Cuckoo in the nest

Posted: November 18, 2011 in Uncategorized

Why are we seeing articles with the Best mysteries/thrillers of 2011 lists in November? Why don’t people wait till the year actually ends?

This is week 46 out of 52 weeks, which means there is more than 10% of the year to go, but some lists have already appeared at Publishers Weekly, and also at Kirkus Reviews. The dangers in rushing out lists so early in the year was shown by  Jen at Jen’s Book Thoughts who spotted a massive blunder on the Kirkus Review list, where they had picked Assassin of Secrets by Q.R.Markham as one of their best mysteries of the year. Unfortunately it seems that large chunks of Assassin of Secrets were copied from a non-fiction book written by John Bamforth, and spy thrillers written by John Gardner, and Charles McCarry………

That list was hurriedly modified on the Kirkus website. But kudos to Jen for proving how little thought goes into these lists, and how ridiculously early in the year the lists are composed. 

Perhaps it is the embarrassment caused by Assassins of Secrets slipping through the process of editing [do they  employ editors or proof readers anymore?], subsequent publication, reviews etc that has produced an alternative view of the book in an article by Ben East. East’s theory is that Q.R. Markham’s book was a ‘great novel built from other great novels’, and he mentioned that someone once said ‘talent imitates, genius steals’. The actual quote was I believe ‘talent borrows, genius steals’ and is by Oscar Wilde.

Did Markham just get carried away by the writing process? Or did he set out to embarrass some of the top names in crime thriller writing, those who reviewed his book so positively? Did he want to be found out?

There are only a limited amount of plots in crime fiction, and the more books you read the more you understand the author is merely producing another variation on a theme. The crime fiction aficionado will always wonder if the next book will contain some new twist on an old proven theme. But Markham seems to have merely copied out vast chunks of other peoples work almost word for word, and he explains it by saying he wanted to impress the people at Little Brown. Genius or blatant theft?

Perhaps if Kirkus had patiently waited till the end of the year to produce their lists they would have avoided the embarrassment of the inclusion of this cuckoo in the nest. Surely the time for 2011’s best of lists is in January 2012, not in mid November with many hours of reading time left in the year.  

But copies of the Assassin of Secrets are apparently changing hands for large amounts of money so perhaps Mr Markham will have the last laugh, and another quotation from Oscar Wilde might turn out to be more appropriate:

There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written or badly written. From the preface of Picture of Dorian Gray 

  1. Margot Kinberg says:

    Norman – Oh, this is brilliant! You are so spot-on about the rush to get those lists out before any real thought. And the Markham debacle is such a fine example of one of the consequences of the thoughtless hurry to compile these lists. Thank you for such a fine post.

  2. on the Markham issue I’m afraid I’m a bit of a purist…the guy’s a crook and should be treated as such…I was very disappointed to see people saying that it took talent etc to write the thing

    As for the lists well….when they come out is generally to do with mundane things like money…best of lists sell lots of magazines and magazines therefore the magazine can sell lots of advertising (more than they usually would) – so they’ll put their best of lists out when they think they can make the most money – and late December early January is not a good time for selling magazines therefore you don’t waste your best content for those times..

    I believe (based on a little bit of exposure in a previous job) that best of lists have almost nothing to do with highlighting the best of anything (and in that instance where I did have some input the process involved a group of people sitting in a room and having lunch combined with a vague conversation about what should and shouldn’t be on the list and there were conversation starters like “well we can’t include something from that company because we had them last year” and “what about this one, it’ll generate lots of controversy which will drive comments on the website”. Although that was about tech gadgets I’m pretty sure most magazines that do these things do them in a fairly similar way

  3. kathy d. says:

    Yes. I agree with Bernadette. I think everything in publishing and promotion these days — which “best of” lists help to do, is about money and aimed at making more of it. There is competition between magazines or newspapers or ezines as to which one gets the lists out first. (Readers usually like to read these lists, even if they don’t agree with them).

    And then sales spring from publication of the lists. The goal, after all, is more sales, by magazines, newspapers, ezines, publishers, public relations firms, booksellers — on line or in stores.

    Earlier promotion of these lists means more sales of the books, not only the publications which include lists.

    And people often do holiday shopping in November and early December, and what could be better when buying for a reader, than to see a “best of” list.

    So the lists enhance the holiday gift sales. And every company is competing for those dollars or euros or pounds or whatever, and it gets more intense every day.

    That’s my two euros on this.

  4. Rob says:

    Norm this is a very good article on Markham’s book. In the comments at the end. Markham relies and explains what he did and why. There was no higher purpose or attempt at art.

  5. Norman says:

    Thanks Margot.

    Bernadette and Kathy I can see why they do it, but surely people would buy their holiday season gifts in November/December anyway. Releasing best of, or favourite, lists of the year in January might boost sales at a difficult time of the year for retailers, although I suppose the strategy is we must grab sales now because purchasers won’t have any money in January.

    Thanks for that Rob. Indeed it was blatant theft, breach of copyright and fraud. The fact that anyone would attempt to try to justify it in any way is astonishing. Combined with the incident where a journalist from the Independent newspaper was caught out doing something similar and not sacked on the spot it sets a very bad example to young people. No wonder most CVs consist of untruths, elaborations, and omissions.

  6. Maxine says:

    Great spot, Norman. They should combine it with the latest trend on Amazon where authors put in the TITLE of the book “a brilliant crime thriller” and words to that effect (the latest time I spotted this was on a book published by Amazon’s own Amazon Crossing programme).

    I agree that the plagiarist is just that. End of story.

    I also think that some (not all) of these best-of lists are simply lists that publishers pay to get on. I only believe them if they are in publications I trust (including blogs I read already – so am interested in that person’s choices).

  7. kathy d. says:

    Well, if I’m looking for books to buy reader friends for the holidays, I might look at “best of” lists. But, of course, I have the benefit of reading great blogs with stellar reviews which inform my own reading and gift-giving.

    But many people don’t do that. A friend looking to buy a family member a book gift looks at the NY Times bestseller list, and was rushing to buy herself a new book by a bestselling author.

    Many folks who don’t follow blogs and read a lot of reviews do look at “best of” lists.

    Yes, publishers and booksellers want us to buy pre-holiday books starting now. After all, in my city, big stores will be open this week special hours for holiday deals. And they will also promote post-holiday sales of everything after the December holidays. This will go on for several days.

    We’ll get more “best of” lists then, as reviewers look back at 2011 published books. There will be a plethora of lists. I like reading them, but then turn to trustworthy bloggers and reviewers before I invest any funds.

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