Wednesday, October 13, 2010

King Kong

And by King Kong, I don't mean King Kong, actually, but the thousand pound gorilla who is making the rest of us feel small. And by small I don't mean petite and perky... I mean wimpy. Little. Near nothings in the world of publishing. Let me e'spain...

It seems most publishing seasons have THE BUZZ novel... a (debut*) author who is (what, hand selected?) featured as the next big thing—whose book is having a bizillion copy run... who sucks ALL the air off of the proverbial shelf space, leaving everyone else grasping for the randomly distributed oxygen masks.

[* It isn't always debut—I'd argue Suzanne Collins did this with Hunger Games, and she has a decent record with middle grade/young adult books prior, but Hunger Games really DID break her out—this is good news—we don't have only a single shot at this. However...]


I thought maybe to see HOW to be King Kong, we'd check out the story on a few past gorillas... look at their pedigree and assess the hope...

Hunger Games and its ilk aside, I thought looking at bestselling or award winning debuts might give us some insight, so I Googled that and this is what I found....

Debuts that are Bestsellers and Pulitzer Prize winners
(apparently in no particular order *grumbles* though for your ease in perusing, I've color coded:  BOLD=after 1980 (currentish); BLUE-I've read)

Agatha Christie's The Mysterious Affair at Styles; (1916)
F. Scott Fitzgerald's This Side of Paradise; (1920)
Harper Lee's only novel To Kill a Mockingbird; (1960)
Jay McInernay's Bright Lights, Big City; (1984)
Margaret Mitchell's only novel Gone with the Wind; (1936)
Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things; (1997)
Fannie Flagg's Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe, (1987)
Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain, (1997)
David Guterson's Snow Fall on Cedars; (1994)
John Kennedy Toole's only novel A Confederacy of Dunces, (1980)
Melinda Hayes's Mother of Pearl; (1999)
Jhumpa Lahiri's The Interpreter of Maladies; (1999)
Lauren Weisberger's The Devil Wears Prada; (2003)
Boris Pasternak's only novel Dr. Zhivago, (1957)
Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones, (2002)
Laurie Notaro's Idiot Girls Action Adventure Club, (2002)
Sue Monk Kidd's The Secret Life of Bees (4 million copies sold!), (2002)
Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, (2003)
Curtis Sittenfeld's Prep, (2005)
Nicholas Sparks's The Notebook, (1996)
Anna Sewell's Black Beauty, (1877)
Rebecca Well's Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, (2002)
Marjorie Kellogg's Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon, (1968)
Janet Fitch's White Oleander, (1999)
Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights, (1847)
Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar, (1963)
Brad Meltzer's The Tenth Justice, (1997)
Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, (1890)
Ralph Ellison's only novel Invisible Man, (1953)
Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason's The Rule of Four, (2004)

Note how many of these also became movies... I've seen MANY of the movies for books I haven't read.  And there is one fairly obvious trend. The '90s looks to be a VERY good time to have been a debut novelist. But never mind—unless you have a time machine you'd like to share.

The current ones seem to be that elusive 'mainstream borders on literary' thing that I wouldn't have a clue how to write. Which in the cases I KNOW anything is related to AWARDS. Easy peasy, eh? Write an award winning book and you get a bestseller? *rolls eyes* As if everybody and their dog wouldn't do this if they could...

No, King Kong's britches seem to maybe be too big to fill, and since I can't abide by britches ANYWAY I think I am just going to have to do the more moderate thing and sneak in the side door and start screaming 'GET NAKED NOW!' until somebody notices me...


Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Wow--that's quite a list! I think you're right about the genre for the recent I'm guessing we don't get to be King Kong for cozies. :) But it's nice that it can happen later in a writing career, too!

MJenks said...

I don't need to be the next big thing. I'd rather just get my stuff on the shelves, have a decent to good following, and a career of churning out books that people enjoy reading.

Of course, I wouldn't sneer in the face of a movie contract...

LTM said...

so glad you made it safe to admit I want to write something EVERYONE will love... :D But I know that's impossible. And every time I TRY to do something like that, I get all blocked.

If it happens, it will SO be an accident... but I still dream of it. :D <3

seems I was doing a lot of reading in the 90s... I've read almost all of those books!

Dawn said...

If only I hadn't been such a slacker in the 90s... Sigh. I agree - impressive list. I've always dreamed of writing "the" book but right now, I'd settle for "a" book on the shelf :-)

Hart Johnson said...

Elizabeth-that IS encouraging--and actually, in just about every genre, there are people who've made it pretty darned big. So maybe we can't make it big in one, but we CAN make it...

MJenks-See, I have world domination plans... *shifty* Seriously though, I REALLY just want to make it big enough to quit my day job, but at my cozy mystery rate, I would need to write better than a book a month.

Leigh-the world domination thing is rubbing off, yes? I was having BABIES in the 90s (plus working full time) and going through my 'classics' phase, so my reading of 'new books' was a little limited.

Hart Johnson said...

Dawn-you snuck in there! Yes... A book. I have the cozy thing going, but that is pen name and a little different in nature. I really DO want to sell something that is one of my own self-generated babies.

ViolaNut said...

Awww, go read Mysterious Affair at Styles. I love Agatha Christie. (BTW, John Kennedy Toole does have one other novel - I think it's called The Neon Bible, and was published after CofD {in fact, he committed suicide when it was turned down, I believe}).

Carol Kilgore said...

Sounds like a plan to me :)

Helena said...

Okay, this is my new plan: First, establish a prestigious new award for best self-published book of the year. Then self-publish my book. Then give my book the award and send out press releases announcing how my book has won. Then establish my own bestseller list and put my book on it.

This is the only way I'll be able to say in my lifetime that great literary/bestseller success happened to me.

Hey, we create our own realities, right?

Aleta said...

Screaming "Get Naked" will definitely catch some attention - I'd say that's a good start Lol

Don't be deterred by "featured" authors. You can and WILL do what you set out for. It's in your heart.

Helen Ginger said...

I totally like your plan.

I think what I'll do is look at the more current ones and read the ones I haven't already read. I'll try to read to discover what the author did that made the books bestsellers. Do sort of a research project. Problem is I already have a huge stack of books waiting to be read.

Cold As Heaven said...

The only book on your list that I have read is the Picture of Dorian Gray. I bought it in a 2nd hand bookstore in Boulder. It was a fabulous book, and a major inspiration when I decided to give my soul to the devil >:)))

Cold As Heaven

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

My book's certainly not an award winner, so I'm right there with you, Hart. Okay, not literally. And probably not naked, either. I'm sure you do it much better than I.

Old Kitty said...

"It wasn't the airplanes. It was Beauty killed the Beast".

Awwwww poor King Kong!! Now about to be slain by Naked Tartness!! :-)

Yay! Take care

Hart Johnson said...

Leanne-so THAT'S THE TRICK! Commit SUICIDE over not being published and they will publish our book! HA! Or... since I am writing MYSTERY these days, i could just FAKE my death!

Carole-excellent! Always need more co-conspirators.

Helena--HA! That works too--just make what you need!

Aleta-I certainly HOPE so! Thank you!

Helen-I think MOST of them are also a bit historical--they require careful research, though I would love to hear what you come up with.

CaH- *snicker* Yeah, I see how Dorian Gray might fit in with that plan... I prefer Oscar Wilde's plays, myself. The man is better at a quip than anybody, but I wasn't enamored with Dorian Gray.

Alex-Sci-Fi though, has a pretty good shelf life, it seems--so you will do fine over time. And You'd have more fun if you were naked.

Talli Roland said...

If you find a guaranteed plan, please let me know! We can be the buzz together! :)

RaShelle said...

Hart - Here's the plan: Pose for Playboy and release your book AT THE SAME TIME!!!! Naked World Domination!!! There you go. It'll be a media blitz thing. Plus. Plus, if one of your characters has something to do with naked, it would be perfect. LOL There you go. =D

Hart Johnson said...

Talli-DEAL! We can try to cover all the genres!

RaShelle-if only I had more boobs and less butt! TOTALLY not above it in theory! and one of my characters DOES yell "I'm naked!" Right in chapter 4... totally serious--she is the one who channels me.

Deb and Barbara said...

Your plan sounds as good as any (the stripping naked and shouting part). Second best, just throw it out there and wait to see what happens?

Fingers crossed for all of us aspiring writers!


Lisa said...

Thank you for putting together this list. I'll admit, I harbor fantasies of writing a bestseller, but like my friend Nan the Editor told me the other day, I have to throw my manuscript over a few transoms before it even becomes a possibility.

Stopping with the procrastinating would also help!

Kassy with a K said...

I wouldn't even care if my (future) book became popular except that I have this weird desire to see Selena Gomez play the part of my main character. And I figure I have about ten years or so (seeing as how "high schoolers" are usually played by 20-somethings [maybe more since she's got that baby face]) to finish, publish, dazzle the world, convince someone to make it a movie, and have Selena agree to play the part. This is MY version of your World Domination Plan. :P

Bahaha it sounds ridiculous even just re-reading it. But hey, while we're dreaming about impossibilities...