Tuesday, June 27, 2006

What Am I, a Piece of Meat?

Here's what Amazon.com had to say about an author who shall remain anonymous.

About the Author
size : 5.3 x 8.3

Poor guy: I'm sure he's very personable, probably has a great sense of humor, probably loves his family and friends. I'll bet if we met him at a party we'd think, There goes a handsome fellow or What an interesting conversation we just had; I'm glad I met that guy. Such is my industry, however, that we are always thisclose to reducing authors to commodities. We know authors principally through their writings, not through direct encounter, and so it's easy to mock them, to demonize them, or perhaps worst, to treat them as a product.

I recently told some would-be writers, "You are more than your writing." I think that's why I like blogging; the writing itself is as much a statement as it is an invitation. We write, and we are written back. Some of us even show our faces. Over time, as an outgrowth of consistent encounter, we are known more fully, even as we more fully know.

6 comments:

Craver VII said...

I love you, Bro, but I couldn't disagree with you more, because I think it's the exact opposite. When talking about authors, they are considered by the sum of their writings. We must realize that they wear different hats, and a person who writes something good for me to read today may be a lousy parent or spouse-beater, while someone who is vilified for his writings may be an excellent neighbor.

As an editor, you deal with the real person, but to most of us, they mainly represent the published ideas which we may praise or condemn.

It is understood that when talking about an author, we generally do not know the whole person, therefore our perspective is a reaction to their writings.

David A. Zimmerman said...

Oh yeah? Well I totally disagree with you! How you like me now?

Many authors get contracts, point of fact, not based on what they've written but rather based on who they are. Someone who is a perfectly awful writer may well have thirty or more books listed under her name in the Library of Congress simply because she's managed to convince enough people to hang with her, bad book after bad book.

A more positive example, perhaps: Bill Hybels pastored thousands of people and birthed a new movement in church planting long before he published his first book, and several of his books have been outgrowths of sermon series that he's conducted at his church. His book on marriage is cowritten by (and chock full of stories involving) his wife, because what people are willing to hear from him about marriage is predicated on his experience as a husband. His credibility as an author comes from who he is.

Or another example: suppose you shared a cab with Rick Warren, author of the multiple-platinum selling Purpose-Driven Life. You would know virtually nothing about him from that book, no matter how familiar you found yourself acting around him. You may think he's fully contained in his books, but you'd be wrong, and he'd either tell you or write you off.

I recognize that it's an act of great audacity to presume that people might lay down good money to read your thoughts. Authors subject themselves to a certain amount of dehumanization in exchange for shelf-space. I guess I'm not saying that people don't perceive authors by way of their books; I'm saying that something of the true person is lost in translation.

I'm reminded of the scene in X-Men: The Last Stand where a morbidly obese person threatens to sit between two people, only to mutate into a thin person on the way down. Fat guy or skinny guy: will the real mutant please stand up?

Craver VII said...

Touche…not! (Don’t be alarmed, ladies and gentlemen. The contestants are friends and no one was harmed during the jousting, but do not attempt this at home.)

Z, I’m still not buying it. I know of a popular author who was a drunkard. (He’s not one of yours. In fact, he’s not even in Christian publishing.) And I personally know more than one author who are jerks in person, but when these people write in their respective areas, it’s brilliant and worth reading.

Wouldn’t projected sales be the biggest reason for signing authors who have a decent launching platform? What about fiction? Would the author’s background be focused on if it didn’t help sell the book?

Sales are important. If a book doesn’t sell, the ministry is limited, because the book isn’t being read.

On the other hand, someone may champion a cause that I find offensive. There are books that I will not buy, simply because I do not like the author. Am I suffering great loss for this? I don’t think so, because I can never catch up on all my reading as it is.

Bottom line: You are an author and an editor. I am the consumer, and you are the meat. I like meat, but I can’t buy everything at the store. The comments from Amazon.com or wherever will help me determine what I want to buy. I do not see anything wrong with that.

But I'm curious to hear from others on this. Authors, salespeople, book lovers in general...

Macon said...

*draws sabre*
*deep knee bends*
*flexes sabre*
*a few test "swishes"*
*checking tip for for sharpness*

You're both right, imho, in certain senses. *zip!* *poke!*

Dave is right: authors are more than the sum of their books. Whether Craver (or anyone) buys books based upon their whole person has no bearing on that matter. Whether a publishing house should take up would-be writers or not is a fairly complex question, I imagine, but it seems quite reasonable to me that Dave would forecast success of an author based upon themselves as people.

But Craver is right as well: For most folks, an idea is an idea is an idea. Many consumers view themselves as consumers and his analogy is apt. Consumers, as we're so defining, are only concerned with consumption. We want sausage! We don't care how it's made. And so we are quite comfortable in separating the finished product from the human & her labor required to create said product. This is the way the world rolls.

I do find, though, that the way the world rolls to be unsatisfying. At the very least, I'm buying less and less the notion that an idea can be separated from the originator/creator of the idea. Joe Thinker has an idea, X. It means something, though, if Joe Thinking lives his life in a Y way. "Y" will either amplify, adjust or invalidate X.

Before the ubiquity of information (thank you internet!), we wouldn't know about Y, but that doesn't mean that Y wasn't affecting X before. Just that we weren't aware of the effect it was having.

Thanks be to God, who not only tells us about his idea (I Love you!), but who also "lives" his idea in Jesus Christ, and in his very being has at his center, this Agape love.


on a related note:
Authors subject themselves to a certain amount of dehumanization in exchange for shelf-space.
A time is coming, and has now come, when this need not be the case. This whole intarweb thing enables authors to bypass the channel that is "shelf-space."

Shelf-Space. What a great 20th century word. :-)

David A. Zimmerman said...

Is "space shelf" better? Very Jetson-esque.

Macon said...

"Space Shelf" That's where we'll put the Hubble Telescope when we're all through with it and it's time to clean up.