Not so very long ago, my publisher offered a pre-pub of my upcoming book, Perfect Hatred, to a prominent reviewer.
She declined with thanks.
She only reads, she said, those series that she is able to start from the very beginning.
And she reads them in the order in which they have been written. This was the sixth book in the series, she had far too many other options on her TBR stack so she truly wasn’t interested.
Her comment, when I heard about it, made me curious about just how many people think the same way.
I certainly don’t.
One of my favorite authors of recent times is Philip Kerr.
And one of my favorite characters his highly-flawed, but tremendously appealing Bernie Gunther.
After WWII, Kerr has Gunther hanging around in places like Cuba and Argentina.
But now, in his latest book, the one he’ll be releasing in April ( A Man Without Breath ) he brings Bernie back to the Berlin of 1943.
I love Kerr’s books, I love Bernie Gunther, and I’ve just pre-ordered it.
Why the heck would I deny myself a good read just because I happen to know, before I begin, that Bernie is going to survive the war and escape to the other side of the Atlantic Ocean?
But maybe that’s just me.
Want another reason why some readers don’t read?
How about this one:
A few years ago, I offered to speak in a bookshop that has subsequently, and sadly, closed its doors. It was my very first book, and I’d just received my very first review. That review was from Publisher’s Weekly – and they excoriated it, calling it, among other things, “bloody”.
I was devastated. Devastated, that was, until my agent, or my publisher (it was quite some time ago, and I can’t remember which) remarked that I shouldn’t take it to heart because the book had “probably been read by “a lady who only liked cozies”.
It turns out that she/he was right. A couple of weeks later, Library Journal gave the same book high praise and a star.
But I fear that the lady who ran the shop missed what Library Journal had to say and formed an opinion on the Publisher’s Weekly review alone. She wrote to tell me that an appearance in her establishment wouldn’t be “appropriate for her readership”. Murder was OK, but blood was definitely not their thing.
A year or two later, I happened to be in her town, still mulling over the refusal.
Curious, I stopped by to check out her stock.
Other than cozies, it consisted almost entirely of books about fuzzy little animals.
I cringe to think what might have happened if she had let me speak.
I still have nightmares about standing up in front of a group of thin-lipped, disapproving, hard-eyed ladies stroking the cats on their laps and allowing all of my jokes to fall flat.
And then there was the fellow I met in another independent bookshop on both my first and second visits.
That shop, too, has lamentably closed. But, in both cases, he hung on after my talk, we had a lovely chat, and he expressed great appreciation for my work.
But then I published Dying Gasp, a book that deals with a very real issue in Brazil: the exploitation of female minors for sexual purposes.
He bought it, was outraged – and wrote to tell me so.
He’d recommended both of my previous books to his teenaged granddaughter.
What was he to say about this one?
It wasn’t at all appropriate, he said, for a girl of her age.
He was right, of course.
But my books deal with the seamy side of Brazilian society, and that particular story contained considerable inputs from the work of a Brazilian journalist (Gilberto Dimenstein) who did a series of newspaper articles on what he called “the girls of the night” – later a book.
Unfortunately, it’s never been translated into English.
Which is a great pity, because it’s a fine piece of journalism.
So, should I have refrained from writing Dying Gasp because it might have offended a teenage girl?
I didn’t think so then, and I don’t think so now.
And then there’s that great old friend of mine, a guy I’ve known for almost half-a-century, who didn’t read a single book of mine until I got to about the third (or maybe it was the fourth).
“Who cares about what happens in Brazil?” he’d say. And he’d complain about all the “foreign” names. When he finally gave one a try, and got hooked by the story, he changed his tune. But it took him all of three years to change his mind.
The most recent negative playback I’ve been getting is about A Vine in the Blood.
Somehow, that one has gotten itself classified as a book about sport. And not only sport, but a book about a sport that doesn’t enjoy a great deal of popularity in the United States.
But it’s not a book about sport at all. It’s a book about a kidnapping, where the victim just happens to be the mother of a star football (soccer) player.
If I was writing the book within an American context, I probably would have made her the mother of a movie star, but there is no movie star in Brazil that has the weight or importance of any one of the great strikers.
And kidnapping them, by the way, is somewhat of a cottage industry in the country.
Fact: no less than three members of Brazil’s first eleven, in the most recent World Cup, were so victimized.
These days, we hear a good deal of talk about the lack of discoverability as being the reason for low-readership among emerging authors.
It probably is.
But, based on my own experience, it’s not the only one.
The stigma of being self-published still persists. And does a great disservice to many who do first-class work, as good as anything being put out by traditional publishers.
I’d be interested in hearing from readers why they’re inclined to avoid books that they've never even cracked open.
And from writers who can share stories similar to mine.
By the way, Perfect Hatred, launches tomorrow in North America.
It’s about the bombing of an American consulate by an Islamic extremist group, the murder of a politician in the city of Curitiba and an attempt on the life of Silva by an old enemy – three disparate threads that come together into one at the very end.
A neat trick, if I do say so myself.
And, no, it isn't necessary to have read the book where Silva makes the enemy to be able to enjoy the story.
Please don’t get me started on that one.
Leighton - Monday