It's slacking off now, but there are still calls and preferences for crime books set in Scandinavia.  Gee, why would that be?

Oh, right, because the dragon tattoo books sold really well.  So suddenly that got to be a big deal.  Why?  Was there anything about the "Scandinavianess" of those books that made them appeal?

Or was it maybe the unique heroine, and the whole rogue hacker thing?????

This mentality reminds of what you see on Netflix ratings--inappropriate generalization.   "Oh, you liked "Men In Black"?  So you'd like other movies about sunglasses?"

I've been writing stories set in Mexico for years and have actually been told "nobody's interested in Mexico".  

That was back before "cartels" became "the new mafia/Russians/Columbians/CIA".  Now everybody is writing about Mexican cartels, even if they know nothing about it and produce ridiculous novels like T. Jefferson Parker's  "Border Lords".

I guess what I'm grumbling about here is the way "they"  (and I think agents way more than editors) chase past hits, and don't necessarily know what it is they are chasing after. 

What I wonder is if the reading public suddenly starts clamboring for "Scandinavia Crime", or it's just agents.  If the former, it seems pretty nuts since the long delay involved in feeding that appetite through traditional publishers is going to be longer than the fad lasts.


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Well, I've thought about this myself, because I am a fan of many of the Scandinavian authors. But not Stieg Larsen.

The fact is that Scandinavian crime's rise in the mystery market rests on Henning Mankell's books which preceded Stieg Larsen, but never quite reached the blockbuster success of "The Girl" (and before Mankell, there were Sjowall and Wahloe). The "Girl" was promoted to the hilt because its author was dead and because it has a certain amount of prurient appeal. By that time, the American (and European) market was already eager for Scandinavian authors. There are a number of other outstanding writers, all better than Larsen.

For me, their appeal lies exactly in the fact that the good ones do not appeal to people who like to be shocked, but rather tell simple and moving stories, mostly police procedurals, about ordinary people. And do it very, very well.


As to your frustration: yes. I write about Japan.  Same problem. People have told me they'd never read a book set in Japan. Keating wrote a series about an Indian police inspector, Ghote. They were wonderful, but he switched to writing the mediocre "Detective" series set in England. People are not interested in what they don't know and have no imagination.

Just watched three seasons of Wallander starring Kenneth Branagh back to back to back. Really good plots and the character of Wallander: intense. Also really enjoyed the Swedish countryside and architecture.

I think "locale" stuff make some sort of sense for films.  Sure, you've got different landscapes and cityscapes and styles and all that.

But what is really all that "Scandinavian" about the Dragon Tat series?  Most of it's urban, which could be anywhere, and the rest is out in some manor/cabin, which could be on Heathcliff's moors.

I think you see the same odd preferences/prejudices in regard to major publisher interest in particular historical periods.

Or probably hat styles.  :-)

But, again, is it really publisher interest?   Or is it agents trying to whip it in?  

Every time I've sat down and pitched a publisher, they've started talking about "two years from now".  Are they really so stupid as to think that dragon tattoos and African detectives will still be hot at that point?

Whereas agents really have no committment.   They can sign you up and see if they can flog it.  I'm continually aghast at things agents say about "the market".

My favorite was, "Nobody wants series mystery novels."

I might have said the reason for the Mexican stuff was Don Winslow, but I don't know when the T. jefferson Parker book came out. But as Ingrid says, usually there are a few others that get close to breaking out before the big one.

I'm hoping Louise Penny's success puts Canada on the map a little... ;)

Well, the Mexico thing is my own specific beef about this general myopia, if that's what you'd call it.

It's been driving me nuts.  When William Vollman came out with Butterfly Stories back in 1993 I was doing magazine articles about whoring around in Tijuana.  I mentioned this to agents and got this "Thailand is cool, Mexico isn't" thing.

Fast forward to my TV series--pilot and about 8 hours of a border scenario--from both sides of the line.  Developed by a good team--the director of "The Virgin Of Juarez" and a producer of "Carlito's Way" and "Scarface" and a ton of other stuff.

ZERO interest.  Then Mexico sort of hit the attention span.  And suddenly it was all over reality shows.  And we got nibbles from people.  Usually with something like,  "build the gringo journalist up and every week he takes down a cartel."

It's like suddenly Mexico was OK, but only if it involved evil fiends hooking your innocent kids on dope or angelic white-pajama-ed "immigrants" trying to come build America for us.   There was even "Kingpin" (Sopranos go Mexican) which was one of the most ridiculous pieces of crap I ever saw.  I mean even a Valentine like "The Godfather" was based on actually experience of the writer to some extent.  This stuff is just dreamed up.  (The show that doesn't dream up cartel stuff, by the way, is "Breaking Bad"--i was continually shocked about some of the stuff they knew about, and humbled by how well they handled it.)

My stuff--informed by by friends, women, enemies, neighbors, colleagues and no-good business associates was of no value.

Like I say, bitching and moaning.  But still...   And I know if that series was made, and was a hit, there would be agents saying,  "Have you got any realistic border stuff?"

Again, there's no way to really know what "the people want next", is my feeling.  I don't think that's what's happening.  I think it's agents trying to jump a bandwagon and sell it to publishers.

Well, sure, agents are just trying to make a living, no harm, no foul.

The thing is, agents and publishers have a finite amount of clients and books they can work with. An agent can't have five hundred clients and do a good job and a publisher can't publish a thousand books and do a good job. Whatever system is used to narrow down the field is going to seem wrong to the people rejected.

I have to admit I have been surprised that so far it looks like most of the breakout self-published succeses have been very traditional books that fit into existing genres.

It kind of looks like agents and publishers have been right about what makes a bestseller, at least in the broad strokes.

The limits on publishers aren't how good a job they can do.  It all stems from financing.  That's why it takes a huge company with big resources two years to publish a book, when we can do it in a week.  They have the loans committed, etc.

Obviously 99.99 percent will be rejected.  It's worse with movies. 

And actually, what you're saying about SP successes kind of makes my point.   The people who make it big are working in established grooves.  What they aren't doing is trying to do the "Next Twilight"  or "Next Wool"  or "Next New Zealand best seller".    A genre is a legitimate "tag".   "Scandinavian", I would say, is not.  Any more than "sunglasses movies".

My objections to agents have never been that they aren't trying to make money.  That's what business is all about.  What I shake my head over is doing it bassackwards (and the book industry has more dysfunctional bassackwardness than any other).  Searching for Scandinavian Mysteries is not efficient or helpful.  For that matter, if you scan agent listings you see that half of them are actively seeking "Judaica".  How many "Judaica" readers are there out there.   Much of what gets signed is more about status than money--which is why the large majority of traditional books lose money.

And so to the majority of the "50-something Shades Of Grey" books.  And the "Eat, Spray, Leave" books.  It's not a good idea for writers to chase the last best-seller.  Certainly not to chase the wrong aspects of it.   Definitely not a good idea to encourage them to. 

My hunch... it publishers want a new novel like that Ethiopian Restaurant Murders book, they get hold of established writers or "stable" people and tell them to write one.  But they did that long before it's become a hot property that agents are telling you they want to see.

I'd rather not be told by a publisher or agent what kind of book to write.


As for what sells to publishers and agents: anything that follows the track already laid by the latest bestseller. And as you say, time is against that.  It takes a year to write a book, another year to find an agent and publisher, and one or two more years to get the book in print.  By that time the hype may be on something new.


I am convinced that only trashy books on sensational subjects become super bestsellers.  Of the rest, some very good genre novels make it to the NYT bestseller list.  They do so on quality and critical acclaim.

As for locale: this has nothing to do with reason. The people who create super bestsellers are readers who are generally not all that well read or literate. They simply go with whatever the buzz is. If the buzz is Scandinavian or Thai, so be it.

Publishers are big business.  They aren't interested in fair play or in building a stable of good authors. They are interested in selling titles in the biggest possible numbers at the greatest possible profit.

Why rail against it, when you can self-publish?

Well, actually, that's mostly what I do.  Publish my own stuff, and on small presses.

I'm not very attuned to working with people like that, and have published my own work since grade school.  I had early experiences with publishing through NYC houses and was pretty repelled.  The agents I've had, though I liked them personally, struck me as cogs in a Rube Goldberg machine that they didn't understand. 

But I still keep an eye on the possibilities.  I prefer the term "bitching and moaning" to "railing".  I'm not running a crusade, but inviting discussion on how this stuff works.  Or doesn't.   I think trying to get with the current program is a trap, as it seems you do, as well. 

Oh, God, yes.  I'm traditionally published. When sales didn't please the publishers, my agent tried and tried again. No complaints there.  But ultimately I had no choice but to self-publish.  It was then I lost my agent, too.

I just posted on PG under the Bookstores and Midlist Authors topic. Both publishers and bookstores have caused the failure of midlist authors. That paradigm will never work for me, now or in the future. Not unless they pay me 7 figures -- at which point the publisher will make an effort to actually promote and sell your books.


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