Friday, January 21, 2011

A Tale of Two Books

This week I read two books.

One was published on August 15, 2010; the other came out two days later. One was recommended to me by an agent; the other interested me because of its setting and subgenre. One was published in hardcover by Harper Collins; the other is available only as an e-book from Mainly Murder Press. One has been nominated by the Mystery Writers of America for it's prestigious Edgar Award for best novel. Can you guess which one?

The first, the award nominee, was Laura Lippman's I'd Know You Anywhere. The novel, set in Maryland, is about a thirty-something wife and mother who receives a message from a serial killer on death row who had abducted her when she was fifteen. Lippman weaves the backstory of her protagonist's abduction through the present-day story of how she has survived, even thrived, in the years that followed. When her abductor contacts her, she needs to decide whether to answer him, visit him, and/or help him avoid the death chamber. In the process, she puts old demons to rest and reevaluates her life.

Lippman is no stranger to awards. Her first novel, published in 1997, received a nomination for a Shamus Award by the Private Eye Writers of America. Subsequent works have also received nominations for a wide variety of awards, many of which she has won. I have only read her most recent book, but it is artistically written and compelling. It deserves the nomination.

The second book is Live Free or Die (The Granite State Mysteries), by Jessie Crockett. It is her debut novel. Set in the small fictional town of Winslow Falls, NH, the post-mistress/volunteer-firefighter protagonist seeks to find out who has been setting fires--one of which killed one of the town's most beloved residents. The plot is complex, involving a large cast of characters, and a bit of romance for a hapless, overweight protagonist. It believably depicts the small-town New England setting, and the self-reliant individuals we would expect to find there. The story is engaging and the puzzle is satisfying. It is what one would hope for from a "cozy" mystery.

I read both books on my Kindle, but paid $9.99 for Lippman's and only $.99 for Crockett's. I enjoyed both books, but I can't tell you that I enjoyed Lippman's ten times as much as I enjoyed Crockett's. On the contrary, I found  Crockett's to be better than many traditional mysteries I have read as "physical books" from well-known publishers. But Crockett did not go with a traditional publisher, and the hard truth is that her work is unlikely to gain the notice of those giving out awards. To me, this is further evidence of how difficult it is for new writers to break into publishing.

Crockett is not alone. Many other talented writers have found agents and traditional publishers--especially the larger houses--too involved with their current stable of writers to take on newcomers. As a result, writers are increasingly going the self-publishing, print-on-demand, or e-publishing route. These likely will not make the authors rich or famous. But it will allow them to pass two tests an English professor friend once told me. The first is the hand test--can you count your readers by the fingers on one hand? The second is the blood test--are all of your readers blood relatives? If the answer to either is "yes," you are a hobbyist. If the answer to both is "no," you are a professional writer--no matter how little money you might make.

I am glad that Harper Collins is publishing Lippman in hardcover. But I am also glad that Mainly Murder Press gave Crockett a chance to share her book with many people who are not blood relatives.

How about you? Have you discovered any writers in e-book format that you're glad you found?


  1. I like those tests for being a professional writer because, well, I pass!

    I love my Kindle. It's so much easier to read in bed, and wonderful to be able to carry a library with me wherever I go. I also, however, love hardcover books, so my Kindle and my bookshelves have a lot in common.

  2. How does one even begin to mine the mountains of e-books to find the gems hidden within? Where are there websites devoted to reviewing these self-published, or nearly so, books? Are there e-book publishers with a reputation for producing well-written - and well-edited - stories? Until then, I will probably stick to browsing shelves or the recommendations of friends to find my next good read