Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Author as a Commodity

This week I'm attending a writer's workshop in New Orleans with my wife, who is the real writer in the family. I rather hate being the living cliche of attorney who is a wannabe writer, but I'm finding that it is easier to aspire to be an author than it is to take the attorney out of my psyche.

For example, the instructor of our class is filling in our little workshop group on the travails of the publishing world. Specifically, She claimed that authors are "brown leather pumps" to the publishers. She said it to make the point that authors were mere commodities to the book industry and the fickle reading public will burn through a book and it doesn't matter much whose book it is. If you don't write it, someone else will. My poetical version: authors are the meat that is ground up to make book sausage.

I don't doubt the wisdom of the instructor's comments. From what I can see, commercial fiction (and non-fiction) on a visceral level work in this way. The formulaic novel, the ghost written celebrity book, the tough life memoir and the motivational/spiritual tome really could be written by anyone and consumed by the undiscerning hordes as the corporate book manufacturers scoop up the majority of the cash.

The best example of this is James Patterson, who doesn't even write all his own books. He hires would-be authors to write them for him. This is the final end game of creating books as entertainment (a game that has sadly been encouraged by "cut and paste" technology -- How much of the Harry Potter series was cut and pasted back story?) The brand supercedes the art. Sure there is quality control and a formulaic sameness that soothes the reader, that is why it works.

Looking at the entire process through the legal lens, I see a supply chain of author to agent to editor to proofreader to printer to book distribution company to book retailer with every participant sucking off the teat of the writer's words. In much the same way a lawsuit bleeds the litigants dry, the publication process bleeds the author's work dry.

And if this really is how it works, why would an author (attorney or not) want to be treated like a pair of brown leather pumps chewed on by the book industry puppy?

1 comment:

PurpleWorm said...

I think the answer lies in a writer has to write...
Enjoy the workshop! Wish we could have come along for great dinner conversations and reckless out of state abandonment...