Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Back Climbers

A deadline kept me from commenting on the recent kerfluffle of lit-chick writers messing with the chick-lit writers (say it real fast six times without stuttering and I'll give you a cookie.) If you want the details, Monica Jackson presided over it with an excellent post, links and comments here.

As marketing strategies go, this one was not very imaginative. The lit-chick who started the whole thing claimed that chick-lit writers own too much of the market and are ruining things for "America's Best Women Writers" (this would be her and modest her lit-chick pals.) That evolved into a title and marketing angle for her anthology. As industry suck-ups go, you can't do better for critics than to slam a genre they almost universally condemn. It's also a terrific way to get some free if negative advertising via the reactions of every chick-lit writer with a backbone. Which is pretty much, hello, All Of Them.

Climbing up and standing on the backs of better performers has always been a time-honored marketing device. Politicians have been doing it for so long they don't remember what it's like to stand on the ground. In publishing, Dan Brown's been used like a footstool by so many other writers that all of his jackets should have shoeprints on them. On the internet, negativity spreads like flesh-eating bacteria, so slamming someone else to promote your stuff is especially good for online buzz.

Take the chick-lit out of this particular equation, however, and even with Huffy Post backing I seriously doubt this work of great lit-chick genius would have sold two thousand copies. Why? Literary fiction rarely sells these days; ask any NBA nominee. Also, there's not an established Name author among the anthology's contributors.

With anthos, you need a Name author to draw readers. Thing is, unlike genre Names, lit-chick Names seldom jump in on anthos. Had Anita Diamant been the headliner, the book would have been an instant bestseller, but there are no Diamants or Proulxes in this one. Best American writer anthos are also a dime a dozen. God Almighty, everyone is the best, aren't they? The Dead Best, the NYT Best, the NBA Best, the year's Best, the Bestest Best, the Best above the rest of the Best and, least we forget, the New Best. Publish a Worst American Writers antho; now that might actually make some money.

Without a Name, all the besty best lit-chick writers in the world couldn't grab an eyelash flick of attention, hence the chick-lit slam. Now they've tapped into that whole publishing conspiracy to destroy civilization as we know it literary paranoia: Omigod! America's BEST women writers are being overshadowed by LOUSY CHICK-LIT HACKS! Hurry! Buy this book and SAVE THEM!

Bad, bad chick-lit writers. No cookies for you.

Personally I'm very offended for being left out. See, I think it's the vamp writers who are stealing the lit-chick writers' sales. You know how much we've flooded the market lately. We're into all that dark and evil stuff. Or could be the Christian writers -- we have just as many tables as the vamp writers, and we're into all that goodness and light stuff. We might even be in on it together. Who would ever suspect us joining forces, eh? I'd make the perfect ringleader; I write both. I know I've always wanted to conspire with Jan Karon and Doug Clegg to overthrow our literary betters. Or just have lunch somewhere nice with them.

There was a point to this post . . . oh, yeah. Should you use back-climbing as a marketing device? Undignified and mean-spirited as it is, I can't deny that it's effective. Negative PR absolutely attracts more attention than positive PR. If you think nothing of standing on top of someone else's accomplishments to trumpet accolades about your own, then this strategy is right up your alley.

What do you guys think?


  1. I believe in karma. Nuf said. :)

  2. Like Nalini says, "It's bad karma."

  3. Writers fighting. That's hilarious.

    The whole lit-chick-is-superior argument is laughable. Any genre has its share of shit and its share of gold.

    To fued over it is ridiculous.

  4. The Karma Fairy is going to kick some chick-lit butt, I'm sure.

    This reminds me of an AFL game - Simon knows what I mean - where a player uses the back and/or shoulders of another to mark the ball. Crowd goes wild at the spectacular mark, the climbed upon bloke curses at being used so.

    The marker will, at some stage become the markee - get climbed all over. What comes around, goes around.

    Writers should be supporting each other works, but chick-lit? It's just askin' fer a cat fight.

  5. Anonymous1:38 AM

    Good God, don't they have anything better to do? Like... oh... write, maybe?


    I'm beginning to believe there isn't any "good" literary writing. It just exists for other superior literary people... and then sits on shelves.

    If I'm going to read something (and I read 3-10 books a week) there'd better be something in it for me. Either useful information, or enjoyment. Lit tends to lack either, so why bother? (The exception being old lit, and most of those authors would probably find it hysterical that they're now considered "literary".

  6. I don't care. I caught myself re-reading If Angels Burn on my couch tonight and promptly forgot about all squabbles! ;)

  7. Jaye - Love the AFL analogy, but the flying players usually manage to stick their knees right into the back of the other guy's head. Us writers wouldn't be so cruel, right?

  8. Anonymous7:05 AM

    "I know I've always wanted to conspire with Jan Karon and Doug Clegg to overthrow our literary betters. Or just have lunch somewhere nice with them."

    Let's do it! Lunch, I mean.

    The overthrow can happen afterward, depending on how good lunch is.

  9. What I want to know is how they have time for this. They get 26.2 hours in a day?

    Chick lit writers should get all the cookies they want if lit chick writers get more time.

  10. As long as people are reading, I really don't see what the problem is. How did this argument turn into a race issue? {more coffee might enlighten me} I read the link, and found it all very silly.

    ~shrug~ Other people's kids.

    I hope that I never become that petty, even in desperation.

  11. Anonymous8:57 AM

    I seriously hope that I would never reach the point where smashing people under my feet became more important than standing on my own. I mean, do these people have no integrity? No self-worth?

    Whining never got me anything as a child, and I really don't expect it to get me anywhere now that I'm an adult.

  12. I'm voting for Karma too

    *shaking head*

  13. I write both.

    You could ignore yourself at RWA meetings if you still went there.

  14. Anonymous11:59 AM

    I'm with others on the karma idea, although it's a private comeuppance that won't necessarily satisfy... Negative PR grabs headlines, sure - and it's memorable among fan-bases too. I think that positive PR, done right, can rival this - and these days, a positive PR story about, say, writers supporting each others' works by publishing an anthology of short stories with fellow writers' crits of the works immediately after each one - wow. That would be a stand-out news story since among so much negative, positive would, well, stand out. And I'm imagining the crits would encourage reviewers to have a public discussion of where the quality writing has gone etc etc. Isn't the point to get people to read more books? To keep being interested in reading? But I'm just a reader. Could this really happen in real writing life? I don't know.

  15. Does back-climbing work? Maybe. Probably. It probably works both ways, too, with people reading the stuff that was climbed upon just because the name was thrown out there. Or for the same reason they slow down to watch a car-wreck. (Not that I'm saying that the climbed-upons are car wrecks, just that they're being called them.)

    Regardless. I can't picture myself ever doing it. I don't want to be published so that I can be the next best thing. I don't want people to read my work because I have made a Name for myself. I want people to read my stuff because it's good. (I'd prefer damn good, but as I'm not published yet, I won't be picky.)

  16. lit fiction bores that hell out of me.

    and I can't say that about many genres.

    but lit fiction bores me. westerns bore me...unless it's by one of a very very authors. non fiction bores~usually. a few funny ones made me laugh. but lit fiction? ugh.... it bores me.

    this gang-up-on-other-writers-because-they-don't-write-just-like-me crap is so tired and old. I don't care if it IS an effective way of getting people to at least know you exist. The erotic vs non-erotic romance wars have really turned me off any of the 'bashing' type promo.

    So nope... not interested in it. I'd rather stand on my own merit than somebody else's back.

  17. Bashing others comes across to me as if they have nothing positive to say about their own work. Kind of like political ads (well, Bob, you've got those Mafia connections and your kid is a dope fiend, so you better attack your opponent's stance on abortion to keep the focus off).

    Certainly doesn't make me wanna buy the book.

  18. Anonymous4:09 PM

    Love the post and more, the comments. Great reading, I never fell asleep once.

  19. Karma, that's all I gotta say about the whole thing... Karma

  20. The Bestest Best. Where can I get that one? :-)

    I hate the whole hack-vs-"real writer" debate. All writing has worth; it all comes from a living, breathing human being who wants to tell a story.

    Also, I'm a hack (not a chick-lit hack, though. I'm more a garden variety hack).


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