Hey, Karan Johar Read My Idea! Sort Of

Well, huh.  This is a weird thing.  A legitimate real paid writer took one of my ideas and put in a little hyperlink to it and used it in their legitimate paid writing, and then Karan Johar re-tweeted and appreciated it.  So, a compliment?  But also a bit of “I wish I could get paid for my ideas”.  Oh well.

Normally I wouldn’t share this kind of thing, because it feels both like bragging and complaining at the same time.  But it’s Christmas time, and no one but my faithfullest followers are reading the blog, so I might as well put up this kind of egotistical narcissistic post.

Here’s the tweet from Karan:

I saw it, thought “huh, I guess everyone’s jumping on the KHNH anniversary bandwagon”.  And then a few hours later I was checking my stats and I saw I had a new referral (only one) from a new website.  Clicked the link back to it, it’s this article.

So, let’s think about this a moment.  This is a well-written clear article.  It picks up information from a variety of sources to explain what is special about KHNH.  There are links back to Reuters, Telegraph India, Box Office India.  Top marks to the author for quickly finding a variety of information and pulling it together in a way that forms a definite argument.  And obviously, I am very flattered that she used my idea and grateful that she linked back to me.  If the author is reading this now, THANK YOU!!!!  And I am touched and flattered that you thought my idea was good enough to include.  And I admire you as a fellow writer, you did a very good job.

But, there’s something else.  Not related to this particular article, just the way the world works.  I just checked every other link in the article, and I am the only non-professional website cited. Every other link goes back to major news website.  On the one hand, I am flattered to be included in this company.  But on the other hand, isn’t there something a little bit broken here?  When my content is good enough to be cited by a major mainstream website next to leading news sources, and yet I cannot get hired by those same places?

In the olden days, someone like me might have tenure at a university, or a regular position as a reviewer at a respected outlet.  I would provide the ideas that other lessor outlets repeat.  And that would be okay, because every time I was repeated or cited, it would result in an increase in my prestige and help me keep my “real” job as a professor or reviewer or whatever.

But now there are no university jobs, and no regular reviewer jobs.  So someone like me who wants to come up with original thoughts and new ideas, rather than writing the “rough draft of history” kind of thing that journalists do, is left to provide her ideas for free or else keep them locked in her mind.  And when my ideas are cited by a paid article, there is no real benefit to me.  The “prestige” doesn’t translate into any kind of a job, and the citation gives me 1 additional view on my blog in the past 6 hours since it was published.

The only benefit would be if I were a personality that thrived on outside validation.  But then, if I were that personality, I would not be spending so much time carefully considering and honestly discussing my thoughts.  Being cited in an article gives me pleasure by knowing that the author of that article (who seems like a very intelligent and knowledgeable person) appreciated my thoughts.  I get a similar thrill any time one of you here in the comments appreciates my thoughts.  This being in a published article is not something that gives me an extra joy purely because it is in an article, that makes me feel like my thoughts and my person are more worthy because they are being talked about.  In the same way that being re-tweeted by a celebrity makes me happy because that person who I admire appreciated my writing, but does not give me any thrill because of a sense of fleeting “fame” of some kind.  I admire Madhavan as a person, I admire Procrastinatrix (and Angie and Molly and all the rest of you all) as a person; getting compliments from either gives me equal joy.

What I suspect is that the published world is becoming increasingly filled either with the people who are able to quickly and superficially summarize any topic, or people who go into more depth on that topic in a quest for outside validation (which also slants their opinions and thoughts).  There is a no place for those who are not able to be superficial enough, and who get no thrill from fame.

And I’m not sure what the solution is.  I just went through another painful attempt to get published on another site, which ended in nothing after 6 rewrites trying to get them what they want because I just cannot dumb myself down enough (normally I wouldn’t be so blunt, but like I said, no one else is really reading in November besides my stalwarts).  So, if I can’t make myself dumb enough to actually find a readership and a job at one of the dumber outlets, and some idea of fleeting 15 minutes of fame has no appeal for me, why should I keep going?  Especially when what I am seeing over and over again in response to my writing is “hey awesome, this person summarized a bunch of ideas for me and added on new thoughts.  I will take that and get my own book deal, my own article published, my own whatever, and never think that maybe I should throw some of that her way, that maybe she is giving away something incredibly valuable for free and I am turning around and selling her gift as my own.”

But there is still that moment of happiness any time anyone, a movie star or a director or a professional writer or just a commentator here, appreciates my thoughts.  That’s a reason to keep going.  And I have to believe that there is some value in merely putting goodness into the world, doing the best job I can whenever I can just to be of use, that’s a reason to keep working.  Even if the goodness I am putting out is being stamped with someone else’s name after I put it out there.

And most of all I have to hope.  I have to have faith.  I have to believe that the world is right and fair and at some point if my work is good enough, someone somewhere will say “we should hire this person” or “we should publish something she writes” or “we should give her a book deal” or “I should try to help her get that job or that book deal or whatever else because she deserves it” or at the very least “I’ll keep a good thought for her and add on to her hope and faith with my own”.

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26 thoughts on “Hey, Karan Johar Read My Idea! Sort Of

    • I don’t think there is. Unless you are offered a job reviewing or writing or whatever and turn around and honestly say “I don’t deserve this because everything I know I learned from Margaret, you should give it to her”.

      And, as always, please please please acknowledge me out in the world. On Facebook, on twitter, on comments on other sites. It makes me feel better to know that you are out in the world telling people I have value,

      Oh, and I hope you are feeling better!

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    • Thank you! That is a nice thing to remember, ultimately I’m just doing this because I care about the work and I am competing with myself to do the best work I can.

      And of course I care what you think! You folks (the collective commentator community) is what makes this all worthwhile.

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  1. Oh dear, don’t loose hope! Sometimes it needs more than 10 years of dedicated work to get a break-through. Keep your faith in you, in your skills and your intelligence…I won’t stop to link to you when I write to ShahRukh or RedChillies … and I am happy for you that you got noticed!

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    • Yes, that would be the situation in which I send in pitches and either rewrite it 6 times and it comes to nothing or else never hear back. 10 years of trying to get published, no luck, and yet I know people who are published and working and powerful read and love my stuff. They just don’t want to pay for it. I don’t know what it is, something about me is just innately unsellable. And yet when I give it away, people love it.

      On Thu, Nov 29, 2018 at 10:19 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • I would be happy to copy edit/preview it for you. It is possible that editors do not love the little glitches we find adorable. For us, it is part of your Margaret-ness, but many only outlets no longer employ copy editors and proofreaders. At least that is what I have been told.

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        • That part I don’t mind, it’s the “you don’t have a thesis statement” “I don’t understand your argument” “don’t use passive voice ever” that kills me.

          For example, a concluding paragraph like this from my Rajinikanth post:

          “This is what I saw in him in the first movies I watched, *Thalapathi* and *Kabali*and *Baasha*. He isn’t playing a hero who saves the people, he is playing a hero who serves the people. Humble, kind, caring, forgiving. He knows he is no better than you and that you are no worse than him. He is just a ticket collector and son of a police constable from Bangalore.”

          Is unacceptable to some of the outlets I’ve tried to write for. There’s a sentence fragment, there’s no clear statement of thesis, blah blah blah.

          Again, I wouldn’t normally be so specific and whiney, it’s just that it’s Christmas time and I know this is just between you and me and no one else is reading.

          On Thu, Nov 29, 2018 at 10:32 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  2. First, take up Joyomama’s offer to edit. I write like you do and get the same complaints. (and have never been published though I am theoretically working on a book. ) Second, what if you contacted the author of that article directlY and thanked her for citing you and talk about your goal to be more widely published? Sometimes random people are helpful. Also, do you (or we collectively) know anyone who could advise on how to get to the top of google searches? People looking for specific films or actors are your best bet, I’d imagine.
    AND MOST IMPORTANTLY: WE NEED YOU, There is no where else to have serious and meaningful conversations about our most favorite topics. We love your style and your insights even more. NEVER LEAVE US.

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    • Already contacted the author, who gave me the email for her editor, so I sent off pitch number 1009 (at least, that’s what it feels like) to yet another editor who will not pay attention. I didn’t get much sleep last night and I am feeling fairly bleak, in case you haven’t noticed.

      And I think our comments crossed, I gave an example in response to Joyomama of the kind of critiques I am getting. I tend to get stalled at either the “pitch” point, the very concept of what I would write does not appeal to people. Or at the point of the actual content of the writing, when I focus and try I have good grammar and spelling (I just don’t bother for you all because I know you don’t care and would rather I write 3 miss-spelled posts than 1 perfect one). The issue is with a lack of acceptance of my style, poetic sentence fragments and so on. And my arguments, trying to make grand statements about life and society instead of small fun easily digestible statements.

      I’m pretty good with google searches, if folks are looking for films or actors they will find me. The best way to get to the top of google searches is to be a multi-billion dollar company and pay people to rig the system for you. Baring winning the lottery, I don’t see myself ever reaching that point. I do pay for the basic google ad search feature, which hasn’t made much of a change, but then I am paying for the basic version (because, again, not a multi-billion dollar company).

      and thank you for saying you like me! I really really appreciate it, I get so much rejection that having a readership that actually seems to “get” me is like heaven.

      On Thu, Nov 29, 2018 at 11:04 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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    • I completely agree with this and Joyomama’s comment. Take Joyomama’s offer to copy edit. I have not been a paid journalist, but I do have experience in getting my op-eds published, and I don’t think the editors are necessarily asking you to dumb yourself down but rather target your writing to their audience. This includes, length, word choice, style of writing, etc. Your analysis has always been excellent and with just a little bit of editing help, I think you would have a much better shot of being published. For example, with the paragraph you cited to Joyomama, the following are simple edits I would make if I were sending it to a publication: “What I saw in Rajinikanth in the first movies I watched – Thalapathi, Kabali, and Baasha – he is not playing a hero who saves the people. He is playing a hero who serves the people (i.e., humble, kind, caring, and forgiving). In those roles, he knows he is no better than you and you are no worse than he is. For example, he is just a ticket collector and son of a police constable from Bangalore.”

      Also, while op-eds are not paid, have you considered writing op-eds and getting them published? It’s a way to get noticed and put your expertise out there for a larger audience. If you are interested, the following is a link to a website I found very helpful: https://www.theopedproject.org/submission-information/. I agree with Molly, that you should contact/engage with the author. It can be as simple as retweeting her article, thanking her on twitter in the comments section, and offering your assistance for future articles. Finally, also consider reaching out to your old alma mater or professors in your area that are teaching theater/film studies, etc. and offer to guest lecture for free on a particular topic. If you can become a regular guest lecturer, you have a chance eventually of being asked to teach a class.

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      • Thank you, that website looks very interesting!

        The edits you suggest to the example I gave are exactly the kind I have gotten in the past. And they really really kill me inside. I know, it sounds petty and silly, but I care very deeply about what I am writing and I pick every single word and phrase with care. Miss-spellings, typos, sure. But something like picking a comma over a dash or choosing a strong sentence fragment over a weak clause, that’s important to me. And the other part of it is, in my experience, it never ends. It’s not just a sentence here or there, eventually there is a quest to rewrite-overwrite everything and my whole voice goes away. That’s what almost happened with my book, the first two editors were lovely, and then the third one wanted to change all my language choices and I refused huge parts of her suggestions.

        And since I am letting myself be whiney and depressed for this day only, I will point out that guest lecturing is a luxury of the independently wealthy. I don’t need to be paid for the lecture, but I would need to not have to worry about losing wages/goodwill at my actual 9 to 5 job (I have guest lectured once, and I lost a job by doing it). I suppose it would still be possible and is worth pursuing, but it makes me nervous because of the cost I paid in the past. That’s the kind of hidden cost that people never talk about with these “just donate your time! Volunteer!” ideas. My time is currently being sold in order to pay for healthcare, rent, food. If I “donate” it instead, I’m giving up the paying job that I need to survive and there goes food, rent, healthcare. There is no reason you should have thought through all of this, and your suggestion was a good one. It’s just one I have already pursued and discovered that it is a dead end unless I somehow gain a flexible schedule instead of selling my life in 8 hour increments day by day.

        On Thu, Nov 29, 2018 at 1:11 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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        • I really appreciate your response and I want to acknowledge that I am sorry for your frustration. My suggestions did not come from position of privilege but more so as someone who is around your age, who hated her job for several years, wanted to do something I felt strongly about, and was told that what I wanted to do would not be possible for several reasons. I also saved for years to go back to grad school part time while working full time so that I could have the career I wanted. Even after it, I was competing with people much younger and with way less experience than I had or with people far older with many more years of experience and an established career in my field. However, I am lucky in that I am currently doing EXACTLY what I want to do. I have also been lucky because after many toxic bosses, I currently have a boss who lets me grow in the way I want to grow as long as it brings results. Whether it was an op-ed I wrote, conferences I presented at, or a guest lecture I conducted, it was during evenings, weekends, and/or after saving up vacation days. It was important to me to stay true to my voice, but I by stepping into the editor’s shoes, I was able to see why they wanted me to make the edits they did. BTW there have been many times when what I felt that originally wrote was still WAY better than what was ultimately published. I also, felt that as I received more credibility in my field, my input was more valued, and I had to make less sacrifices on my end product. Having said all of this, your life is definitely not the same as mine and this is just one person’s opinion. At the end of the day, it is your choice. I love your blog and will continue to read it as long as you keep posting.

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          • Thank you so much for understanding and responding! I just posted kind of a follow up post that explains a little why I am resistant to these things.

            I’ve tried for so many years presenting at conferences, working in grad school, writing for various outlets. And no matter what compromises I made, how much I tried to see the other side, how much I said “yes, I understand, whatever you want”, it ended in nothing. So I’m now at a point in my life of weighing the spiritual cost to me of swallowing myself and slogging away versus just saying “no, I’m not going to do that, it’s too hard”. Especially with the balance that the best case scenario would still mean I had to keep my regular day job in order to pay the rent since there is no real money in writing.

            And that’s just me. Like, not even related to the age group I’m in or what I write about or anything, it’s my Karma 🙂 My whole life, that’s how it’s been. I have very very bad luck with getting acknowledged or noticed. Everyone always loved my sister’s Halloween costumes, no one noticed mine. And when I tried to be like the other kids, it was even worse, plus I didn’t get to dress up as what I wanted to dress up as. I just had this again, I tried to quit a committee at church that I have been killing myself over and the response was “oh buck up, you aren’t doing that much, just keep at it and stop complaining.” Which is another of the general depressing things that lead to this whole depressing day. What’s the point of trying so hard if I am never fated to get anywhere and no one ever notices the good work I am doing?

            Except here! I love you guys! You get me and appreciate me and I don’t have to dress up like Cinderella instead of Princess Polychrome to make it happen (my favorite Halloween costume, my favorite character from the Oz series, no one noticed me or knew who I was, I cried and cried, and the next year I tried dressing like a bag of leaves, and even fewer people noticed me plus I was miserable. And that’s when I stopped dressing up for Halloween. Man, this day is just bringing up all kinds of hidden personal trauma! I’ve got to get some sleep tonight or else I’m going to be in a full on crying jag at work).

            On Thu, Nov 29, 2018 at 3:14 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  3. It is tough out there. It’s not just you, it’s the professional outlets and big publishers too. I’m sharing here what is the most realistic assessment I’ve seen of how hard it is to make a go of publishing online – hoping that this isn’t too discouraging but rather shows you that you’re in good company.

    https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/03/a-day-in-the-life-of-a-digital-editor-2013/273763/

    It’s from 2013 so some bits might be outdated but the overall picture of the challenges still reads true to me today. The basic truth is that it’s hard to get paid well for your writing. Not impossible, but hard.

    I think you have created an amazing community here through your writing, your ideas, and your kindness and hard work in engaging all of your readers. Your gift at community management is for reals and it’s one of the more difficult things to do successfully online – just look at all the trouble the big platforms get themselves into. I understand the rest of us get to enjoy and choose to engage or not depending on life and work and the rest of it, while you put in the work to be tremendously consistent day in and day out. I hope you know we appreciate this as a wonderful place to come hang out and engage with nice and intelligent people from all over the world. I hope you find reasons enough to stay but that is ultimately your decision about what in your own life brings you sanity and joy!

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    • I love building this community! And I was thinking about it, I think that’s part of the reason I have a hard time making pitches. Because I don’t think of it as “this is what your audience currently is, I will write to that”. I think of it as “I will write well enough that whoever is reading will learn to care, I will change minds and broaden horizons”. Which is what I have been able to do here, bring in all kinds of people and encourage their love of film and introduce them to new ideas and new content and so on and so forth. Instead of just playing to what you already know/like.

      On Thu, Nov 29, 2018 at 11:32 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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    • It really is terribly hard for anyone who writes for a living. Let me share my story: I got a master’s degree in journalism back in the halcyon days of 1997 when the industry was rolling in money. But just a few years later, the entire thing started to collapse and it’s still collapsing to this day. I started out as a newspaper reporter and magazine editor but pretty quickly switched to non-profit proposal writing to earn my living (better pay and hours) and then after a few years I saw that even that gig wasn’t going to be sustainable over the long term so I taught myself social media and became a communications manager. It’s just brutal out there and getting worse–Glamour magazine, what was once one of the crown jewels of Conde Nast, announced this week they are no longer publishing a paper edition.

      Another problem for people like you, Margaret, is this is your passion project and what you have as your passion doesn’t necessarily fit well into the needs of a website that has to put out dozens of posts a day just to keep the lights on.

      The way to pitch successfully is to look at the publication, see what they already publish and then feed them more of what they already do. That’s right, they want more of the same. They are not looking for anything different because they have a formula with set sections with specific ad support keyed to that content and they have to plug in those holes every week with something that meets advertiser expectations.

      The other aspect of pitching is you start out with really small articles/listicles and build your portfolio gradually over time before you get to write the wonderful long and thoughtful features you love to do.

      The people who do manage to plug away and build a publishing career very often have parents who can financially support them. It’s horribly elitist and often racist because POC are less likely to have the financial resources to plug away at writing tiny pieces making almost nothing until they build the portfolio and contacts to survive.

      I realize this isn’t exactly a cheerful post but I’m putting it here because you’re a wonderful writer and none of this is your fault. It just effing sucks that this is how the publishing industry is set up. I know many published writers and none of them, zero, make a living solely on writing. If they are lucky they have university faculty positions, if they aren’t they work in other industries to support themselves.

      Finally, please don’t take this situation as some kind of referendum on your talent because as I’ve learned talent is only one small part of what make people successful in publishing.

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      • Thank you so much! Your comment pretty much confirms what I thought from what I have observed. I know a fair number of folks who are about 5-10 years older than me who have the same resume you described. Graduated at a time when you could get that first job as a full time writer and then watched it all fall away. I have the disadvantage of never having the option of that first job on the resume, the first group of contacts and experience to give me a running start. But then on the other hand, I have the advantage of never having seen it disappear, of just knowing this as the world I exist in.

        And you nailed exactly the problem with my pitches. I’m not doing this for money (because there is no money), I am doing it for passion. And when I try to write small (like in the example I described), it just kills me inside a little bit. I can’t make myself pitch something small, and I certainly can’t make myself write something small.

        And thank you for pointing out that the “successful” writers are the ones with family money. It’s the hidden unspoken thing which makes any sort of “I will give you advice about how to achieve what I have achieved” moment a bit empty. Once you untangle the advice about just plugging away or setting aside a certain amount of time a day or whatever, it boils down to being able to work for less than a living wage for several years while you build a career. You can game the system a bit by going to grad school on a student loan, but even that seems to be something only people with a certain amount of family backing are comfortable with (I’m certainly not going to try it and then be in debt for the rest of my life). I am working harder and spending more time per day on my writing than almost anyone, but I can only afford that (like, spiritually and emotionally afford it) because I am writing about my passion. Spending 6-8 hours a day on top of my full time job writing listicles would be impossible. If I lived in my parents’ house in the suburbs and spent my days getting smoothies with my friends from high school, I might have the spiritual reserves to do it. But then, I would also have completely different parents and be a completely different person (since for me, living off my parents while trying to start my dream career would be the equivalent of kicking a puppy in moral wrongness).

        And then there are the other category of working writers, the ones who got their start far enough back when publishing was still an industry and are still riding that high. Anupama, much though I love her, is definitely taking advantage of that. And it doesn’t seem like that level of writer has any concept of how impossible it is to follow their career path now, and how the lack of challenge to their position is less a mark of their talent and experience and more a mark of how all the ladders they used to climb to their current position have now been kicked away and everyone else is stuck on the ground looking up.

        I actually know one published writer who makes a living on writing. But a) she is very very good and very very smart, and b) she writes romance novels, the one guarantee in the publishing world. If I ever give up on you all, it will be to dedicate myself to turning fanfics into romance novels and actually getting to write full time.

        On Thu, Nov 29, 2018 at 12:42 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  4. It’s very difficult. My son is having to retool to computer programming because he can’t get a job with an English degree.

    I know you don’t want to make a career of doing Listicles, but maybe you could pitch some of your TGIF posts to Buzzfeed India or similar. I think Alisa’s point of having to write to fit in the box of that particular publication is good advice. But it’s hard.

    Well, at least on our podcast you can completely be yourself and do those “guest lectures” on your own time schedule.

    Have you thought about another book — maybe the kind that could be a text book for film studies courses?

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    • Sure, I’d love to write another book. And I was going to say it seems impossible, but kind of writing all this out makes me realize that the “easier” things that common sense says you should start with (articles for small outlets, build a following and portfolio, etc. etc.) are actually no easier to get or more helpful than just shooting for a whole book.

      Which means finding an agent and then a publisher and a whole other round of barriers, but at least I wouldn’t have to write listicles 🙂

      On Fri, Nov 30, 2018 at 2:55 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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    • Oh and yes! I love doing your podcast, plus it’s an easy and fun way to reach new people. I wish more people would invite me to be on podcasts, but then it would make my Melanie-Margaret time less special 🙂

      Like

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