The First Reader and I share a kindle account. We’ve talked about separating it out, but we do enjoy many of the same books, and so we haven’t made the effort. This has led to a couple of problems, though. He never knows if a book is a library book, a KU read, or what… and he’s been partway through reading a book when it vanished. The other problem is that I’ll buy or borrow books for many reasons, not always because it’s a book I’m looking forward to reading. Sometimes, it’s sheer morbid curiosity.
“Honey,” He twisted around in his chair. “There’s the book on the kindle. Monks who solve mysteries?”
“Oh, I’m sorry. That wasn’t supposed to be for reading. It was because the blurb on facebook said it was the reincarnation of Dorothy Sayers and Ellis Peters and I took offense.”
“It’s mostly preaching.” He informed me. “Not badly written, just…”
I mean, if you enjoy pithy little homilies every other page or so, then it’s probably a decent book for you, although the only resemblance to Ellis Peters is that there are monks, and to Dorothy Sayers in that there are college deans. But if preaching isn’t what you bought a book for, then you’re going to be disappointed and put off. I mean, personally I was fairly sure that the over-inflated blurb was doing the book a disservice – far better to create a reasonable simile than to oversell and under-deliver. But there are other books that have disappointed me severely, and I look back now and realize that what put me off a favorite series (for example) wasn’t entirely the fault of the author.
You see, sometime in the last couple of decades, authors ran into what I call sandwich rules. I ran into sandwich rules as a young bride – I’d been unaware that a sandwich was anything more than bread and stuff in the middle prior to that. Afterwards, I learned that if I didn’t make the sandwich just right, I’d have to make it again, and again… and usually I wasn’t told before I started how it was supposed to be. Authors who had previously written books full of fun and entertaining mysteries suddenly learned that they had to go back and write in a heaping portion of social justice activism, or else…
I used to really love the Cat Who mysteries. Who wouldn’t? Two preternaturally intelligent Siamese cats assisting with the solving of murders… but as the series went on, I stopped reading them. From having hunted every book down that I could find, and waiting on release dates, I went to not bothering, and maybe picking a copy up if I found it in the thrift shop cheap enough. Because the author, voluntarily or not, made the books into social justice sermons, and that wasn’t why I was reading them to begin with. It’s not the only series or author I would stop reading over the years for this reason, it’s just the saddest. There are other cat cozy mystery books, but they weren’t the same.
The authors had run afoul of the publisher’s sandwich rules. “That mayo is too white! bring it back when you have some chipotle aioli in it.” And it didn’t matter to protest that the author had been conscious of melding flavors when they made the sandwich, and chipotle was not going to fit in well. It didn’t matter what the reader’s taste was, it was all about the flavor of the week with the publisher. Then the publisher would get angry with the author for not selling well enough, and the author would find themselves abandoned, staring down at a sh*t sandwich in their hand wondering what happened. The surviving authors started shoveling whatever the editors and publishers wanted into their books as fast as they could, and bookstores were stocked with a lot of unappetizing messes on their shelves.
I was listening to a podcast on entrepreneurship earlier this week. Having retired my entertainment business, I’m still running a publishing business, albeit much more slow-paced than before (thank goodness). One of the ladies who makes a guest appearance says ‘I run my own business because I’m a control freak.’ and I was sitting there nodding my head and thinking ‘Yeah! I am a control freak. I want my books to be the best they can possibly be, and to that end, I write what I want to write. I don’t have to write the flavor of the week to try and sell the book to gatekeepers. I don’t have to sandwich in the dog poo of social activism and then tell readers that’s not what they are tasting. It’s chocolate, yeah, yeah.’
So if you want to write a book with sermons in it, have at it. I’ll warn you that it might not sell well, and will probably get bad reviews, but hey! That’s your prerogative. You get to make your sandwich with whatever flavors you want in it, and if you don’t want to mix chipotle aioli and liverwurst, you don’t have to. You get to hire your editors, and fire them when they commit sins against your writing voice. You get to have a voice in what your covers look like. You don’t have to go back in the kitchen and make that sammich again until you please the gatekeepers. You have… Freedom!