Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Price Elasticity of Literature

To self publish or not to self publish. That's the question more and more established and would be writers are asking themselves. There are undeniable success stories, particularly in pulp genres (thrillers, crime fiction, romance, sci-fi, supernatural-romance etc.) Often, authors first establish themselves through the traditional publishing model and them branch off and build their readership and profitability by self-publishing. As with all other product in the marketplace, brand-building is key. The model doesn't seem to work for literary fiction nearly as well though for a varity of reasons and publishers are becoming strictly marketers, divesting from literature by devoting fewer and fewer resources to editing and material support to their authors (not to mention paying smaller advances). Agents and publishing houses are increasingly expecting to receive polished publishable manuscripts. I know a few writers who are paying for professional manuscript editing services in the hope that it can lead to a deal, a risky and expensive proposition. The problems facing the publishing and marketing of literary fiction are dealt with in an interesting article by Alex Good. He makes the point that unlike literary fiction, genre fiction is well-suited for selling on the web which tends to cheapen everything by making it so readily available. A $0.99 to $2.99 price point makes everything merely discardable merchandise, akin to fast-fashion or fast-food ie. not something you cherish enough to put on your shelf. When it's in a person's mind that they should be paying so little for a book (when paying anything at all) how do you then go and ask $10 or $20 for literary fiction (read: higher quality merchandise). When $0.99 becomes the price for a book ie. what readers expect to pay, it doesn't matter whether the author is Danielle Steele, Dan Brown or Dostoevsky. The question is will literature, as we know it, pay the ultimate price?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

New Year's Day


It started innocently enough,
a white screen, a thought, leading to an image
that accumulated into words
(she thought of rainclouds forming)
the syllables counted, the line skipped
rhythm added (she thought of sidewalk puddles)
and a clever rhyme about New Year’s Day
that made her smile with
hope for better tomorrows
tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow
(kind of cliché, she knew, but it didn’t matter
it felt right for the time of year), she
a junior in university
emailed what she’d typed to her list of friends,
(mostly acquaintances)
with wishes for health and happiness,
and it was read and deleted by most,
but two messages slipped through and
were forwarded to their contact list
and two more were forwarded to theirs
and this went on for weeks
the forwards multiplying virally
through blog links, Facebook sharing and Tweets
and someone posted it on YouTube
accompanied by images pilfered from the web
and a song by Taylor Swift used without permission,
and it got hits and hits galore, millions
and a hundred million and a book deal
(like Sh*t My Dad Says)
that was a New York Times Bestseller
and a film option from Hollywood
and a logo and a phrase that became a clothing line
and the President quoted it
in his re-election campaign speech
and it was translated into forty-two languages
including Swahili, Mongolian, and Ojibwa
and it got its own Wikipedia page
and school children all around the world
committed it to memory
for a while.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Drum roll please...

The $50,000 poem. Judge for yourself.
(I particularly like how the poet managed to slide in, as it were, the words 'cock' and 'cunt'. That alone makes it worth every penny.)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The weather today...


The martyr-sun withers behind shadows
Darkly cumulus. Cellophane angels
Wood magi, tinfoil stars appear below
Mount-Royal, new benedictions they sell
To jingles of merchants and Christmas bells
The storefronts hang with icicles dripping
Like clear bloody nails as soles go slipping
Along glacial pavement of downtown roads
Umbrellas popped-open over heads low
Like black mushrooms or propped vinyl halos
Mothers trailed by elfin cherubic broods
Are neon-illumined in rubber hoods
Their tiny icon-faces bright as dolls
Puppet nativities entrance them all.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Same Old Same Old

The other day my seventeen (eighteen in April) year old daughter confided that she was 'blown away' by a certain Pink Floyd song from their Animals album. She called 'Dogs' up on her laptop (Youtube) and we listened to it together. 'How does he make his guitar sound like yelping dogs?' she queried excitedly. 'The way the synthesizer sounds like a pack of barking hounds. And the lyrics. Freaking genius.' I smiled, knowingly. You see, I'm slightly familiar with this particular tune. Listened to it possibly a thousand times when I was my daughter's age. In fact, I used a quote from Dogs for my senior entry in my high-school yearbook. This seemed a good way to bid adieu to my childhood :

And after a while you can work on points for style
Like the club tie and the firm handshake
As sudden look in the eye and an easy smile
You have to be trusted by the people that you lie to
So that when they turn their backs on you
You'll get the chance to put the knife in.

I was a cheery optimistic lad.
Apparently, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

I'm thinking about this because of a provocative Vanity Fair article arguing that every twenty years or so American society has traditionally regenerated itself with new styles, new fashion, new design, new entertainment. My taste in music (Pink Floyd) was radically different from my mother's taste (Frankie Laine). My dad called the jeans I wore on a daily basis 'dungarees'. The renewal of style has not only distinguished fathers and mothers from their offspring, but has kept the economy pumping at a healthy clip. In the last twenty years, say, from 1992 to 2012 we've stalled, according to the article. The median wage hasn't changed, and the music hasn't changed that much either - Lady Gaga is just a spruced up (and younger) version of Madonna - same with the fashion and even the politics. It would stand to reason then that parents my age, would have a lot more in common with their kids, then those parents had with their parents, which seems to be my experience. I'm not sure that we're in a holding pattern per se, but the rate of cultural change does appear to have slowed. The distance between me who was born during the civil rights revolution and came of age during the heyday of disco, and my parents who were pre-war babies seems transcontinental culturally-speaking. In my day we called it 'the generation gap'. I doubt if my kids would inherently grasp that concept the way we did. So, same old, same old, right? Well, not in one very obvious and important way: technology. All those devices that were science fiction when I was young that are now ubiquitous, commonplace and indispensible. The 'transponder' used by Captain Kirk to order Scotty to 'beam me up' is what we now call a cellphone. The desktops and laptops and i-thingamajigs and Blackberries and video games and Facebook and Google have all undoubtedly shifted the cultural parameters. Styles and eras don't seem to matter nearly as much as they used to and one can argue that it is precisely because of our obsession with gadgetry and the internet which makes us feel as if we are living virtual and a-temporal existences. The internet makes all cultures of all eras immediately present and accessible. We travel through space and time with a mere click of a button. Style, as we used to understand and live it, is irrelevant. I mean, do you really have to care about the clothes you wear, or how you wear your hair, if you live, play, shop, do your banking, go to school, and socialize through a screen?