Monday, February 18, 2013

Readers Who Don't Read

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.

So what?
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.
It wasn’t.

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


  1. Would like to read it. Will put it on my growing list. At the moment I'm out of pennies.:)

  2. I could see a reviewer being uncertain of reviewing a book in a series they haven't read, as part of the review (ideally) should be how it stacks up in comparison to other books in the series. But I've reviewed books in a series where I haven't read the others, and I've been fine as long as the author makes sure you know what's going on, and tells you what happened before if it's important to the plot of this book.

    So I'd say that reviewer -- and, more importantly, her readers -- missed out on a good read. And that's sad.

  3. We've been told US readers "aren't interested in Africa and South America." Well, we know a lot of readers who are, including one who says she's read all our books six times.

    For me, the best thing about this post, Leighton, is reminding me that I can start Perfect Hatred tomorrow!

  4. I started reading your books out of "order." And it made not a whit of difference to how much (a lot!) I enjoyed them. I am still reading James Lee Burke's Dave Robichaux series out of order. Makes no difference at all. A good book stands on its own. And some readers are more anal-compulsive than others.

  5. I often find that I am reading a book out of order but usually it makes me buy the previous books in the series to see how the book's hero has developed. Next time have the publisher send me the book -- it would be a pleasure to read it in whatever the sequence.

  6. To be honest, if I'd always held out for reading a series in the right order, from start to finish, I would never have discovered so many great authors. I probably started mid-way with many if not all of my favourite authors: Fred Vargas, Barbara Nadel, Michael Dibdin... I just happened to read whatever was available at the library or in the bookshop. And then I went back and read everything else they had written. Yes, in an ideal world, it would be nice to have that continuity, but good books will always be good whether they stand on their own or whether they are another brick in the wall.

  7. There is only one explicit sex scene in all the Detective Kubu books. It is there because it establishes the characters of two important players in the book - A CARRION DEATH. For that it was pulled from the shelves in Utah. And we've been criticized by a few for inserting gratuitous sex into the book. Fortunately, when we mention this to people who have read the book, most either don't remember the scene at all or couldn't care less.

    Congratulations, Leighton. I can't wait to read the latest addition to your already wonderful series.

  8. I once went to Malice Domestic. While there, I learned that it was a meeting celebrating cozies. The rules for what books could be nominated for the Agatha award included "no sex." That, and the other excuses on your list, Leighton, just puzzle me. These are rules made by people who lay them down before they know the value of the work, the skill of the author, the meaning of the "banned" activity in the context of the story, or the pleasure it would bring them if they opened their minds. I, and a lot of other opened minded people will read Perfect Hatred and look forward to pleasure it will bring us.

  9. Some people grow up, some remain children or adolescents their whole lives. Many children won't eat certain foods (our son REFUSED to eat strawberries until some time in his 20s, when he suddenly realized that, hey, they taste pretty darn good!) People get preconceived notions of what they like and don't like, and dig in their heels, refusing to drink, even if you manage to drag them close to a stream. Their loss...

    Congratulations on the new book, sounds great!

  10. Once I bought a book that was 2nd in a series; I didn't read it until I purchased the 'first' about a year later. Turned out it was a smart move. The characters grew up in the 2nd book. Being an editor, reading in copyright order is important to me because I'm able to map an author's progress honing their writing skills - unbridled excitement for moi. . . ;)

  11. I just spent a very long day with my three- and five-year-old grandchildren and they simply loved, PERFECT HATRED. It was raining in Houston and so I read it to them aloud. They didn't care if it was out of order, fell in love with Mario Silva, and consider him their new Dr. Seuss. At first I wondered why they were so blase at the sex and violence scenes, but after watching the local television news I understood.

    I also loved PH. It's a truly terrific book. Congratulations, Leighton.

    1. HAH!

      In answer to your question, Leighton, you got me. I'm only on my third published book -- well, about to be published -- and the things people react to honestly puzzle me at time. But, as they say, "this is a highly subjective business."

      Many congratulations on PERFECT HATRED!!! May it be read by many, in order or not.

  12. Many congrats on your new release, Leighton. It will certainly be on my to-read list - enjoyed all your previous books, and I can confirm that there is absolutely no need to read them in order - those who refuse getting into your books, they are missing out!