Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Prog Rock and successful authors’ later novels

Huh? What is this man on about? Allow me to explain.

I have been doing some research on music of the early ’70s, specifically what is now call Progressive Rock, or Prog for short. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, think about bands with names like King Crimson, Yes, Genesis, Gentle Giant and Emerson, Lake & Palmer and very complex and well, weird looooong pieces of music with obscure lyrics.

I must confess that this was my music of choice when I started a band after graduating from university. That band was called Devotion. If the stars had all aligned properly for us, I wouldn’t be writing to you today. I would be an “aging pop icon” and would be living well from my ill-gotten gains. Sadly, the mix of personalities was too volatile, we weren’t in England and our management didn’t know how to market the band. We broke up before we could get that big record deal.

Devotion was a very good band, I can report proudly. We could play anything we wanted no matter how difficult it was. In fact, we often made things more difficult for ourselves to keep up the challenge of playing. I was the keyboard player and also played some brass, and I sang, too. (I also had a lot of hair on my head at that time. Click HERE to see un-retouched photographic proof.)

Getting back on topic, in researching about Prog on the Internet, I was obviously already familiar with the topic more intimately than the average person.

The behind the death of this creatively musical outburst was laid at the doorstep its increasing overindulgence. Quite frankly, the musicians were composing and playing with complete disregard for their audience. Devotion fell squarely into this camp. Nearly all these bands did just what they wanted, and if their output successfully created a following for them, great. If it didn’t, obviously the great unwashed didn’t get it.

Partway through my research, I realized that the same sort of thing goes on in the publishing world. Some authors become so successful that they begin to do just what they want. Their books get longer and longer as a result. Remember how short and to the point the first Harry Potter book was? I’ll bet many of you own them all. Line them up in chronological order. See a trend? Were those longer later books in the series better? Not necessarily. But they were certainly longer.

Can you imagine if J.K. Rowling had walked into an agent or publisher with an 800-page tome for her first ms? Harry Potter would have never seen the light of day. (Harry nearly didn’t make it as it was. The Rowling rejection list is apparently an impressive length.) I can certainly come up with any number of other authors whose verbal output has increased with each new publication.

The crime writing world is not exempt from this overindulgence. A successful series’ books generally get longer as it goes along. There are exceptions, but the authors can get away with longer, more convoluted stories – if they’re sales levels are good.

Now I wonder why that is? Could they be less open to editing? Are these longer books so perfect that they don’t need any whittling down? Are editors afraid of displeasing their star author and don’t want to risk them decamping with their successful series at the first opportunity? But is there a risk, like the Prog Rock bands of the ’70s, could longer novels harm an author’s career?

What’s your opinion?


If you're interested in hearing a Devotion song (but one of our tamer, less-demanding, more accessible efforts, click HERE. “Is It Too Late to Change?” will start automatically when the page is loaded. You can also read about that major Prog Rock musical instrument, the mellotron while you listen.

PS Hope the image at the top of this post didn’t frighten you. It’s the cover of the first King Crimson album. Notice no name, no title, nothing but that rather striking image.


Rick Blechta said...

I seem to attract all the advertisers...

NL Gassert said...

I noticed a different trend: over the last few years I’ve stopped buying my favorite authors because their books were getting shorter AND more convoluted, which in the end made them seem rushed. A ton of characters were added to series in what seemed like an effort to force ongoing, book-spanning puzzles and plot lines.

Rick Blechta said...

I wonder if they got heavily edited to the point where losing so many pages from the ms has made the story incomprehensible.

I guess we're not reading the same authors!