Selling Out

by RS on August 30, 2010

There’s been some discussion on the writing list at The Internet Writing Workshop concerning the marketing of Eat, Pray, Love. According to the Los Angeles Times, the book has evolved into a much bigger franchise with gee-gaws thrown into the mix.

What are my thoughts about this?  I don’t look at it too favorably. Don’t get me wrong, I have no issue with writers creating a marketing platform to spread the word about their book, and I certainly don’t have any problem when a good book is adapted into a good film with a respected screenwriter, director, and actors on board, but I frown when a writer allows his work to be turned into a theme park, video games, fashion, toys, or whatever under the sun the genius marketer thinks will turn a buck.

I personally feel that literary work has been cheapened when becomes a franchise. The reality is that most marketers have not even read the actual book (maybe, at best, a treatment) and it’s pretty probable the intended market audience hasn’t even glanced at the book at all. I know that’s cynical, but remember I was in public relations.

I know some people will disagree with me. After all we are society whose foundation is based upon capitalism and consumerism, but if writers wrote solely to make a buck what does that tell you about them and their craft? Are they writing with the ambition to have their work turned into major franchise or are they writing because they actually enjoy creating stories and characters that will resonate with readers ten, twenty or fifty years down the road?

I’ve always loved making up stories to amuse myself, and when I finally decided that I really wanted be a writer and not a flack, I admit I entertained the notion of writing a best-seller (okay, with a movie option too boot from an Indie production team, and with me as the screenwriter) but I would be horrified if I had some marketing guru approach me and tell me that they could extend the Julius brand into something bigger (a great irony since the main characters of the book despise the Lower East Side’s commercialized gentrification). And this brings me to selling out. I write it for the fun of it (even as grueling as it is). I have no ulterior motive for fame and fortune, I write because I enjoy the creative outlet.  Yes, it would be nice to make a living from writing fiction and have a following of people who enjoy reading my books, and not numbing their brains with latest marketing fad.

Do we really have to be spurred by Eat, Pray, Love marketing ploys to travel, eat pasta or buy incense? Wasn’t reading the book enough of an experience to spark some curiosity or is this living vicariously by shopping? Is this what we want as writers to become the catalysts for more mindless and endless consumerism? Are we writing the next Great American Novel (or memoir) with the aim of a great licensing or franchise deal thrown into the mix?  I hope that most of us are a little more altruistic, but also true to our craft, and  follow some variation of what Marx said, “The writer must earn money in order to be able to live and to write, but he must by no means live and write for the purpose of making money.”

3 comments
Cecilieaux Bois de Murier
Cecilieaux Bois de Murier

The dumbing down is disturbing. But Old Charlie would say it's the economics that lead to the dumbing down.

Cecilieaux Bois de Murier
Cecilieaux Bois de Murier

A friend of mine who is the author of a well-received novel off which she has been living for the last decade or so, has never published a second novel, although she has written what I think are three, precisely because she hates the entire machinery of publishing. As did, notably, J.D.Salinger.

As someone who understands the economics of the machinery, I find myself at odds with myself. Yes, in a world in which books are a commodity of diminishing importance, as a new dark age of illiteracy dawns, I understand the imperatives to make deals with thoroughly distasteful individuals and firms, just to keep the business from going under. Why not write to make money, Charlie? Isn't that the production of my social existence if writing is what I'm good at?

On the other hand, my intellectual side protests that a book is not a detergent or a hamburger and that reading is its own reward and that the jerks who buy into the tie-ins aren't even worth attracting to a book. But maybe that's my thorough disgust at the brazen display of ignorance, illiteracy and prejudice this weekend in my city.

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