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Thursday, 20 November 2014


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Right now, I think we need writers who know the difference between being a successful writer and being a frustrated waiter who writes stuff that almost no one will read.

Publishing books is a business and businesses need customers.

Bet he doesn't like stock photography either

That's why I love being an amateur photographer. There's no need to cater to any audience, save my friends, family, and mostly, myself.

I've read a lot (hundreds) of childrens books to my daughter over the last 12 years. It's very clear to see the difference between the rare, genuine labor of love, and the market-driven (or worse, marketing-driven) stuff, especially the never-ending series that read like they're written by committee.

I've been a lifelong fantasy & scifi fan (though I read an awful lot more of it as a teenager than now), but have never read Ursula LeGuin; I'll have to try something.

Well, Speed, success can actually be described in more than monetary terms. If books are only out there to serve businesses and their customers, we can scrap most of literature, both from history and in the future, and just employ robots and editors. And humanity will be much poorer.

"No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money."

Samuel Johnson

Speed. publishing may be a business but good writing is an art. Don't confuse production with marketing.

Absolutely! It goes for all the arts,including painting, photography and music. I get fed up of the commercial pap that is hailed as "ART" that is only a means to a profit. Thank heavens for real artists and musicians, pro and amateur who do it because they are driven to create and communicate.

I'm a bit surprised that she managed to avoid "sell-out". That's the usual mantra of less popular artists railing against the perceived sins of the more popular.

Barriers to entry into professional writing (and nearly every other art form) are so much lower now than they were even 10 years ago that it is shocking. But if you want to be paid, you need to find an audience.

If you want some sort of notional "purity of artistic vision", great; maybe you'll get lucky and find people who want to pay for that. But if you don't, then railing at those who do find an audience is ... boorish.

I should perhaps note that I say this as someone who has enjoyed some of her work, but who has also seen her spending more effort on culture wars than on her art, to the detriment of the latter.

Frankly, right now I think we're most in need of a items and readers with attention spans longer than 140 characters.

Frankly, right now I think we're most in need of writers and readers with attention spans broader and deeper than 140 characters.

[That comment was 129 characters. On the good side, I did pay attention the whole way. --Mike]

Publishing books may be a business, but writing them is not.

"We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings." Ursula K. Le Guin

@speed, bollocks!
What constitutes successful? Apparently any old pile of rubbish as long as it sells.

As much as I love Ms. Le Guin, the problem isn't with writers, per se. We need readers asking for & demanding non-cookie cutter books & series. The book business is similar to the movie business in this way: sequels and projects that look like or are in the spirit of past successes are duplicated ad nauseum.

Yes, she's right. Nowadays literature became an industry and publishers must sell, so they keep writers who will mass-produce best sellers under contract.
Which robs literature of all its interest. The themes are calculated in order to attract the crowds and, for the same purpose, the stories are rather formulaic and designed to bring up shallow emotions. We all know their names: Nicholas Sparks, Sveva Casati Modignani, Ken Fowlett (though he occasionally has some interesting things to say), Danielle Steel, et al.
However, if we look closely at the old classics, we might find the themes are common to this merchandised literature: forbidden or impossible love affairs were always the most prolific source of literature - even before Gustave Flaubert or D. H. Lawrence. It goes all the way back to Shakespeare and earlier. What changed is the massive use of studied formulae that today's successful writers employ - and, of course, marketing. There are writers out there who are superstars and their books will sell because they are... well, theirs.
More to Ursula K's point, the literary content of the massified novels that sell by the millions these days is very poor. Style is (again) formulaic and too matter-of-fact. These best sellers are designed to provide an easy reading even if they have 500 pages. 'Art' does hardly apply here. Those who took literature as an art are all now dead. (Or at least not moving much...)
What a difference between these highly cliché'd novels and something like Thomas Mann's 'Magic Mountain'! After reading the former you may end up soaked in tears, but you'll forget the book after a few hours; with the likes of Thomas Mann you have to interpret the symbology of each character and the underlying meaning of every sentence. Reading 800-ish pages of such books is not easy and may take you longer than you'd want it to; in the end, though, you'll have learned something and eventually taken some lessons. This book will stay with you, be a reference that will accompany you for the rest of your days. You'll want to quote it all the time and talk your friends into reading it. I don't think the same can be said about Mr Sparks.
(I could make an analogy with photography, but that would take a lot of space and be too controversial. I'd better stop.)

[That comment was 129 characters. On the good side, I did pay attention the whole way. --Mike]

HA! Love it, Mike!!

I think Miz Le Guin is a silly person. I've read several of her books, and the underlying, inescapable implication in most of them is that we really need an elite to guide us masses to correct thinking. Of course, in her books, there is usually already an elite doing that -- it's just not her elite. In this view, the mass of humanity is simply a tennis ball to be whacked back and forth between competing elites, some good, some bad. My personal feeling is that the masses are actually the moving force in history, and the elites are the ones simply running out front taking the credit...And frankly, in her own way, I think Danielle Steele has more to say about society than Ursula K. Le Guin ever did.

Quite the diverse opinions here! I count LeGuin equal or slightly above Tolkien as most-influential writers in my life, and I've enjoyed her ability to cut the crap and say what she feels. In many cases the insights she shares in her Forewards are as powerful as the story that follows. Keep up the fine work Ursula.

Writing has always been 'commercial', ever since publishing-for-profit appeared in England in the late 17th century. However, It is not true that something written for publisher's profit is inescapably bad; for example, much of Charles Dickens' work was written to order as serial instalments in magazines. I accept that Sturgeon's law applies, but that leaves the 10%. A good writer can produce work that the market wants and which is still artistically valid.

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