Last week I put a request out to readers and writers asking them what they’d like to see less of in publishing in 2023.
Three things I’d say up front.
1. I did also ask what people would like to see more of in 2023. That didn’t get enough responses to write an article (after taking out a number of authors saying “ME!”)
2. I did not specify crime fiction but given that’s what I tend to read, write and do the occasional event around, as well as count myself lucky enough to follow and be followed by readers and writers in the field…well, the answers both public and private did tend to lean in that direction.
3. A number of the (often vehement) responses I got were from folks who asked to remain anonymous. And given some were well known published authors, I understand. To this end, I haven’t attributed any of the bug bears below to individuals – but thanks to all for the comments.
And because who doesn’t love a list, here are the most common things I was told we could do with less of in 2023…and please keep in mind this is based on responses I got. So don’t shoot/ poison/ stab/ otherwise do dastardly things to the messenger
The use of blurbs (a short description of a book written for promotional purposes) came under suspicion and frustration from several respondents. Whether it was the same authors repeatedly claiming this one was THE best book they’d ever read, or publishers claiming this book had the most impossible-to-guess, unbelievable, turn-your-hair-white, twist in the tale you’ve EVER read, the hyperbolic nature of the one liners seemed to be a real bone of contention for many who felt the Blurb Cliché Machine has been working overtime the past couple of years.
There may be disagreement about how many basic plots there actually are. 3? 6? 36? That’s for another article by someone smarter than me. I just clocked up the number of responses who were sick of seeing the same basic themes (albeit with considerable variation). This isn’t to say there aren’t some great stories out there coming out of some basic premises, but judging by the responses to my question, folks could do with a little bit less of the following scenarios in 2023:
The old friends + the exotic location + the deep, dark secret.
It might be school, university, or a special interest group. It might be a special occasion, a holiday or an exclusive community. It might be one dark secret or multiples. But the combination of the three was certainly a mainstay in 2023 – whether it’s a pandemic reaction or a tried and trusted ‘then there were none’ variation I couldn’t say, but it came up time and again from those saying they’ve had enough. (Anecdotally, the first six ARCs I read on holiday this year were all variations on this theme done to varying degrees of aplomb)
The detective with the drink problem and ‘issues’.
There may have been less ‘new’ police procedurals over the past couple of years (and by this I mean those outside of the long running series), but as one respondent, highly knowledgeable and experienced in the crime genre asked, “how does the police force operate with all these drunk detectives with broken relationships and a kid from a broken home with daddy issues….”
Plot convenient black outs
Whether it’s alcohol, a blow to the head, a medical condition or trauma induced, the slow patching together/ revealing of the twist remains the same staple it has and a number of replies told me they were bored with it. Personally, I’d say I have read and enjoyed novels which have used this trope well and done something different with it. But conversely there are occasions when it is used as an obfuscation to help the author get to that blurb deserving ‘incredible twist’.
The perfect/ imperfect couple where (at least one) has a dark secret…
Whether newlyweds, about-to-be weds, new relationships, toxic friends or siblings, work colleagues or neighbours this is a broad one, it’s true. But the rule seems to be: don’t trust anyone. Ever.
It’s a tricky one, isn’t it? A publisher (and let’s be clear – the author rarely has too much say in the cover) needs to make it clear that a title is of a certain genre, but wants to make it different enough to stand out. Without wanting to call out any authors/ books/ publishers specifically you just have to use the search engine of your choice and search on something like ‘top crime books of 2022’ to get an idea what is being discussed here. Shadowy figures, cottages, holiday views all feature strongly. What we have seen this year are a couple of complaints from authors (and not necessarily the authors whose works are under discussion) about things being ‘too similar’. Most of us KNOW it has nothing to do with the author who’s book it is…and most can see that a lot of covers are so generic (albeit well done) it’s more likely a case of coincidence than deliberate copying…and it’s the reason why a book with a genuinely original cover stands out and gets so much attention.
Same Old Conference Faces
Now I must profess a vested interest in this one (and hope some of you reading this are going to be joining us in Whitley Bay for Bay Tales Live 2023 in March). But several writers got in touch with me to point out (I won’t say ‘complain’) that they find it frustrating that the big festivals have the same names year after year. It’s a balancing act for any organiser – who has a book out, who the publishers will sponsor, who can make it, who fits with the programme, who will bring the crowds in…
This article ISN’T intended as an advertising piece so all I will say is that I have helped a number of festivals over the last few years as well as co-creating Virtual Noir at the Bar with Vic Watson. In those shows we hosted over 200 authors and did our very best to feature debut, independent and unpublished writers alongside the ‘big names’. Likewise, from personal experience I have seen festivals like Hull Noir, Newcastle Noir, Crimefest and Bloody Scotland feature a wide range of authors at various stages of their writing career.
Hopefully, 2023 will continue to see new and emerging writers from all backgrounds given space on the festival circuit…as well as those big names we all love to hear from.
While the previous entries had a couple of repeats/ likes/ agreements, the number one plea to ‘please make it stop’ was, by a ratio of ten to one of any of the above, far and away the most commented on…
The Celebrity Novel
Now I understand – from a marketing point of view at least – why publishers love celebrity novels so much. For those who don’t buy multiple books a week, who don’t champion new authors on social media, or who don’t have a never ending list of ‘favourite’ authors, the ‘name recognition’ might be enough to entice an irregular reader to seek out a book or, more often the case, see it thanks to big sexy media campaigns and pick it up.
2022 saw various reports (that surprised none of us who have any direct or indirect experience of how high street bookshops work) that, whisper it quietly, book charts might just be a touch economical with the truth as to what constitutes a ‘best seller’ deserving of the most prominent shelf space in (your high street bookshop name here).
I’m not going to name names here. Because we all know who the celebrity authors are. And, according to Amazon reviews, many people like many of them.
So is it just that the more well-read crime reader expects more from their books?
Is it just that authors are jealous of the piece of the marketing budget pie that is devoted to first time celebrities rather than emerging writers who have worked at their craft for years?
Is it that readers and writers think that some of these books get the effusive blurb from established writers as a favour to a publisher or an agent?
Is it a belief from crime readers and writers that some of these authors would never get an agent or a publisher if they weren’t who they were, and these things were just based on the quality of writing?
Maybe it’s a bit of all these things, but judging by the verbal and written reactions when a new ‘star’ is announced and, on a micro level, the number of responses I got when I put the question out about what crime folks would like to see less of in the new year, the celebrity novel was the number one choice by a mile.
But here’s the twist in the tale, like those blurbs that promise you can’t possibly guess and never saw coming….
It’s not going to happen.Expect a raft of new celeb penned crime novels in 2023(don’t snigger at the back, some of them do actually write them).
So, what DO people want to see more of in 2023?
It’s a shorter list – maybe because we’re all getting our grumpiness out the way before settling down for the festive season, but here’s a couple:
“Shorter novels: less than 300 pages.”
As someone who’s first introduction to crime and mystery fiction was the likes of Ross McDonald, Jim Thompson, and other ‘pulp’ writers, I understand the request (and this one initially came from an author, not a reader). I’m happy with a meaty, lengthy novel but (and this seems to be true of a couple of books this years) sometimes you wonder if a book really needed quite so many pages…
More hybrid events
Again, an area I must confess to having a vested interest in and a request I completely understand. The lockdown saw the rise in online events – indeed, Vic and I created Virtual Noir at the Bar and later Bay Tales Online as a direct response to the restrictions. Some of the big festivals have done a fine job of offering hybrid offerings. It’s good for the audience who can’t attend, it’s good for the organisers to reach a bigger crowd (assuming they can find a business model that works), and it can be good for publishers and authors to get geographically challenged authors onto festivals if they’re offering digital elements. However, in the same way many assume digital books are a ‘cheap’ or ‘easy’ option, many assume that making a physical event available digitally is no more complicated than setting up a camera and beaming it out there. As one half of a two person team who holds a physical event we’d love to offer digital streaming, but we don’t have the personnel (and rely on friends and family to help on the big day as it is) or the budget (as well as equipment, technician, broadcast and platform costs, venue charges make it impossible for us). So speaking personally I get the demand and we’ll do our best to keep offering digital shows throughout 2023.
New authors to read, new characters to fall in love/ hate/ fear with, new plots, new stand alones, new series, new adaptations for TV and cinema… I’ve been lucky enough to read a bunch of ARCs for titles coming out in early 2023 and we’re fortunate enough to be able to welcome some of the authors responsible to Whitley Bay come March. All I can say is 2023 is going to have some cracking crime coming.
Merry Christmas Everyone, and if you do want something crime related in 2023, do check out what we’re planning for Bay Tales Live in Whitley Bay in March!