Friday, September 03, 2010

Readers Uniting for Light!

Today is just so glorious. It's cool and sunny and the humidity is down, and I'm about to go take a long walk. I may even spend most of the afternoon sitting on the patio and reading (if I can figure out how to get the patio table and umbrella upright after a gust of wind flipped them -- the shoulder is very sore from therapy this morning). I've got the book proposal more or less done and am letting it rest over the holiday weekend before I give it one more read-through, so today is something of a holiday, though I have a few other things I want to take care of.

It looks like we've got the makings for a Movement in wanting an alternative to dark and gritty. In books, TV and movies, it seems like it's considered a given that dark and gritty=good and that light=fluffy and somehow lesser. So, saying that something is dark and gritty is calling it good. That really happened during the "what you should have read/should read" panel at the convention last weekend. It was a constant refrain of "You ought to read this. It's really dark and gritty." Or "This is so good, it's really dark and gritty." But there's lots of stuff that falls on the lighter and more hopeful side that's considered classic, and grit alone doesn't make something good.

Unfortunately, the way publishers make decisions about what to publish is by looking at how sales are going, and if there's almost nothing light on the market, then it's hard to do profit and loss projections because there's no comparison. The few authors getting away with lighter stuff in science fiction and fantasy are the established bestsellers, so their numbers don't count for comparison. If it's not out there, we can't buy it, but if it's not out there, then they can't measure demand for it. They seem to be thinking that lower book sales are because of the recession, not because of the lack of variety. I'm doing my part by griping to every editor I run into, making sure they know that it's not just me as a writer talking and wanting more of a market for my books. It's me as a reader talking as someone whose book purchases went from hundreds of dollars in a year to only a few books a year, just because there's not much I want to buy. When you resort to reading Victorian dime novels from Project Gutenberg just to have something fun to read, you know you're in trouble (and those things are like crack. They're so unintentionally hilarious).

Though you'd think that a look at TV ratings and the movie box office would indicate that there's a demand for lighter fare. The top-rated scripted show on TV right now is NCIS -- the "light" procedural that's more character-driven and that's loaded with quirky humor. The biggest hit the Sci Fi Channel has ever had is Warehouse 13, which can get serious but which is light and quirky. Then there's the entire USA Network lineup. Even though True Blood gets pretty gory and gritty, I wouldn't call it truly dark because it's got so much humor and is almost played as farce at times. It's the escapist fare that does well at the movie theater. In the past, it seemed like at most of the writing conferences I've been to, when editors say what they're looking for, they usually refer to recent hit movies or TV series as models (I remember when they kept saying they wanted something with a tone like Pretty Woman, but without the heroine being a hooker). I don't know why there's such a huge disconnect right now where they don't seem to be pointing to any particular recent hit movies or TV shows but instead keep saying they're looking for dark, gritty and angsty.

I'm not saying I want dark to go away. I just want to get away from this all-or-nothing mindset. Surely having a little of something for everyone would be better for the bottom line than driving away large groups of readers.

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