Why Authors aren’t ‘sexy’ and how to fix this

is this younerd

Have you ever noticed how much people around the world idolize singers, dancers, models, athletes, and even reality TV “stars”, but not authors? Today’s post is about the decline in reading for pleasure, or frankly at all, around the world.

There are many reasons for this, such as, the sad state of literacy, the boringness of reading still words when moving images and games are so much more interesting, the lack of respect for education in many parts of the world, the poor (or perceived poor) quality of books being put out around the world, and the work overload, especially here in America. For these reasons, even an indie musician can still gain respect, or a Broadway actor, but an indie author gets very little, and books simply don’t reach as many people as we’d like.

But there’s one reason I believe, whereas music and movies have grown in appeal, books have not: Authors just aren’t sexy.

I mean it. Think of the most stunning, dashing writer you know. Most likely, it’s someone writing a nonfiction book about their life, or it’s a celebrity writing a children’s book (this seems to be common). In those cases, the author may be Channing Tatum or Scarlett Johansson hot. However, most fiction authors, particularly those who may earn fame or respect from writing, are not walking the red carpet in $10,000+ suits and dresses.

Please note: I am not saying authors are ugly. What I mean is, we do not live the “glamorous” life so often depicted on reality TV, live in the hills of Malibu with the other Hollywood stars, etc. Whereas other entertainers make their living performing in front of other people, book writers make a living working alone, indoors, probably not in stylish clothes.

Authors also tend not to be very extroverted: Compare the lifestyle of the biggest-name authors to rock stars or actors. THOSE people go to A-list parties, fly around on private jets, and have paparazzi following them around (Most of them secretly like this, even if they pretend not too) telling the celebrity-obsessed public what the celebrity is wearing, who s/he’s hanging out with, and what restaurant they eat at, etc. In contrast, most authors are like the type who’d rather wear sweaters and go on NPR to discuss Immanuel Kant’s philosophies or the secret meaning of Catcher in the Rye. I can’t think of one big-time author who behaves the way the public expects a rock star to behave.

Here’s the problem: As the concept of celebrity obsession travels from America and goes around the world, people are connecting to anyone they see on TV, the Internet, or magazine covers. These are going to be populated by hyper extroverts. Reality TV shows and cable shows depicting the next superstar singer/dancer/model/actor/personality drive the global demand for celebrity.

Even indie musicians have it made. For example, Delaware is home to one of the biggest indie music festivals in America, Firefly. Based in my former hometown of Dover, roughly 70,000 people are expected to go this year. In comparison, Woodstock had about half a million people. While top indies may not fly in private jets or drink $10,000 wine, you still get the “cool” prestige in being a band that can afford to go on tour around the country, and you can still have the groupie/roadie tag attached to your band. At least you can still sell some merch.

In contrast, there isn’t a single author reality TV show (at least not in America) to get people up. Imagine American Idol or The Voice but with people performing short stories pieces, judged by authors with quirky or interesting personalities. Before you say “It can’t be done. People don’t want to hear someone talk about stories”, just know there is basically no limit to what folks will watch, provided you make it interesting and entertaining.

Picture aspiring authors showcasing their best stuff to demonstrate their storytelling skills. Who says talking and performance don’t matter?

Perhaps find some A-list authors and let them to a Hard Knocks style show where they show the process of what inspires them to write, and how they come up with their ideas. With a little showmanship from the author(s), this could be done to get people interested.

Musicians perform their art in front of other people. Actors make films which are show to people. Models walk catwalks in front of other people. In all cases, the person is shown, moving, acting alive. In comparison, all most people see of authors are the completed books, and maybe a photo on the dust jacket or back cover. Nothing moves, nothing looks alive in the moment. All is frozen in time.

I sincerely believe that if we could find a way to make reading and writing “cool”, and use A-list authors to show this to younger people, we could build some interest in reading. This does NOT mean dumbing down the product or turning into “pop”, the way many songs and movies have become. We can still tell great stories, inspire, explore, and share messages. We just need to figure out a way to make what we do appealing so people get connected to the reading and writing process and gain interest in books.

if you’re concerned that writers will soon become associated with fur coats, VIP lounges at clubs, and a sleazy lifestyle, let me be clear: we can panic only if Stephen King and James Patterson are caught snorting coke of the backs of dancers at Le Crazy Horse. THEN we can worry about the negative celebrity effects of exposing the greater public to the world of writing.

Your thoughts: What do you think should be done to build people’s interest in reading and writing? Would my idea listen above work? Why or why not?

photo credit:  http://flic.kr/p/afQpJy (note: This link does not work anymore)

Lack of ethnic diversity in writing and in movies?

I came across this graph at the blog fuckyeahscifiwomenofcolour.tumblr.com/. The original website it comes from is from Lee and Low’s blogsite Read it and think about it:

medievalpoc: leeandlow submitted to medievalpoc: The Diversity Gap in the highest grossing science fiction and fantasy films. Sad, right? You can see the full study here. I highly recommend reading the entire article. from the infographic: Among the top 100 domestic grossing films:• only 8% of films star a protagonist of color• of the 8 protagonists of color, all are men; 6 are played by Will Smith and 1 is a cartoon character (Aladdin)• 0% of protagonists are women of color• 0% of protagonists are LGBTQ• 1% of protagonists are people with a disability

and this from the Lee and Low website:

If you are a minority/person of color and you have aspired to becoming a writer (yours truly speaks in the first person on this one) you may look at this and become convinced that the odds of becoming a bestselling author are slim, or if you are writing a book with a lot of minority characters (includes LGBTQ) in it your novel will not sell. While I am not sure what Lee and Low think the primary cause of the dearth of non-heretosexual Caucasian authors and characters are, I can offer my best guesses for a few of these items (warning: my opinions on most matters are well-informed and based on my expertise and/or knowledge of a subject. If facts bother you, this is not the blogsite for you!):

First off I am surprised only 14% of movies have a female protagonist. They may be referring to movies like Lucy or The Hunger Games where the primary protagonist is female. The lack of villains of color (assuming Darth Vader doesn’t count) is likely due to the fact that Caucasians dominate Hollywood and there is fear that if they make the “bad guy/girl” a minority they will be charged with racism, so it’s safer just to make the villain Caucasian.

As for the books, the first truth is well-read and well-educated people tend to become authors. Well, the sad reality is that many Black and Hispanic children are behind White and Asian peers when it comes to reading and writing. In some states, like Delaware where I live, the difference can be as much as two full grade levels difference (i.e. White child in 6th grade reads like a 6th grader should, Black or Hispanic child are at 4th grade level). Children who don’t grow up around books and who can read them are less likely to want to write them someday.

The other truth is income-based; Many low-income children grow up in a single-parent household, and often that single parent does not read to the children on a regular basis the way parents with higher incomes or education read to their kids. Since reading has long been seen as something predominately solid middle, upper-middle, and upper-classes do, and most Americans in those categories are White, then it’s logical most authors will come from households where reading was encouraged over home where it is not.

It’s also therefore logical that the vast majority of those whose jobs depends on writing of some kind, including agents, publishers, editors, book reviewers, screenwriters, movie producers, directors, etc., come from the same backgrounds. Don’t believe me? Go look for an agent or publisher and tell me what seems to stand out. If indeed the facts mentioned above are in any way related to the types of books published and movies made, then you cannot expect movies and books which are “different” to become blockbusters without a major change in the movie making and literature world.

The most logical reason then for the lack of POC in books/movies has more to do with who writes and who publishes vs. inherent racism and discrimination against authors of color, but it would be wrong to say there is no prejudice whatsoever anywhere in Hollywood and in literature.  Accept that if you are of Hispanic descent (yours truly) or some other non-White background you will feel as though the already-challenging odds of getting published are even harder, especially if you happen to write about a theme which is “different” than what usually fills the bestseller lists or makes blockbuster franchises. It may seem unfair but it is the cold, hard truth.

There is, however, hope for you.

The best advice I can give is never to quit writing or producing movie content. If you do then you simply create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Write the book or movie script YOU want, not what someone tells you is “acceptable” for publication or production. What should matter is the quality of the story and not whether some major publisher or distributor deems it among the “chosen ones” based on pre-determined criteria and/or whether YOU THE AUTHOR are among the “approved ones” based on your age or what you look like.

One suggestion is to examine your own personal life or the life of someone close to you and look for something unusual or which stands out from the experiences you would expect the average American has.

For example, if you were ever involved in gang activity, but now you are out of it, that’s a good story right there. You can write a story about gangs better than someone who was never in a gang or who didn’t know gang-members personally. If you were in the military in any country, write a fictional story based on your experience, whether or not it is a military novel. In my case I infused elements of my Boy Scout camping days in the novel I am currently editing. If you were born poor or homeless or on a tribal reservation, create a story based on how you lived and how you felt. There’s an old saying “people write what they known” and it’s true. Use your unique life experiences to your advantage in your writing! 

COMING UP NEXT: novels for male audiences. Do guys even read books anymore? Or is the future of fiction going to belong to the “chick-lit” genre which basically means romance novels (paranormal or normal doesn’t matter) or dystopian thrillers with female heroines? Stay tuned.

COMING UP SOON: will also post some vlogs on some topics I care about and repost them here. For this upcoming episode I have a couple things to say about “The Fault in Our Stars” and its author John Green. Some flattering, some less so. Stay tuned.

Is this proof of racism or an overreaction?

A recent article in the news caught my eye. It is on NBC News about the relatively low number of Hispanics who appear on camera in Hollywood. Numbers behind the camera not included.

“Lights, Camera, Struggle? Hollywood Latinos Speak Out” (emphasis mine)

Lights, camera, struggle? A recent study from the University of Southern California made headlines after concluding Latinos continue to be the most underrepresented group in Hollywood films. The report only confirms what Latino actors, producers, and advocates already know: It is tough to make it in Hollywood, but it is even tougher for Hispanics.

The study by the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism found that diversity on-screen lags far behind that of the U.S. population. Researchers looked at films over a six-year period and found that Latino characters accounted for only 4.9 percent of all speaking roles. In contrast, Hispanics are 17.1 percent of the population, yet are 25 percent of the moviegoing public.

Najera observed that prime Latino roles still go to non-Latinos. “Look at “Argo,” the main character was Tony Mendez, a Latino from Colorado… and the part goes to Ben Affleck,” he said. “And if you are not seeing Latinos on camera, that means there are probably few Latinos behind the camera, or writing scripts.”

The USC study also found that Latinas were the mostly likely of any group to appear on film partially or fully nude. Hispanic males were the most likely to be shown in tight or revealing clothing.One reason that Latino performers struggle to find work is that Latino-themed films have a mixed track record at the box office. “La Bamba” (1987) and “Selena” (1997) were successes, and last year’s “Instructions Not Included” became the top-grossing Spanish-language filmof all time in North America. Yet the more recent “Cesar Chavez” film was a commercial disappointment.

I do not want to use this space to complain about racism because that would imply that few Hispanics are being chosen because of discrimination. It could be (I don’t know) that Hispanics are less likely to go into acting than other ethnic groups. But it seems ridiculous to have Ben Affleck playing a Hispanic character in a movie. Though, there was a time, and still is for some, where it is debated as to whether Ben Affleck should be in any movie at all.  I’m Not saying that he’s a bad actor, because as of late he has made a few better performances, but he has made some fairly bad movies (remember Gigli? If not, be glad).

That said I am not surprised that most scripts include few Hispanic characters unless it’s J-Lo, Selma Hayek, Michelle Rodriguez, or Eva Longoria showing a little extra for the camera. Certainly few book adaptions feature prominent Hispanic characters so Hollywood probably just does not see a need for us.

Do you think there is racism in Hollywood or is this an overreaction by some Hispanics in Hollywood?

Side show:Also a college friend of mine is challenging me to the ALS Ice bucket, where I have to dump a bucket of ice cold water on my head and post it to show support for ALS research. Once the video is filmed I will get it up here, probably tomorrow or Friday.