Thursday, October 13, 2005

Sandy Tooley Part Deux

Lots of animosity out there in cyberspace toward the self-published, which I don't exactly understand.

If you personally feel that those who self-publish are deluded, wasting their time, and are only in print because they have no talent to get a regular publisher contract, you're entitled to your opinion. But to insult them under the guise of being 'helpful' isn't helpful at all. It's hurtful, and doesn't serve any purpose.

Sandy Tooley is a success. Her books are selling. She has many loyal fans. If you decide to self-publish, she's an example of how to do it the right way. Full Moon Publishing has been around for a while, and is in no danger of fading away.

Sandy emailed me yesterday with these comments:

"I grilled my mother before her death and she assured me I am legitimate. No milkman involved.

Anonymous explained exactly why I submitted review copies and cover letters under a fictitious name: I wanted my books reviewed based on their merit, not PRE-judged as something self-published and unworthy of a read. My books have won numerous awards as well as a short story being a finalist for the Derringer Award.

As to memoirs, they are very hard to sell, as told to me by a number of publishers when I tried to find a home for the memoirs of a 78 yr old woman. Of course, if it is the memoirs of Paris Hilton's dog, it's a very easy sell. The six major conglomerates who control what gets published don't always base their selections on talent.

There was a time when a writer had to be published in hard cover to warrant credibility. Then times changed and they decided mass market paperbacks weren't so bad. Self-publishers were always there to kick around but now we have POD-published writers as the new can on the block to kick down the street.

I have been in the publishing business now for seven years. The only thing that hasn't changed is the stigma. As I mentioned in my interview in this month's issue of Crimespree Magazine, if this were any other business--filmmaker, home builder, software creater, recording artist--where the person chooses to learn the business and do everything on his own, he would be heralded as an innovative, self-motivated, free-thinking individual.

The other important point I have learned is the amount of money to be made when you own all your rights and control all facets of the business. I always tell other writers to first try to find an agent or publisher because doing it yourself isn't for the ill-prepared or faint at heart."

If you don't read Crimespree, and you're in the mystery business, pick up a subscription. It's a great mag.

I also happen to agree with Sandy's points.

Art is a popularity contest. The greatest artists are the ones that sell the most. Many artists were failures in their lifetimes, Van Gogh and Mozart come to mind. But their popularity caught on, and they became revered.

However, their work was just as good during their lives--it hasn't changed.

What makes an artist legitimate? Since art is subjective, there's only one true measure of an artist's success... the number of people who buy the art.

Sandy has over 20,000 books in print. In my eyes, that's a success.

66 comments:

Stacey Cochran said...

Joe,

This was such a passionate post, I felt the need to comment!:) (Plus, I'm bored).

I self-published two books last year via Lulu.com I did it because I had written 7-8 novels, had queried more than 200 literary agents (unsuccessfully) and nearly 100 publishers small and large and completely obscure. I also did it because I wanted to learn.

I was starting from scratch. I had edited a scholarly journal in grad school, so had some basic knowledge of formatting a book. Through Lulu, I've learned how important distribution is. I've learned how important advance reviews are. I've learned how to get a book at Amazon, B&N. I've learned about Ingrams and Baker & Taylor. I've learned how important building a readership is. I've learned how to work with a cover artist and how to value his/her genius and contribution to how a book is marketed and perceived by readers.

I've learned how to put together a press kit. I've learned how to pitch a show to a radio station, how to contact libraries to buy your book, how to contact news editors at newspapers for interviews and articles. I've begun to figure out the national distribution of B&N chain stores, how B&N's management works, how independent bookstores work. I've used my self-published books to get on panels at conventions, do author signings, network and meet great people like yourself:)...

All of this, though, I did to learn. My thought was if I learn all of this stuff, it's going to put me in a much better position when a major publisher does want to publish one of my other books. And I was able to learn all of this basic marketing and sales stuff with very little (or no) pressure.

For me, it's a completely positive thing.

People who want to look down on it, are just ignorant or bitter (and need to eat more green vegetables).

Stacey
www.staceycochran.com

Steve Hockensmith said...

I'm going to sidestep the whole self-publishing thing and just reply to this, which I consider jaw-dropping in the extreme:

"Art is a popularity contest. The greatest artists are the ones that sell the most."

So your favorite mystery author is Mary Higgins Clark? The best album anyone could buy of all the CDs currently on the market is "All the Right Reasons" by Nickelback -- because it's at the top of the Billboard chart? You pick out what TV shows you're going to watch by consulting the Nielsen ratings? The 1996 Coen brothers film Fargo and the 1996 Pauly Shore film Bio-Dome are equally good because they grossed an equal amount of money?

Thanks, man -- I've seen the light. I'm throwing out all my old Talking Heads and Ben Folds CDs and replacing them with Madonna and Britney Spears. And screw Ken Bruen. From now on, it's James Patterson and nothing else for me!

-Steve Hockensmith

Steve Hockensmith said...

Hmmm. Went a little heavy on the snark there. Sorry. I was still on my first cup of coffee.

Better to simply say I don't agree with your equation:

Sales = "Greatness"

In fact, doesn't that equation undermine the point you were trying to make about self-published/small press writers? You wouldn't want to say that Sandy has 1/10,000th John Grisham's talent simply because she has 1/10,000th his readership, right?

-Sufficiently Caffeinated Steve

JA Konrath said...

"Art is a popularity contest. The greatest artists are the ones that sell the most."

Whenever I say this, I piss people off.

What dictates greatness? There's no objective scale that says Chandler is better than Christie. It's all personal taste.

But in order for you to have a chance to form an opinion, you have to be able to read the book.

That comes down to distribution. And products are distributed in accordance to how much money they make.

So who decides who our greatest artists are? They are the ones recognized by the largest number of people as great.

It's a popularity contest, plain and simple.

In my opinion, Ken Bruen is a great writer, no matter how many books he has in print. But for him to go down in history as a great writer, he needs to have a loyal, and large, fanbase, who continue to read him and buy his books.

Why is that hard to accept?

Ask the average person who their favorite writer is. You'll get a lot of Steve King, JK Rowling, Dan Brown. Numbers talk. Personal opinion doesn't mean anything, unless a certain number of people have the same opinion.

As I said earlier--talent isn't necessarily a factor of success. Talent is subjective anyway.

Greatness as determined by the masses is different than greatness as determined by personal opinion.

I think Tom Waits blows away Nickelback, even though he's 1/10,000 as popular. The world doesn't agree with me.

If you try to take out subjectivity, all that's left is the cold hard fact of numbers. Just as many people enjoyed Bio-Dome as Fargo, whether you like that or not.

Steve Hockensmith said...

Yes, all notions of "greatness" in art are subjective. But when you say that popularity confers greatness, you're positing that there *is* an objective measure of quality in art. Profitable = good. I think people get pissed because you seem to be saying that we should all bow down before the altar of popularity, give up our personal opinions and merely accept that the only way to judge art is to assess how much money it's making.

-Steve

Russel said...

I know of one person who enjoyed Bio Dome. Everyone I know enjoyed Fargo a hell of a lot more. Only sadists would dare watch a film with Paly Shore.

As to self publishing. Like everything else there are grey areas. I prefer my self published people to be a little up front with me as a reviewer on Crime Scene Scotland. I check out publishers, you know, before I take books from them. Why? Becase I accepted one PA book and never reviewed it. I pissed off the author, but I couldn't get past the first few pages. When I checked out PA I was very unhappy with their editorial policy.

With Jim Hansen's Night Laws I smelled something funny when I checked out his publisher. A quick email to the man confirmed that he was a self publisher. I still reviewed the book. Because his query letter was well written. Because the preview intrigued me and because he seemed to be treating this self publishing thing seriously. The review itself will appear in a future of CSS and I ain't giving away what I thought til then! But suffice to say I did finish it (and there are partial excerpts from the review on the man's site).

And I'm sorry, Joe, but I'm with Steve (hello, Steve - we served time together on the short story panel at B'Con) because sales do not equal art. In fact, longevity equals art. The greater has a greater impact for a longer time. Things that have immediate and obvious sales capture the mood of the time (Although how the hell Biodome captured the mood of anything I'll never know) and perhaps ride the crest of a cultural wave (The Da Vinci Code has certainly captured our current love of conspiracies) but it will only become art with longevity.

Thus Chandler and Christie are both art. Chandler, for my money, is better art, but that's subjective because they've both lasted so long and I think they will continue to do so.

Ken Bruen, I am willing to be bet any and all money I made from my own writing gigs (which could well be a very small amount) will last. Dan Brown, I am willing to bet will not. James Lee Burke will last (Okay that prediction is pretty subjective but I really believe in the lasting power of his work). James Patterson will not.

So what makes lasting art? An ability to do more than simply entertain. Bio Dome and The Da Vinci Code tell us nothing or very little of importance. The Da Vinci Code's self importance is based on an alternative view of Christianity that, when all is said and done, isn't exactly presented in a coherent or intriguing fashion. It will last longer than Bio Dome at least and it may become art (it has more chance than anything with Pauly Shore), but I suspect not.

I think you also self defeat yourself with "the greatesy artists are the ones that sell more" idea. When do they have to sell more by? If Ken Bruen's Last Call to Louis MacNeice doesn't sell enough now but in ten years everyone has a copy, then did it suddenly make the jump to art simply because of copies shifted? That's very suspect to me. And what happens when people stop buying? Does that mean something is suddenly no longer in the "art" category?

Uh, that went on longer than I meant but I think you get the idea and probably someone's ready to come along and tell me I'm wrong :-)

JA Konrath said...

I agree that art is the result of longevity.

But longevity is the result of sales.

And here's a comment to annoy even more people:

Art is entertainment.

Why look at a painting? Why read a book? Why see a movie?

To be entertained.

Does the movie have to have social relevance or deep thematic subtext, in order to be artistic?

Philososphy, self-reflection, and allegory aren't food, clothing, or shelter. They are things we do because we enjoy them. They are entertaining.

Entertainment is anything we pay for that provides pleasure.

Longevity is dicated by the number of people who are exposed to, and accept, a product.

Entertainment + longevity = artistic greatness.

I concede that over time the popularity contest can alter the concept of what is considered great (which, in a round about way, proves my point).

There are many bestselling authors from years ago who are no longer well-known. Which is why the concept of 'greatness' is forever in flux, and changes from generation to generation.

But the only PROOF we have, since personal opinion is subjective, is the opinion of the public.

The public voices its opinion with dollars and name recognition.

Entertainment + longevity = artistic greatness = popularity

Artists create entertainment in the form of products to sell. The more they sell, the greater their name recognition, the likelier they are to be last.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

After reading all this, I've come to one conclusion:

Pauly Shore is underappreciated.

Steve Hockensmith said...

Maybe the disconnect here is simply a matter of semantics. You've chosen the lofty-sounding word "greatness" to bestow upon popular art. But if you were to talk to the folks who loved, let's say, Shirley Temple movies (which were once very popular), would they say her films were "great"? Or would they merely say they were charming and entertaining? I don't think many Shirley Temple fans (well, many sane ones) would argue that "Wee Willie Winkie" achieves artistic greatness. Ditto Pauly Shore fans. They might say "Bio-Dome" "rocks," but none of them would try to argue that it deserved an Academy Award.

As for entertainment, I'm all for it. "Fargo" is very, very entertaining. But surely it's a better film than, oh, "Airplane," partially because it's not *just* entertaining -- it's got something going on in its head and heart. Which isn't to say I don't still love "Airplane." And don't call me Shirley.

-Steve

JA Konrath said...

Awards don't always imply greatness either. Many have won awards and vanished into obscurity.

And yes, AIRPLANE is a better movie than FARGO, donchaknow.

Steve Hockensmith said...

Many have made oodles of money that vanished into obscurity, too.

So I guess the bottom line for you is that art is simply something that (A) is fun and (B) turns a profit. Which means, I would say, that you actually don't believe in "art" at all: You believe in entertainment product. Which is fine. You're certainly not alone. But I think you should stop being surprised that your pronouncements about "art" and "greatness" (again, two things I don't think you actually believe in) get some people's knickers in a twist -- particularly writers. As pretentious as it sounds, a lot of these folks *do* believe in something one could label "greatness" or "quality" or "art" or whatever. Even if it is subjective. Even if it isn't popular. Even if it isn't profitable.

-Steve

Lori G. Armstrong said...

I agree with Joe on the subjectivity of art, mostly, because I read, watch TV and movies for entertainment. Is most of it mainstream or what others call fluff? Yes. Why? Because with three kids I want a chance to escape, not suffer through hours of crap and angst just because it's someone else's definition of art. So, I read King and Patterson. I watch Lost and Arrested Development. Oh, and I bought the new Nickelback CD, too (which completely rocks BTW). Sure, there's lots of self-published crap out there, but not all. How about if we commend and learn from those brave souls who are ready to take the nasty hits because they've chosen an alternative route?

Bill Peschel said...

Joe,

I was pissed at your statement, but then something occurred to me that would reconcile our two beliefs. Let me put my suggestion in bold:

"Art is a popularity contest. The greatest artists are the ones that sell the most and continues to sell long after the artist is gone."

The best seller list is full of books that hit, make their pile and disappear. "Ulysses" never made number 1 since it appeared in 1922 I'll bet, but it continues to sell up to today. But is Elinor Glyn ("It") or Edith Maude Hull ("The Sheik") still being published?

(A check of Amazon shows that Glyn's "Three Weeks" is in print. Hull's books are available, but not new.)

Anyway, the point is that a work which continues to sell over a long period of time has a heck of a better case for artistic merit than one which appears and fades. That's as close as I will come to your position. Otherwise, you're confusing popularity with artistic merit.

Stacey Cochran said...

Do you have any idea how good Creedence's "Heard It Through the Grapevine" sounds on a set of Bose speakers?

If you don't got Bose, you don't got nothin' is all I'm saying...

Gumby said...

This entire post is art. It has to be since I've been entertained the entire time.

Mr. Breese said...

I don't know if "Airplane" is better than "Fargo," but it's definitely better than the "English Patient."

Anonymous said...

“What makes an artist legitimate? Since art is subjective, there's only one true measure of an artist's success... the number of people who buy the art.”

If we’re speaking in terms of what makes art a success, there’s only one quantifiable benchmark: is the artist blowing his own mind? Is the artist creatively satisfied, filled up with the joy that comes from the creative process? Because this is the only thing we can accurately measure. Everything else is so subjective.

Once your work is thrown to the public, its fate (aside from herculean promotional endeavors like our host blogger undertakes) is largely out of your hands. I don’t think any amount of self-promotion can have an effect on a book joining the canon of classics.

I think the real question is “who is experiencing the magic of art?” The bestselling writer who hits the lists every time, but has been on autopilot for the last three books, or the obscure, struggling unpublished writer who slaves away in the evenings after work, who no one will ever hear of? One is still in touch with the joy of it (though they’re probably frustrated and depressed as hell), and the other is just really good at making popular books that generate money.

I think artists should work first and foremost for themselves. Fans and fame and money and all the other trappings are fun “byproducts” of this, but we do it for the joy that comes from creating, and if the art you do, (whether or not anyone ever buys it or reads it or sees it), brings you joy, then it is successful in the way that matters most.

Blake Crouch
www.blakecrouch.com

Anonymous said...

Volumes have been written concerning the philosophy of Art, so I think your statement equating Art with popularity is simplistic at best, excruciatingly ignorant at worst.
Great Art is entertaining to those who understand it. Artistic value is subjective, true enough, but don't informed opinions carry greater weight than uninformed ones? I would be willing to bet money that 99% of the folks who read WHISKEY SOUR have never even heard of, say, W.H. Auden. To them, Auden wouldn't be entertaining because they simply wouldn't get it, have no desire to get it. It's so much easier to be passively entertained, easier to stop for a Big Mac than to plant a vegetable garden. But go to any English department at any university and I would bet, money again, that Auden's work is included with history's literature of the highest artistic caliber.
To boil down my feelings on the matter, Art equals entertainment (for those informed enough to appreciate it), longevity, AND a unique vision of the world and the human condition.
Artistic value might (or might not) increase the popularity of a work, but the popularity of a work does not, in any way, shape or form, increase its intrinsic value as Art. The equation just doesn't work both ways.
By the way, I'm the 1% who has read Auden and Konrath and who appreciates both.
--April Ehardt

April Ehardt said...

Today's Amazon.com sales rank for Women In Love was 663,839. For Bloody Mary it was 162,305. Congratulations, Joe. Today, according to your inane theory, you were way more artistic than D.H. Lawrence.

JA Konrath said...

"Congratulations, Joe. Today, according to your inane theory, you were way more artistic than D.H. Lawrence."

Plus, I'm funnier.

If the only art is that which sells for long after the artist is gone, then there are no contemprary artists---only history can judge who is an artist and who is a hack.

While many have passionately disagreed with me, no one has formulated a good arguement to prove me wrong.

Artistic merit is in the eye of the beholder. The more beholders, the greater esteem an artist is given in a society.

How do beholders discover which artists to revere?

Popularity. You can't appreciate an artist you've never encountered.

To posit that art has intrinsic value, rather than ascribed value, one must have a certain set of criteria for what consitutes art. No such criteria will every exist.

One of my favorite stories concerns a European art contest years ago, when an abstract watercolor was picked as the prize winner by a group of judges who all were known artists.

They picked a child's painting.

The child had no particular talent at all--he was simply playing with the paints.

Was that art, because a group of pros recognized it as such?

Was Warhol an artist, doing colored lithographs of real life objects?

If you blow your nose and frame it, is that art?

Does art imply a certain amount of effort on the part of the artist? Is the Rubiat any less an extraordinary poem, having ony been written in a day? Is Picasso's minimalist stuff true art, or a quick way to make a buck?

The fact is, anything can be labeled art.

So what art has merit, and what doesn't? How can two pieces of art be compared?

The more widely known the artist, the greater the price paid for their art. That's objective, no opinion involved.

Those artists who are remembered, who are taught in schools, who resonate in our social consciousness, are the ones who managed to touch the most people.
If they hadn't touched people, they wouldn't be remembered. Or they'd only be remembered by a few.

It comes down to distribution, profit, and popularity.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
April Ehardt said...

I'm all for entertainment, big sales and fat paychecks. I'm all for it. We have to make a living, after all. But I don't think a work's "longevity is the result of sales." On the contrary, literary merit increases a work's chances of survival more than said work's popularity.
Stephen King classifies his own work as "fast food for the brain." I think he underestimates himself, but at least he clearly recognizes the difference between popularity and literary merit.
Can we define "literary merit" in an objective way? Maybe. We can look at someone like Shakespeare, who on the surface is entertaining and funny and chocked full of drama and conflict, but who also exhibits the craftsmanship and the mastery of powerful and densely-layered communication that touches the soul at multiple levels. We who are in love with the English language recognize this as literary merit.
Let's face it, most of what we consider Art in literature exists primarily in academic venues. The books sell because they're required reading on the syllabus. Why are they required reading? Not because they were or are popular sellers (most weren't and aren't), but because of the consensus among lovers of the written word that they contain literary merit, i.e. that they are Art with a capital A.

JA Konrath said...

"Not because they were or are popular sellers (most weren't and aren't), but because of the consensus among lovers of the written word that they contain literary merit, i.e. that they are Art with a capital A."

Didn't Steve King win the National Book Award, and isn't he also taught in schools?

The Webster definition of art is one you might not expect:

"the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects"

Basically, art is anything created for pleasure, rather than function.
There's nothing int he definition that speaks of 'relevance' or 'merit' or 'touching the soul' because those are subjective and not quantifiable.

JA Konrath said...

Only the educated can determine what is art?

"Lovers of the written word" like JK Rowling and Dan Brown. The proof is in the numbers.

April Ehardt said...

There's nothing in the definition that speaks of sales, either. Of course aesthetics, what we consider to be beautiful, is largely subjective. No argument there. But I think there are some litmus tests we can apply to literature beyond the bottom line.
When you judge writing contests or grade your creative writing students, what are you looking for? Does the student with a story just right for Ellery Queen's Mystery magazine get a better grade than the student with a story just right for The Georgia Review? Please say it ain't so.

JA Konrath said...

The definition is for 'art' not 'greatest art.'

Who are considered the greatest artists? Those that are the most well-known.

The only real way to decide who the greatest artists are, would be to poll every person on the planet.

Thus, the popularity contest I speak of.

Numbers rule.

When I'm judging a contest, or critiquing a manuscript, I look for publishability based on some predetermined criteria I've come up with.

The criteria are here:

http://www.jakonrath.com/AgentBooklet.pdf

April Ehardt said...

Well, I enjoy a healthy debate and I thank you for allowing me to vent here on your site. We obviously disagree on the point, so I'll leave it at that. Can we just shake hands and walk away friends now?
I'm trying to write my first romantic suspense novel, and your site's been helpful in many ways.
Thanks again. Hope you sell millions.

Steve Hockensmith said...

Looks like we're all wrapping this discussion up...exactly where we all began. Oh well.

I still don't buy your basic argument, Joe. Yes, "quality" is subjective. So that automatically means that notions of quality are meaningless and only popularity in the here-and-now can determine "greatness" or what constitutes "art"? B.S.

Again, you're not talking about "great art." You're talking about "popular entertainment." There's a difference -- one we have to debate, yes, because it is subjective. So be it! Let's debate! Except you want to close down the debate and simply say, "The greatest contemporary writers? Don't be silly. Just look at the bestseller lists and you'll know."

Citizen Kane was not a hit upon its initial release. It has never been popular with a mass mainstream audience. It has a (today sizable) cult of followers -- filmmakers, critics, movie fans -- who have kept its memory alive all these years. And why? Because it's great art. You might watch it and disagree -- in fact, from the criteria you've laid out before, I suspect you would. Yet the film endures, and will endure, in a way that, for instance, Bio-Dome won't.

And if you don't believe that there's a difference between Fargo and Bio-Dome -- if you believe that your mission as an "artist" is to reach as many people as possible at any one time -- why are you writing books? Why aren't you writing sitcoms? You'll reach a thousand times more people working in TV. Wouldn't your "art" therefore be that much more "great"?

We can go on and on and on about this. In fact, we already have. Geez...don't we have books to write? The one I'm working on now, it's a piece of entertainment. But it's not designed to appeal to the largest number of people possible. It's designed to appeal to me and the kind of readers who like what I like. Trying to woo everyone all at once, appeal to the broadest possible audience despite my own tastes and inclinations -- that would be what's called "pandering." Just because I'm trying to entertain folks doesn't mean I have to do *that*.

-Steve

JA Konrath said...

I find it intriguing that reaching the largest audience possible is considered 'pandering'.

It's a lot harder to reach a million people than a hundred.

Citizen Kane 'is' known to be a classic by a large number of people--that's why it is considered a classic. It may have flopped in its day, but it became popular over the years.

You can't say it was 'destined' to become popular, because of some quantifiable artistic 'greatness.'

Since it is impossible to classify artistic value using an agreed-upon scale, i think it's valid to measure artistic greatness by the number of people who recognize and venerate an artist.

More people know Van Gogh than Serot. If we polled the world and said "Who are the greatest artists?" they would be the ones that were well-known.

Quality, talent, or integrity doesn't make an artist well known. Populatrity does.

Perhaps its popularity within certain cicrles (educators, the literati) who then expose the masses to the artist.

But the masses ultimately dicatate who is remembered and revered.

How do the masses find these artists?

Art is a product, bought and sold.

Much as you hate to think that Brittany Spears is the singing artist of the decade, numbers show that she is.

I enjoy debate (obviously). But this goes back to the old war between genre and literary fiction authors.

Lit writers look down upon genre. Which is absurd. As Mickey Spillaine said, "More people eat popcorn than caviar."

As a self-professed artist, I want to reach as many people as possible. That isn't about compromising integrity, or selling-out. Why is being popular considered lessor than being unique and unknown? Why is it painful to think that art is entertainment, and ultimately a popularity contest?

JulieK said...

One of my college art history professors once said that art is successful if it elicits a passionate reaction. Given that, you have all provided Pauly Shore's ego with a huge boost. Shame on you!

April Ehardt said...

"As Mickey Spillaine said, 'more people eat popcorn than caviar.'"
True, and many times the popcorn is better. I'm a genre writer too, and I have no time for people who look down on us. Most of them either haven't read the good genre writers or have been brainwashed as sophomore lit students to think that anything popular is garbage. Theodore Sturgeon said, "...of course ninety percent of science fiction is crap. Ninety percent of EVERYTHING is crap." This might be true as well, so I think we, as genre writers, should aspire to make our work fall in the ten percent that isn't crap. Then maybe the critics and the literary elite will shut up.

JA Konrath said...

"I think we, as genre writers, should aspire to make our work fall in the ten percent that isn't crap. Then maybe the critics and the literary elite will shut up."

I don't think it's a question of it being crap or not. it's a question of genre selling well, and that irritates the hell out of lit fic writers.

There's always a group of snobs, looking down at what the unwashed masses enjoy.

But if everyone is so 'above' the drek, why does the drek sell?

And why do so many think they could make it big if they 'sell out'?

As if selling out is easy...

Russel said...

Joe

I disagree with you completely but I think it comes from the fact that you view art in business terms primarily. While I agree that this is important (we need to appeal to people, we need people to buy our books if they are every to have an impact) I think that it cannot be the only measure of success. I also that Steve is one hundred percent right to call for a definition of art and entertainment. Art must entertain but to be art it must also exist on another level, one which resonates deeper than mere distraction.

And I'm not one of the literary elite. I read mostly genre books. And I loved the hell out of Bloody Mary. Fantastic entertainment. And there's nothing wrong with that.

But no one will ever convince me that Bio Dome is anything but torture.

And returning to the original topic: self publishers can also be artists. But I think that Joe's stance kinda lessens them as such, because if Tooley or Hansen is less of an artist than Patterson simply based on sales and distibution, then that's a very worrying state of affairs.

Jim Michael Hansen said...

At the risk of digressing, I want to give Russel and Crime Spree Magazine a shout-out for extending review opportunities to all authors. As more and more good titles come from untraditional sources, I think we'll see the Russel's of the world increase in number. Right now, however, he is at the forefront of a developing trend and provides a much needed service to both authors and readers. I say this even though he called the proponent of Night Laws, namely Bryson Coventry, "glossy!" Smiles, Jim.

Jim Michael Hansen said...

Correction: Crime Scene Scotland. Sorry, Russel.

Jim Michael Hansen said...

Another correction: Ditto for Crime Spree Magazine. Thanks, Jon.

crissachappell said...

Paris Hilton's dog isn't old enough to have a memoir.... ;)

April Ehardt said...

"I don't think it's a question of being crap or not..."
I don't know. I think that even the snobs would have to admit that THE DEAD ZONE and SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, just to use a couple examples, were pretty good novels, despite the fact that they sold big.

JA Konrath said...

I'm waiting for someone to convince me to change my mind.

One of the things I teach is manuscript critiquing. I looked at narratives, saw what made them work, and created a numeric scale with which they could be graded.

If someone could do that with 'art,' and say exactly what it is that makes art great, I'd be happy to listen to their points.

Instead, I'm getting a bunch of people who are saying, "Yes, art is subjective, but Fargo is still better than Airplane."

And no one is addressing my main point: The more well-known an artist is in a society, the greater the artist is considered within that society.

If we took an unsigned Miro and some unknown woman who paints, and hung them side by side and had people pick the one they like more, you'd get many people picking the unknown.

But if you gave people a written poll and asked, "Who is the better artist, Miro or Nancy Goldstein?" more people would pick Miro because Miro is famous.

How did Miro get famous? Popularity. Miro hangs in museums. Miro commands top dollars. Miro is taught in schools. Miro is in books.

So until Nancy Goldstein reaches millions of people, Miro will be considered superior.

This is my point.

I don't think the artists that our society reveres are our greatest artists. I like plenty of writers more than Twain, Hemingway, Shakespeare, and Austin. I like plenty of painters more than Picasso. I like plenty of musicians more than Nickelback.

But my person preferences don't matter, unless they catch on with other people.

Artists can only be considered great if they catch on. Or else they fade into obscurity and will never be known by anyone.

Russel said...

Silence of the Lambs has got me thinking.

Joe, let me ask a cheeky question: do you count Hannibal as good art? After all, it sold like a beast and yet I'll bet you'd be one of the first people to say it was a bad novel. So why did it sell? Was it down to the quality of the novel or the quality of the PR surrounding the novel?

Steve Hockensmith said...

SNIP -- And no one is addressing my main point: The more well-known an artist is in a society, the greater the artist is considered within that society. -- UNSNIP

Sigh. Just when I thought I'm out, they drrrrrrag me back in!

Joe, I did address the point above -- a few times, actually. I addressed it when I said that even Pauly Shore fans wouldn't argue that his films deserve awards and hosannas. They just like 'em. And I addressed it when I said that even Shirley Temple fans wouldn't try to convince anyone that her films are "great art." Even the FANS know there's a distinction between entertainment and art, man!

As do most of the people in the entertainment industry. "The Brady Bunch" and "Gilligan's Island" were very popular. Tell the guy that created them, Sherwood Schwartz, that they were "great art," and he'd laugh in your face. Ditto the guys churning out one-liners for "Will & Grace." I would be very, very surprised if anyone on the "King of Queens" writing staff thinks they're superior artists to David Chase simply because more people watch their show than "The Sopranos."

I mean, dude -- come on. Does society at large really consider Britney Spears or Jessica Simpson "great"? Do the millions of people who watch Jay Leno every night consider him "great," as in "He's a great artist"? I don't think so. They think he's funny, and they watch him in large numbers and he's popular as a result. Who thinks he's Picasso? Other than you?

-Steve

JA Konrath said...

Groucho Marx is considered an artistic genius. Give Paulie Shore a few decades...

I hated Hannibal. But society bought it in great numbers.

As for awards being synonymous with great art, did you ever try to sit through Best Picture Chariots of Fire? A snooze fest.

And Will and Grace has won so many Emmy's it's staggering.

Look--eveyone has their own perception of art.

The more people that perceive something to be art, the more likely the artist will be considered great.

JA Konrath said...

Also, Santa Claus isn't real.

Steve Hockensmith said...

Where, Joe, does anyone say that awards are synonomous with great art? Dude, you're like a machine. Someone mentions the word "award" in a sentence and your CPU whirs and blinks and spits out the same rote lines, even if they don't respond to the point actually being made.

And am I the only one who notices that this -- "The more people that perceive something to be art, the more likely the artist will be considered great" -- is in fact not what your position was in the beginning? Your original assertion was much more simple: popularity = greatness. I guess maybe I should be satisfied somehow, since this is the closest I think you'll ever come to conceding that someone else might have a point.

But enough. I'm very tired.

In the end, perhaps Lucy Van Pelt said it best. I'll let her have the last word on my end. And why not? It's your blog, Joe, and she agrees with you:

"How can you say someone is great who's never had their picture on a bubblegum card?"

-Steve

Steve Hockensmith said...

And Santa Claus *is* real -- in each and every one of our hearts.

Bleah.

-Steve

JA Konrath said...

I'm trying to understand your arguement, but it ain't logical.

Why is Fargo better than BioDome? You can talk about meaning and depth and art and all that crap, but it comes down to this:

More people think Fargo is better than BioDome.

Popularity wins.

If people don't consider Jay Leno or Brittany Spears to be 'great' then why are they so popular?

April Ehardt said...

"a numeric scale..."
I suppose we could devise some sort of scale, a one-to-ten kind of thing to grade what makes great art. We could grade art on originality, clarity, tension, conflict, character development, research credibility, etc. Or someone could create a computer program to grade art on a scale. A novel could be loaded into the computer and then, within seconds, a robot voice would announce, "This is great art," or "This sucks." It would save us all a lot of time, but it would also negate some of the humanity at the core of art's essence.
Does art have intrinsic value, or is it just a popularity contest? Is THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY great art because it sold more copies than Carter has liver pills? Would THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRRY FINN still be great art if only Twain's mom and I read it?
I still vote for intrinsic value, even though it's more abstract than dollars and cents. It's hard to quantify something as abstract as, say, LOVE, but I think we know when we feel it.

JA Konrath said...

Love is a chemical reaction.

If you want to compare that to art, you could say that art provokes a similar chemical reaction.

But the art that provokes the largest reaction int he largest number of people is the art that is remembered.

The

JA Konrath said...

You never would have read Huckleberry Finn if it hadn't been in print.

Why is it still in print? Because it continues to earn money.

April Ehardt said...

Let's say that Huckleberry Finn was never written by Mark Twain. Let's say it magically fell from the sky one day and landed in my lap. Let's say I read it and then burned it and took the secret of its magic to my grave. Would Huckleberry Finn be great art then? Even though it existd in the consciousness of only one person for a limited time, is it any less a masterpiece? If a person dies, does that mean they never lived? If a book goes out of print, does it therefore follow that that book is not great art?
Some of us believe in powers beyond this dimension. Some of us are seeking soul mates, not chemical reactions. Dont' you believe in magic? The muse? Inspiration beyond what we can examine by scientific means? That's where great art comes from. Blood, sweat and tears, yes, but also an extra ingredient we can't quite put our fingers on.

Anonymous said...

The more people that perceive something to be art, the more likely the artist will be
considered great.


But you gotta concede, this isn't quite the same as your initial assertion (that art is a popularity contest, and the greatest artists are the ones who sell the most).

Part of the reason your position is so difficult to sink is that it's sort of a combination of the tree falling in the woods (if an artist is unknown, how can that artist be considered great) and the chicken/egg problem (which comes first? Artistic merit or popularity?).

But it's ultimately kinda circular. You're assuming what you mean to conclude (that more popular = better).

I don't really have a problem saying that all art is entertainment, but it doesn't follow that all entertainment is art. That's where all the subjectivity in the world kicks in.

In any case, popularity in and of itself isn't an indicator of anything except popularity. And infinite factors having absolutely no relationship to the content of a work can have a direct bearing on a work's popularity.

Those artists who are remembered, who are taught in schools, who resonate in our social consciousness, are the ones who managed to touch the most people. If they hadn't touched people, they wouldn't be remembered. Or they'd only be remembered by a few. It comes down to distribution, profit, and popularity.

Yeah, but seriously, those artists aren't remembered BECAUSE they are popular, are they? If popularity were the root factor, everybody who moves x number of units would be taught in schools.

Admittedly, that doesn't refute your point. Based on your case for Britney Spears as singing artist of the decade, I'd say you're being pretty consistent to your position on that front. In the chicken and the egg question, you've decided: chicken.

I disagree, but given the extreme subjectivity involved in the question of art, your system is probably no more or less arbitrary than any other. I have no problem believing that if you can convince enough people, next century's university lit curricula will be based on our current NYT bestseller lists. Maybe they would be anyway.

SD

JA Konrath said...

I think many things are great art.

But my opinion matters only to me. Unless society agrees with me, the art I think is great will fade into obscurity.

That's my point.

For art to be considered great in a society, it has to reach many people. What will allow art to do that? Distribution. What fuels distribution? Money.

If a book goes out of print, it is not great art by society standards.

There is nothing intrinsic in a movie, painting, or book that makes it great art. The reactions that art ellicits in a person is not a quality inherent in the art.

Art is neither good nor bad. Human response to art dictates whther it is good or bad. It is subjective.

The more who respond positively, the more revered the artist is. That is objective.

Magic? Muses? We're organic carbon based life forms which evolution endowed with oversized brains. Our brains give us the unfortunate side-effect of self-awareness, which in turn leads to an ego and a demand for there to be 'more' in the universe.

I could give you pills to make you happy or sad. Through surgery, I could carefully take out the part of your mind that recognizes color, or short term memory, or emotion, or empathy, or creativity.

But getting back to art. :)

You can only recognize greatness in art if you are exposed to the art. The same for everyone on the planet.

No exposure = no greatness.

Things can only exist through sensory experience.

I'd be happy to debate the a priori, as Empiricism vs. Rationalism is the core of my arguement.

If there is some brilliant masterpiece in some locked trunk somewhere, and the trunk is never opened, it is as if the masterpiece never existed. How else could you prove the existence of the masterpiece?

At a trial, the witnesses are called to testify. Not the 5 billion people who didn't witness anything.

The burden of proof falls on the person claiming experience.

I'm claiming art is a popularity contest. I'm positing that our greatest artists are those known by the greatest number of people.

Since no one has polled the entire world and asked for them to name the greatest artists, I'm choosing to use a system already in place---the economy--- to show what art we consider to be great.

Here's a website which lists the ten greatest paintings of mankind:

http://humanitiesweb.org/human.php?s=g&p=a&a=i&ID=523

I may not agree with all the choices, but I recognize all the choices that were picked, because they are the MOST POPULAR works of art the world knows.

If the Sistene Chapel had burned to the ground, it would not be #1 on the list. If it was never open to tourism, it would not be on the list (because only a handful of people would know about it).

JA Konrath said...

On an unrealted note, I was indulging int he time-honored tradition of Googling myself, and found an old post I'd made on Dave Barry's website about bad names for rock bands.

Here are my suggestions:

Rabbi Moil and the Tips
Count Spankula
Bloody Painful Urination
Unexplained Discharge
Tubby and the Tummy Rubbers
Lexdyscia
Vomiting Liver Flukes
Rockternal Emission
Erectile Disfunction
KY and the Fallouts
Kicked in the McNuggets
The Funky Butt Dunkers
Blundering Dunderschmucks
Savage Movement
Cup Full of Roofies
Ten Hour Priapism
Intestinal Distress
The Wrong Hole
Mold

I'd add to the list:

Hip Replacement
Innappropriate Touching
Grunty and the Paste Eaters
Picking Scabs
Orchidectomy
Grandma Smells Funny

Steve Hockensmith said...

If I were you, I'd copyright "Count Spankula" immediately. Otherwise, you'll eventually discover that Count Spankula is Southern Indiana's most popular disco-funk covers band.

Also, I believe that "Grandma Smells Funny" already exists, in a fashion: The Grandma Smellsfunny doll was Mattel's least successful product launch of the 1970s.

-Steve

JA Konrath said...

Dammit! Spankula was stolen!

It's only a matter of time before someone steals Ten Hour Priapism...

April Ehardt said...

I met the drummer from Ten Hour Priapism one time. What a great weekend that was...

JA Konrath said...

Yeah... that drummer can beat the skins all night long.



Boy, that joke works on at least three different levels.

April Ehardt said...

Well, Stephen King and I (and Carl Jung and dozens of other great minds through the centuries) believe in magic, that when the words flow it's almost as if you're taking dictation, that archetypes existed long before organic life forms were here to wrestle them to material existance. Paul MacCartney dreamed the melody to Yesterday. D.H. Lawrence wrote Women In Love in two weeks. It's a good thing the creative parts of THEIR brains weren't removed. Magic? No way to prove it, of course; but, I think if a writer's not open to the possibility, it will never happen for her.

JA Konrath said...

I believe in archetypes, or at least in inhereted memory. But that is chemical.

Muses? I know that some people need to be inspired before they write.

I don't.

It takes me a month to write a book--and often during the process, I feel as if I'm simply a conduit for the story. I wouldn't call it magic, but I know that not many folks have that ability.

One of the reasons I don't take drugs is because I'd hate to lose my creativity. Many artists use drugs to enhance their ability. I've found that drugs hamper my ability.

Just because I believe art is a commodity, doesn't mean I negate its importance. I just don't think it has to be quasi-mystical.

Jon The Crime Spree Guy said...

Self publishing:
I still am willing to look at everybook we get. I put books into two main catagories, books that suck and books that don't.
A lot of self published books we get aren't very good. But there are enough good ones out there to make me willing to keep reading them, or at least give them a chance.

As a reviewer and publisher I do prefer people to be up front about selfpublishing. But it's also pretty easy to find out if that's the case.

Crimespree #9 will have a review of Jim Hansen's book. Our reviewer enjoyed it and I'm looking forward to it.


Re: Art:

Who judges what is art?
Me.

At least for myself.I don't buy into popularity regulating what I enjoy. If that were the case I'd miss out on a lot. But art is subjective. What I consider art might well be considered recyclables by someone else. It's an age old debate with no clear answer.
So I judge for myself.

david terrenoire said...

I've struggled with band names for years but my nephew offered up one this:

The Boxing Ghandis.

Unfortunately, it was taken.

A Story: Once upon a time I worked on a railroad track gang and was 12 cents short the price of rolling tobacco. I shared a trailer in the track yard with an older black man whose name I've forgotten. I asked if I could borrow 12 cents and he asked why. I told him. He threw a quarter at me and said, "No man should be 12 cents shy of nothin'."

Name of the band?

Twelve Cents Shy

Whatta ya think? Is it art?

I knew I could make this on-topic if I wrote long enough.

More on topic: I couldn't have sold fewer copies of Beneath A Panamanian Moon if I'd xeroxed the pages and stapled them together.

April Ehardt said...

Maybe we should go for the Guinness Book Of World Records for the longest commentary on a single blog. Anybody with me here? Or, maybe we should just go for a Guinness Stout and call it a day...

Mark said...

A book in a month? Hemingway would turn over in Ketchum Cemetery to hear that. It's unheard of.

none said...

The whole basis of Konrath's assertion is flawed. It's oversimplified and confusing.

Art is entertainment = entertainment is Art is HIGHLY Subjective in itself.

none said...

"I'm claiming art is a popularity contest. I'm positing that our greatest artists are those known by the greatest number of people."


Duh? The greatest number of people on the planet do not even know about "art."

So which people are you writing of?

Mass appeal of said "commodity" by a consuming populace does not constitute artistic value of said commodity.

[I am watching my soup cook and this seemed a good place to play while watching the soup.]

Jeremy James said...

I'm jumping in late here, but whatever, I feel like putting in my two-cents... My definition: Art is the purposeful distortion of reality, such that the recognition of the distortion by the audience illuminates some deeper truth about life.

Entertainment is something different. Can art be entertainment? Sure it can. Is all art entertaining? Of course not. Can so-called "pure entertainment" be art? Yes, if it fits the definition above.

The problem with trying to measure artistic merit with sales is that people will pay for either an artistic experience or an artistic experience, and most good books mix a little of both. So there's no good way to attribute which of these merits is accountable for the sale.

But if we looked at this from a statistical perspective, I'd bet that you could show a higher correlation between "pure entertainment" and sales than you could between obvious attempts at "pure art" and sales. Would there be exceptions? Sure, and the exceptions would prove the rule.

For the writer, it comes down to a mixture of choice, aptitude, and the *current* taste of the public.

You have total control over the effect you *choose* to generate when you write a book. You can choose to write an entertaining page-turner that doesn't strive to produce any artistic effect whatsoever; you can choose to pen a literary masterpiece that illuminates the deeper truths of life on multiple levels; you can choose to do both all at the same time...

But you only have a *little* control over how well you pull it off. Everyone is limited by their current abilities, inborn talent, experience, and work ethic. And aside from trying to give the public what you *think* it wants, you have little control over consumer whims which can change much faster than most of us can write a novel.

Personally, my primary aim is to write novels that entertain as many people as possible. My secondary aim is to write them with at least a minimum level of artistry (as I define it above). My belief is that this combination of entertainment vs. artistic merit will lead to big sales, and hopefully longevity as well.

This is an excellent blog, Mr. Konrath. One of the best I've seen on the web on any subject. Kudos. And thanks for sharing your expertise.

~Jeremy James
www.authorjeremyjames.com