Friday, March 21, 2014

Always be closing

I have The Passive Voice (subtitle: A Lawyer's Thoughts on Authors, Self-Publishing and Traditional Publishing) in my favorites folder, in case I ever want to read a lawyer's thoughts on authors, self-publishing and traditional publishing, which I rarely do. However, I'd emptied the entire internets by midday today, so I clicked on it, and found that these days, the lawyer's thoughts are mainly cut'n'paste jobs of other people's thoughts - presumably Fair Use snippets, since this is a lawyer after all - with a "read more at the link" clicky underneath the piece.

That's how I found myself accidentally redirected to The Toast, a blog I'd once had in my favorites but eventually realized that even when the internets are otherwise empty, it's still not worth reading The Toast. I mean, there's washing to be folded and pond filters to clean waiting for times like that.

The Toast piece is about authors, self-publishing and traditional publishing, which is how The Passive Voice got a hold of it, I guess. It's full of the usual advice - I've mentioned before that many writers hate other writers and want them to give up and this one isn't any different. The Toast person writes a blog post on starting a small press that begins with the advice "Hate writers, hate books, hate publishing". Ookay. Goes on to say,
Content is promotion. Nothing makes me want to buy a book less than an author on Facebook saying “Have you read my book yet? Here’s your chance!” What does make me want to buy their book, though, is a funny or compelling Twitter feed, an interesting photography Tumblr, a great account. This is how books are sold these days, and it’s a wonderful thing.
Really? Urgh. Do you really pick a writer by his or her ask account? I mean, Herman Melville's would have been all about baleen and spermaceti.  I can imagine Jane Austen having an interesting Twitter feed, but I think she'd probably have ended up as a regular writer on OhNoTheyDidn't and never got around to writing any novels after all. The Bronte Sisters would give up novels to write for Huffpo (or the Mail Online, or Jezebel) and Charles Dodgson would have a magnificent Tumblr filled with pictures of little girls playing in his yard and would eventually get run out of town by a suspicious dad. 

The work - the book - is now not allowed to stand by itself. It's required that the author be interesting in themselves, 24/7. Being "on" all the time seems to be the current thing. A friend of mine is looking for a job, and the advice - farm your LinkedIn contacts assiduously, have an elevator speech, have a 30 second, 3 minute and 30 minute version of your life story rehearsed and ready, perfect a sort of biographical judo to SEO your way past the automated resume-readers that employers all now use, always be closing - is identical. We've all become yuppies, except older. Ouppies.  They always said of social media, that if you couldn't tell what it was selling, the product is you, but they meant that it was selling your data, not that it was actually *selling* *you*. Now, you're selling you yourself.  Your work record itself is not sufficient to show you are capable of working. 

I remember going to some panels at the 2013 Comic Con. One pitched exactly this sort of thing - that you, as a writer, had to establish and maintain a Brand, and feed it tidbits constantly, like a little fire, to keep it burning. "Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. Need X amount of followers. Build a brand," reads my notes. Then we went to a panel with real writers on it - Chuck Palahniuk, Cory Doctorow and Patrick Rothfuss, for instance. Cory was definitive that a real writer did not work on his "brand" or spend his time networking. Of course, he does have a famous Twitter feed. And the whole of Boing Boing as a megaphone. 

I've seen all of Stanley Kubrick's films, and I might read his biography if it dropped in front of me, but I certainly haven't sought it out. I've seen all of Ridley Scott's but I don't subscribe to his Twitter feed (or even know if he has one).  I used to subscribe to The Vault, as there was a promise that Jack White would write a blog and chat, and I could watch spontaneous videos from Jack White's bands and get cool offers, but when the last two failed to materialize, I gave up the membership. Mr. White still turns up there to chat now and again, but I found out I don't really care (and I get the impression he doesn't either) - as long as the music's good, I'll buy it. His opinions were just like everybody else's when it came down to it. As for an account, I'm sure he'd teach us a lot about cutting a vinyl record, but life's too short. 


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