Wednesday, April 15, 2009

When the Going (And Everything Else) Gets Rough

Question of the day: Do you feel the current state of the economy is dictating what books are being published? For instance, my second novel is about a mother caring for her adult daughter who suffers from a chronic illness. I am struggling to find an agent for it, although all my rejections are personal. You were able to write about cancer and yet didn't scare away agents, why is writing about diseases now so taboo?

I'm pulling this question out of one that I answered last week because I think it's important enough not to get lost in the post from last week, and I definitely wanted to open it up for discussion.

My thoughts are this: selling a downbeat book - in any market - is tough. When we shopped The Department, we certainly did hear that "cancer books don't sell." We heard it pretty often, in fact. But we got four offers nevertheless. Why? Well, for one, as someone pointed out in the comments section last week, that particular book used cancer as a plot device but it wasn't specifically about cancer, and, certainly, it can never be classified as a downer. BUT. In retrospect, knowing what I know now, do cancer books sell to readers, much less publishers? Eh. The jury is still out.

The bottom line is that people often shy away from uncomfortable subjects in their literature. Cancer, death of a child (I won't read a book that deals with this), autism, anything like that...all too real subjects that a lot of us have to face in our daily lives. We're given a choice at how we want to divert ourselves, so why would we choose something that's already been tough for us to handle in our every day lives? It's a shame - as someone who wrote a "cancer" book, I'll say that much. Because, again, I never thought of my book as a "cancer" book, but some people did...and that's life. I'm grateful that some publishers DIDN'T because it never would have gotten the offers or the recognition that it did, but readers, well, in the end, they're what count, since they're the ones who buy books, and thus, publishers HAVE to consider readers' interests when they offer on books. Maybe they thought mine was an aberration - an uplifting cancer book that would defy typical book buying patterns. It sort of did. It did okay. Didn't tank, didn't hit the best seller list. Did respectably.

But. That was then. That was in a good market with a cheery environment when readers and the population in general were willing to partake in non-upbeat entertainment. These days, I'm not so sure. I firmly believe that part of Time of My Life's success is due to the current state of our nation: people want diversion, they want to be hopeful, they want something that shows that the glass is still half full, and yes, I DO think that publishers are and will shy away from downer stuff. It's silly, in some ways, because by the time a book is bought, packaged and hits the shelves, we very well may be out of this funk, but I also don't blame them for being cautious. It's a business after all, and as always, they're trying to project where readers will be in a year or two...and when they're off, they lose money big time. So they're hedging on their better safe than sorry motto, and yeah, I guess I don't blame them.

Anyone else seeing these trends or think that the current state of the world is affecting what publishers are buying?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have to agree--I'd bet the sad book market is suffering a bit now, even though publication is 2 years out which is kind of screwy.

I know what you mean about books involving dead children--as a mother I stopped reading those things because they disturb me too much.