Thursday, October 01, 2009

The Second Deadly Sin

by Barbara D'Amato

It’s the second deadly sin if you go by Pope Gregory’s count, but sixth by some other reckonings. Envy.

The last couple of weeks have seen many and varied responses to Dan Brown’s new book THE LOST SYMBOL. The ones that are troubling seem angry that Brown is selling so well and making so much money. “He can’t write!” “It’s the same old same old.” “Clich├ęd characters.” “What’s wrong with the book-buying public?”

It wouldn’t be troubling if remarks like this came from reviewers and critics. That’s their job, after all. But I‘m seeing them on writer chatrooms, socialnets, and blogs written by other authors. And in those cases, it smells a lot like envy.

I like some books better than others—who doesn’t?—and some books not at all. But I don’t think the ones I don’t care for are my enemies.

Yes, I am envious of book sales I wish were mine, but not too envious and not without a touch of gratitude that the books are selling. I like it when the big news is a book. Not a bridge collapse. Not a tsunami. Not a movie. Not even or the wedding of some mega-star. Or the wedding of a mega-star to another mega-star. A BOOK!

Huge bestsellers keep publishing companies afloat. No, not those celebrity books they pay millions for and which then don’t sell. But books that really sell help the companies’ bottom lines. You’re going to say that the money doesn’t trickle down to the midlist author? Sadly, that’s pretty much the case. But if the company folds, I’m a no-list author.

The rising tide raises all boats. We hear this a lot, but it’s mostly true. If John Public buys a book and enjoys it, he’s more likely to buy mine. And if John has rarely bought books before, and isn’t much of a reader, but suddenly finds reading is a fun thing to do, he’s far more likely to buy another.

And if Johnny Jr. liked reading Harry Potter, he’s a lot more likely to go on to read more. Yes, I know there’s a drop-off in kids’ reading in their teens, but teenagers have a lot to deal with. If he remembers liking Harry Potter, he’s more likely to buy Dan Brown. And then Hellmann, Chercover, Paretsky, Dymmoch, Heinzmann, Caldwell, Sakey, Guilfoile, Ellis, and all of that ilk when he gets into his twenties.


Jamie Freveletti said...

I agree that the green-eyed monster may be at work here. The part about Brown's success that I like is the fact that he was solidly midlist before his big hit. Good ideas still pay off--which is great.

Dana King said...

I read THE DAVINCI CODE and didn't care for it. I have no interest in the new book. I also don't begrudge him his success. He's a writer making money, and I'm good with that. He's keeping books in the public consciousness, and it's not like he's taking food off my table to do it. Good for him.

Kevin Guilfoile said...

Well said, Barb.

Michael Dymmoch said...

I'll second that.

Steerpike said...

That's well-argued, Barbara. You put it into perspective well.

Admittedly, Dan Brown is not remarkably talented as a prose stylist, and it's true that his novels all follow the exact same plot structure. But something about them clearly appeals, and as you say, when the big news is a book, it's probably good news no matter what.

Writing is a business, and Dan Brown is very successful at it. Besides, I don't necessarily see his success as taking away from other authors. People buy more than one book. And hey! If they enjoyed his, they're more likely to branch out and try something else.

Barbara D'Amato said...

Thank you all. Happy reading.

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