American Idol

On Writing Tidbits

Writers! Believe it or not, this post is for you.  Especially if you’re just breaking in or want to break into the publishing field.

Watch American Idol.  I’m serious.

Here’s why.

First, the auditions are a good visual metaphor for the slush pile. Those 12,000 people you saw in line for Chicago’s auditions this week?  That’s 2 months of fiction slush at one of the Dell magazines.  Unknown writers vying for a slot in the magazine.

The selected candidates you see before the judges in the auditions are the memorable people.  They’ve gone through about four rounds of auditions with producers and others before seeing the famous judges.  The people moved to the famous judges are either the worst of the worst or the best of the best.  The judges have no way of knowing when they walk into the room.

Why do the producers of Idol chose the worst of the worst? Because they’re memorable.  Most of the 12,000 Chicago auditions were adequate at best–pretty voices but no personality; people who couldn’t sing but who weren’t awful; people who were pretty but had no voice.  To entertain, you have to be remembered, and the worst of the worst are entertaining in a sad sort of way.

But that relief you feel when someone starts singing well? That’s the relief an editor feels when she discovers a great manuscript in the slush pile.  The editor has no idea if the relationship will work out, but she knows it’s worth a try.

Hollywood Week is what happens when writers make it out of the first read pile in a magazine’s slush.  Your story hasn’t been purchased, but it’s good enough to give you another chance.  Usually that chance is an invitation to resubmit, often with a new manuscript. That resubmission request includes some advice on improvements.  If you watch Hollwood Week, you’ll see the same thing from the judges. Some contestants get angry. Some devolve into tears.  Others try again. And again. And again until they get it right.

The Competition isn’t as instructive for writers as the first month plus of Idol, but it’s still valuable–especially when they bring in the long-time professionals to mentor the students.  You’ll hear gems about how to remain a long-time professional in the arts.  I learn things from this part of Idol every year.  I’m sure you will too.

Yeah, there can only be one American Idol each year, but the savvy contestants who don’t win have careers too.  And if you watch, you realize why.  You can apply a lot of Idol’s lessons to writing, with one (happy) difference.  We writers don’t have to perform face-to-face.

Go forth and enjoy–and learn.

10 thoughts on “American Idol

  1. Very nice parallel, and exactly true. I’ve edited, and finding good stuff is a relief, indeed. I’ve written, and elbowing through the crowds to be chosen is not for the marginal or the unprepared or the timid. Brava, as usual.

    So Harlan’s Simon, right?

  2. As someone who just “scored” in your writing idol analogy, I have to agree 100%

    I can’t believe it. So many years, rejections, unpublished words… But the sale are finally happening. To significant markets! Speachless.

  3. LOL. That is so true. I watch Idol for my wife – she loves it. I don’t mind watching it but it’s never something I have etched into my schedule. Of course, I’ll never look at it the same way again after this post! Thanks Kris!

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