Home Writing is Killing Writing

Garrison Keillor's bitter old fart lament for the days of elitist book publishing, When Everyone's a Writer, No One Is:

Back in the day, we became writers through the laying on of hands. Some teacher who we worshipped touched our shoulder, and this benediction saw us through a hundred defeats. And then an editor smiled on us and wrote us a check, and our babies got shoes. But in the New Era, writers will be self-anointed. No passing of the torch. Just sit down and write the book. And The New York Times, the great brand name of publishing, whose imprimatur you covet for your book (“brilliantly lyrical, edgy, suffused with light” — NY Times) will vanish (Poof!). And editors will vanish... The upside of self-publishing is that you can write whatever you wish, utter freedom, and that also is the downside. You can write whatever you wish, and everyone in the world can exercise their right to read the first three sentences and delete the rest.

So sad, but here's what actually also happens under that capitalistic model he sentimentalizes (this is something I wrote a few years ago in a hopeful moment for the internet):

Take science fiction books, just as an example. (Or CDs, clothes, art sold in galleries...) Every year there is a crop of "new, hot" titles. Publicists tout the authors as geniuses, young turks who rock our world like it's never been rocked. Yet a book has one shot at prime rack space. If it doesn't sell, it's yanked and becomes landfill, and the hot author joins the thousands of has-beens who had their moment and failed. But what if the book had a crappy cover? What if an idea that didn't resonate this year rang like a gong the next? Too bad, the system must have winners and losers.

Am having a series of friendly-but-not-so-friendly discussions elsewhere with a "print writer" (a critic) who is interested enough in online discourse to participate in it but seems unable to conceive a world after print publications and art galleries. Any mention of the possibilities of mutating or morphing expression in an age of mass-sharing is called "waving the flag for the internet" or "hoping teh interwebs will save us." Threatened much? Or is it just that his habits of thought have ossified around the old models and he can't judge value in the cyber-realm? Possibly both.

Garrison Keillor assumes every reader will only read the first three sentences of something. Well, perhaps of something he wrote... It may be new kinds of writers emerge who attract large readerships despite the glut of material out there. Writers who craft dynamic lead sentences and their own killer headlines. Concise writers. Writers who mix it up with readers in comment threads and don't sound like asses in the process. Writing won't die, but writers who lack certain skill sets may die. But even they will have a better shot at finding an audience than the brilliant "remaindered" authors of yesteryear.

By the same token, visual artists who "speak internet" well may have different talents from the practitioners waiting for the Keilloresque "touch on the shoulder." But that's another post.