Sunday, 15 August 2010

Nora Roberts and Success

The reading matter for sale on board Bretagne was not great, but I accept there’s a space issue involved. I wish they would open their bookstore as soon as people are on board instead of making them wait an hour or more. (I don’t know exactly how long, because I gave up after an hour and a half and bought a book from the even smaller section in duty free.) I chose The Search by Nora Roberts. Pricey at £12.99 for a paperback. I’ve read Nora before, and though this one held my attention on the ferry and afterwards, I don’t think it was her best by any means.

The heroine runs a dog-training centre and there is a good deal about dog-training in the book. It’s almost a manual. I found it interesting, but many won’t and will skim through the doggy bits. There’s a quality about this book that is common to most of her work - it’s full of dialogue; the NR short, snappy sentences. There's what I call the Area of Interest. Sometimes it's Alaska's cold, sometimes it's haute cuisine, sometimes its gardening. There’s third person POV internal thought: He’s cold she thought. Hungry now, and scared. He wants his mother. Next we jump into straight into author-POV on the next line: When the rain increased, they continued on, the tireless dog, the tall woman in rough pants and rougher boots. Her tail of pale red hair hung in a wet rope down her back, while lake-blue eyes searched the gloom. A year ago, I wouldn’t have noticed this, but now I do. Terrible writing habits, to skip between POV like that, according to the text books and my critique group!

The relationship between hero and heroine is much as usual – two handsome people meet, one or both has some kind of hang-up, reluctantly admit to attraction and gradually admit to love. All through this book I kept thinking of a previous book and hero. The connection was wood, for both are carpenters. The earlier book was set in the east coast mountain range where the heroine takes over a dilapidated mansion and has the local carpenter do the work of restoration for her. The bit that sticks in my mind is where he tells her not to go into a certain patch of garden, which she resents and heads off there at once; he stays where he is and says ‘Snakes.’ She gets out pretty darn quick.

So: the Area of Interest in this one is dog-training, interlinked with a heroine who once escaped being murdered and finds the killer is still after her. Perhaps I shouldn’t admit it, but I worried the killer would murder the dogs more than I worried he would target either of the protagonists. The h/H just didn’t personalize themselves for me in the way the 4 dogs did.

Somehow this one lacks the high PTQ (Page Turning Quality) of her earlier books, and could have been shorter by a fair amount. One has to wonder if Nora has got to that point where her publishers will publish anything she writes because it has an assured audience waiting to plonk down their money and devour the story in three huge gulps. I suppose writing is like any other business – you try hard to achieve publication, achieve it, plateau with success and then – does the quality go down as the mind runs out of drive and stories? Does pride make a person go on when it is no longer a pleasure or a necessity?

Or, and this is the bit I find fascinating - do we readers follow the same rise and fall – find the books, devour them, become habituated to the style, the quality and therefore lose the sheer joy they first brought? If this had been her sixth book instead of her sixty-first, (or whatever amazing number it is – 190 something, I think) would I be as critical?

Probably not, because she would still have that newness, that freshness (for me) that excited me. So, instead of saying Nora’s “gone orf,” maybe I should stop reading her and look for new authors to give me the thrill I want. If enough people think, like me, that they’ve OD’d on NR and sales of her books fall, then Publishers will probably complain that readers are faddy, and she will feel as if she’s failing. Seems like it's a negative cycle and I can't see how to break it.


Anita Davison said...

Good observations Jen I too often wonder if once an author is recognised and readers search out their next book, do they get into the cycle of churning out the next one because the advance is spent and their agent is phoning them every other day saying, 'You have a deadline'?

Vicky said...

Thanks for the analysis, Jen. I've noticed that with a lot of books. I was passionate about another author when she first came out -- fast past, snappy dialog, larger-than-life H&H -- then she started to let me down. I just stopped connecting with the new H&H she introduced to the series. Now adays I wait until her new book's available in the library, if I read it at all. But she still makes the "best seller" list, which I guess is why publishers keep taking her work.

Maggi Andersen said...

I think two things happen. The author gets tired, and no one's game to tell her the book's no good. And when you have the selling power of NR you can break all the rules, but it doesn't necessarily make for good reading.

Brenna Lyons said...

I don't read most of the NY Times bestsellers. Preparing for the tomatoes. A few on my auto-buy list ARE bestsellers, but I wouldn't give most of them the time of day. It's just not how I choose an author. I've been reading all of my bestsellers (besides Stephen King) since before they were bestsellers.

But I think several things are at play. Anita hit some of it. The publishers and agents "expect" the author to keep churning and put the pressure on. That leads to Maggi's idea that the author simply gets worn out. I think some of them forget why they love doing this, and if that happens, it's time for a break, IMO.

I think it goes deeper than Maggi's comment, though. It's not just that the work is sloppy because the publisher won't tell the author to make changes, though Anne Rice taking edits OUT of her contracts doesn't help matters. No author should be so blind as to think he/she is perfect and in need of no input. Final say on input, sure. Everyone should revel in the safety net editors bring.

IF they are good editors. Here's the other side of that coin. Publishers have the MISconception that bestselling authors will continue selling, even if the edits are slipshod, the book head hops all over the place (well NR does of the reasons I have no interest in reading her), there's not sufficient research...the storytelling is weak (the worst of the lot). So, they are slitting their own throats by not insisting on excellence.

My answer? I ask authors I love that I see being shoved into that pit how I can complain about the quality of the edit directly to the publisher. My letters say something along the line of: "X is such a fabulous writer, but her books deserve a better edit than you're giving her."

That lets her know I see a problem and lets the publisher know I refuse to stand by and see them destroy my favorites with my silence.


Lindsay Townsend said...

Interesting post, Jen. I guess all authors have their habits and ways that readers will become familiar with. I read NR as JD Robb and I enjoy the 'sameness' of certain aspects - Eve and Roake, Summerset and so on. I like and follow those characters. Perhaps that's why I find those novels fresh and engaging, because I enjoy those people.

I wonder about deadlines. Is NR on too-tight a deadline? Hard to be original if a writer has to churn them out

Jen Black said...

I think NR is the only NY Times best seller I read. Most of them are not known names here in the UK, with the exception of the international names like Grishom and Follett. I'm continurally surprised at how different the lists are.

Linda Banche said...

I'm with you, Jen, on how authors I used to love I no longer like any more. Have I changed or have they changed? Maybe a little of both.

I also think it takes time to write a book, and so often nowadays, the best-selling author doesn't have the time. She has to keep churning out books. While experience will pick up some of the slack, there is a point of too little time for anyone to create a quality product.

And name recognition is a large part of NR's success. Some people just want to read NR, and don't care if the quality is as high as it was. And for every reader who loses interest in her, I'm sure there are several who take that reader's place. Name recognition again.

I find that with some authors I no longer like, I go back to their older books. I like them better.

Linda Acaster said...

Very interesting post. I think both readers and writers change down the years. With readers, particularly who are writers, we mature in our technical taste. I am a great one for keeping paperbacks and when I'm dusting (on the few occasions) I'll stop and pull one at random, being carried to the memory of my enjoyment of it by the backblurb and then opening it and reading. Most times it's a bit of a jolt to the system. Of course I've got quirky in my old age: I can't abide head-hopping, and this is a part of the ol' tell v show. I don't want some author to tell me about some character's problem, I want to ride the character's shoulder and experience his/her life. Multi viewpoints I particularly enjoy, but not head-hopping. I consider it's just treating the reader to fancy wallpaper, giving them no scope to work. Reading should be a two way process. Down that route lies fulfilment.

Celia Yeary said...

JEN--you've hit brought up a timely topic. I love to read familiar authors, and have my list. But, like you know who, they each have failed me after a while. I do regret this, but after a while, all the books sound and look alike.
When a best selling author begins to write cookie-cutter novels, I'm done. I was finished with YKW years ago.
And the shifting POV thing really bothers me. Because a few chosen ones get by with it, I wonder if they could even write a book by themselves and use correct POV that we have come to expect. Very sloppy. Thanks for the interesting blog. Celia

Julia Rachel Barrett said...

Interesting. I don't generally follow a popular author - or maybe I read a book or two that I find I find of particular interest to me. The only author I'm likely to read most of the time, is Linda Howard, and even with Linda Howard, I pick and choose her books. Sometimes authors just sort of rehash former themes - it's hard to stay fresh, I guess.

Vegetarian Cannibal said...

As a habit, I don't read popular successful writers. They don't need my money. They have hundreds of fans already. And like you pointed out, their work "slips" after a few years. Fame gets to their heads and they think anything they publish is gold when it's really crap.

Not all authors, but some.

I support the little guys. The authors NOBODY has heard about. Finding interesting and new authors gets me off on a little "high." It's like discovering a new treasure before everyone else does!

Savanna Kougar said...

Jen, thought-provoking post, indeed.

I like head-hopping done well. It's just my little quirk I guess. However, I don't write it for publication because my publishers don't want it.

What I don't like is cookie-cutter books!!! Like Celia said. That I cannot abide! And, so many of the NY traditional authors get trapped, I think, for all the reasons previously mentioned. Plus, the BIG PUBLISHERS have intentionally created what I call the 'star system' by spending tons o' advertising bucks on promoting these authors into stars. It's not the quality of their writing they really care about, it's how successfully they can market their books.

I don't currently spend any money on the mass market romance books, except for Lindsay's books, of course, because *overall* the quality, imho, is crap. Not all, of course. There's always that gem of a story. But, it's rare for me to find.

I also think, human nature being what it is, a lot of readers like the predictability of a certain author. They know what they're going to get. It's safe. In this day and age that counts for a lot, just given the super-high levels of stress.

That's part of the beauty of small print/ebooks and Indie publishing. It's not about being a dollars-backed star. It's about writing your stories and the stories others really want to read. It's wide open, the wild wild west ~ that is, if we can only hold onto the freedom of the internet, now threatened who want folks to buy only what they offer and take control over.

Jen Black said...

Good to hear all these different views. Thanks for chipping in!

Keena Kincaid said...

I enjoy NR most of the time, but I find her books uneven--as I do with a lot of authors who have been around for a while.

I've noticed that the spark or lack thereof doesn't seem to fall along the lines of new/old. It's just one will sparkle and the next one won't. Not sure if it's a function of deadlines, sameness of plot or how excited the author is about the story that contributes to the unevenness.

Would be interesting question to ask, but how do you do that diplomatically?