I found this article on Dalkey Archive & the Best Translated Book Award over at Writers No One Reads really interesting. While it’s an interesting case study in its own capacity, it really had me thinking about the issue of how so many books are published, yet, from what it seems, not that many books are being read.
The fact that even a “major” publisher of “smaller” works, such as Dalkey, doesn’t seem to have any idea how to advertise, has me really concerned– almost 13 years into the 21st century, where advertising has almost literally been the singular thing every human being has been and is repeatedly exposed to, why are we–as writers, publishers–so bad at it?
At one point in life it seemed a huge thing to get work published; it was certainly more difficult in the past, yet every day, with more and more journals & presses popping up almost daily, as well as the new affordable modes of large-scale self-publishing, being published seems to be incredibly easy–if you can write a book, you can probably publish it. But, if you can publish a book, that doesn’t mean that anybody is going to read it.
A little while ago, Mike posted that “social media isn’t a very good way to promote your book”. I don’t necessarily agree with him in any capacity, but it’s interesting to consider, because, really, what else do we have? I’m convinced that even when books are reviewed, very few people read the reviews. I know that often I won’t read a review of a book I haven’t read unless one of three things occurs: 1) I’ve heard of the book already and am interested in it, 2) The title or the cover is appealing & 3) I’ve heard the author mentioned somewhere else. So, I guess book reviews at least, to support an authors egotism, support the idea that their book has actually been read, but unless it’s a review that pops up in a very large venue, I can’t imagine they’re helping to sell books much. It’d be pretty awesome if someone were to prove me wrong.
But I’m just wondering, what the hell is the best way to sustainably advertise books? Reading tours? Book trailers? Posting your shit on Tumblr? Linking your books to your friends and family? I don’t know.
All of this seems related to another thing that I’ve been thinking about: How many small press books have staying power? We post links to shit that’s new, we review books right when they come out, but three years, one year, hell even six months later, do we think about these books at all? What can we do, in small press world (and I think there’s some sort of development happening in the world, thanks to the decentralizing nature of the internet [cough-the literary establishment no longer has any reason to remain in NYC-cough], that small press can eclipse big press, at least it should be able to, in terms of generating interest; with the internet we can and should be able to push our words past the realm of small press book readers; we should be able to appeal to any number of individuals of–fuck it, i’ll say it–markets, and demonstrate that we have something people are looking for. Whether or not any of this is true, well, I guess we’ll find out in years to come.
Hello, I’m Norma Chan, Tak-Lam, S.B.S., J.P., Chief Executive, Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA). I have a publishing business worth 47.1m USD for you to handle with me. I need you to assist me in executing this project from Hong Kong to your county.
Visual representations of Infinite Jest objects (movie posters, tennis tourny flyers, etc.). The Quarterly Conversation dedicates a symposium to David Foster Wallace; Who Was David Foster Wallace? And Unbound is a Kickstarter for books. Oh wait: the writer of 20% of all Simpsons episodes has self-published a bunch of novels.
Pulp. Fibrous, cellulose pulp. Grass-paper, rag-paper, rag-and-bone, paperweight: in the second century Cai Lun developed a paper process. Tiny little papermills of the mind. Cogs and wheels of papermaking, pulping, rod-and-doweling. And then a lunatic of the senses, the world becomes that, is that, mired in that. Words. Cultural disease, newsprint, papyrus bundles. In the chemical pulping, all our senses. In the mechanical pulping, all trees like a billion Christmases. A cooking process. Waste fortifies chalk and china clay. Watermarks destroy the day and deckle its edges.
We’re all of an age that recycling is second nature. We use the backs of receipts for listmaking—if we use paper at all—before we toss paper into the recycle bin. We read on screen. We mostly do paperless banking, paperless billing, paperless letter writing. We practice efficiency. We download 572 books onto our little reading devices and plow through them candily.
But I’ll tell you what. I got the proof copy of my book in the mail yesterday, and there is nothing in the world like seeing your book in all its pulpy flesh. It is a real object, a hallelujah of paper and ink. It’s a book, which is a thing. I can slip it into my purse and feel it there. It’s the synecdoche of language-as-artifact, a receptacle for artfulness. I wouldn’t be nearly as happy to have a book published in the ether. Look! Here’s my book in the air! No way. I want to see it, feel it, bruise it, lick its spine.
The book industry could stand to cut down its waste, as all industries could. We’re wasteful motherfuckers with our overstocks and our throw aways—even the zoos breed more animals than they can use and sell them to more wasteful idiots who think having exotic pets is fun. Have you seen how much meat your big box grocer throws away weekly? The machine is unwieldy and alive all around us.
But trim the fat. Trim the fat. Don’t throw away the whole goddamn bird.
I love the Urban Dictionary because they seem to have a definition for everything. I spend a lot of time looking up dirty words and phrases. I learned what a snowball was via Urban Dictionary. It has nothing to do with the snow, that’s for sure. I love the phrase “Bitches be trippin’.” I don’t know why. On a whim, I decided to look up the phrase on Urban Dictionary. Sure enough, there was a definition. According to them, the phrase is “used primarily by heterosexual males to justify the irrational behaviors of women.” For example, when women bring attention to certain pervasive and longstanding disparities, one might say, “I don’t know what all the fuss is about. Bitches be trippin’.”
It is difficult to talk about race and stressful and awkward and exhausting. To my mind, one of the reasons these conversations are so difficult, particularly between white people and people of color, is because, so often, white people question concerns raised as if the question is not “how do we solve this problem,” but rather, “does this problem exist.” This is not a debate about whether there are racial and class (and gender and sexuality) disparities in publishing. These disparities exist whether you (choose to) see them or not. Instead these kinds of discussions are intended to function like a magnifying glass on a problem so big it should not require a magnifying glass.
And yet, the magnifying glass is clearly needed.
Mooney for scale.
Hey, writers! Where are you in the publishing process?
Denial: I think maybe I’ll write a novel. I have a really great idea for one. My friends think I’m a pretty good writer. I once got a rejection from The New Yorker that referred to the “obvious merit” of my fiction. Sure. I’ll write a novel and then send it to an agent!
Anger: No one is publishing me because they don’t understand how amazing my work is. They just don’t get it. Philistines. Agents won’t even look at my manuscript. The whole system is corrupt. You have to be one of those New York elites to get a book published. You have to be from money. You have to know people. You have to get an MFA. Publishing is a racket.
Bargaining: What the heck. I’ll go ahead and get an MFA. It might be fun to hang out with a bunch of writers like myself—people just trying to figure out how to get their work out for the world to see. It’ll be fun. I’ll learn some stuff about my craft. Maybe I’ll get into a huge argument in a workshop!
Depression: Even though I have an MFA, Knopf has not yet given me the big, Jonathan Safran Foer-esque, two-book deal. This sucks. Why have I been wasting my time? Publishers are only interested in turning people’s mildly funny conceptual blogs into books. Why the hell didn’t I just take a photo of my cat wearing a monocle, and then ask other people to submit photos of their cats wearing monocles to me? I’d have a book contract right now.
Acceptance: You know, it’s actually surprisingly easy for me to just do this myself. Maybe I’ll just start my own small press.
I’ve been thinking about nepotism and croneyism and friends publishing friends because I often hear people talking, complaining, and bitching about the insular nature of (independent) publishing.
Intrapublishing (new word!) happens but not as much as you’d think. Some magazines are largely vanity presses but most are not.
We all know each other, right? We read each other and we publish each other and support each other and love each other and hate each other. It’s a small small community. The longer you stick around, the more inevitable it becomes that you will encounter people you know and/or like (or dislike as the case may be) in your submission queue. Does that influence editorial decisions? Sometimes. If I know you, for example, and you send me a 7,500 word story I will read it but that isn’t a guarantee of publication. Most editors are great people with integrity who can look beyond friendship and/or mutual respect. I get rejected from acquaintances and friends all the time.
TriQuarterly is moving online and/or ceasing publication depending on who you ask. It is a real shame to see such a fine publication being forced into this transition. I’ve noticed a lot of garment rending, lament and outcry, but how many of us subscribe? Every time a small press or magazine announces it’s going to close or is on the verge of closing, the Internet immediately begins frothing about the loss to arts and letters but as someone who works behind the scenes and knows how few of us actually subscribe to literary magazines, I have to wonder about the hypocrisy of it all. People say they can’t subscribe to every journal or that they can’t afford to subscribe or they don’t believe in acquiring things or a wide range of other excuses but still, people really appreciate the work We appreciate your appreciation but we like and need your money more. What magazines are you subscribing to these days? Do we have a right to express our outrage about the “state of publishing” if we’re part of the problem?
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about books considered legendary, classics, for their language and singularity in time. And then for how those books, over that time, have become books considered timeless and vital to the cause, innovators without which… etc. Joyce, Beckett, Stein, Faulkner, etc. The big names everybody deigns to have read, often via schooling, and who you often hear the more serious critics and often honchos in publishing referring to at large. Seems like I’ve seen or heard of a lot of speech where people in the publishing industry (particularly the larger sections) are talking about their influences and what they like, and many of them referring to these classics, and even if they haven’t said it aloud surely they would not shake their head at the idea that these books are the foundations of how we’ve come to where we are, and etc.
So, then, it becomes confusing to me, in this reckoning, when I think of how most any of these books, if approached today, would not exist. I can’t think of most any publisher, even the major and innovative independents, that would release Ulysses again right now, if instead of an accepted masterpiece, it were a third book by some Irish guy who had published a collection of short fiction and a weird novella. I can’t see even the more edgy presses like Dalkey doing it, or FC2 (EDIT: actually, FC2 recently published Vanessa Place’s La Medusa, which is the closest thing I’ve seen to doing what I’m talking about, which means they might have, maybe), or any of the other countless innovative-based upcroppings. Even the more “languagey” presses often don’t do books that are super-languagey, despite the seeming overwhelming admission that those monsters are the ones that defy time, and sell, perhaps gradually, forever. Maybe it would happen, but it would be a long fight, and a wellspring. I certainly can’t see a major doing it. That kind of freaks me out. Not only in that these works would not exist, but that their influences would not exist either, effectively turning off the power they’ve had in moving things forward over the time they’ve been around.
But those books sold then and sell now (and are curriculum!) for a reason, and part of it is because people since then are being taught not to read what they do not understand. A gradual and stuttered concept that could, over another gradual and stuttered period, be reversed.
What are 3 literary journals that you feel would “change your life” if you were published in them? Do you believe your life could be changed by publishing a writing? Does it matter?
June 9th, 2009 / 11:20 pm
at the risk of eliciting the charge of “stupidest ever” from justin taylor, i realized today that i have never felt like i was the shit for having done anything. granted, i am assuredly a piece of shit, and not at all successful in some ways, but has anything you’ve done made you think, “i am the shit?” usually, if i get something published this is what happens: i go “hell yeah” in my head while nodding, and then i think “wait, am i really happy?” then the feeling is gone. is it good to think, “i am the shit?” or is it bad? does it help you or does it hurt you? i don’t mean these questions as hypotheticals, i mean, how do you the reader feel. if you don’t want to discuss that, then you can use the comments sections to demean me. oh wait, i remember this one time i was at a gym and i pointed to a garbage can and said to the person next to me, “check this out.” then i punted a football right into the garbage can. i definitely thought, “i am the shit” after that. do you feel more like the shit when you are in a print publication? is it the people also in the publication? is it the editor? the journal?