>> Wednesday, January 20, 2010
(image from here - clever!)
Relax Max was here stirring the pot recently, and then did some stirring of his own on his blog. I told him I'd give my two cents here though I realized, when I said it, it likely had more than a buck fifty, so it might take more than one post.
Relax Max was pointing out that many an aspiring writer complained that crap was published while their own work languished. Why?
Because people are buying it, that's why. [I condensed his post rather drastically; feel free to check it out yourself]. I agree with him.
The "problem" isn't the publishers (oh, sure, they pass over a classic or megahit once in a while). It's not even the writers. It's the audience.
This is the audience that is riveted over Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie's marriage and reproductive trends. The audience that waited with 'bated breath to find out if Tiger Woods did or didn't (he did, apparently, as stupidly as possible). It's the audience which can believe almost anything depending on who's saying it and how many times they describe their revelations as the "truth."
So, it's no surprise that books about or by celebrities and the like are successful. As are books that reveal some postulated "truth," ironically the less substantiated, inflammatory and outrageous, the more successful the book.
That's not all though. Books that elicit a reaction, especially if no thought is required, can be in great demand. A woman (or man) who grabs a few romances at the airport likely isn't looking for deep meaning and insightful nuance. Chances are she (or he) is looking for an easy read and a safe bit of vicarious lust. Like structured daydreaming.
When we think of classics, we often think of old literature and there are (at least) two reasons for that. One is that, in ages past, everyone didn't read, only the most educated and the social and religious elite. Books were also quite expensive to produce so publishing mindless "crap" would likely alienate one's limited audience. Many a "great" work, nonetheless, went all but unnoticed at the time, but they fulfilled the second aspect of old literature: standing the test of time.
Publishing became easier in the 19th century, for instance, and lending libraries became somewhat popular. There were several series of gothic romances and other frivolous bits of fluff that are all but forgotten today. They didn't stand the test of time, but they were wildly popular at the time.
If you're writing the great American novel, you may be swimming upstream. Even if it's the "right" work, it might be the wrong audience. If Shakespeare was writing today, I have no doubt he'd write in more accessible language, but he likely couldn't get any success unless he had Peter Jackson or someone putting it on the screen. Everyone's too busy watching Adam Sandler and his ilk. (So, I'm not a fan!)
So, is it hopeless? Nope, good stuff is published, too (and some of the "mindless" stuff is not really mindless or even bad). And if you want a little education, regardless of the literary quality of the writing itself, or want to feel something without thinking too hard, that's not really so bad now, is it?
So, does that mean all of us aspiring writers should stop trying for greatness and write something a little less ambitious? Well, I think I'll save that question for another time.