Thursday, August 10, 2006

Project Publication

If you ever want to give a teenage European girl a gift, record season two or whatever you can get of season three of Bravo's television reality show Project Runway on DVD and smuggle it into her country. She will scream, weep, call you Goddess and then lock herself in her room with her best friends to watch it for two or three days.

So my European teenager's father wouldn't throttle me, I sat down and watched two episodes of the show. The premise is the usual reality TV schtick: assemble a group, offer a fabulous prize, throw them in an impossibly stressful situation, see how well they perform, and insult and eliminate them one by one until you whittle down to the final survivor.

You may think, eh, fashion, how hard could it be? But it's brutal stuff on a number of levels. As a pretty decent seamstress myself, I got caught up in the challenges and the constructions -- do you know how incredibly good you have to be to design, choose material for, piece, sew, fit and alter a high fashion garment in two days on a hundred dollar budget? -- but the contestant infighting got annoying and the elimination process broke my heart. The thrill of seeing someone fail and get kicked off is the big draw of these shows, but oy. I couldn't take it after the second episode. I'm now also convinced that PR judge Nina Garcia is the secret inspiration for the boss from hell in The Devil Wears Prada.

Watching Project Runway made me think about a reality novelists show (not the fake Book Millionaire thing, but the real deal.) When you pursue getting your work into print, it's like auditioning for Project Publication. Editors and publishers are the judges, and you're competing against a nation of other writers who range from God Awful Knockoff Artists to Future Pulitzer Prize Winners. Signing that first contract is being accepted into a very large group of first-round contestants.

As with the designers on Project Runway, a lot of writers get into the game for that fabulous prize, only to choke, change their minds, squander their materials and time or otherwise fail to deliver. To be fair, the stress, raw nerves and intimidation factors in publishing can be just as brutal as marching a model in a magenta leather/chiffon evening gown out on a runway in front of Mean Nina. Writers who go with safe instead of innovative, cautious instead of daring, or try to suck up to the judges by coping attitude or cloning other, more successful writers generally don't last more than one or two rounds. Experience and longevity don't protect you either. Every time you put a book on the market, you're back to square one.

In publishing, like high fashion, everything has been done. And everything can be done again, updated, given a fresh look, taken to a whole new level or turned inside out. The possibilities are endless. Whatever reality show you audition for, what matters is what you produce. It's got to impress judges who make it their business and really have seen it all. The only thing they haven't seen is what you can do with it. Make every walk in front of them count.


  1. You’re so right! My mother got me hooked on Project Runway while here on vacation, but until now I didn’t make the analogy. I’ll be watching the show with a whole new appreciation now.

  2. Anonymous2:13 PM

    What a great post! I never thought of it that way, but you're so right.

  3. Great analogy. You also happened to use a show I'm hooked on.

    I recently pitched an idea to my agent. His response: it sounds too much like everything else out there.

    And you know what? He was right. You don't want to be like everyone else. You want to be you.

    But you also don't want to be so much you that you shoot too far past the mark and become SO unique that nobody can relate to you.

    So it's a matter of balance. Be fresh, but also rely on the tried and true.

  4. Anonymous5:58 PM

    I agree with the above commentors, great analogy! You gave great advice when you said: "Writers who go with safe instead of innovative, cautious instead of daring, or try to suck up to the judges...generally don't last more than one or two rounds."

    I've never watched Project Runway myself, but the reasons you gave for being unable to watch the whole things are similar to mine. It grates on my nerves to watch petty jealousy, bickering, and backstabbing among contestants. My friend got me into So You Think You Can Dance last summer and it has become my favourite reality show. The dances are always interesting, no pettiness, and I actually like all the contestants, the host and the judges. ^_~

    And I just wanted to make a quick comment on what you said about loving to be a book seller in your last post. I now have a author fantasy involving me meeting you in a bookstore and getting author recommendations. Lol! ;) A funny coincidence this weekend: I was in a really neat two-storied second-hand bookstore and couldn't find anything that caught my eye in the romance section, so I wandered upstairs and found a big display of C. J. Cherryh's books. I asked the woman working up there if she'd read Cherrhy's books because a favourite author of mine--you--had been compared to her. I told her I was looking to expand my horrizons and wanted to venture into sci-fi and fantasy with romance in it.

    The woman ended up picking out one of her favourite series by Cherryh for me and then steering me toward a section including Ursula K. Le Guin and Holly Lisle's books. I had originally told her that I was looking for science fiction with romance, but the woman later shook her head saying, "You know, a lot of these books can't be described as either science fiction or fantasy, they should just start calling them speculative fiction, because that's what they are."

    Anyway, I found that interesting, especially since you were talking about transcending genre borders a while back. ^_^

  5. My best friend made it into the preliminary round of Project Runway, but didn't make the finals. She was so bummed out.


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