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[personal profile] lesbiassparrow
Recently I read Heart and Science by Wilkie Collins. It is not, to put it bluntly, a good book. Despite the assertion of the back cover that Collins considered this as good as The Woman in White, I fear that the only reasonable conclusion is that he must have been in a high fever at the time. Or negotiating book rights. Basically there are a lot of brain ailments and boring people who seem to succumb to those ailments without much of a reason, plus some guy who is in Canada recovering from nervous exhaustion by taking canoe trips. And a vivisection subplot that doesn't really go anywhere except exist so our nervously exhausted hero can save the day via a discovered secret for curing brain ailments. And while I appreciate that the editor has been handed lemons on the Collins front, I still think that he could have done a better job. Here's a sample of his footnotes: the text says 'as the proverb goes, it was the hair that broke the camel's back.' His footnote, carefully lying there at the bottom of the page like something that has something to say, informs the reader that 'this is a proverbial statement.' AND NOTHING ELSE. Listen mate, the text already said that. The point of a footnote is to explain something that you otherwise might not get; if there's nothing to add THEN DON'T ADD A FOOTNOTE. Unless, of course, you've read a long academic book in German that you want to mention so people know you've read it. That's entirely different.

Plus, you know if you're buying a minor Wilkie Collins novel in a not terribly appealing academic looking edition I suspect that you don't need to be told what an N.B. is. Just saying.

This is not a blog that I've ever read before but [livejournal.com profile] cleolinda linked to their
top 10 things for what publishers could do for readers to sell more books. Many of the suggestions just strike me as not things that matter to most readers. Do most people really care that much that all their books in a series are the same size? It might be annoying if you like all your books to line up, but if you're this attached to a series aren't you going to be buying them all anyway?

Another suggestion is: "Include a relationship chart in the beginning of every book. Most books published today are series books, all somehow related to one another. It would be very helpful if, at the front of the book, all the books in a series are identified in the way in which they are related to one another and what characters appear in which books." But why would you do this? People would only buy the books with the characters they liked surely, rather than buying it and hoping that this was the time that Lars von sexy Vampire-Werewolf with the Tight Blue Pants* finally got his woman.

* To distinguish him from Elferic, the cursed scion of Norwegian Viking-Faeries who always wears tight red pants.

Date: 2008-07-23 04:16 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] sujet.livejournal.com
I've read plenty of minor works by Collins, and they aren't great. 'I Say No' and The Two Destinies... dear me.

Date: 2008-07-23 04:20 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lesbiassparrow.livejournal.com
This made The Two Destinies look good.

Date: 2008-07-23 04:39 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] sujet.livejournal.com
That's not good at all. I love my Victorian Sensation fiction, but there are times... Reading the lesser M. E. Braddon stuff is pretty awful too.

Date: 2008-07-23 04:26 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] oxymoronassoc.livejournal.com
I love your book reviews.

Date: 2008-07-23 04:30 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lesbiassparrow.livejournal.com
I like to go for depth. And insulting random editors.

Date: 2008-07-23 04:36 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] sucrelefey.livejournal.com
Most of those tips sound like they are meant for dumb lazy readers.

Date: 2008-07-23 05:30 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lesbiassparrow.livejournal.com
Or that they don't realize that it's in the interest of a publisher to make you have to buy books without knowing quite what number in a series it is or what relationship it covers? It would be annoying but I bet it makes you buy more rather than be selective. Which is surely what they want.

Date: 2008-07-23 05:42 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] meganbmoore.livejournal.com
Well, romance novels are essentially escapist fantasy. Most readers want the publisher and author to make it absurdly bad for them. It's why good/bad lines and such are drawn even thicker than in children's books.

Date: 2008-07-23 05:39 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] meganbmoore.livejournal.com
Hmm...

A lot of that list seems to be specifically directed towards romance novels. In that context, it really is a pretty good list. Most of it, though, can't really be applied to any other genre.

Date: 2008-07-23 05:49 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lesbiassparrow.livejournal.com
But do you really think that most romance readers care that their books are all the same size in a series? I don't mean collectors, but a regular person who is just picking up books. Most of this seems written for really serious romance readers. How many people are really going to rebuy an entire series because the first books are now in a different size? And isn't that in the publisher's interest to make you buy more books? From a selling more books point of view, their suggestions mean that you'd buy less books not more.

Date: 2008-07-23 06:00 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] meganbmoore.livejournal.com
Actually...yes. I've worked in a bookstore and been in charge of the romance section. And yeah, I've seen them get pissy over that. Granted, part of it is that, since a lot of romance readers autobuy, they can try out new formats for them. Also, a lot will only read books that are certain page lengths. It's a large part of why people always buy Harlequin and Silhouette books...there are a limited number of plotlines, and most are specific to certain lines, and every book in a line is within a few pages of each other's page count.

Date: 2008-07-23 06:28 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lesbiassparrow.livejournal.com
I get the length more - it means that you know you can read the book in the right amount of time. And with certain size books it's hard to et them in your bag sometimes. And I can see why you'd get annoyed if you had to rebuy books, but I can't imagine that the publisher would care as long as you keep buying books.

Date: 2008-07-23 05:52 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lesbiassparrow.livejournal.com
And then there's this: "Make the titles relate to the story. "

It's a noble suggestion but we all know that publishers love palming off books with inappropriate and sexy titles because that makes you pick it up. They're never going to stop that; they don't even do it for academic books, and those are hardly about the marketing. Much.

Date: 2008-07-23 06:05 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] meganbmoore.livejournal.com
Romance readers (and by that I mean people who read primarily or exclusively romance novels) just have a really, really different mindset.

A lot of the time, the publisher names the book something wholly inappropriate, and then the book sells because they title indicates it's about one thing when it's about another, and then the author get's blamed...

The mindset, it is totally alien to anything else.

Date: 2008-07-23 12:40 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] chelseagirl47.livejournal.com
Not having read the other comments, I imagine someone has already pointed out that Collins was pretty heavily drug-addicted by the time he wrote Heart and Science. I thought it was awful, and then found myself in conversation with a Much More Important Victorianist who was raving about it . . . it is a relief to have my own instincts confirmed, as it was awhile ago and I was reading an awful lot of Collins at the time.

It is, however, not the worst Collins I have read. That would be The Evil Genius, which is not nearly so fun as the title suggests. And I am a huge Collins fan and love many of his more obscure works.

Date: 2008-07-23 03:46 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lesbiassparrow.livejournal.com
The introduction only hinted at this so that the editor could go about how this was a great and underrated novel that he was laying before us. But it's not underrated! It's just not very good; I think it's the worst Collins I've read (I can't remember if I've read The Evil Genius or not, though - I went on a huge Collins binge years ago and some of them blur into one.) And you can always find some super famous academic to say dreadful things are good: there's a movement out there amongst some of them to insist Cicero's poetry is decent. It isn't! It's bloody terrible and, yes, people in the past were right about this. No, we don't have a superior understanding.

This edition also didn't help matters; it's rare that I feel annoyed by editions but the footnotes in this were absolutely dreadful. Startlingly so and I kept wondering how on earth someone could produce such dreadful footnotes. Do he not actually know what they are for?

Date: 2008-07-23 03:52 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] chelseagirl47.livejournal.com
Is this the Broadview edition? They usually do an ok job; that's disappointing. That's the one that I read, but a) it did not survive a shelf purge a while back and b) I probably ignored the footnotes. I tend to ignore them when I'm reading for myself and then to desperately search for an edition with decent ones when I'm teaching.

Date: 2008-07-23 04:01 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lesbiassparrow.livejournal.com
Yes it is - it's the one by Steve Farmer. I tend to ignore footnotes for novels, but for this edition they were at the bottom of the page; they're not often something that annoys me as they're usually not that objectionable. But these were so remarkably fatuous, I was a bit astonished.

It turned me off Broadview which is not a press I've ever brought from before, so I'm glad to hear this is an anomaly.

Date: 2008-07-23 05:57 pm (UTC)
ancarett: (Shallow Towel/Apollo BSG)
From: [personal profile] ancarett
Oh! Oh! Where can I get the books about Elferic? I am so there. (Especially for the tight red pants!)

Date: 2008-07-23 06:22 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lesbiassparrow.livejournal.com
First you have to read of the loves of Oblewacer, Althuwyn the Destroyer, Pinderstorm the Mighty, and Fred.

Date: 2008-07-23 06:53 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] nyssa23.livejournal.com
Absolutely. That Fred was hot stuff!

Date: 2008-07-23 06:58 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lesbiassparrow.livejournal.com
Especially because he wore no pants at all. I feel that was key to his appeal.

Date: 2008-07-24 02:25 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] nutmeg3.livejournal.com
I thought that book blog was interesting, but I thought the comments illustrated why most of what she suggests doesn't make any practical sense. Most people agreed with one or two of her suggestions but didn't care about the rest, or even actively disagreed with them. And there are good business reasons why some of them don't make sense, either. Which just goes to show that you're never going to make all the people happy all the time.

Date: 2008-07-24 02:32 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lesbiassparrow.livejournal.com
The big problem was that I thought that most of the issues she's describing probably annoy the real avid romance reader/collector more than anyone else. And as the publishers probably view those as a captive audience they probably aren't going to change too much for them, especially not if they can wring more money out of you. It's a bit how people get really annoyed when they release an extra-special DVD of a movie after they've released a special version; it's clearly a rip-off but they do it because they know people will buy them.

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