Then More Stuff Happens

We live in an strange literary climate where books published by small independent publishers are held to a higher standard than anything published by one of the handful of major publishing houses.

I’m currently reading a book published by one of the major companies, and nothing happens. Well, that’s not exactly true. Stuff happens. Then more stuff happens. And even more stuff happens. But I am now three-quarters of the way through the book, and all I’ve gleaned from the story is that a lot of stuff happens.

But nothing happens to move the story forward. I presume all this “stuff” — murders, crooks double-crossings, political shenanigans, human trafficking — will lead to a cohesive ending, but I’m not sure if I will ever know what happens. For one thing, the story is too convoluted with at least a dozen point-of-view characters, mostly criminals, and I haven’t sorted all of them out yet. (A serious problem is that too many names are closely related, like Donnie and Danbury and Donaldson). So even if I read to book to the end, chances are I won’t know the whole of it. And for another thing, I’m ready to give up. I really don’t care to read about women (and men) crime bosses and gambling and prostitution and all sorts of other nefarious behavior gotten up to by the bad guys. There has to be at least an equal amount of action by the so-called “good guys,” but so far, I haven’t identified any good guys.

I do know that any such book written by an unknown and published by an independent company would have been panned by any readers, not acclaimed as “gripping,” and “raucous” and “unflinching” and “exceptional.” Though, come to think of it, those are rather namby-pamby words to describe a bestseller, as if even the reviewers had a hard time coming up with something good to say about this book. Actually, looking more closely at the reviews, they seem to be about the series as a whole rather than this particular book, so perhaps the reviewers couldn’t finish it, either.

Although it might seem like it, I’m not really picking on this book, just using it as an example of today’s literary climate. Another book I recently finished by a bestselling author who has been around forever, read like a junior high school kid’s attempt at writing a novel, with way too much repetition and explaining, and way too little in the way of characterization. Still, that book made some sort of sense. Stuff happened, but that stuff seemed to tie into the main storyline.

I suppose I have to take the reader (me) into consideration. I have read so many books (about one a day) for so many decades that I could be a tad jaded.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

Ugly Book Cover

A recent reviewer of More Deaths Than One liked the book well enough, but thought the cover was SO UGLY. (The capital letters were the reviewer’s.) Perhaps it is. The printed version is not what I had envisioned. It was supposed to be an eerie night-vision-goggle-green painting with purple lettering (as you see on the right sidebar) and it turned out to be emerald and raspberry sherbet pink. The painting also lost much of its detail. However, whatever the vagaries of the printing process that gave More Deaths Than One a less than appealing cover, they gifted Daughter Am I with a stunning cover. Instead of the happy turquoise you see on my sidebar, the cover printed up as a gorgeous deep and brooding turquoise that is a perfect match for the story.

I have no idea any more if my covers are good or bad. They are what I wanted at the time. I do know they are not standard fare, and they do have an untextured glossy cover, which, apparently, readers equate with self-published books. The fad today in the publishing industry is embossing, foil accents, textures, and matte finishing, but once upon a time if a book didn’t have a glossy cover, it wasn’t considered worth reading. I found an interesting article about shunning glossy covers here: “An open letter to Trade Publishers“.

Like all prejudices, this prejudice against glossy covers is based on ignorance and assumption. Covers do entice people to buy books and covers put people off from buying books, but a cover isn’t the book. Nor do glossy covers mean self-published books. Even so, some self-published books are better than the books published by the major publishers, and all of the books I have read recently that were published by small independent presses are vastly superior to any recent book published by the majors.

I’m not sure what the answer is. People will buy what they want to buy, or rather they will buy what they are trained to buy. That is the nature of fad and fashion. Personally, if I see one more book cover with a man’s naked torso on the cover, I am going to scream. We are no longer allowed to objectify women, but apparently it’s okay to objectify men. But that’s beside the point. The point is that naked chests are the current fad for romances and so that is what readers have been trained to look for. Before naked chests, the fad was jewelry on the cover. Before that, it was men and women together. Will small presses ever have the clout of the big ones so that they can dictate the public’s taste and prejudice to this extent when it comes to covers? I doubt it, yet that doesn’t mean small press books are less enticing, nor does it mean the independent presses should become “me too”s, trying to catch the leftovers from the big guys by copying their phony fads. 

It’s nice to think that there are real readers out there, readers who will buy books based on the quality of the words, but I wonder how many there are. Not enough, probably, to afford small press authors the esteem given to those published by the major presses. But the major presses publish pap — stories so homogenized and tasteless that all they have going for them is fancy coverings, so where’s the esteem in that?

My Books, My Way — Yay!

This is the second to last day of my blog tour. I wasn’t sure I’d manage to do all the work — 52 stops in 35 days. When you count the posts I did here to promote the tour, that means I wrote eighty-seven articles in five weeks. Whew! I truly did not intend the tour to be so long and involved — somehow it just took off on its own. I have a lot of sleep to catch up on — too many late nights — but the tour was worth it. Not in sales so much, but in what I learned about my books, me, other blogs. Because of all the interviews, I had to think about where I came from in regards to writing, and where I want to go. It turned out to be quite intensive. I do not recommend such a long tour, however. A week or two is sufficient.

Today I am at Book Reader’s Heaven with Glenda Bixler talking about My Books, My Way: Experiences With a Small Independent Publisher. It’s a bit ironic. Yesterday I started reading Dan Brown’s Demons & Angels for no other reason than I somehow ended up with the book, and it struck me that the main difference between small presses and the large corporate publishers is the distribution capacity the big guys have. It certainly is not quality. I have seen some excellent books published by small presses, and Demons & Angels doesn’t even come close.  There are way too many inconsistencies, both internal and external.

Robert Langdon is supposed to be an intelligent fellow, knowledgable about symbols, yet when he finds out that physicists are trying to answer such questions as where we came from, what life is made of, and the meaning of the universe, he is astounded. Why? That’s what physics is. Or what it does. Any halfway educated person knows that. He’s also astounded when he discovers that a scientist was also a priest. Why? If he knows anything at all about ancient symbols, he would know that many of today’s religious symbols were ancient scientific symbols. He would also know that the “priests” in ancient times were scientists — science was religion, or perhaps religion was science — and that the division between church and science is a relatively new occurence. This post is not supposed to be a dissertation on religion, but a refutation of Langdon’s character. He simply would not have been surprised if he was as smart and knowledgable as he was supposed to be.

Perhaps that example is a bit esoteric. So try this: the scientists explain to Langdon that a bit of anti-matter  is suspended in the center of a container, held there by two magnetic fields. Yet when Langdon looks for the bit of matter, he searches for it on the bottom of the container, and then is surprised to find it suspended in the center of the container. Sheesh. If that’s the kind of writing that is acceptable to corporate publishers, I’m glad not to be a part of it. Though I wouldn’t mind a bit of their cash.

If you want to know why I am glad to be published by a small independent press, you can find the article here: My Books, My Way: Experiences With a Small Independent Publisher.

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