Mr. Franzen’s Folly

How does someone so seemingly intelligent get things so wrong all the time? Here’s Franzen’s latest:

“In my own little corner of the world, which is to say American fiction, Jeff Bezos of Amazon may not be the antichrist, but he surely looks like one of the four horsemen. Amazon wants a world in which books are either self-published or published by Amazon itself, with readers dependent on Amazon reviews in choosing books, and with authors responsible for their own promotion. The work of yakkers and tweeters and braggers, and of people with the money to pay somebody to churn out hundreds of five-star reviews for them, will flourish in that world?”

This is so inane I don’t know where to begin. There’s a very easy solution to the idea of Amazon being the new slush pile: don’t read those books. Read only books by authors you already know. Or wait for a recommendation from a source you trust. (They exist!) Read a sample paragraph and move on. Figure out how to find what you need.

Here’s what worries Franzen: not that he won’t be able to find what he needs, but that others won’t be forced to read his books.  It’s easier to be the Book of the Season – and to have your publisher pay to have a big table full of your books in the front of the bookstore – than it is to slug it out among the masses. He’s the equivalent of the bloviating newspaper columnist who can’t believe there are bloggers who can beat him at what he does.  That’s not to say that all bloggers are better than the columnist, any more than to say that the slush pile is full of manuscripts better than Franzen’s new novel. What it does say is that readers have more choices, and might choose to read things they like better than what’s been chosen for them by New York publishers.

That’s what bothers Franzen. The system has changed, and readers don’t have to be led by the nose any more. They’re free to find what they want. And if that means that Franzen’s eighth novel, or Philip Roth’s gazillionth, has to compete with new voices and emerging writers, so be it. The system has changed. This or that author, or this or that book, may or may not win. The process – and the readers – will.

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5 thoughts on “Mr. Franzen’s Folly

  1. I was stunned at Franzen’s comments. I wonder why he does not think this wide world is big enough for as much talent as we can summon up. No, everything that is self-published is not a gem. But neither is everything that goes through traditional avenues, and, for that matter, neither is everything popular really that good. Some of us look at what is selling best at the moment and disagree.

    I want to publish someday. But I want to publish what I write. I don’t want to write to the bestseller list. Besides, if you are anything but yourself, you are a fraud.

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    1. Yes! This is exactly true. I spent years trying to write books I didn’t really believe in because I was told that they were what might sell. When you become your own gatekeeper, you’ve lost your bearings. Good luck to you!

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