Friday, September 08, 2006

Now What: The Long Tail of (some) Lit; $; A Shift in Lit Culture; What's This Blog For?

This post, on "Now What" blog, was very interesting to me:

Now What: The Long Tail of (some) Lit; $; A Shift in Lit Culture; What's This Blog For?

I don't agree with it 100%, but I think it brings up many valid points and does a fine job unpacking some issues currently in discussion.

Strangely for a blog that bills itself as a "collective," it fails to bring up solidarity. Writers need to support other writers. And if you're in it for the money, you're playing a different (and in my opinion, dirty) game. As an editor, I'd like to point out that most of us working in publishing aren't making much, just for the record. The fact is, if you bring your work to an independent publisher and take a lower advance and don't rely on royalties to allow you to live like a king, you could end up with a book that has "a long tail," and you could end up getting the kind of attention you want from your publisher - a responsive editor, hard-working publicist, dedicated marketing (again, none of whom are making a ton of money themselves). And this way, you're not "giving away the content" but putting it out in a way that supports independence in the media, and if you do well, supports other writers with the same mentality (ie, other authors on the publisher's list).

I guess I worry about this YouTube culture, this giving away of content. That's what this blog is about. And my concern is that it can in fact be just a base form of capitalism wrapped in the guise of "independent artistic expression." Stories about 24 year old kids in the middle of nowhere being made famous by their entry on YouTube feed this kind of thinking - you can be famous too online, without anyone's help! But then who are you, in turn, helping? You think you're just doing it for you, but the people making chump change off your mock dance video are the advertisers. The internet is not free space, people, it's bought and paid for by corporations that want a return on their investment.

So this idea of authors going online and disseminating their books for free, celebrating the fact that it's reaching more people... I appreciate this sentiment, especially when we're talking - as the folks at Now What are here - about poets who are largely shut out of book publishing. (sidenote: there was a great piece in publishers weekly about the reality of publishing poetry). But rather than claim artistic purity for transmitting your art electronically, to the supposed masses, why not envision this as a way to build a name, at best. When that name is built, start looking out for others.

In some ways, this reminds me of the many people I meet who say they want to be writers, the unsolicited proposals for memoirs - and when these people are asked what they themselves read, they come up blank or mention only bestsellers. This is not always the case, of course, but when it happens, I get incredibly frustrated. You want to be a writer? Then read. You want to publish your work? Then support independent publishers and bookstores (they are, in fact, NOT dead!). And you want to benefit from your writing financially? Fine, but don't forget about the others.

Without solidarity, we get writers that are just out for themselves, and readers get choices, choices, choices - but I'm not convinced they won't eventually throw up their hands and go back to Danielle Steel. My argument ultimately is that there is still something to be said for a publisher's list, and for readers going to that publisher because they know their books. But for this to exist, you need editors (like me, yes) who can act as gatekeepers, and that's when people call "elitism!" and claim people are unfairly shut out. I'm not convinced that the answer is to run to the internet and disseminate for "free," because the wrong people end up making the money, and the art is compromised.

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