Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Tin House Managing Editor "Breaks Out" with "New Voice"

Someone referring to him/herself as Anonymouse, sent in this interesting missive: Hi, Writer, Rejected! Love your blog. After finding it, I actually went back to the beginning and have been reading all 3+ years of entries. You're the best! Maybe my grapes are just sour, but I wanted to share this with you: I received my latest issue of One Story recently, and was pleased to see the envelope was printed with things like "New Voice!" "Debut Writer!" and so on. It turns out the author of this story had never published a piece of fiction before. I was pretty excited. I thought, "Wow, they are actually publishing a nobody like me. It really is possible." Actually, this writer was apparently even more of a "nobody" than I am -- I've had stories published, just not in journals as prestigious as One Story. And then I opened the issue....and discovered that this "debut writer" is the managing editor of Tin House and the director of the Tin House summer writers workshop. And all the air went out of my balloons. This is not a statement on the quality of story/writing/author. I'm not saying this author didn't deserve to be published in One Story, that he doesn't struggle just as much as other writers, that he's never been rejected, etc. Not at all. If anything, I'm just disappointed that the journal played it up to be the discovery of a new, emerging writer when he clearly has some huge connections. Yes, it's his first published story, so that's technically true. But when you're the managing editor of Tin House and the director of their summer writing workshop, you're not exactly a newbie to the scene. He wasn't just plucked out of the air. I do wish him well and congratulate him for getting publishing in such a great journal. But in a perfect world, I would have been way more excited to see One Story use their fancy "New Voice!" envelopes on a debut writer who doesn't work for one of the top tier lit mags.
p.s.
I actually feel a little guilty about writing this. I don't want to offend the writer because, frankly, it doesn't have anything to do with him or his writing. In fact, if I were in his shoes, I'd be thrilled. I am be curious, though, to see if other writers also reacted by rolling their eyes when they saw the "debut" title.


Same old, same old.  Sigh is right, Charlie Brown.

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

I thought the EXACT same thing. Nice for him, but not exactly a rags to riches, underdog success story.

Anonymous said...

Only someone totally removed from the lit world could think that a big shot editor is in the same class as a true newbie. And I'm pretty sure only writers read One Story.

This is pretty dumb from a business perspective. The audience is mostly unknown writers struggling to become known. It would be in their best interests to cater to the struggling writer, at least once in a while, and publish someone from the slush pile. I would buy a subscription if it wasn't such a famous-and-connected-people-only club. And yeah, these grapes are filled with industrial-grade acid.

Anonymous said...

I DID subscribe to one story because it pubs rather long short fiction, and I wanted to see if my long short story would be a good fit. I didn't know about The Club until I got a few issues.

I'm noveling and submitting some shorts and it's dawning on me that the audience for one (shorts) is other writers, probably MFA writers and the audience for the novel is readers with, of course, some writers. Maybe that's why the novel makes me happier.

C said...

Ploughshares still gets my vote as the most insular lit mag. Their submissions policy is strictly CW faculty only.

Lit J said...

Well, the best thing about One Story is that it only publishes each author once. That automatically makes it much less nepotistic than most literary journals out there.

Lit J said...

Well, the best thing about One Story is that it only publishes each author once. That automatically makes it much less nepotistic than most literary journals out there.

Native Ink said...

I read the first page of that story and was not impressed. I began to wonder why they printed it. Then I turned to the author bio and immediately put the story down. Maybe it got better as it went, but as soon as I connected bad beginning with Tin House editor, I was done with the story.

Anonymous said...

I though the same thing!!! In fact, I was so disgusted by that little display of madness by One Story, that when I got the latest issue of One Story today I tossed it right into the trash can. I mean, be real...

I thought that One Story would be different, but they publish the same dull, overly polished contrived stories that all the other journals print.

bummer.

Anonymous said...

Until there is actually an audience for short fiction, all that will continue to happen is a bunch of academic/industry types publishing their buddies.

There's absolutely nothing at stake - why on earth WOULDN'T it be purely nepotistic?

Of course the catch 22 is that as long as it remains the insular little circle jerk that it is, there is no reason for there to BE an audience.

So it goes...

vi said...

This is kind of sad. I have always liked the concept of One Story, and I have bought 3 or 4 issues in my lifetime, when I thought the story was pretty awesome. However, One Story can't pull off the kind of nepotism and cronyism that magazines like VQR, Paris Review, etc. can pull off. Those magazines have broad appeal among the educated general public. They don't just preach to the choir, so to speak, and most of their readers don't care if they're a little insular.

(And, though some commenters will disagree with me, I think that VQR, Paris Review and their ilk do support emerging writers to some extent (though the emerging writers are generally in MFA programs (topic for another post)).)

But what's in One Story besides one measly story, and who reads One Story except for other writers? If they don't cultivate a habit of supporting emerging artists, they are done for, epically. Writers are a depressed and insecure lot in general; we hate this sort of same-old-same-old-publish-only-your-friends crap.

I'm sure many commenters and lurkers are also annoyed by the fact that this debutante is editor of Tin House, yet another insider's club. And if the piece is weak on top of that? Would it really kill One Story staffers to investigate the slush pile? Why accept unsolicited submissions at all?

OK, end of rant!

Kelly Luce said...

@C: you're wrong about Pshares' policy being "strictly CW faculty only." it's top tier and competitive, yeah, but i def know of one person (a no-namer) who's been pulled from the slush there. from their site:

"Ploughshares welcomes unsolicited submissions of fiction, poetry, and a limited amount of nonfiction."

Anonymous said...

This is a tough one. If you have connections or clout, it seems natural to take advantage of them. As an editor at Tin House, just by writing your author's bio you'll probably receive a little extra attention. Obviously this writer is a dedicated member of the literary community, to the point of making his day Job a literary one. It is frustrating to see how many editors publish the work of editors at other journals until it looks like one huge cluster *!@#. I'd be miffed to see the debut label and then learn about the author's position in the lit world. But here the special attention does feel somewhat earned because of the writer's commitment to a lit journal, as opposed to getting such attention for a random reason (e.g., you're the great niece of Joyce Carol Oates).

What would be most satisfying for me is a journal that reads blind for every submission, for real. Then we'd get at the true nobodies, or the deserving somebodies who are recognized without wearing their somebody clothes. I greatly admire One Story's "one time only" publication policy. And I think One Story has published true nobodies in the past (?). I haven't read this story so can't comment on its merit.

gimme said...

In a sense all it does is illustrate (yet again!) that publishing is no different from any other field: merit is always secondary to connections.

We have this idea that literature should be purely merit-based, but it's not, and that's just reality.

No one of any note publishes from the slush. NO ONE. It's ALL personal connections, favors, etc. and it's amazing to me how - even in the face of such glaring evidence - people continue not to grasp this.

(by the way, just to anticipate the "I know a nobody who got published in ploughshares" people, my simple response is: you're lying. End of story)

The good news is: you're not helpless! Go make some connections & you're in - easy as that!

I started getting published once I happened to make the acquaintance of an editor. He introduced me to other editors. I quickly learned that they were all publishing each other and each other's friends. Look at the author bios, for chrissake - they're not even trying to hide it!

Now I've been published in a small handful of well-known journals, and I expect to continue that. My writing has not improved - all that's happened is I can now send stuff directly to the editor instead of the slush pile.

I've even had a story accepted by an editor for a mag that previously rejected the EXACT SAME STORY when I submitted it a couple years ago through the standard "online submission" process.

Wake up, folks! Yes, it's a little insider's club, but it's actually not that hard to become an insider. It's a TINY little world, filled with fairly nice people, most of whom have had little life experience outside of a college campus. They're easily impressed by "outsider" types & they LOVE thinking of themselves as "cutting edge." All you gotta do is bypass the slush pile somehow.

Good luck.

Anonymous said...

While obviously there's an insider club and people are publishing their friends/colleagues/etc., it is still possible to get pulled from the slush. I've known various writers get accepted at some pretty big journals -- not Ploughshares specifically, but others just as good -- without any connections. And no, I'm not lying. I think it's way harder to get the attention in the first place and to ever make it past the first slush reader, but I do believe it happens. And that's why my sad little self keeps submitting.

Really, I think a lot of people make their connections by publishing one or two things (on the merit of the work) and then they get to know the editor or grow their connections that way.

No doubt it's a corrupt world, but I'm also not going to throw my hat in entirely and whine that it's impossible unless you know someone. It's just a lot harder. And yes, certain places, like One Story? You might screwed from the start.

Anonymous said...

Most will probably say that Gimmie is jaded, but let's be honest, he's probably right. In writing, just like life, you need to know the right people. Sure, get mad when an "insider" is published, but please, folks, don't be surprised, as if this is something that doesn't happen anywhere else. Writing happens in the world...and the world is all about nepotism...it's common sense, really.

Now, as the previous anonymous said, all hope is not lost. It is still possible to get pulled out of the slush, and I know this, because very recently, a major print magazine accepted one of my stories. My hope now, like the previous commented stated, is that this story will open other doors. That was the plan I outlined for myself a few years back--submit only to big markets, hoping that the big markets bite-which took a while--and then go from there. What happens next? We'll see.

So, I guess, there are only two options: Kiss ass/make connections or write work that rises to the top. Frankly, I don't see a problem with that, since one or two good stories, I think, can open some doors.

Nobody said it was easy or your right to get published. I sure as hell don't think it is.

Anonymous said...

This is not the same as other fields. I'm a lawyer, and yes connections can help you get a job but when I was interviewing straight out of law school I had NO connections and I got a job at a good NYC firm. Yes, I came from a top law school, but my only "connection" to the law school was having gone to a good college.

Most of my friends also got jobs w/o personal connections. Getting pubbed with short fiction is almost ALL about connections. So yes it is different from other fields. Plus, interestingly, I got PAID at my firm for what I produced.

Native Ink said...

When I read the first page of the story in question,I honestly felt a little pity for the writer. If you enter the fray with those sorts of connections, you need to hit it out of the park or you'll face these sorts of accusations. That's not to say these accusations don't have any validity. And the truth is, the story has an awful beginning. Sure, the author gets a lousy publishing cred, but did he really need it? It reminds me of those American Idol contestants who work as singing coaches or something similar and then get absolutely humiliated by the judges. Maybe better for those people not to go on in the first place.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone tried to comment on the story on the One Story blog? Are they open to a vigorous debate? Or are those comments just deleted? I also couldn't finish the story. I thought "Bomb Jockey," a few stories prior, was excellent.

Anonymous said...

I commented before about throwing my latest issue in the trash (which my husband dug out--he's more forgiving than I am). I did like the story quite awhile back--Rocky Point, Mexico or Rocky Point, New Mexico. I thought it was just lovely, but then I felt every story since has been really bad. Of course it all comes down to taste and I've always liked things that are more "quirky" and "raw" rather than polished and boring.

I do hope that someone brings this up to One Story. Would like to know what they think.

Anonymous said...

Actually you should all scoot over to the One Story blog to discover (surprise surprise) a One Story Associate Editor has just been published in American Short Fiction! Great news! What a coup!

http://www.one-story.com/blog/

Native Ink said...

It's funny, because I agree 100% with the opinions about One Story expressed here. Generally, the stories are very polished and a bit boring. As an avid reader, I can hang with a so-so story and not complain (too much), but One Story hasn't bowled me over in a long time. Has it jumped the shark? A few more embarassing stories like this last one and I'll write them off. There's so much else out there I'd like to read.

J.D. Roa said...

Oh, man, the original post was very depressing (I found you through blogs that the Rejection Queen follows). Also, Gimme makes a strong point - not just about short stories, but about novels, too. Sometimes though, I think the insider's circle for publishing is counter-intuitive to the actual goal of publishing these days, which is to make money (or whatever money that can be had from any respectable literary journal, big/small publishing house, etc.). I mean, wouldn't it be better to take the extra time and effort to find the right person to publish that'll sell and impress people than publishing your own buddies? Some people are great readers and editors but just can't cut it as writers. Unfortunately, I think I am one of those people, but honestly, if I had to choose between reading my own mediocre work and the next Anna Karenina-ish masterpiece by Joe Schmo, I'd choose Joe.

The Very Minor Writer said...

okay, 22 comments and I can't see that anyone read the story. I read it. It's not Girls in Their Summer Dresses, but it IS a good short story. It attempts something complicated and strives to be about something large and transcendent. It doesn't quite succeed and some of the writing feels just one turn short of being tightly screwed down, but it's still a good, solid story, one that I would guess would have been published by any number of literary journals, whether or not this guy was at Tin House. (And he's the ME for chrissakes, people, that's not the most powerful job there by a long way.) So before you all go screaming that this business is all insidery and who you know (what business isn't?) consider that sometimes, the folks who actually work in the business work in it because they care a great deal and invest a ton of time to get good at it. And I don't have an MFA, in fact, I was rejected from an MFA program just a few weeks ago.