Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Why do some books get written?

I was at the bookstore the other day, and found a book which could not have been anything but a slightly fictionalized account of the protagonist’s stay at one of the nation’s premier education institutes. Though the book was labeled ‘fiction’, there were enough parallels between the resumes of the protagonist and the author for anyone to know one was based on the other. To make it even more clear, the author took pains to thank, by name, the various classmates who ‘helped take her down memory lane’, and the standard disclaimer of ‘the characters and situations in the book are purely fictional’ was conspicuous by its absence. The author wanted the reader to believe she was the protagonist, and that was clearly the USP of the book.

This particular book caught my eye, and catalysed this rant, but it is actually just one more in a gloriously long line of similar books brought out by the same publisher. The formula for publication by that particular publisher is standard – graduate from any of the premier educational institutes in the country, write a self-congratulatory account of your stay there, get published. Whether or not the person can write, and whether or not the person has a story to tell, doesn’t seem to be the point. All that seems to matter is that the person have cleared the entrance exams to make it to that particular institute.

I can understand why books of that kind are popular. When a nation of a billion people has less than a dozen institutes that qualify for the tag “premier”, and when over a thousand candidates apply for every available seat at those institutes, people want to know what “actually” happens in those picture perfect campuses. When there is a market for such books, any publisher would want to publish the books, regardless of quality.

But what I cannot understand is why those books get written in the first place. All of them are in high paying high stress jobs – they are not doing it for the money, or because they have too much time on their hands. Why then are they doing it? Is the need to see their name in print so great they do not care what it is associated with? Are they living out their own personal ‘What ifs’ by writing those books? Or, do they genuinely believe the books are good and that they are great authors? And more than anything else, why can't the authors take the trouble to make up decent characters instead of borrowing rather boring people from life and dressing them up a bit?

Personally, I would love to read a well written book set in any of those campuses, as long as the campus doesn’t become the main character, and the author the protagonist. A cozy mystery, or a paranormal fantasy, or even an out an out memoir I would welcome. It is those books where the author is too lazy to make up characters that I object to.


Clarissa Draper said...

You make a really good point. I know I'm frustrated when I go to a book store. Especially after I know all the work that I and other writers I know put into their books, to see books that are crap lining the shelves. It makes me sad.


The Alliterative Allomorph said...

Hey! No problem letting you know about the comments thing. I'd only want the same :)

Ok, now I've forgotten what I wanted to say about this post. Hmm ... let me refresh my memory ... oh yeah, maybe these people simply do not have imaginations and are getting the most out of an opportunity. I wouldn't be surprised if they never publish anything again. I also wouldn't be surprised if they were too scared to say that any of the content was 'officially' real. :)

Watery Tart said...

I don't think this is AT ALL incompatible with my blog today--we are both annoyed with memoires disguised as a story... I mean some people HAVE an interesting story, but what you are describing is not really that (unless someone is say... running a prostitution ring out of their dorm room--that would be a story...) *cough*

I think you nailed it with 'want to see name in print'--wanting to 'have published a book'... it is like the movie stars here, and frankly, it's annoying.

Ann said...

Well I think you just talked yourself into a book. Go for it!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Nothing like a memoir by someone who's done nothing memorable. Of course, I feel the same way about celebrity memoirs - I mean, who cares?

Ellie said...

I agree, with Alex, who cares; It seems like cloning a trend, not producing anything credible. Sad, when you think they see their name in print, but on what, a trend?!
Great post ;-D

Shilpa said...

good post indeed Rayna. As you said these books are out to target the sales.
But why branding as fiction why not a memoir?? What difference it makes on sales??

VR Barkowski said...

Interesting post, Rayna. In such a competitive atmosphere, acceptance and graduation from one of these institutions must be an enormous point of pride. Perhaps the writer wants to make sure readers know he or she is the protagonist?

I'm guessing a proud graduate asked to publish a story about his or her experiences, fictional or not, would be hard-hard pressed not to let ego take the reins. In a way, it's like all those celebrity penned bios on bookstore shelves.

Rayna M. Iyer said...

@ Clarissa - absolutely. I am not saying I am a brilliant writer (I know I am not), but it is frustrating when people with good books struggle to get them read, and you have trash lining the shelves.

@ Jessica - I will definitely do the same back, if I need to.
And I think it is a bit of both. Some of it is true, but they would like us to believe more of it is true, and at the same time not want to admit certain parts of it.
Whatever sails their boat.

@ Hart - actually, I thought it was too similar to your blog for me to post on the same day. But then I figured that while were were disgusted with similar stuff, the posts were not all that alike.
Prostitution ring out of their dorm room- now that would be interesting.

@ Ann - and when I do write that book, and nobody accepts it because I will not pay for publication, I am going to feel so much worse :-(

@ Alex - absolutely. Frankly, who cares? But looks like people do.

@ Ellie - almost pitiful, isn't it?

@ Shilpa - maybe because they know it is not a memoir either, but reality, with a dollop of wishful thinking.

@ Vera - what a crisis of confidence they must be suffering from if that is the case. Or maybe I am just being bitchy.


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