John Gardner Bitch Slap

Posted by @ 1:30 am on October 15th, 2008

I planned to keep quiet about this, maybe ignore it until some other posts pushed it into the archives, but after a few days, I still couldn’t stop worrying about it. Also, I knew Blake Butler wouldn’t leave me alone until I said something mean for Mean Week, so here’s a shot.

Recently, this guy talked some clever shit in the comments section on my post about new poetry journal Rooms Outlast Us. He said something like how HTMLGIANT and the people who write for it have some moral obligation to keep an eye on small presses so that all those struggling poets out there are treated fairly. He said:

The people who publish Rooms Outlast Us might be righteous people but the chapbook contest they are running is bad karma and hopefully until they change their guidelines no one will send manuscripts for possible publication. A twentry dollar entry fee for essentially nothing is way bad and everyone who enters should feel like they’ve been screwed under the current guidelines. At the very least they should give everyone who enters a one year subscription to their ‘zine. The winner should at least get a token 100 or 200 dollar prize for winning. Otherwise it ain’t legit. And is a waste of everyone’s hard earned money.

After I suggested he email them to ask for specifics and reasons behind the contest guidelines, he lamed out:

It would be nice if they listened to little-old-nobody me. I like to think others are in agreement with me. I mean, they have a 200 copy print run. If you are the winner unless you are shane jones, blake butler, tao lin or one of the other superstars of indie lit it’s not likely you are going to sell that many. In the meantime, the losers who are footing the bill for the winner’s chapbook (and maybe a few Happy meals for the publishers) are getting nothing for their selfless contribution. And being HTML GIANT is now the hub of indie lit info they should feel slightly obliged (morally) to post about it. I mean, as nice as posts with tits in it are nice to have lets counterbalance that with helping out less knowledgable writers and holding small presses accountable for questionable practices that are a miniscule cut above vanity presses.

Now, I’m sure Christopher Robbins is a nice guy. He knows his stuff. He’s linked his blog to lots of indie lit ‘superstars,’ which is step one to becoming famous, I think. He drinks beer and has a goatee. He’s down with other people’s poetry. And he kind of looks like Tom Green, which is awesome. Seriously. I am being serious here. And I hope he doesn’t want to murder me after this, because, really, I don’t feel personal hatred towards him. I don’t even know who he is?

But, on this whole matter, I have to respectfully say that he’s full of shit.

Here’s why:

1) Rooms Outlast Us and other fledgling literary journals/presses represent great opportunites for little-old-nobody writers to get their work read. Editors new to the scene are especially open to writers new to the scene. Editors new to the scene all like to think they’re going to ‘discover’ someone, and writers new to the scene all hope to be that someone. Of course, that’s ridiculous for all sorts of complicated reasons, but, the point is, for new writers, these smaller journals are fine places to start publishing. (And yes, it is a risk to join up with a new project, one that hasn’t been tested yet, but so is sending your subs to Poetry every sixty days).

2) A contest like the one that Rooms is running may be expensive to enter and may not have the ‘reputation’ that a contest at a more established press has, but again, see #1. As far as the ‘reward’ goes, who the fuck cares? If that’s what Rooms wants to do, and you don’t like it, don’t enter (and remember, you can always submit to their regular reading period anyhow if you still want to be a part of that project). But, think about this: the reward at Rooms certainly isn’t ‘nothing.’ Some might see it as pretty generous, given the fact that it’s a new fucking press, the editors of which are giving away half the proceeds to the winner – that’s half the income they would make off the chaps they sell, income that could be used to improve the journal.

3) Little-old-nobody won’t sell all 200 chaps? How do people think indie lit ‘superstars’ like Blake Butler and Tao Lin and Shane Jones got started? Self-promotion. Networking. Showing an unselfish interest in other people’s projects. Becoming involved in the whole awkward mess of it. If you have the opportunity to get 200 of your chapbooks into the hands of people who care about reading, I think you would do whatever you could to promote yourself: sell them, sell them at half price, give them away, exchange sexy pictures, etc.

4) Losers are losers. If you enter a contest, do so with the expectation that when you lose, you don’t mind your money going to support the journal/press. Don’t be selfish, but do your research and choose a journal/press that you have some good feelings for.

5) Happy Meals? To suggest that three editors would skim cash off of a project like this is mean-weak. Sometimes I wonder if authors really know the costs of starting up a journal/press and then keeping it afloat. Remember that small mag The Strange Fruit? Remember Cranky Literary Journal? Remember what happened to the print annuals Pindeldyboz had to stop doing? For a good look at what goes into starting and running a small magazine, check out the blog archives over at The Avery Anthology.

6) I don’t care about vanity presses. I am stupid. This is dumb. I am getting bored with myself.

And as far as HTMLGIANT’s moral obligation? Give me a break. Has anyone noticed the kind of lame shit that’s posted here? The last thing anyone who writes for this blog has is obligations, especially moral ones. We’re too busy bathing in all of the cash we make, looking at online porn, and hanging out with the superstars of indie literature to care about balancing the content of our posts. Yes, when we see something ridiculous, we’ll post it. And when we want to look at sexy pictures, we’ll post them too.

So if anyone here has a moral obligation, it’s the individual writer. Quit waiting for people to do stuff for you. Gather information and make your own decisions. Read as many sites as you can, not just HTMLGIANT. Write emails to editors to ask them about their contests, their submission guidelines; keep them accountable. And if you present yourself as a less knowledgeable writer, then get off the righteous lecture circuit.

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