Friday, October 26, 2007

The Marriage Between American Idol And A Star Is Born

I can remember the first time I saw my children watching "American Idol" I told them I did not want to see that program on my television. Of course I got laughed at and ignored and they made me watch a whole show to prove that it was a colossal waste of time. But one does not argue with success nor can one argue these days with Simon or House or the rest of the fad that ingrains the viewers with the message - "Nasty is good. Nasty is important. If you want to get ahead, be nasty" message. But enough ranting about the educational messages of television and society.

Thing is "American Idol" is incredibly popular as is the knock off of it in Israel, "A Star Is Born". Everyone and their pet cat seems to watch it. And to tell you the truth, after listening to some of the singers, I must agree that it did find talent that would otherwise have gone to the wastebasket of anonymity and oblivion.

It did of course take the publishing industry a long time to catch on to another money making possibility. It always takes it a long time. When email is the preferred method of communication the publishing industry still insists on snail-mail query letters and book proposals. Of course they will tell you, "they" meaning agents and publishers, that if they opened their email address to query and proposal email, it would be flooded in a week. I believe them. I also know that there is an invention called Gmail, Hotmail, and Yahoo Mail, so I just don't fall for the excuse. And no one in his right mind is going to convince me that it is more preferable to have 6000 envelopes piled high in the corner of their office than 6000 emails waiting in virtual space.

Oh did I digress? Sorry about that. Anyways, the publishing industry did finally begin to catch up to the "American Idol" format. Contests began, many of them scams and you can find them littered over the Internet and exposed for what they were, over at the fine blog, of Writer Beware. But then, some of them had to be legitimate. Right? And sooner or later the contests began to hook up with publishers - or publishers with contests, depends on how you look at it.

Prizes, contracts with Literary Agents, contracts with publishers, all were the carrots dangled before the wide-eyed hopeful author. Some took a few bucks to submit others were for free. But the path was slowly being cleared. Resistance lessened. What was once a novelty (not a novel yet but just a novelty) slowly became something writers were getting used to.

Gather had a First Chapters Competition for mainstream fiction, and a second contest for Romance Novels and now for Mystery/Crime Novels. Amazon announced its Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. There are a few others who got together with publishers, panels of judges, and created legitimate contests with clear rules. Nothing fishy, nothing untoward, nothing which had a hint of "scam". To mark the change in our attitude towards these contests, just take a look at these two posts over at Writer Beware. In a post entitled, "The New Fad in Publishing", followed a few days later "More on the Amazon Breakthroug...", even Victoria Strauss's normal nose for smelling a scam, didn't find a foul oder here. (Indeed she was even approached to be one of the judges and considered it.)

Well, it turns out that was is good for America is great for the rest of the world. It was inevitable this fad would sooner or later cross the oceans to the tiny country of Israel. But of course like everything else, in Israel there is a new better twist to this fad. And it may make sense for us to follow what happens with it, because though it has been almost tried in the US - ("almost" does not mean much though), I have no doubt this little twist will make its way back to the publishing empire of the world.

So let us start explaining shall we? Last Friday, in the weekend paper (the weekend Paper in Israel is published on Friday) my eyes hit a small little item about a short story contest. The original piece was published in Yediot Achronot here. That link leads to a Hebrew article which I will translate for you. But a couple of points are necessary here. First Steimatzky Books, is a well known (almost monopolistic name and company here in Israel). They have book stores in every mall, every city you can name in Israel and then some. They are also book publishers of late. They do not scam, and as far as I can tell this contest is completely legitimate.

It seems Steimatzky began a short story contest (in Hebrew). They had 3000 entries which were submitted to them. They had a panel of judges, which was announced. These judges are fairly popular and well known authors in Israel. In other words reputable, well-known authors lent their name and prestige to to the contest to find the best short story. That is a plus, by the way. It lends a big chunk of legitimacy to the contest.

Out of the 3000 entries the judges picked 30 semi-finalists. These were promptly put up on a special site for the short stories which you can access here. And here is how it works. The public gets to read the stories and vote on them. The votes by the public will make up 60% of the final vote and the votes by the 5 judges will have a 40% weight. The 10 stories having the most "votes" (in the percentage above) will rise to the next round.

Now here is the kicker. American Idol in the flesh or should I say on the TV in print! Steimatzky Publishers and Channel 2 here in Israel, (popular channel but too many damn commercials!) got together for the final stage. They will produce a show (series of shows?) on the 10 best stories which will be voted upon (though am not sure exactly how that will work - I could not find the details on it.) The winner will obviously get fame and television, and a contract for their first book.

So, though this is a very new arena, it seems that it is the wave of the future, fad or no fad. Honestly, I have no idea if any real talent will be found. I don't know if that next great Hebrew novel will be written by one of these finalists. I do know this is an arena that obviously the two mediums of publishing and television have joined together to see if they can make money from it. How one presents a short story on television without a screen play is beyond me, but then again I am not a television producer. (Maybe they will sing it?)

So is it a fad? Is it silly? Can you really find talent this way? American Idol did from what my kids tell me. The next Da-Vinci code? The next O'Henry? Poe? Tolstoy? Hell, let us just settle for the next Hemingway.

Shrugs. Can't answer those questions. It is not a scam. It is legitimate. It is also great publicity and Israelis, if they love one thing, they love to read. So, it does bear watching. It does bear scrutiny. We may find this method goes the way of E-books for the next few years (which are still a monumental failure). Or we may find it becomes a hot "thing" (there is a great word "thing"!) producing the next "Idol Author".

I do know this. I still cannot write a query letter to save my for me it is back to pencil and paper and waiting till the television contest begins so I can have fun watching these poor authors sing their stories.

Posted On: Cobwebs Of The Mind

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