Saturday, January 22, 2022

Of Crawdads & Stilt Houses


The Dresser asks, what makes one book a better seller than another?


In the last several years, two books launched that were first time novels by Southern women authors. Both books are set in Southern landscapes and, more specifically, in backwaters where poverty dominates. Both concern white girls left on their own with no family support but significant help from benevolent Black neighbors. Both involve murder and the role the main characters may have played in that murder. Both exhibit outstanding writing.


According to, Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens (published in 2018 from G.P. Putnam’s Sons) is described as one part mystery, one part legal drama, one part coming of age story, and one part love story. The unusual  aspect of this novel is that a young girl survives on her own in a swamp setting, avoids her community to stay independent but manages later as a teen to learn how to read. She then succeeds in becoming a naturalist who publishes books. Where the Crawdads Sing has been on The New York Times Bestseller List for 124 non-consecutive weeks. Here’s how the book begins:



The Girls in the Stilt House
by Kelly Mustian (published in 2021 from Sourcebooks) might be described as Southern gothic, thriller, coming of age, historical fiction with a strong framework of racial and gender tensions. This novel has two main adolescent characters, one white, one Black. The twist is how this novel (set in the 1920’s) includes a Black teenager who is better educated and more worldly than her white counterpart. Unlike Where the Crawdads Sing, The Girls in the Stilt House involves no love story. Here’s the opening paragraph:




Currently Amazon ranks The Girls in the Stilt House at 2,147 and Where the Crawdads Sing at 452 in their sales listings.


Where the Crawdads Sing counts 384 pages while The Girls in the Stilt House is 400 pages. Both books to the Dresser’s eye and sense of time found these page-turners making her want to read without interruption. They are both outstanding works with believable storylines and characters. Brava to the authors.


Selling many books doesn’t ensure that a title will be ranked on The New York Times Bestseller List. It is a curated list favoring the large New York publishing houses. However, books ranked by The New York Times are more likely to sell more books than those that go unlisted. On the website of G.P. Putnam’s Sons (New York publisher of Where the Crawdads Sing), they lead with this statement: “For more than two decades, G.P. Putnam’s Sons has led the publishing industry with more hardcover New York Times bestsellers than any other imprint.” Sourcebooks (Naperville, Illinois publisher of The Girls in the Stilt House) state on their website that they are pleased that 96 of their books have made The New York Times Bestseller List. Sourcebooks is an independent publisher, which means it is not part of a large conglomerate or multinational corporation. According to Wikipedia, Sourcebooks is one of the 20 largest publishers in the United States.


The world of publishing is a complex gauntlet to run and who publishes an author makes a difference. In the Dresser’s opinion, these are two equally good books. The next question is what are these authors working on now.