Is a Salinger-Like Reclusiveness a Viable Option in Today’s Book World?

Here’s an interesting dichotomy — there are so many books being published today that most will never sell more that 100 or 150 copies in a lifetime, yet an article in the New York Times says that in the e-reader era, writing one book a year is slacking. Name brand authors who once wrote one book a year are now writing two, and those who are sticking to a one-a-year schedule are also writing short stories and novellas to keep their names in view. To quote Lisa Scottoline from the NYT article, “the culture is a great big hungry maw, and you have to feed it.” And it’s not just name brand authors. Self-published authors are feeding the maw, too, sometimes with three or four or even six books a year.

Seems silly to me — authors scrambling to write extra books while many worthwhile books from small independent presses are going unread. There should be a way of evening things out, but people obviously prefer to stay with authors they are comfortable with. How else to explain the James Patterson phenomenon? Twelve books in twelve months? Yikes. Granted, some seem to be ghost written (or should I say guest written?), but still that is an incredible output considering that most people don’t read that many books in a year.

I’ve always loved books — in fact, as a child all I ever wanted when I grew up was time to lose myself in books — but now I’ve mostly lost my taste for reading. Too many books are shallow, even the well-written ones, and no wonder — authors who once had the time to write thoughtful books have to spend more time racking up the words and less time thinking. For me, a story isn’t enough. I want to be tantalized with insights, new ideas, different ways of viewing the world. I realize this is not the wave of the future. How deep can the ideas in a novel be if they are intended to be read on a phone or as an interactive ebook that’s enhanced with video, author interviews and social-networking applications?

I’ve never been one to follow the crowd. Sometimes I don’t even know where the crowd is. So it should come as no surprise that I don’t intend to increase my output of writing. (Though, come to think of it, any writing other than blogs would increase my output.) I couldn’t write more even if I wanted to. I am a slow writer. Even at my fastest, I can only write one book a year, and that doesn’t include editing and copyediting.

I am getting an interest in writing again, though. Sometimes I think about the books I’ve started and wonder what will happen to the characters, and just today I figured out how to develop my grieving woman book, the one I started for NaNoWriMo in 2010. It should be not so much a book about grief but about a woman’s journey into self-discovery, and so I should start the story before her husband dies, because it is during his long dying that she first loses herself.

This could be one of those books that takes a lifetime to write, since perhaps I will have to live the character’s life first. Or maybe I need to write the book as if I am writing my own future, and see what I can make of myself. Either way, the book would not be written in a month or even a year. It would take longer than that to glean the necessary insights.

According to the NYT article, “Publishers also believe that Salinger-like reclusiveness, which once created an aura of intrigue around an author, is not a viable option in the age of interconnectivity.” Luckily, I am neither self-published nor published by a major publisher, so I have the luxury of being as reclusive as I need to be in order to write whatever books might be in my future. (Shhh. It’s our secret. Don’t tell my publisher, Second Wind Publishing, I said that.)

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16 Responses to “Is a Salinger-Like Reclusiveness a Viable Option in Today’s Book World?”

  1. ROD MARSDEN Says:

    I am neither self-published nor published by a major publisher but it seems to me that you have to do all you can to get the message out there that you and your book exists. I have had short stories published in American anthologies such as Cats do it Better and I appear every issue in the magazine Night to Dawn but that isn’t enough to put me square where I need to be in the public eye. Times are changing and you really have to do what you can to get you and your book known. No matter how well the book is written if the public don’t know about it they are not likely to buy it. With the closing of so many bookshops, you can’t simply have your book land on so many bookshop shelves anymore and expect something to happen.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Rod, you’re absolutely right, we have to do whatever we can to get the message out there. For me, though, it’s not about publishing umpteen books and hoping one of them takes. I’d rather take the time to write the book only I can write. And I want to enjoy writing it, not simply racking up the word count. Luckily, my publisher is not demanding that I write, though I did just publish my grief book (somehow I always forget that, maybe because it wasn’t written as a book) and I submit a short story to every Second Wind anthology.

      I wish I knew how to put us all square in the public eye. There are too many books published by small presses that just are not getting the readers they deserve.

  2. sandy Says:

    You said it all as far as I’m concerned. Racking up word counts with little to no variation on shallow themes has had the effect of dumbing down the reading public. I remember when people read to be enlightened, to learn, to expand upon individual experience, to challenge the mind & understand reality . . . not anymore. People read to escape reality and expect the “read” to be easy and entertaining like playing a video game or watching a TV “reality” show. Norm Goldman at bookpleasures.com did an interview with me about my last (not latest, last) novel & asked me if I had any more books planned . . . I responded that if there were a demand for it I could always write another book, having another book in me was and remains a way of being, but no longer a way of life, I’m not devoting more time to creating something that so few will be interested in. I’m done with it. I admire your creative energy but cannot emulate it.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Reading was never an escape for me. It was a way of going deeper inside, of dredging up new feelings, new ways of thinking. I cringe every time someone says their only goal for their book is entertainment. Either they are being disingenuous, in which case I have no interest in reading the book, or they are being truthful, in which case I really have no interest in it. I am not here to be entertained. There is more to life and reading than that.

      • sandy Says:

        Again you took the words out of my mouth (but you said them better): a way of going deeper inside, digging for new ways of thinking, of feeling. I’m glad there are a few of us left anyway.

        • Pat Bertram Says:

          I recently read about a study that shows if a reader identifies with a character and immerses herself in the story, the experience affects the reader in many ways as if it actually happened. If this is true with writing, if we our truly somehow creating ourselves by writing, then we should aspire to be something more than today’s ebook fad.

  3. leesis Says:

    I’m so glad your getting tempted to write again Pat. I know the markets impossible and the readers suspect but to create from ones imagination is still a wonderful thing!

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Writing for it’s own sake is the only way I’ll be able to write in the future. I think it would be a good thing to be doubly creative — to create a book at the same time the book is creating me.

      • sandy Says:

        Who was that French author who said “I write to know myself” ? I love that but cannot remember his name. The author of some important classics I’m sure.

  4. ROD MARSDEN Says:

    Right now I get out about one book every two years and it has to be some book to be worth my while writing. If I don’t believe in it then it doesn’t become a book. I cannot imagine writing six books a year and have each of those books worthy of publication. To be honest I wouldn’t have the time or the patience of editors I know to keep pushing empty words and titles at readers. For me it is better to put out a book I care about than six books no one should care about. My thoughts at any rate.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      That was pretty much what I was getting at. Quality over quantity. I hope that someday small independent presses will become a force in the industry. That seems to be where most of the original books are coming from.

  5. ROD MARSDEN Says:

    ‘I think therefore I am’ might be what you are looking for. The French man was Rene Descartes. I have my own version of this famous saying in Desk Job.

  6. jrafferty11 Says:

    Hi Pat. I also read the NY Times article and was appalled. I just can’t believe authors can write with quality at those rates — even the two novels vs. one a year. The article seemed to mainly be talking about genre writers, but it all seems to be part of the trend to push creative people harder to get more content out. I’ve grown to value quality over quantity in many things and haven’t seen evidence that writers or other creative people can simply double their rates of production and still produce work that moves us.


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