May 14, 2007

Lightning does strike

I always knew that being a writer is a very "risky business"...and being someone who has no specific training in writing, I am always plagued with self-doubt when the tangential thought arises about writing something and trying to get it published.

Well... Amit Varma points us to an article in the NY Times today: The Greatest Mystery: Making a Best Seller. Amit comments that 'writers are gambling chips', alluding to a statement from the article that says:

"People think publishing is a business, but it’s a casino."

The article discusses how there is not much data to support or help with this risk-taking - publishing has been and remains an exercise in educated (or actually, uneducated) guesswork. Like Professor of Marketing, Al Greco from Fordham University says in the article: the publishing business ..
...has run since 1640,” he says. That is when 1,700 copies of the Bay Psalm Book were published in the colonies. “It was a gamble, and they guessed right because it sold out of the print run. And ever since then, it has been a crap shoot.”
This "risky" business continues unabated - with thousands of books being published* every year on a myriad number of topics, some more popular than others - because it is indeed like gambling! The lure of hitting that jackpot - albeit a 1 in a million chance - and landing a surprise bestseller is too much to resist. Little wonder then that Oprah, with her book-club, was hailed as the Queen/King-maker to the world of publishing!

In my opinion, while some people undoubtedly have innate (or developed) talents for writing and perhaps are people who could not live if they did not write (a quote by Asimov - see below - comes to mind), I fear that a large percentage of books one sees flooding bookstores everywhere should never have seen the light of day!
And so we see books being written by actors, sports-persons, celebrities and so-deemed celebrities who have attained their 15 minutes of fame through some act of notoriety or achievement and in collusion with the publishing industry looking for that big hit, are now writing books! And then there are people like me with a wannabe writer lurking within! Writing workshops and these days blogs and online forums have given everyone an opportunity to write, share opinions, express the 'breathings of our heart' and shamelessly show off our talents (or lack thereof) to millions ...and yet publishing a book and being an "author" still has that unfettered charm and sense of accomplishment attached to it.

(Thankfully, there are some people like me who do not really write anything but flirt with the idea simply because they love the idea of being 'writers' :) After talking about this topic with a fellow blogger recently, I have come to realize that while I do love to read books of all types, and love and appreciate good writing, it does not necessarily mean that I can be a good writer. I am perhaps only in love with the idea of being a writer... such are our delusions, our dreams.)

* Another interesting factoid gleaned from the article is:

In the case of hardcovers, a few books that the publishers think have best-seller potential are promoted with generous marketing and publicity campaigns. Others are considered long shots, with anticipated sales of maybe a few thousand copies. Most are considered midlist, with respectable sales of 15,000 to 20,000 copies, Mr. Greco says, but not breakout sales.

Some quotes about writing from those who did it really well!
The purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself. - Albert Camus

Even those who write against fame wish for the fame of having written well, and those who read their works desire the fame of having read them. - Blaise Pascal

Everywhere I go, I'm asked if the universities stifle writers. My opinion is that they don't stifle enough of them. - Flannery O'Connor

Writing ought either to be the manufacture of stories for which there is a market demand -- a business as safe and commendable as making soap or breakfast foods -- or it should be an art, which is always a search for something for which there is no market demand, something new and untried, where the values are intrinsic and have nothing to do with standardized values. - Willa Cather

Some editors are failed writers, but so are most writers. - T. S. Eliot

If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn't brood. I'd type a little faster. - Isaac Asimov

Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart... - William Wordsworth

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