The Study: Issue #9 - Updates from the Book World
The end of the midlist, Anne Lamott on perfectionism, an interview with Jayne Martin, NaNoWriMo and more...
Whither the Midlist?
Book publishing has long been a hits-driven business. The bestsellers, the logic went, paid for the flops. And it was the authors of those in the middle—the so-called midlist—that publishers hoped to build into the next crop of bestsellers. But midlist sales have faltered enough in recent years that there is a growing concern among publishers and agents about how the business can create new hits when the field they once turned to is, well, disappearing.
If you’ve paid attention to “book Twitter” in the last 48 hours, you’ve no doubt seen this article and numerous takes of varying degrees about it.
Here’s what it comes down to: utter nonsense. Publishers cry poor about dwindling ad budgets for midlist authors while simultaneously pushing the latest James Patterson novel on the back cover of the New Yorker for three months straight. James Patterson, who has entire bookcases devoted to his catalogue in Barnes & Noble and who is, in fact, one of the richest working authors around.
The same goes for Stephen King and George R.R. Martin and Lee Child and other big name authors who could sell millions of copies without the push from their publishers. They don’t need million dollar advances. They don’t need multi-million dollar ad budgets. Pour that money into the writers who need it, who are struggling to maintain a foothold in an industry growing increasingly hostile toward the people unable to break out when they were cut off at the knees in the first place.
And that doesn’t even get into the pop-political books from Trump administration rejects and armchair pundits looking to dumb the population down even further. They sell and they sell well. It’s no wonder that’s where a lot of the publishing money goes.
As a result, the midlist dwindles. Publishers take fewer risks. They don’t make hits, they just enable the ones who already are, and the industry turns into a homogenized McDonald’s of mediocrity.
Anne Lamott on Perfectionism
Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft.
I hope everyone’s first few days of NaNoWriMo are going well.
Tender Cuts by Jayne Martin
Yesterday marked the release of Jayne Martin’s new collection of short fiction titled Tender Cuts:
In these 38 tiny tales, everyday people do their best to manage the wounds life inflicts on all of us: A six-year-old beauty pageant contestant strives to please her demanding mother; a woman marries a 1985 Buick LeSabre; in a laundromat bored wives fall under the romantic spell of a lobster; a grown woman is still being fat-shamed by her deceased mother via a Ouija board; a widow carries her husband’s ashes around in Baggies.
“The Writer Must Think Like a Painter” — An Interview with Jayne Martin
In conjunction with the release of her collection, I present a short interview with Jayne Martin about Tender Cuts and her writing process:
1. Your collection, Tender Cuts, is comprised of 38 flash stories. What was the process of writing and compiling them like?
The stories were written over a period of about five years, many in workshops. I still do workshops frequently for the interaction with other writers. Some of the stories are from photo prompts (“When the Bough Breaks,” “Working Girl,” “4Ever”) and others had their genesis in a variety of ways. “Prom Night” came about when I was in a park where kids in their prom clothes were taking photos. As for compiling them into a collection, once I knew which stories I wanted to include for a cohesive theme, deciding their order of go was, as the saying goes, “like herding cats.” The four “Julie-Sue” stories form the structure of the book and eventually led to my decision to start with the voices of younger narrators and progress in age from there. But at one point of frustration the thought of just tossing them up in the air and letting them fall where they may crossed my mind.
2. What draws you to short fiction?
The challenge of laying in those sensory details that give the reader an immediate emotional experience and connection to the character. I’ve said this before: In microfiction, the writer must think like a painter. Exposition is the booby prize. I just love that about the genre.
3. How did you get started writing movies for Lifetime?
I spent a lot of years typing other people’s scripts for a living as I was writing my own and trying to get an agent. In doing so, I read hundreds of scripts and came to learn what worked and what didn’t. I also took screenwriting classes at UCLA and from various others, so by the time I got my first break I was ready. The Lifetime movies actually originated at NBC as a series of films based on true stories called Moment of Truth. I got hired to write one of the first ones, which was A Child Too Many. After that, the same producer hired me to write several more and then I went on to write for other networks. My favorite film was written for Animal Planet and is called Big Spender, based on the true story of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation’s prison farm program for neglected racehorses and the prisoners who tend to them. It’s still available for purchase on Amazon.
4. What’s the most common thing people get wrong when they write a short story?
The most common thing people get wrong in any genre is starting with a bunch of exposition. Yawn. I’m bored already. Just jump into the damn story. You can weave in whatever exposition you think it needs later. Another is telling the reader how a character feels. Showing a character throwing a plate against a wall is a lot more effective than telling us he’s angry. You coax empathy from a reader by enticing them to enter the story so you need to create room for them to do that and find their own way. You do that by imagery and use of sensory details.
5. What’s your perfect meal?
Crispy beef tacos served with a Margarita, blended with salt.
Jayne Martin lives in Santa Barbara, California, where she rides horses and drinks copious amounts of fine wines, though not at the same time. She is a Pushcart, Best Small Fictions, and Best Microfictions nominee, and a recipient of Vestal Review’s VERA award. Her debut collection of microfiction, Tender Cuts, from Vine Leaves Press, is available now. Visit her website at: www.jaynemartin-writer.com
NaNoWriMo Tools of the Trade
The Hunt for Shakespeare’s Library
Stuart Kells, author of the forthcoming Shakespeare’s Library, would like to be clear: he has not uncovered the Bard’s book collection, despite what the title might suggest.
“But I have confirmed its existence, clarified its scale and scope, and documented what happened to it,” says the author, who has spent 20 years on the trail of Shakespeare’s personal library, and lays out his search in his new book. “It would be a very different book if I had gone out and discovered his library. No one has done that. It isn’t in one spot. To the extent that it exists, it’s spread out. You need to approach Shakespeare in order to understand what it might have been like.”
I love a good treasure hunt.
Personal NaNoWriMo Updates
We’re five days into NaNoWriMo and I’m *squints* 4,000 words behind. I attended a write-in held by my local NaNo chapter from midnight to 2:00 am this weekend and it was a huge boost to my productivity. In those two hours, I managed to write 1,300 words.
If a local NaNo writing group is holding an event and you’re able to attend, I highly recommend it. Being surrounded by other writers can be incredibly motivating, especially when the act of writing can be so isolating and during a rough holiday period no less.
Time to play catch-up so I don’t fall too far behind!
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About the Author
Harry Marks is the host of the literary podcast COVERED where he interviews authors about their books and the writing process. He is also the editor of the award-winning Plumbago Magazine and a writer for Aaron Mahnke’s Cabinet of Curiosities