Thursday, October 05, 2006

Selling Words

Jessica Ruston at the Book Bar, recently reviewing Marisha Pessl's novel Special Topics in Calamity Physics, laments the snides on the web implying that Pessl's youth and good looks are the reason for the attention the book has received. Good looks don't necessarily mean lack of talent, she says, and marketability is no bad thing: publishers to have to market books, after all.

Well, she's right of course on both counts, and any publisher would be mad not to use whatever is available to market a work. I've done it myself. When I published a literary magazine I and my colleagues worked like hell to sell the short stories we had chosen to publish, and we used all the marketing tools we could grab: buzz words (urban was the big buzz word of the time, so we subtitled the mag New Urban Writing, though we never for a moment let this influence the stories we chose, and not a soul ever complained about this last, which shows the power of the label); bright colour:
fancy photomontages: and towards the end, big bleed photos:

What we were trying to peddle were recognisable coolness and an air of youth, but what we were actually selling were the challenging and often experimental creations of talented and serious minds. As any snake-oil saleman will tell you, you can sell anything; you don't actually have to give people only what they think they want, as current marketing philosophy would have it.
On the other hand, though, I did always have a kind of sinking feeling, a feeling that things shouldn't be like this, that in a better society words would not have to be sold like this, subsumed to fashion and image...


Roger Morris said...

I was in the pink one!!!!

I always remember being slightly intimidated by the 'urban' tag, to be honest. I thought - oh, they won't like my stuff, it's not urban enough. (Plus I wasn't really sure what urban meant.)

Anyhow, I now use the urban and the contemporary tags to describe Taking Comfort. I think I probably stole it from you! Mind you, it's probably passe by now.

Elizabeth Baines said...

God, that's terrible that it put you off!! So there we are: I'm always banging on about it, but I fell into the same trap of being too concerned with the damned market. Everything conspires, though: even though we were grant-aided (and thus non-commercial, you might think), a main condition of our grant was that we were market wise.

I never knew what urban meant, either. I used to say, Well, we're all urban now, aren't we?

That pink one: it doesn't scan like the others, comes out all fuzzy. Don't know if it's the effect of the colour or if our printer did that one at a less good resolution. Actually, it was one of the ones that sold best through the shops, which shows the difference a colour can make...

Ms Baroque said...

I remember your magazine - I may have submitted to it, in fact. If it's any comfort, I thought the look of it was great!

Elizabeth Baines said...

This is turning out to be a very small world!