Reading Chronicles

IV.  Lest we Forget

One best-seller a year per top tier author had seemed normal for many publishing houses and it was all they could ask of successful writers like David Baldacci, Lee Child, or Nelson DeMille. But alas, times change, the reading public grows increasingly fickle and impatient. Apparently the genre consumers of today will totally forget about their favorite mystery, spy thriller, and true crime writers before the year is through. 

That's why a recent trend finds many best-selling novelists filling in the gaps between their annual chart toppers. With the advent of e-books, many publishers, citing the strong possibilities of even higher sales for their major work, have suggested that their elite authors write a short story or novella featuring their most popular mainstays and publish it as a $.99 or $1.99 quickie e-book on Amazon of Barnes and Noble. Typically the publishers do not pay extra, the expenses come out of the writers' advances, and they take a paltry percentage of the shorty's sales, all gravy. Sound like a good deal? Quite a few have taken them up on it.

For instance, Nelson DeMille has recently released a long short story as a Kindle Single called The Book Case. Other popular authors such as, David Baldacci, Dean Koontz, Karin Slaughter and Jennifer Weiner have bridged the novel-to-novel gap with short fiction, but for the most part  it seems their fans do not seem happy with these forays. There's this critique of Weiner's Recalculating by a loyal fan with the Amazon sobriquet "shazam":
"I've read almost all her books and this is like another author altogether. Obvious, overbearing, fake and totally banal. Not worth even a penny. Where did she go?" 
Do genre readers really enjoy short fiction? Well, periodicals like Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Analog Science Fiction and Fact stand to this day as a testament to an affirmative on that question. The trend to harsh criticism may have more to do with the actual quality of the pieces compared to what readers expect. Who knows, perhaps many of these tidbits are comparable to the bonus tracks you see on collections of music, or leftover ideas that never made the cut. After all, most writer's likely have something already in the works when they are called upon to produce more. Wouldn't it be tempting to be even a little slap-dash in the interest of getting something to press. However, while considering the dissatisfied fans who make no bones sharing their thoughts on the internet, in general, the tactic must be working since even more serious so-called mid-list authors are joining the ranks of  gap-filler writers; names like, Amy Tan, Margaret Atwood, Madison Smartt Bell, and Nick Hornby. The prolific scribblers are there as well. Steven King continues to pen short stories intermittently along with Joyce Carol Oates, who has just released Patricide: A Novella as a Kindle single.

This bit of marketing mayhem is in my view a win-win, helping a growing cache of authors to stay fresh in the minds and on the TBR lists of their beloved readers, and providing us consumers with... well more to consume. Sure it is a lot of extra work for the pros (a 70 page novella is nothing to sneeze at) but the pay off could be exponential for everyone. Besides in this ever widening reality-show world of throwaway entertainment, self publishing, and being famous for being famous, we could use an extra pinch of what we know we really like, lest we forget.