Another Column at MyShelf.Com

Between the pages, Past
A Mystery Column
By Dennis Collins

Inside out

I’ve been writing novels for more than ten years and have attended dozens of conferences over that span. From the very beginning it seems as if I’ve heard the same mantra from the agents and editors who speak at those conferences. “Think outside the box.” They all say that submissions are reaching astronomical numbers and authors need to do something extraordinary in order to stand out and be noticed. “Don’t be afraid to push the envelope.” “Break the rules from time to time.” Are among the comments I’ve heard. But do they really mean it?

I’ve also been writing book reviews for more that seven years so I have had the chance to see what the publishers are offering. To be honest, I haven’t seen any groundbreaking approaches to writing the mystery novels that I’ve reviewed. I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with what’s out there, only that it’s not much different than the stuff I’ve been reading since I was a kid.

I believe that the reason things have stayed the same is that, although editors encourage us to “Think outside the box” they themselves actually think very much “inside the box” when it comes to selecting manuscripts. Carrying it a step further, I believe that this type of paradox has contributed to the unprecedented explosion of the self-published ebook phenomenon. I say that because I know of a number of previously published mainstream authors who are beginning to abandon traditional publishing and dive into the electronic first, print second market.

Some publishers have stubbornly resisted the trend toward electronic books, refusing to recognize the potential that a lot of writers saw many years ago. It’s reminiscent of the Swiss Watch industry when Japanese electronics firms began manufacturing wristwatches with quartz crystal movements. They said that nothing would ever replace the jeweled movement.

So where is this inside-out publishing industry headed? I don’t think that ebooks are a fad but I’m too realistic to believe that they are the end point either. The people who have the greatest vision and are the best guessers will be the winners… for now.

2011 Past Columns