Archive for January, 2011

Media Responsibility

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

If you’re reading this, you probably run a book publishing company. And you probably have strong ideas about your company’s role in society. Most of us do.

I ask you to consider it explicitly today, in the light of recent political assassinations in the US and elsewhere.

It is my opinion that we in the media bear a responsibility to our societies. It may be that citizens ultimately control the type of government under which they live, but it is the media that make it easy for demagogues to operate, or who hold their shabby tricks up to the light of day.

When we publish at book-length, we are uniquely able to ensure that political discourse stays away from fear-mongering, and to cry “Foul!” when public figures substitute appeals to emotion for logic.

Unfortunately, recent politics in the US and elsewhere have become increasingly driven by hate and fear. The results are not only that the unstable among us are driven to horrendous crimes, but also that we are not dealing with the enormous problems that confront our world and our countries. Very little substantive progress has been made by the right or the left in the US. No visible attempts to find mutually acceptable solutions are being made. And in other areas of the world (the Middle East springs vividly to mind), the situation is far worse.

We are letting our politicians and pundits get away with this. We are letting our citizens look past it, and see only the facts and figures that support their prejudices.

Of course, in shaping our readers’ world views, we must also find a market for our books. And being didactic won’t sell. But well written exposes of the cheap tricks used by both sides of any major issue just might. They’d certainly be easy to publicize! So, I challenge you to challenge your authors, editors and readers. Make them think instead of feel. Don’t let the demagogues win. We can be, we should be, the guardians of rationality and our books, even novels, can add to the light instead of the fog of fear.

Ideas and arguments are encouraged. As always, do tell me where I went wrong!

Love or Money?

Monday, January 3rd, 2011

Most writers write about what they love, and because they love it. From this, many conclude that they either can’t or shouldn’t make money. I disagree.

Millions of us love our work, but most of us are also paid. Very few of you would sneer at someone else because they were paid a reasonable amount for work they enjoy. Why hold yourself to a different standard? Is creativity so different from the labor that goes into other professions?

If you still feel guilty about money, donate the proceeds to charity, but recognize that donating your work to the public will probably cause them to ignore it. If you don’t seem to put a value on it, neither will the world.

One exception: you can give away complimentary copies. That can make the free copies highly valued, but it only works if they recipients are aware that they’re getting a “deal” on something that has been or will be sold to others.

A side effect of this “love or money” dichotomy, is that even more writers think they shouldn’t “write for the market.” Again I disagree.

I think that you owe it to your readers to respect them. I hear you thinking “Of course. But what does that have to do with the market?”

Your readers are your final market.

When you write with respect for your readers, you think about what they want from your book, and about why they are reading it. You try to understand who they may be, so that you can do that. And you try to hone your words so that they’re not only beautifully crafted but so that they deliver what those readers want as well as possible.

If you really respect them, you’ll invest the time to understand what alternatives there are out there (books and other resources) that will deliver what they want. When you know what is competing for your readers time, attention and money, you will understand what you can do for them that meets their desires and needs better than anything else around. And making sure that your book gives your readers more of what they want most from it is not only good writing, but also good marketing.

Oh, and one last note: We, in the book business, often proclaim that certain bestsellers are awful, and that the public just doesn’t know what they need. That’s rather arrogant of us. Instead, we should look to see what that book has done for its readers that made them forget the errors in technique. Readers don’t forgive clunky writing without cause. Understanding the cause is part of our job.

In sum: write for love, but don’t sell yourself or your readers short in the process.