What are the odds?

>> Thursday, August 7, 2014



Before I get to the writing this morning, I wanted to post something interesting I ran across in a recent Time Magazine article. It's called "Summer Books" by Lev Grossman, and he talks about how some summers are defined by a particular book that becomes the summer "beach read" of the year. It doesn't happen every year, he argues, but when it does--like with 2012's Gone Girl or 2002's The Lovely Bones--those books define the summer. (He lists many more.) These books, he argues, deserve the title of "book of the summer" because they were unexpected hits--so he discounts books like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows because that was going to be a hit whenever it was published. (Here's the full article.)

The most interesting thing about the article to me, and the thing I thought would be useful to kids book writers, is a sidebar in which he playfully "gives odds" on which new books might potentially become 2014's "book of the summer." (The article appeared in the July7/July 14 issue; I'm a little behind on my reading, as usual.) He gives odds on each book, then lists pros and cons for why it might or might not become a special, bestselling, widely-read and -discussed book. It's the pros and cons I think are highly interesting. Here are the books and their descriptions, as presented in the magazine:

2-1
One Plus One by Jojo Moyes
Pros: Single mom plus nerdy millionaire equals unlikely romance. And there's a road trip!
Cons: Very few killer sharks.

2-1 
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Pros: Blind daughter of a locksmith meets reluctant Nazi engineering whiz! What more do you want?
Cons: Complex, historical fiction may not have the necessary mass appeal.

3-1
The Fever by Megan Abbott
Pros: Small-town girls hit by mystery syndrome. Tense, erotically fraught, has Gillian Flynn blurb.
Cons: Much adolescent angst. Are the stakes high enough?

4-1
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
Pros: Rich people on an island; sharp, funny-sad writing; a head-snapping fourth-quarter reveal.
Cons: It's a YA novel, so some adults might pass.

4-1
Landline by Rainbow Rowell
Pros: Keen psychological insight, irrepressible humor and a supernatural twist: a woman can call her husband in the past.
Cons: Relative lack of violence, perverse sex.

5-1
One Kick by Chelsea Cain
Pros: Child kidnapping victim grows up to become ass-kicking vigilante looking for other missing children.
Cons: A thriller but maybe not a rule breaker.

6-1
The Quick by Lauren Owen
Pros: Set in lovely, lush Victorian London. Plus: vampires, vampires, vampires.
Cons: Owen's pacing is slow and artful--maybe too slow for some.

8-1
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot by David Shafer
Pros: Genius techno-thriller ala Neal Stephenson, powered by social-media info-conspiracy ala Dave Eggers.
Cons: Low-key romance may not play to all quadrants.


Okay. Interesting stuff! But what's most interesting to me are the pros and cons. The pros work best when they have a great hook, don't they? "Single mom plus nerdy millionaire equals unlikely romance." "Blind daughter of a locksmith meets reluctant Nazi engineering whiz!" "Small-town girls hit by mystery syndrome." "a woman can call her husband in the past." "Child kidnapping victim grows up to become ass-kicking vigilante looking for other missing children." The ones that seem like they have a harder chance of striking it big are the ones with hard-to-describe plots. Although there's a lot to be said for the kind of mystery you can't explain without giving the whole book away, ala Gone Girl or We Were Liars, in which case a book can hit it big just from people saying, "You have to read this."

The cons are really instructive too. Here they are here, with my own comments:

1) Very few killer sharks. (He's being jokey, but he's does have a point: outrageous things do sell books.)

2) Complex, historical fiction may not have the necessary mass appeal. (These kinds of books win awards, but do they get the broader readership?)

3) Much adolescent angst. Are the stakes high enough? (We don't have to worry about the angst--it comes with our territory. But "Are the stakes high enough?" is a question we should be asking in every book we write.)

4) It's a YA novel, so some adults might pass. (Not a YA-writer's problem!)

5) Relative lack of violence, perverse sex. (Again, not a kids book-writer's problem, probably, unless they're writing high-YA or New Adult. But it does pay to give the readers what they want, no matter what the age.

6) A thriller but maybe not a rule breaker. (Love this. Are we writing the same old book that's been written before, or are we pushing, maybe even breaking, the rules of our genres a little bit?)

7) Owen's pacing is slow and artful--maybe too slow for some. (Pacing is more important the younger you go! Get to the main problem quickly, and then don't let up.)

8) Low-key romance may not play to all quadrants. (True for YA: do you have some love-interest stuff in there? That will help it play to different readers. For MG, do you have an all boy-book? An all-girl book? That will limit your readership too.)


Food for thought! I'd love to hear other opinions about all this.

1 comments:

tanita✿davis August 7, 2014 at 2:43 PM  

It's all about the hook...
Thanks for sharing this.

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