[More thoughts on “How To Be Creative”:]
36. Start blogging.
The ease with which a blog can circumvent the gatekeepers is staggering.
I have a friend in Paris. Call her Chantal. She’s a lovely woman, tres chic, very smart and sexy, with a cute apartment in the 20th Arrondissement and a respectable job in an advertising agency. A couple of years ago, she wrote a book. A novel. In French. Lots of sex and introspection [Sex & Introspection being a very popular French literary combo, of course]. Anyway, Chantal wants to get the book published.
The last time I dined with her in Paris, Chantal was telling me her tale of woe, after she had spent many long months schlepping around town, trying to find a publisher, which in Paris means trying to ingratiate herself with the Parisian literary scene. This is something that’s actually quite hard to break into, given the huge numbers of unpublished sex-and-introspection novels doing the rounds. One guy, an editor at some small imprint nobody outside of Paris has ever heard of, offered to help her, but eventually gave up once he figured out that she wasn’t going to sleep with him. You get the picture.
Being an avid blogger, of course, I was not very helpful.
“Your book has thirteen chapters,” I say. “Voila! That’s thirteen blog posts. One chapter per blog post. Put it online, and you’ll have a book offer within six months. Trust me.”
Of course, this is not how you do it in Paris, supposedly. You do it by going to all the right parties and hobnobbing with all the right people, supposedly. If you’re good at it, you get a book deal, supposedly. If you’re really good at it, they’ll also let you go on the highbrow TV talk show circuit and pontificate about “Couture” with all the other erudite culture vultures, supposedly. Maybe give you an occasional column in Le Figaro, supposedly. An intoxicating combo of both intellectual celebrity and bourgeoise respectability, supposedly. Very elite, supposedly. Very French, supposedly.
Sadly, she never went with the blog option. Sure, it could’ve worked quite easily [Hey, it worked easily enough for Tom Reynolds, the London ambulance driver who got a book deal based on his blog writings], but doing that would probably have been seen as a bit gauche by the other groovy cats in the Parisian literary scene. And I suspect she wanted membership into that club, every bit as much as she wanted to see her name in print.
Of course, as anybody who listens to NPR or the BBC will know, we have similar culturally elite hierarchies here in the English-speaking world, just maybe not so hardcore. There’s something strangely curious about how the idea of “The Novel”, “Le Roman” has such a strong hold on the French imagination; there’s something so heroic to them about the idea of the “Auteur”, that it’s hard to explain to people from more philistine parts of the world. On one level, you can easily admire such strong reverence to a classic archetype. On another level, such attachment can needlessly hold you back.
Whatever. If I were Chantal, I would still consider blogging the book in full. And I would post up an English version as well, to give the book the greatest chance of being read by people outside her French, urban microcosm. Sure, the Parisian literary purists will bitch and moan, but hey, they’re Parisian literary purists- they’re going to bitch and moan anyway.
I am with you on this. There are some good fiction writers out here in the ether. Its a good way to test drive, get some feedback and fine tune as you write. see:
There is also http://www.fictionpress.com/ but I am a little overwhelmed by the volume myself.
Also Authonomy a an experiment from HarperCollins I discovered via Neil Perkin http://www.neilperkin.typepad.com/only_dead_fish/
There is always an audience if you look for it. Promising French writer shunned by literati publishes in English on web…
If she builds it: they will come.
I love every single words of this wonderful post, but this:”outside her French, urban microcosm” is… simplement superbe 😉
Hilarious, insightful, and so true, Hugh.
I design books for a living. EVERYONE over 40 has one to publish in the USA. Business is endless. Although here, the value’s not the social caché as much as in the act of personal expression. We all feel we have something interesting to say, n’est pas il ainsi?
Things have exponentially changed in just the last two years to the point where I now only recommend that my clients use POD (print on demand) digital presses to produce their titles, printing them as they are ordered. No capital outlay, no inventory to manage, etc.
I encourage people to try various books in various iterations and see which connects best to an audience as it costs nothing to have 10 versions of the same book made.
Things have changed indeed.
Such great insights here! If your friend only took the leap in blogging, her net would appear (I’m paraphrasing a quote from “The Artist’s Way” here…). I think this will encourage more people to take creative risks with their work.
Your post brings two other examples to mind:
1. An author who basically did it herself is M.J. Rose. Her blog is called “Buzz, Balls and Hype”:
http://mjroseblog.typepad.com/buzz_balls_hype/ She got her stuff out there, developed a following, and then publishers came knocking on her door.
2. Cory Doctorow is another great example. He gives his work away for free all the time. He’s built a huge following and works on exciting, creative stuff almost non-stop.
Thanks for this!
So, I never went to Bread Loaf, most readers could care less.
I`m a big fan of your drawings and not so with you in many of your opinions BUT TODAY!!!!!!!!
I believe that if you really find pleasure in writing, you will write wherever -like you do with drawings- but if “Chantelle” wants to join the “Parisian literary purists facebook group”, she should sleep with the first half-known-in-this-circle guy…nothing to do with writing 😀
doesn’t that mean “mushroom?”
(oh wait. that’s “chanterelle.” nevermind.)
Mea culpa; I spelled her name wrong. It’s “Chantal”, not “Chantelle”. Oops. Fixed. Sorry.
“The enemy of authors isn’t piracy, it’s obscurity.” –Tim O’Reilly
Half a dozen of my close friends published books in France, two on average; none had any previous connexions with anyone inside the literature scene before. Those who got ‘in’ were introduced because they wrote, and after they proved their skills, not prior to—which sounds logical to me. The number of people publishing their first novel has almost been doubling every two year for the past decade: it’s not like it’s an elite club that’s so closed you have to be born published to get a shot.
I also know several very hot models who wrote “novels” (three hundred pages worth of sex & introspection, strictly impossible to read; my first comment on those actually was: “There are a few words I‘m going to throw at you: just tell me if they ring a bell: ‘grammar? sentences? plot?’”); they slept all they could to get published (including with more then one person at once, and I am sparing you the details) — in the end, one slept with a guy high-up enough that she got. . . let’s say printed. That was her worst idea because now, she’s out for a reason — and back to modelling (which she doesn’t like so much) for good .
I’ve asked many publisher friends of mine, both in fiction and non-fiction: write a decent draft is all you need to get an answer. Every draft send gets one shot, and the reader goes as far as (s)he possibly can; if it’s good, it’s talked about—and if you need a better name for the author, be it famous or just a classy-sounding pen-name, that’s the easiest thing to arrange; famous people are always delighted to sign and promote a good book, especially if someone else took the pain to write it—shadow writer is not an insult here: people are open and proud about it, see “Mensonges et trahisons et plus si affinités…”.
Starting with “a ray of light was going through the quiet room” of long introspection about how not-so-uncommon is your characters first name, well, that’s. . . shooting your self in the foot.
Marina, let me ask: if someone is going to offer you sex, but no social capital, would you hang around with him, or her? Even after a season of Californication, that ‘date’ thing is still a little bit obscure to me, so I’m not sure where you are talking from — but a one night stand with the right person to know, or a friend, relative, etc. sounds like the best way to trash all your chances. Think about it: you generally just don’t want to see her the morning after, right? Unless she’s the one, of course—a completely different case, mind you. You though orgies are some kind of rite of passage in the Lit scene? Really? OK: anyone older then 14 can tell you it’s a gross way old & bored couple try to spice up their inexistent sex life. Publishers usually have interesting couples: complicated, educated, contrasted. . . But I can’t remember orgies being anything else then a joke—except for those damned Red Neck provincials from outside the Walls.
If her book is actually good, let her give it to all her friends: mind you, not those “in the know” —who would hate her for forcing them to read something half-baked— but those who might have fun reading it. She might even hand-out copies in the street or in a café (thank you Lulu.com) with an e-mails for comments. Read the comments. A blog would be useful in the same way, but one post per chapter. . . that sounds a lot to me. A few good books were made this way, with some great success—mostly graphic novels, I’d say.
It might feel like only people in the know get a chance: statistically, that’s how it looks. Actually, if you compare it with who passes the competitive exams to enter the most prestigious universities, those also tend to be those whose parents are in the know. The only thing is: all exams are anonymous. Really. Knowledgeable parents taught you what you need to know to get a great job; however unfair, that’s how life is here in France.
Oh, and: if she is living in the XXth district, anyone can tell from the way she sounds on the phone, or dress, or combs her hair, or walks, or what shoes she wears, that she is a leftist. It’s not even something you think about.
Shelly: “caché” means “hidden”; you meant “cachet”, which means “seal”, and is still the proof of something being genuine, of good quality. However, “n’est pas il ainsi?” is very un-French.
Marina, the group you are looking for is called “J’adore déjeuner au Café de Flore“:
Bertil, I daresay there’s enough material in that comment of yours to form the basis of a novel 😉
There is also this. Something I have had my eye on for some time. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/20/world/asia/20japan.html?_r=1&em&ex=1200978000&en=9275f067f59eb69c&ei=5087&oref=slogin
But wait, did she even work with an “editor” editor? I mean did she just write the book and expect to be read and published without the process or revision? I would never send a ms. to an agent without having had my stuff read a million times by different eyes, which is of course the great point of putting it out there on a blog, you get free input from potential readers.
If the answer is “no,” boy that really says something about the idea of ‘auteur’ …
A writer’s writer will keep writing. Put the first book down and keep writing. First book may suck, anyway, the publlishing of which you may regret. You always have to practice your craft, regardless.
Here in the states it’s just as much about ass-kissing and who you know, in any case.
A caution though that putting a novel online DOES have an effect on rights available for sale. (At least that is my understanding, could be wrong on that)
Still better some rights sold than none.
Yes, but if everyone has already read it online, why would anyone want to buy it??
Just playing the devil’s advocate. I’m actually a firm believer in blog magic.
You don’t have to put your entire book online. Excerpts, short stories, other writing. The point is to get the energy circulating and develop a readership. If you’re actively writing, this isn’t hard to do. In fact, you can even start blogging as part of your writer’s craft. One hit wonders written in obscurity don’t go too far.
A novel or non-fiction work can also start out as a blog. But it doesn’t necessarilly translate into a book so transparently and seamlessly. You still need an editor and a process of revision.
A book is a fetishized object that’s nice to hold in your hands. Reading a book simply doesn’t compare to losing your eyeballs to a computer screen. I’d still buy something in book form if I really loved it.
Kimber Chen: You are correct. Some publishers will not purchase books which have been previously published online, period full stop. Others don’t mind. It’s a gamble.
Alda: Talk to Cory Doctorow — who’s been posting free versions of most of his books on his website, as a marketing tool. He’s been finding that it helps sales of the physical books, by acting as advertising, rather than hurting them.
If your friend Chantal would be OK to sleep with me I’d be delighted to publish her book on my blog.
Unless I missed it, I’m surprised noone else mentioned probably the most obvious Sex and Introspection blog, which was then turned into a book, and a major TV series?
Which became the Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl in print, and The Secret Diary of a Call Girl on ITV2, with major publicity etc.
And eventually, no matter how highbrow, the success of those using the most effective mediums to reach their audience will eventually have an effect, and highbrow discussions won’t be able to ignore blogs, or websites. Just as highbrow discussions eventually came round to almost every facet of popular culture.
Blogging your way to getting published is an interesting idea. Was wondering how a writer blogging their work online is protected by copyright law?
“Copyright is an automatic right and arises whenever an individual or company creates a work. To qualify, a work should be regarded as original, and exhibits a degree of labour, skill or judgement”
As far as I’m aware, anything, including blogging, is automatically protected by copyright…
The big issue online is enforcing it…
The real question here is, sure you can put your stuff online. (Assuming publishers don’t have an issue with publishing stuff that’s already been online for free, which is still an issue with some people.) But how do you somehow get the audience and eyeballs enough to get that much publicity? That’s where I’m stumped, as to how one stands out from the kajillion other blogs.
Feel like posting about that, Hugh? I’d be interested, at least.
Great as usual, Hugh !
In France the reason for so many people to publish a book is not to have a book published, oddly enough. It is to be seen as an “Auteur” as Hugh brilliantly spotted, i.e an Artist. Blogging is vulgar, anyone can do. In such an elitist society as ours this is just a no go.
You have to understand the french psyché for that. We beheaded our king and killed God with our “république laïque”. There is no guide left and I’m not the only one to say that our pandemic and chronical despair is somehow related.
Anyway : after the revolution we diddn’t have any guide left to turn to but the great philosophers from back then (“les Lumieres”). And in our culture they replaced both god and the King. Hence this very strange and sacralized relationship to the written object.
Last but not least, this type of litterature (sex & introspection – french official name is “Autof(r)iction” – the (r) is mine) could turn out to be quite embarassing for a regular blogger. It won’t for someone protected by the divine halo of the “Auteur” position.
For any french reader in the assistance I would strongly recomend “la litterrature sans estomac” by Pierre Jourde which is an hilarious (yet very thoroughly argued from a literary perpective) book on the parisian literary purists : the “Germanoprantins” aka people from St Germain des Près.