Bloggers get book contracts

NYT article on bloggers getting book contracts. What is interesting is that the article shows that publishers have begun to actively search out bloggers and commission them to do books. Everyone from Belle d’Jour, a high class British call-girl blogger, to Julie Powell, a Queens secretary who blogged about trying to make every recipe in Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” during the course of a year, to Gordon Atkinson, a minister and blogger known as Real Live Preacher, are being handed book contracts.

Kate Lee, an assistant at International Creative Management talent agency in New York, has become a kind of one-woman blog boutique, surfing for the best writers online and suggesting they work with her to develop and sell a book….

Ms. Lee now represents Elizabeth Spiers, who founded, the media- and entertainment-oriented blog, and is now writing a satirical novel about Wall Street. Ms. Lee also represents, among others, Glenn Reynolds, a University of Tennessee law professor and political blogger known as Instapundit.

Several factors make bloggers’ books attractive to agents and editors. “Word-of-mouth buzz is much more valuable than paid advertising,” Ms. Lee said. “I think if there’s a reason people come to your site, there’s a built-in audience.”

Publishers were always happy to have authors who already have a platform, said Mr. Hornfischer, who also has started contacting other bloggers he enjoys. That built-in blog audience is growing; because the Web has no boundaries, it is international. The Perseus Development Corporation, a research-and-development firm that studies online trends, estimates there will be roughly 10 million hosted Web logs by the end of the year. Nearly 90 percent of blogs, Perseus says, are created by people under 30.

I wonder if this phenomenon will one day extend to academics, with search committees scanning academic blogs for professorial talent!!

Blogging conversation

The Big Blog Company is a British outfit that is spreading the word on blogging. They have a business focus but interestingly they are also working with journalists. Niel McIntosh (Guardian journo and blogger) gives them a big wrap and suggests that London journalists go to their introductory seminars.

One of the interesting things about tBBC is that they approach business blogging with a similar philosophical framework to that of Dan Gilmour and others in their work on journalism and blogging. Here’s an excerpt from tBBC’s “manifesto”:

The Big Blog Company builds on the philosophy of the Cluetrain Manifesto, whose authors have urged companies to regard markets as conversations. The central message is that far from aiding such exchanges between companies and customers, formulaic corporate PR is an obstruction to the process in an era in which sophisticated, internet-savvy and information-rich customers regard slick marketing-speak as something to be filtered out….

Companies that do not join the conversation will soon have no customers to talk to. The internet enables customers to talk about the company amongst themselves, by-passing corporate messages, if they wish to. Allowing employees, the true repository of the company’s value, to join these conversations and communicate directly with customers enhances the company’s credibility and increases its presence in the marketplace.

Weblogs offer a way for companies to reclaim a place in the marketplace conversations using their employees’ credible voices. Blogging helps the company to build a community around it and provide an informal focus for customer loyalty. Blogging is individualistic, customised, and scalable. It originated in individual conversations and is a ground-up, grassroots phenomenon. Technology is changing the modern corporation.

We are at the end of the command and control business world. We are at the beginning of the coordinate and cultivate business world.

And speaking of Dan Gilmour McIntosh points to this interview Gilmour gave to a Korean citizen journalism project about future plans:

“I also want to bring…the understanding that professional journalists have actually learned a few things over the years — things that actually work and we shouldn’t just throw out those things that work as we go into this new era of citizen journalism. We should apply the best lessons from professional journalism — which is not to say replicate it – but to combine the best of the old with that wonderful energy and excitement out there in the grassroots. I think that would be wonderful if I could pull that off.”


I have just come across Snow the seventh novel from the Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk in the NYT list of 10 top books for 2004. According to Margaret Attwood who reviewed it for the NYT:

Although it’s set in the 1990’s and was begun before Sept. 11, ”Snow” is eerily prescient, both in its analyses of fundamentalist attitudes and in the nature of the repression and rage and conspiracies and violence it depicts.

Like Pamuk’s other novels, ”Snow” is an in-depth tour of the divided, hopeful, desolate, mystifying Turkish soul. It’s the story of Ka, a gloomy but appealing poet who hasn’t written anything in years. But Ka is not his own narrator: by the time of the telling he has been assassinated, and his tale is pieced together by an ”old friend” of his who just happens to be named Orhan.

I must follow up on this because I have been looking for a series of non-American texts that might form a counterpoint to my analysis of mainstream American blockbusters. Interestingly Attwood situates Pamuk in a genre she calls the “Male Labyrinth Novel” and places him in the company of DeLillo and Auster who I have also been looking at.

The twists of fate, the plots that double back on themselves, the trickiness, the mysteries that recede as they’re approached, the bleak cities, the night prowling, the sense of identity loss, the protagonist in exile — these are vintage Pamuk, but they’re also part of the modern literary landscape. A case could be made for a genre called the Male Labyrinth Novel, which would trace its ancestry through De Quincey and Dostoyevsky and Conrad, and would include Kafka, Borges, Garcia Marquez, DeLillo and Auster, with the Hammett-and-Chandler noir thriller thrown in for good measure.

Attwood also suggests that narrative is an essential element to Pamuk’s novelising:

If Ka were to run true to the form of Pamuk’s previous novels, he might take refuge in stories. Stories, Pamuk has hinted, create the world we perceive: instead of ”I think, therefore I am,” a Pamuk character might say, ”I am because I narrate.” It’s the Scheherazade position, in spades. But poor murdered Ka is no novelist: it’s up to ”Orhan” to act as his Horatio.

The plot against leakage

Frank Rich has written another excellent article about the moral values scare.

He notes that a PBS affiliate in NY has rejected an add for the movie Kinsey because of the film’s “controversial” subject matter. This is not unlike the reaction of the NYT in 1948 who refused to carry ads for Kinsey’s breakthrough study, Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male. Another public broadcaster refused to allow a women’s group to use the phrase “reproductive rights” in an on air announcement. And of course no one will carry the United Church of Christ’s ad welcoming gay couples to its congregations.

Such rapid-fire postelection events are conspiring to make “Kinsey” a bellwether cultural event of this year. When I first saw the movie last spring prior to its release, it struck me as an intelligent account of a half-forgotten and somewhat quaint chapter in American social history….Such history, which seemed ancient only months ago, has gained in urgency since Election Day. As politicians and the media alike pander to that supposed 22 percent of “moral values” voters, we’re back where we came in….But not unlike Philip Roth’s “Plot Against America,” which transports us back to an American era overlapping that of “Kinsey,” this movie, however unintentionally, taps into anxieties that feel entirely contemporary. That Channel 13 would even fleetingly balk at “Kinsey” as The Times long ago did at the actual Kinsey is not a coincidence.

Rich goes onto note that the “pop cultural revolution” begun in Kinsey’s era is in no danger but that the reaction to these cultural texts is indicative of more insidious measures being implemented in health care and eductaion.

No matter what the censors may accomplish elsewhere, the pop culture revolution since Kinsey’s era is in little jeopardy: in a nation of “Desperate Housewives,” “Too Darn Hot” has become the national anthem. A movie like “Kinsey” will do just fine; the more protests, the more publicity and the larger the box office. But if Hollywood will always survive, off-screen Americans are being damaged by the cultural war over sex that is being played out in real life. You see that when struggling kids are denied the same information about sexuality that was kept from their antecedents in the pre-Kinsey era; you see that when pharmacists in more and more states enforce their own “moral values” by refusing to fill women’s contraceptive prescriptions and do so with the tacit or official approval of local officials; you see it when basic information that might prevent the spread of lethal diseases is suppressed by the government because it favors political pandering over scientific fact; you see it when basic information that might prevent the spread of lethal diseases is suppressed by the government because it favors political pandering over scientific fact.

Although Rich calls his article “The Plot Against Sex in America” it is not just sex that is under attack. The folks over at Crooked Timber have been discussing the film adaption of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials and note a London Times interview with the director where he says the anti-religious overtones will be cut from the film version of the book. The battle against an evil all powerful church is essential to Pullman’s novel. But according to the Times:

Chris Weitz, the director, has horrified fans by announcing that references to the church are likely to be banished in his film. Meanwhile the “Authority”, the weak God figure, will become “any arbitrary establishment that curtails the freedom of the individual”. The studio wants alterations because of fears of a backlash from the Christian Right in the United States…

Weitz made these controversial remarks in an interview with, one of the many His Dark Materials fan sites. He said: “New Line is a company that makes films for economic returns. You would hardly expect them to be anything else. My job is to get the film made in such a way that the spirit of the piece is carried through to the screen and to do that I must contend with the fears of the studio.

“Needless to say, all my best efforts will be directed towards keeping the work as liberating and iconoclastic an experience as I can. But there may be some modification of terms. You will probably not hear of the church, but you will hear of the Magisterium. Those who will understand will understand.”

He said that he shared Pullman’s view that the Authority could represent any repressive establishment — political, totalitarian, fundamentalist or communist. “This gives me a certain amount of leeway in navigating the very treacherous issues that beset adapting His Dark Materials for the screen.

Meanwhile the Sydney Morning Herald reports that the European film industry is not being cowed.

Films about euthanasia, abortion and the hardships of immigrant life bagged the top prizes at the 17th European Film Awards today.

Head-On, about a young Turkish woman in Germany who escapes her strict Muslim home through a difficult marriage with an older man, won the best film award in the competition dubbed the “European Oscars”.

Spaniard Javier Bardem won the best actor prize for his role as a paralysed man who fought for three decades for the right to die in The Sea Inside, a true story.

Briton Imelda Staunton took the best actress statuette for her turn as a working-class mother who performs illegal abortions in the harrowing drama Vera Drake.

What is interesting in all these instances is the play of resistances. Kinsey, Pullman, Vera Drake are certainly “cultural bellwethers” as Rich suggests. But they produce resistance largely because they represent “leakage” – neither the message of the moral values crusaders nor the message of change makers can be easily contained. Any notion of consensus reality or dominant ideology is much more fluid than either of those two terms suggests. Even Weitz explicitly states that he intends to produce the Pullman film in such a way as its ambiguities leak a range of messages.

Blogging keeps on keeping on

Blogging is continuing to evolve in all sorts of directions. From citizen journalism to business blogging.

Dan Gilmour is leaving his full time journalism gig to explore a new unspecified “citizen-journalism project.”:

I hope to pull together something useful that helps enable — and demonstrates — the emerging grassroots journalism that I wrote about in my recent book. Something powerful is happening, it’s in the early stages and I have a chance to help figure this out.

I’m not ready to discuss the specifics yet, mainly because I have many more ideas than I could possibly try to put into practice at this point — and we’re early in the process of working out the venture’s actual form.

And at the other end of the spectrum Jeremy Wright and Darren Barefoot successfully auctioned themselves on EBay as bloggers for hire and have now set up a professional blogging consultancy for businesses.

Paul Chaney is doing much the same and is also proposing the formation of a professional bloggers association.

Thanks to Amy Gahran, whose latest PR and Marketing Grab Bag List set me off on this trail.

Conspiracy and the apocalyptic

My current reading has largely been in search of some explanatory theories that can drive my overall understanding of the apocalyptic.

Three theoretical constructs that may prove useful come from studies of conspiracy theory.

Improvisational Millenialism. Michael Barkun (2003) points out that many contemporary millennial or apocalyptic movements do not fit the standard typology of religious or secular. Today’s movements instead may draw from Revelation, Nostradamus, New Age and right wing politics.

The appeal of these collages lies in their claim to provide holistic and comprehensive pictures of the world. The variety of their elements implies that the belief system can explain a comparably wide range of phenomena, from spiritual to the scientific and the political. The combinations also suggest that apparent contradictions can be resolved, and that an underlying unity transcends outward differences. (2003:19)

Barkun also points out that such a belief system can only flourish if two preconditions are met: the availability of a wide range of potential material and sufficiently weakened authority structures.

Stigmatized Knowledge Claims. Barkun’s other contribution is the notion that an essential source for such improvisational belief systems is a what he calls “stigmatised knowledge claims” (2003:26). This category includes rejected (ancient wisdoms), superseded (astrology) rejected (ufos) and most importantly suppressed knowledge. The key to understanding this is that often stigmatisation is taken as “evidence” for truth. This relates to what Barkun calls the “cultic milieu:” “a world of persons, organisations, social interactions and channels of communications that makes the cultic milieu a genuine subculture rather than a mere intellectual or religious phenomenon.” (2003:25). Often stigmatised knowledge comes with its own pseudo-scientific explanatory and supposedly empirical framework.

Agency panic. Timothy Melley in his investigation of conspiracy and paranoia comes up with the term “agency panic” to explain “a broad cultural phenomenon, a pervasive set of anxieties about the way technologies, social organisations and communication systems may have reduced human autonomy and uniqueness.”

The culture of paranoia and conspiracy may be understood as a result of liberal individualism’s continuing popularity despite its inability to account from social regulation. Agency panic dramatizes precisely this paradox. It begins in a discovery of social controls that cannot be reconciled with the liberal view of individuals as wholly autonomous and rational entities. For one who refuses to relinquish the assumptions of liberal individualism, such revealed forms of regulation frequently seem so unacceptable or unbelievable that they can only be met with anxiety, melodrama or panic. (2004:14)

Melley goes onto point out that this works itself out in a conflict between a sociological and a psychological orientation.

What is striking about such accounts is the way their vision of the social order, and specifically of a dense communicative network, generates a rhetoric of lost individuality and autonomy. It is as if the perspective required by sociological description so diminishes individuals that they seem incapable of social influence. The result is often anxiety or dread. (2000:31)