THE GOLDFISH PHENOMENON

Have you ever wondered why books like the Goldfinch become bestsellers? I have. And not only have I wondered why, I’ve wondered how.

So, I go to a well-known book retailer to study the 2014 bestselling books and find the Goldfinch. Here’s a book that has well over 16,000 reviews, priced at $6.99 Kindle and clocks in at well over 700 pages. The first few pages are filled with poignant backstory until around page 22.  That’s when the book goes into warp drive until page 600 where it begins to run out of gas.

The novel follows Theo Decker, a boy who takes the eponymous painting from a museum in the aftermath of a terrorist attack in which his mother died. Tartt writes in the vein of the Great Gatsby, the type of books we read and loved at school. There’s a large audience for heavy description and detail even today. And I doubt these readers have changed one bit.

Fascinated? I was. More so by the backstory and huge chunks of descriptive elements we Indie authors are told to shy away from. Do I like the way the Goldfinch is written: Absolutely. Do I wish I could write like that? Yes.

So how is it that Donna Tartt’s publisher has chosen to overlook the bulky elements of pages and pages of description? Well, I’m glad you asked.

DonnaTartt is a bestselling author of three novels. And when you’re a bestselling author, you can write whatever you like. With four short stories and three non-fiction books on her shelf, she has earned eight outstanding literary awards including the Pulitzer Prize.

How did she get there? She wrote The Secret History in 1984 and it was published in 1992, selling out of its original print run of 75,000 copies. Publishers Weekly said of her book, Donna Tartt’s latest novel clocks in at an unwieldy 784 pages. The story begins with an explosion at the Metropolitan Museum that kills narrator Theo Decker’s beloved mother and results in his unlikely possession of a Dutch masterwork called The Goldfinch . . . Some sentences are clunky (suddenly and meanwhile abound), metaphors are repetitive (Theo’s mother is compared to birds three times in 10 pages), and plot points are overly coincidental (as if inspired by TV), but there’s a bewitching urgency to the narration that’s impossible to resist. Theo is magnetic, perhaps because of his well-meaning criminality. The Goldfinch is a pleasure to read; with more economy to the brushstrokes, it might have been great. Agent: Amanda Urban, ICM. (Oct. 22)

So why is it we’re told by publishing editors that readers want something different. Something more like the Hunger Games. Easy reading, less description, much less back story, and sometimes a whole lot less than 700 pages. Sound familiar? I’m beginning to wonder who my audience is now, especially with books by Hilary Mantel and Donna Tartt at the head of the game.

Perhaps we must content ourselves with the fact that we are the authors of the modern age.

Anyone?

Goldfinch

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