By Porter Anderson | @Porter_Anderson
From August 23, 2012
Part of my series of columns on publishing, Writing on the Ether, appearing Thursdays at the invitation of Jane Friedman at JaneFriedman.com
by Deirdre Gogarty & Darrelyn Saloom
In the 1980s, boxing is illegal for women in Ireland. But Deirdre Gogarty has only one dream: to be the first Irish woman to win a world boxing title. How can a shy, young misfit become a professional boxer in a country that bans women from the sport? Gogarty follows her calling to compete and journeys from the Irish Sea to the Gulf of Mexico, from outcast to center ring, from the depths of depression to the championship fight of her life.
“If you’ve ever wondered why and how people do extraordinary, almost impossible things, read My Call to the Ring. Deirdre Gogarty knocked me out with this book.”
—Ted Mann, former National Lampoon editor, television writer and producer
UPDATE: I’m informed on Friday (August 24) that Digital Book World WILL begin adding authors’ names to its ebook listings in its new eBook Best-Seller List, starting Monday (August 27) with its second weekly release of the list. Glad to know that a whiff of our Ether here seems to have been inhaled.
Here is our original post on the matter: EXTRA ETHER: DBW’s Best-Seller List
T. S. Eliot scorned her self-promotion, calling Lowell the “demon saleswoman of poetry.”
That’s Amy Lowell biographer Carl Rollyson, writing this week exclusively for the Virginia Quarterly Review at the request of Jane Friedman, VQR’s digital editor, hashtag unto herself, and long-suffering host of the Ether.
Friedman sets up the arrival of this important, brief article, with an editor’s note:
Last month, I tweeted: “Is it just me, or do many professional authors lack a serious professional attitude toward their websites?” In response, Carl Rollyson (@crollyson) tweeted: “I wonder how Amy Lowell would have constructed a website. She was good at showing publishers how to advertise.” So I asked Carl to expand on this idea in a blog post.
And explain he does, in a piece pointedly titled Quality Work Does Not Speak for Itself—It Must Be Marketed.
She did not believe that the work spoke for itself. An author had to speak up for her work and do so with a savvy understanding of the marketplace.
And yet you need not walk far down any hallway to hear somebody claiming that “good work will out,” “it always rises to the top,” “you just focus on writing the best book you can and the rest will take care of itself.”
What three words did he get from Bob Mayer, author and publisher?
Great writing, characters.
This, as authors face 32 million active titles in Books in Print, as Bowker’s Laura Dawson tells us. More about that is in this edition of the Ether (direct link). And the “Dawson 32 Million” doesn’t include self-published work. Or non-US books.
Only now is the overwhelming truth of “too many books” beginning to register fully, as the digital dumptruck backs up and drops off new titles so fast that you can’t even publish…a good book about it.
Here’s author Kelvin Smith writing, a bit sheepishly, about his new book, The Publishing Business: From p-books to e-books (curiously priced at $30.76 in paperback with no Kindle edition in sight) at Ed Nawotka’s Publishing Perspectives.
The industry! the industry! is at best wearing itself out, and at worst tearing us apart. Smith writes:
The tone in the publishing blogosphere is frequently hysterical about this or that tech development, legal battle, industry sector realignment, IP conflict, financial or commercial brouhaha, and the overall impression when you read enough of this stuff, is of an industry, a profession even, in a blue funk.
Some of this hysteria is generated by the eager alarmists in our communities, as we know, the sneering royal asses I call the “snot-nerds” among us.
Conference upon conference seems to address the same issues, and attract a relatively small group of people apparently paid just to think about the future of publishing. They race from conference venue to conference venue, creating and dominating the debate, and why not? They are paid to do just that.
Smith is gracious enough to concede, tacitly:
Writing a book about publishing while these changes are going on seems like trying to hit a very erratically moving market…to make sense of the rapidly changing publishing landscape.
- Process over pith. Bright-shiny stuff leads a lot of our debate. “Wouldn’t it be nice,” Smith asks, “if more publishers were asking and answering questions about what publishing is for — and reasserting that publishing purpose is as important as publishing process?”
- Parochialism. “The way in which publishing reconciles its local anchorage with its global outreach is an important thing for publishers to keep in mind as they develop their businesses in the twenty-first century.”
- Vanity over value. Lastly, he writes, the overtake of publishing by entertainment interests means “many publishing people have lost the belief that they are doing something worthwhile.”
Perhaps much of mainstream publishing has not done itself a favour by being seduced by popular culture’s attraction to celebrity over substance. Surely it’s time to pull ourselves together.
OK, then, let’s hear it for quality, right? And the chutzpah to sell it with gusto as Rollyson says Lowell would have done.
Mad Lib: With ____the publishing industry will likely ____. For most publishers the worst thing to do is ___. My best advice would be ____.
— Edward Nawotka (@EdNawotka) August 22, 2012
Well, not so fast.
Nathan Bransford has chosen this moment of near-clarity to raise his hand and ask if we all aren’t just too het up over this quality crap.
I’ve long held the belief that the publishing industry cares too much about a certain level of writing quality, and I’d include myself in the camp as well.
Bransford can’t help himself, of course, he’s in California, you know how that goes, and it’s been a long, hot summer, and he’s reading Fifty Shades of You Know What, and it obviously is doing everything for his sense of literary discernment we might expect. Get this:
So far I don’t think it’s anywhere near as bad as I had heard people complain of it, but yeah, it’s not, nor do I think it’s supposed to be, Shakespeare.
I can’t do an intervention, I’m on the East Coast. Is there anybody near Bransford who can reach the man? Ye shall know him by the post headlined Does the Publishing Industry Care Too Much About Writing Quality?
In the rousing range of responses to that question about quality, Bransford seems to be getting a good bit of buy-in from people who say that readers are much happier with “a good story” than they are with “good writing.”
Bransford, himself, loads his question this way:
I’m unconvinced the majority of the reading public cares about “good” writing. They care about stories and settings and characters. Prose? I’m not sure I buy it…Should the industry still try to maintain the same level of quality of writing even if the public doesn’t care?
Just for the record, I’ve read some of Bransford’s Jacob Wonderbar material and he does not skimp on quality, himself.
And I see no one in comments to his post asking this: Has “the public” ever cared as much about quality as artists and artisans have? — in writing, in theater, in dance, in music, in journalism, in photography and other visual arts?
So now we’re to turn to the public, with its fascination for princely posteriors, His Highness’ heinie, the Seat of St. James, the butt of Balmoral, God save his glutes — and so say we Hip! Hip! …? Those people are to be “the deciders” of what’s appropriate as a goal in publishing now?
Surely @Porter_Anderson can find a clever way to fit Prince Harry's butt into this week's Writing on the Ether…
— Colleen Lindsay (@ColleenLindsay) August 23, 2012
Check our Last Gas today about Magnum photographer Martine Franck. Look at some of her photos. You can bet Harry’s royal rear that Franck didn’t toss out a few “good enough” ringers along the way because “the public” didn’t care as much as she did about quality.
We’re about to test this on a massive scale as the books that would never have made it through the publishing process in manuscript form due to subpar prose are out there ready to take off, sell a gajillion copies and prove the industry wrong.
“About to test” has already landed in our eBook Best-Sellers List section right after this one. Stay with us for another gulp of gas and we’ll let you in on how many “gajillion copies” of “the books that would never have made it through the publishing process” seem to be selling so far.
I would not like to be visited by Amy Lowell’s full-figured ghost for getting this wrong.
Rollyson writes that Lowell started with — and supported — quality work with her sharp sense for business. And he writes this in excellent prose of his own, by the way. I hear the sound of no Ethernauts running in disgust from Rollyson’s own good work, do you?
I know this kind of proactive engagement is not for every author… But for others—like Amy Lowell and like me—imagining and creating an audience for one’s work is what writing is all about.
- Fans, covers, metadata
- Metadata, marketing, handselling
- Metadata gets sexy
- Metadata, brands, cross-selling
Rollyson is telling us that Lowell likely would gladly have made that five mentions of metadata. He speculates that “social media and electronic platforms…I’m sure would have thrilled her.”
Rollyson describes Lowell crawling over every detail of her own book presentations, “fonts…page layouts…catalog announcements.”
You can bet she would not be against social media, labeling it some new imposition on the author, more comfortable with the easier and cozier ways that prevailed in the old days.
He’s not saying anything to suggest that Lowell would rushed out to “throw up some ebooks on the Internet,” as James Scott Bell laughingly puts it.
Lowell saw no reason why quality work of the first order should not be aggressively introduced into the marketplace.
Maybe the reason Lowell would have been a happy platformer, per Rollyson, but one who never sacrificed quality to the commercial, is because she cared not just about being read — but about who read her. Rollyson one more time:
As she put it, she was not trying to create readers of poetry, she was appealing to readers who already had a spark of poetry in them that could be ignited.
Get that? Maybe it’s all in who you’d like as readers.