O’ faithful readers, this week I shall try your patience once more with an assignment, and I shall winnow out the casual followers once more. But I know for a fact that a couple of you are serious nonfiction writers, and through this post, you’ll at least discover a new book that you need to own. Seriously, if you’re such a writer, go out and buy this immediately. Anywho, let’s begin…

Does Rabiner say anything to push or pull your thinking in a new direction?

It’s odd that she labeled as “genteel” the publishing industry of old, because to me—an outsider always looking in wistfully—the industry is, and always has been, a callous collection of elitists who look down on authors like myself (I’d like to think I put the “fiction” in “serious nonfiction”). But in her, I’ve found an agent/editor/writer with genuine compassion, and my thinking veered off from its normal tack as a result. It was awesome to hear her say that we lowly plebs deserve the “author” title just as much as the fancy best-selling folk, and it was reassuring to learn that someone of her caliber isn’t a stickler because she said that no author should be denied because he or she didn’t “understand the submission package.” If this industry were utopian, the submission package would be a single sentence: “Here, I wrote this book and it’s awesome. Now read it and throw your money at me.”

And at one point, when she said “if all you want to do is write whatever you want,” Rabiner spoke directly to me. As an author, I usually sit in front of this screen figuratively with my fingers in my ears, refusing staunchly to “write what sells.” “Oh yea?” I say, “you’re telling me collections of short stories about white trash hillbillies with super powers don’t sell that well? Cool. I wrote one anyway.” And admittedly, it hasn’t gotten me that for. Secondly, in that light, I might be screwed if I’m to think about my writing career “from the very first project” because my very first project was a middle finger held high to traditional publishing. Oops.

And lastly, when Rabiner prompted her readers to ask if their book was “important,” she alluded to the notion that “important” might not mean what I think it means. I hate the imposed subjectivity, but for something to be important, the masses have to agree. I can’t tell you how annoying this truth is because through it, the McRib at McDonald’s is “important” from a culinary perspective, and that just sucks. But it is what it is, and Rabiner makes a damn good point.

Does Rabiner give me a clearer sense of what serious nonfiction writing entails?

Yup.

Writing serious nonfiction that actually sells seems to be more about the presentation of information than the information itself. I might be too much of a purist, but frankly, to hell with that. If “managing data” is more important than beautiful prose in this genre, I can guarantee that I’ll never be a best-selling author of serious nonfiction. Microsoft Excel is for managing data: writing is for creating beauty, and I hereby swear to never sellout*.

That being said, I understand the necessity. Thanks to her mentioned lack of co-op money for works of serious nonfiction, writing in a certain way—speaking broadly to cast a wide net—is probably the only means to a successful career as a serious nonfiction writer (Capitolisim-1, Creativity-0). And that’s just the way it is, so I appreciate Rabiner’s honesty because she’s giving benevolent advice from an experienced standpoint: “gone are the days” when books are published because they’re deserving, and here are the days when books are only published if they make a ton-o-money.

And lastly, Rabiner really got me thinking when she said that I’d need to “treat competing theses with respect” in regard to writing serious nonfiction, because not doing so would alienate a portion of the general public. I’m directing this question to the other students in my editing group: is that something I really need to do? The book I’ll be proposing will highlight the lunacy inherent to cult leaders and their meek followers. The only competing thesis to this notion would be that “cult leaders are okay and their followers might have valid reasons for drinking poisoned cool-aid.” Do I really need to act like this competing thesis should be respected?

 

*This is a complete lie and fabrication. If anyone ever offers me actual money, I’ll sellout quicker than The Backstreet Boys.

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One thought on “Serious Nonfiction #2

  1. Jesse, I love your honesty. It was comforting to read that she believes in giving everyone a chance at success and considers many writers to be authors. It does seem counterintuitive to write what pleases your audience instead of you. That’s anti-Disney right there. I suppose it depends on your overall writing goals. I’d personally like to have a balance of both, and I tell myself that if I become successful by writing what others want to read, I may develop a good enough reputation to write whatever my heart desires. At least that’s my Disney-regurgitated believe-in-yourself mantra. I’m sure it’s possible to write what pleases you while pleasing your audience, though, and I think that’s sort of what Rabiner is starting to tell us. Serious non-fiction does require a fair amount of restriction that is challenging to the creative writer, so I hear you there. Great post, as always.

    -One pleb to another

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