Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
When I read this article in the Times, I couldn’t decide whether to shit my pants or pluck all the hair off my entire body. Or, indeed, both.
The synopsis: A young-adult imprint called Swoon Reads is letting readers select the books it publishes. “By bringing a reality-television-style talent competition to its digital slush pile, the publisher is hoping to find potential best sellers that reflect not editors’ tastes but the collective wisdom and whims of the crowd.”
I can’t bear to go into the details. Read the article for yourself and decide whether you think it’s a good idea for publishers to turn editorial decision-making over to a subgroup of readers who are obsessive enough to pore over hundreds of samples and vote for their favorites.
Listen to Swoon’s publisher:
“The fans and the readers are more in touch with what can sell,” said Jean Feiwel, senior vice president of the Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group and publisher of Swoon Reads, who came up with the concept in 2012. “They’re more at the pulse of these things than any of us can be.”
Some smarty-pantses out there might say, Well, they market-test everything from movies to toothpaste — why not novels?
I’m sorry. Ms. Feiwel might think she’s making the intellectual equivalent of toothpaste (or my favored metaphor: Chips Ahoy), but, in theory at least, novels are supposed to be art. They’re not cobbled together by committee. They’re not made on an assembly line. They’re the product of a single person’s imagination, and the minute that person starts reining in her imagination to cater to what the public blob seems to want is when art gets hijacked and held hostage.
Creative terrorism? You be the judge.
This is not unlike the hideous concept I told you about a while back, wherein outfits like Oyster provide data to publishers and writers about how far readers are getting into books so that writers can avoid the plot and style points that apparently cause mass flight. Highlights and comments can come into play too, in effect providing focus-group reaction that can be used in future “product.” Arrrggghhh.
I once had a reader tell me she didn’t like Parts Unknown because the protagonist was a bad man and she couldn’t relate to bad men. Never mind that she seemed to have missed the nuances in his persona, but if I had had to use her comment to help direct my writing I think I would have taken up humorous origami instead. She didn’t get the redemption theme, which meant that she didn’t get the book. But she’s just the kind of reader who will be calling the shots in the Swoon model.
It’s not easy to write novels. It’s hard to produce something that stands up to your own creative standards but also satisfies readers without making them feel like they’re being talked up, or down, to.
It’s even harder to pretend that morphing art into merely “something that can sell” is what this is all about, but maybe that’s just me.