Advertising Copy: Standards, Gimmicks

James Santel
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In keeping with the ultimate fate of all cultural debates, the cultural debate about the future of publishing seems to have passed the point where anyone is willing to be persuaded one way or another. Gone is the hope that there exists a speck of data or an insider’s anecdote decisive enough to tip our frozen convictions once and for all toward hope or despair.

Or perhaps our sympathies could still be enlisted, the thaw precipitated by an unlikely agent: an advertisement found last June in the New York Times Book Review, an organ that’s done its share of anguishing over the future of publishing. “imagine a world without… Faulkner or Joyce or Angelou or Tolstoy,” invited the ad. “That’s what it will feel like if you don’t embrace and publish the novels of ANDREW WARREN.”

Mr. Warren, it turns out, was looking for an “Agent/ Publisher with standards, not gimmicks.” Even those of us without a manuscript to peddle—Mr. Warren has two—can commiserate with his plight, although not because the ad works as intended. (Frankly, it’s hard to take seriously as marketing. How to equate the absence of a work we don’t know with the loss of works we can’t imagine living without?)

Ironically, what is most off-putting about the ad—its tantrum-like switch from coaxing invitation to impotent threat, its curious cross-section of the canon, its capture of the infantilizing frustration of the rejected author—ends up being its most pungent defense of the pathos beneath the art of the novel in the first place.

One reader, at least, was sufficiently moved to direct an email to the address at the bottom of the column, courting a response from Mr. Warren’s lawyer, according to whom the ad was supposed to conclude with “Standards, not Snookis.” Apparently the Times editor changed it, for fear of copyright issues.“That,” the lawyer writes,“is the story.”

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