Monday, May 11, 2009

In Consideration of the Advance


Much has been written about the retreat of the publishing advance.  Add to the mix this fine letter to the editor of the New York Times, published in response to Michael Meyer's essay entitled "About That Advance (also worth reading)."  An excerpt from the letter should give all you toiling writers out there a little lift:
...[M]ost fiction writers -- even those with one or more novels to their credit -- must labor, often for years, sans payment. What's more, in our increasingly doctrinaire publishing climate, even the finest among them labor sans any guarantees of eventual publication or income; one could argue -- and demonstrate persuasively -- that the greater number of literature's real practitioners (those who have not let cynicism and status anxiety eat away their gifts) work under such conditions. Laboring slowly, unhonored and unpaid and bound toward an immaterial prize far more meaningful than ''success'' as New York parlance would have it, these writers have destiny for incentive -- and perhaps the exemplars of bygone literary gods for inspiration. Unsung, they sing, and reap rewards that more than mitigate the annoyances of obscurity. Quietly, faithfully, their late-paid, ill-paid or altogether unpaid works go into the world untrumpeted, unreviewed and unbought, to give the lie to the fallacy denounced by Annie Dillard a quarter-century ago: ''that the novelists of whom we have heard are the novelists we have.''

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Sorry -- but this quote is romanticized nonsense.
I mean: "Unsung, they sing, and reap rewards that more than mitigate the annoyances of obscurity."
(Annoyances???)
The "immaterial prize" which is so meaningful is, I guess, no less than . . . destiny ("these writers have destiny for incentive -- and perhaps the exemplars of bygone literary gods for inspiration.").
And: "even the finest among them labor sans any guarantees of eventual publication or income" -- which means that the "finest" writers may well not even be published!
If this is the case, do something about it -- instead of simply spouting eloquent (and empty) phrases.
This is glorifying (or pacifying) the literary loser (of which I am one). Perhaps this "gives a little lift" to some, but it irks the hell out of me. I hate to be lied to. Or be talked down to. Or have crumbs tossed to me, like I'm a pigeon.
Yes, I have a bad attitude. I'm also a realist.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand this sentence: "Their unpaid works . . . give the lie to the fallacy denounced by Annie Dillard a quarter-century ago: 'that the novelists of whom we have heard are the novelists we have.'"

I mean, if you give a lie to a fallacy, does that make it true? It's a double-negative, right? And if that fallacy which is exposed as a lie (and therefore true) is denounced by Annie Dillard, does that mean she thinks it's not true? And if she denounced it, who said it in the first place? And does "that" belong inside the quotation marks? Somebody, please explain?

Anonymous said...

Yes, Anonymous above, the letter writer really butchered the Dillard quote.
What she meant was that there are undiscovered writers out there, and they'll die undiscovered. Good ones, too (she asks the question, Would William Faulkner find a publisher today?). In other words, the writers who are published are not the only writers of note.
There are those who disagree -- who believe that if you write something good it will get published.
Of course, they are the published. Of course, they believe that talent will prevail.
Faulkner cozied up to Sherwood Anderson in New Orleans. He asked Anderson to pass his first novel along to someone (his agent or editor -- I don't recall). Give it a push, so to speak. Anderson agreed, under one stipulation: that he didn't have to read it.
Yes, even back then, even with the imperious Faulkner, the fact of Who Do You Know was important, and Faulkner knew it.