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May 02, 2007


I'm glad you were able to end this on an up-note. I hope you're right.

I was just discussing this very issue yesterday with a published writer, who rather dismissively smirked at my similar sentiments about the level of writing in the most public of domains, the internet. It doesn't help that the word "blog" has connotations that drag down the writing contained therein. But as a person involved with a University Press, and having been to countless conferences where Publishers scramble to figure out how to deal with the "death" of print (although no one seriously thinks print will actually die, the money in simply not there for academic and literary works, and in more and more cases authors are having to subsidize their own books --this puts a whole new spin on the vanity press).

Google of course, is already onto the changing trends, and is hatching schemes even as we speak that will doubtless transform the way literature (everything) is marketed in the future. So there is some hope for those writing in cyberspace, other than the community and crativity which are their own rewards.

Beth, I wholly agree:
"..the main reason, I think, is just one of numbers: the major media are inundated with book review requests, while the number of pages they can allot to them is shrinking, and increasingly focussed on big name authors, buzz, and financial and editorial interests..."
And with Dave's comment too.
The irony is that as more bloggers and specialised sites are becoming book reviewers/critics themselves, the professional journalists don't like this trend at all. Lately I keep coming across sneering articles by some well-known journalists who dismiss blogs and bloggers as some lower form of life. I don't know if they've taken the trouble to visit the really good writer/bloggers out there, such as yourselves, or if they're simply nervous about losing their authority to what they consider to be the hoi-polloi who dare to step on their turf. Changes are certainly afoot, hopefully for the better.

Natalie - I've read something about that recently, too. I do think that some of it is indeed fear of competition - competition that, for the most part, works for free.

As someone who's trying to break into the world of creative nonfiction, what I find most frustrating is the way that publishers, much like Hollywood, now tend to go for the sort of "safe" books that they can easily transform and market as blockbusters - rather than taking risks on quirkier things, or spreading the wealth among smaller-grossing titles.

Increasingly, it seems that the only way to get published, if you're not Dan Brown or Stephen King, IS to write for free or very little - small presses, self-publishing, academic presses, blogs. Given that, it's not surprising that the action, both in terms of writing and in terms of reading and reviewing, is increasingly shifting to venues with fewer gatekeepers. If I'm going to write for free, I'm damn well going to write what I want, how I want, and I want the people who read my work to do so because they think it's good, not because someone pumped it up as part of some quid pro quo deal with my publisher.

Of course, in the best of all possible worlds, writers would do this sort of work, get reviewed by thoughtful reviewers, and still make a living at it. Perhaps the rise of small-scale, low-cost competition will make the larger concerns re-think their assumptions and approach... but I'm not holding my breath.

Rana, I entirely share your thoughts and frustrations on this subject and I decided to publish my recent book via print-on-demand (Lulu.com) for the same reasons. But even if a commercial publisher takes you on, as Beth said, getting any attention for non-blockbusting material from the mainstream media is most unlikely. Unless you're prepared to think up some daredevil stunts like the man who landed (was he parachuted from a helicopter?) in the grounds of Buckingham Palace - it turned out he was just trying to get attention for his self-published book. It was a few years ago and I can't remember the details of the man or the book but his stunt was certainly memorable. Maybe this is the way we should be thinking? Eh Beth, Rana?

Well, there's all sorts of drama around the SUBject of my book, but it still isn't enough to grab the media's attention: they've "been there already." So you're right - I guess we should be planning stunts, but only Augustine has the persona to really pull one off, I think. Suppose she appeared one morning, life-size, on the porticoes of all the London churches, sitting in serious conversation with your T-shirted God?

Beth, the idea is brilliant but the logistics of it are beyond me. Being in many places at once may be child's play for the T-shirted one but, moi, I have trouble finding just one place where I belong. On the other hand.....if I could recruit enough Gd look-alikes to sit with Augustine look-alikes on the steps of....Now you've got me actually thinking seriously about this.

Heh. Given that most of what I'm currently writing consists of me standing in the backyard of my rented house going "WTF?" with regards to things like snow and cicadas, I'm hard pressed to think of a stunt that would bring my work to the attention of the media. *wink*

Rana, that in itself might be enough. There's not enough WTF-ing going on regarding things like snow and cicadas. :)

It's so frustrating when the gatekeepers keep the gates closed.

I remember a time when the Atlanta Journal-Constitution book section was one of my prime sources for literary news and views. Some of the best regional writers got their start on that paper, and went on to be reviewed there...making me extra sad about their decision to lose Theresa Weaver. I hope they re-think.

Your book definitely deserved mainstream attention on its release, and the subject matter continues to be timely.

I am always sorry when someone I know writes a book or does a show and does not get what I call the minimal reviews they should get. I have done years of medias relations for "cultural products" (books, shows, art exhibitions) and I have realized in the last few years, that every book, show or event has its public. Often, books that are "harder" to promote - meaning need to be fitted with the right journalist - like any other cultural product, won't get as much coverage, but they will get a little if someone works at finding the right journalist to write or talk about them. What about Montreal's medias, since your are around?

Hi Nadia, it's great to hear from you!

Mike Boone did an interview with me last summer, and there was also an interview with the bishop and a mention of my book in the Mirror -- but we had no luck with the French press, though someone pretty-well-connected wrote to Le Devoir for me. Do you have any other suggestions?

English language papers come my way less often now,when they do I enjoy book reviews, but very quickly they begin to make me feel irritated and oppressed; not because they're unintelligent, far from it, but because the arts media seems to me to be a cliquey, smug world of self-congratulatory, self-referential people, very anxious to preserve their status. Of course this may well be a sour grapes judgemant that says more about me than them!
However, i've found the blog experience very liberating, because suddenly i'm able to discuss and listen to and enjoy the written word in a quite different way, which is free, open and accessible.
Contrary to the perception of blog writing you allude to, there is real excellence to be found; people whose writing and other skills I am truly in awe of, but who are nevertheless approachable to me, but there are also, just as cherishably, many more whom I see as 'people like me'; not necessarily dazzlingly pre-eminent individuals, but somply thoughtful, and articulate people who are becoming more so with the opportunity to express themselves. and what amazes me about this is they do it for free, for love if you like.
I know there are some nasty, deluded or simply mediocre people doing this too, and also that doing it for love can be a mixed blessing, the need for attention and reassurance etc, and that others run out of steam, and that it can never be an overt and visible medium as others are and will therefore never replace those others in influence, but it is an exciting and new, and largely positive move forward, I'm sure.
I could and would go on, but am out of time!

Natalie mentions the deep unease in certain quarters of the 'legitimate' press-&-publishing world about the emergence of the blogger. Long-term populist British journalist Janet Street-Porter embarassed herself recently in a national periodical with an hysterical assault on bloggers. In branding them as mere rank amateurs sharing their pitiful hopes & fears with others of their ilk, she revealed a great deal more about her own terrors in the face of a rising tide than about the phenomenon under attack.

Very sad for these tired old scribblers. Self-publishers, diarists, ranters, commentators - we're all here to stay!

Lucy, thanks very much for this long thoughtful comment! I'm glad that you find blogging rewarding, as I do, and I agree with you, for the most part, about the arts media. I got tired a long time ago of being told what one ought to think and feel, if one were sufficiently educated or experienced or academic. To me, this aspect of popular criticism is part of what has distanced more and more people from the arts, and created such an atmosphere of elitism on the one hand, and boredom on the other.

Dick - you bet! This phenomenon is definitely here to stay, and the media will have to adapt -- or wither away.

Well, if Big Media doesn't grab onto your book, Beth, it ain't for lack of quality - I just finished it yesterday, and I enjoyed every minute. What a lovely work of art and love. Congratulations and thanks.

I look to blogs for a good part of my reading these days as well, and a good part of my ideas for more reading (and writing!) - I think the media will adapt, but not without a fight. And some well-deserving writers will be unfortuate casualties, though not, I think, completely lost. Your book is being read - at least by me! And no thanks to the Times Book Review, and no need for it.

"...we need to make the most of the opportunities we're presented with..."


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