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Say Yes to … MARKET FORCES, Damn It All. - Wemyss's Appalling Hobby:
From the Party Guilty of Committing 'Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn'
Say Yes to … MARKET FORCES, Damn It All.
I cherish – perhaps in the way in which people are sometimes described as ‘hugging their hurts to themselves’, although I’ve dined out on the story for years – the memory of a (Yank, naturally) agent in (naturally) California who – this must be a decade and more by now – having heard that a screenplay of mine had won a juried award at an international film festival, wrote and all but begged that I send it on to (naturally) her, with an eye to her taking me on. She was by all accounts reputable; so I did just that.
Within the month, I had received a letter of rather more than common or garden abusiveness, decrying and denouncing my manifold and manifest sins against the gods of diversity and attributing to me a misogyny far beyond the very slight and, as it were, orientational misogyny that – let us be honest – every gay man feels by nature (and which most, being politically indoctrinated, deny, whilst the rest of us, being polite, merely conceal it). How dare I send such a Vicious Creation to a Proudly Feminist Agency? I contented myself with observing in my reply that I’d never heard of her beforehand, had not been the one to seek her out, and, in light of our late correspondence, wouldn’t and shouldn’t have her represent me on a bet.
I find both the agent’s account of the latest kerfuffle and that of the injur’d authors plausible and credible (and quite possibly equally accurate and exemplary of a Great Misunderstanding Which Might with Goodwill Have Been Sorted But Has Now Been Made Irreparable by Whinge). Of course, so far as one can tell, all the actors in the Say-Yes-to-Gay-YA (wait for it) drama are Americans, and I don’t pretend to understand all the inwardness involved. What I have seen as this tiresome business has slopped over onto LJ is that the authors, inadvertently, simply by putting their side of the dispute, have invoked Nemesis, with the Kindly Ones in her train.
I refer, of course, to commenters.
Every smugly self-righteous Grauniad-ista twunt (but I repeat myself) seems to have put in her tuppence, essentially consisting of variations upon that very odd American response ‘WORD’. This is the problem with what passes, falsely, under the name of ‘diversity’ in these thin and piping times: for it has been … perverted … to mean, A Visually and Visibly Differentiated Group of Persons of Varying Skin Colours, Sexes, Religion, Orientation, and Disability, All of Whom Think The Same Bloody Thing About Every Sodding Issue.
Balls to that. (Ed, in fact. And Yvette as well. This sort of thing is precisely what’s wrong with Labour.)
Now, look here, damn it all. I’m a card-carrying pouf. Not to be indelicate, I’ve been on my knees and/or on my back for more Likely Lads than you lot have had hot dinners. And do you know what I loathe, despise, and detest more than any other form of ZOMGOppreshun from others outwith the ‘family’? Self-nominated allies and Group-Think LGBLT-Sandwich Thought Police, those Tesco Torquemadas who insist that I am to think with my bits, not my wits, and that because I like it up the bum I am required to hold certain opinions.
Right, that lot can sod right off.
The first lesson appointed for the day is from the Epistle of Dr Johnson:
No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.
The second, from the Psalms of George Gissing, commonly called those of Henry Ryecroft:
And why should any man who writes, even if he write things immortal, nurse anger at the world’s neglect?  Who asked him to publish?  Who promised him a hearing?  Who has broken faith with him?  If my shoemaker turn me out an excellent pair of boots, and I, in some mood of cantankerous unreason, throw them back upon his hands, the man has just cause of complaint.  But your poem, your novel, who bargained with you for it?  If it is honest journeywork, yet lacks purchasers, at most you may call yourself a hapless tradesman.  If it come from on high, with what decency do you fret and fume because it is not paid for in heavy cash?  For the work of man’s mind there is one test, and one alone, the judgement of generations yet unborn.  If you have written a great book, the world to come will know of it.  But you don’t care for posthumous glory.  You want to enjoy fame in a comfortable armchair.  Ah, that is quite another thing.  Have the courage of your desire.  Admit yourself a merchant, and protest to gods and men that the merchandise you offer is of better quality than much which sells for a high price.  You may be right, and indeed it is hard upon you that Fashion does not turn to your stall.
Now, it may well be that the agent – or by some accounts, several agents – were actuated by malignity in turning the MS down or giving it a conditional acceptance, upon conditions the authors refused. Or, again, it may not. The point is, actually, immaterial.
Publishing is a business. Agents and publishers alike are engaged in trying to divine the moods of the market. Perhaps they have guessed wrongly here; it does happen. After all, Tollers and La Rowling both had to shop their first books about before someone took a flyer on them.
But with self- – not vanity – publishing, print on demand, e-books, and the Internet, we are nowadays back in something like Johnson’s world, when men ‘sent what [they] wrote to the press, and let it take its chance’, as the Great Lexicographer himself put it: so there’s one option. And of course, there’s the further option of keeping shtum, not making accusations against agents who’ve declined your MS, and continuing to flog the damned thing until it finds an agent and, it is then hoped, a buyer.
The point is this, and is quite simple, and has been wholly missed by the Unco’ Guid rallying in support of Persecuted Authordom. Until an agent has taken you on, her whole duty is to her agency, and that duty is not to take on and expend resources on placing a book that the publishers don’t want and the reading public shan’t buy. The publisher’s primary duty, for all the duties he may owe to an author whose work he has accepted, is to his shareholders, in maximising profit by not expending resources on books the reading public won’t purchase. And – I realise this comes as a simply horrid shock to many of you lot – the reading public owes the author not duty whatsoever.
If an author is absolutely determined that her work is Heaven-sent and just what the Great British Public (and whatever foreigners actually read books) wants, and mustn’t be changed by a jot or by a tittle, her recourses are simple. Form her own imprint, e-publish, or keeping knocking on the doors of agents. And, yes, there’s nothing wrong with drumming up a base of potential readers who’ll buy the bloody thing, not for its merits, but to Make a Political Point, if you think that’s enough to suggest to agent and publisher that there’s demand for it sufficient to justify bringing it to market.
But when I look at the sheer unexampled idiocy of almost all of the comments – note that almost – to the Great Post of Authorial Whinge, what I see is an almost universal incomprehension of market forces. If that lot wish actually to change the world (rather than stand about agreeing smugly with the likeminded and to burnish their Leftish, Islington-and-Notting-Hill Credentials), they want to get stuck in by writing politely to publishers and agents expressing a desire for more Gay YA fiction (and refraining from attributing evil motives to the present paucity of it on the shelf, if there is a paucity of it on the shelf) – and they want to back those fine sentiments and butter their damned parsnips by affirmatively purchasing only YA novels that meet their purity tests, starting book clubs for it, and all the rest. (It worked for that sod Gollancz, if only for a time: fancy not publishing Orwell because Orwell saw through Stalin!) The rest of it – the chorus of agreement and the unexamined premiss that agents and publishers are somehow required to take MSS that the public (those stupid little people; really, darling, so tiresome) don’t wish to buy, so long as those MSS tick the Indy-cum-Grauniad boxes – is simply political masturbation online.
My own conclusion thus far is that what YA wants – although what matters is what the market seeks – is less of this faux-‘diversity’ in which everyone looks different to one another but thinks exactly the same, and more books in which suburban Yank teenagers suddenly discover Austrian economics. Or at least books whereby their authors discover ’em.
I do realise that none of this is likely to penetrate the impermeable self-righteousness and self-satisfaction of the class of people that holds these inane views to begin with. Yet I can beseech them, after the manner of Noll Cromwell: at least think you that you might be mistaken, and that what has – if I have the term aright – bitch-slapped you is not an Eeeevil Conspiracy, but the Invisible Hand of the market, quite possibly deservingly.
And do stop whinging. It’s un-British, even if you haven’t the good fortune to be British.

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23 comments or Leave a comment
steepholm From: steepholm Date: September 15th, 2011 10:36 pm (UTC) (Link)

Ay, that antithesis of persons is a most established figure

I esteem Johnson, but that quotation does not show him at his most most perceptive. By his criterion the roll of blockheads includes Emily Dickinson, Samuel Pepys, Sir Philip Sidney, Boethius and John of Patmos, amongst many others. I doubt whether Johnson himself undertook his enormous labours on the Dictionary purely for the cash. Fame was a pretty sharp spur, I'd guess - and quite right, too.

More generally, the attempt to boil the moral issues involved down to market forces seems unjustifiably reductive. Publishers, being human beings, have other duties than to their shareholders. Of course, one can argue that publishers qua publishers have a duty to ignore considerations that would otherwise apply, and that their position gives them an overriding duty to (say) publish racist propaganda, however much they privately detest it, if that's what will make most money; but I remain to be convinced that a person's life can be so neatly segmented, that the shareholder duty (understood as a need to maximise profits at all costs) need be pre-eminent, or that the Recording Angel is Hayekian enough to consign these things to oblivion for the sake of the operation of the free market.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: September 16th, 2011 05:27 am (UTC) (Link)

Clever use of straw, but ... No.

Journals hardly count. Nor do religious tracts, really. And I fear you stumble badly when you consider fame and money separately: Sidney wrote for place and favour and preferment, after all, and Boethius first for that and then for the salvaging of his reputation: and Johnson knew, as I make sure you do as well, that fame was (and is) bankable for an author (even a consoling philosopher, if he has any hope of writing his way out of gaol, however disappointing the result).

Moreover, the Doctor was not writing on spec: he'd been paid a commission of 1500 guineas to write the dictionary, and it further rewarded him with a pension from the Fat Hanoverian Bastard.

As the market has its internal correctives, yr notion that publishers will touch pitch for short-term gains fails to account for the long-term health and reputation of the publisher (I admit that in one sense only is it true that vermin morally equivalent to fascists and racists have successfully evaded, ironically, market consequences: the one downside to winning the Cold War as a cold war is that there was no Soviet Nuremberg Trial and no de-Sovietification, such that Leftist viciousness persists - vide that shit Hobsbawm, that prick Eagleton, or that scum Galloway - and exerts a market demand. Totalitarians of course are morally indistinguishable from one another). What you cannot elide, however fancy be yr footwork, is that there is no moral obligation upon an agent or a publisher to accept a work he doesn't want because it ticks whatever boxes are demanded of it by the sort of people who still defend that little bastard Hari, say.

Finally, I really don't think, my dear fellow, that you understand Hayek at all as well as you think you do.

But now to more important things: the 5th ODI in Cardiff.
shezan From: shezan Date: September 16th, 2011 12:13 am (UTC) (Link)
You make me very happy. You also made me laugh out loud enough to scare the cats a couple of times. (There was mention of those furriners who do, perhaps; read books, and of your own card carrying activities...)
wemyss From: wemyss Date: September 16th, 2011 05:28 am (UTC) (Link)

Glad to oblige you.

AND the cats.
shezan From: shezan Date: September 16th, 2011 07:42 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Glad to oblige you.


From: el_staplador Date: September 16th, 2011 08:39 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Glad to oblige you.

Those are exceeding handsome cats.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: September 16th, 2011 09:57 pm (UTC) (Link)

They are. aren't they.

And a normal good dependent upon economic surplus for the possession of 'em.
shezan From: shezan Date: September 16th, 2011 10:44 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Glad to oblige you.

I shall admit to being rather proud of them:

From: 17catherines Date: September 16th, 2011 12:28 am (UTC) (Link)
To be fair, a good attempt has been made to influence market forces, by publishing lists of YA fiction with characters who are gay or people of colour, etc. Half the trick with these things, I suspect, is helping people to find them.

(of course, I have half a horse in this race, because if I ever manage to finish my Twelfth Nightish novel, one of the central pairings will definitely be gay, so I'm keeping my ears carefully pricked...)
wemyss From: wemyss Date: September 16th, 2011 05:29 am (UTC) (Link)

And THAT is legitimate.

Indeed, that sort of thing, as opposed to Behold-How-Enlightened-Am-I online onanism, is not 'an attempt to influence market forces': it IS a market force.

And I await the novel with pleasure and ready money for purchase.
From: sirona_gs Date: September 16th, 2011 06:31 am (UTC) (Link)
*bursts into spontaneous applause*

My own sentiments, upon setting eyes on the whinge in question, were more or less along the same lines (having gained an MA in Publishing from Oxford Brookes), and this, oh, you, you are marvellous. This made me chuckle so much, and I delighted in its sharp, well-argued truths. I am thrumming with satisfaction right now. Couldn't have put it better myself (literally).
wemyss From: wemyss Date: September 16th, 2011 05:16 pm (UTC) (Link)

End of the innings, so, quickly:

Thank you.
thisgirl_is From: thisgirl_is Date: September 16th, 2011 03:04 pm (UTC) (Link)

Mostly thinking out loud...

The thing with market forces is that they aren't a pure entity in and of themselves. They have to be interpreted by those seeking to apply them, and that point they immediately have the potential to be flawed. For example, the supplier must perceive a demand before they can supply it. At which point, as you say, it useful for the demanders to notify potential suppliers of their requirement.

But publishing in particular does seem to suffer from a fair amount of entropy. The old, "This has been working sufficiently well, and I see no reason to try anything new." And as long as it's working OK for them, there's no business reason not to maintain the status quo, I guess. The rise of e-publishing and self-publishing does seem to suggest, however, that it maybe isn't working that well, or at least won't continue to.

I don't actually have an argument here, just some thoughts, I guess.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: September 16th, 2011 05:22 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thinking in reply between innings.

I cd be boring & bang on abt rigidities, externalities, market-clearing prices, information, marginal utility, opportunity costs in the demand chain, & behavioural economics, but let's not. Two points only: people don't apply market forces; people ARE market forces by their actions - and inactions. And absent demand as expressed in efficiency pricing calculations, what you refer to isn't entropy, it's ... efficiency. You rightly point to new means of supply to meet new and niche demand, and that's precisely how things are meant to work and do work so long as nobody mucks abt w markets (as, e.g., by imposing quotas for politically correct fiction whether it sells or not).

Now back to the 5th ODI.
thisgirl_is From: thisgirl_is Date: September 16th, 2011 05:56 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thinking in reply between innings.

Gosh, anyone would think I failed first year economics or something. Oh wait.

I'm by no means in favour of imposing quotas or anything. But doing things solely for efficiency always seems a bit soulless to me. I'd probably make a terrible busineswoman. :oP
wemyss From: wemyss Date: September 16th, 2011 05:59 pm (UTC) (Link)

Haste is my enemy.

And w the rain pissing down and the covers on, not as it happens needed. I really didn't mean to sound such a shit as all that.
thisgirl_is From: thisgirl_is Date: September 16th, 2011 06:10 pm (UTC) (Link)

You'd have to try harder than that anyway

Nevermind dear, I didn't really think you did. And I really did fail first year economics, which was tragically-near to 15 years ago to boot, so I'm not at all surprised that I got it a bit wrong.

I guess the thing is that publishing is a business and literature (in the more general sense of Things Written, rather than Literature, if you see what I mean) is an art, and the two don't always do each other any favours.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: September 16th, 2011 06:29 pm (UTC) (Link)

Not always, perhaps.

Although there'd not be Art without business.
thisgirl_is From: thisgirl_is Date: September 16th, 2011 07:03 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Not always, perhaps.

Oh, the 'always' was quite deliberate. It's often a very symbiotic relationship between the two.

Although I have to disagree with that last statement. Art wouldn't be profitable without business, and there are things that would never have been created if someone weren't paying for it. (The Sistine Chapel for instance.) But there have always been people who want to make something beautiful, just for the joy of it. The bigger part of creative fandom don't write/draw/vid for a living, they just do it because they love it.

/dewy-eyed romanticism
wemyss From: wemyss Date: September 16th, 2011 07:35 pm (UTC) (Link)

All right.

But they'd not have the leisure or the resources to do so but for economic surplus, surely.
thisgirl_is From: thisgirl_is Date: September 16th, 2011 08:07 pm (UTC) (Link)

So common as to be a trope...

The starving artist/writer in the tiny garret; the artist/writer who spent their entire life in poverty, whose works only became financially attractive after their death...

There are those it works for (many of the great Renaissance artists, for example, Shakespeare) and those it doesn't. I'm pretty sure John Steinbeck didn't have an economic surplus. I think that was sort of the point, in fact.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: September 16th, 2011 09:56 pm (UTC) (Link)

No, no.

(Am still tightly wound from Bairstow's debut, so bear w me.) Art is not a public good, it is a normal good. The leisure to produce it at all, let alone sell it (wh in turn depends upon functioning markets and intellectual property rights), is reliant upon the existence of economic surplus in an economy: if you're digging potatoes or carrying hods all day until you collapse exhausted into such brief sleep as you can manage, you cannot spare time from subsistence existence to write or paint. There must be SOME leisure and surplus for anyone to embrace the opportunity cost of writing a poem rather than digging the potato that stands between him and starvation. Moreover, for almost all forms of artistic creation, there must be other capital and resources available: paint, canvas, fiddles, ink, paper. The starving artist has made a choice of opportunity costs in choosing to write rather than to sow and reap, but even that is made possible only when the economy is above subsistence level, wh was my point.
thisgirl_is From: thisgirl_is Date: September 19th, 2011 08:13 pm (UTC) (Link)


All right, I see where you're coming from, but I don't know that much of a surplus is required. How far above subsistence were your paleolithic cave painters? And all it takes to make a flute is an animal horn, a sharp implement and somelong winter nights.
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