Saturday, April 14, 2007

Free Education for Writers

Actually, nothing in publishing is free, and I'm not talking about money here. I am talking about time and effort. Even advice carries a price tag in some way, as the following will. This advice will cost you a little time and brain energy if you follow it, but it might net big rewards if you know what to do with the information you find. Writers who haunt forums, discussion boards, and/or blogs are forever trying to get a glimpse inside the publishing world or get an insider's perspective from other writers. There is no better way to get primary information than to go directly to the source. Here is one way to do that.

If you are a new writer and really want to learn loads about the publishing industry, go to and read and digest the enormous volume of information there. You can learn a lot about an industry by examining the major events its professionals attend and who sponsors them, as well as reviewing the types of presenters and activities at those events. It’s a free education, too. Who can beat that?

Here’s a hint to help you get started: Does the name Reed mean anything to you? Look at the bottom of BookExpo’s home page. There are at least three links with the name Reed in them. Does this remind you of anything? Click on the Copyright link at the bottom of the page and read through that section, too.

Still not ringing a bell? Try visiting and read the copyright notice at the bottom of that home page. Any names there seem familiar?

This will just get you started. Go back to BookExpo’s site and read through the variety of events listed there. Check out the celebrity line-up for this year’s proceedings, besides those in the literary field. Do you notice anything that these people have in common, besides their celebrity? How could Alan Greenspan and Jon Bon Jovi possibly be connected? No, it isn’t that Greenspan dealt with the economy and Bon Jovi has enough money to start his own. Look deeper. Much deeper.

I am not going to give you the answer. I would like you to give me the answer. And it may seem that this is a relatively simplistic and ridiculous exercise, but the information you find at this site alone should provide some insights that could be invaluable in understanding what drives publishing, thus helping you choose your future path as a writer.


Red Pen Pal said...

This isn't about Bon Jovi and Greenspan...

But, I went to the "BEA" website, dug here, dug there - someone wrote a whole piece about selling book-related gifts in their bookstore...and I thought, that's my idea, except taking it one step further...instead of the bookstore trying to figure out what kind of products make good "impulse items" to go along with a book...the AUTHOR themselves (even fiction writers, woo-hoo), can be thinking about those "ca-ching" impulse items too.

Anyway, I have more to post about Bon Jovi and Greenspan's commonalities (more than one, apparently)...but, it will have to wait a few days.

Red Pen Pal

Anonymous said...

You're right. This is a "simplistic and ridiculous exercise," meant to mock and frustrate the uninitiated. Please try to make this a helpful blog - not some thinly veiled 'put down' of new writers who are only trying to find their way to the table with the 'big dogs.'

Wylie Merrick Literary said...

You can't sit down at the table with the big dogs if you don't know where the table is and you have nothing to bring to it.

Red Pen Pal said...

Fortune Cookie Moment:

To sit at table with big dogs, first trot in yard with puppies.

P.S. I myself thought this was a very useful exercise, and one of these days WILL post my Greenspan/Bon Jovi comments. Pretty busy this time of year!

Clyo said...

I am guessing that the point of your post is this: that the publishing industry is not concerned with promoting literature, but is focused on promoting the author as a commodity.

Media is a broad term and the sale of books comprises a small percentage of the profits amassed by media conglomerates.

Reed is a media conglomerate that focuses on earning money through organizing exhibitions, not publishing quality literature.

If I recall correctly, all media in the U.S. is controlled by 5 global corporations.

As Robert McChesney wrote in 1997 - and it is even more true now - the world global media system works to "...advance the cause of the global market and promote commercial values, while denigrating journalism and culture not conducive to the immediate bottom line or long-run corporate interests."


The presentations at the BEA seem to confirm this.

There are no workshops that concern themselves with questions such as upgrading literary quality or the obligation of a nation - and its authors and publishers - to upgrade its culture or consciousness through literature.

Instead, the conference is all about writing for markets. Authors are increasingly viewed as the product and branding - as opposed to having a higher purpose for one's writing or even literary skill - is being pushed as a writer's most pressing need.

The industry, and its output, continues to become ever more homogenized and opportunities for unknown writers are steadily diminishing.

Was this your point?

Wylie Merrick Literary said...

What do Greenspan and Bon Jovi have in common? The answer is that they both have written a book, and this is the main reason they are (or, in Bon Jovi's case, where) appearing at BEA-to promote their books.

When you wrote your book did you get an invitation to appear at the largest bookseller's convention in the world? Were you invited to appear on talk shows on CNN, NBC, ABC or CBS to promote your book? If you aren't a celebrity, it's doubtful.

The unknown writer who has no audience has zero chance when competing with celebrities like Greenspan, Bon Jovi, Madonna, Bob Woodward, President Clinton, senitors and congressmen, all of whom have or are thinking about writing books. When published, their books are placed at the front of the store. If yours is published, it's relegated to the stacks along with other unknowns books. Readers invariably shop by name recognition. Publishers know this and seeing publishers are in business to make money, whose books do you think they are going to publish--yours or theirs? That's the real question.

Red Pen Pal said...

Bon Jovi, Greenspan...and One of My Favorite Words

I'm starting to wonder now if I dug a little too deep, looking for the Bon Jovi/Greenspan connection – interestingly, they both started out as musicians, even though Greenspan's eventual career choice was economist, not saxophonist. (Still, Greenspan's nickname was "Maestro," which was also the title of Bob Woodward's 2000 biography of him). (See, I said I dug too deep!)

But what is intriguing to me about Bon Jovi and Greenspan, is they both were able to "keep on doin' what they were doin'" for an extended period of time, despite changes in musical taste (Bon Jovi) and political winds (Greenspan). Which brings me to one of my favorite words: "invariance." Defined as: "not varying; constant" and "the quality of being resistant to variation." It kind of means the same thing as integrity, except integrity tends to have a positive connotation. Although it's admirable that Greenspan was able to serve as Federal Reserve Chairman under different administrations, on the other hand, his role in the US "housing bubble" is a bit troubling – so I'll just think of his career in terms of invariance, rather than integrity.

So, if the reason Bon Jovi's and Geenspan's books get a good location in bookstores, they can snap up all the good interview opportunities, they're invited to speak at the BEA convention, is because they are "celebrities" with name recognition – I think it can still be rightfully said that they EARNED their name recognition. Those whose careers exhibit, as I like to think of it, invariance, most likely DO have something interesting to say to the book-buying public.

Anyway, that's my take on the Bon Jovi/Greenspan connection. I do feel moved, however, to point out, they're both white males – just saw a news item reporting the dismally low numbers of women and/or minority writers in Hollywood AND the low numbers of women and/or minority commentators on cable news. But hey, you said "Look deeper. Much deeper." I did!

Red Pen Pal

Red Pen Pal said...

My Beef with Reed

...Reed-Elsevier to be exact. Recently I completed a web exhibit (okay, so it took me about a year – it turned out to be much more complicated than I thought it would be!). Time and again, as I did my searches on line, I would find a really interesting journal article, click on the link, only to be confronted with the fact that I did not have access to it, I had to be associated with a subscribing institution, or, if not associated, I could pay $30 or $40 for a single journal article!!!!!!

So time and again, I had to limit myself to what is available through PubMed (Medline, highly recommended database), or other papers that were free for downloading, or a paper a researcher took the time as a courtesy to have me sent a copy of, or direct me to the link online which I had not discovered (thank you Julianne Cheek of Australia, and also National Women's Studies Association). Also a gold mine of information is the US patent office database – I highly recommend writers of any stripe checking out the patent database.

I don't mind paying SOMETHING for access to these journal articles – but there is no sliding scale, and the assumption is everyone who might want to read these journal articles is at a university (i.e., a subscribing institution). So Reed-Elsevier is in business to make money – fine – but some of this research (most of it? All of it?) is taking place at public universities, and/or funded through the Federal government, i.e., is funded by taxpayers. So, we as taxpayers, can pay for the research, and the labs, and the salaries, but we CAN'T have access to the data generated, if not for free, than at a reasonable sliding scale? Aaaarrgh.....

I guess I am remembering when computers first came out, and there was talk about "hypertext" and "everyone would become their own researcher" – oh really? I know with my novel, it has been a great help having some of those old hoary literary chestnuts on line – for instance, there are some really great sites about Charles Dickens, and when reading an essay (in a book of essays) about poet Margaret Cavendish, I was able to right away hop on the computer and read some of her poems in their entirety.

But journal articles....that is my beef with Reed.

Red Pen Pal said...

Build Your Own Name Recognition

Clyo wrote:

"There are no workshops that concern themselves with questions such as upgrading literary quality or the obligation of a nation - and its authors and publishers - to upgrade its culture or consciousness through literature.

Instead, the conference is all about writing for markets. Authors are increasingly viewed as the product and branding - as opposed to having a higher purpose for one's writing or even literary skill - is being pushed as a writer's most pressing need."

Those are some murky-scary waters there, when you get into things like "a nation" "upgrading its culture or consciousness through literature." I'm thinking: Mao ZeDong, Stalin, "socialist realism." Pretty scary stuff. I think a little group by the name of Al-Quida has some pretty definite ideas about "cultural upgrade" too. And at least as far as poetry goes, I don't see that NEA funding has in any way produced a "golden era" in US poetry. Quite the contrary.

On the other hand: Yep, it is pretty damn hard, if not impossible, to get the "Golden Ticket" of name recognition, allowing entrance into Willy-Wonka Land (MSM, or mainstream media – I picked up the acronym "MSM" at, frankly, I think it's going a little overboard in the acronym department). Not only are you competing with celebrities like Greenspan/Bon Jovi/"movie stars" etc., there is the sickening and nauseating reality that MSM-Land does allow entrance to murderers, terrorists, etc., that it does not allow to really nice deserving caring talented people (there are some really really nice caring talented people out there, right?). An expression I read of, regarding the selection of news headlines: "If it bleeds, it leads."

So, if you're just an "unknown writer," how do you generate name recognition for yourself and your work? How do you build an audience/readership BEFORE you have an agent or get published? The fact that this is really hard doesn't mean it's impossible. I would suggest reading Steven Covey's "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" to help generate answers to these questions. In fact, I wish Steven Covey would write a book entitled "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Unknown Writers!"

Good luck, Clyo, in your writing endeavors.

Red Pen Pal