Out-of-the-box ideas to promote literature

Some unconventional thinking about books and authors:

Amazon could easily put a little check box asking whether readers purchasing second hand books wish to pay the author a royalty, which in most cases amount to small change, but make a difference in that the actual number of people who buy the book are tabulated to the publisher.

In Germany, every out-of-print book pays a “Goethe penny” tax to a fund that supports low-cost health care for working published writers. And books cannot be discounted beyond a certain point. And most towns have a writer-in-residence apartment.

I love this idea; why not have a tipjar attached to the Amazon book link? The apartment idea is good (although the lease would have to be least a year to make any financial sense for the writer). As good as I find these ideas, if they were available to me, I doubt I’d have the time to apply for them. People think it’s so easy to apply for fellowships/awards. It’s not; it’s  tough and time-consuming. What would you rather spend your time on: writing fiction or filling out grant applications? I once spent 3 days on a grant application for $6000 that I ended up not getting. Relatively speaking, a grant for  $6000  shouldn’t even be  worth my time.  Sure, one can justify it by saying $6000 for 3 days of work filling out an application. It’s actually more complicated than that. It’s 3 days of work for something you have only (I’m guessing) a 5% chance of winning. (That’s to say nothing of the post-grant paperwork you would need to fill out). The competition for literary grants is extremely tough, and the application forms are needlessly gargantuan.

By the way, even if I were interested in grant applications, I am disqualified from most  because I choose Creative Commons publishing instead of book publishing, and most awards specifically exclude you from putting down self-publication credits under the publications section. In the grant I mentioned applying for a few years ago,  judges were required to give some feedback, and their feedback was eye-opening.  2 wrongly guessed that  because I had not yet published a book I was just out of college. Leaving aside the fact that my blog has 2500 posts and I have a fiction site that has reached  100,000+ unique visitors per  year since 2005, I made a conscious decision to avoid book publishing; it’s too slow and conservative in what it chooses. Even if I wanted to publish the conventional route, it’s unlikely that a publisher would be interested in a creative commons project anyway.

Really, all arts grant application should contain only two questions:

  1. What is your name?
  2. Are you a literary genius? (Answer yes or no).

Even the second part is unnecessary; you wouldn’t be a writer/author unless you felt you were a genius at entertaining/enlightening. That’s what I like about the MacArthur Awards. At least you don’t have to fill in a grant application.  A friend of mine received a $3000 grant after he was nominated by someone for the award. It’s true he had to submit a one page application and a writing sample, but compared to other grants and fellowships, that’s like a walk in a park.

Matt Stewart on having an NFL-like literary  draft:

Most NFL enthusiasts know that the draft is a notorious statistical nightmare–half of overpaid early picks go bust, while late-round sleeper stars like Tom Brady are commonplace. So screw tiered payment.

Instead, take that $41.7 million–just Matthew Stafford’s salary, not the whole NFL draft’s–and put it toward recruiting aspiring novelists. Personally, I’d settle for $100,000 annually, for which I will absolutely produce a brand-new novel each year. Pay me points if any sales go over a million bucks; otherwise, I settle for the hundred large. Invest in 417 writers like me (equal to one Matthew Stafford) and put the books on the market. Give us three years to get better, under rigorous coaching, literary training camp, and writing weight-lifting. Invest in us. If we don’t produce, cut us loose.

The LitDraft is more than a mere recruitment tool–it’s a national media event focused on reading! Put the LitDraft on TV (CSPAN, PBS, whatever); give us face time with reclusive literary celebrities; provide running commentary and red carpet interviews; and package nifty segments on writers’ fascinating stories. It’d get casual fans fired up about new voices–hell, it’d get them thinking about reading for a few minutes period. Along the way, the LitDraft creates instant local celebrities, and a brief descent from the New York juggernaut might even make the book world feel slightly accessible to readers. (Did JK Rowling really wear that?)

I met Matt at this year’s SXSW. We even did a panel together about the Novel in 2050.

I think artist types don’t really go for these games/competitions because the criteria can be so nebulous/subjective. MSM media put out lots of Kingmaker issues (Time magazine does a lot of these "Most Important People under 40" or malarkey like that). All these series do  is pay homage to the size of  Big Media’s megaphone.

I hate to say it, but we need more Oprahs even though only Big Media is capable of paying an Oprah-like salary.  There are smaller podcasting Oprah’s (Try Escapepod, This American Life, the  Writing Show with Paula B, KCRW Bookworm with Michael Silverblatt). A number of literary blogs have risen above the rest in prominence to have some influence on the reading public. I could name a half dozen blogs here, but really any ones I select for mention are no more interesting than a hundred others).

There is no doubt though that one can look at draft pick salaries and say there are much more productive ways to spend that money. Here’s a factoid for you: 78% of NFL players go bankrupt within two years of retirement.

One of the problems here is that in this day it’s  hard to turn writers into celebrities (especially when you already have celebrities in fashion, cooking, politics, blogging, geekiness, dating, ecology, etc). Not to mention celebrities on youtube, podcasting, Reality TV, entrepreneurship and  general affluence.

Here are some ideas for helping writers which I think might actually work:

  1. Magazines that pick an author of the week (with interview + book excerpt), plus free advertising for the writer on their site for a period of time afterwards.
  2. Using donations as a gauge for estimating reader enthusiasm (similar to the Jamendo donation page)
  3. Membership fees for literary sites which go towards awards which are doled out by the site’s editors. (This might include feedback from readers, but if left to the editors, it’s less likely to be gamed).
  4. A distribution channel for high quality literary fiction. Websites gain the right to republish high quality poetry & prose on their website if they agree to some conditions (like leaving links to the Author’s site, etc). No money would change ads, but medium and big sites would have unlimited access to certain content.
  5. A literary ad-swapping network. Authors pay a modest fee for the right to be listed in an ad which is distributed across a blog network. (The trick is: how to attract websites willing to participate?)

It’s interesting where my ideas are headed: advertising as endorsements. Hmmm…







Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.