American Idol -- the literary edition

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Today on her blog, Janet Reid linked this post from writer Chuck Wendig. One of the comments on his comment stream inspired this post - specifically the one that compared him to Simon on American Idol. It struck me that it was a perfect analogy.

Vanity publishing = an American Idol cattle call

You get a stadium with 30,000 hopefuls who parade in and do what they think is their best.

  • Some seem confused.
  • Some are off-key.
  • Some bring props and just want to hang out with the judges.
  • Some are monumentally tone deaf.
  • Most are in an "okay" middle ground where they can carry a tune, if they're singing along in a car, but they're not at a level someone would pay to hear.
  • A precious few are so talented, they make your soul bleed out your eyes for the privilege of hearing them.

Now, imagine that someone was recording every single track used to audition with the intent of throwing them up into an "American Idol Sound Store" at the end of the audition so the listening audience could purchase the ones they want for 99cents a pop.

Sounds cool, right? All those unknowns with a huge audience, and they're all - technically - American Idol Recording Artists. But here's the catch... there are 30,000 of them. PER CITY.

We see less than 100 people on each episode of the audition shows, and of those less than half are someone you'd want to listen to without threat to your home or person involved. 20-30 make the cut to go on and *maybe* make it to the actual show.

They're an auditory slush pile.

You might dive into the AI Sound Store with high hopes, struggling to find that one gem you know is buried in the list, but after hearing the same 6, garbled, off-key songs mutilated in new and horrifying ways, what are the chances you're going to spend anymore time (or money) looking deeper?

THAT's the vanity publishing the public sees.

Your book may be life-changing and beautiful and full of prose that could melt marble with its magnificence, but after the 17th rehash/mash-up/blatant rip-off of [insert best seller with new character names] and the 32nd fantasy novel that reads like a prescription catalog threw up on Tolkein, and the 29th volume of poetry a 2nd grader could tell is terrible... no one wants to read any further to find your amazing story.

It doesn't matter that YOU are great. It matters that THEIR experience with vanity published books wasn't. Potential readers will assume that you fall into the majority, not the exceptions.

Generally, commercial books that are backed by a publisher meet certain standards before being published. The reputation of that publisher speaks for their books just like the reputation of vanity publishers speaks for theirs.

Yes, the guy in the chicken suit playing the backward accordion on stilts and whichever hopeful wins at the end of the show both performed on American Idol, but it's not enough just to show up for the cattle call.

8 Chiming In:

S.P. Bowers said...

Wow, never thought of it that way. Great insight.

Lisa Aldin said...

Very cool analogy!

Lynn Lindquist said...

I just stumbled on your blog (after reading your comment on GotYA), and I'm so glad I did. This post is great, and so true. I've skimmed a couple of your posts and I really enjoy your writing. Good luck with your novels!

BK Mattingly said...

This is a great way to think about it, the clearest explanation I've seen yet. Now, it makes sense to me.

Sean Thomas Fisher said...

Sometimes I feel like the one wearing the armadillo suit.

Btw, I loved your first para in Nathan's contest!

Unknown said...

A little off the subject, but I just popped over here because I saw you explaining your middle name over at TH Mafi's blog... I choose to believe every word.

Nice post! I've often thought that American Idol votes should be cast by viewers purchasing the track from iTunes or whatever instead of just texting/calling.

Shannon said...

Great analogy.

Off topic...I miss Simon.

Unknown said...

Seems like a more apt analogy for e-publishing right now.

I don't think anyone feels like they have to wade through tons of vanity published books to find a book they want. But with e-books, who knows how they'll be, or who wrote them?

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