Publishing/Writing: Insights, News, Intrigue

01/14/2013

Writing, Like Art, Is Very Subjective


Writing, like art, is subjective

Writing, like art, is subjective

Well of course it is — since writing is art — in this writers opinion.

I’m writing on this subject tonight because of a comment a friend and colleague wrote in response to a post (excerpt provided below) I posted on my Writers Welcome Blog yesterday:

“I guess I’m the eternal idealist because I feel the content (quality of, likability, timeliness, entertainment value, etc.) should drive the cost of books, in whatever format, and not just the manufacturing and distribution costs (or lack of) — which so many are using to justify why e-books should be cheaper than their  printed counterparts.” — John Austin

He responded and said something to the effect that I was referring to content being driven by subjective values like “likeability” “entertainment value” and he didn’t see how that was remotely possible because different people like and/or are entertained by different things.

I thought that the following very entertaining piece by Keli Goff in HuffPost would be of interest to him and many others as it delves more deeply into this subjective (?) subject:

Does Lena Dunham Prove Writers Are as Toxic as Investment Bankers?

Despite the romanticized images portrayed in film, television, and of course books, being a writer actually means spending most of your time doing one of six things: writing, thinking about what you want to write, thinking about what you actually have to write to make money, chasing payment for what you have written, agonizing over the fact that another writer is possibly being paid more than you are for his writing and, obsessing over whether that writer is more, or less, talented and deserving of said payment than you are.

This means that thanks to her multi-million dollar book advance, not to mention her hit television show Girls, (which just began its second season), Lena Dunham has driven plenty of writers to a level of resentment bordering on mania that makes Salieri, the mediocre composer driven to an insane asylum by the not-at-all mediocre talents of Mozart in the film Amadeus, look sane by comparison.

Even though writers and artists are generally thought of as the emotional and temperamental opposites of those who inhibit hyper competitive fields like professional sports, law or investment banking (which is so competitive studies have deemed it physically unhealthy), the truth is plenty of artists are even more competitive. After all, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a tennis player ranked number 10 in the world complain in interviews about how incredibly overrated that Roger Federer is. Of all of the lawyers I’ve met, I can’t think of one who’s talked my ear off about how insane it is that another attorney with celebrity clients is pulling in a ridiculously unfair hourly rate. Yet these kinds of conversations consume writers. I’ve had them with writer friends. They’ve had them with other friends. We’ve all had them with our agents, husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, or parents. And many have had even more of those conversations in the last year, and a lot of that has to do with the success of Lena Dunham.

A google search of “I hate Lena Dunham” now produces more than a million results, (summarized here) which is quite a lot for someone who entered the public consciousness less than a year ago. The question is why? I asked a mental health expert. Dr. Jeff Gardere, said in his experience professional jealousy among writers, and other people in the arts and entertainment can be more common than in other professions, because the same traits, and ego, that attract people to fields in which their work will be the center of attention are the same traits that drive someone to intense competitiveness that can manifest as professional jealousy. (Ouch. But, hey, this writer did ask.)

Now before the eye rolling and angry comments from my writer colleagues begin, I want to be clear: not every person who is a critic of Lena Dunham is jealous. But the level of vitriol she has inspired in some corners signals that there is more to the story than some simply not agreeing her talents are up there with Tolstoy — and Dunham is not the only writer to inspire such reaction.

When literary wunderkind Jonah Lehrer’s career imploded the undertone of glee with which some in the media seemed to be celebrating was palpable. For some it wasn’t just celebrating, but a sense of relief, like a baseball player learning that his teammate who was breaking records, while he was stuck hitting singles, had actually been using steroids. (At the height of the Lehrer scandal writer Jonathan Shainin tweeted: “Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice knows that he’s actually in the schadenfreude business.”)

Danielle Belton, a former print journalist who launched a successful career as a blogger before transitioning to television as head writer for the BET talk show Don’t Sleep, with T.J. Holmes said of professional jealousy among writers, “A lot of this stems from what measures a ‘good’ writer is really rather abstract… Writing isn’t like sports. It’s very subjective, like art.” Belton went on to note that because the definition of what constitutes great writing (and other art) is essentially indefinable, writers will always resent certain writers who receive more critical acclaim or financial success because no matter what others may say, that writer might consider his or her peer less talented than he is. To her point, even his competitors who loathe him (I’m looking at you Isiah Thomas) can’t say Michael Jordan had no talent. His professional record beating them speaks for itself. But there is some writer out there who is convinced Ernest Hemingway was a hack and Mark Twain was an amateur.

As a black woman who has written about diversity in the media and entertainment, I am certainly sensitive to legitimate criticism of Dunham’s work, particularly the lack of cast diversity in the first season of Girls. (Something Dunham herself appears to have discovered a newfound sensitivity about as well since she is attempting to remedy that this season.) But the most vocal criticism of Dunham has boiled down to this: Dunham is from a privileged background (she is) and the cast is comprised of other people from privileged backgrounds (they are.)

The thinking goes: privilege is the only reason she got a show in the first place. Oh and by the way her book advance is too big.

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09/01/2011

Print’s Alive, but Publishing Still in Trouble? (Actually it’s NOT)


 

Is Publishing in Trouble or Not?

Apparently, a main theme coming out of the July 2011 Yale Publishing Conference was that ‘fear’ was at the center of all the chaos in the modern publishing world.

This is true … But, duhhhh, who didn’t already understand that! Of course it’s fear of change that is holding publishing back from being all it can be.

Fear of change and the unknown (or not understood) has always been a prevalent weakness for most Homo sapiens. 

Stefanie Botelho, writing for FOLIO Magazine, covered the conference:

If Print Isn’t Dead, Why is Publishing Still in Trouble?

Reasons why explored at Yale Publishing Conference.

At the Yale Publishing Conference, which took place last month in New Haven, CT, big names in magazine publishing were in attendance, both as students and teachers.

The session began with Richard Foster, senior faculty fellow at Yale School of Management and managing partner with the Millbrook Management Group, LLC. He philosophized about the term “creative destruction”, focusing its various implications in correlation to the publishing world.

Subsequent sessions led by Michael Clinton, president and marketing/publishing director of Hearst; president of Dwell Media Michela O’Connor Abrams; and Glamour editor-in-chief Cynthia Leive ran the gamut of print, digital and staffing challenges.

But the biggest theme, prevalent in how speakers addressed the crowd and the audience pressed the presenters for immediate solutions to admittedly complex problems (the transition to digital, etc.), was not listed in the printed program.

It was fear.

And that may be the largest issue the publishing industry is facing today: fear of the present, fear of the future, fear of the audience and, perhaps the most crippling, fear of change.

While not as easily palpable in the speakers (who each provided case study after case study of success within their companies), both lecturers and audience members rippled with it. Age jokes were dropped at a noticeable rate (O’Connor Abrams quipped she and only one other staffer are over 30) and tales of staff let go because of unwillingness to convert to the digital age (and assist in the bevy of products unrelated to actual print issues) were some of the most poignant of the day. The message was clear: get onboard or get out, because there are plenty of others to take your seat at the publishing table—many of them young enough to still be crashing with Mom and Dad.

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04/24/2010

Why Men Don’t Read

Filed under: book marketing,publishing bias,women favored in publishing — gator1965 @ 6:42 pm

Who says men don’t read? They DO read…Indeed they do! But, to hear published-author Jason Pinter tell it, it’s a wonder! I didn’t REALLY realize, until I read his article in the Huffington Post, just how gender-biased most new literary and publishing business decisions and advertising are to women…He points out some excellent examples:

Jason Pinter is pictured at right.

Back in 2005, while I was still working as an editor, I had an opportunity to acquire a book that I was confident would be a bestseller. The author had a huge media platform, was one of the stars on a show watched by millions of people each week, hosted his own radio show, headlined his own band, he had a fascinating life story, thousands (if not millions) of fans worldwide, and even had a degree in journalisn. Unlike many celebrity memoirs, I knew this author was passionate about his story and had the writing chops to make it a great read. The author’s agent wanted, in my opinion, a reasonable advance. I had confidence that this book was low risk, very high reward. However…

The author’s name was Chris Jericho. Chris Jericho is a professional wrestler. Needless to say, pitching Jericho’s book to my editorial board was like pitching iPads to the Amish. A whole lot of blank stares and a whole lot of people saying ‘I don’t get it’. Now, this is not the fault of the individuals, but it is the fault of a system in which in a room of 15-20 people, not one of them knew what I was talking about.

Like many boys, I grew up watching pro wrestling. I knew that Jericho was not only a huge star, but a genuinely smart, charismatic guy who had some incredible stories to tell. In an attempt to convince the editorial board, I brought in Chris’s videos, action figures, CDs, anything I could think of to prove to a skeptical room that this guy was a big deal and his book would work. Nobody was buying my pitch. Nobody had heard of Jericho. So here’s what happened–and I swear this is true.

One of our senior editors had a 15-year old nephew who was a wrestling fan. I was instructed to have a conference call with the editor’s nephew, where I would ask him what he thought about Jericho. If the nephew agreed that Jericho was popular and the book had potential, I would be permitted to make an offer. If the kid disagreed, no dice. Naturally I was dumbstruck, infuriated, since I was essentially being told that a random 15-year with no publishing experience and questionable judgment was trusted more than I was. Thankfully, the kid agreed with me, and thought the book was a fantastic idea. The offer was greenlit, I acquired the book, and Chris Jericho’s A Lion’s Tale got rave reviews (Kirkus loved it. Kirkus!!!) and the
book became a New York Times bestseller. The sequel is scheduled to come out this Fall.

Why do I bring this up? Because if you’ve worked in publishing, you’ve heard the tired old maxim: Men Don’t Read. Try to acquire or sell a book aimed predominantly at men, and odds are you’ll be told Men Don’t Read. This story is not an isolated incident, but merely a microcosm of a huge problem within the industry. If you keep telling yourself something, regardless of its validity, eventually you’ll begin to believe it. So because publishers rarely publish for men and don’t market towards men, somehow that equates to our entire gender having given up on the reading books. THIS MUST END.

This NPR piece three years ago came to the conclusion that women read more fiction than men by a 4-1 margin. Articles like this madden me because I think they miss the big picture, or perhaps are even ignoring it purposefully. It’s like discussing global warming, while completely ignoring the fact that hey, maybe we have something to do with it.

In my opinion, this empty mantra has begotten a vicious cycle. I was hesitant to write this article, mainly because in no way do I want to be perceived as diminishing the talents of many, many brilliant women in publishing. That is not the aim of this piece, nor is it my opinion in any way. This is a critique of the system, not those who work within it.

Nobody can deny the fact that most editorial meetings tend to be dominated by women. Saying the ratio is 75/25 is not overstating things. So needless to say when a male editor pitches a book aimed at men, there are perilously few men to read it and give their opinions. Not to mention that, because there are so few men, the competition to buy books aimed at men is astronomical. I was once shot down in an effort to buy a sports humor book because I couldn’t get the support of a senior editor. The reason? This editor had written a similar book proposal on submission and didn’t want to hurt his chances of selling it.

Men read. Tons of them do. But they are not marketed to, not targeted, and often totally dismissed. Go to a book conference, a signing. Outside of a Tucker Max event, what percentage of attendees are men?

I thought about this while watching the first television ad for the Barnes & Noble Nook. The ad itself, I think, is quite well done and effective. It tells a story, hits strong emotions. But notice something odd? It markets itself solely towards women. What about the Kindle? Amazon is a brilliant, juggernaut of a company, but the ads for Kindle with their twee music would make any guy groan. Why would men buy an e-reader, considering the takeaway from these ads is you can a) learn about your pregnancy after falling for Mr. Darcy, or b) become Amelia Earhart or Holly Golightly?

Now look at the ads for the iPad. Cool, right? They catch your attention without alienating half the consumer population. Why can’t we do that? Make a fun, cool campaign that doesn’t cut your audience off at the knees?

I’m tired of people saying Men Don’t Read. Men LOVE to read. I’ve been a reader my whole life. My father is a reader. Most of my male friends are readers. But the more publishing repeats the empty mantra that Men Don’t Read the less they’re going to try to appeal to men, which is where this vicious cycle begins.

Publish more books for men and boys. Trust editors who try to buy these books, and work on the marketing campaigns to hit those audiences. The readers are there, waiting, eager just under the surface. And I promise, if publishing makes an effort to tap it, they’ll come out in droves. It won’t be easy. They’ve been alienated for a long time and might need to be roused from their slumber. But as I’ve always said the biggest problems facing the publishing industry are not ebooks, or returns, but the number of people reading. This is a way to bring back a lot of readers who have essentially been forgotten about.

So the next person who tells me that Men Don’t Read, I’ll simply respond by saying Then You Don’t Know Men.

Print it, and they will come.

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