The Conduit Lectures: How to Fix the Publishing Industry, Part 2

Sunday, October 21, 2007, 9:37 PM

Welcome to the second instalment of The Conduit Lectures, a series of blogs where I embarrass myself by blathering about things I have no business blathering about (whilst at the same time watching the Brazilian Formula 1 Grand Prix, which just got off to a dramatic start).

By popular demand, this rant will feature another sequence of dinosaur dialogue – or Dinologue, as it shall henceforth be known – but I will not bow to pressure to rename the series The Conduit Chronicles. So there. I will reiterate, these pieces are purely opinion and speculation on my part, and I’d welcome the comments of those more knowledgeable than myself.

Are we sitting comfortably? Then, let’s begin…

Books, books everywhere and not a word to read

There have been various posts on various blogs in recent days discussing the pros and cons of chain stores versus independents and large versus small publishers. In my part of the world, the independent book store is extinct. My local supermarket has a small book section that sells current bestsellers, but other than that I have to travel to an out-of-town shopping centre to be able browse books on a shelf. And this is where I start to get annoyed…

Girls and Boys

It’s clear that gender plays a significant role in our tastes in all forms of entertainment, from movies to music to books. I conform to many of the conventions; I have all the Star Wars DVDs, I have a penchant for questionable classic rock, and I’d rather eat my own hair than watch Dirty Dancing. But I also have The Devil Wears Prada alongside my Die Hard box set, and Joni Mitchell and Suzanne Vega CDs sit next to my AC/DC and Van Halen collections. While my tastes are influenced by my having dangly parts, they are neither defined nor limited by them.

Why, then, do I feel so disadvantaged when I go to my nearest book chain? In my local branch of Eason’s I see yard after yard of pastel shades, funky typefaces, and cute girly caricatures (often involving handbags or stilettos). There are occasional patches of books with moody covers with abstract photography of barren cityscapes which usually denote the sixth in a series of murder mysteries starring some hard-bitten cop or another. Such novels are no more to my taste than the pastel shades are.

The question I find myself asking is: where are the books for me? I am an adult male with (I’d like to think) a reasonable level of intelligence and life experience. Why does somebody, somewhere, think that means I only want to read techno-thrillers or worthy literary fiction? I want books that entertain me while making me think. I want challenging characters in challenging situations. I want my imagination to be fired by being plunged into places I’ve never been, by experiences I’ve never had, by people I’ve never met.

What don’t I want to read about?

Here’s a list:

1. Doomsday weapons falling into the hands of terrorists/despots/mad industrialists.
2. Rugged mercenaries called Blaze McTesticle pursuing said Doomsday weapon.
3. Former-cops-turned-private-eyes with tragic pasts who…
4. Get called back into service by the organisation that fired them, or…
5. Get a message from an ex-wife/girlfriend/partner/boss/mentor they haven’t heard from in years who subsequently dies in suspicious circumstances leading to…
6. An investigation that leads the protagonist into dangerous territory, or…
7. A race against time to save some loved-one or other.
8. Middle-class, soul-searching, chin-stroking, navel-gazing explorations of the human condition with a male character aged between thirty-five and fifty who is…
9. A doctor…
10. A professor…
11. A teacher…
12. A novelist…
13. A journalist…
14. Especially not a journalist, who…
15. Has a mid-life crisis…
16. An affair…
17. A divorce…
18. A reconciliation with his estranged father, or…
19. Attends a funeral which forces him to examine the futility of his own existence.
20. Or even worse, a young academic who does any of the above while embarking on a torrid relationship with a kooky girl with unusually coloured hair.

Me man. Me no read.

As I understand it, the majority of fiction bought today is by and for women. Men buy comparatively few books. And why is this? Is it because men spend their leisure time on other things? Playing computer games? Watching sports? Watching television? Drinking beer and scratching their arses?

Actually, I spend a fair amount of time doing that last bit, but that’s not the point…

Is it simply that men generally don’t like to read? Or is there another possibility? Is it feasible that maybe, just maybe, men buy fewer books because the publishing industry isn’t producing enough of the kind of books they want to read?

So, where are the dinosaurs?

It’s Jurassic Analogy time. In this episode, we discover how T.Rex and Raptor view the male of the species…


RAPTOR: What the hell is that thing?
T.REX: That? Oh, that's a caveman.
RAPTOR: Caveman? But we're separated by millions of years of evol--
T.REX: Shut up.
RAPTOR: But we couldn't possibly be in the same--
T.REX: Look, shut up! You're ruining the analogy.
RAPTOR: Jeez, sorry! So it's a caveman.
T.REX: Yeah, a caveman.
RAPTOR: So, what are they like?
T.REX: Well, you've basically got two types.
RAPTOR: And what are they?
T.REX: First, you've got the manly caveman. He likes hitting stuff with his club, running around a lot, scratching his ass. That kind of thing.
RAPTOR: He doesn't like anything too smart, then.
T.REX: Yep, that about sums him up.
RAPTOR: And what's the other type?
T.REX: The artsy-fartsy caveman. He's your intellectual type. Gazes at the moon and does cave-drawings. Y'know, artsy-fartsy stuff.
RAPTOR: What does he draw?
T.REX: Pictures about the futility of existence.
RAPTOR: Huh. Sounds boring. So, there's nothing in between? There are no other types? Just those two?
T.REX: Yep, just those two. They taste good, though.
RAPTOR: I don't know. I'm still not convinced by this analogy thing. I can't get past the millions of years of separation. I can't suspend my disbelief.
T.REX: Can't suspend your disbelief? Dude, dinosaurs can't talk.

Join me next time when I explore the topic of genre, and how while pigeonholing books may be a necessary evil, it's just that: evil.

DISCLAIMER: The above text is the rambling nonsense of someone with no connection to the publishing industry other than being at its two extremes. All opinions expressed are more than likely the reflection of a bitter and cantankerous mind and no warranty as to their validity is given or implied. All comments are welcome, particularly from those who actually know what they're talking about. Just remember I don't.

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Blogger jjdebenedictis said...

Dude, dinosaurs can't talk.


A fellow at the writers' conference I just got back from had me look around to notice something he had noticed: the number of women in the audience outnumbered the men by about 7 to 1. The agents and editors were also mainly women.

However, I later noticed the number of published writers appeared to have gender parity.

Perhaps one reason why there are more books aimed at women is there are more women writers? Or then again, perhaps women are more concerned with the opinions of others, and thus go to conferences while the male writers stay home.

Or maybe there are fewer male writers, but they're more aggressive about marketing themselves, and so a larger number of them end up presenting at conferences.

*shrugs* Don't know.

11:43 PM  
Blogger moonrat said...

thank you!! esp re: dinosaurs.

i can't tell you how many books i hate that fall on your not to read bullet point list. and how many debut novels on those topics get acquired everyday. sigh.

5:23 PM  
Blogger Josephine Damian said...

Conduit! Tag! Your it!

70% of books are sold to women. Maybe we read to give us something to do while our men are watching football? :-)

Certainly explains why there are not a lot of books published that appeal to men, aka 30% of the buyers.

Me? I've never been a browser of stacks either at the lib. or the bookstore (indy or chain). I read the NY Times reviews since they tend to review the kind of books I read. I also subscribe to a 5-day- a-week newsletter called "Today in Literature" which has turned me on to a lot of overlooked books.

I read a lot of writing advice books that mentions terrific novels that I could well learn from.

By looking at blogs by readers with similar reading taste as mine, I get ideas for books I'll want to read based on their recommendation.

As a book reviewer with a myspace page, I get lots of "friends requests" from published authors who are trying to catch my attention. I look up info on each and every book, and rarely, if it seems like it might interest me, I'll give it a try. If I really like it, I finish it and review it.

Lots of ways to find books to read that suite your tastes.. bookstores are not even on my list - too much time wasted sorting through crap to find something good.

5:24 PM  
Blogger Ello said...

I read somewhere that men are the highest buyers of nonfiction books but that they tend to be less interested in purchasing fiction. I don't know how true this is, but it seems to be how publishing has geared their books at the bookstores.

FYI - I have the Star Wars DVD set, as well as Die Hard, Indiana Jones, LOTR, Band of Brothers, Tombstone, Terminator, Underworld, the list is endless and they are not all my husbands. I hate Dirty Dancing and hated the book Devil Wears Prada where as the movie at least was mildly interesting to me. All this to say, these gender labels don't always hold true also. ;o)

8:52 PM  
Blogger sex scenes at starbucks said...

While my tastes are influenced by my having dangly parts, they are neither defined nor limited by them.

OMG!! You're a GUY??

1:41 AM  
Blogger McKoala said...

Dinologue! Bwahhahahaha!

I don't want to read any of the books on your list either.

7:02 AM  
Blogger Precie said...

OMG. I can't believe I'm late to this party. That Jurassic Analogy is fantastic!

And you forgot the stereotypical male obsession with sex...that men probably buy fewer books but more porn mags. *snort*

Funny...the men I know pretty much fall into the two categories you describe. My hubby is devoted to literary fiction (mind you, there's some exciting literary's not all navel-gazing), but his friends tend toward the techno-zombie-thriller-horror-aliens readership.

So, conduit, what are your favorite books?

8:50 PM  
Blogger Conduit said...

Thanks for stopping by, Precie. The sex thing - ah, you forgot about the erotica genre, which is female dominated. It seems the ladies like their porn too, just in a different form!

Favourite books? It varies. Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe, The Black Dahlia and American Tabloid by James Ellroy, Red Dragon by Thomas Harris, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind by Chuck Barris, and I'm currently reading William Goldman's Marathon Man for about the hundredth time.

2:08 PM  

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