Hey, Graphomaniacs!

Hi Writers,
I know I said Friday was going to be the official rant day here on The Writer’s Perspective, but you never can predict when a good rant is going to come on.

I read an essay in the New York Times Sunday Book Review: “You’re an Author? Me Too!” that really gets to the heart of what we do here at Writer’s Digest. The piece was written by NYT Book Review editor Rachel Donadio.

Here’s an excerpt:
In 2007, a whopping 400,000 books were published or distributed in the United States, up from 300,000 in 2006, according to the industry tracker Bowker, which attributed the sharp rise to the number of print-on-demand books and reprints of out-of-print titles. University writing programs are thriving, while writers’ conferences abound, offering aspiring authors a chance to network and “workshop” their work. The blog tracker Technorati estimates that 175,000 new blogs are created worldwide each day (with a lucky few bloggers getting book deals). And the same N.E.A. study found that 7 percent of adults polled, or 15 million people, did creative writing, mostly “for personal fulfillment.”

In short, everyone has a story — and everyone wants to tell it. Fewer people may be reading, but everywhere you turn, Americans are sounding their barbaric yawps over the roofs of the world, as good old Walt Whitman, himself a self-published author, once put it.

“As publishing has become less expensive, the urge to write my own self has become the opportunity to publish my own self,” said Gabriel Zaid, a Mexican critic and the author of “So Many Books: Reading and Publishing in an Age of Abundance,” a meditation on literary life in an over-booked world. Today, he added, “Everyone now can afford to preach in the desert.”

The gist of the piece I agree with. With all of the outlets now available to writers: POD, blogs, etc. it’s easier than ever for writers to get published, since the gatekeepers are taken out of the equation. And it’s true that the number of published books is increasing substantially (mostly due to POD), while the reading public, or at least the book-buying readers, is on a downward decline. I can’t disagree with any of this.

What bugs me, though is the between-the-lines implication that perhaps writers shouldn’t be getting their writing out there any way they see fit.

Think about this in comparison to the other arts.

For example, have you ever heard anyone say something like this: “There are just too many street musicians. They really shouldn’t be playing music in public if they’re not with a record label.”

Or this: “Who is buying all of the art at those neighborhood art festivals? Why do these artists even bother—nobody is going to enjoy or buy their paintings!”

Why is writing held to a different standard than the other arts? How does a writer know if he’s good or not without getting his work out there any way he can?

Power to the people!
That’s my rant. Please feel free to add yours here, too.

Keep Writing,

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13 thoughts on “Hey, Graphomaniacs!

  1. Jeff Currie

    I believe the entire book submission process is due for an overhaul. Perhaps WD should take the lead and establish a national online clearing house for aspiring authors. The author could submit 3 chapters of his/her novel along with a short query letter. Agents and publishers could then stop accepting submissions directly, and they could look online for work that fits their needs. A "thumbs-ug" or "thumbs-down" rating system or an A,B,C,D,E grading could be used to let the writer know where they stand relative to the market; if your submission isn’t getting any attention on a totally level playing field then you know it needs work. You could also see other writer’s submissions and find out why they grade higher than your submission.

    This would benefit agents and publishers because they wouldn’t be wading through unsolicited slush piles to find the work they need to survive; the slush pile would be online, and they could pick and chosse in a specific genre with less effort and wasted time. The catch would be that they would have to rate anything they read.

    The system would benefit writers because they would get better feedback telling them why their work isn’t being accepted by agents and publishers.

    WD could charge a small fee to authors to offset costs, and take a small commission for any work purchased by an agent or publisher.

    Jeff C http://www.ebmaclean.com

  2. Ann

    I believe I wrote this in a comment under different thread, but here is part of that.
    Sadly, I have read and heard from various sources over the last few years is that if you publish through a POD that you will never be considered a serious writer, and therefore never even be considered by an agent and traditional publisher.

  3. The Writer Mama

    I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with the statement, "Power to the people." I don’t think there is anything inherently good or bad about the number of books being published.

    But I do think that there is a lot of material in this discussion that is left unexplored, which means most writers reading this are going to feel like they are being given two choices:

    I’m either for "the people" or I’m not.

    As though it were a black and white issue. And it isn’t.

    What’s happening in the publishing industry right now is not black and white.

    What is happening, and specifically what it means to aspiring authors, is complicated, which is why I’ve written a whole book on the topic (Get Known Before the Book Deal (November 2008, Writer’s Digest Books). So that folks who are still interested in traditional publication can be informed about what is being asked of them at this time to pass through the gates, so to speak.

    In my opinion, what is being asked of those who want to publish traditionally really isn’t any different, as far as I can see, as what is being asked of folks who wish to self-publish.

    I feel what is being asked of writers isn’t to choose SIDES (tradition vs. self-publishing). It’s to be increasingly strategic, to work harder than ever, and to avoid an Us vs. Them attitude.

    And it’s not easy to do this in today’s emotionally charged climate.

  4. Kurt L Hanson

    If one supposes themselves on a mission of God, and with the goal a task to complete an important objective, then a glut of literary material is not a problem so much as having time to simply read through it all and perhaps then find something of value which relates and pertains to further the completion of said mission. The time to sift through so many blogs, websites, magazines, books …, and to find relevant material to read and contemplate is the stickler.

    Writing the last paragraph clarified a thought: the cerebral energy put to produce what I refer to as today’s glut of literary material, were this energy focused to a specific direction, … the rewards would be tremendous.

    Maria, thanks for the opportunity to express two cryptic paragraphs of thought.

  5. Afroz Ashrafi

    Most of the observations made are realistic as writing is an exciting business and equally deadly for some . i never bother who says what and dont find myself unduly perturbed by some cynical remarks . There are basically three categories of people . One who never writes , two , one who never reads and three , one who never reads and writes but has the best of pretensions . The major point is that the basics of writing must be clear as it is a serious mode of communication . writing represents both the simplicity and complexity of the writer .

  6. Tom

    I find this to be an extremely difficult blog on which to comment, probably mainly because I don’t think I can shut up once I start. We’ll see how this goes.

    I’m going to try and stick with the core question here:
    "Why is writing held to a different standard than the other arts? How does a writer know if he’s good or not without getting his work out there any way he can?"

    I’ve thought this over quite a bit. Over the years I’ve had an opportunity to experience both playing music and writing, and it seems to me that there isn’t a different standard. People who busk the streets for spare change will be rewarded if they are good, ignored if they are bad (possibly even chastised if they outright suck and are loud about it). Writers will find themselves in the same boat. Actually, even the good ones of either creative pursuit will often find themselves being ignored. (There’s a blog out there somewhere about a world-famous violinist who posed as a busker in the subway one morning and was soundly ignored by nearly every single person who walked by. I wish I had the link to add here for you.)

    In my experience it is likewise true that there will be folks who say, "That shouldn’t be out there. Those people just shouldn’t be given an audience for what they’re doing." These people are, I believe, mainly people on the inside of things. I think the general public doesn’t give pause to consider it all that much. It either sucks or it’s good, and that’s that. If they walk by some dude who’s mangling three chords with pathetic, self-conscious, pseudo-socially-aware lyrics, they aren’t going to ask themselves any deep philosphical questions about whether said dude has a "right" to express himself. If he sucks, they won’t give him money, they won’t listen, and they’ll keep walking. And if people don’t like a book, they won’t buy it.

    People inside the world of writing, however, as producers or those facilitating production in some fashion or other, will always tend to be harsher critics: "Are you kidding me? Why would someone bother even reading that crap, much less writing an entire book about it! Who the hell ever let that guy near a keyboard?"

    Musicians will sit around and go, "Dude, there’s no f***ing way that clown should ever be allowed out in public with an instrument, let alone get a friggin’ gig," and there are writers sitting in coffee shops and living rooms as we speak saying, "I can’t believe he actually published that literary mural of ineptitude. I mean, it’s POD and all, but still…it shouldn’t exist is what I’m sayin’."

    I think everyone who believes he or she should have a shot should take it, damn the torpedoes! I firmly believe that creative expression should be encouraged. As for whether we should have to essentially endure the claimed expanding mediocrity provided by recent changes in the publishing industry, we’ve had to endure such in other venues for far longer. Top 40 radio will prove that mediocrity is often championed to great extent, and at a much higher volume level, unfortunately.

  7. Scott B.

    POD is great, but I still look at POD as a last resort sort of thing. I keep a list of published authors and the amount of times they’ve been rejected by my station for inspiration. I know that if I run my work through the wringer of professional editors and excessive reviews on what and what shouldn’t be in the book, this will provide me with a better understanding of how to round off a great book (fiction, not non-fiction).

  8. Lori

    Amen, sister! Let the masses decide if your scribblings are worth plunking down cash for. Good writing will always rise to the top no matter how much bad stuff is floating around it.

  9. carolina paton

    Maria. I totally agree that if you write and you feel you are in the right direction you deserve your story to get published.the" big price" is not for everyone Best wishes from Chile. Carolina

  10. Marie

    Maria, thank you for sharing your views on Donadio’s essay. I also agreed with much of the essay and even wrote about it on my blog. Part of what bothers me about the essay is the assumption that it’s the "ungated" PODs that are accounting for today’s over-abundance of books. What about all the books by politicians that are being pushed right now? Are they necessarily better writers than many of POD-author friends? Or is that publishers think they are a sure bet to some profit (especially during a campaign year)? I don’t begrudge anyone their desire to see their work in print. It’s how traditional publishers choose who to publish that gets under my skin: it’s more who you know than how well do you write. The discriminating reader, however, will always be more interested in the writing, however it gets published.

  11. Patrick Kennedy

    To write is for people to read. I haven’t had many people search through my desk draws or computer files to read my book. So I recently went the POD way and published How to Have Fun with Retirement. The people who have read it send me emails telling me how much they enjoyed reading it. Somebody does buy the art at street fair, listen to the street music, and yes, buy POD books they will enjoy.


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