Thursday, April 02, 2009

NY Publishing May Be Short-Sighted

I'm harping here, I know, but this whole Twitter-as-source-of-new-books thing is making me a little crazy, because it once again strikes me as short-sighted. Won't it just produce a ton of crap, kind of like in the late '80s/early '90s when publishers began signing up every comedian - Ellen, Seinfield, that guy from Mad About You - and clogged mall bookstores with books that all would become dated within 6 months at best? Haven't we learned our lesson about over-publishing with the 2008-2009 crisis?!

In the latest article over the Twitter craze, Isabel Wilkinson writes at the Daily Beast about Twitterature. Seriously. But people are talking about separate things in the piece. I'm all for authors using Twitter to spread word about their book - as agent Kate Lee of ICM says, “Anything an author can do on their own behalf is important, and is absolutely a plus for the publisher—and a plus for the author. They’re building their own fan base.” Sure. It can be a marketing tool.

I do not, however, believe it provides a strong source for new projects. This is where I might differ from editors and agents chasing a buck. Lee says she will "look at blogs, Tumblr, Twitter—whatever you want to call it—as just another platform for finding talent.” As an example, the article mentions her getting a book out of the blog Pets Who Want to Kill Themselves. This is a bit like HarperStudio signing up the creators of This Is Why You're Fat. The latter at least is a funny site, whereas the pet site is amusing once every 20 posts from what I can tell. But the problem remains: there is no sign of WRITING TALENT in these blogs! Even the idea runs out of steam after a single conversation or email about it. Even using the word trend is too longterm for these sites, and yet editors are throwing money at the creators to do a book.

Handily, A.V. Club's Ellen Wernecke provides a list of sites that became books, offering critiques on what was lost in translation. For example, regarding Hot Chicks with Douchebags: "It's a sort-of funny gag that wears extremely thin over 200-plus pages, especially once you realize that, like hipsters, those most likely to call out and mock so-called douchebags most likely have a whiff of doucheness themselves." (Well said!) It's not all bad. What Wernecke does well in this piece is shows what was added to make the site a book - lists, glossaries, etc... It's mostly silly stuff but it makes the point that these bloggers and/or publishers have to be smart and include added value to convince the reader to, as the headline indicates, buy the cow despite getting the milk for free. My gratitude to Wernecke for providing this great service! And kudos on generating so much conversation in the comment section...

So back to Twitter. Can we just let it be what it is - a short shout-out meant to last at best hours, most likely minutes until the next one. I fear folks are devaluing books by printing and binding this not-even-ephemeral stuff. Just email it out to a buddy - and move on! Editors and agents, let the publicity/marketing folks have this venue, and go back to looking for more substantial sources for intelligent writers who are more than a flash-in-the-pan idea.

Just a thought.

1 comment:

Maureen Ogle said...

Nah, you're not harping. You're stating the obvious facts, which, of course, are not obvious to those who still function as "publishing's" gatekeepers.

It's all a form of lunacy. Happily, there are still a few sane people left in the industry, but they are few, far between, and vanishing.

And, no, no sour grapes on my part. I'm happily published. But I have no illusions about the ways in which the publishing establishment persists in chasing after the New Hot Thing. Maddening!