A new model for writing
The following thought came to me shortly after reading the latest about the Judith Regan uproar (see below) and after reading the New Directions newsletter, giving information about poetry events in New York.
Suppose, I thought -- just suppose -- that there is someone out there who has taken a look at the modern publishing scene, and has fully acquainted herself with it. In all its hideous glory. And suppose, very sensibly, that that person has quietly decided that, thank you very much, but modern publishing, from Judith Regan to poetry events in New York, is just not for her. Thank you very much, again.
And suppose this person just settles down and gets on with the work. It might be writing novels, or short stories, or poetry; or even plays.
Suppose this person sits back, abjures all contact with, and all reading about, what the rest of the literary (or commercial) world is up to; forgets about, or rather doesn't even trouble to find out, who is flavour of the month this time around; ignores the bestseller list; ignores the small magazines, print or online, which consciously form an armed resistance to the various establishments. And instead of all that, just does the work, according to her own lights.
And suppose, further, that this person makes her work available in any one of the numerous ways which are now just a click away, my own current favourite being Lulu.com. Our retiring writer does not even bother to set up a Lulu storefront, let alone write press releases or send out review copies, or pay to get listed on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. She just posts it up. And goes on posting it up, as and when she's finished the stuff. Year after year after year. Over a whole working lifetime.
I wonder what would happen?
My guess is that, sooner or later, someone would notice. And they would delve into it. And if the work was any good, in the view of that interested party -- and even if it wasn't any good -- they would write about it. And word would spread.
You know what? I think that would be as good a way of establishing a name for yourself as any I can currently think of -- because, 99 times out of 100, all that drum-banging is in any case just empty noise. But the irony is, I suspect, that this method would only work in the case of those who, genuinely and sincerely, really don't care about getting a name for themselves anyway, one way or the other.
In the Guardian, Joel Rickett analyses the market share of the major UK publishers (link from booktrade.info). The big four (Hachette, Random, Penguin, HarperCollins) are doing OK: the occasional big fat hit pays for the failures and leaves a profit. At the bottom, some of the smaller firms (e.g. Faber) are clubbing together and 'growing the market'. In the middle, firms such as Pan Macmillan and Bloomsbury are feeling the pinch.
Galleycat comments on a case where a writer ill-advisedly used real names in a fictional context. You'd think people would know by now, wouldn't you? Still, there's always someone learning these things for the first time. And however careful you are, there may still be trouble. Years ago, Tom Sharpe wrote about a fictional character working for the BBC, and he gave him a really bizarre name, thinking that no one could really be called that. But behold. Out of the bowels of the Beeb came a lowly employee, blinking in the daylight; he claimed damages and won. Moral: use common names, especially for sinners and criminals. For further discussion see my post of 1 August 2005.
Further to my note last week about Sarah Ferguson (Duchess of York) acting as frontwoman for a novel written by Laura van Wormer, Madame Arcati (post of 5 Feb) draws any number of parallels between the life of the Duchess and that of van Wormer.
And while you're there, you might wish to read Madame's interview (3 Feb) with Kevin Spacey's brother, author of Spacey's Brother: Out of the Closet. And, if you're a Brit, you should look at Madame's utterly scandalous piece (2 Feb) about Lord Snowdon and Princess Margaret. The story that Madame relates cannot possibly be true, of course, but it just goes to show. Something or other.
Anne Weale, of Bookworm on the Net, is not too impressed by my rule of thumb about short chapters equating to a readable book, and gives chapter and verse as to why not.
Dave Goodman has found a very, very clever piece of video which says a great deal, in a short time, about the digital age. Well worth a click.
A billionaire is claiming that novelist Clive Cussler lied to him about the total sales figures for his (Cussler's) books, thus dooming (allegedly) a movie to failure. This is quite the silliest court case that I've come across in a long time, even by Hollywood standards.
Which reminds me. In the good old days of the 1940s and 50s, there was a UK publisher (I think it was Walter Harrap) who used to decorate the covers of his books with banners saying '184,000 copies sold -- nineteenth reprint', and so forth. These figures were, of course, a total invention. However, in George Greenfield's memoirs he tells us that one author, noting these figures, demanded to be paid royalties accordingly. And Harrap, it is said, paid.
The Literary Saloon provided a link to a profile of Marina Lewycka in The Age. I don't remember seeing such an interview before; I get the impression that Marina is not about to volunteer for Celebrity Big Brother. There is much of interest here, including the welcome news that Marina has a second novel due out soon. Meanwhile, A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian has been translated into 29 languages.
The Times online has had a makeover, which means that it's hard to find stuff. However, I did manage to trace this longish piece about Tony Visconti, whose Tony Visconti: the Autobiography is just out. A must-read for anyone interested in 1960s pop music.
Also in the Times, a French professor explains how you don't actually need to have read any books to talk convincingly about them. The Prof, it seems, never managed to finish Ulysses.