Wednesday, June 02, 2010

The Cost to be the Boss

I've worked in the advertising industry, in one form or another, for almost 22 years. Designing ad campaigns, packaging, brochures and other marketing materials is commercial art at its definition. I am developing art based materials for a business and turning a profit by doing so.

I'll be the first to admit that reading market trends and demographic reports has made me cynical of the American public in many ways.

Yesterday, Publishers Weekly tweeted an article on the paranormal romance tidal wave. You can read it by clicking here.

It was an interesting article discussing the growing (and growing and GROWING) genre of Paranormal Romance and all it's spiderling offshoots.

After Kelli got home, she must've seen the gleam in my eyes and thus began a debate on art vs commerce.

One of our great friends, who I shall not name, was told by an editor to "dumb down" his novel and it would probably do very well. He had written it beyond a fifth grade reading level (no, I'm not making this up... the fifth-grade reading level thing is pretty much the accepted rule of thumb for best sellers) and wouldn't do well with the majority of the population.

Over the last ten years or so, I've gotten to know quite a few full-time writers. Kelli knows and has edited for tons more. Granted, most of them are writers in the horror genre instead of mainstream fiction, and that makes the chances of being a huge hit even slimmer, but there's a very thin percentage of writers that are doing well. Most bust their ass day and night in order to keep the bills paid and food on the table.

Our debate on art vs commerce continued on and I cited examples of some writers that are household names. No, I don't feel the need to mention them here but you would recognize them. So would your parents. Probably the soccer mom next door and her sister who has a reading circle every Thursday night.

A frighteningly large portion of today's best sellers are poorly written. They are literary Big Macs. They may provide great entertainment and story and an ending that wows the audience, but the writing itself isn't there.

Know who the largest group is who complains about how poorly written the books are?

Other writers. The majority of the American public either doesn't notice, or doesn't care because they are selling tons. Thus became my comment about the writers writing Big Macs can afford Fil├ęt Mignon.

Sadly, I have to direct you to THIS article, discussing this very issue.

Go on. I'll grab myself another cup of coffee and wait. Believe me, you're going to want to read that one.

I haven't read Cormac McCarthy's The Road. I have tried to read No Country for Old Men and it made my eyes bleed. At first I thought there were just typos. A badly edited manuscript. But no. As the pages kept turning I saw it was intentional. The lack of punctuation made me want to punch a dolphin.

I put the book down and it's gathering dust.

I AM THE MINORITY HERE... because No Country for Old Men sold a metric fuckton, became the buzz of the Hollywood Machine, blah blah blah.

Art vs Commerce

Raise your hand if you've read:

Karl Edward Wagner
TED Klein
Algernon Blackwood
Shirley Jackson
Ray Bradbury
Charles L. Grant
David J. Schow
Robert Bloch
Richard Matheson
Hugh B. Cave

Okay. You, you, you over there (hey, your fly's down by the way), you with the goatee and latte. The rest of you? No? The rest of you can go stand in I-fucked-up-corner.

That list is some of the most influential writers ever, gifting us with some of the best prose most of us will ever encounter. Yet, they're sliding by the way side for today's reading generation. You know, the ones who don't care about things like... PUNCTUATION.

At the end of our discussion (which I'm sure will continue), I told Kelli to write what she writes. That's what we have to do; both of us. We write what we write and I'm well aware of that. As individuals, we want to tell the best story possible in the best way. We want to have an emotional impact on the reader. Give them chills. Make them cry. Have them laugh out loud.

We do what we do and write what we write and get bitch-slapped by our Muse and when we slap its ass and send it out, an editor or agent will decide how to package it.

And, believe you me, so will the American public when they sit down at their reading circles and drink iced coffee and eat their Big Macs.


Blogger Kelli Owen said...

yeah... #loveyoumeanit!

original debate post:

come argue with both of us:

9:51 AM  
Anonymous Ariell said...

In my language arts class we have to fill out a reading log, with everything we have read throughout the year. I have filled out three full sheets, and I don't even write down most of the books I read. I am shocked that the majority of my classmates have read less than ten books in the ENTIRE year. These books don't even have to be full novels, they can be short stories. Sadly, the books they do read are stories like Twilight, or other "best sellers", they don't bother reading books that weren't written in the last five years, which is a shame.

9:54 AM  
Blogger Bob said...

Kelli: kisses.

Ariell, you are a freakin rock star in so many ways.

I love you a bit more for this.

10:00 AM  
Anonymous Ariell said...

I love you too Bob! Because you're Bob ;)

10:22 AM  
Blogger ~michelle pendergrass said...

I agree with most everything except when it comes to The Road. It took me a good 30-40 pages to get into it, but when I did, it was amazing. I also didn't like the book once I was finished, but it sat on my shoulder night and day whispering in my ear. For months! That's when I realized I actually did like it and needed to revisit my hatred for the story and style.

Cormac McCarthy might be an acquired taste.

You should try some Benjamin Percy. I think you might like what he does mixing literary and genre.

10:49 AM  
Blogger Bob said...

I'll admit, I haven't tried reading The Road yet and it may be a fine read. The style of writing - with the lack of punctuation - drove me batshit crazy with No Country for Old Men though.

Benjamin Percy huh? I'll give him a shot Michelle!

10:58 AM  
Blogger ~michelle pendergrass said...

I didn't read No Country for Old Men. Didn't realize there was a lack of punctuation in that one, too. (He revisits that style with The Road--but it fits--once you command yourself to not be driven batshit crazy by it--I understand the Pulitzer. No Country wasn't that kind of story. So I might not make it through that one.

And yes, Benjamin Percy's Refresh, Refresh anthology is amazing. I haven't read his upcoming novel though. I don't know if he'll have the same oomph as a novelist as he does a short story author.

11:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ariell - I wish all my students were like you. The sad thing is, I teach at a small private school and get paid barely a living wage, but it's okay because most of the kids are very smart, so they can handle the reading I foist upon them - but if it weren't for that, despite their intelligence, many of them would NEVER read if I didn't make them.

Bradbury = God. Enough said.

4:45 PM  
Blogger Bob said...

Kevin... I love you a bit more now too.

And not just for your hair.

4:58 PM  
Anonymous Drew said...

McCArthy certainly cares about punctuation but chooses to ignore the standard rules for effect- it is very similar to James Joyce and a number of the British modernists. The lack of certian punctuatin marks- mainly quotation marks, periods and commas can be used to confuse the traditional distinction between narrator and narrative-story and story teller thus forcing the receiver/reader to have to deal with the text holistically.

8:42 PM  
Blogger Nick Cato said...

"The lack of punctuation made me want to punch a dolphin."

That's easily my favorite quote so far this century.

11:09 PM  
Anonymous Sara Larson said...

The Road made me crazy, too. I think it would have been just as effective if it had been grammatically correct. I kept getting distracted from the story by the gimmicky writing.

And I've read every single writer on your list, don't have a goatee, and my fly's not open. So there. :)

11:26 AM  

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