Daily Archives: November 7, 2012

Seeking serendipity

Apple Blossom Vodkatini 
based on Serendipity Green Apple Sorbet

VISIBILITY and curation are the two big buzzwords of book publishing today. I cannot see myself writing on visibility in this column so let’s talk curation.

Whatever way you slice it, when it comes to books, curation means book reviews.
Book reviews can take many forms. A news story saying the Fifty Shades of Grey trio have sold 40 million is a review telling the reader the series is most popular. Similarly a news report on a book winning a significant literary award  is a review telling readers  professional judges have declared this book a fine work, indeed.
At the other end of the scale, an author tweeting the assessment their own novel  is brilliant is a review, probably not effective as an impetus to sales, but a review.
Curation as a prod to buying a book is what both authors and readers want.
A reader wants a critic they can trust.  An author wants a kind reviewer and on the internet they usually get one, with kindness beyond the call of  fair assessment.
Many readers have a healthy suspicion of internet book reviews. As an exercise, compare the film reviews onRotten Tomatoes. Assessments of the general public are markedly more positive than those of professional critics. The number of first-time authors gathering four and five-star internet reviews are astounding. Few reviewers refer to typos or plot flaws which abound in many books not professionally edited.
Reasons for these glowing reviews include politeness to strangers;  friends submitting reviews and cognitive dissonance where the book buyer wants to reaffirm the shrewdness of their purchasing decision.
Producing informed objective curation was a thorny problem before the explosion of ebooks.
I have never worked on a newspaper with professional book reviewers. Instead the literary editor, if there was one, or the chief of staff or a general editor if there was not, would hand out books  to journalists on the understanding the critic would read them in their own time and the only payment was keeping the book.
This hit-and-miss system was one of the most disheartening facts of literary life for mid-list authors who, if they were lucky enough to achieve a review, it was likely to be from an unqualified critic.
On the internet, I would suggest the most valued (by readers) reviews  and the most valuable (to authors) are those on book-lover sites such as Goodreads and Shelfari.
I quit Shelfari  because I was miffed at continual rebukes for my trying to promote my own books.
I see now that I was in the wrong. It would be a tragedy if Shelfari or Goodreads were subverted by us author-trolls. The most effective way an author can gain a loyal following is by serendipity, happenstance, the good fortune to be noticed by an influential critic, usually an informed amateur.
One strategy for a writer is to hop off the relentless promotional treadmill of trying to manufacture the one-book wonder.  The more books you have out there, the better odds of attracting serendipity.
Another ploy is to be more creative in seducing serendipity than by endless tweets and Facebook posts.
A third is to seek the guidance of readers as to how they came by a book which they found a minor treasure. 
A fourth is to use a big word like serendipity in your blog on the basis that only confirmed readers will understand what the hell you are talking about. That’s the strategy I am going for, here. 
 Send me your thoughts on seeking or finding serendipity.

Today’s musical vignette is a serendipitous offshoot of our most  recent selection of Johnny Cash performing the standard, 16 tons.
Wiki tells us the song is about mine “workers (who) were not paid cash (but) with non-transferable credit vouchers which could be exchanged for only goods sold at the company store’’.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sixteen_Tons

The message of the song is easily translated: workers will rise up in violence unless they receive wage justice. Check out how the elite of two countries, the U.S. and Russia, get off on a song which is basically against them.
I love both these versions of 16 Tons and I can see why the elites did too. But I love even more the exquisite irony of the former cold warriors culturally united. These back to back videos are a rare treat when you savour the audience reactions.