3 September 2007

Writers’ Chamber of Commerce?

Filed under: Reflections — ktismatics @ 1:03 pm

In my last post I described my ambivalence about setting up my new brochure stand, stocked with copies of recent posts from Ktismatics, luring the unsuspecting passer-by to my blog and possibly to my psychology practice. Carrying the stand around makes me self-conscious, and I’m worried about whether the local merchants will want it stationed in front of their shops. But mostly I’m afraid that no one will want to read what I write.

A few posts ago I quoted Wallace Stevens as saying that he wrote for an elite audience, that in effect his writing was a performance staged not to a chamber of commerce but to a gallery of one’s own, if there are enough of one’s own to fill a gallery. Stevens might have been drawing the stereotypic distinction between the Babbitts and the aesthetes, but Stevens himself was a successful businessman as well as an acclaimed poet. I think instead he’s saying that he isn’t addressing himself to the marketplace of poets.

In every field of endeavor practitioners tend to converge on a particular way of doing their work, a bidirectional movement in which the expertise and judgment of the workers plays against the evolving tastes of the customers. If one is philosophically inclined one might describe this convergence as a dialectic or the continual unfolding of a zeitgeist. A more pragmatic or cynical observer might call it a compromise, or even a sell-out.

When I first started writing fiction my spirits were buoyed by my romantic image of the artist, hermetically sequestered against time and tide, pulling forth from the void the tangible manifestation of a unique vision. But it turns out that writing too is a business, and the writers are at the bottom looking up.

There’s a whole industry of writers’ conferences, where would-be published authors gather to hear from agents and publishers and commercially successful writers about trends in the industry. What kinds of books are selling, how do the successful writers develop characters and plots in ways that attract the book-reading public, using the active voice and avoiding adverbs to keep the reader’s attention, and so on. Writers attend these conferences partly to learn, but mostly to network – a chamber of commerce for writers.

Of course you’d like to get a famous author to take a shine to your work, give you personal advice, introduce you to her agent, write a glowing recommendation on the back cover of your first book. But you’ll settle for meeting writers who are a little more successful than you are, writers represented by agents, writers with book deals in the works. More realistically, maybe you’ll strike up acquaintance with fellow wannabes, embedding yourself in your assigned spot at the bottom of the hierarchy. Maybe you’ll start reading one another’s work; better, maybe somebody in your network will take a step up the ladder and throw you a lifeline – a letter of introduction to his agent, for example. But probably not: once he’s got an agent he doesn’t want to tempt fate by recommending some other writer whose work his agent might not like. Besides, now he’s moved into a more select circle.

(To be continued.)



  1. Distribution update: I printed off several copies of this post plus description of psych services and put them in the stand on the sidewalk at the new local mall. Not a lot of foot traffic today, but some. An hour and a quarter later I retrieved the stand. By my count exactly one handout was taken during that interval. I saw a number of people walk by without glancing at it. One young couple strolled slowly by and the guy took a fairly close look at my display, but he didn’t take a copy. When I got home I checked Sitemeter, which informed me that I had no visitors to the blog during that same hour and a quarter. I’ll try setting up in a different spot tomorrow — plenty of material already printed and ready to go.


    Comment by ktismatics — 3 September 2007 @ 4:40 pm

  2. In Amsterdam we used to get commercial handouts from young ladies directly in our hands.
    I heard they use targetting techniques. e.g. a certain age group.


    Comment by Odile — 4 September 2007 @ 2:36 am

  3. “In Amsterdam we used to get commercial handouts from young ladies directly in our hands.”

    I hope this was in the red-light district.


    Comment by ktismatics — 4 September 2007 @ 6:29 am

  4. No, did I make a language mistake?
    lol lol
    No it was in the shopping street. (confused if I use these words properly)
    I meant brochures that are supposed to be handed out?


    Comment by Odile — 4 September 2007 @ 11:09 am

  5. Your language was fine, Odile — it’s my mind that’s confused. As for targeting, I figure that anyone whose attention is drawn to the strange brochure stand and who actually takes a handout and reads it is the kind of person who might also be drawn to my services. So the targeting works by self-selection.

    Another update: I set up my stand at two different places today for a total of 2.25 hours. A total of 3 handouts were taken. The remaining handouts I left on a bench at a bus stop.


    Comment by ktismatics — 4 September 2007 @ 5:21 pm

  6. Just to satisfy my mathematical experimental marketing curiousity, was there one handout taken before? I’m curious if the number of handouts taken will grow and what pattern will result.


    Comment by Odile — 8 September 2007 @ 2:26 pm

  7. Yes, the first day one was taken. My best session was at the commuter bus stop: 4 in an hour and a half.


    Comment by ktismatics — 8 September 2007 @ 10:03 pm

  8. Maybe I should go work in marketing… The waiting did help.
    Is there a website of artistical activities in the region?


    Comment by Odile — 9 September 2007 @ 12:11 pm

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