While, sure, the singer-songwriter a.k.a. celebrity “literary” game has never been lacking (and was arguably started when Jewel put out her own immortal poetry collection in 1998, the robust–for a poetry book–160-page opus that was A Knight Without Armour), it seems as though Lana Del Rey has taken to a new level the annoyance of it to those who spend their entire lives trying to get even one work of fiction or poetry published and then finally relent to self-publishing (and spending a large chunk of their hard won money to do it). Yet, Del Rey has, in one fell swoop, made it appear as though it’s nothing to do so. And for her, it isn’t. Nor would it be for any other musician, actor or “reality” star to take a page from her (pun intended) and self-publish without going through the pesky (and profit-cutting) middleman that is a conventional publisher.
To add insult to injury, as well as the complicated relationship Del Rey has with “feminism,” she followed in the footsteps of such “titans” of poetry as Rupi Kaur and r.m. drake by not only posting some of the work on Instagram, but also unabashedly in pretension posing with a copy of Henry Miller’s Tropic of Capricorn as well. As though to assure, “Don’t worry, I’m quite advanced in the realm of literature.” And yes, the truth is, she is. For surely they don’t just hand degrees in philosophy out at Fordham. At the same time, the way she is presenting this knowledge isn’t so much endearing (“Hey! So I’m like super excited about self publishing my first poetry book. And I just wanted to say any mom-and-pop SoCal/San Fran book stores that are interested in having it just let me know and I’ll drive you out a couple boxes when I’m done binding it in a few months xx”) as it is yet another bane to those writers who struggle so hard to shlep their work in between a job (or jobs) that impede the luxury of time and money to so effortlessly accomplish what Del Rey seemed to arbitrarily “achieve” in whimsically deciding to put some of her “jotted down” thoughts into poetry book form.
The book being called Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass, it seems to feature everything from Walt Whitman-inspired free verse (this is, after all, the girl who paid homage to him with “Body Electric” and the poet who himself paid to publish the first edition of Leaves of Grass) to the very difficult to carry off for anyone (in terms of being taken seriously) haiku (i.e. “Wondering if it’s/astronomical twilight/or civic twilight”). At the very least, however, it isn’t a collection that Del Rey simply cobbled together in a couple of months (though if Ariana Grande can bring us thank u, next in roughly six months, then one supposes no credible work of art has to be judged by length of time to produce). Apparently the project began in the Fall of 2017, after experiencing some lyrical writer’s block that prompted her to “[sit] down to write some words without music and I realised there was just a couple of things I wanted to say through some poems, which is funny. I feel like I’m in the 19th Century.” Ah, there she goes with the pretension again, as though writing poetry must be relegated to images of Emily Dickinson meekly stooped over her desk with an ever-increasingly melted candle for lighting.
While there is no problem with Del Rey putting out a book, per se (unlike, say, Grimes, no longer “the least vexing,” or Ivy St. Ives, or even Lily Allen–for at least her genre is clear-cut as memoir), what makes it so untenable is the false modesty surrounding it. In saying, “[It’s] kind of another one of those things I just want out there just for me. I literally might just drop these little books off at some bookstores in Silverlake and beg them to sell them.” Like, yeah. She’s really going to need to “beg” bookstores to sell them when they’ll likely get more foot traffic than they ever have before in the likes of Skylight Books with her name involved (her fanbase more convinced she’s Jesus Christ maybe even than Michael Jackson’s).
But oh, the slight to non-moonlighting writers doesn’t stop there. Glibly explaining her decision to sell the book for a dollar, she stated it’s “because my thoughts are priceless.” Just like Taylor Swift’s backside. Which is really just another way of iterating that her thoughts are more valuable than the writers that also might be shamefully going from bookstore to bookstore hoping to get the quintessentially snooty bookseller to even consider putting it on the accursed consignment shelf, where most “novels” go to experience death anew (one entirely separate from the rejection of agents and/or small presses). These are the writers who actually are allowed to say shit like “might just drop these little books off at some bookstores in Silverlake and beg them to sell them.” Multiplatinum musician with built-in audience? Not so much.
Again, this isn’t to say that the book won’t have merit, but it speaks to a more ominous foreshadowing of something even worse to come in the publishing (and self-publishing) industry: do you now not only have to be rich and well-connected to get something noticed, ergo purchased? Do you have to be famous as well? The answer would seem to point to yes, as it’s already extended to the once highest office in the country, so now it must inevitably spread to the once highest inference of intellectualism (that is to say, being a published writer).
In short, self-publishing is about to get even more competitive from a David and Goliath standpoint if the average writer now has to contend with Lana Del Rey for already limited shelf space.
3 thoughts on ““Self-Publishing” and Celebrity”
What a great piece of writing . Giving us all some practical advice on how to realize our publishing goals either by paying someone to promote or by self publishing . I am at the crossroads of paying a certain well known printer who likes my work & with it more importantly the connections to get it on the bookshelves .
I’m thinking that, if a bookstore moves a few copies of Lana Del Rey’s self-published book, this won’t count against anyone else’s self-published book. It might even make bookstores slightly less reluctant to add a self-published book to their shelves.
There’s a tech millionaire who self-published an unreadable novel called Wild Animus. I don’t know where all he gave it away, but I remember coming across a pallet-load on the UC Berkeley campus, just sitting out in the open, for free! Yes, I tried to read it but whew! Several years later working at the public library we would regularly see it among donations. The copy in the collection rarely got checked out. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/424442.Wild_Animus
When I was a teen poet one of my mother’s friends gave me a book of poems by “John-Boy Walton” actor Richard Thomas. It was not self-published. It was published by Avon. If it was published by a big New York publisher it had to be good, right? Well, let’s just say it wasn’t my cup of tea. (Nobody’s bothered to write up a review at Goodreads.)