Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Keeping up the Standard

My book club recently debated "The Midnight Palace" by Carlos Ruiz Zafron, and while none of us much liked it (and it only scored 5/10 in the end) one member had a particular reason for giving it a low score. She had read something else by the same author, and said that this one was very similar. Both, apparently, were about groups of sixteen-year-old youngsters facing supernatural terror and having to solve a mystery. As she read "The Midnight Palace" she was irked by the feeling that it was rather pointless as she'd been over this ground before.

My husband is a big fan of David Eddings, but only his early books. Later on in his career, he tells me, Eddings churns out almost identical books, with whole swathes of speech and action lifted wholesale from his previous works.

The problem is that when an author become successful enough to have a really big following of fans guaranteed to buy anything they write, it seems that it ceases to matter what they write. Publishers give them a deadline, and they just scribble down the same mass-produced dross that worked for them before. They cease to have a reason to come up with anything original and clever, and stick to the formula that has always worked knowing that whatever they send off to their publishers will be published and marketed, and will sell well.

Barbara Cartland was possibly the worst offender; one of the most prolific writers of all time, she could write one of her historical romance novels in a matter of months, and sold over a billion books in her lifetime. But she's far from the only one. Many writers get stuck in a rut. I think there are even LDS authors who are victims of their popularity in this way.

The problem is that it short-changes the readers. However much I enjoyed the first book, I don't want another one the same. And surely, surely, at some point the popularity of the writer will wear off as readers discover that the same characters and plots are cropping up again and again? No? Really?

After my first book was published I was asked for a sequel, which I wrote. I then wrote a third book - a historical novel. To my surprise, it was turned down. I had mistakenly thought that once you were a published author you had a "foot in the door" and they would publish anything you wrote. Not so. For those of us who don't sell in the millions (or even thousands) the quality of our work is the only selling point it has. So it has to be kept up.

I have now come to see that as a good thing. Because a book I write isn't going to be published if it isn't good. I'm not going to sell a guaranteed number of copies to my adoring fans so I have to come up with something original and good if I want it to be published.

And that's why my books are better than Barbara Cartland's. Buy one and see if I'm right.

4 comments:

TRIBE'S said...

I will buy your books because I know they WILL be good. I stopped buying one LDS writer because I couldn't take one more of the same story that waasn't even very good the first time around. But it took my Mother in Law longer to figure it out. Finally after about 4 series of basicly the same plot she finally said, "I think you're right, she does write the same story." Ya think? Thank you for caring enough for the reader to write a new plot and a good story!

Jennie said...

Your books are much better than Barbara Cartland's and a host of other well-known writers I could name both in the LDS market and general market. It really annoys me when I'm sent a book to review and I can't see anything very different from that writer's previous book except perhaps the names and setting.

Anna Buttimore said...

TRIBE'S and Jennie, thank you so very much. I do try.

Gale Sears said...

Amen Anna!
You and your books are awesome!