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Eavesdropping On The Rooftop Literati June 1, 2010

Posted by nrhatch in Books & Movies, Word Play, Writing & Writers.

Not long ago, Garrison Keillor wrote an article about elite, brand name authors gathered together on a rooftop in Tribeca to mingle with wall-to-wall agents and editors while eating shrimp, scallops, and spanakopita.

The article, When Everyone’s A Writer, No One Is, made me smile, just a bit, as Mr. Keillor predicted the imminent demise of the publishing world:

And that is the future of publishing: 18 million authors in America, each with an average of 14 readers, eight of whom are blood relatives.

Average annual earnings: $1.75.

Mr. Keillor, an author with publishing credits under his belt, seems a bit dismayed by the changes occurring in the publishing world:

We live in a literate time, and our children are writing up a storm, often combining letters and numerals (U R 2 1derful), blogging like crazy, reading for hours off their little screens, surfing around from Henry James to Jesse James to the epistle of James to pajamas to Obama to Alabama to Alanon to non-sequiturs, sequins, penguins, penal institutions, and it’s all free, and you read freely, you’re not committed to anything the way you are when you shell out $30 for a book, you’re like a hummingbird in an endless meadow of flowers.

Since he reached the finish line “the old-fashioned way,” Mr. Keillor would prefer the status quo to remain status ~ with published authors rubbing elbows (and making new book deals) with prominent editors and agents on the rooftops of NYC while looking down on the rest of the world.

150px-Carlo_Crivelli_052In the land of status quo, best-selling authors remain best-selling authors due in large part to the name on the cover of the book . . . rather than the worth of the words within.

Past success predicts future success no matter how lacklustre the story.

As a result, works by “elite” authors are snapped up by profit-hungry publishers who know that “name brand” authors sell books.

In the land of status quo, unknown, talented authors remain unpublished . . . and uninvited to rooftop parties in Tribeca.

Mr. Keillor seems genuinely concerned that e-books and self-publishing and internet surfing signal the demise of old school publishing . . . or, as he puts it, the end of “the Old Era.”

And maybe he’s right.

But, as someone standing on the pavement looking up at the rooftops, I find myself thinking, change is good.  

Related posts:  The Power Of Awesome * Austen & Dickens Had It Easy * Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland * It’s In The Mail * Eat, Pray, Love . . . Tie the Knot??? * Why Today Is The Best Time To Be A Writer (Courage2Create)

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For more predicted changes in publishing, check out Uphill Writing:  Is This The End Of Digital Publishing?   Instead of having the world wide web at our fingertips, we’ll have . . . well, I’ll let Rik tell you.

And for the Industry Response to Mr. Keillor’s Op-Ed:  Publishing’s Not Dead 


1. theonlycin - June 1, 2010

I love Mr. Keillor very much and agree with his concerns … to an extent.
Bring on paid blogging, and we all just may reap rewards and also become brand names 🙂
Good post Nancy.

nrhatch - June 1, 2010

I’ve enjoyed many of Mr. Keillor’s observations about life, but I think the leveling of the playing field in publishing is long overdue.

Too many authors write a few good books, develop a following, and then start cranking out tripe to trade in on their name recognition . . . while other talented, hard-working writers are denied access to the big publishing houses.

In sports, rising stars only get paid when they bring their A game . . . and (except in golf), they have to move off the playing field in their mid-thirties (making room for new rising stars).

In the arts, writers and musicians, once “making a name for themselves,” often refuse to get off center stage ~ they’re no longer bringing their A game, but they keep spitting out notes and raking in the bucks for sub-par performances.

I’m delighted with the changes. I love that the blogger who started 1000 Awesome Things (on my blogroll) is now a published author (with The Book of Awesome) because he had a good idea, and he shared it with the world instead of waiting for a big publishing house to give him a “green light.”


Other bloggers who have something unique to say will have similar success. Even if they’re never invited to a rooftop in Tribeca to hobnob with other authors. : )

2. Richard W Scott - June 1, 2010

Perhaps we are seeing the end of publishing–as we have come to know it–but certainly not publishing as it will be. And, dear friends, we are all wrapped up in the future right now. You reading this, me pecking it out on the keyboard. And one day, perhaps not so long from now, some poor blogger will be bemoaning the end of electronic publishing, and he will say something like, God, I hate this direct to brain publishing! Where’s the feel of the monitor, the surge of electicity?

nrhatch - June 1, 2010

You are so right . . . this may be the end of the world as we know it, but it’s probably not the end of the world!

3. nrhatch - June 1, 2010

As an example of how “brand name” marketing of authors results in the cutting of corners and shoddy work, here’s a comment I posted on Uphill Writing yesterday (before reading Garrison Keillor’s post):

I just started and stopped (!) reading a 400 page book by a #1 NY Times Bestselling Author because in the span of 5 pages, there were 3-4 “about faces.”

The protagonist and her kids were going to cut down the Christmas tree that night. The next day she planned to go shopping and pick up Chinese food.

Sounds like a plan . . .

Two pages later (i.e., the next day), she was out shopping and planned to START a pot of stew as soon as she got home.

Hmm . . . what happened to the Chinese food? My question went unanswered.

As she drove up the driveway, in blinding snow, she bemoaned the fact that they would not be able to cut the Christmas tree down due to the weather.

Hmm . . . weren’t they cutting the tree down the night before? Once again, no explanation was offered for the change of plans.

She goes into the house, says she’s starved, and immediately starts dishing stew OUT of the crockpot.

What? . . . I thought she planned to START the stew when she got home. Who started it? Gremlins? House Fairies? Nanny McPhee?

Now, these are obviously little niggling issues, not central to the plot. But it made me (the reader) feel unappreciated and taken for granted.

Three obvious discrepancies in the span of 5 pages means that this author of 43 (!) previous books (who could obviously afford to hire a proofreader and/or an editor) just didn’t care.

So I decided that I didn’t care either. Instead of wading through the next 300 pages to see how many more mistakes I could find, I put the book down and will not read any of her books again.

The author? Fern Michaels. The book? Celebration

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To see Rik’s article about avoiding dead herrings in your own work: http://uphillwriting.org/2010/05/31/the-best-way-to-keep-ones-word-is-not-to-give-it/

4. viewpacific - June 1, 2010

Great post!
I’m reminded of a grook by Piet Hein that goes something like this:

Why are bad writers winning the fight?
Why are good writers dying in need?
Because the writers who cannot write,
Are read by readers who cannot read.

I think he wrote that in the 40’s and it’s still very true today.

I’m hopeful that new media may shake up the old media enough to broadly raise literacy among the broader public – well beyond the literati (with or without their incestuous little shrimp parties).

Yeah, maybe that’s a hopeful vision, yet all that writing by regular people is much more active and engaged action then yelling at the TV. Even writing rant comments on news sites might help raise the conscious level a little – just a little.

nrhatch - June 1, 2010

I tend to agree.

Internet “publishing” gives us access to so many diverse ideas and opinions that, if we have our thinking caps on, we are apt to raise our consciousness more than yelling at the TV. : )

Thanks for commenting.

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