Wednesday, February 18, 2009

What Are You Doing in 2011?

According to GalleyCat, Allan Kornblum predicts that the publishing recession will begin to improve in 2011. Here specifically is the prediction: "We are anticipating an immediate 10% - 20% drop in individual donations in 2009, and a subsequent, comparable drop in grants in 2010 and 2011. We believe the economy will start coming back in 2011, and grants and donations will start to improve in 2012."   Kornblum is the publisher of the not-for-profit Coffee House Press, which has had two recent hits: Latehomecomer by Kao Kalia Yang and Patricia's Smith Blood Dazzler.  There's an interesting interview at Conversational Reading called "How to Publish in a Recession."

Glad someone is doing well.  Has anyone ever received a rejection from Coffee House?


Anonymous said...

It may be of therapeutic benefit for you to one day do a post on successful writers who made it without an MFA. Here are a few examples from some of the writers, all women, who have made a mark in recent years: Andrea Levy, Chimamanda Adichie, Monica Ali, Zadie Smith, Xiaolu Guo, Helen Oyeyemi, Yaba Badoe. Not one of these writers has an MFA. Andrea Levy started to write in her mid-thirties. Yaba Badoe is 54 and has just this month published her first novel with Random House. Helen Oyeyemi published her first book at 19. One novel and two plays later, she tried to do an MFA at Columbia but dropped out because she found the programme "too restricting". She is now on her third novel.

Anonymous said...

As for the 7 authors above without MFAs - they just support the lock-step mentality of publishers. All 7 are women, all are exotic racially, most are residents of London, most are highly ecducated.
They don't need no stinkin MFAs. What do they have instead?
They have appeal to publishers who want to show how open they are to racial diversity, open to new voices that can give us insight into other worlds. People who are up with the times, don't you know.
The point being: no, you don't need an MFA, but you do need some In. The MFA degree was once THE way to get contacts, get people to pay attention to you. Now, an MFA being so common, it's becoming less important. Anyway, publishers can look at the sales figures for white bread writers and desire some Zadie Smith appeal -- half Jamaican/half British, lifelong resident of London (street cred), Cambridge-educated -- and with movie star looks.
Can she write? Does it matter anymore? I read one story of hers in the NYer and thought it was nonsense. All attitude and pyrotechnics.

Anonymous said...

Oh I see. So if you are a published black woman, it is not because your work might be good or interesting or appealing, but it is because you are black and a woman? So this is your solution then, publishers should not take on people with MFAs, they should not publish black people or others who are "exotic racially". No women either, I suppose, or perhaps only women who are not racially exotic. No highly educated people either.
Which leaves us, I guess, with you.
Lucky, lucky us.

Anonymous said...

You're distorting my point. All I'm saying is that trends and "Ins" prevail in the publishing world, and that neither should matter.
Every submission should be blind. Sex, race, background, looks and charm, Who-you-know, etc. -- none of that should matter one iota. Just publish what's good. Trouble is, I don't think editors or agents (or publishers) know what's good anymore. My opinion.
You're turning this into an attack on me ("Lucky, lucky us"). You're so typical.
Do you know what I read? What I like? Could I like the work of people of different races, different genders, people entrenched in the establishment, etc.? Let me answer that (since you don't know): yes, I do.

Anonymous said...

I see your point now, sorry if I misunderstood you. You are right that there tends to be a herd mentality behind some decisions, but this still needs to be said: what proof is there that all these writers were not read "blind"? Yes, there was a great deal of excitement when Zadie Smith sent in three chapters of White Teeth, and her publishers got to know her before the book was finished, but this is not the case with all these writers. I know for a fact that Andrea Levy, Chimamanda Adichie and Helen Oyeyemi were read blind. People liked the work without knowing the personalities behind the work. You should not confuse the factors that make a writer a marketing dream with those that make an editor like a book.

Anonymous said...

Anon 6:02pm, I agree with you wholeheartedly. It is the worst thing about publishing now, this new In. It's supposed to be diverse (as if diversity in itself were something to strive for), when in fact almost everything being published has the same world view. It's so tiresome.

gimme said...

"All 7 are women, all are exotic racially, most are residents of London, most are highly ecducated."

From what I've read, educated, liberal white women comprise the vast majority of the reading public these days. As such, books are mainly marketed to them now, and I think what is published tends to reflect the publishing world's idea of what educated, liberal white women want to read.

Whether this idea is accurate or not is another question, of course.

Anonymous said...

For people who think that publishers, editors, and agents are biased toward writers with MFAs, I would just like to add that the real bias is toward MFAs at certain universities. I say this as a person with a MFA that isn't from a tippy-top program.

You want to publish your brilliant short story collection, essay collection or be featured in the New Yorker Debut Fiction Issue? Sorry, but unless you graduated from Iowa or Columbia, you're better off playing the lottery.

Having an non-Iowa/Columbia MFA helps you a little if you are querying agents for a novel or submitting to lit mags, and even then, not as much as you would think.

Anonymous said...

W/R -- a landmark moment in the history of LROD!!!!
An Anonymous leads off with a comment. I write next, in some opposition to him/her. He/she writes back, gives me a little tweak. I write back, tweakishly. THEN -- drumroll please! -- this person responds civilly. Imagine that. Nobody writing insults, nobody questioning my sanity, just a reasonable exchange of ideas.
So, my hat is off to you, Good Anonymous. (Really.)
In response to your statement that 3 of the authors were read blind -- OK, I accept your word. But two, by their names and the content of their work (surely), showed that they were of interest (if, as I'm
proposing, there's an openness to what is referred to as "diaspora fiction").
As for Amanda Levy -- the name is no give-away. But she did take writing workshops in London, so I wonder if she was given encouragement by someone who might have said, Submit to this agent. Maybe? Well, maybe not.
Rishi Reddi also does not have an MFA (she has a degree in law). But Anita Desai was her private mentor (both are women, both were born in India, both live in the Boston area; wonder if all that mattered?). Surely Ms. Desai opened doors for Ms. Reddi.
BUT -- I read the Best American collection that had Reddi's story, "Justice Shiva Ram Murthy," and I thought it was wonderful. So, however she succeeded, she has talent. (The other story in that collection that was outstanding was also by an older woman -- Alice Munro; also no MFA).
So I'm open. My problem is with the many cases in which the "Ins" (of whatever kind) are there, but not the talent.

Writer, Rejected said...

I am very proud of you little civilized micelettes.

Anonymous said...

One thing you're missing is that most, if not all, don't come from the US. In other countries there's no such thing as the MFA (although Glasgow, Scotland now does). I realize they could study abroad in the US, but, and especially for the UK, there is no great influx abroad to do so.

Reveal Thyself said...


"IN"s = published. (Doesn't really matter if they have an MFA or not, they will be pigeonholed into this or that category so as to prove that are an IN in some other way. If you're published, you're an IN.)

"OUT"S = unpublished. (These are the writers without MFAs, no connection to universities, no exotic ethnicity, no connection to London, no octuplets, etc., etc. LROD anonymi are almost always OUTs.)

The problem: How does an OUT become an IN without actually, you know, "becoming" an IN?

The solution?: It's impossible. If an OUT ever became an IN and then came back here and posted a comment to say, "Hey, look, guys, it's possible! I'm that rarest of thing -- an OUTSIDE-IN," the newly-appointed IN would, A) either be demanded (by other anonymi) to reveal his/her identity, or B) be told (by anonymi) that they are a fake or liar, or C)be told (by anonymi) that his/her story collection or novel sucked (at great, painstaking length), or D) be told (by anonymi) that, sorry, they were never really an OUT to begin with, at which point the anonymi would point to the newly-appointed INs origin of birth, good looks, proximity to his/her publisher, odd number of toes (all of this speculated, of course, not proven), or E) be accused of really being Darin Strauss trolling the message boards, or F) be accused of being John making up the story to see how we'd all respond.

BTW, joking aside: The criteria for getting into the New Yorker's Debut Fiction issue doesn't have anything to do with going to Iowa or Columbia. It's whether the book is under contract with a major publisher. I know. My agent received a call when my first book was in its galleys in order for the editor to see if there was anything in it they could "discover."

Reveal Thyself said...

I keed, I keed.

Anonymous said...

This is a good debate, thank you for your kind words, Second Anonymous. I prickled a little bit at your first comment because I am a black writer, and felt slighted on behalf of all black writers who have ever been published:)

You are certainly correct that all these "connections" help writers, agents, other writers, etc and that it also helps to have a precedent, eg, if an Indian writer wins the Booker, the next few Indian writers to come along will be looked at with greater interest. But I think it would be going a bit far to argue that topicality, diversity etc takes precedence over substance. If I do get published, I would like to believe that a publisher has taken a shine to my work, and any charm, good looks, or "exoticality" that I have will be a marketing boon, not the reason for publishing me:)

Anonymous said...

Anonymous Reveal Thyself:
You present the matter in an interesting way. But what if it is true that only the Ins (with the advantages that the Ins possess) get published? And that the Outs (without any of those advantages) don't? Could it actually be the Way It Works?
There are exceptions to this dismal rule, yes, but not many (and fewer every day; in the past, there was much more openeness in publishing).
I just deleted two long paragraphs. I was getting onto dangerous ground. One related how a friend of mine went about becoming a successful author and the other about how I got my first story published.
Both paragraphs presented a very cynical look at the process of succeeding in the literary world. I've become cynical because of what I've experienced and observed.
It's always a disgrace for people to be denied on any grounds beside the content of their character or the quality of their work.
One way groups were denied is by not allowing them to have a Voice.
Now the Outs are a minority group when it comes to having a Voice. Some are pitifully devoid of ANYTHING to recommend them -- they are Nobody's from Nowhereville, submitting to the slush pile. Do some -- even if a small percentage -- produce quality work that deserves to be published? I believe some do, but it isn't like the work that gets accepted. They are, by their nature, producing work that is not in fashion.
To someone who has done excellent work that is (and will be, forever) ignored, all I can say is this: it's not you who has failed.

Anonymous said...

You touched on a key point in this debate, Good Anonymous: the fact that successes want to believe that their success is based solely on the excellence of their work. When that is questioned, the reaction is to lash out.
Like I wrote previously: Rishi Reddi succeeded, with help from people in high places, but she deserved it.
As for many others -- no, I don't believe their work is deserving.
Of course, I'm stating opinions as to quality, and I have as much a right to do that as anybody.
Though I can't do root canal surgery. Not qualified, wouldn't try it.