Mark Terry

Friday, May 20, 2011

Literary Fossils

May 20, 2011
Michael Stackpole has another good post about e-books. He writes:

It doesn’t take a genius to know that writers’ careers have their ups and downs. Go to any used bookstore and browse through the stacks. It’s like looking at career fossils. You can find writers who were huge, once upon a time, and whose work has vanished from new bookstore shelves. There are tons of reasons why an author can vanish, not the least of which is that the overall downturn in sales means that an author becomes too expensive to publish. Through no fault of the author’s—aside from having had some success in building an audience, that is—the publisher drops her. *Splash*

This struck me partly because I've experienced this - just about every year for the last 10 years or so. My sister owns a lakefront condo in northern Michigan and we typically spend a week there every summer. The complex has a clubhouse with pool tables and ping-pong tables, handy for the inevitable rainy day in northern Michigan, and against one wall is a bookshelf filled with mostly mass market paperbacks that appear to be culled from the bestseller lists over the last 30 or 40 years. I've found it both fascinating and disconcerting to go over the books and say, "Oh, yeah, man, he was HUGE for a couple books in the '80s..."

Of course, publishers have decided that if the author is big enough, they never die, they just keep writing books forever, hence Robert Ludlum, VC Andrews, and now Robert B. Parker. I keep waiting for the readers to feel ripped off or disgusted, but it hasn't happened yet that I can see. And then there are the other "branded" authors like James Patterson, Clive Cussler and Tom Clancy whose names go on the books and may or may not have some actual involvement with their writing (like story ideas, outlines, editing), but who don't actually write the books.

But there are plenty of former bestselling authors who were hot for a few years then just disappeared, poof.

Ah well. Living fossils in their own way, I suppose.

What do you think?


Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

If publishers had been the same in the Victorian era as they are today we'd be looking forward to the newest Dickens novel!

I still have the quaint idea that a book is a work of art, a communication between an individual, with a unique vision, and whoever reads the book. Er...okay...maybe the vision of two unique individuals working together. Anyway, in my view, one author cannot write another author's books without turning them into soulless, useless mechanical constructions.

9:05 AM  
Anonymous Jim said...

Funny you should mention V.C. Andrews because I know Andy Neiderman -- or should say I knew him forty years ago -- when we were both English teachers in South Fallsburg (in the area called the "Borscht Belt" or the "Jewish Alps" of the Catskills) -- and I've not seen him since around 1970 or so.

Andy's biggest success is probably his novel The Devil's Advocate -- which was made into the movie of the same name (with Keanu Reeves, Al Pacino, Charlize Theron). He's published at least three dozen books under his own name over the past four decades and even more as V.C.Andrews (selected by her family following the death of the actual V.C. Andrews). His novels tend to be macabre thrillers, essentially the same genre as Andrews, so I can see how he could fit in as her replacement.

12:29 PM  
Blogger Robert Carraher said...

I love those old "real authors" and love to go back and revist them. I'm currently hung up in the "crime writers/noir/paperback" era of the late 40's and 50's. Personally Patterson is a machine. I recently reread a few of his early books, before he became famous, and all I can say is it's a good thing he got lucky and now writes with or has other writers write for him. Some of those books were dogs. Cussler never was my cup of tea either, I prefer stories and authors that put some sweat into it. It's a shame that the publishers drop some of these guys.

8:20 PM  

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