the lawyer writer

sometimes legal                     sometimes literary                     sometimes not

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Sole Feud

At last night's party, there were many writers, and, as is customary, we fell into various discussions of writing and publishing. No, they are not the same thing. There is good news and bad news about this. The good news is that writing is grueling, emotionally draining, exacting work. The bad news is that publishing is worse.

Any writer will say "I'm just happy to be published." Forgive me, but this is snobby bullshit. Seeing your book on the same shelf as Lolita will, I admit, give you great joy. However, if you don't realize that writing is only half your job, and if you ignore the various aspects of publishing (including production, cover design, special markets, publicity and publicity and publicity) then your lovely book will sit next to Nabokov for about a year before it disappears forever. Do you want to see the Mona Lisa in a dark room? Does Maria Callas sing in a soundproof room? No? Then wise up. Learn to market.

Now, as you go about learning about publishing, a strange thing will happen. You will become obsessed with publicity and the time you spend writing will start to dwindle. This is normal. In fact, this is the case for 80% of the publishing industry thinks like anyway. Writing is just another commodity. Anyone can do it, right?

Well, don't get too cynical. Lots of people think that way, but you just have to have faith. Despite the monstrous publicity machines out there, good writing still counts.

Allow me to demonstrate with the following examples, which have happend to a young author that you may have heard of.

EXAMPLE 1: An investment banking firm decides to go into publishing--the smart way. They conduct extensive research into the "best" topics for books--the bestselling topics that is. Unsurprisingly, they include sex, diet, business and pets. (Fido is big business). Their plan is to be a "unique, marketing oriented, entrepreneurial publishing firm" that will "quickly turn" out "exciting, highly visible, headline grabbing subjects into mainstream best-sellers." Writers? Of course, writers--we're going to need those. So an ad is placed in order to turn "bright and personable authors into “stars” of the publishing world and their books into ever-growing 'brands.'" Ability to write is not nearly as important as attractiveness and willing to market the hell out of yourself. Some celebrity friends willing to write introductions would be helpful. Our writer signs up, only to be informed that there will be no advance. This is unacceptable to her and her intrepid agent, and she manages to get a small advance, on the condition that she churns out 40,000 words in six weeks. The writer develops tendonitis, but complies. She is promised The Today Show, MTV, a reality show, and major news and media publicity.

Result? The first book produced by the publishing company is an incredibly embarassing book merging as many of the above topics as possible. The publishing world responds with deafening silence. Our writer's book languishes until author and agent decide to track down publishing company--who, perhaps realizing that publishing isn't as easy as it seems, decides to give the author rights back to her yet-to-be published book. She will not be giving back the advance until she resells the book.

EXAMPLE 2: A man from a prominent New York family loses a lot of weight, mostly by joining Overeaters Anonymous. He ends up on Oprah, and with a spread in People magazine. And, incidentally, a book deal for a homestyle cookbook, the advance of which is equivalent to our writer friend's first book. This happens all the time, but what is worse is that the "author" is, well, illiterate. Perhaps he knows this, as he sits on the book for two years before hooking up with a very shady book packager. Named after a famous women's television network (but no relation to it), this book packager decides to squeeze every last dime out of the author and the freelancers hired to complete the book. It would take me a Lifetime to catalog the sins of the book packager, but that is not the point of this post. Suffice it to say that our writer friend is hired to ghostwrite the extended introduction of the cookbook--in a hurry, 10,000 words in one week. Tendonitis again, but she complies. The book, because of recipes and authorial incompetence, is not delivered in one week. It is delivered eight months later to compile a saleable cookbook. During this time, the writer is, of course, paid zilch. When the delivery payment is finally paid, the book packager takes--well, all of it, leaving the "author" to pay the many freelancers. So, there's another six months of emails from "author," book packager's VP (who is a WONDERFUL and COMPETENT person and the only thing holding them together) and our writer friend. The "author" writes emails like the following (reprinted verbatim):

"and i got a bad deal on how the payments was do be done. so i am trying to give you money when every i can it's not like i have a lot of money hanging around or lot of money i'am makeing.This was the toughest time i had in a long time because i had to pay this payments out. So i'am sorry about what happen but their's nothing i can do i can't give you what i don't have.S o please don't call me i give you what i can. we are almost done again i can't give you what i don't have!!!"

It takes a nation of millions and a Rosetta stone to translate the above. Please don't strain yourself. It is included to show simply that "authors" cannot, in fact, always write. Here's another example.

"i am know to that busy and did not know how it works.but i know one please just don't treating me again. you are owe just a little bit of money now and it's almost over.but treating me is not going to work it will just make me very very very angry!!!"

"Treating" in this context, is actually to mean "threatening." In a sense, it could be very clever wordplay in the e.e.cummings style. Unfortunately, "author" has never read e.e.cummings. Perhaps you feel this is cruel, but allow me to state that "author's" family has always had plenty of money and plenty of opportunity to educate "author." Another excerpt:

"I never had so many people calling me for money and stressing me out. And yes it's very very depressing.I truly had to hold my tough with [redacted] with all her threats. I am the kind of guy who don't take that stuff lithely. Please have her understand do not and i mean don't every call me again."

Again, some translation. "Lithely" could actually mean "lightly." This is an unfortunate faux pas, as, having seen this "author" I can assure you that with or without weight loss, he has never taken anything "lithely."

RESULT: A year and two months after the "emergency," one-week project was assigned, our writer friend is paid in full...in no less than 11 individual, unpredictable payments spanning 6 months. The book is barely listed on Amazon.

MORAL? Writing still counts, dammit.

5 Comments:

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