Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Planning on being "discovered?" Don't count on it.

Jenny has been visiting us for the last few days. (She left early this morning.) It's been a laid-back kind of vacation for her, partly because she's been here many times before and has seen most of the sights, and partly because I've had a major case of bronchitis and have been too ill to go anywhere with her.

On Monday night we found a local Redbox, picked up a copy of Warm Bodies and stayed in to watch it. Captain Midnight, Miss V and I caught the film in theaters, but Jenny had never seen it before. I stand by my comment when I first saw the film: for a movie where the protagonist kills a guy and eats his brain, it's surprisingly sweet. But Warm Bodies is only tangentially related to what I want to write about: the problem with "getting discovered" as a career strategy.

Publicity photo of Isaac Marion by Mark Harrison/Seattle Times
I'd known that the film was based on a novel, but that was about the extent of my background knowledge. However, the DVD contained some fascinating extra material that reveals how the novel came into being. Writer Isaac Marion put together a short story about the inner monologue of a zombie, called "I Am A Zombie Filled With Love," which he posted on his blog back in 2007 or so (there's no precise publication date listed, so I've made my best guess). Due to an extraordinary twist of fate, a Hollywood producer read the story, one thing led to another, and all of a sudden Marion had a book deal and a film option in the works.

This is not ordinarily the way writing careers are made. In fact, this story is strongly reminiscent of the legend of actress Lana Turner and the way she was accidentally discovered. One day like any other, she skipped school at Hollywood High to buy a Coke at the local malt shop. The publisher of the Hollywood Reporter was in the shop and happened to catch sight of her, and the next thing she knew she was signed by a talent agent and making movies. Well. Suddenly a whole slew of would-be starlets started spending all their free time hanging out in Hollywood-area corner drugstores and malt shops, hoping to be discovered just like Lana Turner. What they didn't understand was that Ms. Turner's discovery was a fluke -- a one-time-only, irreproducible experience -- and that they were needlessly wasting their youth trying to break into show business the same way she had. It wasn't a valid strategy; it was insane.

1940s publicity photo of Lana Turner, photographer unknown
So what do would-be writers learn from Isaac Marion's success story? If they're smart, nothing. They keep right on submitting to publishers, self-publishing or e-publishing as a means of getting their work out there. Although many writers (myself included) post new fiction online, we have to be careful not to let it be our version of artfully hanging out in the corner drugstore, waiting for someone to discover us. We have to remember that the only valid reason for posting our creative output online is to share it directly with readers -- because the chances of breaking into a writing career that way are close to nil. Not even Isaac Marion or Lana Turner, who benefited from being so discovered, were trying to use this method as a strategy. They just happened to be in the right place at the right time, and got lucky. It was the career equivalent of winning the lottery. And you shouldn't bet your life's work on a lottery ticket.

No comments: