Clare to Writers: Stop Cutting in on My Turf

Today at The Guardian, columnist Tim Clare proclaims “Everyone does not have a novel inside them.” However, if that’s the case, then what’s this mysterious bump on my ribcage? And more to the point, is the market saturated with too many people trying to shop their story? If so, is this necessarily a bad thing and who cares? Ironically enough, Tim Clare apparently had a novel inside him at some point, as it came out as a sci-fi venture, Joshu Replied. What do you think? Does everyone have a story to tell and a right to tell it, or should some people just shut up? Do you see the publishing world as a closed cartel or as a rightfully guarded institution?

12 Responses

  1. Everybody tells a
    Everybody tells a story

    Everyone has a story to tell, but not everybody cares to hear everyone’s story.

    This is where a publisher comes in: Are there enough readers out there to make ‘This Story‘ profitable? Does that make the publishing world a closed cartel or a guarded institution, you ask?

    Is the measure of worth for a writer solely based upon the decision of a publisher? Writers have unlimited publication ability by use the internet … freedom of word. Is that not enough? Apparently not for many writers… they want a publisher to honor them with a contract and a hardbound book, as if that was the pinnacle of success – the decision of some unknown entity in the publishing empire deciding “Yes, I will publish this writer’s words.”

    But that is never enough … how many books are found in bargain bins in every book store? Proof that every book does not guarantee success.

    Tell you story, write your story … the web is the largest publisher the world has ever known … and there are no bargain bins. What else could a writer ask for?

  2. i’m getting a small novella
    i’m getting a small novella removed

    A lot of people have no desire to write a story. If you spend a lot of time with other writers, you forget how the majority of people go about their lives without any thought of having a novel in them. Anyone who is naturally inclined toward this pursuit has the potential to do it. I don’t think anyone is making a conscious decision to “guard” or “close” the institution of writing against anyone. It’s more like, publishers are only human, and there is only so much they can do.

  3. Truth stranger than
    Truth stranger than ficiton

    Absolutely, I believe that everyone has a story in them and a right to tell it. Unfortunately, only a few chosen ones break through the wall.

    Then again, my father-in-law tells the same stories over and over and over again to the point where everyone rolls their eyes in disgust and walks away and we tell him to stop and he just doesn’t get it… so yeah, sometimes, some people should just shut up!

  4. one person, one novelI’ve
    one person, one novel

    I’ve always liked the idea that, whether we ever write them down or not, each of our lives amounts to a novel. Yes, I do believe that each person has a great story to tell, if they can only find the way to tell it.

    As Stevadore says above, though, I also realize that many people have way too many not-particularly-great stories to tell, and they’ll tend to do so over and over. In the true novels of our lives, the stories we actually are in the habit of telling might be the parts that most need to get edited out.

  5. I Should Shut UpBut.I find it
    I Should Shut Up


    I find it strange that no one seems to recognize that publishing is the essence of the corporate culture and as such (let us call them the Suits because that is what they are) the rituals are designed to keep as many people OUT as much as possible while emphasizing profit margins.

    All you have to do is look at who runs the dog and pony show. Germany’s Bertlesman is the biggest publisher in the world. The owner of the business was an SS officer (this is hardly a secret) during World War 2, who after the war started Stern magazine. From Stern he began buying book publishing houses that had been managed badly and were ripe for takeover. He bought over twenty of them and consolidated them. They run a very tight ship where the rules for books are now corporate and generic. The first thing they did was downgrade the position of editor and upgrade the position of marketing. There isn’t a single editor in New York who has the authority to buy a manuscript.

    That authority rests with marketing. Editors used to be held in high esteem and they had power. But Louisa May Alcott is dead. Those days have been over for twenty years. I was once summoned to a meeting of the minds at Houghton Mifflin. I had no idea what this meant but I went anyway. I walked into the Gramercy Park Hotel to be greeted by an entire crowd of people ALL of whom belonged to marketing. They were there to size me up. To see if I could be put on the road and sold like meat. I can and I was.

    It would be months before my book hit bookstores but editorial concerns were never mentioned and were never on anyone’s agenda. Who CARES what editors think. Not publishers.

    Look at their backgrounds. They’re in MARKETING. To even THINK that these people CARE about anything but the bottom line is mind-boggling to me. I would be AMAZED beyond credulity if the Chairman of the Board at Bertlesman has EVER (in his entire life) READ an American book. The man doesn’t even speak English. He BUYS corporations. That is all he does. He sets the rules and the tone and the stock prices if he can get away with it. That is all he wants to do. He couldn’t tell you the difference between Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal and there is one.

    Books or widgets. This man exists to make money and let me tell you he makes a lot of it. In fact, all over Europe, he is treated like royalty, and he and his wife have the trappings of royalty, and I am not kidding, and they are regarded as the social elite at the levels of the Rothchilds. They live in a palace. Not a house. Not a villa. A 15th century palace. Their ceilings are adorned by paintings from the European masters. Their art collection alone is worth billions and museums court them correspondingly. This includes the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Sometimes they loan art to exhibition.

    They define culture as what you OWN. It has NADA to do with what you CREATE.

    The people who CREATE are regarded as a dime a dozen, SERVANTS, and they’re right, they are a dime a dozen, they’re nothing more than paid low life to these people, and they OWN American publishing lock, stock, and barrel.

    The notion that publishing is still this rumpled editor affair that pours over Hemingway’s manuscripts at Scribner’s, cigar in hand, Scotch stored quaintly in the desk so that when George Plimpton arrives everyone might celebrate (discreetly) is patently absurd. And yet writers hold dearly to this illusion and the fantasy that these corporate Suits care about books and writing and someday they’re going to open their arms to you because they love you and they love what you’ve slaved over for twenty years. Cinderrella, after all, had feet. The best manuscripts I’ve EVER READ will never be published. Why. They always, always offend someone. You can talk to writers until you’re blue in the face but they refuse to believe it. It’s just not a part of their reality.

    I think colleges and writing programs and academia perpetuate this myth. Go ahead. Walk into any of their offices in publishing. It could be an insurance company. Everyone is in his cubicle. His place. And if you want to keep your job, you keep it. And if you don’t, you don’t.

    I don’t remember anymore who owns the New Yorker. It’s too boring to keep up with. But I’ll bet my underpants it’s not the New Yorker.

    This romantic image that writers have of publishing as being this literary place that has this intense focus on the literary quality of what they publish is TOTAL nonsense, and they’re NOT there to welcome you into the club anymore than the man who owns Bertlesman is there to welcome you into royalty. That is not how the elite culture of Europe or the corporate culture of New York function. The more people that come in, the less money is available to THEM. People cost money. They would MUCH rather pay Danielle Steel a five million dollar advance than publish twenty new books by new authors because they understand she has an audience stupid enough to PAY twenty bucks for the trash she writes that virtually NO ONE at the publishing house that markets this woman even reads. I talk to editors DAILY. Here’s what they ALL say: Oh, I haven’t read that one. Oh, I’ve got to read those. Oh, I’ve been trying to get to that one for years. Oh, it’s so hard to read anymore.

    Off the record, the good ones are APPALLED at what they publish. They often call me. I review books all the time. “Could you review this one, please. It’s not very good but we need the publicity. We think there’s a huge market for it and we’ll send you tons of books — any books you want. These are the people I do business with so whore that I am, I do it. I can squeeze thirty books out them AND get paid for reading all that garbage trash nonsense piddle. I have at least a dozen names I use; mostly female.

    It’s an inside job on an inside beat. Newspaper editors and publishers only want books reviewed that are listed with Amazon.

    Does this SOUND like an inclusive institution of people who are going to magically wave their wands in your direction because you just wrote a FABULOUS book.

    Here’s what writers have their heads in the sand around (or in their butt). Warning: you are NOT going to like this. You may turn me into the Literary Police, the New York Times, and bury my heart at Wounded Knee.

    It doesn’t matter what you write.

    The universities are wrong. They need your money.

    The writing programs are wrong. They need your money.

    Your professor was wrong. He needs his job.

    It doesn’t matter what you write or how well you write it. Sorry. The BIGGEST laugh in publishing are the writers who think only the best books are picked because they’re so well written. Get a life. The books that are published are published because a corporate committee run by marketing thinks BOTH the book AND the writer can fit into the kind of corporate cultural context that can be exploited by the Suits and the corporation they all work for. Should everyone tell their story. No one in publishing CARES. End of story.

    It is a very closed shop. People will say: then break down the doors with endurance.

    Oh, please.

    Can you market endurance. Can you put it on Charlie Rose. Who do you think waits in the wings off camera.

    The writer’s publicist who TELLS the writer what to SAY and NOT to SAY on Charlie Rose. Baby, they OWN you. WHY do you THINK they have a throat-tight HOLD on what in every contract is called: THE NEXT WORK. Because if you DON’T cooperate — if you’re difficult in any way (I once refused a cover at Random House and you could hear the stink to China) they will NOT buy the next work. And not only that, you will be PUNISHED. There are dates and clauses that PROHIBIT (and these all stand up in court, trust me) you from OFFERING your next work elsewhere until THEY say you can (which could be decades) and if you THINK they’re just going to let you trot off down Fifth Avenue in miffed happiness with your manuscript you’re living in Neverneverland. They will CRUSH you like an ant a
    nd they do it everyday. Get real.

    THIS is WHY you need an agent. Because they’re like lawyers and many of them are lawyers. Publishers KNOW to not even speak with you without an agent because writers DO NOT GET IT. They want to speak to someone who speaks their language which is NOT literary OR creative; it’s legal, and corporate. Who OWNS these rights. Do you really even THINK they THINK in terms of manuscripts. What a quaint notion. They think in terms of RIGHTS. Don’t think for a minute the Internet hasn’t complicated all of this. It has. I once was forced to publish a movie script on the Internet. I put it right on a website so there was NO QUESTION who owned it, who wrote it, and who was not going to tolerate Hollywood to come in and replace me (they do it every day). The Hollywood lawyers had a FIT. “What can we do to get you to take that off the Internet.”

    “Pay me.”

    That is the only language they understand.

    To go into this corporate dog-eat-dog culture assuming its attributes are creative and literary just makes me shake my head because they’re going to eat you alive for brunch at Elaine’s.

    The FIRST thing they ask me before they’ll even entertain the notion of sales figures (literary merit is totally ephemeral much less discussed) is: have you been released by the people who own “your next work.” If the answer is no they will honest to god hang up on you. Why? because they will be sued.

    I apologize about going on and on. I should SHUT UP. Talking to writers about this stuff is talking to the wall. Publishers smile wryly and love the fact that writers cling to these dainty 19th Century notions of Louisa May Alcott but the pretty women have been replaced by hookers in business suits.

  6. THAT reminds me of a
    THAT reminds me of a story…yes…it was 1959, no, ’58, and everybody was worried about Sputnik. Well, the girls at the factory used to bake beans. Back then we called ’em Boston Steelers and Franks, that is, if they had franks in them. They also baked cupcakes and various other staples of the American diet that our parents had missed out on in the war and now we were making up for it with gusto, you might say! So Sadie…she was the head clerk in shipping, see…we called her Shippin’ Sadie because, like I say, she was the head of ’em all. Good old Shippin’ Sadie could throw a horse shoe at those company shindigs, I tell you what! Whooooo! Now, Sadie was a looker, and old Bob Brown and I were in the market, if you know what I mean. So Sputnik come along and threw a turnip into everybody’s gitalong hitch, brother, it weren’t funny at the time! Well…

  7. Yes, one person, one novel.
    Yes, one person, one novel. Excellent idea — now … who’s going to break the news to Dan Brown?

  8. Nasdijj — I don’t think you
    Nasdijj — I don’t think you should shut up, and I do appreciate you trying to explain your intensity about this. I think many of us here feel the same way you do — that’s why we go online to share our writing, isn’t it? Personally, if I were to dwell inside my rage at the publishing industry, well … I could spend a lot of time doing that. It’s my choice not to talk a lot about this (though I used to) but that doesn’t mean I don’t feel it. It’s sad to say, I think we’ve all made our separate peace with the basic corruption, and the great insuffiency, of the publishing industry.

    And, yeah, by the way, the New Yorker was independent until not too long ago, but they are now owned by Conde Nast. A couple of years ago they were forced to leave their famed cozy offices on 43rd Street for a gleaming skyscraper right on Times Square. I doubt that news will surprise you.

  9. Hey, Brooklyn,For all my
    Hey, Brooklyn,

    For all my rants and anger at publishing, let me at least try, here, to articulate (squeeze from rocks) some hopeful molecules. There is something going on here I feel in my bones. I can’t provide evidence to back it up. Call it a gut instinct.

    In the old days, the only real place to level the playing field, or to TRY, was in the unions. PEN was never a union; it was a conglomeration, but it began to become more and more elite, and soon it was tilting gravity as though it were in bed with the publishers. The real value in PEN isn’t that Rushdie leads the thing, but that PEN with its enormous weight recognizes talent that would otherwise flower, bloom, and disappear. They like young writers and they ATTEMPT (not hard enough) to bring them into the fold. The writers unions have always been focused on rights issues and things like health insurance. These are valuable to writers. But still. Yet upon the wind. There were voices chanting this is not enough.

    The FUNDAMENTAL question is STILL how do you break down those brick walls and they are CULTURAL. There’s no written in blood policy at Random House that books by black writers are rarely accepted. There is, however, an understanding among the marketing folks who make these decisions, that books by black writers (I cannot bring myself to say black books how can a book be black or gay or Hispanic or Native American, it’s ridiculous, they’re books) only sell a predetermined number of copies. THAT determination is a CULTURAL bias. The Big Bad Horrible Secret in marketing is that word of mouth is what sells books and they have yet to innovate or to learn how to tap into that. Oprah does it better than any of them or all of them combined. Marketing dances very close, indeed, to racism even if they deny it (we’re only giving them what they want is what they’ll say) and they will deny it and loudly.

    After all, New York is not the South. Right.

    Nevertheless, there’s something I smell in the air and it’s fear.

    For the first time in my life — and this only happens once in a lifetime and I am so glad to be here to see this — they’re afraid. They’re not afraid of the unions. They’re not afraid of the agents. They’re not afraid of PEN they are PEN.

    They’re AFRAID of two things: innovation, and technology.

    Let me tell you a little story.

    My “next work” had to be offered to Random House. We all agreed it would be called ISLANDS IN THE DREAM. Which was also slated to become a television special. In Islands in the Dream, Nasdijj would be visiting ALL the Indian Nations of North America. All 500 of them. And not only that it was to be a coffee table book with thousands of photographs by Nasdijj. I was once Photography International Foundation’s Executive Director and my photographs have been exhibited all over the planet. We were all two years into this project.

    Then an issue of a book cover came up with GERONIMO’s BONES.

    I did not know this. I was away in Alaska on the Athabaskan reservation trying not to be shot.

    I was sending my material back to Random House on the Internet. With technology these days there is little need to use 35mm unless you want to. I was going to but it’s messy with camping in some of the extremely remote locations. So I went digital.

    I had no idea (no one told me) that I was often sending them material that they’d lose.

    The reality (no one told me this either) was that the publisher was not set up with the sort of computers that could handle the traffic I was sending them. They were afraid to tell me this (I should have known they were cheap and I had more and better computer equipment than they did) until one day while I was sending them my daily gigabytes from Nome, their entire system crashed for the whole company. The reality is that they could not handle ISLANDS IN THE DREAM. Their technology was limited. They had bitten off more than they could chew.

    The technology actually mystified them.

    I dived into this. It interested me to know end.

    How could a publishing company with this many imprints have computer technology from the stone age.

    An editor pulled me aside.

    “Email,” it was explained to me “is for short business communications of no more than two sentences.”

    I laughed myself all the way down Broadway.

    Medicine uses email technology to perform long distance surgery on Indian reservations, to read X-rays, and MRI reports, and the technological innovation is extraordinary. All of it electronic. That my little equipment from radio shack in Nome Alaska could bring an entire company in New York straight into the electric darkness was hilarious but not to them.

    You froze us for a whole day was what was told to me.

    It was called the great crash of 2001.

    Finally, my family, bless them, got into the act and said to me: we don’t want our pictures in their ******* book.

    I was told the art director almost jumped from the top of the New York Stock Exchange.

    Random House will never work with me nor I with them. Islands in the Dream went into the trash can.

    I felt set up to fail. Their computers alone were the equivalent of K-Mart toasters. Why they told me to go ahead and do this book is anyone’s guess. They no longer speak to me (except for Robert Loomis who writes: are you trying to tell me something) although I write about them all the time.

    And I notice this: the competition is nipping at their heels and the people in publishing who are really wheeling and dealing are the people who have learned to become comfortable with the technology and they make it work for them and not the other way around.

    EVERY Native American person I know said to me: We told you so.

    Random House/Ballantine came out it looking like a bunch of jerks to Native Americans who never believed the book would happen anyway. The overall feeling was that this was not a company with any bent or the ability to focus on issues important to minorities anyway so why bother with them and don’t come back to us with another book because they’re white people get a clue Nasdijj.

    So I did. And in that process I do understand something of the panic the publishers and editors are beginning to feel.

    Writers actually speak to one another. This is NOT good.

    They don’t control it. And don’t for a moment think they aren’t studing it so that someday, they might.

    I think there’s HOPE in this.

    I think they read blogs in secret.

    I think they are APPALLED.

    I think they are so incompetent that they really have no concept as to how to contain it.

    They have held the power for so long. It is slipping from their grasp and they know it.

    The old gambit of (the threat): You’ll Never Have Lunch in Our Town Again is laughable. I roll around under my desk at least once a day in sheer hilarity as I watch them squirm.

    I never leave the house (you have to pay me extra) and I live in another country and yet I can reach a hundred people to annoy in Manhattan on any given day.

    Them walls be crumbling, Jesus. Them walls be crumbling, Jesus. They be crumbling down.

    As a predator in book publishing, I smell fear in the woods and snow.

    Here’s the downside. Writers are afraid to take them on. They are still getting away with murder (but they are having to look over their shoulders now and this IS new) and the RUNAWAY BRIDE will still be a hit.

    Still. I think them walls be crumbling one itty bitty brick at a time. Like Chinese water torture.

    The trick is that we have to do it now. We have to figure out where the power is and use it. We must not be duped back into the old system where a few writers made a lot of money and the rest of us were always pounding and screaming at the gates. We MUST attack them where it hurts and I KNOW where it hurts and that sacred place is called the TRUTH.

    We MUST begin to speak the truth as to who and what they are and what they represent. THIS is what scares their panties off. T
    hey are the old guard and it’s passing and they know it and they are for the first time in memory — afraid. The wolves are at the door, and we are not going to fade away.

    But we must not lose that precious thing that we have that is called the truth. For that is what we must speak to. For we have given it away for far too long. They are NOT the gods of Mt. Olympus — in fact, they have NO MORAL COMPASS AT ALL — although the altitude be lofty. The arrogance is real but their reality is an illusion. We are discovering the power of self and the power of voice and the reins are the leather straps of technology and you and I both know email is for more than two business sentences. I see hope in that. I see hope in empowerment in publishing just like I’ve seen entire Indian communities change themselves and transform themselves one person at a time into what is really a community.

    They are deathly afraid of what we can do. I have smelled the fear on the streets of New York and I have danced a jig on every steaming grate.

    My position is simple. I am not going away. I will write Islands in the Dream someday and it will be better than ever. I might scream and pound the walls that there is no hope in this but those are my temporary madnesses and I am allowed them. They are going to have to deal with me AND my work whether they like it or not. Whether they like me (and they don’t) or not. They can lie and escape through many holes in the walls like rats. But there is one thing they cannot escape from.

    The truth.

    We must use it.

  10. Should some people just shut
    Should some people just shut up?

    Succinctly: yes.

    Unfortunately, those people are usually the ones who think they need to keep talking and talking and talking.

  11. The web is like a giant beach
    The web is like a giant beach and we are all writng poems and stories in the sand,to be read by the stars and the ocean. Art isn’t eternal. Nothing lasts.

  12. That is your xiphoid process
    That is your xiphoid process . . .

    … not to be confused with the writing process.

    Should the publishing world be any different than any other media today? Indeed they are marketers and they are doing what they do best, selling product. I feel that, with few exceptions the major publishing houses offer a quagmire of poorly written pop culture that satisfies the basic need of people for entertainment or divergence. Every once in a while art will find a way to the top on it’s own, but more often it is supported by like-minded artists will band together to for alternative literature. Indeed the “web” is a vibrant conduit of such interaction. The more the merrier, don’t you agree? Long live the garage band, the basement artist, the closet poets and the skywriters. Let us embrace the street performers, the taggers, the poetry slams and the sand castle artists. Art is an expression of our human condition and we all have a story to tell. just like in “The Naked City”. And if the publishing world catches wind of it let them do, as they will, what they do best, CaChing!

    I don’t think I have a novel in me. It looks more like hives. A bunch of short stories just itching to be told.

    I will go away now.

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