Thursday, August 25, 2011

Writing Whores . . . What’s Your Price?

I generally avoid politics in my blogs but could not resist this joke sent to my wife by one of her friends:

“We are all familiar with a Herd of cows, a Flock of chickens, a School of fish and a Gaggle of geese. However, less widely known is a Pride of lions, a Murder of crows (as well as their cousins the rooks and ravens), an Exaltation of doves and, presumably because they look so wise, a Parliament of owls. Now consider a group of Baboons. They are the loudest, most dangerous, most obnoxious, most viciously aggressive and least intelligent of all primates. And what is the proper collective noun for a group of baboons? Believe it or not . . . a Congress! I guess that pretty much explains the things that come out of Washington.”

That said, writers face decisions of a “political” nature when they write. Every story has an audience with identifiable expectations. “Politically correct” expression infringes on freedom of speech. Where does the writer draw the line? Don’t use the “n”-word. Don’t use certain profanity like the “c”-word or the “f”-word. But, what if your character curses like a sailor and uses racial epithets? Or, let’s say you are writing a rape scene; would the rapist address his victim as “maam” or “miss” or would he slug her in the face and call her a . . . you get the idea. What is the writer to do?

I believe writers must “know their target audience” and write accordingly. For example, kids should not be exposed to certain concepts or foul words. What about writing for adults? Should adults be coddled like kids? Should writers produce non-offensive Pablum to placate sensitive readers? Is the writer selling out by softening language or protecting the reader from brutal realities that might fit the story? By resisting temptation to write the story as it NEEDS to be told, we become whores to the market. Here are my personal rules for writing about volatile topics such as politics, religion and sensitive stuff like gay scenes or “PC” subjects:

Rule 1:  Never promote a political agenda. You instantly lose 50% of the buying public. Write for the left—you lose the right. Write for conservatives—you lose the left. Write for fishermen—you lose almost everybody. Most people don’t want to read about fishing and most fishermen don’t read. (just kidding!) Maybe that’s why writers like King stick to horror stories that are equally frightening to both political parties. That way, no book sales are lost to closed minds.

Rule 2:  Never write strictly for men. Why? Many men don’t read unless there’s a centerfold in the publication, (Calm down, I didn't say ALL men.) The corollary to this is that most women DO read. It’s okay to write “for” women, because your potential market doesn’t shrink much. That explains the success of romance novels and sappy stuff like the Bridges of Madison County or Gone with the Wind.

Rule 3:  Ignore rules 1 and 2 if you think you can make a bunch of money selling your story to fans of Hannity, Joy Behar or Billy Graham. Does this make you a writer-whore? Uhhh, yeah, but who cares? The ugly little truth is that ALL writers crave recognition for their work and many will gladly parade around bookstores, or babble in radio interviews, trying to enhance their sales.

So, if writers sell their services to the highest bidder, including years of promoting the book after it hits the market, then I guess the only remaining question is, “How far will you go for fame?” And, don’t deny that you would dress up in a giraffe suit and dance in front of Barnes & Noble, if it meant selling another dozen books. That brings me to my own "price" for success. I will do anything that is not illegal, immoral or totally tasteless to bring attention to my book(s). I recently bought a bagpipe and Scottish kilt. Picture a 300 pound, rugged-looking writer dancing along the sidewalk in front of your favorite bookstore playing Amazing Grace (the only song I know on the bagpipe) over and over. Wouldn't you be at least a little curious? Now, help me make that age-old decision . . . under the kilt? Briefs or commando? What do you think?


  1. I try to write the novel that I'd hope to find on the shelves (if I hadn't written it).

    I do agree, especially with the political nature. For example, I watch the TV show Burn Notice. There are also some novels based on the series out there.

    In them, the author, in a not so subtle manner, inserts statements through exposition or character thoughts, that are pro Obama.

    There was even one scene where Fiona was thinking about Michelle Obama, and how Fiona thought that Michelle was a lady who could really take care of herself. I thought, WHAT?

    First, why would Fiona be thinking about the First Lady? And second, what exactly would Fiona consider (or define) as woman that could take care of herself? What would that woman not only have to be able to do, but be willing to do--and probably have done? Sorry, I am sure Michelle Obama has positive aspects, but I don't think she could out fight and out shoot, or blow up or outwit the secret service men and women who protect her--which would be Fiona's standard of 'being able to take care of herself.' And beyond being able to out shoot and fight, she would have had to demonstrate it.

    Yep, the insertion of pro current administration comments turned me off (can anyone identify in the series where Michael or Fiona or Sam Axe are pro Obama?) But the Fiona line of thought I mentioned...won't ever pick up another novel in the series...or from that author...on principle. Besides, there's too much else out there to read.

    As a side note: Reading the Burn Notice novels is kind of like watching a soap opera where there are stand-in actors for the regulars. Really the writing wasn't bad, but the character's were just a bit off--at least as I saw it.

    Well, that turned out to be a long comment.

    Oh, and if I have a vote, ummmm, I say briefs. :)

  2. Case in point...the author limited her sales possibilities by injecting (unnecessarily) political bias. Good example, Terry.

    As far as briefs or commando, my research leans heavily on the commando side. However, being a pragmatist, I may let the weatherman decide. Let's see, it says tommorrow's temperature should hit a high of 96. That sounds like commando weather. However, in winter, I may be the only man ever to wear a kilt over sweatpants. Hmmm, where am I going to find red plaid sweats? lol


I would love to hear your thoughts about my blog.