James Patterson is to books what Starbucks is to coffee. So big, one wonders if there’s room for anyone else. His major venture into a marketing tsunami began a few years ago when he partnered with other writers to mass produce his own novels, creating a virtual novel-writing factory. Co-writers do get second billing, so to speak.
Now, book factory foreman/ master writer/master marketer Patterson is pushing his new imprint called BookShots. These are low-priced, skinny thrillers longer than a short story and shorter than a novel (150 pages or less). They are designed to be read at one sitting. The new venture is backed and promoted by Hatchette, one of the Big 5” publishers that dominate the book industry. Publicity for the new imprint likened BookShots to the old pulp paperbacks you’d find on wire racks in the drugstore a few decades ago. It’s a great idea, but, despite the hype, it isn’t a new idea. Also, it’s not the only product of its kind in the marketplace. A few years ago Penguin tried to capitalize on what hey saw as a retro trend by reviving a Dutton imprint called Guilt Edged Mysteries. They hoped to get in on the Kindle craze, offering the work only in the inexpensively produced electronic format. They published a few books, including my short novel Death in The Haight, before the imprint faded to black.
There are independent presses out there publishing pulp-inspired as well as short crime fiction in print and in electronic formats. One of the best is Hard Case Crime (their Fade To Blonde by Max Phillips is one of my all-time favorites). While publishers like Hard Case are devoted to a concept, they aren’t bound by a single vision and a formula. I don’t mean to be mean to James Patterson, but I grow tired of highly branded products overpowering individual voices. Starbucks, Bank of America, Wal-Mart, Nestle, etc. And I am reminded once again how years ago how moneyed corporations like Barnes & Noble and Borders wiped out independent bookstores and now that they have pretty much dissolved, we are left with nearly none of either.
Fortunately the spirit isn’t dead. There is still real innovation despite not having the mammoth blunt edge of an unlimited publicity budget to get interesting work to the market place. In a slightly different way, Canada’s Orca Books has created a novel (pardon me) approach. Their Rapid Reads program, as part of their Raven Books Imprint, not only publishes short reads, but books that are both fun and easy to read, encouraging the reluctant reader to get his or her feet wet. Unlike the Bookshots brand, these are quick reads by several different talented authors, writing at a length perfect for that flight from New York to Chicago. And they have been doing this for a few years now. Among Rapid Reads’ choices are works by such proven authors as Reed Farrel Coleman, Gail Anderson-Dargatz, William Kowalski, Rick Blechta. Vicki Delany, and Gail Bowen.
I am shamelessly including a review of my first Rapid Reads contribution, The Blue Dragon, because the reviewer’s words also cast an appropriately glowing light on the Rapid Reads series and the concept itself.
"What an incredible beginning to a new mystery series by Ronald Tierney...This cover art also provides a capsule view of the multi-dimensions of the novella and becomes more meaningful as the reader progresses through each chapter... [This was] my first introduction to “Rapid Reads” and I am enthralled not only by the individual title selection experience but also for the incredible discovery of this reading series.” (Library Thing Early Reviewer 2015-08-23)
I have nothing against James Patterson. He is a dedicated advocate of literacy, generously supports bookstores, is by all accounts, a genuinely good guy and judging by his popularity, also very good at what he does.
My point (though sometimes I wonder if I’m doing anything more than lighting a single match in a very big, very dark cave) is that to find something that isn’t market driven, isn’t formulaic, and to find books that are independent works from diverse creative minds, one has to look beyond the overpowering searchlight of the big 5 machine and the brands of their celebrity authors. There are many good reads — short and long — for those willing to dig a little deeper. We might have to look beyond the “impulsive buy” rack at the check-out counter of our local super market.
I hope you’ll consider some of the crime fiction available on the links above. Talk to your bookstore about stocking books from quality independent presses. Here is a list of mystery bookstores: And here is a list of independent bookstores in general.