I learned two things today:
1. Bristol Palin's memoir has a title and release date. Not Afraid of Life will be released by William Morrow this summer and is an intimate behind-the-scenes look at her life for the first time, from growing up in Alaska to coming of age amid the media and political frenzy surrounding her mother's political rise; from becoming a single mother while still a teenager to coping as her relationship with her baby's father crumbled publiclyâ€”not once, but twice.
There is also the prerequisite (for a Palin book) shout out to religion and plain spoken-ness that makes its way into the description and some embracing of victimhood about being attacked while on Dancing with the Stars.
2. Andrew Sullivan linked to an article about Amanda Hocking who self-publishes her novels (primarily in e-book form) and currently has sold over 900,000 copies. He headlined his link "the death of publishing" and is apparently suggesting that if you can do it yourself, like Hocking, then why care about the industry at all? I was intrigued so I followed the link to Hocking's website where I learned that she does have an agent now, has released some of her books in pb and charges between .99 for e-book up to $9.99 for paperback. And she credits her massive sales to book bloggers.
Oh - and did I mention that she released her first book last April? And then eight more followed?
Unlike Bristol Palin, Hocking has some sample chapters up at her site. I read a bit. It's paranormal romance which is pretty obvious from the very beginning of SWITCHED. The young female protagonist is a student who is able to control people with her mind and finds mysterious new fellow student Finn Holmes oddly compelling. We get all this in the first page. We also get some rather stilted dialogue and repetition. In other words this is not greatness. I have no idea why so many people are reading her books when there are some really fine paranormal romance writers out there (read The Iron Duke, people!!). It's not so much that .99 isn't much to pay for a pedestrian book - it's that who wants to spend their time reading a pedestrian book?
Er - now might be a good time to reflect again on the book deal I mentioned in item 1.
I'm baffled by all this. I'm baffled by a book deal given to someone that everyone on the planet knows is not writing her book and really has nothing interesting to say. And I'm baffled by hundreds of thousands of people buying books that the author herself notes are in need of editing. I understand why Bristol Palin and Amanda Hocking are doing this - it's because they can. Bristol is riding this money train as far and fast as she can because the options available to most high school graduates without any marketable skills are not all that great. And Hocking has pointed out that she has always wanted to be a writer and when she couldn't get an agent to take her on, she just went with the option that allowed her to get her books out there. And clearly she has fans.
But knowing the how and the why makes none of this any less baffling.
It's almost like publishers have become addicted to bringing celebrity books out to the masses (which means supplying those celebs with ghostwriters and doing all the marketing for them) while unknown writers who can't get publishers or agents are just releasing their stuff direct to the masses for cheap and everyone sees this as a victory over the industry model. Commenters at Hocking's blog make a point of telling her again and again that she doesn't need an agent or editor - she's doing just fine on her own and from a dollar perspective I agree with them. The girl is pulling in five figures a month.
And who knows how massive Bristol Palin's advance is but I think we can be sure it's six figures. Not nearly as high as her mother's but still, stratospheric compared to everyone else.
It is very hard for me to maintain perspective right now, to think about the slow build of a career, to embrace the notion of the mid-list with dreams of steady publication in the future, when I think about these two girls. (And they are girls - both are in their mid-twenties.) I don't know where I'm going with this post but I had to write it. I can't be the only one confused by this reality or disturbed by idea that all of it has somehow passed me by. I don't want to be rich and famous for writing something forgettable but it almost seems like those are quickly becoming the only options for writers, period.
Pardon me while I go embrace some Hemingway tonight. I think I need to be reminded of who a writer used to be.
PS. Saw the preliminary design on my book cover a few days ago. I was asked to weigh in with my thoughts and my suggestions were accepted. I didn't have much complaining though - the designer really hit it out of the park. It's wonderful.