As a writer who has both tour’d and did shows performing poetry with a group, (including self-published chapbooks which we sold at these shows), and as a musician who has and is working on material that will be pushed independently, I do not understand this. Does it have something to do with the current state of literature? Perhaps the proliferation of writing programs? (Yes, there is an actual argument here in that regard and not simply bashing).
I think it might have something to do with the amount of time invested in consuming media. Music is easy to consume. Literature requires more time to be invested, and I feel that because of this, people tend to go for literature written by people they know or who are well-marketed rather than by more independent writers.
I think I would have to agree w/ ‘Flavors’ — you can digest the gist of a pop song in about 3 to 15 seconds, and by that point have some sort of idea whether or not you’d like to invest the next three-four minutes of your life listening to a song. Music is just inherently going to be more immediate than reading, which rewards patience, concentration, etc. — not to say that music can’t offer these things either, but I have to say that it is rare that I read something from the first paragraph and am immediately beholden to the text in as much that I would commit to reading the whole thing. Literature still needs some form of legitimization through ‘branding’ or whatever — which is the reason why every time New Directions, Dalkey, NYRB, Open Letter, etc. put out a catalog I am eager to look through it and ‘random bro from Greenpoint’s postmodern novel about XYZ posted on WordPress’ is just not going to hold as much clout.
Disagree here. I can’t tell you how many books, poems, pieces of written art I have started and disregarded within that amount of time it takes to read a few paragraphs (sometimes, depending) interspersed throughout many pages. I think we forget how well we know our tastes and how quickly we always (and usually do) form an opinion about a piece of written art.
I can buy an album, listen to one song (or read a few paragraphs) and think the song sucks, but try another song, maybe like that song, and keep bouncing until finally either buying it or not buying it (or picking it up to take home or not picking it up, if it is free, in case of the internet, downloading, whatever). Same with a book. Has it ever taken anyone longer than an hour or so to form an solid enough opinion about a book to not decide to read it? And if you have, wasn’t that the except instead of the rule?
You can self-publish all you want, as long as you want to be a commercial author. Because, in the end, if you sell books, who cares how they got into print?
It’s academia that attaches a stigma to self-publishing (an attitude that then gets passed on to anyone who attends a writing program, i.e. most of the indy press scene). This is because publishing is a requirement for tenure: i.e., your work is supposed to be evaluated by your peers, and judged worthy—you’re not supposed to be able to self-publish yourself to a full-time job.
Musicians, that’s again a commercial market. In commercial markets it’s OK to self-release, so long as the market bears you out. (But if you don’t sell CDs, if no one comes to your shows, you’re a loser.)
Academic markets are prestige economies. Hence the bazillion poetry prizes.
Dope. In all of these situations, the marker, the separation is the “consumer”. Some people require branding, which I understand, but then again don’t, because it appears to be a paradox. If you hustle, you will usually sell or, better term maybe, is proliferate. The quality of it (quality here not delivery system, because lets assume the delivery system, ie (paper quality, sonic quality) is on point) is what matters in the long run. If you hustle “classic” material, it will gain ground and stabilize.
I can’t tell you how strange it is to read poetry by poets who can pack out shows, standing ovations, and know the people you’re working with can produce writing that is great on the page, and can perform that writing in an amazing way, and yet those same artists can’t seem to get published. That same audience who those lit mags/publishers are “selling to”, same audiences who read those lit mags and books from publishers. It is a very strange thing.
The “branders” or “vetters” may be out of touch? I dunno.
A prestige economy is different than a market economy. Academia traditionally hasn’t worried about whether or not the books its teachers write sell. If I’m a poet, and I publish two books with Graywolf, and they each sell fifty copies, if doesn’t matter, because publishing with Graywolf is prestigious—it’s a sign that I’m a good poet—and therefore I’m likely to get tenure somewhere.
This is because it’s understood that academic knowledge is not necessarily commercial knowledge. Being a great poet doesn’t necessarily translate into $$$, but it does translate into attracting other poets to the school, to classes, to winning awards, etc. Again, prestige is what’s valued, not money.
This is of course changing as tenure is being eliminated. Universities are being subsumed under capitalism (as is everything), and its prestige economies are being replaced by market economies. There are now departments and schools that want to see the sales figures on books! But this is a marked change from how it used to be.
If market logic completely replaces prestige logic, then I predict you’ll see the stigma on self-publishing disappear. All that will matter is if you succeed financially. (To be fair, at that time, being published by others may appear prestigious, and therefore help you to sell to certain customers, but in the end, the bottom line will be “are you commercially successful?”)
As the old saying in academia goes, when you’re hiring a new medieval scholar, you hire the one who’s written the better book, not the one whose book sold more copies. And how do you tell who’s written the better book? Well, that’s precisely what the university is there to tell you: its tenured professors are recognized experts (which is why they were granted tenure).
This is why tenure is, historically, a long and laborious process entirely dependent upon the recognition of one’s peers. It has nothing to do with being a rock star. (Indeed, commercial success used to be its own stigma among professors.)
I mean, I think we all recognize this, right? Which would you rather sign up for at a university, a poetry class with Rae Armantrout, or a poetry class with Billy Corgan? Assume you’re a serious poet (in the academic literary sense) who wants to go on to get a tenure-track position teaching poetry.
I think you misunderstood me! Disregard: yes, very easily, and quickly, and as someone who has some experience reading through slush piles, my sense for knowing something sucks very quickly has only been sharpened. But liking a piece of writing, on the other hand, is much trickier: it sometimes takes me a third of a novel to really get to the point where I can say “I like this” — the writing may be good, or at least readable enough, but good writing a good book does not make.
And as far as music, I guess maybe because my tastes have become slightly more myopic over the years (narrowed but deeper! (I say, at least)), I can usually tell by one or two listens if I like a song or not.
I don’t want to seem like I’m arguing that publishing your stuff on the Internet is bad/stupid/useless/etc — I definitely think it is a v. cool option, especially if the kind of writing you do only fits into a v. specific niche that would not ever find the light of day on paper, but the necessity for brands via publishing companies, lits mags, and the people of those places who have the chops to make the decisions about whether something is ‘good’ or not — is something that I still think is necessary, which is the reason why people have favorite publishing houses, lit mags, etc. You obviously don’t ‘need’ someone to tell you ‘this is good’, but since the market can be ostensibly (and visibly) flooded by any person who has the power to put some piece of writing on a blog, the ability to wade through all the shlock to find the interesting pieces of writing can be incredibly tiresome.
I’m not disagreeing with you (or any of your subsequent points), but by “commercial author” do you mean essentially anyone who isn’t selling academic books? Or someone who isn’t writing books in order to get a teaching gig? To me the phrase “commercial author” has connotations of like Grisham and that kind of thing.
In the music world, if you self-produce an album, and it’s good, and you have a following, that’s nothing but a plus in terms of your ability to get signed to any label from Interscope to Merge. In the literary world, self-publishing a book, even if it’s good, will actually count against you in a lot of contexts. I’d argue in most cases It’s seen as inherently laughable, and not just by academics but by anyone from Graywolf to Penguin.
Some people like Tao Lin and to a lesser extent Blake Butler seem to be shifting the paradigm more toward what amounts to self-publishing as a jumping off point to getting published by the big guys.
One counter example here is the world of classical music, which is very much a prestige economy but where the norm is again more oriented toward younger composers putting on their own shows, and just getting there music heard rather than worrying about intermediaries like music publishers, orchestra directors, etc. Of course, they love commissions and outside recognition, but it’s not frowned upon to go directly to an audience. Bang on a Can and the Philip Glass Ensemble are perhaps just the two most well-known examples (and of course, neither of them are particularly “young” any more).
I think this distinction is somewhat a matter of the persistence of the historical condition of the means of production: from Gutenberg ’til fairly recently printing-press-dependent publication was a fairly narrow nozzle for technical as well as political-economic reasons.
In the 19th c., for example, sales of novels first printed in ‘newspapers’ could also find high literary repute (Dickens), but the cost of printing the things would have to be met up-front (by someone). In the 15th c. – and for hundreds of years – , it was physically dangerous to publish religiously and/or politically controversial material; censorship (of sex, religion, political revolution) continued into the 20th c. There’s a history of print publication being exclusive in different ways – because of finance and because of institutional control – , a history that remained effective in 20th c. academic reputation-building, notwithstanding a parallel freeing in that century of writers to talk about much that had been forbidden.
Rather than “publication” considered from the point of view of ‘putting something out in the technical form most people peruse content in’, a better comparison between writing and music might be between ‘literary publication’ and ‘symphonic reproduction’, because the conditions required to make music, until recording – and mass listening, on gramophone and radio – , were similar to then-contemporary conditions of putting out a novel: how many contemporary composers get played by pro orchestras, either live or in studio? A musician who wants to be interpreted in that way, or who wants to play in such an ensemble, might have a complaint about the narrowness of the spigot between content production and consumption similar to that noted (and complained about) by ‘literary’ writers.
(I think there were more written texts (including hand-written) than musical ones (including folk permutations)–at least until the recorded-music era, and probably during. Because it had to be ‘consumed’ live, music making and listening was more communal and reading printed matter more discrete, individuated. That fact probably has much to do with prestige being attached (or finding itself attached) more easily to popular music than to popular writing, and with people who make pop forms of music feeling less defensive than people who make pop forms of literature might feel themselves asked to feel, as it were.)
[A slight aside from the main discussion going on here]
“every time New Directions, Dalkey, NYRB, Open Letter, etc. put out a catalog I am eager to look through it”
Those are the exact ones I am always exited for! Plus Archipelago. It’s amazing how much loyalty those presses have elicited from me. I can get so excited to read books by people I have never even heard of before the book was in my hands, simply because I trust the press.
Because I’ve not recently sent you any snotty emails, I’m going to do it here publicly!
I see almost zero negative and plenty of positive to this (which isn’t all that new; via Amazon, you already can easily and instantly foist your crap on the world). If you (reader) don’t want to slog through self-published stuff because it’s probably garbage (I agree), you can keep finding great writing through your favorite publishing houses. But I have little doubt that, in ten years or so, we’re going to have some celebrated — and, more importantly, innovative — authors who get discovered through means like this.
Some way, somehow, intrepid publishers are going to be combing these self-published works to find the people who are too outré for traditional houses. To me, this is less an issue of publishers being unwilling to publish interesting work; it’s an issue of writers being uninterested in having to search and search and search for publishers to find the right one. The model of writers being at the whim of publishers is highly broken; wide open gates like this will serve the literary community greatly.
Well, at least they could. In practice, they might quash it, depending on rights and such.
Lots of love over here too being a writer/publisher with all that’s going.
Being able to put my work out there is great, but being able to build a small press and help others you believe in put their work out there using the same inroads is, how do I say, so dynamic, like giving gifts, like handing out smiles, like growing gardens.
That aside, here’s the latest from Tiny TOE Press video productions, a stop motion that is probably the first behind the scenes book trailer ever. It’s pretty neat. Enjoy!
Oh man, that video is amazing. So much hard work, but so cool to see. Thanks for making that. Matthew Simmons posted about Publication Studio a while ago, you should check it out, seems like kindred spirits — http://htmlgiant.com/author-spotlight/a-very-long%E2%80%94and-very-interesting%E2%80%94interview-with-matthew-stadler-of-publication-studio/
Apple is claiming a right not just to its software, but to its software’s output.
It’s akin to Microsoft trying to restrict what people can do with Word
documents, or Adobe declaring that if you use Photoshop to export a
JPEG, you can’t freely sell it to Getty. As far as I know, in the
consumer software industry, this practice is unprecedented.
I don’t mind self-publishing. I think self-publishing is good, especially for authors who ARE actually willing to do the hard work. I recently heard a no-nonsense story about a guy who sold over 750 copies of his self-published book, and he did the majority of the promotion on his own.
My issue is the “making-it-easier” part, because once things are easy they are ripe to be exploited. Have you seen anything about the rampant plagiarism in Amazon’s erotic literature (http://www.fastcompany.com/1807211/amazons-plagiarism-problem)? Obviously, that sort of thing is a little out there, but what’s stopping any Shmoe from robbing any independent online journal of their content and doing the exact same thing?
Again, I am all for those who those who decide to self-publish. I just not sure that one-click solutions are going to make things any easier.
Good contest idea: write a story that includes the phrase, “before you know it.” It’ll be like a handicap. Bonus points for having the story be about the narrator’s relationship with their dog, or beginning with “I didn’t know it at the time, but…”
Record companies are more oppressive than publishing companies.
See also comics, where self-publishing never had a stigma, because the alternative was corporate-owned superheroes and writers being hired and fired and undoing one another’s work wily-nily.
Also, relatively few people think they’re talented musicians when they’re terrible. Virtually anyone who made it out of third grade alive can write a sentence, and what’s a book but ten thousand sentences. There’s a lower bar to completing a book-sized object.
Re-read this. And I agree. I mean, all of Drake’s commercial albums I really dislike upon first listen, and it takes me a long time before I start to enjoy (respect?) it. Whereas, White Noise (Don Delillo), I picked up, read a few lines, and I was gone. I didn’t stop reading…. ever. Whereas Cat Power or Portishead, I hear one note and its over. Its beyond like, its love, you know?