Friday, March 02, 2007

The Shelving Dilemma

Spent a second day alternately dozing and listening to NPR.

With my new interactive medical file, I can converse with my physicians via email. I was told today that the dust storm we had over the weekend stirred up a lot of sinus issues for people who were outdoors on Saturday or Sunday. I spent both days outside, washing my car and working in the yard. I'm back on my sinus meds now and feeling better.

I spent a little bit of time cruising the Internet yesterday and found an article on "The Acquisition Process" on Backspace here.

While parts of the article were schmaltzy, there were a couple of comments that really interested me. An editor getting ready to bring a couple of proposals to an editorial meeting says:

"So where does this book go in the bookstore? Where is Barnes & Noble going to shelve it? Because if we don’t know, they won’t know. And if we don’t know what category it is, then what kind of cover should it have? Remember the problems they had with CAST OF SHADOWS? If we don’t know something so basic as the book’s category, then how can we even discuss it? Have you thought about that?”

I actually remember Cast of Shadows. It was a debut novel released exactly two years ago on March 1, 2005 by Knopf. The publisher had high hopes for the book, doing a first print run of 75,000 hardbacks and a simultaneous release of the audiobook. Most reviews were glowingly positive with only a few like the Kirkus Reviews grousing that the book had a "Fresh idea hampered by conventional treatment--and way too much of it."

The plot was complicated. A teenage girl is raped and murdered, and the Chicago police are unable to solve the crime. The victim's father is a noted fertility doctor who accidentally comes into possession of the killer's DNA when his daughter's effects are returned to him. The physician decides to clone the killer in the hope of solving the crime. He impregnates an infertile woman with the cloned embryo, planning to see the killer's face on the child someday. His single illegal and unethical act has complications no one could have foreseen.

There were numerous other characters: The infertile couple who hires a detective to track down their son's history. The same detective is working for the doctor, providing him with photos of the growing child. There's the doctor's depressed wife and his attractive colleague. There's also a mentally ill fundamentalist who seeks to close down cloning clinics. There's a serial killer called "The Wicker Man" (the novel was released as Wicker in the UK). And then there's Justin, the cloned boy himself.

You can understand the dilemma of the B&N clerks trying to shelve the book. Is it a medical thriller a la Robin Cook? A sci-fi thriller a la Michael Crichton? A mystery? A literary thriller?

Having said all that, I have to confess some annoyance. Here's an imaginative and innovative book hampered by the fact that it couldn't be neatly pigeonholed by bookstores.

Regular readers of this blog know that I routinely recommend against self-publishing except in a few specific instances. However, if you do a search on this blog for "self publish," you'll find that I've said a cross-genre or new genre author SHOULD consider self-publishing. From the editor's comment in the Backspace article, you can see why I make this suggestion.

I believe that, as self-publishing becomes a more viable alternative for writers, we are going to see a splintering of genres into many, many sub-types. While a traditional bricks-and-mortar bookstore will not have enough shelf space to accommodate these new splinter genres, the Internet has almost infinite shelf space. If you happen to like contemporary gay erotic romance, you'll be able to find the books and authors you want. If, on the other hand, you like dark-edged historical mysteries, you'll also be able to locate the books you want.

It's Chris Anderson's The Long Tail all over again.

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