Tour’s Books Blog

February 14, 2012

Tour’s Books – Best and Worst of 2011 – Part 2

Filed under: Uncategorized — toursbooks @ 3:24 pm

There are two trends in publishing that get my vote as the worst ideas since Gutenberg, and publishers have had a LOT of bad ideas in 500+ years since the invention of moveable type.  The first is electronic proofreading.  It’s been with us for awhile and is a popular tool with small press houses that can’t afford the expense of professional proofreaders.  OK, ALMOST forgivable, but major publishers allowing huge gaffs to hit print?  Nope, sorry, that’s just unforgivable, especially when it’s so pervasive that even hard cover best sellers are infected with the obvious problem.

Now understand, I’m not quibbling over perfect grammar – lord knows none of us even bothers much with that anymore.  The best writers have forgotten how to properly use commas, and I’m not getting into the ‘me’ ‘I’ debate.  No, I’m talking about using words, even phrases, that are so egregiously wrong they cause the reader to stop, go back, re-read, and try and figure out what word should have been there.  Not only are the publishers insulting their customers with such sloppy product, it spoils the book, ruining the writers ability to capture and hold their audience.  It’s like watching a play where the actors keep misspeaking their dialogue and the audience must try to mentally correct it to continue to follow the story.  The thing is, when you do that, you fracture the illusion the book casts, taking the reader out of the story and forcing them to play a game of ‘fix this sentence’.  I’m sorry, but that is unforgivable.

So, with that in mind, my 2011 Award for Worst Production Trend in Publishing – goes to all the major and small print houses that have embraced electronic/bad proofreading as a cost cutting trend.  Shame on all of you, but especially the hard cover publishers!

The second worst trend has been slowly going on for a long time, usually at the end of a writer’s long career when he has books partly written and just no longer has the health or strength to finish them.  The ‘franchise’ is too valuable lose, so a back-up writer steps in.  It used to be these were ghost writers, now it’s moderately well known writers who fill a gap, leaving their less popular series to write with – or for – a ‘name’.   Now the second worst trend in publishing has become – co-authors.  This is where famous authors lend their names, in REALLY BIG TYPEFACE to a book that really written by someone else a lot less famous.  Maybe they offered a concept, an outline embryo, but they get the credit while the second author does the work.  This means sales on the strength on the author’s name, but keeps him/her from the onerous task of actually writing the damn book!

2011 Worst Trend in Publishing for Authors – Co-writers

 And the 2011 author who most embodies the trend of selling his name to series is (drum roll please)  – James Patterson! 

 2011 Worst Trend in Publishing for Authors – Too Many Books by One Author

Wow, this was a tough one.  There’s just so many to choose from.  Gone are the days when authors had a year or more to write the next book.  Now they publish 2, 3 sometimes 4 books a year AND contribute novellas to various anthologies.   Quantity replacing quality.   Creative writing is tough work for poor pay – except for the privileged few famous authors.  I can understand ‘cashing in on popularity’, but I have trouble when the quality of work nosedives when the price stays the same, or worse, goes up.  Rabid fans will never find fault, but over time, sales erode.  Even the series that made an author famous dumbs down as creative bits and pieces get shared over too many publications.  Storylines get padded as plots thin out.  What should have been half a book, or novella, goes to 300+ pages.   It is pervasive across genres, but most noticeable in paranormal, romance, and cozy mysteries.

The number of contenders for this one was really high – surprising even me.  Still, I finally got it down to 3 authors

James Patterson – Several mystery series and young adult paranormal books, plus mystery anthologies – He does use co-authors, which helps, but still, it’s getting sold on the James Patterson Brand Name.  ENOUGH ALREADY!

Lora Leigh – romance and romantica  The Breeds series, the Bound Hearts  series, the Nauti series (to name a few) and at least 3-4 anthologies a year where her contribution is a long novella to a short novel.  Slow down and write tighter, better plotted books where you don’t rely on sex and filler to sell.  I know you have the talent, use, don’t abuse it.

Charlaine Harris – Spread out over Sookie Stackhouse, Aurora Teagarden, and Harper Connelly, plus 3 or more anthologies a year, even a young writer would have trouble keeping up, and Ms Harris is hitting her 60’s.  All her books have common ground in mysteries, but the Sookie Stackhouse ran out of steam awhile back.

Now, a word of defense for authors writing a series that has lasted long past its prime ………  The continuation of a series is partly the fault of fans unwilling to let an author end a character.  Agatha Christie came to hate Hercule Poirot, but her fans and her publisher demanded she keep writing the stories.  Arthur Conan Doyle went so far as to kill off  Sherlock Holmes only to be forced to resurrect him.  So authors do get sick to death of their characters.   Some branch out and write different characters, other move to whole different genres, but for others, it’s a cash cow they are happy to milk to death.

The 2011 Stick a Fork in It, It’s Toast Award goes to ………….. Janet Evonovich’ s Stephanie Plum!!!!!!  Ding, ding, ding!  Yes folks, the once highly original, fun and funny series has been in a death spiral since book 8 and the speed has picked up since Book 11.  Someone, please end the agonizing death throes of these painful shadows of what once was and have mercy on the readers.  PULL THE PLUG!!!!!!

First runner-up: Regency Romance – I know.  It’s just wrong in indite an entire genre, but jeeze, these books are nearly interchangeable.  A small number of authors manage well above average books, but 95% are junk.

Second runner-up (tie)Randy  Wayne White’s Doc Ford series.  Heresy, I know, but poor Doc Ford has become what he hated in his early, more thoughtful books.  Now it’s all shallow action adventure spy crap.  REALLY?????  ISN’T THERE ENOUGH OF THAT OUT THERE?????  I will say this, Randy Wayne White still has a way with words and can make things come alive with a style and gift for writing rare in this genre, but he’s taken the  Doc Ford his readers loved and made him just another two-dimensional action figure. (By the way, I like the Doc Ford’s restaurant on Sanibel Island that Randy Wayne White is part owner of.  Fans should stop in there for Buffalo shrimp, fish tacos, and ice cream brownie sundae.)

Foodie Cozy Mysteries – Can I be punny and say I’m fed up with foodie cozies?  I know, I know, here I am indicting a whole genre again, but come on people, this is just getting silly.  Actually, I’m pretty fed up with all the stupid crafty cozies too, but I avoid them enough that they don’t get on my nerves.  If I want a cookbook, I’ll buy a damn cookbook, I want a MYSTERY!  We have several chocolate based mysteries, donut/bakery shops, pizza places, catering (Diane Mott Davidson pretty much started it all), tea shops, coffee shops, cheese shops, orchards …………. what’s next?  ENOUGH!  Dear heavens, find something new, please!!!!!!!

That said, The Best Paranormal Mystery/UF in a Series 2011 – Tie

A Taste of the Nightlife by Sarah Zettle.  Yes, it cashes in on the whole ‘vampire’ thing, but it does it with style and it’s not just vamps running around, she has magic users as well, including a handsome wizard. Yes, it is ‘food’ related, but it’s far more paranormal that food.

Vamparazzi by Laura Resnick – OK, like many urban fantasy books, this one straddles the line and reads more like a mystery than the usual UF.  Like her Dopplegangsters, Vamparazzi is a lively blend humor, action, and amateur sleuthing.  As a series, it’s been uneven, but this was an entertaining read.

The Biggest Surprise of 2011 – self publishing.  Yes, a number of well established authors have literally taken to indie publishing, most notably Barry Eisler with his John Rain comeback novel, The Detachment.  But a number of new authors have used this route, combined with Amazon Kindle self-publishing, to get their books out there.  And you know what?  They’re better than a lot of what’s coming out of ‘name’ publishers.  This category has 3 winners for me………..

Existing authorsBarry Eisler for The Detachment

New Authors (paranormal) – H.P. Mallory for the Jolie Wilkins series (picked up by Bantam)

New Authors (mystery) – David Bishop for Who Murdered Garson Talmadge

Best New Paranormal Author 2011Darynda Jones for First Grave on the Right and Second Grave on the Left – smart, sassy, original and just plain entertaining with a very sharp edge, this was a winner from the opening paragraph.   With Bk 1 and 2 released the same year, it was an amazing series kickoff.  Let’s hope this one can stay fresh and not outlive its lively core romantic attachment.

Runner-up: Kaylana Price for Grave Dance, Bk 2 in the Alex Craft series.  This is darker and grimmer than the typical urban fantasy penned by popular authors writing mostly for women, but its rich layers, complex world building, and interesting characters make for compelling reading.

Best Non-Fiction Book of 2011The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.  Technically, this book was published in hard cover in 2010, but I bought the trade paperback published in 2011.  An amazingly readable and fascinating look at how scientific research touches so many, yet leaves the families forgotten.  It’s makes the reader really think about the impact of scientific advances and it touches the lives of the patients and family.  Well balanced and very readable for the non-science inclined, while being thought provoking without passing judgement.

So, those are my opinions on what I saw in 2011.  Lot’s of indifferent books, too may really.  The agnsty heroes – vamps and human alike, need to shuffle off stage, cozy authors need a kick in their collective ‘me too’ rears, as do many paranormal authors.  Reliable mystery writers like Craig Johnson, C. J. Box, Steve Hamilton, William Kent Krueger, David Housewright and others deserve medals for keeping up their standards when faced with the dumbing down of mysteries and writing in general.  My thanks to many new authors who have come my way to entertain me with their hard work.  And a great big Bronx cheer to the authors and publishers who churn out junk to cash in on their names and popularity.

Whatever you read, even if it’s The Pregnant Zillionaire Vampire Werehobbit’s Virgin Mistress Secretary’s Baby from Silhouette, keep on reading.  Try and spread your wings a bit try nibbling a tough old sheriff, or wise-cracking detective, or maybe be a spy in Tudor England.  Good books take us many places, they’re ultimate magic carpet ride.  Go and enjoy the thrill of discovery.

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