Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Needed: Some Good Old-Fashioned Ideas…

…and the pluck, energy, and optimism to sit down and write them! I found myself muttering this morning while reading Publishers Lunch Weekly, when I saw that a prominent novelist, NYT bestseller and recent emigrant into spiritual nonfiction has just sold another nonfiction spiritual book…in auction. At which point I began to wonder why. I try not to begrudge anyone success. It’s hard not to, but I try not to. But I’m starting to get a little fed up with people who already have all the success, fame, and goodies in the world…who then allow their latest books to be sold in auction. Many of these people have long passed the stage where they needed to keep producing books fast, because they had kids’ college tuition to pay for; they’ve kept writing anyway. Some of their books are very good. Some of their books are, at best, derivative. Some are even inferior, or in some other way, disappointing—and not worth the money asked for them. But because their name is magic on a book cover, most of those books will make more money than they, their spouse, their children, or their grandchildren will ever be able to spend. So I have to wonder: when does it get to be no longer a matter of a writer’s giving the public what it wants…and evolve into just plain excess? Is there a point at which, when said author has her agent call up and say, “Guess what. We’re in a bidding war”…that she can speak up and say, “No, we’re not”? Or is there some unwritten law in the profession that says you’re not “for real” unless you go for the most money you can, on every single book you can, regardless of whether you need it, have a use for it, or—and this is the part I really wonder about—even really believe in your heart of hearts that what you’ve put on paper is worth seven-figure ransoms? Is it your duty to always clean up top dollar for every project? Or is that a failure of some internal check-and-balance system in human nature? Isn’t there some principle or gumption or something within all of us that knows when to say, “Enough is enough. Take a reasonable offer. Don’t pit two publishers against each other. My ego doesn’t need it, my bankbook doesn’t need it, and my public doesn’t need to pay the outrageous price that will result on the book cover if we go this route”? Isn’t there? Or is that somehow…un-American? Is it somehow “underachieving” to reach a point where one says, “Enough”? Am I missing something obvious? I have to wonder. And again, I’m trying not to begrudge this author her success. An auction, by and large, is what most of us writers dream about. We all would love to wake up one morning, pour ourselves a cup of coffee, and get a phone call with those wonderful words, “Are you sitting down?” But, truth to tell, this morning, it hurts more than usual to see the rich get richer in this writing biz…because this woman’s one of many who have had more than their share of those kinds of phone calls, and then some. Which makes me think, “It’s someone else’s turn. Take a vacation, fercryinoutloud.” :-) Even nonstop work ethics aside, though, I think what bugs me most about this whole sequence, with this author and many others, is that what they’re doing isn’t rocket science. You look at the subject matters of some of these soon-to-be-monster bestsellers, and you think, “Dang, I could have come up with that idea.” But you didn’t—at least not before Suzy Prolific did. And so she’s going to pick up the bucks for it, and you aren’t. Whether she develops the idea as well as you could have, the die is cast. She’s got it, you don’t. And if you propose a similar idea to hers—even if your story/advice/knowledge is knock-one’s-eyes-out good—yours will be the one considered derivative. And yours will be the one sold for also-ran dollars, if it sells at all. So how to beat this? Idea generation. Brainstorming. How do you do this in your own work? Have you found particular things that spur you better than others? And are you willing to share those ideas with the world? Who knows, maybe you can then write a book on ‘em and end up…er…in a bidding war. (!) But please do share, if you would. I’ve been known to reward good ideas with chocolate. Just so you know. :-)

Thoughts?

Janny

1 comment:

Donna Alice said...

I could use some chocolate for sure---and while I think my ideas are unique, there isn't anyone having a bidding war over mine yet. In fact, I'm still waiting for the dirty darned contract on a book I supposidly sold two years ago.

This is a weird business for sure.