Saturday, January 7, 2012

Why is a paperback novel like a hat?

There's got to be a funny punchline here...and someone will post it for me, I hope. However, that goofy question really does have a point. Which, naturally, I'm going to get to - after meandering around it a bit.

Last month I took a train trip along the Northeast Corridor, and since it is now winter (yes, that's what the calendar says), I donned what I felt was a whimsical tribute to the days of Bette Davis, Joan Crawford and elegant 1930s train travel. My grey fur bolero jacket was fake, but the hat was real. A crushable cloche with a small brim, complete with flower, in burgundy velvet. I felt terribly glam. (See picture of hat here. Victorian Trading Co. No, I don't get a kickback. Just a bunch of really cool catalogs that appeal to the Hopeless Romantic in me.)

And I got more compliments that day than I could have imagined. It was fun. And I'm still wearing the hat now and again because I adore it and apparently others do as well. I manage to ignore the one or two "WTF?" looks and the less-than-flattering husbandly comments. He's put up with me for over 25 years. He's entitled to the occasional joke at my expense. (Honey, you've got one left, btw. Use that up and you're soooo out of the big bed. LOL)

So the year ended, I returned home and - being a sensible writer - read some of our industry stats as they looked back over 2011. Print sales, according to PW, continued to decline. And largest amongst these drops was the mass market paperback. I don't think they mentioned the actual percentage of loss, but it was higher than other areas. Am I surprised? Not at all. With the advent of bigger, better and more technologically miraculous eReaders, it's inevitable.

And then it hit me. I flashed forward a couple of decades and saw a woman sitting somewhere fancy, a luxurious hotel foyer, perhaps, reading a PAPERBACK ROMANCE. And I watched (in my mind) as people passed and stared curiously at her book, some perhaps stopping and asking her about it and saying how nice it was to see someone actually reading one. The paperback novel had become the "HAT" of the 2030's. (These little flashy vision things happen to writers on occasion. Most often they lead to a story idea or the liquor cabinet. This one led to the blog you're currently reading.)

Yes, I think we're nearing the point when all of us in the literary world must accept the way our world is changing. Many of us already carry a lot of our beloved stories on devices in our handbags, and I see this as the genesis of a time when paperback novels will become treasures from our past. Will they assume the cachet of a rare hand-printed Daniel Defoe first edition? Of course not. But they might well become as unexpected a sight as my hat was on that train. Everyone knows what a hat is. Lots of people have them. But actually SEEING someone wearing one that looked more fun than function...that's where the surprise lay. And that, my friends, made me wonder if a paperback novel is more like a hat than you might ever think...

So if you're a hat-wearer or a paperback reader, I hope you'll see the correlation. And leave me a comment letting me know whether you agree or not. Or maybe just tell me if you like the hat...

Sahara Kelly

One Knight Only - available now
Knights of Pleasure - available now
Rough Knight? - coming soon


M. Williams said...

I have never really thought of it this way, but you are so right. Never thought I would think of reading a paperback book would be looked at as an eccentric trait, but looking at my ebook purchases vs. the actual paperback books I have bought in 2011 about 200 ebooks to 5 paperbacks. I have the sudden urge to go to a tea house, wearing a hat and bring the most lurid paperback book I can find and indulge...if this is my rebellion, its any easy and enjoyable way to spend the afternoon.