A clever author “cheated the system” and jumped into the limelight, and it’s got the LJ community typing.
The New York Times writes: “It’s hard to say which tale is more compelling: _Marvelous Effect_, the first installment in a fantasy book series begun this year by Simon & Schuster, or the back story of its author, Troy Tompkins, 31, who self-published an initial paperback edition and freely admits he used every trick up his sleeve to attract attention to it.”
Hmm. I think they KNOW which is more interesting: the story of this guy who figured a way out of the “ghetto” of self-publishing and up into a three-book contract. From the descriptions, his book doesn’t sound particularly original or interesting (it sounds to me as if he stole freely from Scientology, H. Beam Piper, and/or Mormonism, and then twisted the mythologies), but it’s “aimed at getting African American kids reading,” and the company saw that as a new demographic. It’s the platform that they really were looking at, IMHO, not the specialness of the writing. Perhaps agents wouldn’t have realized what kind of platform he had that no one else is currently serving. At any rate, that is their approach to marketing the novel–telling this story about how he pulled himself up by his bootstraps.
What I’m waiting to see is whether this demographic they’re targeting (assuming that they’re going to try to market this as “for the forgotten African American reader”) proves to be a group who’ll buy and read books, because I don’t believe they’re historically considered big book buyers. Then again, if they feel these books are “about them,” maybe they will. That’d be nice. But I am skeptical, as it’s not that easy to change an entire culture that seems to say “reading is not important–we are bored by that, we admire gangsta, we admire toughness, we admire sexiness” into one that says “read this for fun on your own time.” We’ll see.
I don’t understand the hoo-ha on some writers’ sites about this author and how he self-published his book, invented a publicist, mailed out press releases for public readings, and then got a contract with Simon and Schuster. Several LJers have written that this is somehow “unfair” because he “skipped the tough parts of getting an agent, getting read, etc.” Hmm . . . what I see is that he had a platform that was so attractive to Simon and Schuster that they sent someone out to check him out, and when he turned out to be personable and magnetic (and his book must’ve looked as if it could be whipped into shape–they say it was “edited” by S&S before the hardcover S&S edition came out), they took the chance. It wasn’t really about the publicist thing . . . he could’ve gotten a real publicist, but it doesn’t matter whether he invented one or not, in the end. That’s just like having another pen name, kind of, and plenty of authors do that.
Here are the “headlines” in the press releases S&S has sent out about this author.
DEBUT AUTHOR, TROY CLE, PENS BOOK ONE OF THE PHENOMENAL SCI-FI FANTASY SERIES _MARVELOUS WORLD_, COMBINING HIP-HOP, GAMING, NASCAR AND ANIME!
FIRST AFRICAN-AMERICAN YOUNG ACTION HERO! INSPIRING YOUTH OF COLOR TO READ!
There’s his platform. Add to that the positive impression he made on the scout(s) (“This guy is good for talk shows–call Oprah!”) and the obvious plus that he’s a self-starter (he self-pubbed and then rustled up all this hype and attention on his own), and there’s your great new discovery. The book could apparently rank at publishable level, or could be fixed up with a little editing, so they saw their chance and took it.
I don’t know how this sends a bad message. I think the guy was really clever. I wish I had such a strong platform.
It did bother me that in one of the comment threads, “aspiring authors” have been tarred with the brush of . . . well, something unsavory and stinky.
Someone wrote: “Let’s face it: self-published screams “I AM CRAP!” It might not always be true, but most of the time it is. Most of the time, editors and agents are going to run the other way (and rightfully so).”
Way to tar everything YOU don’t anoint with the same brush, eh?
An editor then responded, apparently objecting to the comments that seemed to imply that Troy’s stunt would set a bad example for “aspiring authors.” I agree that Troy’s stunt was clever YET TAKES NOTHING AWAY from people who are doing it the Slow Way. But I was bothered by the tone of the remark made in the comment: “The needs of aspiring writers belong far down the hierarchy . . . well behind those of our colleagues and our readers.”
I’m hoping that I’m misreading this, and that in context it is less nasty than it seems . . . because it is worrisome if industry people say this in general about an entire class of people. As I said in my reply, if this means merely that their first responsibility is to serve the needs of readers and colleagues, and that they don’t have to worry about what those who are not part of the industry may think, then that’s fine. They shouldn’t have to worry about what the unpublished types might think about what they do, and they don’t owe us anything except the respect they’d accord to any fellow human being. (They’re not in the business of setting examples.) But if it’s saying that aspiring writers are such worthless jerks that their needs belong way down below the needs of the Anointed Elect, then it’s worrisome. After all, some of us are also readers, and we’re fellow human beings (mostly.) It would surprise me to hear that from this quarter, frankly. But perhaps I’m wrong.
The next comment praised the editor for saying this.
When I asked, “Why is this quotation ‘awesome’?” I got an unexpected response.
The person who had lauded the quotation as “awesome” replied with something I see as a _non sequitur_ of sorts, targeting “aspiring authors.”
He wrote, “What are the ‘needs’ of the aspiring writer? Does an aspiring writer “need” to be published[?] There is no “need” to be published. There are only wants and desires to be published. Which begs to ask the question of: what is the need behind the need to be published? Attention? Self-gratification? Percieved fame, glory and riches? […] The ugly truth is that aspiring writers, with no history of sales, performance[,] and publications are a liability. […] My observations are that the majority of “aspiring writers” are self-absorbed attention seekers who want a pat on the back and a free ride for being a jolly bloke.”
He continues: “Disagree? Then why do writers’ conventions and conferences exist if there is no need to be published. It is all about fulfilling a personal desire… a personal desire that is about self and self alone. The ego boost that these conferences provide are the “industry’s” response to the “needs” of the aspiring writer. An entire tertiary marketing industry built around self-importance.”
This guy really knows his stuff. He goes on.
“Most “aspiring writers” do not have the time, determination or willingness to sacrifice in order to learn the trade of authorship. Most “aspiring writers” will give up. Why should any industry professional or paraprofessional waste precious time and energy […] on an aspiring writer [who] has a few chapters and a synops and lacking a P&L from a reputable house? They shouldn’t. Their focus is on the [end user]EU, as it should be. […] So if you want the attention and praise of a “colleague” do the time, put your ass in the chair and quit aspiring and just write damn good (& marketable) fiction.”
Hmm. I think this is a good example of answering a question that wasn’t asked. What I wanted to know is why someone in the industry would say that the needs of “aspiring writers” should rank way down below the needs of colleagues and readers . . . IN GENERAL. It sounded very dismissive. It seemed to deem us an underclass. *This* response is even MORE dismissive. (And what the hell is the “trade of authorship”?)
Even more astoundingly, he states what writers’ conferences are for. Isn’t this interesting? But I must protest.
Writers’ conferences are held to make money, just like anything else. This means that a lot of people who think they can write a book will pay to attend. The sponsoring organization profits by that. But there are also other things going on at a conference. People do meet their agents in person for the first time, people do schmooze and sell books, people do learn from the accumulated wisdom during the panel discussions and speeches. I can’t agree that conferences exist SOLELY because us unwashed rednecks have some sinful and selfish desire to be published.
I should also make something clear. I am not an “aspiring” anything. I have a command of the language, I don’t have a problem with the mechanics of writing fiction, and I’m not looking for the praise and attention of . . . whatever that convoluted sentence claimed I was. I *am* a writer. My work may never be considered salable by any Industry Professionals or Exalted Poobahs of Big-Time Anointedness, but #$*@%* it, I am already a writer. I may not ever be a Publicated Anointed Master of the Universe, but by Jingo I’m a writer.
This simply points up to me the wisdom of my decision to stop chasing the carrot. If indeed my desire to be published is a selfish pursuit of ego-boosting snake oil, then it is not a worthy pursuit. I don’t see a distinction being made by my correspondent between the reasons an “aspiring author” wants to be published and the reasons that an anointed published author had, either . . . isn’t that strange? Isn’t it strange that the idiots who were going to those conferences were all full of themselves and that’s why they wanted to be published, but the Published Author is somehow exempt from this charge and couldn’t possibly have had those reasons for wanting to be published (what on Mars could those GOOD reasons be? They’re not mentioned, alas.)
Goodbye, cruel world. Don’t forget to write.
Oh, and I’ll be making another PDF file of one of my non-mystery novels as a New Year’s gift. Watch this space.