Enhanced books

I was looking for something to read this morning so I picked up a Kate Mosse. I vaguely remembered that she’d started one of the big fiction prizes (the Orange Prize for Fiction) so I flicked through the back to find her bio.

I was a bit surprised to find that there was more than just a bio at the back. There must have been fifteen or twenty pages. There was an extra story, written specially for the Waterstones version. I’ve seen reading group notes in books before, but this also had a plot synopsis and Kate explaining what some of her themes were throughout the book.

I’m still not sure what I think. As a writer, I always approach work with an attitude of “you can’t explain anything to your reader”. In other words, your book has to stand alone. If you’re submitting to an agent, you can’t explain the themes in your cover letter, because they’ve got to be able to get the message of the book solely from what you’ve written. Except now, you can go on to explain some of the deeper meaning behind it.

Overall I think it’s a good thing. From a writer’s point of view, it’s interesting to have someone successful explain how they did it. Writing is as much a craft as anything else. Just like a carpenter, sometimes you need someone to show you the steps that result in the finished article. And, in this age of e-readers and the internet, authors need to look for ways to stand out from the crowd. I suspect a lot of authors are doing similar things, as well as tie-ins to the internet. In many ways it’s an extension of the culture of blog-tours, twitter and all the other social media. The other thing I’ve noticed is that some publishers are including logos on their books to indicate how much action, romance, sensuality, etc. is in the book.

Looking over the best-selling authors list, I reached a surprising conclusion. What readers want, more than anything else, is consistency. The real high-flyers are the likes of John Grisham, Stephen King, Dean Koontz and Barbara Cartland. Of those, only Koontz really takes risks. But you still know roughly what to expect when you pick up one of his books. It’ll be thrilling, and there’s a high chance of something paranormal taking place, and you might find yourself veering into horror on occasion.

At the moment, I’m reading a DI Alan Banks detective novel by Peter Robinson. I know I’m going to get a complicated investigation, a dour Yorkshire detective with a messy personal life and highly cultured tastes. Most of the time, I think, most readers want this – comfort food for the brain. Occasionally though, it is nice to be surprised. I read the Night Circus based on the title and a very short blurb. I thoroughly enjoyed it, partly because I didn’t know what to expect. Similarly with the Rivers of London, which took me equally by surprise, although the blurb was a bit more forthcoming.

Ultimately, publishing is a business, and the most profit in any business is giving people what they want. So, these enhanced books will sell more copies and people will enjoy them more. If you’ll excuse my lapse into office-speak, they add value to the reading experience and that must be good.

What are your thoughts? Please leave comments!

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