Multiple Enthusiasms

Infinite jest. Excellent fancy. Flashes of merriment.

Tag: publishing (page 3 of 4)

Been working a lot through the holidays, but for some reason, it’s only the past couple of days I’ve begun to feel overwhelmed. A little anxious. Might be because I’ve been really productive but look around and realize I’ve barely scratched the surface, or then again might just be because I’m always hardest on myself. Got to stop that. I’m trying not to worry too much, but the state of the economy is daunting; I have some money coming in, from various sources, but the problem is it ain’t in yet, so lots of waiting. In business, as I understand it so far, that’s called accounts receivable; revenue you know you’re getting eventually for services already rendered, but ain’t come in yet.

In some ways, it’s very much part of the story of my life. In screenwriting, it’s called working on spec; you finish the screenplay with no guarantee you’ll actually either sell or option it, but you’ve still got a product you’re sending out.

There’s no fancy phrase for it in terms of writing a novel, besides, of course, The Way Things Are, because that’s just how it is. You write and write and write without any guarantee anyone will even read it, much less pay for it, or even more important, you know, enjoy it.

There are ways to get around such things nowadays, of course. But until some drastic changes occur in the publishing industry, well, they’re sorta The Way Things Aren’t.

Thing about it, though, is that business is a transaction. Payment received for services rendered. Good services bring reward, ultimately, and indeed can even be their own.

I’m thinking about all this partly because of this video, which is totally worth watching and totally made me cry:

Then again, I’m a big sap, so there’s that.

But there’s something to be said for it, in the sense that lighting other people’s flames never diminishes one’s own.

The end, though? Totally fuckin’ killed me.

(Via It’s All One Thing)

Which is why I wanted to begin my day (and week, and year, even) thusly:

You’re awesome. You’re smart and funny and witty and fantastic. Every day, you brighten mine just by showing up.

Some new changes to coincide with all the other ones going around. Trying out a new theme, most obviously.

Also: Entrekin in the World replaces the old Reviews page. I like it so far but will probably tweak it as I go. It’s something I had included as an album on MySpace and was trying to figure out how to integrate it here. From the get-go, I’d asked people to photograph themselves with the book; Los Angeles Times best selling author Brad Listi was the very first.

Since leaving MySpace and switching computers, I’ve misplaced a couple that I’d really like to include. So if you don’t see yourself there and you’ve got one you wouldn’t mind my putting up, send it to me via willentrekin at yahoo dot com.

Please. That’d be rad.

I left comments open over there, too. So if you’d like to put your own review there, be my guest. Especially if you, you know, liked it.

Finally, I mentioned I’d considered removing the collection from Lulu. I looked into hosting the file here, because I still like having it as a free .pdf, along with the “singles.” Problem is, the process of doing so is not nearly so straightforward as Lulu’s system, nor does it seem to track downloads/sales so well. Part of the reason I’d considered removing the book was its ‘community,’ but then again I wonder if those problems aren’t actually a function of the self-publishing community and not necessarily Lulu’s. Regardless, I’ve decided to continue using their printing services as the tool I had meant it to be, and I feel okay leaving it up.

Plus, the downloads just keep coming in, and, well, the whole point was to share it. I’d feel bad keeping the book from someone who wanted to read it.

I’d say to bear in mind that I’m still working out kinks all over the place, but I’ve realized that part of the interesting thing about blogs and the Internet (and, it seems, life in general lately) is that: well, yeah. It’s all evolution all the time, really.

I have to admit, I’ve not yet read a John Connolly novel, though by all accounts, his books seem right up my alley. He’s an Irish writer who writes ostensibly crime novels that have, according to his Wikipedia article, become in recent years increasingly concerned with the supernatural.

So yah, got to look me up some of those.

Dude’s won a bunch of genre-type awards: a Stoker for best first novel and a Shamus. And two of his books have apparently come with soundtracks, which is totally awesome (note to self: what is the soundtrack for my writing?).

Connolly recently posted a great blog on the old argument concerning ‘genre’ fiction versus ‘literary’ fiction. It’s well worth reading just to enjoy the pretension of some writers. I mean, holy shit, you think it’s a joke some writers think the way he portrays, and then you meet those writers who not only think that way but even speak that way, and you know for a fact those are the same damned annoying writers who appropriate agent/editor panels at writing conferences to ask deeply personal questions about their deeply personal pet projects and who believe the publishing world is totally against them because it’s a covert and Cabalistic cadre of secret societies and secreter handshakes one can only break into if one compromises one’s ‘artistic integrity.’

He makes a lot of points I agree a lot with, but the money one comes toward the end:

I believe that art and craft are not mutually exclusive. One works at one’s craft, and one hopes that, along the way, art may possibly emerge. Even if it does not, one can still take pride in the fact that one has done one’s best.

Because, seriously, totally

Big publishing industry news this week: Oprah endorsed Amazon’s Kindle reading device, having “fallen in love with it.”

Which is not unusual; I’ve heard very little criticism concerning the Kindle. People may not rave over it like they raved about the iPod when it first came out, but the Kindle seems, for many intents and purposes, rad. Awesome. Exciting.

Which makes one wonder: if it’s so awesome and exciting, shouldn’t Entrekin be available for it?

Why yes, yes it should be:

Ain’t it purdy? You can click that link to find its shiny new Amazon page.

The timing couldn’t be better, nor, I think, any less coincidental. I’ve been working on the Kindle version since back in August. Not that it took that long, but I mentioned I was going to be changing things up toward the end of October.

I still go back and forth on Lulu. The reason I put Entrekin on the Kindle was that the digital downloads have been so extraordinarily successful, with more than a thousand across the various stories. I like that Lulu allows me to offer the DRM-free .pdfs, not to mention that it also allows for the tangible book for anyone who wants a souvenir. I had a bad experience in Lulu’s community, but then again I’ve realized that if I simply decide to use Lulu solely as the printing press I’d always meant it to be, it does still serve my purposes pretty well, its forums, policies, and customer service notwithstanding (more on those three later, and elsewhere).

So no, I’m not done yet. I’m still curious about a lot of aspects of publishing and the ways it’s changing, so it looks like Entrekin will still be around for a bit. As always, you can get it here.

Thanks to everyone who’s made it such a success so far, and remember to keep telling your friends about it.

Especially if, you know, your friends own Kindles.

(because, really, here, so far, I’m at a loss; where and how does one market to Kindle owners?)

I get another batch of student papers tomorrow, so I’ll have that to do over the weekend, but I’m also trying to finish a couple of other projects I’ve been working on. They’ve all been slow going, probably because I’ve got a lot going on.

So far, it’s two novellas and three short stories, though either of those novellas might end up longer than I think. The one I’m concentrating on most right now is called Meets Girl, and I’m hitting the end of the first act of the story but am already past the fifty page mark.

I’m hoping to finish all five by the end of November.

But I’m also winding down the publishing experiment I conducted over the past year and a half, and I do want to blog about it. It’s set me to thinking about a lot of different things, all related to writing and publishing and reading. I’ve been rethinking removing my content from Lulu, because so far it’s worked pretty well and maybe I shouldn’t try to fix it if it ain’t broke. I will be talking about my experience with Lulu, though probably not here (more on that to come).

Malcolm Gladwell, of The Tipping Point and Blink fame, has a really interesting article in the latest New Yorker, concerning “literary genius.” The main examples he makes use of are Ben Fountain and Jonathan Safran Foer, but he also mentions Picasso, Cezanne, Hitchcock, and Twain.

(via Galleycat)

I wonder about some of it. At least in terms of the two examples he uses, as both authors are still reasonably early in their careers (lives notwithstanding). Also: I know that part of Gladwell’s schtick, so to speak, is the whole Blink effect; that we decide everything right away, and I wonder if that conflicts with Chris Anderson’s idea of the long tail, i.e., selling less of more. Gladwell’s theories seem to work best on a short-term level; Hollywood blockbusters, first impressions, that kind of thing, but consider the opposite: the movie that has a modest opening but goes forever. It’s rare nowadays mainly because of quirks in distribution, but the idea of the sleeper hit used to be rather more common, I think.

Then again, maybe I wonder because I’m on the closer side to 31, which makes me feel a bit like a late bloomer. I started the novel that became The Prodigal Hour during my senior year of college, for all intents and purposes (though I’d begun the story years before), and I only actually finished it this past, what, July? August? Something like that. Over that decade, there were drafts and revisions and rewrites, over and over again.

Then again, I’m really only 30. I could still make that thirty under 35 list, and I still have a good few years for a shot at it.

But really, I think that what Gladwell misses is that it’s not a binary thing. It’s not an either/or situation, and I neither do I think it’s related to the writer, or the way writers create.

I think it’s related to the story. Some stories simply necessarily take longer than others, in telling and in execution, at least in doing them justice. Some stories take a while for gestation, and some even need to wait until you’ve got the craft to support your talent. During my twenties, I was often told I had a lot of raw talent, and really, I think it took more careful study of craft, not to mention greater discipline, to begin to refine it.

Me, I don’t worry about the timing, so much, most of the time. Most of the time I try not to think too much about the ultimate grail quest of getting published, mainly for the reason that so little of that quest is under my control. Gladwell mentions the market in his essay, which is an important consideration. Especially from my perspective: being a new and unpublished writer, I keep reading doom-and-gloom articles that the current state of the economy means fewer and fewer publishers are willing to take a chance on writers like me.

Then again, I look at that statement and I think: how is that different from usual?

Galleycat is the publishing industry news blog over at Mediabistro.com, which is one of the single most valuable resources for writers and people in the creative industry I have ever encountered. A membership in the AvantGuild costs, like, $80 for two years, but it gets you exclusive interviews with agents, editors, and various other industry gurus, as well as access to content regarding both jobs and freelance opportunities. I’ve been a member for a while.

Anyway, Galleycat ran an microinterview/blurb about me this morning. I’d been following their recent coverage of iPhone e-book readers, including Stanza and Feedbooks, and dropped a note to point them the way of my collection. I thought it was a rather nice post.

It’s also worth pointing out that when I note “sales ain’t much,” I generally define “much” as go-jillions of copies. I’d be so bold as to call the actual sales robust, with an additional exciting to further downloads. To wit: so far, Entrekin has raised nearly $700 earmarked for the United Way NYC, which works out to a little bit more than a dollar for every book sold. In about a year and a half, I’m up to nearly fifteen hundred downloads overall, with a little more than a third of those accounted for by the collection itself and new downloads trickling in every day.

Which is, largely, why I called the sales “ain’t much.” Then again, I’ve made about as much so far as I probably would have had I tried to sell the stories to various magazines, journals, and ezines; readers seem to like it; and as I note in that interview, I’m proud of the experiment that is the final product.

One fun thing about it all?

Technically, I think Entrekin may be the bestselling e-book on the iPhone.

  • Statistics.
  • Houghton-Mifflin, purveyors of the textbook of said statistics. Who decided that even though I spent nearly $150 purchasing their textbook, I could only download it once, and then only to one computer, and only then using Adobe Digital Editions. Who the hell uses Adobe Digital Editions? And seriously, I get the new Coldplay, I rip it to my computer, I can listen on any device I want, but I spend nearly ten times as much and you lock me in? It’s a statistics textbook for a business course, and that business model makes me question just how damned authoritative you actually are. Business is about relationships and transactions with your customers. I am your customer, and you totally and completely failed me.
  • PUMA supporters. Which, apparently, stands for “Party Unity My Ass.”  Have you heard of this?  All the sad supporters of Hillary who are upset she lost and decided that Obama is the antichrist, and that McCain/Palin is a good choice because Palin is, like, a chick? God, I’m so tired of everyone backhanding Obama and treating McCain/Palin like they wouldn’t be 8 more years of the same. Dear female PUMA supporters; take your heads out of your collective twats long enough to acknowledge that feminism is about more than simply voting for anyone in a skirt.

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So, like I blogged about earlier, the American economy is basically in the toilet, and to quote Roger Clyne, “Everything’s going down, flowin’ counterclockwise.” Regardless of direction, the fact remains that, besides the bailouts of AIG, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac, I’ve heard today that both Washington Mutual and Morgan Stanley are initiating sales of themselves (I know a couple of people who work for Morgan Stanley, and wish them the best).

New York/Manhattan is, obviously the epicenter of the financial industry. When the Dow sinks, it sank first in Manhattan.

Manhattan is also pretty much the epicenter of the publishing industry. And given that the financial climate is what it is, one would think that the publishing industry is every bit as concerned about its own welfare as financial sectors are concerned about their own.

And one might not be wrong.

For example, one of the regular publishing/agenting blogs I read is maintained by Lori Perkins, of the Lori Perkins Agency. Lori is extraordinarily well known in the publishing industry and has quite the agenting reputation. She is renowned and respected. This is her blog. I like reading her blog.

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Over at BookChase, Sam Houston reviews Entrekin:

there is a lot to like here and Entrekin is a fun look at the beginning of what just might turn out to be a very successful writing career

From his lips to God’s ear, I say.

And here’s the link to buy the book. It’s only a couple bucks, both of which go to the United Way NYC in honor of those we lost on September 11th.

My classes at Regis began this week, at the same time that I set in motion my departure from Lulu and wound up the assignment I’ve been guiding my students through.

The class, so far: meh. I don’t have a business background and, indeed, never took any such courses in college, even despite two degrees and graduate school. Which means that, though I’m currently attending Regis, I’m really doing a conditional acceptance sort of thing. I have to pass a couple of Foundations of Business or somesuchlike courses.

Which would be fine. I get that I need to know stuff like statistics. And I can’t wait to get to marketing.

But–

(you knew there was going to be a but, right? Which gives me an opportunity to try out this “more” function thingy I’ve been wanting to use)

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Steve Jobs made plenty of headlines when he said reading is dead and Apple wasn’t going to pursue an e-book reader. Which is fine, because Apple already has an e-book reader. It’s called the iPhone, and the iPod Touch. Here’s the Teleread.org article with the scoop (from July 13, 2007).

That was only one of the photos. Here are the others:

Jobs can make any claims he wants, but stories find their ways.

And this post wouldn’t be complete without the LOLphone joke:

Want your very own copy, to read on your own iPhone (or any electronic device, for that matter)? Because you can get the whole collection here, and it’s totally free.

If you like it, buy a copy for a friend.

Caught via Hugo-award winning and NYT bestselling author John Scalzi (and congrats on both counts there), the editor of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Gordon Van Gelder, posts about the fate of short fiction online and asks for comments and feedback from readers regarding it.

His basic premise is the fear that if you start giving stuff away, no one will pay for it. Not just in the case of a specific author but rather in the case of publishing overall; if magazines start allowing readers to read online and for free the stories they print, no one will want to buy stories anymore. Which strikes me as quite a slippery slope of an argument, and I worry he’ll lose control of his toboggan.

I tend to understand his fears, though, I think, because really, it makes a lot of sense. I’ll note that since I started offering Entrekin as a free download, the downloads have shot way up though the sales have remained pretty steady. But it also makes sense in other ways.

I’ve been neglecting my other two blogs lately (writing and prepping for teaching tend to make me laser-focus), but had I been keeping up, I would have pointed to Tor.com, the new website of science fiction/fantasy publisher TOR books. So far, I’m quite stunned by its execution; in range and scope, I think it’s rather amazing, and exactly the sort of things publishers need to be doing more often. Free stories. Free novels, even. Forums for readers. Reading is not just about words on a page; it’s about community and culture, and in one fell swoop, Tor has realized the combination of the two. It’s damned near perfect, and I can only imagine it will get better.

When Tor.com posted Scalzi’s short story, “After the Coup”, the story managed nearly 50,000 hits in two weeks, a number that is, approximately, equal to the number of subscribers to three of the biggest science fiction/fantasy magazines combined. When Van Gelder pointed out that all those subscribers pay, whereas TOR.com readers are getting a freebie, Scalzi apparently responded he was “comparing eyeballs to eyeballs.”

Which puts it pretty well, I think. Because in neither case is either number a certain count of readers. One might hope, I guess, that a subscriber would read an entire magazine, but I don’t think I ever have; every magazine I’ve ever subscribed to, there’s usually one article each issue that’s a stinker.

In fact, Tor.com’s implementation seems like the perfect execution in an online world: a publisher gets behind an author, and gets first-look rights at what that author creates, which it can post on its website for an industry-standard fee. Readers can view it free, authors get paid, and publishers get free marketing (New! Exclusive Junot Diaz story! Only at Riverhead.com!).

Used to be that publication made sense, if solely for purposes of distribution; there was no way to get a lot of books to a lot of people without having the kind of operation only a major publisher could implement. Nowadays, though, sites like this seem to indicate that nearly 1.5 billion people in the world have Internet access, whereas something like 90% of books sell fewer than 1000 copies. Which seems to me to indicate that there’s a giant disconnect between content creation and content distribution, if only because so many Internet users read. Blogs, e-mail, news . . . it’s really just a giant database full of information and content.

I’ve read Seth Godin claim that books are really just souvenirs, and I’m not entirely sure about that one way or the other, but I do think that magazines and newspapers well could be. They are holders of information, but certainly no longer the best method of delivery of that information. I’d say I’m reasonably informed about global news, but I literally cannot remember the last time I actually even saw a newspaper, much less picked one up or read one.

Van Gelder notes:

So I started to wonder: has short fiction been devalued by the fact that so many places offer it for free online nowadays?

But when was the value of any fiction ever determined by the price people are willing to pay? All of Shakespeare’s work is public domain and available free, online, and what’s more, no one has to pay to produce or perform any of it.

What I think Van Gelder really means, though, is that we may be coming to a point where writers no longer need a short fiction marketplace (and I realize this is another slope of the slippery type, but still). In Japan last year, 5 of the 10 bestselling novels were distributed neither online nor by book but rather to readers’ cell phones. No mistake, the industry as a whole is changing markedly, and I think most professionals within it will learn to adapt to new ways of doing the business of getting good content to interested consumers, which is really basically all publishing actually is, anyway.

Personally, I’m still mainly surprised that The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction still only accepts queries by traditional mail. No electronic submissions.

I mean, seriously, what’s up with that?

(though they do accept payment for sample issues through PayPal. Interesting that)

BookChase is one of my very favorite literary/book review blogs; it’s proprietor, a fella named Sam, writes rather extraordinary, particularly cogent reviews about the books he reads. Just the other day, Sam linked to this Washington Post article concerning Chris Bohjalian and his feelings concerning reviews of his books, specifically on Amazon.com.

Sam uses the article as an opportunity to offer some thoughts on his own amateur status as a book reviewer:

I do sincerely try to be fair in every review that I write and I don’t make a habit of taking cheap shots, although I imagine it’s happened more times than I realize or intended. In fact, I’ve had some nice comments from some of the authors I’ve most criticized saying that they appreciate honest reviews and can see the point I was making – and then they usually tell me why they think I am wrong. Fair enough, that, and I very much appreciate their willingness to discuss their work with someone as anonymous as me.

It’s a difficult dilemma, I think. Especially concerning the Internet and the basically egalitarian voice it gives everyone. Over here, at MightyGodKing.com, one commenter noted:

I bet if you too a brief census of the artists who heard any commentary about their work while at SDCC, approximately 100% would say that on at least more than one occasion, someone took a proverbial “shit in their cornflakes” while expressing their opinions about something. Unfortunately, some people use “criticism” or “just being honest” as an excuse to be an asswipe. In that respect, if you’re going to be an artist and your going to put your stuff out there for scrutiny, best for all parties involved that you develop a healthy tolerance for all such people.

My response there was:

The Internet seems to have created more critics than academia, and most are worse if only because they generally have trouble both having a cogent thought and spelling it correctly. That said, I don’t see why wanting to share one’s work with other people includes the necessity for developing a healthy tolerance for asswipes. Fuck asswipes.

A sentiment Bookchase’s post refreshed.

I mentioned before I’m still learning how (if at all) to respond to reactions to Entrekin; there have been a couple of reactions, anonymous and otherwise, that I’ve seen and which made me want to say: “Wait, who are you? What, exactly, have you ever done?” I mean, there’s subjective stuff like someone didn’t like it, and I get that. But people who bash my grammar/style just make me want to say, “Look, I was a professional editor and have a Master’s degree in Professional Writing. I tend to not simply know grammar better than most textbooks but also understand its fluid nature.”

This isn’t to say I believe in grammatical anarchy, mind you. I generally reference Shakespeare as someone who played with language and grammar, but of course he knew what he was doing beforehand, which is the big requirement. You can bend or break the rules all you’d like, but to do so, you must know the rules you’re breaking, why they’re rules, and why you’re breaking them.

The reason I bring this up now is that I’m starting to wonder about “amateur” reviewers, if mainly because all the professional venues are pretty much going the way of the dodo. Newspapers left and right are decreasing their coverage of books, and well they should, but really I’m surprised they exist in the first place, anymore. I can’t even remember the last time I actually touched a newspaper, and most of the magazines I read anymore are available in full online. Why buy Rolling Stone when I can read all the stories via the Internet?

And if so much reading is occurring online anyway, why go to those publications? One of the biggest revolutions the Internet has brought on is the removal of middlemen between creators and consumers of content. I don’t yet think this works for novels, which is why I’m not yet considering Lulu to self-publish my own, but most publications have Internet presences, anyway. I’ve been working on some short stories lately, and my thought is, when I finish them, I can either submit them for publication and rely on someone else who may or may not be as qualified as I am to edit, or I can just post them here (or in et cetera). Some people think that publishing in big ole’ publications confers some sort of authority, but I’m more of the mind that quality of content, and not method of distribution, should confer authority.

Which means I’m of the mind that yes, everyone has a voice, but very few actually deserve to be listened to.

The Bulwer-Lytton prize, named after the author who first set down “It was a dark and stormy night,” is a parody award given to bad writing.

This year’s “winners” have been announced.

Thing is, I’d totally read a novel that began:

Mike Hummer had been a private detective so long he could remember Preparation A, his hair reminded everyone of a rat who’d bitten into an electrical cord, but he could still run faster than greased owl snot when he was on a bad guy’s trail, and they said his friskings were a lot like getting a vasectomy at Sears.

Because, seriously, a Sears vasectomy is the sort of imagery that would keep me going at least 50 more pages.

In fact, I kinda think the only bad thing about that entry is the comma splice after “Preparation A.”

More winners:

2008 Results.

I’ve mentioned before I’m currently in the submission process with my novel, The Prodigal Hour. So far it’s okay; not spectacular, but not terrible, either. Of course, “spectacular” would probably be defined as “offered representation,” and I’ll be sure to let you know when that happens. I considered talking more about the submission process itself, but I think I’m going to do so more after I’ve been offered representation, and not before.

I’m going through the process as you’d expect; search the Internet and Writers’ Market and etc. for agents who are either actively seeking new clients or sound like they may be vaguely interested. And then I send a query, which looks pretty much as you’d expect a query to look: intro, synopsis, bio, and out. The intro gives me some trouble, though, because that’s where I mention the title, word count, and genre of my novel, and boyhow is that last characteristic ever a trouble spot. Many might think it’s easy: time travel automatically = science fiction.

But not so fast, I say.

Because I don’t feel like I wrote a science fiction novel. I don’t generally read science fiction novels. Science fiction is all wars among and treks across the stars, and it has a long and illustrious history I don’t feel a part of. Growing up, my choices for reading material were all Dean Koontz and Stephen King pretty much straight across the board, with digressions into Douglas Adams and Christopher Stasheff. Given that among my first experiences with Stephen King was a short story called “Strawberry Spring,” after which I read Different Seasons, I always had trouble thinking of him as a ‘horror’ writer. I never read It and never got to his straight-up horror until after I’d already read “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption” and “The Body.”

Try showing someone with no previous knowledge of their origins the movie adaptations of The Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Me and then explaining to them they were both based on books by a horror writer.

Because they certainly aren’t horror stories.

Admittedly, King is a bit of an exception; he himself is pretty much as much a genre as “horror”. People buy his books for his name, not for the genre.

Few people are going to buy The Prodigal Hour for my name, and you’re probably already reading this, anyway.

So far, I’ve been calling it a techno-thriller, but even that is a bit of a misnomer. It is thrilling (well. That’s the hope, at least), but character and plot work in pretty much equal measure, and it’s certainly not just about the thrills.

I sort of understand the requirement; it determines, basically, where your book is placed on bookstores’ shelves, which is key. I rarely venture to the scifi/fantasy shelves except to grab Neil Gaiman’s newest book, and again, I’m buying the name, not the genre.

I’m also thinking ahead. This one may be about time travel, but my next two big ones are about vampires and then werewolves, and both do things with those myths I’ve never seen nor heard done before. You can lump them all into science fiction/fantasy, I suppose, but I certainly wouldn’t, and I honestly think publishers and booksellers do more harm than good in categorizing books. Yesterday, Mitzi Szereto wrote about how publishers label books and how those labels can affect their sales, specifically related to erotica.

One of the things that’s gotten me thinking about this, too, are the writers who write stories that seem pretty categorically genre but whose books are not placed there. Lethem started out writing mostly weird science fiction tales. Crichton’s got Jurassic Park and Timeline, at least, not to mention Sphere and The Andromeda Strain. Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones was narrated by a dead girl, while Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time-Traveler’s Wife seems like science fantasy.

And then there’s Michael Chabon. He just won a Hugo for The Yiddish Policeman’s Union. The Hugo is a major award so known for science fiction that, when a handful of fantasy novels won (including JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Gaiman’s American Gods), some controversy got stirred up.

I haven’t heard any such controversy about the award having gone to Chabon’s novel, which is mostly an alternate history set in the present (I haven’t read the book. I tried. Got about twenty pages in before I gave up on it). But Chabon is an author with both mass appeal and a Pulitzer under his belt, and, in fact, more so than controversy, the win has mainly stirred up discussion like here, where IO9 asks which mainstream authors its readers would like to see write science fiction.

Personally, I don’t want any mainstream authors to deign to write anything they don’t enjoy. Personally, I’d like someone to point out, hey, wait a minute, twenty of the twenty-five movies with the highest worldwide gross ever have been genre movies, and, arguably, science fiction or fantasy movies. The only exceptions are Titanic, Finding Nemo, The Lion King, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and The Da Vinci Code, the last two of which are certainly genre movies (adventure and thriller, respectively) even if not science fiction or fantasy.

Seems like it’s mainstream to me.

It’s like people expect good entertainment from all media until they hit books, and then some weirdo mechanism steps in and says that it must be “literature” to be any good while preventing the memory that the whole reason Shakespeare is awesome is because he wrote swordfights and fairies and witches so damned well into really exciting stories.

Yesterday, I posted a link to a review of Entrekin posted by Cheryl Anne Gardner at POD People. I’ve gotten a couple of notes from people regarding the fact that the comments on the post in question were shut off, and I thought I’d explain.

When Cheryl wrote to me, she mentioned the kerfuffle that had occurred when a couple of people (or perhaps one with sockpuppets) posted a bunch of anonymous comments attacking me, personally, and saying very little about my writing save that it was great. Cheryl mentioned a certain accommodation she normally wouldn’t, but I told her it was unnecessary, then suggested she or her colleagues might want to moderate their comments. Not censor, exactly, but, you know, keep track of them and ensure they were constructive and contributing to the conversation.

Not, in other words, anonymous and attacking. Flaming and trolling. The difference is usually fairly obvious.

I didn’t ask them to shut the comments off; that was their decision, and I don’t argue with things site administrators choose to do. Perhaps they thought that close moderation would require more work/attention than they wanted to expend.

Regardless, I respect their decision as I respect Cheryl’s opinion.

Two nice spots of news today.

The first is that I got a request for a partial of The Prodigal Hour. I sent along the first fifty pages, which, nicely, end on what I think is a rather awesome chapter-break-cliffhanger.

Interestingly, the request came yesterday. Which the observant among you will notice was a Sunday, because, apparently, the Internet and e-mail and the digital age have rendered the five day workweek quaint, at best. In fact, the agent in question came to my attention via Twitter.

Brave new world indeed.

The other is totally geeky but something I was relieved about: Google. After I deleted my MySpace page, the first Google hit on my name linked to the PODler’s review, which was an excellent review, except for some reason Google excerpted a portion of the comments to the search results, so that what came up, rather than that my book was “poetic” and “cinematic” and “the writing of bestsellers” and “a stellar collection by a writer of promise,” was that I was a great writer who was full of myself.

I guess the traffic link, or whatever determines Google ranking, expired recently, because now my website is the first thing that comes up. No mention of my being full of myself.

Which is nice.

Anyway, I’m obviously far more excited about the partial request. Also: hopeful. You should be, too; The Prodigal Hour is just a little bit closer to you.

So wish it luck, because the more luck it has, the sooner you’re going to get it.

And come on: you know you want it.

I went to an information session today at Regis University, a Jesuit institution in northern Denver. I think it’s best I didn’t manage to get into the University of Denver’s PhD program, but I still want to continue schooling somewhere. Thing is, there are two options now, both with Regis.

The first is another MBA, this time in religious studies. I’m fascinated by religion in all ways, but more important, I sense something right now. See, I’m thinking specifically of guys like Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens, both of whom wrote mega-bestselling books concerning the fact that religion is, at its heart, a bad idea.

But I think there’s a foundation for all religious thought and pursuit, really. Personally, I don’t believe there’s any difference between a spell, a prayer, and a meditation session; all are, at their bases, pretty much mainly modes of positive thinking. Same thing with that The Secret book from last year or so.

The problem, I think, is that Harris and Hitchens lack a scientific background, and are approaching religion from a mainly philosophical/ethical point of view.

Which is fine, of course.

But I think it misses some very huge things. I honestly think that the fact that most people believe in something of a divine nature has some substantive argument to it. But most of all, I think the more one examines biology and quantum electromechanics and physics, the more one starts to not just believe but realize that there’s something greater going on.

Einstein himself said that religion without science is lame, but science without religion is blind.

And I think there’s something there.

So I could, in theory, design a degree in something like scientific deology (they’re not allowed to use the word “theology,” apparently, for some Arch-Diocesan reason [okay, so there’s a spot where Hitchens and Harris have a point]), and ultimately produce a book I’m planning, called Godology, on the application of the scientific method to areas including God and the afterlife.

Or, I could go for an MBA. Which would really sort of be the first practical degree I could actually use I’d be earning.

And the thing is, it’s not a question of passion or love or whathaveyou, because just the existence of this blog and all I’ve done related to writing is evidence of how I’m fascinated by marketing and branding. I’m aiming for “Entrekin” to become a brand every bit as much as Crichton and King and Gaiman are. I’m not solely concerned with the airy-fairy artsy-fartsy aspect of writing, which is the most major reason I chose USC to study writing; it was about professional writing. About the craft of it yes, but also about selling it.

Because I’ll be honest; I’m not solely trying to write the best books I can. I’m also trying to get them to as many readers as I possibly can.

And part of that is marketing. Part of that is both about analyzing target audience and then reaching it.

So this weekend, I’ve got some figuring out to do. I think, ultimately, the MBA is probably more practical, and I’ll certainly write Godology anyway.

Do you care that I’m still “almost done” my novel? Something I’ve been saying for a bit, I realize (if, by “a bit,” I mean, like, two years), but well, closer every day. That stumbling block the other day knocked me a bit sideways, and the ending is, and always has been, a trouble spot. Namely because I know the precise effect I’m trying to go for but haven’t a clue how to frickin’ do it.

So I’m experimenting. I’ve written and rewritten it several times already, not counting previous drafts.

I’ve been hesitating to continue posting about it, though. One of my favorite Hemingway quotes, and perhaps the smartest (not to mention: most sober) things I’ve ever heard he said was: “Fuck ’em. Let ’em think you were born knowing how to write.”

Or something to that effect.

Which is why I’ll admit I sometimes struggle with blogging (and probably why I take so many breaks from it), not just as an activity but as a culture. With blogging and MySpace/Facebook and now with Twitter . . . just how connected do people need to be? How much do I really need to know about people? Do I care what you’re listening to? More important: do you care what I’m listening to?

The thing is, many regard it as the answer or solution for writers and publishing, which they see as “in decline.” Oh, whatever will we do, peepul dont reed no morez11!! You’ve heard the lamentations. You’ve seen the YouTube videos, and if you haven’t, there’s this one, which caught on in the blogosphere a while ago:

Yeah.

The thing about it is that I think it’s pretty uniformly utter bullshit (and I like that that video highlights that). Book trailers? Book videos? Lulu has some marketing package thing that includes bookmarks and, like, postcards or some shit.

I can’t believe readership is down, or if it is, not for the reasons many suspect, like the “ADHD Internet culture”; the utter and nearly spontaneous proliferation of blogs seems to me to demonstrate otherwise. It took, what, nearly 20,000 years or something for the human race to reach the 1 billion mark, while blogs reached double that number in, like, two hours or something (I’m using hyperbole here, obviously, but only just).

I think it’s more about a signal-to-noise ratio, because I think readers thirst for content. I think our culture is starved for it, in fact. I think one of the reason for this proliferation is that people are starving for something they are looking to such 2.0 stylistic hoodoo to provide.

If readership is down, I think it’s because there are too few writers, and I mean real writers out there actually doing their job. One of my other favorite quotes, which traces back to a pseudonym used on the Well many moons ago (but possibly still in use), was “You’re an author! Fuck off and auth!” How many writers with popular blogs have actually managed to write good books?

(and yes, I realize that begins to get into the subjective nature of “good” and such, but I’m not tackling that here)

One of the major points I think all this examination of web 2.0 and its relationship to writers and books has summarily and utterly missed is that you can market the hell out of a mediocre book and it doesn’t actually make the book any better. And readers know that.

The thing is that it’s focus on two disparately different things: the writing of a book versus the selling of it. Two completely different functions and activities with, I’d argue, very little in common. And yes, I would be among the first to note that it’s no longer enough for writers to simply write their books, that proactive energy is necessary, but while it may not be enough, that’s where it starts.

The other thing is that the Internet and its numbers don’t translate. I learned this personally, on MySpace; I established a rather substantial readership of nearly 4,000 friends and 1,200 subscribers to my blog. My blog had nearly 3,000 views per day when I realized I wanted to publish my collection. And I won’t say it was summarily ignored (far from it), but those numbers certainly didn’t transfer from one situation to the other.

I think Entrekin has gotten about as much attention as it ever deserved to; some, certainly, because I wouldn’t have done it if I hadn’t thought it was good, but not a lot, because it’s certainly not a great book–it’s a book collecting a bunch of stories by a writer discovering his voice in the process of telling them. The order of the pieces is very nearly chronological (which, I think, demonstrates said evolution), to culminate in the first two chapters of my novel. It’s not perfect (and even the novel chapters have since changed rather markedly), but it’s a record, and concerning the people in whom it does manage to strike a chord, it seems to do so deeply. What negative response it seems to provoke has less to do with the book than it does with people’s perception of me, as a person.

Anyway, I didn’t mean to digress and really have no idea how I ended up where I now find myself, but that’s my story. An ironic call to arms, probably, from a guy who maintains (roughly) three separate blogs, but I hope a call to arms nonetheless, if to no one else but myself. Because, really, it’s time for me to finish a good book.

I read somewhere, I believe, that something like three of the top five bestselling novels in Japan last year were published via cell phones. Interesting, in its way; the idea seems popular, and I’m all for getting new readers and new books to those new readers any way possible. But I wonder a bit about the content. I try not to judge such things, because it makes me feel like a pompous douchebag, but I worry that the kind of novels that lend themselves to being read serially via cellphone are the kind of novels, say, Tila Tequila might write (if you don’t know who she is, count yourself lucky).

Amusingly, though, I caught a feature in the latest issue of Esquire–great works of literature as text messages.

Click the image below to visit the slideshow:

I had some ideas for others:

Macbeth: “I can haz crown? Out damn spot!”

American Gods: Meet new godz. Same as old onez.

Old Man’s War: “I fite everything! My DAN makes me teh wassum!!11”

Hamlet: 2 b or not? Not.

I’ve had an eye on Indie author Shannon Yarbrough for a while now; he runs the Lulu Book Review site, and has recently published his novel Stealing Wishes. From what I can gather so far (I’ve not picked it up yet, but am planning to the moment I’m gainfully employed), it concerns a young coffee barista, Blaine, an aspiring photographer and romantic. One of Blaine’s friends sets him up with Edward, and it sounds like the book details Blaine’s (somewhat OCD) quest for love and photography in all the wrong places.

So a classic story, pretty much. Having read the first few pages, I notice Shannon puts his spin and style at work best when relating Blaine’s aforementioned somewhat-OCD nature. The devil, as they say, is in the details; also, in good stories and good characters.

Click the image of the bookcover below to purchase Shannon’s book via Lulu, where he’ll get a higher cut and you can also procure the ebook for five bucks, should that be yo thang.

When I got to USC’s writing program, I was lucky that I had already completed at least a draft of a novel; truth is, I’d finished several drafts by then, and I was about half-finished the then-current draft. I actually completed it a few weeks after I took my first class, and then I set it aside to write it as a screenplay before I picked it up to start it all over again.

I mention this because it had some effect on how I approached the program; besides the thesis/final project, there was also an opportunity to take a semester of guided research with the faculty mentor nearly of one’s choice. Given that I already had a draft, I bypassed that semester in favor of other classes and workshops.

When it came time to take my guided research, I chose a man named Sid Stebel as my advisor. Sid is a great, puckish guy with a mischievous twinkle in his eye, and we got along like gangbusters. He can be very opinionated, but also allows he could be wrong. I guess what I liked was that he wasn’t afraid to make suggestions. That, and that the man knew stories. He knew them well (his book, Double Your Creative Power!, is built around his idea of secret story, which I’d actually like to study further), and a lot of times, you could just tell. Some of his suggestions for the way characters might interact in the context of the story’s structure . . .

Yeah, I learned a lot from Sid. I like to think there are ways we’re alike, and not just considering we’re both fair writers.

I mention Sid, however, because one thing Sid likes to talk about is Ray Bradbury; he and Ray go back many years, and they’ve shared a friendship through the years. When I found out, I kinda flipped a little.

I like Ray Bradbury for a somewhat obscure reason. Back when I was a sophomore in college, my history professor assigned Fahrenheit 451. I read and enjoyed it immensely, but what really caught my attention was a ‘Coda’ my buddy, captain doctor Brian, pointed out to me in his edition. In this Coda, Bradbury talked about critics and reviewers, and he said, and I’ll never forget this:

“Get off our fields and let us play.”

I loved that. Immensely. My father taught me early on about criticism, that there were always going to be people who had something negative to say, but they’re not the one’s down there, wrestling the lions–he used to allude to a quote by either Hemingway or JFK, I can’t remember which (though I think it was the latter). It’s something I continue to struggle with, in fact, the just-playing part, because I’ll admit I sometimes pay too close attention to how my writing is received. I know I shouldn’t, but old habits etc.

I’ve always liked allusions, and there are many in my novel: to Bradbury, yes, but also to Fitzgerald, Eliot, Williams, and Whitman, among others. They’re quick enough you’ll miss most of them if you blink, but they’re there. I mean, you write a time travel novel, you ought to pause time when there’s an explosion, and when it’s raining, and if it’s gonna be raining, it oughta be a storm, and if there’s a storm, you can bet there’s going to be a sound of thunder (all that’s part of story theory, by the way. That there are certain elements that just make sense given a story’s framework, and how it functions). My protagonist, in fact, happens to live on Bradbury Lane.

So when I found out Stebel was friends with Ray, I had to ask if he could get my novel to Ray.

Sid didn’t think that was the best idea, given Bradbury’s current health, which isn’t bad, exactly, don’t think that, but certainly Ray reads way less books than he used to. But, he said, perhaps an excerpt, a few pages where the story kicked, where there was something that really pulled out all the stops . . .

Well, lemme tell you, I’ve got plenty of pages like that. There aren’t any stops in my novel, because I pulled every last one of them out.

And if I sent him that, Sid could send the pages along to Ray. Maybe, he said, we could even get a quote from Ray for my book.

At this point, I’ll tell you, I’m struggling not to get too excited. Not so much about a possibly Bradbury quote to put on the cover of my novel, though, yes, of course, how fucking awesome would that be? But Ray Bradbury! Reading something I wrote!

Two weeks ago, I sent Sid a few pages from the climax of my novel. I was pushing hard by the time I wrote them, trying to fire on all cylinders at once, really nailing down the theme while never forgetting, hey, there are characters to care about here, and what’re they doing? I do some experimenting with both typography and formatting at certain points in my book, but I cut them from the climax, solely wanting an honest, sincere moment, making the effort to rely solely on the strength of my words to make readers feel something and trying to avoid clever at all costs.

Sid sent it along immediately.

So for two weeks I’ve been on pins and needles, here. Trying not to hyperventilate, and trying not to get too excited.

Turns out I probably shouldn’t have worried.

I got an e-mail from Sid last night; Ray called him late Wednesday evening to comment on what he’d read. He was, apparently, extraordinarily encouraging (Sid paraphrased), and he said to just sit down and write write write like he did with The Martian Chronicles.

Ray Bradbury. The Martian Chronicles. Write write write.

I’m smiling.

A quote, something to put on the cover of my book, even a single word like “Splendid!” probably would have been enough to start a career on. But then again, I realize, I already started it, and while a blurb from Ray Bradbury probably would have helped me sell it, that, up there, is the real part of it. The real part of it is not the selling it; it’s the sitting down to write write write every day, and maybe I needed that reminder. Sure, I’ll admit, I really would have liked to have a Bradbury quote, but maybe I’ve got to learn that I don’t need it, that what I really need is to work harder, to sit down and keep at it, and to be honest about it. Because it reminds me that a few words on either cover won’t have any effect on the words between them, and those are the ones that count. And those are really the only part I have any control over.

If I don’t remember that, no matter how many books I sell, no matter how many stories I tell, no matter how many pages I write, it arguably won’t be much of a career, anyway, much less a devotion.

Forgot to mention:

Several new posts over at et cetera, including Jo Rowling’s commencement at Harvard and Chris Meeks’ Hollywood book launch party (Be there or be square, baby!).

Also, New picture at Imagery.

What? I told you I was going to get better about updating them. And I actually like how it all works when I maintain them all. Cross pollination, so to speak, or whathaveyou.

In light of the discussion on what editors actually do, and why they may or may not be necessary, I thought I’d point to a piece I found over at the New Yorker (though I’m not sure whom I found it by. Someone in my blogroll, probably). The article concerns Raymond Carver and his editor, one Gordon Lish.

I’ve not read much Carver. My sister is a big fan of his, and even won a bet concerning plot and structure by showing her professor a copy of one of Carver’s collections, but I’ve not really yet explored much of his stuff. I don’t know much about Carver at all, really. He just ain’t my cup of tea, to be honest. I make jokes all the time about blowing shit up, but Carver’s stories, while minimalist, also seem a careful study in the “not much happens” school of short story telling. Which always makes me say, “Wait, nothing happened? Then why the fuck are you telling me the story? Is there a point?”

Personal predilections aside, his voice is distinctive. Nothing may happen, but somehow, you still sort of feel the nothing happening. His stories are weird that way.

Anyway, Gordon Lish was editor of Esquire for several years. Judging by his Wikipedia entry, he was involved with the “Merry Pranksters,” including Kerouac, Casaday, and Ginsberg in SF before he and his second wife moved to NYC. He earned some renown through his career: DeLillo, Kundera, Nabokov . . . the list goes on.

From the Wikipedia entry on Carver’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”:

“What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” is actually a heavily edited version of Carver’s original draft, “Beginners.” His editor, Gordon Lish, cut out nearly half of Carver’s story, adding in details of his own. Carver’s version, released by his widow, Tess Gallagher, in December 2007 to The New Yorker magazine, shows the extensive, and sometimes apparently arbitrary edits.

Now I’m going to speak about this from some personal experience, and admit something; I was, for other writers, not a very good editor. I always tried to make the writing better, the story better, but often to the detriment of the original material, the original voice, and the original content. A good editor maintains that original content; I really wasn’t one. I wasn’t bad, exactly; I just wasn’t good.

Here’s the New Yorker article on the story.

I think it’s worth reading if only for the glance into the sometimes esoteric realm of what occurs behind the scenes in writing and publishing. Considering Lish’s edits, is the story really any better, or is it, in fact, worse for the wear? I’ll admit I found Carver’s original final several paragraphs rather poignant, especially the horses bit, and especially the end; does their loss negatively affect the story? Or was Lish correct that they were stronger without them?

Or is Lish just some editor who was never good enough to be a writer and so had to butcher other author’s works? Sure, he “introduced” major writers of the 20th century, but what did he do to their stories? Considering the finalized state of Carver’s story compared to its original, I cringe to think what he did to Nabokov and Kundera, personally. And I don’t even really like either of them.

Questions, questions.

At what point do you, as Carver say, “You know what? Sorry, but that’s not the story I wrote. You can publish that, if you like, but you’ll have to write it yourself.”

It’s almost like Lish was the P. Diddy of his time, sampling a classic song, laying a bit of new vocal on it, calling it his own, and cashing in.

Or maybe it’s almost like Lish helped those writers transcend their otherwise mediocre writing?

I’ll admit, I haven’t a clue.

Which is, largely, the reason I chose to self-publish my collection. Not because I didn’t want editorial input; I’d already gotten it, several times over. Rather, just because I just don’t know how important editorial input is to short stories anymore.

Finally, also, some thoughts on how to become an editor, over at et cetera.

As you may or may not have noticed (if you read this on any regular basis), I became a little too busy in the past few weeks to keep up with Imagery and et cetera. But that’s okay; I got lots of pictures and even some videos from the road that I’ll be posting to the former on a more regular basis, and let’s face it, the publishing industry moves at a glacial enough pace that missing out on a couple of weeks of news doesn’t make much difference (NEWS: books were published! People read them! Some even liked some of them!).

But anyway, here’s a new picture at Imagery; it’s of my final image of USC.

And in et cetera, a couple of publishing manifestos from people contemplating the future of books, as well as the Los Angeles Times’ evisceration of James Frey’s new A Bright Shiny Morning, which sounds like it’s every bit as bad as A Million Little Pieces, only just not pretending to be true.

But finally, one of the reasons I think I’m going to be able to keep up better again; everything at USC is done, handed in, graded, and finalized. I got my final semester grades; I pulled a 3.8. Back when I was an undergraduate, that would have meant I graduated summa cum laude; I’m not sure if that’s the case in graduate school, but still, I’m happy with my performance. Two B+s on my transcript, but one came from Irvin Kerschner and the other came from Janet Fitch, and hell, that’s cool by me.

Now, on the other end of things, I have somewhat mixed feelings about most MFA writing programs, but I can honestly say that going to Los Angeles was one of the single greatest decisions I ever made in my life, and, I think, helped determine the future course of it. I’m in a ludicrous amount of debt and now have to figure out what I’m going to do with a degree in writing, of all things, but still, baby, while it lasted, it was one for the books.

Yesterday’s post caused more of a stir than I’d have expected, and brought some comment:

Will Shetterly commented here.

Cat Rambo mentions it here. (I made some comments in the discussion, but they haven’t yet shown up)

James Nicoll mentions it here.

In both that first link and the final, Nick Mamatas shows up to offer some thoughts of his own.

Finally, John Fox, one of the editors in question (and again: a terrific writer, and my former classmate), discusses it here, with Howard Junker, editor of Zyzzyva showing up in the comments.

I’d like to note a few things, the first of which is that I respect and admire both Mamatas and Fox. I mentioned both Mamatas’ Stoker nominations (and win!) and Fox’s status as my classmate to demonstrate such. Their offenses, as such (reprinting query letters), are more dubious than egregious. Mamatas, in Nicoll’s LJ, notes the long history of “Tales from a Slushpile,” including from editors as renowned as Ellen Datlow.

While I’m surprised Wolff still has a job at Fence, I continue to expect great things from both Fox and Mamatas (I’m betting their respective theses are awesome, judging from what work of theirs I’ve seen).

My main point yesterday was one of courtesy and confidentiality. Perhaps my reaction comes from my own time as an editor, which occurred in a somewhat different industry than Fox and Mamatas function in; I edited a clinical psychiatric nursing journal, which was a trade publication, as opposed to a commercial publication. Commercial publishing, which includes fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and pretty much everything consumers buy, is actually a small percentage of the publishing industry, which includes textbooks, manuals, and the sorts of publications that are published by specialty presses for particular audiences. I worked for SLACK Incorporated, which is one of the largest publishers of medical literature in the world; unless you’re involved, somehow, in the medical industry, however, you’ve probably never seen the journal.

Perhaps that context is important; it’s obviously not an endeavour that lends itself to a side-blog, nor one in which publishing the letters of people with bipolar disorder would really amuse its audience in any way.

Fox makes the interesting note that writers who are good at their jobs won’t show up in such correspondence; the vast majority of slush is merely mediocre, and not horrific enough to “amuse.”

And perhaps again, I’m just not really the audience for this. I’ve said before I think the literary marketplace for short-form writing is basically broken, at this point, especially with blogs and Lulu. I’ve always wondered how many people who aren’t trying to break into print actually read these magazines; Mamatas has disparaged MFA programs as the barely published teaching the barely literate, and the short-form literary marketplace has always struck me as catered specifically to a readership that hopes to get published in it.

One final note: Mamatas has quickly picked up (and on) the fact that I am, in his words, a “lulu.com author.” I’m not entirely sure how I feel about that; while technically accurate, I’d much rather clarify that to just being a guy who made some stories available to anyone who’d like to read them. In Shetterly’s blog, Mamatas seems to indicate he feels that distribution is the clear reason writers need editors; without the latter, the former can’t get onto bookstore shelves, etc, and asks how many lulu.com I’ve seen in a bookstore. As I mentioned yesterday, I haven’t a clue, because that’s just not something I, as a reader, pay attention to–I pay attention to the writing and the stories, not who published them. No, you can’t find my collection in libraries (and I’m not sure you ever will), but you can download it free, and I think that’s kinda cool.

Also, I’d like to point out that my debut is a collection of short writing–poetry, essays, and fiction (most of you regular readers know this. Those who don’t: it’s free! What’re you waiting for?! Give it a try! Nothing to lose besides ten minutes [you’ll know by then whether you’ll like it, and why continue if you don’t?]!). I used Lulu to publish it because I had several stories and essays I’d workshopped in my writing program (and indeed, a couple that got me into it in the first place), but nowhere to go with them, nowhere they seemed to fit. So rather than wait months for possible acceptances and probably meager paychecks, I just put them together.

I’d not do the same thing with my novel. The marketplace for long fiction seems, to me, more diverse, decidedly better, and less marketed to those who just want to get published in it in the first place (well. When it’s marketed at all, but that’s another post entirely). In addition, it seems more a business than the short-form market, which seems a bit more akin, to these eyes, to a network.

Then again, as Shetterly noted in his blog, I’m still very much learning my craft and the marketplace, so obviously all this must be taken with a handful of salt.

I’m a fairly frequent reader of Nick Mamatas’ LiveJournal since I discovered it not long ago (though I can’t remember how). Mamatas mostly seems a pretty interesting guy, and I noted some things in common; we’ve both just recently handed in a thesis to Master’s programs, . . . well. And that’s about it. He’s got quite the track record–winner of a Stoker and nominated for both another Stoker and an International Horror Guild Award. And he’s the editor of Clarkesworld, an ezine/literary mag (is it just me or is there becoming very little difference between an online zine and a blog?).

Mamatas recently posted about banning a writer from submitting to Clarkesworld. This isn’t the first time such banning has been mentioned: see here and here.

All three seem to be instances in which writers respond to rejections, which I’ll be the first to acknowledge is not something writers should do. Rejection is part of the process, part of the story, part of the life. If you’re not prepared to get rejected fairly often and fairly conclusively, go to med school and invest some hours in becoming a doctor, because the pay’s way better, there’s more security, and if Grey’s Anatomy is any indication, it’s probably easier (I jest on that last note. One of my buddies is a doctor. One of the hardest working individuals I’ve ever met. That’s why we’re friends).

However, posting such correspondence on their blogs is not something editors should do.

If this were an isolated occurrence, I might never have brought it up, but it’s not. John Fox, who was on staff at Southern California Review, recently posted A Slush Pile Dispatch in which he inserted comments into a letter SCR received from an inmate. This was troubling not just for the vetting of such correspondence but because John was one of my classmates in the MPW program, a program I chose because it was supposed to be about professionalism, and not “arts”. For what it’s worth, and not that whoever wrote the letter will probably ever see it, but I’d like to note that John’s comments don’t necessarily reflect the opinions of the USC MPW program.

I’d also like to note two other things: first, that John is actually a great guy I’ve enjoyed taking classes with, which means I was a bit surprised by the post but don’t particularly hold it against him; and second, another post I found via John’s site (which, I just realized, I didn’t mention up above: John writes Book Fox, which is really pretty awesome. His interviews at the BookFest were terrific, and he’s going to be running another set soon from Book Expo America). This one over pointed to Fence, which is a literary magazine I’ve actually seen at a newsstand (unlike just about every other one).

In this post, editor and publisher Rebecca Wolff responded to a writer’s question about contributors’ copies by telling the writer to, and I quote, “Eat shit and die.”

When did this become acceptable behavior from editors?

I used to be an editor. For three years, I was assistant editor of the Journal of Psychosocial Nursing and Mental Health Services. The audience of said journal, which had a consumer magazine format, was two-fold: first, psychiatric and forensic nurses involved in the mental and behavioral health care industries.

The other was their patients.

Given that second audience, we received many, many queries and submissions from patients in private institutions that specialized in mental and behavioral health. People with clinical depression, bipolar disorder, body dysmorphia, autism spectrum disorders, and various addictions–as well as people in corrective populations (that’s prisons to you and me), juvenile offenders, and individuals who had great difficulty with lives I have difficulty imagining. We often received manuscripts handwritten in tiny scrawl over twenty pages– or phone calls to the office when particular submitters entered the manic phase of their bipolar cycles and decided to head to Atlantic City for a night of gambling and other self-destructive behaviors.

I edited articles by people who had been in the justice system, and not on the end with the gavel. I edited articles by nurses who had overcome addictions and illnesses to train and gain licensure to treat individuals coping with problems those nurses knew and understood perhaps more intimately than they would have liked. I admire sobriety, and I think of the nurses who found it and then dedicated their lives to helping other people find it, which I can’t imagine would have been easy, perhaps somewhat roughly akin to having alcoholism but going to a bar anyway, perhaps to bartend or perhaps again to try to lend the people who believed they needed a drink the ear and support they truly needed but didn’t want to admit.

But you know what? Besides me and my supervisor, no one ever heard about those letters. No one heard about the correspondences, many of which began before I ever started working there and continue, I’m certain, to this day.

Not only did I edit that magazine, but I’ve been reading Making Light since back when it was both Making Light and Electrolite, probably around 2001 or so (I remember I found it while I was working in Manhattan, which was 2000-2001). It’s maintained by Teresa and Patrick Nielsen Hayden, two editors at TOR (well. I know Patrick is. I remember Teresa mentioned a position consulting for, I believe, a media company, but I’m not certain she left TOR to take that position).

I mention Making Light because it’s maintained by not one but two editors and features frequent contributions from people like Jo Walton and Dave Langford, and never once have I seen such an egregious lack of professional etiquette on that site. They’ve focused on takedowns of plagiarism and fly-by-night/scam publishers, certainly, but never anything like what I’ve seen going occurring lately.

I wish it would stop. I’d really like to see editors do their job, rather than sharing their jobs with the world. I’m a writer. Tell me your guidelines and your rates. Tell me the sorts of stories you’re looking for. Tell me, even, what you’re not looking for. Tell me about any upcoming anthologies you’re putting together, tell me about any projects you’re excited about and want me to be excited about, too.

But don’t tell me how you tell your contributors to “eat shit and die,” and don’t tell me how many you’ve banned, no matter how egregious those writers’ behaviors. Because I’m a writer, and if I see that’s how you’ve treated some prospective authors, or authors you’ve already even published, well, I can’t help but worry about how you’re going to treat me. And nowadays, we’ve got blogs, we’ve got Lulu, we’ve got book reviewers and designers, and the Internet makes it incredibly easy to meet people we need to when we want to, so what do we even need you for, anyway?

In the relationship of aspiring author and zine/mag editor, one person often has professional status, and one often does not (especially considering the word: “aspiring”). Here’s a helpful hint: if you’re paying for stories, you’re a professional editor, and you should act so.

For a long enough while that I can no longer recall when it began, I’ve been reading lamentations about the current health of the short story, or, more accurately, the complete lack thereof. Seems a lot of people think it’s dying or already has done, that it’s gasping its final breaths and all that’s left is the death rattle. For example, this post on After the MFA (which further links back to a post on Galley Cat), about anonymous e-mailers who wrote to the latter site “asserting that the short story is, in fact, six feet under in their literary world. “Valid career” go the anonymous cries, as in you can’t have one writing short stories.”

I yet wonder about ‘valid careers’. Since when has writing ever been a valid career choice? It’s difficult, long, time-consuming, and quite possibly the least valued of the various media; people seem to think very little of dropping a hundred bucks on a single evening at the cinema (parking, ticket, popcorn, soda, etc.), but few of them seem interested in dropping $30 on a hardcover novel. Heck, even I rarely do (I buy from Amazon marketplace. You’re awesome, Amazon marketplace). Books very rarely sell more than a few thousand copies (with obvious notable exceptions, so put your hands down Messrs. Brown and King. You too, Jo Rowling); most sell substantially less. 15,000 or so is usually considered pretty successful. Meanwhile, the albums that top the Billboard charts often move more than 200 times that in a week.

And then AMFA offers a terrific suggestion for the reason: “Maybe it’s because all of our stories suck?”

Boyhow.

He asks readers when was the last time they read a story that blew their mind. I’m sure some people, like my colleague, the illustrious Mr. John Fox over at BookFox, could probably cite one off the top of his head, but I’m also certain most people wouldn’t be able to. Heck, I know I couldn’t. If I had to think of really recently, I’d probably re-peruse Gaiman’s Fragile Things. Beyond that? Besides Ray Chandler or Stephen King, I draw a blank.

This isn’t to say I haven’t skimmed issues of The New Yorker recently. In fact, one of the assignments in one of my classes with Shelly Lowenkopf required us to edit one of the stories contained therein; I chose one by a woman named Tessa Hadley, “Married Love”, and covered it with marks. I see on searching her name that she’s had three stories published in the magazine since Feb. 2007, and I say, “Really, New Yorker? Really?”

But this is the current way of the short story. This is the sort of fiction/voice students in MFA programs (and their faculties, too, for that matter) strive for. It’s tedious and homogenous at best, and just plain crap at worst.

It’s sad, because short stories are fun. Short stories can provide a venue for the kind of experiment one can’t sustain for the length of a novel. Two of the stories in my collection concern C. Auguste Dupin investigating the death of Edgar Allan Poe; I don’t think such a conceit could sustain a novel’s length (it’s arguably too ‘gimmicky’. Two novels whose titles I can’t recall tried it, in fact, albeit, from the reviews I read, unsuccessfully). Some of the stories were inspired from songs; certainly not a conceit for a novel.

(one reason I chose USC’s Master’s program was that its teachers were known for their novels, and not their short stories)

One other thing I think works against short stories is the way they’re published, i.e., pretty rarely and in obscure places. Because, seriously, who reads literary magazines except writers who are hoping to publish in them, and what sort of market is that? It’s not so much that the form is dead, perhaps more that its medium has changed; when most magazines’ content can be found online anyway, what’s the point of the newsstand? Why buy the newspaper when The New York Times is online, for free. And this isn’t an argument for buying the cow; this is a real question in terms of market and audience. As the aforementioned Mr. Lowenkopf noted in this blog post, “many individuals who like to think of themselves as writers have the singular goal of publication,” which is a bit backwards because publication is one of the slightest aspects of writing, and in the age of the Internet and POD, what’s ‘publication,’ anyway? Who’s the arbitrary arbiter of quality that decided Miranda July’s collection was worth so much attention last year (and whose mind did it blow, really)?

Last month’s issue of Wired featured a story on free (it’s free, here, in fact, which is fun). Short stories are, traditionally, a basically free medium; they have historically been published in magazines, so it’s almost bonus content. $5 pays for the whole magazine, of which the story is merely one feature.

Short stories won’t die, because writers will always write them, but I think the trend will be toward freedom.

When that comes to fruition, however, one thing to keep in mind: we as readers should demand awesome and never again settle for any damned less.

I’ve started reading Seth Godin’s blog because, through my business course, I’ve learned enough to realize I don’t yet understand everything about marketing.

I caught this entry, and I don’t mean to come off as a chest-pounding proponent of revolution, but bear with me a moment.

According to above post, Borders discovered that, by displaying books with their covers out (rather than their spines), they increased their sales by 9%.

(of course, 9% in terms of the publishing industry is next to nothing, but that’s beside the point)

The Espresso machine is built to print a book in five minutes, flat. Consider that all that shelf space might instead be devoted to revolving banner advertisements with a limited number of books on hand, all of which can be previewed via the Espresso machines, as well as every other title in existence. Whatever you want, bookstores’ll have it.

And yes, certainly, some people browse books in the store, but I think the majority of perusal applies to magazines. So keep a periodicals section, while you devote all that glorious shelf space to 100 Espresso machines.

Certainly, it’d take a bit to get the venture started, but I have a feeling that’s how most bookstores are going to look in ten years. The fucker is pretty much a book vending machine:

This thing will take up less than five cubic feet, which, as many publishers know, is about the size of the remaindered rack in your average Borders or Barnes & Noble bookstore. What’s going to have to change, unfortunately, is how much publishers make via booksales. Because at this point, publishers are the equivalent of primaries; they’re in place so you know who’s good enough to buy books from, just like the primaries let you know who’s good enough to vote for president.

I’d say, in the future, it’s going to be more difficult to find the quality, but hey, you got to this blog, didn’t you? Just goes to show, somehow, it works out.

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