Does “Bestseller” Influence Your Book Buying?

When the Pulitzers and other prizes are announced, news stories inform us that more people start buying those books. I suppose the same is true for books that become bestsellers even though that appears to happen while the book is en route to the bestseller lists rather than as the immediate response after an award is announced.

Traditionally, I stay away from bestsellers because, while pricing has changed, they usually cost more than I want to pay, so I traditionally have waited for the hardcover and trade paperback editions to run their course and hold out for the mass market paperback edition.

Some people are immune to bestseller lists because they only read genre books rather than “general fiction.” Others scan the lists for authors they’ve enjoyed reading in the past. So the fact that the book is a bestseller isn’t their main concern other than that status creates buzz and makes it more likely to be noticed.

I tend to read all of the books by certain authors (Donna Tartt, Mark Helprin, Pat Conroy, Erin Morgenstern), the latest books in series I’ve gotten hooked on (e.g., Dean Knoontz’ Jane Hawke series), and magical realism books such as those by Alice Hoffman. Otherwise, it often takes me many months to decide on a bestseller from an author I know little about (still haven’t bought Where the Crawdads Sing, but am tempted.)

The bestseller list at the beginning of this post is the NYT listing on Amazon today. See anything you like? American Dirt has gotten mired in controversy. I seldom read anything by J.D. Robb. I may ultimately read the Ann Patchett book if I run low on reading material. Friends’ viewpoints about any of these might influence me except when those friends either (a) read nothing but a genre I don’t like, or (b) read only the most politically correct books of the year.)

My approach to buying what I buy ends up being chaotic with plenty of madness in my “method.” Since I’m always reading a book, I mean daily, I don’t understand people who read one book a year or stopped reading books once they finished their last English course in school.

How do you decide to buy the books you buy?

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Conjure Woman’s Cat.”

 

Do most writers want to be Rowling, Grisham, Roberts, and Patterson?

No.

It’s fair to say that most writers want to sell more copies of their books than they do, that they wish small press books were noticed by the media and by those handing out awards, and that they had the resources to do on-location research anywhere in the world.

However, I doubt that most of us want to be in the public eye 24/7. Writers don’t attract paparazzi like movie stars do, but those who are famous can’t really hide. Frankly, who wants a tour bus pulling up in their driveway with people wanting to see their houses, their cats, their writing desks, and even their sock drawers? I don’t.

In the FAQ of a blog written by a lady who adopted a coyote, one question is: “When can we see Charlie?” The answer is: “Charlie doesn’t want to see you.” I feel like Charlie. I don’t want people showing up and taking selfies of themselves (with me in them) to post on their Facebook pages.

Suffice it to say, there are consequences to being famous that many of us don’t want to cope with. Perhaps many of us want to be successful and anonymous. A lot of writers are successful without attracting the attention of Rowling, Grisham, Roberts, and Patterson. That sounds good because we’re sort of under the RADAR.

Plus, if you’re a really famous writer, you’re “forced” to blurb people’s books, serve on panels discussing the use of adverbs, appearing at conventions, and doing readings in places you’ve never heard of. Not my thing. When I read the newsletters of so-called mid-list authors, I see that they’re juggling time between writing, personal time, and events. I don’t like events. I don’t want to be there, much less to give a speech. That’s not me. I have a feeling it’s not a lot of people.

Past a point, fame and success both have their prices. I’m not willing to pay them. I would love being the successful enigmatic writer who sells 100000000000 books a year that nobody can find due to an unlisted telephone number and an unpublished address. I’d post a fake picture on my Facebook page and website that looks like one of those criminals that used to be displayed on the most-wanted lists in post offices.

People would say, “Hell, he looks like he’s guilty of something. Let’s not go looking for him.” Good. I can live with that persona.

Malcolm

 

I expect book editors to catch the over-use of a pet word or phrase

I just finished reading a novel by a “global bestselling author.” It was published by an imprint of a major publisher. Since it was a mystery/crime novel rather than a satire, I wonder why the publisher’s editors didn’t catch the fact that the author kept using the word “curtly” over and over again, as in, “It’s not my fault,” she said, curtly.

The first time I saw the adverb, it worked even though writing teachers generally don’t like adverbs because they tell the reader something rather than show the reader something. However, in a fast-paced dialogue sequence made up of short sentences, the adverb seemed justified. The second time I saw “curtly,” it was used appropriately, but I wondered why the author didn’t use something else rather than re-using “curtly.”

I didn’t count how many times he used this word. However, its use was excessive, noticeable, distracting, and lazy. His editor should have caught it.

Sometimes when I use a word, I think it’s the first time I’ve used it in a story. But then I notice it a few more times. In Word, I can see how often I’ve written it and where with the “find” function. It tells me how many times I chosen the word and highlights its occurrences. This makes it easy to change some instances of the word with synonyms or to rewrite the passages.

Now, perhaps the author in question is powerful enough to overrule his editor. Okay, the editor’s off the hook. But in this case, the author appeared to take the lazy way out.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the Florida Folk Magic Series of crime and conjure novels.

 

How to become a famous writer

Years ago, ruffians from the English department posted a gag flyer on school bulletin boards showing a hopeless oaf pictured with the quote: “Yesterday I couldn’t even spell ‘writer.’ Now I are one.”

For me, that flyer began a long-time distrust of high school and college English departments. The reasons run deep and belong in another post. Suffice it to say, English departments aren’t high on my list of steps to take in becoming a famous writer. Instead, I suggest the following:

Don’t Write Good.

Readers don’t like good even though many of them claim them have to have read “the good book” and that they adore every novel that features people who helps the homeless or who starve their families while donating time and money to the Salvation Army.

What readers really want is bad. Why do you think they liked The Da Vinci Code? “Christ, you’re telling me Jesus was married? Where can I get my copy?” They like heroes who use unnecessary force (as seen on the show “24”) because those tactics bring the kinds of results that generate closure to readers fighting for simple answers that work in a complex, politically correct rules.

It goes without saying that readers also buy books with back-cover blurbs like “Nymphomaniac Defrocks Beloved Priest in Forgotten Monastery” and  “Shy Housewife Kills Terrorists in Downtown Chicago with Illegal Weapons Stolen from Wimpy Cops.”

Commit a Crime

Writers with platforms sell books. If you threw your mama from a train, you have a much better chance of writing salable books than a hapless MFA-graduate whose “platform” is (a) writing good, (b) An MFA, and (c) A resume filled with angst-ridden poems and short stories set in an unbelievable universe where angst-ridden stuff actually gets onto bestseller lists.

A criminal record shows prospective agents and publishers you know how to catch the public’s attention and produce a novel that will sell 50,000 copies or more and attract options from Warner Brothers and 20th Century-Fox. What you don’t want is a novel that might attract options from the Hallmark Channel because it produces material from authors who write good.

Caution: Judges and lawmakers generally won’t allow a person to profit from a crime. If you write a novel called How I Threw Mama from the Train, your earnings will be confiscated if you really threw your mama from a train. Write about something else, using your fame as a criminal to get the attention of agents, publishers and readers. Your stuff might sell if you write good even though writing bad is better.

Become a Movie Star

If you’re a movie star or a famous Hollywood personality who looks like a slut or a stud on the red carpet, you can become a bestselling author even if you’re illiterate. How? Ghostwriters, darling. A sure way to get a publisher’s attention is by “writing” a memoir or novel based on a true story that dishes out plenty of scandal about your co-stars, lovers, and agents. The public adores stories that tell them their favorite stars aren’t really as pure as the driven snow. A bonus for movie stars is writing a book about an issue even if an expert writes it for you. Do this, and you’ll soon be testifying at Congressional hearings even though you probably know less about the issue than the average man or woman on the street.

The famous movie star approach also works for famous senators, representatives, governors, politicians and other idiots who are smart enough to understand that readers want your name on their coffee tables even if they never read a word of the drivel between the covers.

Plagiarize, Get Caught, Repent

Create a novel with a compelling plot, multidimensional characters, and a jaw-dropping title that, under normal conditions, will probably sell only one hundred copies.  Not to worry. This novel will have a secret weapon, and the big payoff comes when the secret is discovered: you’ve stolen thousands of its words from famous novels. When people find out, you’ll deny it, of course. Your readers will hate you. As your crime becomes harder to deny, you’ll claim “fair use.” That won’t work, but it may keep the wolves from your door for a while.

Finally, you’ll issue a news releasing claiming that Satan told you to do it and that your heartily sorry and never meant to harm anyone. You’ll refund the money you’ve made off the book and check yourself into a rehab center. Several years will go by. People will forget you. That’s when you strike with a book written in your own words. Readers will buy it like hotcakes because folks love repentant sinners who reform and start walking the straight and narrow. Even the New York Times bestseller list and Oprah will love you.

Your English teachers will never share any of these secrets with you. That’s okay, because nobody really needs those people as they much one needs oneself and a plan for success that really brings in the big bucks.

Malcolm