Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Count Down 2011

T-minus 4 days to a mind-blowing moment. Also, Jackson Bliss, novelist and fellow blogger extraordinaire, offered up some important opines in numerical order on this LROD post; seems fair that I post what he has to say for all to read. Plus, I like what the dude has to say:
     1. My writing blog is about transparency + honesty. I post every good rejection, every snarky rejection, every acceptance + whatever else comes to my mind. You don't have to agree with that, but for you to assume I haven't considered the consequences of what I'm doing is slightly insulting + also untrue. That's just how I roll with my blog + many aspiring fiction writers have thanked me for my honesty, so i feel like i'm doing something right.
     2. Personally, I'm sick of all the kowtowing that aspiring fictions are expected to do in this industry. We're supposed to shut up + just take it until we're too famous to shut up. But I think we have important things to say BEFORE we ever become famous, which will probably be never anyway. Also, I wasn't writing back to Nat Sobel's assistant to be an asshole, I was just being honest with her + communicating to her how I feel, which honestly, people don't do ENOUGH in this industry for fear of being blacklisted. I was sincerely grateful for all of the time she spent reading my partials, but look, I don't have to agree with her analysis + I don't. I have enough friends who have already made it as literary fiction writers so I'm not being speculative when I say that I have issues with anyone suggesting that Junot Diaz has a limited readership.
     3. As for platform, though I don't agree with it, writers of color are given a "writers of color" platform by predominantly white editors. They're usually categorized as an ethnic writer, a black commercial fiction writer, a female Asian-American novelist + that's the market they target. I have nothing to do with that, but the reality is that I have a WAY better chance of selling my shit as an Asian-American writer (which I am, though only hapa) than I do as another male writer. Beyond that, a little context: In one of Nat Sobel's interviews, he argues that not only do non-fiction writers need a platform-- a position that many agents agree with, by the way--but that these days, considering how non-fiction sales have overtaken fiction sales by like a lot, now even FICTION writers need a platform, so that's what I was referring to when I talked about platform. If you read a few more of my entries, you'll see that. Also, I personally think that a fiction writer should be able to write from whatever cultural perspective s/he wants, but I think the market expects platforms: They want Asians to write Asian stories, they want the former heroin addict to write a memoir about being a junkie, not about his love of plants. Don't believe me? Pick up a copy of almost any Asian-American writer + scan their publishing history? How many of them are writing stories about white people? While I may not agree with this, I do acknowledge the market, so I'm simply trying to figure out the best way to place my own writing, nothing more.
     4. If an agent was seriously considering me + then s/he dropped me because I had too much attitude, then that agent wasn't the right agent for me, pure + simple. Great agents want great art + someone they can work with. I work so fucking hard on my writing, I'm dedicated + open to editorial suggestions + I don't have unrealistic expectations for what agents/editors do. I feel like you guyz are making a lot of assumptions about me as a writer knowing almost nothing about me + based on an entry or two. You don't fucking know me at all. And also: Your critiques of me almost suggest that the publishing industry is without flaws, but it's totally fucked up. Even my friends that are editors for commercial publishing houses are discouraged. Prominent agents are scared shitless about publishing fiction from debut authors. It's a hostile landscape to art, + yet you're criticizing me for feeling (expressing) that the industry is fucked up + that I have issues with it? That's insane. Dudes, I've interned at a major publishing house, so I know a couple of well-known editors. I have friends who are agents, literary journal stars, total unknown writers with unbelievable talent + everything in between, so I'm not talking from some solipsistic perch here. The industry is in bad shape + it's ripe for critiquing. And if you knew me + if you'd read my blog, you'd know that.
     5. For many years, I played the diplomacy game. I took each kind rejection, shut my mouth + hoped that my hard work would be enough, but now I don't want to + that doesn't make me dumb, or arrogant. It makes me human. I simply want to express how I feel + not censor myself just because I think it increases my chances of getting it published--I really don't think it does, by the way. You need talent intersecting with luck intersecting with people with power. There are tens of thousands of aspiring fiction writers who will never be published EVER + it's not because they're not talented enough, it's because some of them give up, some of them lose heart, some of them find other media to publish their voices + only a few actually make it. I'd rather hold on to my stubborn confidence, which has kept me in this game for awhile now, + by the way, has given me some fantastic responses from agents + some decent publications + a lot of hope for the future. If you disagree with my approach, I can respect that, but to call me arrogant, dumb + irritating because I have the gall to simply communicate anything besides "thank you ma'am" to an agent's assistant seems very harsh + judgmental to say the least. Additionally, I'd argue that the reason I'm getting my PhD at USC in Literature + Creative Writing is precisely it's one of the best ways to try + find a job teaching CW + finding patronage for my own art. I'm hardly unrealistic about what it takes to live/breathe as a fiction writer.
     Anyway, I thought you were creating a strawman of both me + my writing blog, so I just wanted to present the other side. I hope you'll be open to some of the things I said.


Fartboxen said...

Goodness grief. That man tell a lot of word! It take me one afternoons to read word. Calls my sister and say, "Sister! Help are you read computer box!" Phone never ring and sister at market. Please and thank you slow down total words. Take cloth and make a shirt.

Linda Zinnen said...

T-minus four---yay!

And if you want to confront publishing people via email and blog,why go right ahead. Does it mean you're shooting yourself in the foot? Aw, who can tell anymore...

Anonymous said...


You mentioned economic freedom. Does the writer need it?


No. The writer doesn't need economic freedom. All he needs is a pencil and some paper. I've never known anything good in writing to come from having accepted any free gift of money. The good writer never applies to a foundation. He's too busy writing something. If he isn't first rate he fools himself by saying he hasn't got time or economic freedom. Good art can come out of thieves, bootleggers, or horse swipes. People really are afraid to find out just how much hardship and poverty they can stand. They are afraid to find out how tough they are. Nothing can destroy the good writer. The only thing that can alter the good writer is death. Good ones don't have time to bother with success or getting rich. Success is feminine and like a woman; if you cringe before her, she will override you. So the way to treat her is to show her the back of your hand. Then maybe she will do the crawling.

Anonymous said...

I put the Faulkner answer to a Paris Review Interview question on here because I think Mr. Bliss would probably do very well to remember that a Writer (emphasis capital W) should always be too busy to bitch because he's writing something. That's the truth right there. You can take that in a number of ways but there it is.
Second, after your post here I went over to his blog and read the whole thing as well as some of his work available on line. While I admire his passion and determination I have to say that his responding to agents and his writing Junot Diaz and asking for help are pretty cringe worthy, amateur and almost childish actions.
I also think that the idea that he's not getting picked up by an agent because his stuff is too brilliant and out of their range and it's not "typical workshop" fiction is more than a little insulting to the many great writers who are being published. It's also bitter sounding and obnoxious. If you're as good as you think you are, you'll get published. Someone will publish you. Bottom line.
He also seems to be really hung up on prizes and literary success. And anyone can tell you that that right there is the death knell for any writer. Over and over again he talks about the day he'll make it and making Nicole Aragi a little richer etc, etc. which might be tongue in cheek but I bet are serious sentiments. There's nothing wrong with ambition but I don't think you can really see your work for what it is if you're constantly thinking about what you're going to say when you get your Pulitzer.

This industry isn't perfect by any means. But it reflects the reading public. Why else would books about horny vampires sell millions of copies? The rest of us bemoan the fact for a few moments and get back to work. Rejections are a part of the game and there are terrible agents and editors and all that. But there are also good people looking for good work.
Mr. Bliss knows so many literary people: agents and novelists and editors and friends that are novelists etc. He gets referrals for top agents from his own professors. He sits around the offices of best selling authors listening to Flannery O' Conner recordings. He has ins that the rest of us poor shmucks that are laboring away in literary siberia can't even imagine, and yet he complains about how screwed up the industry is. The same industry that gives him chance after chance and which he hustles using his own connections. I don't begrudge him that because I'd use them to. But if the common denominator is rejection then maybe there;s something to reject there. Instead of bitching about it and dreaming of padding your wikipedia page why don't you get to work.

jackson bliss said...

(part 1). Dude, please, you simplify an aspiring writer's life too much. You act as if a writer can only write or critique the industry. And yet in interview after interview with famous novelists, agents + editors alike available online, they are all freaked out about the sad state of publishing. The system's fucked, wake up! Sometimes, I point that out on my blog, sometimes I talk about things that annoy me, sometimes I talk about what motivates me to keep writing or what I love about art, that's what my blog's about. Deal with it. If you don't like it, don't read my blog. Also, the industry isn't giving me chances out of the blue, I've had to work my ass off to get each + every chance. Do you know how long I worked on MFA applications? Do you know how many years I wrote fiction before I ever applied to a CW workshop? Did you know that I spent every single day during my MFA years, especially on the weekend, stuck in my apartment writing while my classmates were out drinking? Do you know how much time I spend revising my second novel? An insane amount time. More time than you can possibly imagine. You have no fucking idea, dude. In 6.5 years, I've written two novels + two collection of short stories. And in every moment where I'm given a chance, I'm nothing but humbled + grateful. But make no mistake, I worked my ass off for each + every opportunity. It wasn't given to me while I sat on my ass, it was given to me because of something I worked my ASS OFF to produce. Besides that, I send out a 100 stories to journals every year just to get one acceptance (which is more than most people I know submit), meaning I take nothing for granted, I'm not spoiled, I'm not entitled either, I refuse to take most rejections personally + I write + revise every single day. How do you think I got into the programs I've gotten into, by complaining? No way dude, by hard fucking work + talent. I've worked extremely hard for every single opportunity given to me. Also, writers can't just write anymore, they have to know the market, self-promote, be web savvy, make connections, contact managers, put their faces in newsletters + jump through a bunch of loops. This idea that you're just gonna write is a fucking myth. There is so much more asked of writers these days because the market has changed. You have to put yourself out there. Talent, a strong work ethic + self-confidence is the just the starting point of your career. And, for the record, I almost never respond to agents.

Ultimately, I just want to publish my writing + find my readership, + prizes, contests, agents, are just a means to get my stuff out there. I don't care about winning prizes because I want to win, no I don't give a shit about that, I only care because winning a book contest or nailing an agent helps a writer find an audience for his art. That's the only thing I care about.

jackson bliss said...

(part 2). In the end, a fiction writer has to stay motivated + believe in himself because 99% of everything s/he produces--regardless of how talented s/he is--will be rejected. I believe in myself, I have a little swagger but I also have the talent + the work ethic to back it up. I don't hate agents for not picking me up as a client, I hate an industry that gives a Harvard undergrad a $500,000 advance for a plagiarized manuscript, Amanda Knox a $1M advance for looking angelic + books to inane celebrities while talented fiction writers can't even get their first novel out, I hate that shit + so do a lot of other people for good reason.

Also, you talk about the market reflecting reader's interests + I'd agree with you to an extent, but many of the books out there are decided by editors + the agents who are looking for the books editors want to sell, not necessarily the readers. Many readers go to a bookstore or they go online + they browse at whatever's available + buy from what they see, but what they see is usually decided by editors who crunch lots of numbers + decide what they want to publish. With the exception of self-publishing, the industry is the farthest thing from grassroots you could imagine.

And if you think it's pathetic that I asked Junot Diaz to take a look at my novel, I completely disagree with you. Great agents like Nicole Aragi will only read your shit upon referral. I knew it was a longshot going in, but that's a risk you have to take if you want to get published, you have to put yourself out there. Hemingway + Jack Kerouac used to walk up to editors + have them their shit. Was that childish? Only if it doesn't work, I guess. If Nicole Aragi actually read unsolicited manuscripts, I would have sent her an excerpt of my novel, but she doesn't so emerging fiction writers have NO WAY of contacting her unless one of her clients recommends you. Those are the rules of the industry.

The bottom line is, I follow the industry rules 97% of the time, but that doesn't mean I always respect them because frankly, some of them are bullshit.

Anonymous said...

First, let me say that I respect your opinion and acknowledge that it's the result of your own struggles and experiences.
That said, I don't doubt for a second that you'd be singing a much different tune if Nicole Aragi had signed you straight out of your MFA program and gotten you a multi-million dollar contract for your next six books with one of the big six.
You keep on reiterating that the industry is fucked, and while I wouldn't say that it's perfect, I do stand by the idea that it reflects the reading public. You state that the books in book stores are those that the editors want to sell, implying that there's some kind of conspiracy amongst the industry
to dumb down the literature available to the people. If I understand you, what you're saying is that given a choice between a work of art and literature and, say, a Nicholas Spark's novel, the editor goes with good old Sparks because he/she just wants to? That makes no sense. What I think is more the reality is that they understand that people are mostly stupid and don't want to read complicated things that would require too much effort.
Flannery O'Connor wrote in an essay that the job of the high school English teacher is to change the face of the best-seller list. I agree. By the time people are walking into book stores at 20 and 21 and 41 they already have their tastes and if you think that given the choice of your book and some bull shit readers digest book of the year they're going to pick yours, then you've been sheltered by for far too long.
Publishing is a business, and everyone in it, from the agents to the book store owner is looking to make money. The fact that they can't make money off of what you and I would call art and literature doesn't really have to do with them per se. They may be guilty of going with it, but that's a whole other discussion and I don't even know if that's they're fight or ours.

Anonymous said...

Chapter Two: (I'm thinking we can maybe get this published. We'll call it "A Spirited Debate on Publishing Between Contemporaries")

That said, there are agents and editors looking specifically for literary fiction. While the market might not be as open to it as it is to shit like The Da Vince Code and Confessions of a Shoppaholic, there are people who are actively looking to usher in new talent in that field.
Now you also keep on talking about how hard you work and how poor little you stays at home scribbling away while your friends
go out carousing etc, etc. Maybe you work hard and maybe you don't, but if you do you don't get a prize for it. The world doesn't owe anyone a living and just because you spend hours and hours of your time agonizing over a word or sentence doesn't mean that agents or publishers need to take that into account when they're reading your work. And if we're being straight here--and I think we are---that's what it all comes down to. Not your degrees and not that T.C. Boyle said that you're amazing but the sheer power of your words on paper. And that's why I say again, if you're being rejected by the people who are willing to look at your work and who find something to admire about it, is it possible the problem lies with your work and not with them?
And I will say that it's a fair point that you wrote to Diaz because you needed a referral to Aragi. Maybe I had such a strong reaction to it because I found the whole tone of that letter to be self-indulgent and entitled. I know she's supposed to be all that, but she signed that Foer dude and was in raptures about him when his is the most pretentious tripe to come out of publishing in the last decade. You're a better writer than him and if she's open to people like that and not people like you than you really shouldn't bother.
I think I have a softer view of the industry given my own experience. I wrote a novel and in terms of contacts and support there couldn't be anyone who had less than I did. In my circumstances I didn't even have anyone I knew who I could give the manuscript to just to read over. I mean I have friends and all but they're regular people and I didn't anyone to know I'd done something as weird as writing a book. I didn't know jack shit about queries or how agents worked or anything like that. I had to learn everything I knew from query tracker and the absolute write water cooler place. I had some God damn terrible query letters and rejections all over the place. I made my letter better and soon I had requests. And not just requests from agents in Bhutan but requests from agents at William Morris and ICM and Writers House and all those places that apprentice writers dream of having agents from. Ultimately I was rejected by all of them but I had a few agents call and talk to me on the phone anyway, request revisions, offer support and guidance etc. And I didn't write a romance either. It was odd stuff, which is why I was so shocked people were interested. What I took away from the process was that if a nobody like me, who'd never formally studied literature, never had anything published or even tried to have anything published, didn't have any referrals etc. could get a manuscript onto the desk of Suzanne Gluck, than for all the bull shit in the industry, there was still room for people who didn't have anything but timid hope and a belief in the value of what they were creating.
So excuse me if I think that it's some egotistical bullshit when you feel like no one is recognizing the fruit of your genius after you were able, through some damn good referrals, to get your stuff read by Lynn Nesbit and all those other super agents. Like I said, the more power to you for using the connections you have, but if you still can't break in after getting there, maybe it's time for some self reflection.

Anonymous said...

Chapter Three (Jesus Christ already...)

At the end of this, I don't believe for a second I'll change your opinion of anything. I think you've decided what you've decided and I hope that it all works out for you and you become a literary lion and join the literati which is what you so clearly dream of, but I don't think that anyone of Nicole Aragi's clients ever had a blog where they wrote what every struggling writer probably thinks at one time or another, but keeps very safely tucked away inside them.
I'm saying that it's all well and good to have transparency but usually people wait until they're in positions of power to get even with all the people that kicked them down when they were trying to get up. Haven't you read The Count of Monte Cristo?
I got more than a few agents who called wanting to know what the hell I did because they couldn't find anything online about me. And I'm not saying that's the way to go either, because then people are wondering if you're writing them from prison or, say, a cave in Afghanistan, but these people look people up, and I'm not sure that they react to keenly to rantings and ravings about how all these assholes are going to be quoting you when you're finally successful.
Anyway, good luck and all that. With your determination, I'd be surprised if you don't have a book out some day.

Anonymous said...

What the hell happened to the first part of my comment? WTH, brah?

jackson bliss said...

You make some valid arguments. A few points of clarification though: I didn't point out how hard I work on my writing because I'm claiming that entitles me to shit because I would never be that naive. I pointed that out because you said that instead of bitching about the industry, I should be writing, which implies an author can't do both + I'm only pointing out that I write my fucking ass off AND sometimes I critique the industry. Also, it's true, if Nicole Aragi had picked me up after my MFA, I wouldn't be critiquing the industry because I wouldn't KNOW how fucked up it is, I'd think the system is working perfectly, but that doesn't mean the system isn't deeply flawed, just that I didn't know how fucked up it is. Being on both sides of that success--both having some good publications, marginal institutional support + a few good connections but also seeing how deeply flawed literary journals submissions can be + how spineless certain agents are--I think I'm actually at an ideal place to see both sides.

I concede that if I can't publish my first novel, it's very possible the industry won't accept it. But if I read a derivative piece of shit next year that's only 1/2 as good as something I'm writing (+ that critical assessment of my work is backed up by other authors who are wildly successful in the industry), I think I have a write to complain about that shit in my blog, which is exactly what I do actually. And you know, I've read many novels that are amazing, some that are decent + others that suck + it's THOSE latter novels that offend me, not the Cormac McCarthy's + the Annie Proulx's of the world. Those authors are the ones that inspire me. I think you think I'm grouping all authors together, but I'm totally not.

jackson bliss said...

(part 2). You keep quoting classic Southern literary fiction authors like Flannery O'Connor + Faulkner, but they were writing in a different era when the rules of publishing were very different. Back then, authors could just send their manuscripts directly to editors without agents at publishing houses. With the exception of FSG + the indie presses, that's now impossible. They won't even look at your shit. Another thing: Back in the day, an author could support her art by publishing short stories in journals. F. Scott Fitzgerald made $30,000 from his short stories in the 1920's! That too is now impossible. In fact, only a handful of literary authors can actually live on their writing at all, + virtually all American writers now work for universities except for those that can live off of their writing. And there are now 100,000's of MFA students graduating every year. All of these things have changed the landscape of publishing. Now agents are getting 250 queries in a single day. It's not enough anymore to just write, you have to know the industry, learn to write good query letters, make contacts, find patronage in grants, MFA programs, attend conferences, get rec.'s, court agents, create a buzz for yourself + many of the major players in this industry are playing it safe, they now want the last great thing not the next great thing. I have nothing to do with that change in cultural production, but I'm mostly willing to play by the rules (submitting to journals, applying to MFA/PhD programs is essentially the new rules for aspiring writers) in part because I have no other choice.

Of course I know there are editors/agents looking for literary fiction, but the market is dwindling, being taken over by YA, fantasy + literary lite (commercial fiction with literary strands). Do I think it's still possible to make it as a literary fiction writer? Of course. Do I have friends who are making it? Yes. But what I'm hearing from other writers I know is that publishing houses are starting to pull the plug on the PR budget for literary fiction novels. What I'm hearing is that safe is becoming the normative principle for publishing, which isn't how it always ways. Dude, I remember my internship in 2006 at a major commercial publishing house + watching editors, most of whom I still like + admire, accept + reject manuscripts based almost entirely on book sales, not merit. And I don't think that's even unusual anymore. And with literary fiction, literary fiction is the outspoken little brother of publishing houses that the big, jocky older brother is paying for with his wrestling scholarship. So yes, I think it's correct to suggest now + then in my blog that the industry is in trouble.

In the end, so what if Nicole Aragi doesn't have a client right now who has a blog that shows how tough/impossible/amazing/fucked up/insane this industry really is, should we now censor ourselves for fear of being read? I think a lot of editors/agents are actually really concerned with the market contraction, at least based on the interviews I've been reading online.

jackson bliss said...

(part 3). Lastly, I only quote people directly on my blog if: 1. It's a good rejection + no editor will have a problem with that. 2. The agent/editor says something really revealing that I think might be helpful to other writers. If the agent/editor doesn't have an electronic trail, I don't give their full names + I don't leave their contact info except accidentally. 3. The agent/editor is easily contactable online + wants to be. If the agent/editor is an asshole, I actually almost never quote them either, unless I think it's totally obnoxious, but that almost never happens + frankly, I think being an asshole stops making me feel bad about posting their shit. I'd go even further and say that I've been contacted by agents who READ my blog + THEN wanted to read my shit. It's happened more than once actually.

In the end, if you'd make your blog differently than me, all the power to you in whatever you do, but don't assume as you did that: 1. I don't write, I just complain. 2. I'm a crybaby because I don't know the rules or because I think my talent entitles me to publication because truthfully, my blog shows a way more nuanced understanding of the industry + shows mostly compliance with the rules of publication. 3. I haven't achieved some level of success. 4. I haven't received great rejections from both editors + agents alike, because I have. 5. That I'm claiming that no one appreciates my talent or that I'm too good for the industry because my blog shows TONS of gratitude + appreciation for all the help, suggestions, praise + acknowledgment + marginal publishing success I've had.

If the problem is that I'm dumb/arrogant/transparent enough to actually voice my issues with the industry that everyone else thinks but doesn't want to admit, well, I can live with that. SOMEONE has to point these things out. Otherwise, I'm assuming that you NEVER criticize the publication industry, journals, agents, editors, etc., etc, right?

In the end, the whole point of a legit critique (in both workshop, blogs + everyday life) isn't to be asshole, but to make something better because you believe it's worth improving. That's my attitude towards writing, the publication industry + my own writing as a whole + I'm sticking to it. By the way, if we waited until we were all famous + well-published to point out what's wrong with any industry, none of us would ever say anything. Ever.

Anonymous said...

I think you misunderstand me or maybe I don't make myself clear. I don't believe that the industry is above criticism; I think that when it's criticized by a "struggling" writer who points out that he's not getting published because mainstream publishers and agents etc. can't recognize his talent or that his work isn't workshoppy enough, it's not going to be taken seriously for very obvious reasons.
It cuts the ground out from under your argument no matter how valid it might be.
And I don't quote classic Southern writers just because; I quote them because I love them and also because I think they make points that we can all learn from. In fact Flannery O'Connor did have a literary agent and in fact she dealt with an asshole of a publisher who wanted her to change her first book in a way that she didn't want to and who maligned her in a press release as a result. And while Faulkner's first book was published when Sherwood Anderson passed his book along to people he knew, he also had an agent. As for the Fitzgerald example, I don't know if you were trying to say that he made a great living off of his short stories or what, because I'm reading his letters to Maxwell Perkins right now and the man was never out of debt. He also had to write a lot of trashy short stories (his words) to keep himself above water so he could write the good stuff--good stuff that was never even recognized in his lifetime as such.
That's all to show that while you seem nostalgic for a golden age of publishing when you could forward your work to editors, in fact all there was no golden age and even the most brilliant literary lights had to face bullshit from an industry that's never been perfect.
Again you mention that editors don't publish literary fiction and that people can only get books that are made available to them, but that's not some arbitrary decision that's made by these people. Brilliant books are published every year that go largely ignored in favor of fluffy stories about nothing of consequence. People aren't reading crap because it's advertised better, they're reading it because they're not better.
And I've heard the whole you need to have connections and have ten thousand followers on twitter and connections and all that and while it may be true in some cases I know for a fact that it's not true in all. As much as people in MFA programs like to believe it, great writing can't be taught. It's a raw instinct that can be honed maybe but not taught. And who cares if agents are receiving 500 queries a day? If your writing is any good you'll stand out. And don't you prove my point? You've been published more than a few times, know people in the industry, have graduated from a prestigious university, get referrals from well know authors to even better known agents, and yet still don't have an agent---while people with none of those things get snapped up right and left.

jackson bliss said...

Okay, first off, F Scott Fitzgerald was in debt because he had expensive tastes, he was an alcoholic + his wife Zelda wanted him to lead the high-life with her. It's pretty clearly demonstrated in the Beautiful + the Damned. No income was large enough for him, but the point is, 30k in the 20's is like $300,000 now, and no writer will EVER make that kinda paper from selling stories to journals now. NEVER. And that's because the market has changed, people don't read like they used to since print isn't the dominant media anymore + yet, there are more writers than at any other time in history. I'm hardly nostalgic for that time, by the way, I just acknowledge that there was a lot less competition, writers could live off their writing + everyone + his mother read back then. Not so anymore.

Also, it DOES matter that there are so many aspiring writers because those writers are now clogging up inboxes of agents, the same ones we're writing to. And while great writing gets picked out sometimes, a lot of times, it also drowns. I think persistence, more than anything else, is what helps a writer become successful. Talent is just the starting point. And I'd also argue that most people will only buy what's available, which is determined by a branch store manager who is being pitched to by a sales rep of a publishing house whose publication list is decided by editors who are obsessed with Nielson Bookscan. Yes, they do sometimes publish great shit, but the point is, literary fiction is being eaten up by other genres + departments that make more money, which has been accelerated by media conglomeration.

And, when Fitzgerald + Sherwood Anderson were writing, literary fiction was the dominant genre, but it's clearly not anymore. Memoir + commercial fiction have overtaken literary fiction by a longshot. Also, while publishing was never perfect, it has clearly gotten worse. Don't believe me? Walk into a Borders + tell me what you see on the front table. There's great writing there for sure, but it's suffocating in derivative shit. I don't have to have an agent to have an informed opinion on the industry, by the way, + being published won't make me suddenly like it either.

Anonymous said...

Look, we clearly don't agree on many issues but I realize that some of my language and criticism was harsh and unnecessary.
It is your right and privilege to write about your experiences with the industry and to air your frustrations however you please.
Getting up day after day to face inevitable rejection in the hope that it'll one day turn into acceptance takes a colossal amount of courage and would make a man out of mud. You should be admired and commended for it.
The world is awful enough without anonymous strangers ripping you down and telling you you're being foolish and I sincerely apologize if I made you feel attacked or hated on. It was not my intention and I feel horrible at the possibility that I made you feel bad.
(It's some kind of irony that an aspiring writer should forget how much power words carry)

The world looks well only on those artists that have big checks and shiny awards to show for their work and I more than understand the frustration of standing up to it without any of these things.
If I did criticize so strongly it was because I think you are someone with the talent to justify your ambitions and it just seemed foolish to hinder your chances by putting out the toxic stuff that so many of us deal with privately. But a writer of any account speaks only for himself and I think you know that well enough.
If I knew you in real life I'd make peace by taking you out for ice cream but I don't so I'll just say I don't doubt that a day will come when your novels will be on display at the book store and all the God damned idiots that make up the public will rush past them to get to Stephanie Meyer's next opus.

jackson bliss said...

Thanks for that. I actually really appreciate you saying those things. This is a brutal industry, we aspiring writers can all be really harsh with each other because of our passion + I guess it's true that my feelings were hurt, but I do appreciate the robust dialogue we had, you definitely made me think about things + your wholehearted apology hits home in the best way. I wish you nothing but success in the future + want to thank you for your graciousness in the end.


Anonymous said...

Anonymous and Jackson:

I adore every word of this exchange! Seriously. It's the marck of a great debate that I find myself reading A's comments and saying aloud, "Oh, that's a good point!" only to read JB's comments and say aloud "Ooh, but that's also a good point!" Back and forth like that. I'm not saying I agree with everything either of you have written, but I agree with a lot of things both of you have written and I admire the hell out of you both just for writing all this! And Anonymous is definitely right about one thing: you two should publish this conversation! :)

Thanks for writing, A and JB, and super-thanks to WR for sharing JB's posts and then hosting this conversation. All three of you are awesome.

Anonymous said...

I sent a one-page query to Aragi and received a very polite e-mail complementing me on my story concept and requesting a full manuscript about two weeks later. So I'm not sure your hypothesis stands up.

Anonymous said...

The more I send out query letters to agents and the more crap I see published by the big New York publishing houses, the more I believe this guy's right and most of you are fucking clueless. You're defending a system that is intentionally excluding you because you think the publishing business cares about literary merit (and not profits). Get a clue! The industry was never about merit and hasn't been for a long time. And to the person with the Aragi request, come on, I know ten people who've gotten those, but none of them were picked up and I'd bet a hundred bucks that you weren't either.