This blog is devoted to remembrances and essays on general topics, including literature and writing. It has evolved over time, and some older posts on this site might reflect a different perspective and purpose.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

When Authors Coast

            Several months ago I read a mystery novel by an established author in the genre. I’d read a number of his books before and had been favorably impressed. This time, not so much.
            The plot was loosely woven and there were several holes left in it at the end; there was a romantic subplot written at the level of understanding one would expect from a junior high school student, and at the end, where the killer was holding a hostage, the author could barely be bothered to go through the motions of building up any tension or coming up with an interesting wrinkle in the way the hostage was rescued.
            It almost felt as if the author had turned the outline over to someone else to write the actual book and hadn’t given the product more than a cursory look. I’d purchased the book used and barely felt I’d gotten my money’s worth.

Going Through the Motions

            I can’t say for certain what was going on, but it felt as if the author had gotten tired of the series he’d been writing and was just going through the motions. And while I can understand the feeling, believe me, that’s a real occupational hazard, probably made worse by the pressure on authors to generate more and more books.
            Some authors manage to stay fresh and keep up a level of quality in a running series, and I hope someday to be one of those. Some grasp when they are starting to wear out the horse and get off it (or, try to, as Conan Doyle did, though the waterfall didn’t do the job). But others, either out of bad judgment or a desire to keep the revenue stream going, soldier on even though the quality of work is diminishing.
            Authors go bad in a number of different ways. Some, like the one I mentioned, stop paying attention to the critical details of their writing; some begin to take themselves too seriously and bloviate philosophically; some keep falling back on the quirks of a growing set of characters; many write longer and longer books that could have been cut by a hundred pages with no harm to the story.

The Co-Dependent Publisher

            Sadly, once an author reaches a certain level of success, it seems no one is willing to challenge him or her on a second-rate effort or a terrible idea. As long as there appear to be willing readers out there, the publisher probably isn’t going to tell a best-selling author to spend another six months on a rewrite. In that sense, the people in the book industry become co-dependent enablers of mediocre work.
            The one ray of light in this dark situation is that the readers can serve as at least a bit of a corrective. A few days after reading the book I described at the beginning of this piece, I went to Kindle to see how the readers had rated it.
            Most of the author’s other books were rated at 4.25 to 4.50 stars out of five, but the one I complained of got only 3.50 stars. It would appear that while the author’s agent, publisher and editor couldn’t tell it was a lesser work (or didn’t care), the readers smelled it out. Maybe if enough readers speak up, the publishers will listen — though I doubt it.