April Fool’s, everyone!
Yes, I know it was last week; my mind hasn’t been that addled by free time and hard drives full of media. Last week, you might remember, is when I pulled my very first WordPress prank, by posting the ‘lyrics’ to the old Meow Mix commercial, and suggesting it might be literature. I then tweeted about it—twice, like I do for every other post—and invited the world to view it. I crossed my fingers, hoping that the world wouldn’t: hoping, despite myself, that world would prefer rich human debate over literary trends to the image of a long-deceased mouser lip-syncing one word.
Guess what? The world likes the cat better.
According to my stats, the singing tabby got more views than my last two editorial posts: one exploring publishing trends, and the other lamenting what the loss of Dana Plato could mean to writers. Both, I hope, were insights worth sharing with other writers, and my followers seemed to agree in their comments. Instead… a retro look at cat food is more widely read than both of them combined? What the Feline?
Yes, I know that Star Trek fandom, pornography and cat-worship are the rivets that keep the Internet from collapsing. Personally, I’d hate to make full disclosure of the number of times I’ve put off writing a story or polishing up a chapter to look up just a few more facts of Tootie’s and Natalie’s lives. So, living in that world, I fully expected that tweeting anything with the word ‘meow’ in it would earn a whole new following, and I wasn’t disappointed.
Fun is important, but isn’t that just a little bit depressing?
Let’s back away from the absurdity for a moment, and look at this as the ultimate devolution of a literary trend. (I can hear my views crashing around me already, like being caught in a tropical deforestation.) This post featured a song with one word in it—the word ‘meow’—and a cute video graciously YouTubed by Sabed Mako. Here’s the fundamental question, then: if fewer words and more gimmicks attract greater numbers of readers, then isn’t this something writers need to consider?
I believe that it is, and not just for commercial reasons. The role of a writer… our ‘job,’ if you will… is to spread entertainment and debate as far as possible, until our ideas become a kind of infection that might grow into a plague for the world to embrace or to fight. There is a perfect balance, somewhere, between lyrical words entertaining our readers, and simpler words conveying the issues that engage our readers. I haven’t managed to strike that balance, yet, and I sometimes wonder if anyone has. I’m always trying, though, by writing about everything from prisoners of war to girls stuffing their bras, just to see what will click.
Of course, it might help if the publishing industry could make up their mind, too. Reading through the manuscript wish-lists is a bit like eavesdropping on a group of millennials protesting that they don’t care about physical appearance; just as the kids’ hair products and tattoos give them away, so too does the publication history listed by most of agents on the MSWL site. Those who claim to want, “novels that blur the line between literary and commercial,” represent work, again and again, that isn’t at all blurry. They clearly want commercial, because commercial, by its very definition, follows the trail of the money.
Of course, there are a thousand reasons to read, so there are a thousand ways to write. I am pleased to note that the fiction and prose I have posted always scores relatively well in views; I take that as a compliment, and commit to posting more. It’s common, though, for a writer to face rejection because the prose that her friends and followers found so beautiful is just “too hard to read” out there in the open market. Agents know this, whether they admit it or not.
So, as April Fool’s becomes passé, and foolishness morphs into a perennial pastime, it’s worth learning a lesson from our singing cat.
The lesson is to know your audience.
– A few more Words from K. Alan