Content or Discontent?

Were Shakespeare alive today he might well have written the famous question this way because it seems as if many blogs and websites prefer “content” to thoughtful, well-written articles and essays.

BiblioBuffet’s editors see this in queries much too often. The worst ones even offer us “content” even though our guidelines are clear about our desire for writing that possesses not only quality but individualism and personality.

We are not looking for journalistic type of pieces that are “here today, gone tomorrow.” Because we are a weekly publication, we cannot and do not compete in breaking stories. Rather, we specialize in presenting thoughtful pieces that use personal perspectives and individualistic approaches to explore anything that catches our contributors’ interests.

[W]e believe that BiblioBuffet’s strength lies in the personalities of its writers. So what we are looking for are those who are interested in writing about books, reading, and related issues with voice, passion, and individualism. The standard book review of “here is the plot and this is what I think” is not for us. If you are writing a review, we want to know about the book through you. Our writers, past and present, have been selected not only because they have excellent writing skills but because they have a intriguing point of view or a unique personality from which they write. It is that style that is BiblioBuffet’s strength.

The reason, we think, that more writers are writing with an eye to content is that more websites are demanding it. Quantity over quality. More. Faster. Cheaper. There are blogs I no longer read and websites I no longer to go for this very reason. One popular bookish blog in particular has no fewer than one link in every sentence. It’s impossible for me to read because she demands that the reader go off, come back, go off, come back, ad infinitum. And websites and online publications are heading in that direction.

Lindsay Champion, one of BiblioBuffet’s contributors, recently submitted a knock-your-socks-off review. It was obvious she had been not only working very closely with Nicki but had taken her editorial suggestions under her wing and been working hard on her beginnings and endings (formerly weak areas). Her response to my congratulatory e-mail was touching:

Wow, I am completely bowled over by your kind words. Thank you so much; it comes at a time when I’m feeling particularly discouraged. I think this is one of those emails I’m going to have to print out and save forever. Thank you so much for giving me the chance to learn so much while I’ve been writing for Bibliobuffet. I’ve had so much fun!

Don’t be discouraged, I told her in response.

Easy to say, I know. I’ve been there from a writer’s perspective, and I find myself there from an editor’s. Rejecting submissions is my least favorite part of being part of the editorial team. But it’s a necessary part if we are to keep our standards to the level we’ve set.

But for her and for other writers, however, the search continues for places to publish.

I’m sure most writers and editors are all feeling the recession right now, combined with the influx of content mills and that more and more employers have decided they’d prefer bad-quality writing in exchange for lower rates. When I first started submitting my writing, everything was going like clockwork—probably because the economy was good! I remember the editor of the Village Voice having a long email discussion with me about how to get my idea to work in the paper, even though I had just started and had no idea what I was doing. It seemed like everyone was interested in hiring new writers. Now, it’s the complete opposite. It feels like I’m in the Twilight Zone. I’m so glad to have supportive and nurturing editors like you and Nicki to keep me on track through the rough patches.

She’s right. The quality of writing in far too many places is low. Some writers accept that. But Lindsay hasn’t, and I am proud of her for that. Even though she was a good enough writer to capture our attention when she first came aboard, she has dramatically improved. I told her I expect to see her name in some major publications in the future, and I do. It’s why, regardless of how discouraging her search might be right now, I am insisting she and our other columnists maintain their pursuit of places seeking excellent writing rather than sites and publications that prefer content. Then the question of “content or discontent” will remain, as it should, a moot one.

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