Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Strong Coffee

Lots of us wordy-types are linking to this look at the publishing industry (via Boing Boing), so I might as well, too. Nothing new here, really. I was hooked on the 2Blowhards after Arts & Letters Daily linked to Michael's whizz-bang analysis of writerly expectations vs. the publisher's (in)ability to deliver.

I doubt there are any writers who didn't have visions of literary grandeur when they took their first typing lesson. This sort of wake-up call is better received earlier, rather than later. And if you happen to be a wordy-type who finds this all terribly discouraging, I recommend you get a copy of Carolyn See's Making A Literary Life: Advice For Writers and Other Dreamers. She is candid about the work you can expect to do, and has some very basic and do-able strategies for the writer who wants to keep food in the fridge. Cory Doctorow and Michael Blowhard might propose other strategies -- to my mind, they are all worth a writer's consideration. Good luck to us all, I say.


Trent Reimer said...

A while back I took a long hard look at the video game industry (even did some tentative coding) and found the voices of reason pointing to a similar economic situation.

What a dance. Does a person attempt to re-size their goals and live with mediocrity or do they strive against almost certain rejection?

What is the purpose of art? To what degree is great art defined by the size of the audience?

Andrew said...

Man, if only I'd read this about 8 years ago, when I sold my first manuscript for no advance and dirt cheap royalties, most of which I never collected (the publisher declared bankruptcy). Ah, well. Maybe we should all just blog.


Whisky Prajer said...

TR - I was mulling over the spectre of game production when I posted this. I think there is one significant difference between someone hoping to become the next Ernest Hemingway (or Stephen King, depending on where you set the literary bar): all you need, to begin with, is a pencil and some paper. Eventually you'll have to get it sorted out via a word-processor, but even that can be done on the slimmest of budgets. Games, on the other hand, will at some point require significant capital investment before you even bring so much as a demo to your potential developer/marketer. I recall one insider's grim advice: "Put together your pitch and collect $100 thousand from investors. Then head for the nearest bridge and throw that money into the river. I guarantee you'll find that more satisfying than any development you're thinking of undertaking." Eep - Mommy!

A significant part of the problem with both the gaming and the publishing industry stems from a lack of imagination. I've gassed on about the tedious rut games are stuck in (I very much doubt The Godfather is set to break even, nevermind turn a profit - after all the press and the so-so graphics, Sony/EA might as well have bet the bank on Warren Beatty's flaccid Dick Tracy); with books, the chief determining factor is just how agressively/charmingly an author sells himself.

AC - as someone who has published and (I'm guessing) is likely to publish again, what might you have done differently with your first book? Might you have self-published, had the option been as accessible (and attractive) then as it is now?

Whisky Prajer said...

Re: "whither art", I had this same conversation with Preacher Dan, and he tossed out this quote: It is my opinion that art lost its basic creative drive the moment it was separated from worship. It severed an umbilical cord... In former days the artist remained unknown and his work was to the glory of God... Today the individual has become the highest form and the greatest bane of artistic creation. The concept behind the quote gobsmacked me, especially when I considered the source: Ingmar Bergman. Since then I've been mulling it over, and I think there is a principal to it that is fairly sound. I may be in danger of redefining "worship" here (on behalf of someone like Bergman, no less), but even the works of a deliberately impious writer like Peter DeVries are sublime because he uses every skill at his command to honestly wrestle with something much larger than writer's ego.

Rob said...

The first time I saw a P&L statement, I was stunned. This was at a Random House gathering for booksellers where we were being given an overview of the publication process. It's very organized and very clear, and the money involved was shockingly little (I deal with promotions and advertising, so I knew the very short distance their promotional budget was going to go).

The interesting thing is that, despite the organization and the fidelity to the bottom line and the almost scientific precision of the formulae, at its heart the P&L is based on a guess, a blind hunch as to how many copies the book will sell. It's all shooting in the dark.

Whisky Prajer said...

Rob - speaking of P&L: your publisher is flying you out to Central Ontario, is it not? What sort of dates and venues are we talking about?

DarkoV said...

Comment from left field, here. You mentioned in your reply to Mr. Trent Reimer that "there is one significant difference between someone hoping to become the next Ernest Hemingway (or Stephen King, depending on where you set the literary bar):". Now, I've read quite a bit of the former and only a few of the latter, the offset being the lack of interesting words or construct in King's stuff. Grips you in his maw, does he, but he chews with and un-dentured mouth, more saliva-slobbering than a good writer's gnashing of molars.
Adaptations of these two authors' books to movies is a whole different thing, isn't it. While both dip heavy into the maudlin stew, it is King's books to movies that stick with me. I know The Shawshank Redemption will soon have its own tv channel since it gets played so often, and yet the movie still holds strong. Excellent cast? Great cinematography? YEs, but the story, heavy on hte heartstring pull, still gets this old codger any time I see it. Can't say the same for Hemingway's novels to movies. Even "Old Man and the Sea" is tiringly stultifying after seeing it once and that movie has Spencer Tracy, one of my favorites. Maybe if Catherine Hepburn was playing the Fish, I'd have a different opinion.

Anyway, I guesss the point here was that although I concur with you that setting up Stephen King as a goal may be setting one's literary heights too low, interpretations of his stuff should not be scuffed at.

Carrie and The Green Mile adds more wood to that fire.

Whisky Prajer said...

You didn't mention Hearts In Atlantis, which is just as well since I thought that was a case of the written word packing considerably more power than William Goldman's(!?!) hokey film adaptation. Actually, I don't mean to belittle Mr. King's writing abilities, either. The first King I read was Bag of Bones - a freebie I scored in my tenure as a book-merchant. My wife and I took turns reading it to each other during a long car trip. There was a tense and crucial moment just past the midway mark in the book, when my wife, who was at the wheel, slowed the car down to a crawl as I read, because the scene was just that immediate. Right up to the wrap-up of that scene, I thought King was fan-bloody-tastic: evocative, able to cut to the emotional core with his precise use of detail, confident of his characters' backstory, etc. But when that scene was over, the writing took on an altogether different tone. It was as if King realized he had to wrap this thing up, or he'd never get it done. The last third was a disappointment, but still had enough promise to get me looking into other books. I think Hearts is probably the best he's done.

I'm also thinking of a detailed analysis I read of the crucial choices made in adapting King's short story into Shawshank. Wish I could remember where I saw it. Salon, maybe? Anyway, screenwriters are clearly sold on King's evocations, but they are also just as clearly adamant at changes being made. Thus Kubrick's The Shining remains superior to the King-sanctioned TV mini-series that hewed closer to the novel.

If a writer - any writer - can become "the next Stephen King", more power to him.