Publishing

Imposter Sequels

As many creative people are, I’m pretty protective of my intellectual property. In this case, that means the stories I write and the characters who live them. I make no secret that I’m not crazy about “fan fiction,” even though I understand where the desire to write it comes from. Heck, in my youth, I made my own attempt at fan fiction in a story blending the Star Trek and Star Wars universes. Of course, it didn’t take long for me to abandon the tale, given how wildly different those universes are. After that, I never tried it again. For those who insist on writing it, feel free. But don’t for a minute think about publishing it.

Of course, there are those out there who will disagree with me on all of those points, including the last one. Because what is an unauthorized sequel to a book by a different author other than fan fiction?

Here’s one example.

A somewhat popular book that was made into a movie you might have seen.

Margaret Mitchell died decades before this thing was published:

The “sequel,” which was made into a TV mini-series you probably didn’t watch.

Another writer, though, didn’t have the decency to wait. Here’s another one you probably know:

The original.

And…

The phony.

Salinger was still alive when the sequel was published in Sweden and was in the process of suing the publisher at the time of his death. A lot of things have been said about the book… that it’s not really a sequel, but a parody; that it’s a literary criticism of the original; and that it actually reads like fan fiction. (*ahem*) I wouldn’t know, since I have no intention of ever reading it (having not enjoyed Catcher in the first place). However, even though I wasn’t a fan of Catcher, I was opposed to this book for the same reasons Salinger was: I didn’t feel “J.D. California” had any right to publish it in the first place.

Now, there are plenty of sequels out there written by people other than the original authors, done with the approval of the copyright holders of the originals (the James Bond novels published after Ian Fleming’s death, for example). Some, I hear, are quite good.

My experiences have been less than stellar. Frank Herbert’s Dune series is, in my opinion, incredible. The Dune books by Frank’s son, Brian Herbert, and Kevin J. Anderson don’t really do it for me.

But a recently published work has me reconsidering my refusal to partake in such sequels again. I’m referring to The Girl in the Spider’s Web. Written by David Lagercrantz, it continues the “Millennium” series of books by the late Stieg Larsson, which gave us the character of Lisbeth Salander –  for my money, one of the most compelling characters ever written. It is that love for the character that made me consider reading it, while at the same time being afraid to.

Yes, read them.

Amazon reviews currently show it with a four-star rating, after some 1600+ reviews. That’s not bad. I tend to read negative user reviews first, and some of the complaints do give me concern, but they are so overshadowed by positive reviews that I’m willing to overlook them.

In the end, one factor has led me to decide to read it. I skimmed the first few pages using Amazon’s “look inside” feature, and learned that one of the minor characters is a young autistic boy who has yet to speak his first word by age eight. As it happens, I now have a young autistic boy in my life who has an essentially non-existent vocabulary at age seven. So, yeah… I think I’ll give it a shot.

Fingers crossed.

 

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No, I Don’t Want to Read Your Traditionally Published Book

A lot of fuss is being made right now about a recent blog over at The Washington Post titled, “No, I don’t want to read your self-published book.” The article was prompted by an open letter to indie authors by a children’s book publisher, maintaining that they will not consider self-published books for a few reasons, foremost among them being the fact that there are just too darn many of them. Past that, a good number of them simply aren’t very good.

The first fact is undeniably true. There are a ridiculous number of books being published, these days, thanks to affordable self-publishing options, especially digital-only publishing. But it’s that second statement that has self-published writers peeved. Because, let’s face it, there are some damn good indie authors publishing damn good books. Still, the fact remains that most self-published books aren’t great, and many are absolutely horrible. I’m comfortable in saying the majority are poor, given the sample of indie books I’ve read (or attempted to read).

But even awful books have redeeming qualities.

Many people hold the attitude that, if a book is any good, it will be published by a conventional (read “reputable”) publisher. They believe that writers self-publish because they aren’t good enough to get a “real” publisher.

Hold that thought for a moment.

Now, this post isn’t actually to talk about the quality of indie books. Rather, it’s to comment on one short excerpt from the Post article. Specifically, the boldfaced, quoted text below (my emphasis).

“At The Post, we’re getting about 150 books a day. A day. And these are books that had to find an agent. And then a publisher. And then were professionally edited. And now are being professionally marketed by people with money on the line. Many of these books, of course, are bad, but many — far more than we can review — are interesting, engaging, informative, moving, timely and/or newsworthy for various reasons.”

Here’s the thing. Many readers view conventional publishers as the judges, the ones who decide that a book is good enough to be read by the public. It’s their job to weed out the crap. But as this excerpt admits, this task is routinely unmet. “Many of these books, of course, are bad…”

My question is: Why?

How is it that bad books are accepted by agents? How do they then find a publisher? How do the editors not point out their inherent badness? How do they make it to the bookstore shelves and into the hands of readers when they “of course, are bad”?

Well, for the same reasons that fast-food restaurants exist. Because people will buy and eat the stuff.

But when I go to a fine dining establishment, I expect something special. I trust the chef and the proprietor to guarantee the quality of what I’m about to eat. I’m going to be pretty upset if I’m served something I can get at dozens of drive-through joints in the city. My trust in them will never be the same.

Cuisine by Chef Jacques La Merde

When traditional publishers put bad books on the market simply because they sell, it means I can no longer trust them, either. It shows that they are not inherently better than self-publishers. In fact, in some ways, it shows that they’re worse.

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