Category Archives: Publishing

Keith Ecker at Printers Row Lit Fest

I am incredibly excited, honored and humbled to be so deeply participatory in this year’s amazing Printers Row Lit Fest. If you don’t know what this is, then you probably don’t read books. The Printers Row Lit Fest is one of the largest literary events in the country. The outdoor festival, produced by the Tribune Company, honors the written word with two full days of panel discussions, performances and, what else, books! See below to find out when I will be speaking/performing. I hope if you are in Chicago that you can check me out.

  • Sat. June 9 @ 10 a.m. – Keith will be moderating a panel of Chicago’s live lit heavy hitters for a conversation called Listen Up!: How Chicago’s Live Lit Scene Is Changing the Literary Landscape. Panelists include Ian Belknap (Write Club), Dana Norris (Story Club), Robbie Q. Telfer (The Encyclopedia Show) and Scott Whitehair (This Much Is True, StoryLab Chicago and Do Not Submit).
  • Sat. June 9 @ 3:30 p.m. – Keith will be speaking on a panel as part of a StoryStudio moderated discussion called Just Get Me Started Writing Workshop. He’ll be representing creative non-fiction and live lit.
  • Sat. June 9 @ 6 p.m. – Keith and Alyson will be showcasing a mini Essay Fiesta as part of the festival’s Lit After Dark event. Special guests include Scott Whitehair and the always entertaining Jen Bosworth.

Groupon Morale Shifts and TSA Settles HIV Discrimination Claim

I’ve got two pieces bouncing around the Internet this week (with a couple more huge pieces coming up).

The first piece is published on the Huffington Post and looks at what appears to be a shifting corporate culture at Groupon. As the start-up darling gears up for its IPO, its sales staff has been griping extra loudly on GlassDoor.com. Take a look for yourself.

The second piece covers an ACLU case where an HIV-positive job applicant alleged the TSA denied him a job in violation of the ADA and the agency’s own policies. The article looks at the workplace protections that are afforded those in the HIV/AIDS community. Read it here.

I’m a Writing Fool

It’s been too long since I’ve updated this blog. And so I thought I’d let you all in on what has been keeping away from my precious little patch of Internet for the last several weeks.

These tired hands...

Besides weddings galore because the entire population of my heterosexual social sphere is coupling, I have been writing as if I was on fire and words were water. I have problem written enough articles in the last several weeks to constitute a volume somewhere between a novella and a full-fledged novel. Here’s a rundown of some of the things I have done (links lead to my work):

  • Essay Fiesta: I’m gearing up for our two-year anniversary! Can you believe it?
  • Huffington Post: I absolutely love writing for this site. I mainly write about Chicago’s vibrant entrepreneurial scene, but occasionally I get riled up enough about something else to state my opinion (often something gay).
  • Lawyers.com: I am now a regular contributor to this legal portal. It’s a really fun job. I know. Law = fun? For me it does. I’ve been a legal reporter now for nearly my entire professional career, and it’s one of my favorite subjects to write about. I’m currently working on a huge feature on tort reform and campaign financing, which required some of my old-school investigative skills.
  • The Onion A.V. Club: I just started writing for the Chicago section of this well-known A&E publication. My first piece (see link) was a labor of love, and it’s already insanely popular. I’m currently working on a second piece slated for some time in November.
  • RE:COM: I just put the finishing touches on a piece I’m doing for RE:COM, a national comedy magazine. I’m pretty proud of the outcome.
  • Loyola University Center for Digital Ethics & Policy: I wrote a piece for this site questioning the ethics of sites like Demand Studios, which coincidentally recently undertook a large overhaul in light of changes to Google’s algorithm.
  • DePaul’s Dialogue Magazine: I love writing for DePaul Law School’s alumni magazine. I just got an assignment for their upcoming Winter 2011 issue.
  • Chicago Theater Beat: I’m still reviewing on average four plays a month. That’s one a week. That means I’ve seen more than 100 plays in the last two years.
  • Legal technology vendors: Still doing stuff for them, too.

Platform as Payment: Giving Up Your Copyright

I know this headline is far from funny. And in fact, this post is a bit of an aberration from my usual knee-slapping hilarity. But I think it’s a worthy topic, especially for someone like myself who makes a living off of composing words.

I’ve been branching out and searching for publishing opportunities in the consumer publication and lit journal spaces. I’ve had some success. I just turned in my first piece for the Chicago section of the Huffington Post, and I just got my first assignment from the Chicago section of the A.V. Club. These are all great things.

One thing I have always been very mindful of is what rights I am giving to the publisher of my content, especially when I’m shopping content around on spec. For those that don’t know, “on spec” means that I write the content first and then try to find a buyer as opposed to selling a pitch or receiving an assignment. I avoid selling much more than first serial rights or temporary exclusivity. My belief is that as a writer, all I own is my writing. That is my sole source of income (well, that and the occasional market research study…yes, they pay me to try flavored whiskeys and shaving products). If I give a publisher too many rights, I may lose the ability to make money off of a piece of writing. And that’s no way to run a business.

I bring this up because I am looking at contributing to an online magazine that has a lot of witty and well-written content. It’s kind of like McSweeny’s Internet Tendency but with more of a magazine feel. The only problem is its author agreement. I was turned off immediately after reading the first clause:

1. In exchange for our providing you with this platform for expression, you grant us non-exclusive rights to the Content under copyright including the perpetual and unconditional right to use, publish, reproduce, distribute, sell, perform, translate, and display the Content (including any drawings, images, sounds, video recordings, or other data embedded in the Content and including derivative works based on the Content) for any purpose and in any manner or medium anywhere (the “Rights”).

From what I gather, this means that the site can basically use my writing and sell my writing for whatever purpose, while I stand to make no money off it whatsoever. For example, let’s say a television show is optioned based on a piece (Think “Shit My Dad Says”), then they would have full creative control over the television show while I simultaneously would stand to make no money off of this potentially lucrative deal.

Here’s another scenario. Let’s say I publish a dozen or so pieces on the site. Now let’s say my pieces are quite popular. So the site decides to repackage these pieces and sell them as a collection of essays by Keith Ecker. According to that clause, they can do this, and I stand to make zero money off the deal.

Now, yes, their licensing agreement is “non-exclusive.” But what reputable entity is going to want to license your content from you when another entity basically has complete and unlimited control of it. Not many (if any).

So I’m thinking that this site is still a good platform for me. But I’d limit the content I provide it to no more than two pieces max. Additionally, I would make sure that I would never want to publish those two pieces anywhere else ever. Not even in a collection of my own. I would have to consider them dead to me. The gain for me would be that I could add it to my resume and that the platform might attract me new readers.

I wonder, though, if I’m being too heavy-handed. I mean, do all writers think about this kind of stuff? Should they? I feel that because I make a living off of this content I produce, it’s integral for me and my career to be very protective of who owns it and what happens to it.

I’d love any feedback. What do you all think? Am I being paranoid? Or do I have the right idea?

 

Personal Branding: An Egotistical Necessity

I hope you all know and love the late comedian Bill Hicks as much as I do. If you don’t, then maybe you shouldn’t read this blog. I’m just joking. You should ALWAYS read this blog. But, one thing Mr. Hicks railed against frequently on stage was commercialism and its eroding effect on artistic integrity. In fact, the outlaw of comedy went so far as to say (and I’m paraphrasing here) that if you are a successful artist and you are still doing commercials or shilling for a company, then everything out of your mouth should be taken with a heavy dose of skepticism.

jason alexander

Jason Alexander co-starring with a box of fried chicken

What Bill Hicks failed to realize, or perhaps just didn’t have the foresight to predict, is that the artist himself has evolved to become a walking talking consumer good. That’s right. Just as Coca-Cola is sold as a feel-good American syrupy carbonated soft drink, Bill Hicks is sold as a legendary and abrasive comedy icon who challenged social norms.

Bill Hicks

Have you had your Bill Hicks today?

We live in a time where in order to make your self-expression financially viable, you need to market yourself to the powers that be–those gatekeepers that serve as the liaisons between content creators and content consumers. And to market yourself, you need to brand yourself. But what the fuck does “branding” mean?

branding

Smells like commercial viability with a strong bent toward the sweet spot demographic

Branding is basically marketing speak for developing an identity for which you want others to know you by. An example of branding as applied to consumer goods, for example, would be that we associate McDonald’s with fun, affordable and fast food. This brand identity shapes everything McDonald’s does, from the design of their restaurant interiors to their commercials. This same concept can be applied to people in what is often referred to as a “personal brand.”

More and more, this concept of a “personal brand” is leaking into mainstream discussion. I recently was watching an episode of Extra or Access Hollywood or something that is on when it is 2 a.m. and you are drunk or stoned and you have run out of back episodes of Louie to watch on Hulu. The host mentioned something about Kim Kardashian not changing her name post marriage and speculated that she made this decision in order to “preserve her brand.”

kardashian

Consumer associations with the Kardashian brand include big butts, uselessness and alliteration.

But the unfortunate truth is that an artist kind of has to develop a personal brand these days. And to do this, you kind of have to take a look in the mirror, swallow your pride and start deconstructing who you are and rebuilding yourself into who you want people to think you are. So say you are a fat inconsiderate, hypocritical slob, but you want people to see you as a beacon of reason and hope. Easy! Just position yourself as a true patriot who is helping the struggling class of white heterosexual underdogs.

Rush

Racist troglodyte + branding = patriotic freedom fighter

The good news is that you don’t have to trade your soul for a personal brand. If you take the time to understand who you are and the assets you bring to the table, you can stay true to yourself and retain your artistic integrity. The goal is really just capitalizing on and emphasizing certain assets you already have in order to help shape your public identity. There is also a need to develop a consistency in your work. For instance, someone who has branded himself as the world’s most prolific horror novelist is going to have a pretty hard time selling a feel-good prison story.

shawshank

I stand corrected.

In general, though, there are very few Stephen Kings out there. So it’s best to find your niche and run with it. And this should bleed into everything you do, from the way you market yourself via social media to the way you present yourself in public as a writer. Yeah, it feels a little contrived. And yeah, you feel a bit like a hack doing it. But like I said, be yourself, be true to yourself and just capitalize on attributes that you already possess and you’ll be just fine. The trouble starts when you try to sell yourself as something you’re not.

Glitter

Mariah Carey as an actress? What could possibly go wrong?

David Sedaris and the China Controversy

david sedaris

Mild mannered essayist? Or enemy of the state?

I have often wondered whether David Sedaris, quite possibly the world’s most celebrated contemporary memoirist, would ever get himself embroiled in a public snafu. After all, the higher you ascend the ladder of fame, the closer you get to the fan blades of public scrutiny.

Fan blades

The fan blades of public scrutiny

Well it has finally happened. Sedaris has created a disturbance. But it’s not just any disturbance. He has stoked the ire of an entire country. And it’s not some trifling nation like Gabon. It’s motherfucking China!

The essay, which appeared in the British paper The Guardian, details Sedaris’ gastronomical journey through the Sleeping Dragon as well as the journey of the cuisine through Sedaris. Yeah, there’s a lot of poop talk.

toilet

Does Sedaris have a potty mouth?

What some have found offensive is Sedaris’ criticism of Chinese culture and cuisine, particularly casting negative judgments on its people based on their alleged unsanitary practices (e.g., spitting in the streets and peeing in sinks). While Sedaris is a humorist, many point out that unlike his previous works, he does not portray himself as the buffoon-like stranger in a strange land. Instead, he illustrates himself as the lone oasis of sanity in a world gone mad. There are also no quotes from the Chinese locals to help play comedic foil to Sedaris’ cultural ignorance.

As someone who has spent a tremendous amount of his time writing essays and idolizing Sedaris, I am more forgiving than some critics when it come to this piece. Personally, I think the accusation of cultural insensitivity actually stems from the real problem with this piece: It’s not that good.

When I read the China essay, I felt like Sedaris just kind of phoned it in. It’s not all that clever. It’s not all that personally revealing other than we find out Sedaris appreciates sanitation (and who doesn’t?). There just wasn’t that relatable vulnerability that drew me to Sedaris in the first place.

Me Talk Pretty One Day

A simpler time

Now, I can see where he was going with this piece. The nugget of wisdom is buried and unpolished, but it’s there:

I don’t know why this so disgusted me. If I was a vegetarian, OK, but if you’re a meat eater, why draw these arbitrary lines? “I’ll eat the thing that filters out toxins but not the thing that sits on top of the head, doing nothing?” And why agree to eat this animal and not that one?

If I were Sedaris’ editor, I would have told him to focus more on this element of the story. Why are we so naively arbitrary when it comes to what we will and won’t eat? Isn’t it kind of egocentric of us as a culture to criticize the habits of one society while our own habits may seem just as oddball to another? It is this kind of self-reflection and self-awareness that makes a strong comedic personal narrative. And unfortunately Sedaris missed the mark on this one.

So is Sedaris guilty of racial/ethnic/cultural ignorance? Probably. Who isn’t to some extent? Does that mean I’m going to stop reading him? Nope. But I do expect more from him. I hope he returns to writing humorous and meaningful essays that are centered around a kernel of vulnerability. And if he doesn’t? Then move over, David! I’m going to be America’s new gay memoirist sweetheart!

Keith

America's new gay memoirist sweetheart!

 

Publishing Podcast: Christine Rose

I recently got back into listening to podcasts (thanks Shannon Cason). I already had been listening to a few fairly regularly, but now I’ve added about half a dozen to my queue. And one of my favorite new podcasts deals with the industry I hate to love: publishing.

The podcast is  by independent author Christine Rose, who generally publishes a lot of fantasy-themed YA lit. (YA stands for “young adult” in case you didn’t know.) She also is the author of Publishing and Marketing Realities for the Emerging Author, which I believe is also the name of her podcast.

Christine Rose

Christine and her book

Christine really knows her stuff, and she doesn’t hold back when dishing it out. It is very refreshing to hear a professional writer talk about publishing with a healthy dose of cynicism.  Too often I hear writers discuss the industry with such naivete it makes me want to cry, as if someone’s vanity published book is going to fly off the shelf because it exists. I’ve been a professional freelance writer for more than three years and before that I was a writer/editor at a national business magazine. This is a very difficult industry, and if you don’t have perseverance, talent, patience and good business sense, then you probably won’t be very successful. Christine’s in-depth take on the publishing industry iterates this point and provides you with some real-world advice about how to navigate the market.

Specifically her podcasts (at least her initial podcasts) break down the four main paths to getting published: the New York big boys, the indie press, self-publishing and vanity presses. All have pros and cons except vanity publishing, which really isn’t worth your time, and Christine walks you through the plusses and minuses of each option. Her advice is anything but vague. She comes at you with real hard numbers to help anchor her information in fact. It’s very eye opening for those that may feel this is a lucrative business.

So please check out her podcast. And don’t get discouraged when listening. Is publishing a hard world to break into and find success in? Of course! But if you got the talent, the drive and the marketing savvy, you really can do it.