Friday, May 2, 2014

Must Be the Money

Much like every superhero ever, this blog has returned from death--or almost death.  At this point I'm just going to do Monday-Wednesday-Friday but no set features.  If you want a feature back, let me know!  Thanks to the A to Z Challenge, I do have a couple of things that have been percolating for a little while.

First, over a month ago now I watched the latest Coen Brothers movie "Inside Llewyn Davis" which deals with the folk music scene in the early 60s.  The movie itself is good, though I think like "A Serious Man" this was something the Coens made more for themselves than for the general public.  The lack of buzz it generated with the movie-watching public and critics fits with the titular character, who is a folk singer at a loose end when his former partner jumps off a bridge for whatever reason.

At one point in the movie Llewyn undertakes a perilous journey from New York to Chicago to meet a club owner/promoter played by F. Murray Abraham (the guy who killed Mo Zart as they say in Last Action Hero).  He starts off bumming a ride with a weird old jazz musician (John Goodman) and a younger guy who hardly says anything.  After they pull off the road to sleep one night the younger guy gets busted by the cops and Llewyn has to make his way alone through cold and snow the rest of the way.

He gets to the club early one morning and waits around for the owner to show up and then manages to get a meeting.  He gets out his guitar and sings a pretty folk ballad.  And afterwards the owner says, "I don't see any money in this."  Boom.  After that he offers Llewyn a chance to be part of a trio, basically to be the background guy to help provide harmony, though only if he shaves his beard down to a goatee.

The lesson here is:  it's about image and money.  Talent is really an afterthought.  And obviously this does not only happen in folk music in the early 60s; it still happens today in music, movies, and yes even in book publishing.  When they talk about "a platform" they are basically talking about your image and how you need to fine-tune that to cater to mass audiences.

What's frustrated many writers for years and drawn them to self-publishing is this infuriating system that disregards good ideas for profitable ones.  You can have a wonderfully written book and not get a single offer from an agent because they don't think it will make them any money.  "I don't see any money in this," is what they would tell you if they had the guts, but that's the gist behind all those form rejections.  If an agent wants to tell you differently, remind them of all the terrible celebrity books that they've published.  (Though naturally that's not always the case; some people are just terrible writers.)

Especially nowadays when there have been all these mergers and profit margins are getting thin, money is far more important than art.  So maybe the next time you get a form rejection it wasn't because of your writing; it might be that there wasn't any money in it.

On a side note, in the movie Llewyn Davis might have had more success if he weren't such a Grumpy Bulldog all the time.  By the end of the movie he's pissed off pretty much all his friends and family; he's certainly not the affable hero you'd "root for."  In the beginning of the movie he gets beat up for heckling a guy's wife during her performance.  What confused me was this was shown at the beginning but we find out later it's actually the end of the movie.  I hate when that happens.

I suppose the irony is if I had pitched that movie to the studios it never could have got made because they couldn't see any money in it, but when it's the Academy Award winning team behind "Fargo," "No Country for Old Men," and "True Grit" you get a bit more slack.  Funny how that works, right?


  1. Outliers will always have trouble connecting with society at large. I experience that every day with people who have religious dementia. They number in the millions, and I have nothing in common with them at all. They are not friends, I don't get invited to their functions, and in the end I really don't care. It's just a fact. I'm an outlier. Thus any activities I do are not going to be of interest to the "Praise Jesus" crowd. Additionally, anything I write is also not going to be of interest to them. The most successful people in society are the ones that can blend with the herd. Look at politicians. They are able to please just about everybody at some point, which is how they garner votes. A "truth teller" like me would get one or two votes out of a million because my message is "unpopular" even though it may be correct.

  2. Fear is a big motivator in publishing. Stephen King or Snooki could pretty much put anything on the shelf and sell enough copies to break even at least. An unknown and unpopular author had better walk into a publisher or agent's office with a guaranteed bestseller or they won't get anywhere. Good analogy to the music industry



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