Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Mass Insanity of Writers


Virtually every writer I know has a book coming out. I meet writers on the street who I haven't seen all year. They tell me they have books coming out.

Everyone's writing novels. Housewives and businessmen who've never before considered themselves writers are writing novels and have books coming out.

Some have more than one. Some are approaching a dozen. They're not selling them, they're doing no marketing to speak of, but they're cranking out more of them. Right now the book is the LAST thing to produce but barbers, gardeners, tailors, sailors, Aunt Helen Uncle Bill the guy at the desk next to yours at your job are writing novels and have books coming out.

If writers, or people in general, had a sense of basic economics-- or basic odds-- this madness wouldn't be occurring.

Ever been to a racetrack?

Those who have, for any extended period, learn odds. They see the glue factory horses. Those are the ones who have NO shot. The line on them starts at 80 to 1. The extreme longshot. The experts-- called handicappers-- know they have no shot, but there's always a sucker or two who'll bet them regardless. "Hey, 'Destiny DeBong.' I'll bet it!"

They're off! The horses thunder down the track. "Where's Destiny DeBong?" you wonder. You don't see it among the leaders. That's it! Way behind the others. Half-a-racetrack behind. In danger of being lapped.

At the present time, Destiny DeBong is a better bet than the novel.

What are the odds right now of getting attention for your book? 8,000 to 1? 80,000? 800,000?

If everyone in the underground has a book coming out, you can believe the 400,000+ MFA folks out there also have books coming out.

In the last ten years, due to the ease of publishing, Print-On-Demand and the micropress, there's been an explosion of product, with no apparent corresponding rise in demand. Writers today aren't exactly rock stars.

So where's the logic?

The conglomerates alone crank out too many novels. Go to a supersize chain bookstore. Where's Joe Schmoe's book? There are ten thousand books on the first floor. How will anyone find it?

Maybe five serious novels in the past year received serious marketing attention. Jonathan Lethem's was among them. I can't remember the title.

I know. I know. You're different. You're going to be different. The literary agent will choose yours from hundreds or thousands. It'll be published, and published with backing. Full-page ads in the N.Y. Times, at least before the Gray Lady goes bankrupt.

The funny thing is, there are roads to literary success. Roads no one is traveling. The key is finding or creating a new road and outflanking the pack.

Oh oh! Here comes the herd. Thundering along. Books! Everyplace and everywhere you look-- books! Novelists like Goodloe Byron are giving their novels away free.Talk about devaluing the product. More books! Books which nobody wants.

I believe I'll hide on an island or in a cave for a couple years until the hysteria passes.


(This was originally posted elsewhere by me earlier in the year.)

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