Venus on Mars

Thirty-nine minutes – Speed reading?

Posted in Author's Notes by janmillsapps on April 8, 2010

A Rejection Record!

It’s easy to get upset when you don’t get what you want.

Earlier this week I got really upset when a literary agent rejected me a scant 39 minutes (!) after I’d emailed her my materials (cover letter plus bio plus 25-page excerpt).  Mind-numbing speed reading followed by a swift decision-making conveyed electronically?  I think not.  More like drawing a conclusion without reading anything at all: “Sorry, this is not for me.”  Push “send.”

Perhaps this is a self-reflexive sign of the times – literary agents who don’t read reflecting a public at large that reads even less. Fiction? Never heard of it; this story is all too real.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the future of writing and publishing, how it’s evolving as we become an even more digitally networked culture. This blog is a good example; I write it, I push “publish” and there it is for the world to see and possibly read.  I could publish an entire novel this way; I could serialize it chapter by chapter; I could illustrate it with images and media linked to the text; I could annotate it with fact and fancy I’ve collected during the research and writing process; I could read it to you as an audio book, send it to your cell phone or e-book it direct to Kindle, Sony reader or the new iPad.  Wouldn’t any of these choices serve me just as well, if not better, than getting my book published in a more traditional way?

I read a Time Magazine article by Lev Grossman, “Books Gone Wild: The Digital Age Reshapes Literature,” that reminded me of something I already knew: the book publishing industry is set up to benefit publishers, not authors, which means an author can get published only if the publisher thinks he/she can make a profit by publishing it. The “worth” of a novel is tallied in its commerce, not its artistry.

Grossman peers into the future of fiction: “The novel [is] about to renew itself again, into something cheaper, wilder, trashier, more democratic and more deliriously fertile than ever.”

That sounds like me all over! I was thrilled to find my new niche, until I read this next part: “novels are becoming detached from dollars.”

Why can’t I get paid for being cheap, wild and trashy? What’s so new and innovative about that? Artists have always been free to express themselves in outrageous ways – in fact we expect this kind of behavior – but the bottom line is most often zero, as in dollars.  Meanwhile “commercial” artists can earn incomes with health benefits and a pension fund.

No wonder writers still yearn for a traditional publishing contract offering a generous advance payment, revved-up publicity engine and monthly royalty check.  In-demand self-publishing – what I chose last time around – bridges the gap part-way – at least I get paid, a little, every time I sell a book.

Does it sound like I’m just whining about money? No, I have other ways of earning a living, and I do get at least a modest royalty check from Amazon every month (thanks to all who have purchased or will purchase Screwed Pooch).

What I’m whining about, self-righteously, is two-tiered respectability.  I can’t even get recognized as a “real” writer on “redroom: where the writers are.” The book reviewer at the SF Chronicle will not respond to my emails.

There’s got to be a reasonable future for “independent novelists,” one that allows bizarre styles of expression in a plethora of forms, but with the possibility of finding an audience, of gaining respectability, and yes, even possibly, earning an income.

Earlier in my life, as an independent filmmaker, I clawed my way to respectability – good reviews, excellent citations in film books and articles, invitations to screen my work in prestigious venues – all without ever asking for or getting a penny from the folks at MGM, Warner Brothers, Sony Entertainment.

Now as a novelist, I guess I’ll have to do this all over again. Sigh.


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