Thursday, October 09, 2003

Peter Straub's new strategy 

PW has a long feature on Peter Straub, whose new novel lost boy lost girl was released this week. The recurring theme is that it seems to be vitally important for a writer to produce a book a year these days. That's the party line espoused by Straub's publisher at Random House, Gina Centrello: "A commercial writer needs to write a book a year. Or consumers find somebody else to read. So he'll write a shorter book. Nothing was lost. The book needed this length. It's tight and it's smart. I wouldn't have wanted to see it much longer than that."

I'm not sure I agree with this. If a book is good--or perceived to be that it merits word of mouth or a massive publicity campaign--then no matter what the time lag since the last one, it's going to find an audience. Look at Dan Brown. THE DA VINCI CODE is the biggest selling book of 2003, and his previous book had come out 3 years prior and sold bupkes at the time. There's no word when his next novel will be out, but you think he's under as much pressure to produce a novel a year? Look at Dennis Lehane, who because he turned in his 4th Kenzie/Gennaro novel, GONE, BABY GONE, so late, had to "crank out" the next one (PRAYERS FOR RAIN) in a matter of months in order to keep the book-a-year deadline. Now he writes a book every two years at most and has far more success than he ever did. I worry for writers like Stephen Booth whose books get longer and more complicated with each installment, whose time is increasingly constrained by promotional obligations on both sides of the Atlantic, and are still required to crank out a book a year (in Booth's case, he just signed a contract for 3 more books in his highly acclaimed Cooper & Fry series to be released in the next 3 years.) Is this really healthy?

Not that I advocate an author taking all the time in the world to finish his or her book. It took ten years for Donna Tartt's THE LITTLE FRIEND to see publication and was it ever apparent as the book suffered mightly from the author's infatuation with her own words at the expense of a coherent plot. Deadlines and editors are a wonderful thing. However, there has to be some kind of balance. Or perhaps I'm just a naif.

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