Thursday, September 24, 2009

Reality TV about Novelists?

By Laura Caldwell

For years, I used to mock reality TV. Then I started watching things like Top Chef and Project Runway, and I was hooked. This week, I saw The September Issue, a reality documentary about Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue magazine, which follows her and her posse as she shapes the September version of Vogue, their biggest issue annually. You wouldn't think that putting together a magazine would be that exciting , but the documentary makers did a great job. Which got me to thinking –why aren't there reality TV shows about novel writers?

Now, I know what you're thinking: novelists essentially sit in their pajamas, glaring at their laptops, muttering things like, "He wouldn't say that. Damn it!" or, "God, that is so freaking stupid," as they hit the delete button. But as novel writers, we have to do much more if we're lucky enough to be published and in the occasional public eye.

So here's what I see for a reality TV show featuring wannabe novelists: While the show is taping, the contestants would have to finish a novel (or at least a novella, a book of about 50,000 words). The prize is publication with a top publisher. As they're writing their books, the contestants engage in tasks many authors do if they are fortunate enough:

- Give press interviews, sometimes to a fabulous magazine, sometimes to a grocery store newspaper in Dickeyville, Wisconsin where the writer is a freshman journalism student at the local community college.

- Perform book readings and signings. The way I see it, contestants would have to do readings and author events at bookstores where: 1) two people show and they're both family members; 2) Seventy people show (hey, it happens to at all of us every once in a great, great while, and you have to use a different skill set); and 3) eight people show—four of which are your friends, two of which simply want directions to the books on colon cleansing, and two of which have stumbled over from the bar next store and begin heckling you.

- Appearing on local television where the host thinks your book, Burning the Map, is a novel about map burning, asking, “Isn’t that like flag burning? It's illegal in some countries, right?”

- Doing an overnight radio appearance where the host continually directs the conversation to the size of your breasts, (or if you're a guy, to the size of your ... whatever).

- Driving in a car for hours to a Midwestern town to speak at what is purportedly a mystery writer's conference, but where you are asked to sit on a panel about romance in the sci-fi genre. (This happens more often than you think).

The list could go on and on. There are so many things both glorious and humiliating that authors experience which are visual and don't just involve us mumbling in front of our computers. So what do you say, should we get our own show? And what would we name it? Top Author? Top Dude-Who- Works-For-Five-Years-On-a-Book-Only-To-Have-3,253-People-Read-It-In-Hardcover? Whatever we call it, I’d watch it, would you?

25 comments:

Camille Kimball-A Sudden Shot: the Phoenix Serial Shooter said...

Laura, I'd watch any show you were on! But if you add non-fic, you could have authors like moi walking slowly up sidewalks looking for bloodstains or handholding at a hospital bedside or dodging grins and winks from a serial killer separated from you by a few flimsy courtroom benches. We'll spice up the show! Add us!

p.s. (my reality show guilty pleasure is America's Next Top Model. Oops! did I say that out loud?)

Libby Hellmann said...

How about scenes where authors do NOT get reviews in the trades or papers after the publisher has sent out ARCs?... Or authors coping with that snarky review on Amazon that will be there... forever?

Great post, Laura! Btw, check out the Washington Post for a oh-so-true story on the marketing efforts new authors must make:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/09/23/AR2009092304603.html

Kathy Holmes said...

An agent rejected my second novel, which had a tiny reality show sub plot, back in 2003 because she said that she and her partner felt they had the pulse on the future of reality shows - and pronounced them as being so over. I buried that book, and perhaps rightly so, still... :)

Love your ideas - have wondered how it would work for writers.

Love Survivor, Amazing Race, and Top Chef to name 3.

Camille Kimball-A Sudden Shot: the Phoenix Serial Shooter said...

I think a large segment of publishing has a grudge against all things television, Kathy. I had a TV based mystery (from my own experience, I did know what I was writing about) that never sold because most editors told us "no one cares about TV." Now there is a bestseller mystery very much like mine. Guess we missed the one editor who realized hundreds of millions of people, um, do find TV entertaining. So, I feel your pain. I remember those comments all too well from publishing pros. Yours was circulating in 2003? Gee, 6 years later and reality still dominates the dial and much of the culture conversation in this country. Guess you knew what you were writing about, after all, too. Solidarnoscz!

Dalety said...

I am not a writer but I love Laura's work. Based on Laura's idea I would watch. Now you writers have made me curious abut editor's lack of real feel for what we book buyers read. Sounds a little like movie critics to me!

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