Q&A of the Month: Quiet Books

Q. Is there a market for quiet books or do they all have to be LOUD to be signed? -- Gary

A. Hmm. What I would say is, we are in a very crowded book market, with, if I recall correctly, 300,000 new books published professionally in the United States last year alone. In such a market, books have to stand out in some way, in order to give both booksellers and our end consumer -- the reader / book buyer -- a reason to purchase the book. That method of standing out could be the book's exciting plot, its unusual subject matter, its marvelous writing, its author (as brand-name authors like John Green or Linda Sue Park have enough of a reputation to stand out no matter the nature of the book itself), any gimmicks that are built into it (like the photos in Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children) . . . Whatever might distinguish the book to a librarian flipping through a catalog or a child surveying a shelf. 

In practice, the most common method by which a book stands out is its book's plot, because it's the element of writing we can all talk about most easily, and opinions about what makes "marvelous writing" differ so widely from person to person. If your book doesn't have a LOUD plot -- if its events are pretty everyday -- then you need to make the characterizations and delineations of those events as rich and meaningful to us readers as they are to the characters themselves, and then the quiet everydayness will become LOUD because we love your people so much and we're so deeply invested in what happens to them. (I'm thinking of Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell here, Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca L. Stead, Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eager, Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo....) Such a book can definitely sell -- both to a publisher and to readers -- and even be more beloved than loud books, because the experience of them is so much more intimate and precious. However, if you aren't a writer who goes into that much literary depth, it might be better to concentrate on developing a louder plot.