NVDT #46 What’s Your Name? Who’s Your Daddy? Can You Write Like Me?

The Prompt – The Publishing Industry – There have been many industry changes in the last decade, so what are some changes you would like to see happen in the next decade?

I struggled with this prompt because it’s loaded. Let’s back up an additional 10 years  (2k/2010) to a time when several hundred years of content delivery paradigm disappeared. *Poof* In the last 10 years (2010/2020) publishers of anything creative have been trying to find solid footing in vapor and are currently grasping at all the old school stayin’ alive methodologies to maintain a dwindling income stream. I decided to break it down into a few obvious and digestible chunks and leave out the peripheral observations. Like good barbecue or the Blues. Bear down on the meat. Ease up on the potato salad.

The two most disturbing things to me in the last five to ten years are franchising and blatant nepotism (which includes Brand Crossovers).

Franchising: Take a look at the NY Times Bestseller List. Aside from the usual box office guarantees (possibly) written by the author listed on the cover, there are at least two box office names in bold print. Across the bottom in a lesser font “with Author You Never Heard Of.” I see this quite often of late. I have one on my bookshelf now I bought for $1 at the library. Another James Patterson with another AYNHO. Is this the ultimate fan fiction payoff? Write a story using famous author X’s character’s, not even bother to redecorate the set? Is this the new wave of Nancy Drew*/Hardy Boys/Mack Bolan? Crank out 70 to 115k that fits the costumes for Patterson, Clancy, and others? Parker’s Jesse Stone and Spenser cheesy re-ups? We don’t care if you can write or not, have an original idea or not, we have a name that sells books, send us your fan fic.

Also, of particular note on the NYT list is the Grisham novel. The plot teaser is an author of murder mysteries gets murdered on a resort island during a hurricane. OMG! How original! Didn’t I see that on Death in Paradise a couple of seasons ago? Grisham (maybe) is now stuffing Christie formula for mailbox money? What next? Every murder procedural on television having a parachute failure episode in the same season? Oh really? That’s been done? Ooops.

Nepotism: Anne Hillerman, Alafair Burke, the Leonard boys. Joe Hill and Owen King (Stephen King), Emma Straub, Nick Harkaway (John LeCarre). Martin Amis, Mark Vonnegut, Christopher Milne, Page Stegner, Carol Higgins Clark. The list goes on and on. This is not sour grapes or to say that none of those people are talented and creative in their own “write,” but I am also reminded of two stories from the music business, where I spent my professional life.

One – Imagine trying to break into the music business in the Mid-Sixties. The Beatles, The Stones, The Who, Hendrix, the Doors, Jefferson Airplane, Sam & Dave, the Temptations, Marvin Gaye, the Yardbirds, Stevie Wonder, the songwriting and studio machines. That list goes on forever, too. Average Jim Bob with an acoustic guitar is looking for some elbow room in all that? Not gonna happen. Unless Paul McCartney’s girlfriend is your sister, he tosses you a few songs he doesn’t need, maybe produces the session and lo, you’re out of the coffee-houses, have four hit records, and become a music industry millionaire lifer named Peter Asher. I wonder did he ever send his sister flowers?

Two – I recall, in my early impressionable youth, hearing a song on the radio by Gary Lewis and the Playboys. When it was over the DJ said, “And that just goes to show that you can get a record deal no matter who your father is…”

So tell me, you’re an Indie author with a bag of short stories. Good short stories. Tom Hanks has a collection, too. How “good” they are is anyone’s guess. I’m betting they’re not bad, but not the new Hemingway. Whose will be on the shelf with fewer than five other choices in Walmart? Because they’re an essential business and bookstores are not? Yours? Mine? Or Tom Hanks. God knows I respect padding your resume with cross-curriculum activities, and Tom is a very talented guy in many respects. But so are myriad others, who will never even get a read or a marketing dollar because The Brand sells the product for the publishers. Free money. Why look for talent or art when here’s some free money? This is the same reasoning behind bands with tie-dyed oxygen tanks selling tickets at Casinos.

Add franchising and nepotism together, along with a dwindling income stream even from the sure-fire box office draws, vanishing brick and mortar bookstores selling stacks of $28 “NY Times Best Sellers” off the $2 and $5 table, and no real plan for going forward, the collapse of the publishing industry (as we’ve known it) is imminent. Anyone who hopes to catch a ride before the ship sinks needs to think long and hard about what to offer them other than your best shot. Because that doesn’t seem to be what they want.

As Faulkner wrote in Mosquitos, 1927 –

“I like the book myself,” Mark Frost said. “My only criticism is that it got published.”

“It’s inevitable; it happens to everyone who will take the risk of writing down a thousand coherent consecutive words.”

“And sooner than that,” the Semitic man added, “if you’ve murdered your husband or won a golf championship.”

“Yes,” Fairchild agreed. “Cold print. Your stuff looks so different in cold print. It lends a kind of impersonal authority even to stupidity.”

“That’s backward,” the other said. “Stupidity lends a kind of impersonal authority even to cold print”

***

What I’d like to see in the next 10 years? A workable, equitable, modern delivery paradigm. Something like socialized publishing maybe? No. Or a freaking lottery? Anything beats Amazon et al’s stranglehold on Indies and Big Publishing’s apathy and continued scraping the sides of the already baked cake bowl for $.

Don’t look to the music industry for a solution, even though it went down first. They still haven’t figured out how to pay songwriters in the latest century.

*Not to disparage Nancy Drew, who, like her film counterpart in the 30s, Torchy Blane, were original female cultural icons. Girls who kicked ass and took names and showed men how it was done. It has been written in academia of Nancy Drew’s impact that one would have to go back to ancient goddess mythology to find a more heroic female figure. The analogy being a deity got dropped in the middle of things to right the wrongs against everyday folk. That’s Nancy Drew, role model to generations of Twentieth Century girls. Why aren't one of you President yet?

 

Published by

Phil Huston

https://philh52.wordpress.com/

21 thoughts on “NVDT #46 What’s Your Name? Who’s Your Daddy? Can You Write Like Me?”

  1. Is there any industry where meritocracy prevails? Any system where the successful consistently represent quality and quality is consistently successful? Where one can rise through the ranks based on merit and skill alone? If there is, I don’t know what it might be. Luck + good-enough – rigged = success?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Luck is in there as is good enough, minus rigged is rare. The old saying right place at the right time is only true if the cosmos is aligned. Here’s one for your mind and philosophical bent that just throws me. Say you’re in the right place at the right time for anything from fame to riches to getting laid but you bomb. So you weren’t really in the right place at the time. Or were you? Can that right place right time be codified as a negative? As karmic or experiential? If you’re in the right place at the right time aren’t you supposed to win? What is winning? If you lose did you win somehow? Shit. In answer to your first line question, my response is no, not these days. You aren’t going from suitcase tosser to CEO of American Airlines. All that crap is floating in the toilet with the American Dream and other cultural Baby Ruths.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I think that’s a good thing. I see more and more of the coat tails riding famous person “with” Jim or Jane or treading on the dead by the only person authorized by the estate to channel the deceased. And read a lot of chunks from people who want to be Rowling etc. or shove the Christie formula into a thousand variances.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! Also sad is the industry, at a loss for filler to print, banking on successful screenwriters where plot holes from week to week are forgotten or ignored and glaring in print

      Like

    1. The really scary thing is that you can see the bits dropped in by research assistants and whoever else is involved because the voice/style/pace change up in the middle of a chapter!
      Thanks for taking the time to stop by!

      Like

  2. I thoroughly enjoyed your post, Phil. You have a great voice! We’re living in a crazy time right now, and who knows what changes will come about in all areas of our lives. I’m older, so I amazed at how much we are empowered as authors today, even if no one seems to be making a living at it. I’m resisting buying books by the big name authors and those riding on coattails. I’ve been having lots of fun reading books by fellow IWSG members. I love this group ~ Welcome!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. …so I amazed at how much we are empowered as authors today, even if no one seems to be making a living at it. You are so correct. More tools, more options, no money! Oh well, we do it because we love it, right? In my prior life I worked with musicians and the great ones don;t do it for money, they do it becasue they have to.

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  3. Ha! Can’t say you’re wrong about all of that. Fortunately, there is some good stuff getting published, once you wade past the cookie cutter stories. I’d love to see more market share for indie presses, so we can get a larger variety of books out there.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Enlightening post! Your observations are spot-on, and highly entertaining to read. I think you’re right that so much mainstream media has become a soulless and cynical money-grab. It is definitely a head-scratcher when you consider how anyone (new) is supposed to make a living. Also loved what you said at the end about Nancy Drew. I had never heard that before, but I am going to sprinkle it into conversation!

    Liked by 1 person

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