Bitch, please.


So yes, it’s a bummer that Michaela Watkins got fired from SNL but I have to say, I will not miss her Angie Tempura character one bit.  I never found this joke funny.  It’s too easy get cheap laughs by taking potshots at the Internet’s worst tendencies, and I involuntarily cringe when people do it, the same way I cringe when someone takes any “joke” that had blog currency three years ago and exports it to meatspace.  Like when a standup comedian says something about the “world wide information superhighway.”  (Or: “meatspace.”) Oof.  That is how I always felt about those “Bitch Pleeze” sketches, basically: “Oof.”

Sure, go ahead and make your joke about how I can’t find the humor in a caricature of an iced-coffee-addled, pajama-clad, facial-ticcy blogger who spews inarticulate scattershot hate at the world because it just hits way too close to home.  Ha ha!  Congratulations, you have been promoted from Captain to Admiral Obvious in a fancy ceremony; here is your new uniform and some medals.  Also, HarperStudio is going to publish a book of your best mean anonymous blog comments. ARE YOU HAPPY NOW?

Sorry, that’s enough of that.  Let me just gracefully back up from there into what I was wanting to say which is that for some reason, no matter how ungrateful the Internet* can sometimes be, I am often moved to speak up in its defense. (You’re welcome, douchetards!)  This is a perverse and self-defeating impulse but sometimes I just can’t help myself.

At 11 this past Sunday morning I attended a panel discussion at the Brooklyn Book Festival about the future of literary fiction.  This panel was moderated by former Soft Skull publisher and current niche social publishing community-startup -starter Richard Nash and featured Lipshitz 6 or, Two Angry Blondes author T Cooper and Anna In-Between author Elizabeth Nunez.  My boyfriend Keith was also on this panel and this, aside from my deep abiding love of panel discussions, is why I was there.   Obvs in the interest of domestic harmony I will recuse myself from commenting on anything that Keith said except to say that basically I agreed with him.  Luckily I don’t have to mention anything he said in order to contextualize anything the other panelists said because, even though the event was nominally a discussion, each of the panelists went off in his or her own direction.  One thing nobody ended up talking about was what, specifically, might happen to fiction in the future,  but since soothsaying is a ridiculous thing to expect from a panel of non-psychics I wasn’t disappointed by that, per se.  What I was disappointed by was the way both Nunez and Cooper seemed to be cultivating — possibly without realizing they were doing so — a seeming sneering disdain for their audience, both the audience in the Community Room of Borough Hall and the potential audiences of their novels.

Nunez began her remarks by mentioning that she had just learned that morning that her new novel, recently published by Brooklyn-based indie Akashic, had been selected as an Editor’s Pick by the New York Times Book Review. However, she told us, in spite of this honor and in spite of also getting tons of awards and nice reviews over the years for her many other novels, her books do not sell very many copies.  Her theory about why her books don’t sell more copies is that the publishing industry is too dumb and racist to figure out how to market a black author who isn’t Terry McMillan or Zane.   It is a frightening bad sign for the future not just of books but of America, that Elizabeth Nunez’s books are not bestsellers.  I know it sounds like I’m exaggerating but this really was what Nunez wanted to talk about, at the outset of this panel.  At times she seemed to be trembling with rage.

And you know, I absolutely sympathize with her, to a point.  There aren’t a lot of people who would disagree with Nunez that the book industry’s business model is deeply flawed and that we need to come up with new ways of enabling books that aren’t by Dan Brown or Stephanie Meyer to connect with their audiences. In fact, many people are actively working to do just that.  And so railing against the old, flawed model — especially when introducing yourself, and maybe your work, to a roomful of people who most likely do something with their lives that has to do with the industry you’re maligning — seemed like an odd tactic, fomenting-change-wise.

Then T Cooper started talking about The Internet.

Conversations about The Internet tend to dog any conversation about the future of book-reading and book-publishing.  This one was especially interesting because it took on not only the question of whether The Internet — meaning not only e-book-to-iPhone downloading and other methods of book-reading that don’t involve books as physical objects, but also online marketing and the idea of self-branding — will Change Everything, but also whether the reams of internet-writing that many of us spend our days consuming and creating are changing our ability or desire to read non-online, process-oriented fiction and nonfiction.  And this is actually an interesting question, one that I don’t know the answer to.  I like reading and writing both kinds of writing, so I hope they will both continue to exist. I understand why people think they are opposed, but to examine the reasons why people think they are opposed gets us into a long and messy conversation about, among other things: Do people have a right to expect to get paid or to get attention for doing what they love?  I think that artists who aren’t getting the money or the eyeballs they think their work deserves often blame these deficiencies on the Internet in a way that earlier generations might have scapegoated another new technology: the television, the radio, etc.  But actually, being able to make a living and/or command a wide audience by writing literary fiction or nonfiction has always,  in every generation, been a privilege accorded a motley — and maybe kind of arbitrary! — few.  File under “life’s not fair.”   Please believe me that I’m just as upset about this as Cooper, Nunez, and you are.  But: life is not fair.

T Cooper fears that unedited, ill-thought-out online reading and writing is crowding out the curated, edited writing that appears on the printed page.  He doesn’t, he says, want to see a review of Keith’s book next to a picture of your cat.  He is uninterested in kitty pix in general.  The idea of a Twitter novel makes him want to “kill himself.”   He said that he didn’t understand why people thought other people wanted to hear about what they ate for breakfast, clearly expecting a laugh from the audience that only sort of came.  (That was when I started to cringe and think of Angie Tempura.)  Nunez nodded vehemently:  “I always tell my writing students that your first draft is like vomit — it doesn’t smell good and no one should see it but you!” she said.   Both authors shook their heads in saddened disbelief about why anyone wants to spew their vomity rough drafts all over the internet for the world to see.  They complained about being encouraged by their publishers to blog, to Tweet.  They resisted the undignified idea that they would be forced to be available to their readers via online presences that they themselves would have to participate in creating.  At this point, an audience member asked all the panelists how involved they had been in their books’ marketing campaigns.  I don’t remember exactly what Cooper said  but he seemed to regret that he’d had to be involved at all.  In general the idea seemed to be that book marketing ought to be something that an omniscient, dogged employee of one’s publisher does while the author remains behind the scenes, unsullied by hustling.

While Cooper and Nunez sat there and basically expressed their disdain for people who work in publishing and people who are interested in reading or writing about books online, I wondered who, exactly, they thought was sitting there in the Community Room at 11am on a Sunday, listening to them speak on a panel about the future of fiction.  Or maybe they hadn’t thought about this at all.

I think — and I base this opinion on having worked in book publishing — that a lot of authors think of “readers”  the way we think of any intangible but demonstrably present phenomenon, like bacteria.  We can’t see them, so we don’t think about them much.  We like them in theory when they’re helping us, digesting our food et cetera — in fact, we take it for granted that they will do so –  but mostly we only notice them when they’re making us sick.  It’s not a given that authors make the connection between the way they feel about books and writers they like and the way someone might feel about them, and their work.  Readers are not bacteria, though.  They are people, and they are, potentially, everywhere –  including, increasingly, online.

Being a jerk, I raised my hand and mentioned this to the panelists, but I was too vague — I said they had to be willing to reach readers “where they lived.”  Nunez said she was willling to do any event, anywhere — “Just tell me where!” she said.   And then the panel was over.

*I know, I hate people who talk about “The Internet” like it’s all one thing, too, but that’s part of the point I’m making, somehow.

43 comments to Bitch, please.

  • I’m constantly surprised by how few writers have utilized the Internet as a personal marketing tool. It’s one of the only mediums where an author can reach a huge public audience for little to no cost or interference from a publisher. And in this age of behind-the-scenes and DVD commentaries, it’s obvious there’s a huge interest in how works are created.

    Furthermore, for young unknowns, it’s an opportunity to be read at all, something they all clamor for IRL, but don’t explore online. All of my friends in music or the visual arts have personal webpages and use them extensively to reach out to anyone who might be interested…but none of the writers. Even though text is the easiest possible thing to put online! It baffles me.

  • Chris

    3.5 z’s out of 4. Emily Magazine has lost its way. It’s morphing into a series of self-serving, self-righteous scholarly(-esque) hyperbabbly articles about life inside a bubble that virtually no one outside of it neither cares about, nor relates to. Can n+1 just absorb Emily Magazine and get it over with? *yawn*

  • Julie

    Oh Chris, spare us. Go read another website. Bravo, Emily.

  • sarah

    oh but i’m sorry that sketch was so funny to me the first time i saw it.

    and i don’t even think it is close to a swipe at the ENTIRE internet.
    i mean, the internet has no feelings to be hurt. most especially by some saturday night live silliness.
    it seemed to me to be a joke on a personality type that has sprung up in the past few years… a personality i do not believe this website shares anyway!

    you don’t hear the old cantankerous guys that work at billy goat’s whine about how their job has been belittled by the the cheezborger cheezborger joke, do you?
    NO. they put a cheezeborgers sign over the door to attract tourists and moved on with their lives.
    oi! melodrama!

  • Chris

    @ Julie: I rest my case.

  • Rebecca A

    @Chris, I am not here to impress you. I read what I like. I don’t have a lot of time for internet reading, and yet this one keeps me coming back.

    BTW, I don’t go leaving snarky comments on sites I don’t enjoy. My time is too valuable to me for that. Why do you?

  • I actually thought the Angie Tempura character was very close-to-home funny, as someone who is still professionally semi-obligated to scroll through third/fourth-tier gossip sites whose bon mots would be 100% funnier if they had any sort of satirical intent. (Be glad you got out when you did!)

  • lizzie Simon

    Oh Emily I went to four events that day—because they sounded interesting and I live four blocks away. Two were great. Two were piles of poop. The first pile was the David Wallace John Updike legacy panel. It was painful, and not because these guys are gone, but because the panelists were so….ugchkskdlt!!!!! People! If you are going to be on a panel, prepare something that is a gift for the audience. And Moderators! Learn the art of moderating! It was so the yucky part of people in publishing—snotty, insidery, lacking in charm. Ugshak. The second pile of poop was less painful because it was so shiteous that it was comical. This was the Writers on Writing which featured a guy who had written a snotty piece for BOMB about how snotty publishing is and Michael Thomas who wrote Man Gone Down, and the two of them were so f’ing rude to the moderator, whose name I forgot but she directed a documentary. It was a big whine session about how publishing is elitist. As an author, and a freelance writer, and a frequent public speaker, I see every opportunity I have to speak or to write as a privilege and as a request to help make something interesting and inspiring happen in the room, however physical that room is. And I love writing. And I love my writing life. Sure I’ve had some terribly disappointing experiences in publishing but I have also had people go so far out of their way to help me and inspire me and connect me. These moaning authors! They should take up another passion and profession.

  • Neil

    emily, you are one of my favorite writers in any medium.

  • emily

    @maura actually I just watched it again and loled, so I guess it is funny!

  • I’m constantly amazed (but actually, not at all) by the way ‘traditional’ writers don’t ‘get’ the Internet, and I admire your ability to sit through what sounds like a srsly annoying panel. (When you could have been tumbling lolcats or Kanye West memes!) I think the internet is pretty much the greatest thing ever because it gives anyone the chance to say whatever they want, which doesn’t mean they can’t still write the Great American Novel of their dreams and get it published (or that much of popular culture isn’t a wasteland, like it’s been since it was invented 5000 years ago.) Words and stories — or maybe just great writing — are like love, I think, it’s pointless to put rules and boundaries around it/them, and those who try to impose their vision of the world on others always end up sounding bitter and conservative and judgmental.

  • threadjack

    You are a great writer and this is a very good and interesting post and I think there are so many complicated and important things to discuss about “being a successful writer” today and what that means about your relationship to the Internet as well as commerce and hustling as well as “the reader,” so now I am going to write a really, really, really long comment.

    To immediately go off on a tangent, the representation of the polar opposite of the attitude about salesmanship and the Internet that the authors on the panel are exhibiting is probably, like, Tao Lin, right? I personally like Tao Lin and his writing, even though many other people hate him and it and even though at times he makes it, because of the excessive self promotion and personal branding and focus on hustling and selling himself, extremely difficult for me, a person who actually likes him for the writing he produces, to still continue to like him and his writing. Even though I like Tao Lin most of the time and think he is “an important new writer,” I can’t imagine what life would be like if every writer was like Tao Lin; i.e. so concerned with marketing and branding and selling himself. I think an environment where all writers are so directly concerned with all that stuff would be a pretty terrible environment for readers to live in. Being an “Internet writer” myself, I can’t in any way knock the hustle of marketing and PR like those two obnoxious panel writers you describe do, but I also can’t help but think that if ALL writers were so focused on hustling and selling instead of, you know, making real art, that that would be really horrible for people who love to read like you and I and also that the focus on hustling and selling that exists in the Internet writing world today (whether it takes the form of SEO-focused prose and editorial assignments or all the blogs that seem to exist only to try to get a book deal or some other gross and insidious stuff that I don’t even know about, David Denby) does have a negative effect on the culture, on both the writer and “the reader.”

    In the comments on the Awl story about The Footnotes of Mad Men book deal, Choire wrote, in defense of the book deal:

    “I haven’t read the book, because it doesn’t exist yet! But it’s a perfectly valid premise for a weird little fun book. Many have sold books with less inherent validity! (Coughs, stares in mirrors.)

    Also, I think most hating on book deals–though there’s still plenty of valid book-deal-hating to do, believe me, and I intend to do some of it someday soon–has to do with the idea of scarcity. There isn’t such a thing, really. Right now, in this world? Absolutely anyone can sell a book, if they want to put up with the pain in the ass of producing said book, which, ugh, is a pain in the ass.

    But it’s not the 80s anymore. It’s not like book publishing is some far-away, unattainable thing. The more, the merrier.

    I just think it should be noted that there’s less “scarcity” with imprints like HarperStudio, and the forthcoming OR Books, et al–and the others that are to follow.”

    Now, like I said, I am an “Internet writer” and/or “blogger” and I don’t know that much or anything about how the publishing industry actually works (I watched that movie “Wolf” with Jack Nicholson on Hulu once, which included some relevant details), so I could be completely and totally wrong about this, but it seems to me that Choire is being kind of disingenuous about publishing in that he is calling both a self published (and self-paid-for) book and the product of a “book deal” with an imprint of a major publisher the same thing. I don’t think that’s quite right. Of course any retard can do a POD version of whatever stupid crap they can sling together and then can try to sell all the copies that they’ve pre-paid for out of the trunk of their car or on the local authors shelf at Borders or whatever; therefore, Choire argues, book publishing is democratized and available to all. And I mean, this is in whatever small sense true and this kind of strategy has worked for some very “successful” books; I “researched” this topic and found a story in the important and well respected newspaper USA Weekend *, a story in which the “successful authors” talk about all manner of selling and money matters but don’t talk about the content of the books or their writing, you know, LITERARY ART (for these people, selling books is like selling timeshares). But I just don’t think it’s fair to say that that sort of bullshit is the same thing as having a real book deal with a publishing house and I don’t think it’s necessarily unfair or wrong to complain or call bullshit when you see books that you don’t think need to be books getting book deals. It is maybe unfair or wrong to do so if you’re just doing it because you’re jealous, which a lot of people probably are, but I don’t think it’s necessarily unfair wrong to do it because you care about the future of writing and reading and literary art and how those relate to the business of publishing and these books genuinely worry you, which, they obviously do worry me (although I kind of feel like I’m having a Kanye West moment here and will regret posting this later).

    For example, Doree is a good writer and I like her blog posts so I don’t mean to diminish her or say that she’s not a smart and valuable person at all, in any way, but, at the same time, I don’t really think Postcards From Yo Momma really “needed” to be a book. Maybe I’m just completely old fashioned, but I don’t think what she and Jessica did with that “counts” as “writing a book,” although that’s what it says they did on the cover of their book. On the one hand, I think it’s great that she was able to make some money and have a real printed book with her name on it, I do, and I think it’s a nice little success story against the horrible odds you describe for people trying to “get paid or to get attention for doing what they love,” that even though “life is not fair,” well, hey, this great, smart, nice person got a book deal and made a little money off of it, too, and you know, yay! But, at the same time, I think that book deal and other book similar book deals set this pretty bad popular example for other people of what it means “to be successful as a writer” in the world today, that the process of curation used to create things like PFYM and This Is Why You’re Fat may eventually become known as what it means to “write.”

    Not that I am painting a picture of some kind of dystopia where nobody will ever work hard and try to do good writing in the old school way, but, well, actually I guess I kind of am, because that dystopia is kind of Tumblr, you know? I think Tumblr as a whole represents something so secretly insidious, because I feel like for a group of urban (or wannabe urban) young creative people who in the past would have been forced to spend the time to really and truly make stuff in order to feel creatively fulfilled, now it is so easy for them to just reblog, recycle, rinse, repeat. As more and more young people grow up in this environment and “work” in this way, I think that it will have a negative effect on what art we make. We say that writers today have to be marketers and manage their personal brands and get more followers on Twitter, that they have to sell themselves, and that’s not entirely wrong, but the problem is that all the time that writers spend doing those various things is time that they’re not creating art, and the more important that we make those kind of marketing activities to the nature of being “successful” as an “artist,” the less art that artists will create until they’re not really even artists anymore, until they’re just fancy, pretentious salesmen of empty, worthless consumer goods and/or themselves (and they’re not all as handsome as Don Draper, either, let me tell you!). I think Julia Allison is kind of a really good example of this change. Julia Allison at one point a long time ago used to be a writer. I may not be able to convince anybody that she was a good writer (though I honestly, sincerely think she was) but she was a writer whose fundamental job was, well, writing, i.e. CREATING NEW THINGS FOR PEOPLE TO READ, things which really and truly expressed something personal about her in an individual and unique voice. Now, though, Julia Allison is not a good writer, she’s not a writer at all, she’s a lifecaster, she twits and twats and posts pictures and videos and all that other crap, she doesn’t really WRITE anything anymore. That makes me sad, although I can understand how being sad about Julia Allison not really writing anymore probably makes me an easy object of ridicule and really undermines my credibility here.

    The whole implicit MO of Tumblr is style over substance; the idea that you can create this beautiful blog without doing any of the work it would normal take to create such an object and that, once you have your blog, you can easily and very quickly (from your iPhone, even!) create nice looking posts and “write” and “publish” and participate in a “conversation.” All these people on Tumblr reposting a photo someone has already posted and adding a two line commentary and considering that to be “writing” in some way just make me, as someone who tears myself up to do my own writing (like this comment for example), kind of sick.  What Tumblr offers to most people is this simulation of creativity; it lets them feel creative without any of the serious work and thought that are necessary for the creation of real art.  
    Now, someone could easily (and not incorrectly) argue that the notion that I am putting forth of authorship as being a person suffering alone in a room and writing a long piece of text is this very dated, archaic ideal and that I’m being conservative and backwards to be so stuck to it.  And, I mean, I am the first person to admit that being an isolated writer alone in a room is a fucked up and crappy situation in a lot of ways that social media tries (and maybe is able) to make better (I’m sure Kenneth Koch and Frank O’ Hara would have had really awesome Facebook status updates!), but at the same time, that hard and painful method of sitting by yourself and trying hard to make something new of your own is the way that a hell of a lot of awesome fucking art was produced throughout history and I think the changing notion of “writing” and “creativity” created by social media like Tumblr and Twitter is damaging in some way which leads or is leading to cultural decline.  Of course, the state of online writing discourse today is such that I can’t use the phrase “cultural decline” seriously without sounding like a total asshole, like Benjamin Kunkel in that total dickhead essay about the Internet you wrote about on your blog a while ago.  I didn’t care for Indecision very much and I didn’t agree with most of that essay of his, but I still think those things he worked hard to make are more important and necessary than some crowdsourced book or immaculately constructed tumblr.

    In that comment I quoted, Choire makes a self-deprecating joke about the “inherent validity” of his own serious, non-Tumblr, non-crowdsourced, personally authored book about people in New York in the same way that you yourself might charmingly joke about the “inherent validity” of your own book deal. By “inherent validity,” he means that a book about Mad Men has an pre-existing audience to purchase it as opposed to his own book, which is just some guy’s thoughts on some people in some city somewhere and which has no pre-existing audience, really. Maybe I’m an absolutist and, like I said, totally old fashioned about these kinds of things, but, yeah, I think his book and your book are a hell of a lot more “valuable” and “valid” than dumb gimmick books like This Is Why You’re Fat or Look At This Fucking Hipster or even something more benign and “written” like the Mad Men book or Postcards, even if in the current book buying climate they’re probably not “inherently valid” because they’re not more salable. I mean, maybe there’s a place for “weird little fun books” and “big dumb genre books” and, you know, all kinds of books, but I feel like with less people reading serious books and buying serious books today, the world of reading is not as rosy as Choire argues it to be, however many “books’ may well get published every year. To be simplistic and reductive and blog comment-y, I feel like in the distant past, a lot of important and serious books were bestsellers and popular successes (Dickens through Lolita or pick whatever references you want) and, in the more recent past, the publishing model as I understand it involved these big, dumb blockbusters and middlebrow pap paying for the publishing houses to put out all the smaller, more (artistically) valuable and more (fiscally) risky books. Now, though, it seems like with the bottom having fallen out of the economy and the Internet causing people to not buy books that it’s not like that anymore, that because of economic pressure (since publishing is an “industry”) that publishers can only take chances on the kind of books that seem like they’ll make back what they cost; they can’t take many risks on literary art anymore, and, thus, the HarperStudio brand of facile, bullshit, SEO book. Like I said, I don’t work in publishing and I have never tried to sell a book (I’m a blogger, remember) so I don’t really know what I’m talking about and I’d love it and be happy if someone told me that things were otherwise.

    Maybe the times have just changed and this is just How We Write Now. If that’s true, personally, I feel like the change is kind of represented, if not in Julia Allison, then in Mark Leyner. In the nineties, Mark Leyner wrote (whatever its moral character, DFW RIP) challenging experimental fiction that was at the same time kind of a popular success and a popular phenomenon that got coverage in major mainstream magazines and was available in bookstores everywhere and was read by a general audience who paid actual money for it. Then, in this century, he stopped writing those instead he published two humorous bathroom Q & A books with Dr. Billy Goldberg that didn’t even try to be art in any way but that despite this (or because of it) were total huge and massive bestsellers and a million times bigger than his earlier books had been. This is really reductive and specific, but in the larger sense, I sort of feel like this represents the change in our culture, that this is where a lot of writers are at now. Of course, there have always been crappy commerce-driven writers and people trying to hustle but they weren’t always the norm and they weren’t the aspiration. These days, I feel like it is so dark outside that a lot of people are just kind of giving up on trying hard and being good and that apathy and laziness reign supreme and, you know, that is just so bad because, again, GOOD, SERIOUS WRITING IS IMPORTANT, IT IS, IT REALLY IS, OKAY? even if it seems impossible to make money off of it right now.

    This is all so messy and complicated, though!  Like, I started really getting into blogs two summers ago after somebody sent me your Gawker post about Bob Butler (who was one of my professors very briefly the previous year, what a d-bag) and to read it and find out that this new Internet thing existed was just like so mind-blowing for me.  At the time, I think my online reading consisted of mostly like Pitchfork and BoingBoing, even though I am not and was not interested in the 90% of the stupid, nerdy shit BoingBoing talked about and even though Pitchfork often talked about music I did not care about at all, I still read them because they offered me good daily stuff to read online and that was something I wanted.  After I read your post, I started regularly reading Gawker and Jezebel that summer and they were like nothing I had seen on the Internet before, they were like these really interesting, smart, deeply personal magazines that were just endless and constantly refreshing, that were always giving you new and amazing writing all day every day.

    AND YET, to go back to the issue of money, that kind of environment can’t really exist without money to support it and now it seems like there’s no money out there for anything but seriously lowest common denominator stuff.  Like, take The Awl, for example (which is not lowest common denominator stuff, of course).  I’m very happy to be able to read everything on The Awl every day and I think it’s nice and I’m glad it exists.  At the same time, I don’t think it’s anywhere near as good as the era of Gawker I first loved reading with you and Choire and Balk and Doree and I don’t think that’s just nostalgia.  One of the reasons that it’s not anywhere near as good as that is that Choire and Balk (and the columnists) can’t devote anywhere near as much attention to it as they might perhaps want to because all of them have to, you know, earn money to live on by doing other assignments.  Like, Choire was doing those wonderful Flicked Off film review things for a while and he’s not doing them anymore because I guess he doesn’t have time, which is perfectly acceptable or whatever (as someone who likes reading his writing, I am happy that he is able to eat and have a place to live!). The really fucked up thing, though, is that I am afraid, in order for the site to actually possibly make any real money to sustain itself, The Awl would have to become crappy in a way that would make me not want to read it anymore, the same way I don’t really read Gawker or Jezebel now except occasionally when somebody links to them.  This is kind of the paradox we keep coming to, because in the end it’s almost impossible to get away from the question of monetizing and how to financially support the creation of writing and art today and yet it just kills me when I read about online writers and artists talking about how to “be successful” and they’re not talking about craft or sweat but how to make money, how to better sell themselves.  

    Problems! Money! Writing!  What to do about all of it! I don’t have a conclusion or any real answers to these questions that I’ve raised, which is okay since this is just a stupid anonymous vomity blog comment, of course, and not some sort of literary document. You know, I think even famous historical writers including “F. Scott Fitzgerald” and “Fyodor Dostoyevsky” may have dealt with money/writing problems like this in some way, I think one time I read a quote on somebody’s Tumblr to this effect, but anyway, I don’t really have time to read their books to see what they did or they had to say about the subject because I want to watch the last episode of Mad Men that’s waiting for me on my DVR (love the attention to historical detail, you guys!) and then afterward I have to go read some blogs about it. Haha, just kidding (or not!). THE END.

  • Chris

    @ Rebecca: Not really. I used to enjoy this site, too. Now it’s just blah. I hope Emily is saving it for her book.

  • Tim

    The scary thing is (you might want to get down to Duane Reade and pick up your cyanide capsules now): in the not-too-distant future, all television will be as bad as SNL currently is. I didn’t know that show was still on the air by the way.

    As for writers objecting to blogging because it is “free writing,” this is a bit selfish. Writing is an intellectual and rhetorical process of realization and discovery – plus it is fun. If they feel writing for free is a waste of their time and energy, where are they going to draw the line? Should people get paid for talking? Some people like lawyers, PR spokesmen, clinical psychotherapists and spin doctors do get paid to talk, but this doesn’t mean they don’t also talk for free.

    Thinking people always have their curious, intellectual faculties turned on. One does not stop being a thinking person once they turn off their computer or leave the workplace. I have had a million brilliant ideas which I could have turned into commodities, and I always think its a shame when one gets lost or goes to waste. I almost think I should be saving them up for a rainy day when I might need the money. But if we start thinking of a our thoughts in terms of dollars-and-cents, we are violating our psyche by turning it into a big commodity. I would hate to think of my brain as a cash register or a bank. Sometimes people just need to relax and let their thoughts flow freely and go unrecorded.

  • Rebecca A.

    @Threadjack – what Chris said earlier applies to you.

  • Interesting discussion. Nunez, like T Cooper, has written some wonderful books, and she comes from a different generation. I’m getting close to 60, so you’ve got to remember there’s a whole lot of writers for whom the Internet culture is a place where we are immigrants, not digital natives.

    My first book, a very modest collection of short stories by a small commercial publisher, appeared 30 years ago, and I thought I did all I could to publicize it. In 1979 that meant writing letters to people, you know, contained in a stamped envelope. Not much else to do then, really, except maybe call people on the phone, which seemed intrusive, especially for someone shy. Even in 2000 when my last non-self-published-POD book came out, there weren’t any blogs as far as I knew, so again, it was mostly writing letters, collecting email addresses of publications and people I thought might be interested in it.

    I’ve always been grateful that I had the privilege of getting published, and of course now the barriers are lowered. In “How to Get Happily Published,” which I first read in the late 70s or early 80s, Judith Applebaum and Nancy Evans used the word “privished” to denote those books which were indeed formally published but which remained private in most essential ways. In some way Elizabeth Nunez, a wonderful writer, is privished, not published.

    For myself and a lot of people – perhaps most – writing (and there are counterparts in the other arts) is a hobby. Some of my friends my age get angry when I say we are essentially hobbyists, but I’ve felt this way for a long time and discussed it in a 1998 book, Night and Day: The Double Lives of Artists in America, about those of us who make our livings in other fields.

    To me, anyone can call herself a writer but very few can do it as a professional – that is, get the majority of their income from their work. I know Mark Leyner from the old days, even before he was well-known (I worked for the Fiction Collective, which published his first book, I Smell Esther Williams) and you can criticize Mark, but a person’s got to make a living and his little books with the doctor are entertaining and useful.

    Tao Lin has done some extraordinary things and is incredibly savvy and hard-working as well as being talented, but most young writers are going to be better off if they accept the fact that they are essentially amateurs, doing it for the love of writing – I call it hobbyists. It prevents the “rage” you describe on the part on one of the panelists. Bitterness isn’t healthy for human beings, writers or not.

  • ow a paper cut

    Angie Tempura segment: Good acting. Weak writing.

  • Rebecca A.

    Emily, one more thought on this: when I first saw the “Bitch, Please” routine, I thought of you, and was mad, considering you, in a purely weird and dysfunctional way, to be a quasi “friend” of mine….

    Although I agree with the poster above who said: actually, your blog bears no resemblance to the parody. Not at all.

    And the routine IS funny. I watched it again and laughed.

  • Great piece, Emily. Can’t wait for your book.

  • Katey

    I was at that panel at the book fair, and that’s a great take on it. I worry for the future of the publishing industry when the writers have so little insight into their potential audience and the business of getting a book sold. In fact they seemed kind of contemptuous. I haven’t read them but I hope they’re good enough authors to pull off their disdain for readers, the internet and publishing in general. It also showed a dangerous tendency to blame everything on identity politics, which are a huge problem but not the only reason that a book doesn’t get read (especially if you don’t participate in the marketing of it or if you blow off the internet).

    Also I agree that in many other panels I attended the panelists seemed unprepared, soapboxy or just there to promote their work. There’s some serious ivory tower shit going on in writing nowadays I guess, they definitely seemed consumed by their own rarified genius (and oblivious to everything else).

    I basically came away with the impression that writers are dangerously unprepared for the modern realities of business and media, or maybe they’re just lucky enough to have awesome connections that will keep them published no matter what. Good luck to them.

  • Bahhh! Thank you! I stubbed my toe running for my remote to change the channel every time the Bitch, Pleeze skit would come one. But, like you said, it’s a bear trap to be like, “hey, stop being mean about The Internet.”

    Also, marketing books, twitter, etc, I’ve thought maybe another thing freaking out TRADITIONAL writers is the level of output and diminishing returns? Like, the more content you put out, unedited and immediate the way you would on blog, will not always be fantastic. Some posts or tweets will be mediocre and trite and so on. Maybe our generation (LOLLLLLL) unburdened ourselves from that fear because we had no choice, ie, the technology was there before we could even think about it.

    Either way, more please! <3

  • What Maura said. I’ve made something like a living at writing online for 3 years now, and Angine Tempura cracked me up. I like what I do and am grateful for every opportunity I’ve had – but I understand the view of bloggers that puts them all in the Angie Tempura box pretty well and can see the humor in it.

    When I was blogging for old Radar, Balk frequently ended e-mails to me with something like, “it’s just a blog.” Bingo. What he said, too.

  • It was not my finest hour as a moderator, it must be said. My sense is that Elizabeth would have been excellent on another panel, and had I been in a simply Q&A with T., I might have elicited a more nuanced view of the writer-reader relationship since I think part of the future of the novel that we more or less failed to discuss has to do with restoring the more intimate relationship between the two that’s been lost over the last 150 years. (My thesis: internet partially restores pre-Industrial Revolution nature of books…). But I couldn’t figure out, on the fly, how to integrate Elizabeth’s comments and encourage T to talk about some of the more engaged ways in which he’s dealt with readers… Keith, as you briefly noted, was already in the flow of the topic. Anyhow, a mea culpa from me!

  • I dunno, threadjack. I edited one of those dumb stupid scarce-resource-hogging books, a book called “Twitter Wit,” which I have specific defenses for, but I’ll make the general defenses:

    1. There were always gimmick books. There will always be gimmick books. There were always literary books. There will always be literary books.

    2. While there technically is scarcity, in that there is only so much money for the publishers to spend on paying authors and promoting books, this does not necessarily mean that all books are competing against each other. My book is *not* competing against the new Pynchon. No editor will *ever* take one look at a worthy literary work, take another look at my book, and decide to only pick one. Even if they did, the losing book would be shown to more editors!

    3. The “bullshit” books DO NOT MAKE A LOT OF MONEY. Let me repeat this. Crowd-sourced, instant-audience, gift-shop books DO NOT MAKE LARGE AMOUNTS OF MONEY. Mine is middle-of-the-road. Blakeley’s advance was a little steep, and I’m betting the book doesn’t earn that money back, but only a couple hundred thousand were probably spent on the whole project, tops. What makes the money, and for all I know really does kill good books, is BLOCKBUSTER PROSE.

    Think about it. My book: It’ll earn maybe a few hundred grand for HarperCollins if I’m lucky. LATFHipster: Probably the same. Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol? Millions and millions of dollars. And to make sure that happens, Doubleday markets the fuck out of that thing. They printed 5 million copies. They paid for ads and displays and the top in-house publicists to land him on the biggest TV shows.

    And is the book any good? No.

    THEREFORE, blaming poor support of good literature on the proliferation of so-called gimmick books (again, I have a personal argument for why Twitter Wit is actually worthy, mostly because its content is wide-ranging and its contributors include aspiring authors and entertainers) is like blaming world hunger on an American kid who doesn’t finish his dinner. It’s a false causality that ignores the vast system at work.

    4. I may as well believe you that people aren’t reading good literature as much as before, but I can’t recall any hard evidence for this. Over the long run, didn’t the sea change in literacy rates actually increase reading of the classics? On the other hand, William Goldman (author of The Princess Bride, Butch Cassidy, and All the President’s Men) has said for decades that Hollywood is definitely going to shit because they just want to make Jaws over and over instead of using the big movies to pay the budgets of the little movies. And I’ll take Goldman’s word for that.

  • Maria-Mercedes

    I was at that panel as well and I definitely share your bewilderment about Nunez and Cooper’s attitude towards the internet in general. A few of the other panels I went to also discussed the evils of the internet and how it is filling up our precious world with bile and nastiness and snark and blah blah blah. Most of the criticisms of the internet seemed to be criticisms of social networking (which, OK, it is the latest annoying fad to poke fun of, fine) or criticisms of non-experts and non-professionals (i.e., anyone not published in print format) which was then mixed in with criticisms of the publishing industry and “old model” as being too racist, classist, elitist, isolating, etc.. One of the things I enjoy about the internet is that it widens an author’s audience and gives voice to people who are typically ignored by the old model. You don’t have to be rich, white, well-educated and well connected to gain readers on the internet. I’m not saying that doesn’t help sometimes, but some of the most interesting writers I have read over the past five years have written for blogs or online publications. What is so wrong with that?

  • kt

    The other day in a poetry workshop, the visiting writer I’m studying with said (for the second or third time that week), “Do a google.”

    This is not so much entirely relevant to your post. Sorry.

  • “He is uninterested in kitty pix in general.”


  • Well, I’ve only just found Emily Magazine, and I was nowhere near this panel. But I’m a writer on (what I hope is) my way up. I’ve got a couple short stories out, and one of my pieces is published in the popular new Soft Skull anthology Hos, Hookers, Call Girls, and Rent Boys.

    I post a ton of free content on the web. I’ve got an entire manuscript at my website, plus a new blog series going, and I’m having a blast with it.

    I’ve got to say, I feel lucky to be living and working in an era where it’s possible for me to use this amazing tool to make many of my contacts and to build my audience. These are opportunities I wouldn’t have had fifteen years ago. I don’t understand writers who see the internet as the enemy, rather than a giant opportunity to advance whatever it is they’re doing. I would bet good money that given the same opportunity, many of our legendary greats would have merrily gone a-blogging if the web had been available to them.

    It’s so much easier to make excuses for failing than it is to try different things until you finally succeed.

  • yellow checkers for the kitchen

    I am a visual artist with a lazily maintained html website — it needs updating and i am out of storage space w/ my current host package whatever. But i also do keep a blog of my studio and installation process (it’s much easier than maintaining a website!), especially when mounting an exhibition. Recently a curator from a high level institution contacted me about being in a show via this blog.

    To people who fear self marketing will take over your ‘creative process or whatever,’ um, what?? That’s nuts. I am a retiring person, in my later 30s, so practically an ‘old,’ and am not prone to over doing self promotion in any medium (hence my anonymous comment). Have people never heard of ‘moderation’? Or, ‘doing it when you want to / have the time’?

    Not everything is evil and going to ruin us as a culture/society. Except Facebook that is. I have to say i think Facebook is some kind of narcotic elixir cum trojan horse ready and waiting to unveil diabolical evil at any moment. I could be wrong, but this stalkery voyeurism behaviour monitoring system seems a bit gross.

    That is all.

  • yellow checkers for the kitchen

    Sorry to take up extra space. Edited to add that not commenting anony doesn’t make one an attention seeker either! Especially to those in the milieu Emily is addressing here.

  • who the fuck isn’t interested in kitty pictures?

  • Mel

    II’ve been known to enjoy popping zits, taking a big whiff of kimchee, or rolling a big clump of toe jam between thumb and forefinger on a hot, sweaty day. It’s weird and gross but I still (secretly) do it sometimes. In the same way, finding other people’s vomit on the internet is fun sometimes. I like to spew my own from time to time, too. (Obviously.)

  • [...] Toward the end of the panel there were several responses from the audience, one is that response from the librarian about Cooper’s comment, and another is a comment about the panelist being snobbish, and how the panels would envision for a future where there is a refusal for accepting what is the trend. The panel closed with it there being an author’s choice of what is there to read, and a transient desire for people to pick up a literary novel. So if want to read another interpretation of this panel, you can check out Emily Magazine’s blog entry. [...]

  • Why take offense? That SNL bit is just a moderately funny, mostly on-point and much deserved direct satire of Perez Hilton. Am I wrong?

    Yes, the “internet” can be a force for good or evil – but that all depends on the aims of an author and how much attention and support consumers are willing to give them (an obvious point). The SNL sketch makes light of and draws out the nihilistic, shallow tendencies found in some corners of the Blog-o-sphere, and despite what I know many people write about you and your work, I have a hard time understanding why you think such sites (like Perez and perhaps Gawker) are so worthy of defense. They’re entertaining, sure. So is Pro Wrestling and Fox News. If we’re talking about an artistic rendering of writing and its potential, shouldn’t the broadening of understanding and search for meaning be actively encouraged and the content mocked by the SNL sketch be justly marginalized?

  • Tim

    I finally watched the “Bitch, Please!” skit on Hulu. The only line I half laughed at was, “What’s so scary about Connecticut? Losing your tennis racket in your pottery barn?” The rest of it I didn’t get.

  • Thank you muchly for the readers/bacteria analogy, dude — it’s perfect. (And I would say it goes beyond books and has something to do with the relevancy problems plaguing the newspaper industry, too.) Anyway, I’m totally going to borrow it at some unspecified future date, but will give you all due credit.

  • Heh Mr. Butler, what a guy

  • She never even contributed much, who cares. I think she was very uncomical.

  • Joshua Kerrigan

    This is a great post, I think you should turn it into a 2 or 3 part series.

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