I’m going to start off with a shocking and possibly even blasphemous fact about the publishing industry.
The Publishing industry is an entertainment enterprise.
Just like comic books, movies, television, major league sports and music. People turn to fiction, and some forms of non fiction for entertainment. A handy definition of entertainment is:
“something affording pleasure, diversion, or amusement, especially a performance of some kind: The highlight of the ball was an elaborate entertainment.”
What’s notable in that definition is the absence of words like “preach”, “educate”, or “inform”, also conspicuous by their exclusion are phrases that imply some sort of moral drum beating. This isn’t the 15th century. No one needs anyone publishing fiction today to teach them how to behave or remind them of the “the right” way to think about any given issue. The job of entertainment is to entertain. I’m sure I’ve gobsmacked a few folks reading this and I’d apologize if it hadn’t required me to reach up your backside in order to land the blow to your head. Given the residue on my hands I think we’re even. For the rest you well, those choir uniforms are spiffy.
One of the biggest failings of the publishing industry is a failure to pay attention to what other industries are doing right and make some inroads with the trends that are driving those success. Some of the biggest movies of the last decade have been Iron Man, Batman Begins, The Pirates of the Caribbean series, the Harry Potter series and the Fast and the Furious series.
Here’s some things all those movies have in common:
- Characters you can root for
- Simply, softly expressed and uncrossed morals
- Plots (in the loose sense that anything out of Hollywood does)
In fact you have to go back all the way to 1998. To find a movie that topped the box office sales that wasn’t fun, action filled, with characters you can root for, simply, softly expressed morals and some fashion of plot. That movie back in 1998 was Saving Private Ryan. Which did have most of those elements, and was flawlessly executed.
I’m not saying the publishing industry can’t have strong ethically driven stories, far from it. But just as a baseline comparison Thor which I thought was not so great, not terrible but not great was the tenth highest grossing movie of 2011. In Time which I enjoyed more, and was definitely well into the artsy, moral pulpit pounding end of the spectrum placed 81st. Sure Thor came out earlier in the year and that helps, but I Am Number Four (#64) had a good deal of hype around it, came out when there weren’t many action flicks in the theater and was largely ignored, still managed to rake in almost twice the cash the more meaningful, In Time did. In fact In Time was 6th of movies opening the same month, and of the ones ahead of it, pretty much all were engaging. They all had some charm, and more accessible.
Just a hunch, and without looking up the numbers I’m gonna go out on a limb and suppose for a few seconds that Medal of Honor and Sonic The Hedgehog 4 each made more money than any of the math tutors or block breaking games that came out the same time. This should be a wee tiny sign. Ok, wee-tiny is an understatement (I’ve been practicing!!) It should be a sign too big for Godzilla to smash, and King Kong to climb that fiction publishing is doing it wrong by pushing the preachy, dreary, angst riddled, pulpit pounding dreck that gets pushed over things that are entertaining. Another fun definition to print out and hang on the bulletin board or maybe use as the background on your smartphone or desktop monitor is:
a divertingly adventurous, comic, or picaresque novel.
If people are clamoring for boards, hammers and nails ahead of a storm, you’ll make money by selling them boards, hammers and nails. If someone needs to clean their floor, attempting to sell them nail polish is a tiny bit silly. And not many people who expect to shuffle off the mortal coil in the next few days are interested in long term investments, green bananas or magazine subscriptions? Why would any sensible business try and sell something people don’t really want? Why would they not look at what else is working? Aren’t businesses in the business of making money? If people are asking for a sweet confection made with sugar, flour, eggs, and a dash of salt let them eat cake.