid readers must want, however, because the novel has been shortlisted for the Orange prize, right next to the likes of Hilary Mantel and Barbara Kingsolver.

Her book sold without getting a review in a major newspaper because a few people took a chance on it, read it, and then recommended it to their friends who must also be stupid readers. Stupid because they snapped up a book that actually told a story and didn't have a political axe to grind, a message to be pounded into thick skulls.

Orange Prize jury chair Daisy Goodwin gets it, and you'd be hard pressed to call her stupid. She's aware that readers love the book, just as she noticed that publishers had cranked out a lot of "grim, depressing" novels. The pleasure of reading, she noted, seems to have gone missing from the fiction shelves. When the stupid readers happen upon something enjoyable, they share the news with their friends, and The Very Thought Of You sold on that simple concept.

Yet the literary establishment continues to cheer for those "grim, depressing" collections of words, while the stupid readers vote with their wallets and buy what the literati have ignored.

Will they take a clue from Rosie Alison's success and re-consider what the public wants in a novel?

Stupid readers. Looking to be entertained when they pick up a book.


Aeneas said...

I'm counting on the 'stupid' readers as well. That's why I'm doing what I call 'independant' publishing. You know... those vanity presses. :) If 20 stupid readers buy it, I consider that I'm ahead of what I had when beating down the doors of the establishment.

Still... Alyson had connections I don't==lots of friends because of who her husband is. And a venue to put her books on the shelf. Not quite accidental, don't you think?

O hAnnrachainn said...

Once she got a publisher, do you think maybe her husband ordered a few crates of her books and had them displayed in prominent spots in his bookstores?

Adds to the frustration of getting noticed when you don't have someone in the business to pull some strings for you.

If you can sell any books to the general public, you're ahead of the game. At least your novel is out there instead of collecting dust.

Good luck with the marketing.