Thursday, August 30, 2018

Trending or Enduring



Once upon a time—it was a dark and stormy night—Elmer Gantry was drunk.

The above three beginnings are indelibly written in literary history. The first one has been hugely overused; the second one from Bulwer-Lytton's novel Paul Clifford was dubbed by Writer's Digest as "the literary poster child for bad story starters"; the third is the opening of Sinclair Lewis' sacrilegious novel Elmer Gantry, written in 1926 and turned into a film starring Burt Lancaster in 1960.

Openings are important because they hook readers, but what follows is equally important because it keeps those readers hooked. Content makes a book enduring (surviving the test of time) or trending (focusing on trends that change from generation to generation and fall out of favor).



Many of us have read—or at least heard of—William Shakespeare, the Bronte sisters, Jane Austen, George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans), Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, Danielle Steel, Nora Roberts, and the list of enduring authors goes on and on.

While some may argue that Ms. Steel and Ms. Roberts (also writing as J. D. Robb) are in exceptional company, considering their recent entry into the literary field, their books have sold many millions of copies, and both are still going strong. By virtue of their sales numbers alone, we can reasonably say their stories are enduring.

Let's take a closer look at one of those modern, enduring examples, Danielle Steel. What has earned her a place among the literary giants of the past? Sales. She has sold more than an estimated 800 million books, making her the fourth bestselling novelist of all time. Will her books continue to sell a hundred years from now? Only time will tell, but they've certainly endured so far.

Why has she been so successful? She was in the right place at the right time with the right content. Her readers became fans and, because she is a very prolific writer who has fed them a constant flow of stories that endeared her to them, they multiplied significantly. She's written more than 160 volumes to date.

The publishing industry has changed. Still, authors are making a living in the halls of modern literature. With new publishing methods such as digital delivery systems, which can take books to places where hard copies might never go, we can reach readers in ways not available to writers of the past. Self-publishing has thrown open the doors of opportunity and overtaken the large publishing houses of the past. While the number of avid readers has dwindled, the number of published volumes has exploded into the stratosphere. Still, we can learn from authors whose works have passed the test of time (even recent times). One commonality that threads through all their books is content: readers relate to their characters and their issues. Stories that address the unchanging human condition are enduring, timeless. Regardless of genre, there's no trending here.

How do you feel about the evolving world of publishing? What have you gleaned from past authors as well as modern ones such as Danielle Steel, whose works are enduring despite all the changes?

Editor Linda Lane has returned to her first love—writing—while maintaining her editing work. Her novels fall into the literary category because they are character driven rather than plot driven, but their quick pace reminds the reader of genre fiction. They also contain elements of romance, mystery, and suspense. You can contact her through her websites: LSLaneBooks.com and DenverEditor.com.

10 comments :

  1. I read many of Danielle Steele's early novels and consider her a great story teller. We need good easy-to-read stories to mix in with the great classics, the thriller of the moment, and the latest nonfiction bestseller. The fast-changing world of publishing certainly keeps writers on their toes.

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    1. It absolutely does, Pat. While setting a goal to surpass Danielle Steel's sales is unrealistic, we can learn from her and others that you note to increase our own book sales. By the way, the best book of hers that I have read is——in my opinion——Thurston House.

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  2. LInda, I think you hit on one of the key elements of enduring stories - characters that we can relate to. Some current authors I'm sure will endure are Laura Lippman, Dennis Lehane, and Tim Hallinan. Mainly because of the diverse and engaging characters that people their stories.

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    1. If there's one book I wish I had written, it is Mystic River, which I think is the perfect crime novel.

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  3. I agree, Maryann. And those characters often face challenges on some front that we can relate to because they are germane to us, to our lives.

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  4. I have met several self-published authors that I have read all of their work and look forward to the next. I wouldn't have known them if they hadn't taken the risk. If not for SP, I would just have a file full of ideas. I gotta admit I am not a huge fan of many authors who had long careers or even those from the past who were the most lauded. The most important thing to me, old or new, is a story that drags me under, keeps me there until the end, and resonates with me long after the last page.

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    1. Yes! Content, characterization, and presentation make all the difference. Touch my heart. Make me feel. I want to travel with them on their journeys, hold their hands, cheer them on. I want to see the bad guys pay for their sins. You're right about current big sellers and literary stars of the past, Diana; they hook me——or not.

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  5. I think we all judge books differently. There are literary masterpieces and then there are riveting stories that might not be as well written as we would like. But they captivate us. Many readers don't dissect a book the way a writer does. They read for enjoyment, for thrills, for romance, or whatever genre brings them to turn the page. I'm not that critical if the story grabs me. That's a surefire way to destroy the pleasure of a good story. I find some people's upturned nose annoying. I'll take an enthralling story over perfection any day of the week.

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  6. You raise an interesting point, Polly. For me, many elements contribute to my enjoyment of a book. It need not be perfect, but it does need to be reasonably well written with appropriate punctuation--and by that I mean punctuation that keeps me from having to read a sentence 3 or 4 times to figure out what it says. Back in the nineties, I had been reading and enjoying a well-known author and always found her books well written, well punctuated, and delightful reads. Then I got her newest one, and it read like it had been written by someone else. The voice was different. The flow, uh, it didn't flow. Punctuation was not good. Oh, and it was not enthralling, even though her previous novels had been. I was so disappointed that I've not read any more of her books.

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    1. I'm reading The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, but the head hopping is annoying, more so that the first two books. Still, I want to finish it.

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.