Thursday, April 19, 2012

Words' Worth

What is a writer worth? Apparently, to some, not much.

On the same day that gay readers heard about the shuttering of Out magazine, and possibly its until-now tandem older publication, The Advocate, San Franciscans were shocked to hear of a deal made to sell the SF Bay Guardian to The Examiner, which itself is owned by Canadian investors.

What will be the fate of The Guardian's writers and staff? More important, what will become of its progressive editorial focus when it's owned by the Hearst Corporation, a business mired in decades of dubious editorial policies? (see Citizen Kane).

Imagine the befuddlement of an editor (possibly Steven Buel, according to SFist) who moved from one publication to another, only to discover that it's been sold to yet another?

But what of the value of writing for LGBT media? According to Queerty, "Out‘s parent company, Here Media (a subsidiary of Regent Entertainment), has faced financial hardships in the past, with freelancers claiming invoices had gone unpaid and a fraud lawsuit against Regent still outstanding."

Here Media spokesman Mark Umbach told Capitol Media in an email: "The company continues to make great strides in paying down its contributors and liabilities. As a common business practice we do not comment on any pending litigation."

Those hired for editor Aaron Hicklin's next project, the preposterously titled Grand, will enjoy "flexible hours and the opportunity to work on other projects in the Grand stable, but not full-time salaries or benefits."

So, selling off the boat while you still owe the crew seems to be the only option in a historically mismanaged takeover that sank one or two of the largest gay publications in the English language. And now, maybe, just maybe, some of the staff will be re-hired elsewhere on a contract (i.e no benefits or salary security) basis. Congrats!

Having worked for a free newspaper for nearly twenty years, I've often felt that my work is taken for granted, but not at all by my employers. In the older days of The Advocate, however, I worked hard to get several feature assignments and got paid well. Unlike most other LGBT publications, The Bay Area Reporter always pays its writers, and the checks don't bounce.

The same cannot be said of others, specifically another local publication, The San Francisco Bay Times. I've gotten into a pleasant groove of editing and writing up the listings for the BAR's new monthly nightlife mini-magazine, BARtab SF. Of the hundreds of events' press releases sent to me, I carefully decide on which events to include, and endeavor to provide succinct and accurate listings. The end goal is to make having fun and participating in local culture easy and fun.

So why should I have been surprised, in this pervasive atmosphere of denigrating content makers, when I discovered that for weeks, dozens of my listings were copy-pasted into the Bay Times and falsely represented as their own content?

Yep; blatant plagiarism from a lesser paper with suspect distribution, and one that for years owed many writers money (and possibly does to this day).

Gee, Betty. Why not just put me on your masthead? Maybe I should just send an invoice for services rendered.

And in the world of gay fiction - my little corner of the writing universe - a revolution of cheapness has been growing for years. completely unrelated to my level of writing, but still "worth" mentioning: The Pulitzer committee has decided that there are no novels published in 2011 worth their award. Yes, for the first time in 35, according to Lambda Literary Review, they're just not that into ...anyone. "That the Pulitzer committee did not finish the task they were given is a slap in the face to the three finalists as well as to the other nominees," writes Victoria Brownworth (who's also a BAR contributor).

It seems that this year, even the greatest works are just not worth the judges' time and effort.

A small novel, despite award nominations and critical acclaim, doesn't stand a chance in rankings on against the endless volley of erotica that's dispensed like Pez. Take a look:

Do any of these books resemble literature? No. And yet, because they're so cheap, so obvious in their below-the-belt content, they outsell other books by merit of their sheer volume and lower price.

What effect does all this have overall? It represents the simultaneous denigration and abundance of writing, or to paraphrase a scathingly critical book's title, the end of literacy and the triumph of spectacle.

Hundreds of people downloaded the Kindle edition of my new book, and others with Amazon Prime continue to do so. Yet how many of those hundreds bothered to even click a like or a review? Very few.

Some consumers, in their haste to acquire anything and everything, are even snapping up knockoffs of bestsellers, and isn't doing much to stop it.

"Karen Peebles, author of a Girl With The Dragon Tattoo copycat book, told Fortune magazine that she has self-published around 10,000 books through Amazon's CreateSpace tool, some of which are under an alias. "I am a single mother who home schools her children," Peebles said, who added that she sells "thousands and thousands" of books a month. "Self-publishing is a great way for me to make income. I receive a pretty nice royalty every month."

No doubt included in Peebles' "home-school" curriculum is How to Be a Rip-off Artist 101.

Similarly, since the release of the Kindle edition of my books, I've been forced to hunt down potential bootleg copies being offered on websites like stolen porn. And guess what? After I'm dead, and the copyright for my books runs out, they'll all be free.

Fortunately, I'm one of those lucky schlubs who gets paid, usually. But despite this, I have the audacity to request financial support for a book I haven't even finished writing yet.

And for many amazing Kickstarter projects, it's happening; not through a buyout or a corporation, but hopeful supportive individuals who believe in the value of good writing. It's far from perfect. Amazon Payments and Kickstarter each take 5%, adding up to the same as an average agent's fee.

But people subverting the corporate system, or subverting it by getting the best use of it, are getting their chance. And fans are supporting them where it counts, with dollars. Hopefully, you're one of those previous few.

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