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Monday, April 28, 2008

Dear Commercial Magazine Editor

Oh boy. We've got ourselves another writer's manifesto in the making. This is a response to the heated debate going on here at LROD. I added internal links to this anonymous commenter's response, so that readers could follow along with the issues. Have at it, friends:

"To Dave Clapper: I'm an anon who has nothing against you, sir, and I have no problem with you or any other editor publishing your "friends" or even soliciting. In fact, I think that's a GOOD thing. It certainly is natural, normal, pure human nature -- and, in fact, to DENY it is wrong, I believe.

Naturally, as a writer, I also want to be "friends" with good editors. And I believe that if I write well enough, and send the right editors the right kind of things, that I will of COURSE become their "friend."

However, I do have a problem with this. A big one. And that is that the editors of commercial magazines, web sites, and all other publications do not WANT good literature. None of them publish it. And of course there is the fact that the commercial short story market is almost completely extinct. But Dave, honestly, I have no beef with you and I do wish you the best -- but I do not read Smokelong nor do I submit to it, simply because I don't believe in these journals where the authors are unpaid. I'm not an academic, not an MFA rich kid so I don't have the luxury to submit to such journals. I am a working writer. I have belonged to the National Writers Union (which recommended its members to NEVER write for a magazine that pays less than a dollar word).

There was a time when fiction was relevant. And when there were good editors. And when you could make a living as a writer, and didn't have to become a professor instead. I want that world to come back, that world where fiction is popular, is read by many people, is commercially available -- and is something that good writers can make a living off of.

So my beef is not with you, sir -- your journal, although I don't read it, I do wish it the best -- but my beef is with the editors and publishers of the commercial magazines. The ones I've learned about on LROD, the ones whose work records have been detailed time and time again on this blog. The ones that killed the short story, and subsequently killed literature.

You know the ones. Someone posted on here before, suggesting a boycott of all Hearst and Conde Nast publications. Yes! That's it, those are the ones. From Redbook to Men's Journal, Details to GQ, Vanity Fair to the Saturday Evening Post, these commercial magazines are terrible, filth-ridden rags. Very base, very stupid, and poorly written, too. But I took up an LROD suggestion, and sought out an antique issue of one of my target magazines. (Actually I found a bundle of them at a book sale.) And I began to read. And first thing I thought of was how REFRESHING it was to read articles that didn't have that smarmy tone that every magazine seems to have now. And articles that were SINCERE about living, even the simple things. And I also thought that most college kids today couldn't even PARSE a 1960's copy of Saturday Review or an old Esquire or Cosmopolitan. That's so absolutely pathetic.

I write for a living. And I can write an article for a magazine like Vogue about something with a third-grade mentality (but graphically sexual), and be paid two dollars a word for my "efforts." But when I do that, I feel like I'm a drug dealer on a playground or something -- it's disgusting. And I am paid obscenely well for stupid, stupid non-fiction "profile" pieces, "trend" pieces, and all manner of fluff. Again, up to two dollars a word for this stuff.

But these editors have zero interest at all in fiction. Most of them no longer print any fiction at all. If you read a GQ of today, you'll never ever realize that even in the early 90's, they used to print serious articles and serious fiction, 7,000 word short stories. The few that do print fiction, like Esquire, print only the basest, dumbest crap you've ever seen put into words. Some of it was featured here on LROD. Look in the archives and follow the links. Please, READ this stuff. Read that "story" about Heath Ledger. The sad thing is, we'll have more and more of that kind of crap from these magazines.

So I'm angry about this, and I want to do something about it. I voice my disgust with it. I say, "Voice it loud. Let the world hear it. (Especially their advertisers.)" Get them where it hurts, let everybody know that we don't think they are cool, we don't think they are smart, and we don't want to be seen TOUCHING their filthy magazines. Yes, I call these editors to task. I think it's time to name names, to call these people up, invite them to discuss -- let them defend their positions. Let's hear it from them. Why do they shovel out this crap to the world, when so many people are obviously hungering for something more?"


Steve said...

At some point even working writers owe it to themselves to get a therapist and talk through some of their issues.

Or start meditating.

Something, brother.

The world isn't against you. Literature isn't dead. Maybe you should go get an MFA just to see what it's all about.

Anonymous said...

Steve is holier than thou, it appears. I feel all the frustrations detailed in this blog post. I think every writer does....well, every writer except for Steve, that is.

rmellis said...

The good old days will never come back.

You just have put your head down, write what you have to write.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Steve and rmellis.

Stop griping and just get on with the writing.

It's not the magazines who are at fault. It's the writers who give away their work for free who are devaluing the business for everyone else. Why should any editor pay when there are a load of saps willing to work for nothing? You wouldn't do sixty hours a week in a factory for no pay, so why write for nothing?

If all writers made a vow never to work for free again, the ezines would soon die off, and then maybe we'd start to see more paying magazines devoted to quality in writing instead of the peurile 'let's see how often we can use the word fuck, deflower characters with spoons and dismember various body parts before it's considered gritty and literary' type stories that are giving good writing a bad name.

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Ha! Writing early on in my learning process, it was kind of fun having a character deflower herself with a spoon. Liberating. Got a decent publication credit too, although I think that ezine has since died...shame.

I believe factory workers and other manual workers used to do their apprenticeships for nothing. It's still a necessary part of learning to write, and learning the market, for many of us. Not many writers just wake up one day writing stuff that pays...

Trouble is, paying magazines are so few and far between. At least, in the UK, where I am. They have died. Unless you count those that want fluff?

Anonymous said...

"Unless you count those that want fluff?"

Is this fluff of the fiction variety? If so, care to name names? I'm sick of non-fiction fluff, which is the only thing that pays in the US.

Anonymous said...

I'd love for more people to read and talk about literature. But someone has to explain to me how if all writers stop publishing for free the result will be bigger markets with more paying venues. Show me the math. Lit mags could all roll over dead and the rest of the world wouldn't bat an eyelash.

I'm no economist but this seems to be more about demand than supply. Is the argument that an overabundance of lit journal crap has caused the market for "quality literature" to dry up? How can that be?

Big magazines have shelved fiction because it's not making them much money, or as much as some other kind of writing.

And wait a second: if you're a professional writer, why on earth would you even think of writing fiction? Here's what pros know how to do: what makes them money. So, what's a pro who does something that makes him/her no money?

Vanessa Gebbie said...

'non fic fluff'... is this CNF or whatever 'look at me and my life' writing is called these days? Some of it is good, strong, eye-opening. Some is not. Rather like fiction, I guess.

'What's a pro who does something that makes no money?'

No idea. Pro actors, apart from the glitsy names, have patches of earning, then fallow patches. Have to rely on other income. It doesn't stop them being actors.

Why is everyone round here anonymous? Is it a shameful thing to be debating?

Anonymous said...

LROD, maybe you are part of an emerging trend here. Today Gawker came down hard on Vanity Fair for that mag's latest "graphic novel," er, sexy nude photos by Annie Leibovitz of a 15 year old girl (Miley Cyrus). They even seem to come to the same conclusion you do: "And her narrow, robotically transgressive act has now played itself out. It's time for a new generation of photographers to be let in."

Also: "Another radical notion: the media and its proxies bear some responsibility for what is published."

"It's a matter of very simple decency, and one doesn't have to be a prude, or a conservative, or even someone frustrated with the sheer vapid nature of these things, to steer clear of sexualizing children for the sake of selling more magazines."

"Somebody has to be the adult. Furthermore, the celeb-shocker bit is no longer shocking. It's just wearying. Leibovitz is now firmly entrenched in the establishment, and it's time for some new blood to rush in."

"We just want some new ideas—for the sake of everyone. It's getting boring. And when it involves a 15-year-old kid, it's boring and creepy."

Thank you, Gawker. I have been critical of Gawker before, but this is incredible -- thank you for the honesty and for standing for what's right. Now please consider the same for not just the photographs that Big Media are giving us, but for the text they give us, too. Take a hard look at the articles, and at the messages they're sending, and at who is assigning and publishing this junk (and keeping good fiction out of its pages). And make the same call you did on VF and Leibovitz. It's time for the establishment to step aside, especially considering the kind of things they've been offering us.

Anonymous said...

"But someone has to explain to me how if all writers stop publishing for free the result will be bigger markets with more paying venues. Show me the math. Lit mags could all roll over dead and the rest of the world wouldn't bat an eyelash."

I agree with you. That's why I completely ignore all the non-paying journals and suggest that everyone interested in this does the same. (I personally think some of those journals are actually quite good, and publish worthy material, but that's not the issue -- the issue here is what to do about the lack of commercial markets for fiction.)

The solution to our problem, I think, is to apply pressure to those commercial magazines who could or should be buying fiction. (That, too, is an age-old American tradition.) They say that we don't want anything but very base and simple-minded fluff. That's what they shovel in our faces. They say that fiction is out. Well, it's time to call them on it. And when we do, when enough of us do, that will put them on the defensive. Let them explain themselves. Like the Vanity Fair flap that just happened -- in a few hours now these editors are in a panic. They pulled the photos from their site, they're issuing apologies, they don't know what to do. Now's the time to strike. Let's call them on the way they killed fiction. I think they just got lazy. They don't care about good writing, big ideas, bravery, beautiful writing, thoughtful articles: that's apparent just by leafing through their magazines. I think by calling attention to this, thanks to the Internet and great blogs like LROD, it's putting the pressure on them. Look at the hit counter for this site. I've been watching it. It's not just a few dozen frustrated unknown writers, no way. The major media might not be posting on this blog with their names but with every post that mentions the name of an editor, magazine or agent, this blog is attracting more eyeballs. This was linked in EW and Gawker, among other high profile places. You better believe they're looking.

Vanessa: this explains, for me at least, why anonymity is a necessary must. These people assign me the work that pays my rent. They're also a vindictive bunch and if they saw my name I'd be blacklisted instantly.

Anonymous said...

Quick question: the literature of the past that was so well bought and paid for--wasn't it actually quite homogeneous? Sure, there would be a groundbreaking story from time to time, maybe "The Lottery" got some people fired up. But wasn't it mostly upper-crust WASP culture on display? Or to say it another way, wasn't it bought and paid for by people for whom knowledge of contemporary literature was some kind of snobby social grace?

Anonymous said...

Steve, do you teach 20th century fiction or sumpin? Because you are so not making sense right now.

Vanessa Gebbie said...

I understand the need to be anon. Thanks.

Do you really think you can turn the clock back to the days when the magazines published good, strong fiction as a matter of course? There has to be a reason why it stopped, and the world has turned a few times since then. If the customers are still buying those magazines sans fiction, why do we think the mags need to go to the hassle of reading submissions or soliciting from well knowns?

A few mags take work via agents. Is that likely to change? I'd suggest not.

And do you think it is only the mags that have a role in changing the fiction market? Marketing is sophisticated, targeted and it works. Bookshops are paid to feature books on tables and in windows. Product placement is everywhere.

The world isn't nice and round any more.

Anonymous said...

this blog friggin *rules*

Anonymous said...

And around and around we go. It's like trying to get the Israelis and the Palestinians to settle their differences. Each side is entrenched.
What are the sides? The MFAers (the Insiders) and the non-MFAers (the Outsiders).
We need a way to put the "Literature Is Dead and MFA Writing Killed It" thesis to a test. But since it's all based on opinion, that can't be done.
I do wonder what happened to the sense of shame. Vanessa G. writes that she has a character deflower herself with a spoon. To her it was "fun" and "liberating."
Deflower? I think the second definition in my American Heritage is relevant to this discussion.
Deflower: To destroy the innocence, integrity or beauty of; ravage.

Anonymous said...

Uh...I'm pretty sure she was being sarcastic.

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Uh... actually, to make matters worse, it was an apostle spoon. So she deflowered herself with St Peter.

Now I suppose we'll be excommunicated?

Anonymous said...

So Vanessa G. wasn't being sarcastic, was she?
And haven't all forms of entertainment become dominated by the smarmy, the disgusting, the violent, the imbecilic, the shocking, the bizzare?
When it has arty pretensions it's called "strong, eye-opening." Words like that.
I don't read what's current -- I had enough. Every once in a while I'll check something out, and I'm mostly unimpressed. So I ignore all you published writers -- you've earned the ultimate rejection from me: I don't care what you have to say.

Anonymous said...

And yet you keep talking.

z said...

With a reading public having the attention span of a flea, there is no reason for commercial publications to ever publish fiction again, for it will always require focused attention and concentration.

As far as not writing for free, that only guarantees that the upper classes get their voices heard, as they will always be able to "afford" to write for free. The rest of us, who work day jobs, will always have to struggle to get published, free or not. And if you're a fiction story writer, what venue is there for payment anyway? Most fiction writers would pay to see their stories in print -- and do when they enter those ubiquitous contests.

As for Stever's snooty put-down of anon's heartful rant: psychotherapy is about changing yourself, anon is talking about changing the literary world. He's an idealist and purist and deserves respect. And telling him to get an MFA when he's already said he's not rich enough ignores the reality that these programs are increasingly prohibitive in cost, without much more benefit than you can get from a couple of years spent in the public library.

Steve said...

You gotta change yourself before you change the world. That's why I suggested an MFA. You can get cheap student loans, work as a TA and interact with the kinds of people who can better your writing. The worst thing you can do, if you *really* want to change things is piss and moan about it. Call that snooty if you want. I'd call it a plan of action.

Anonymous said...

I got my M.F.A. for free, or close to it, and I know that there are many good programs that offer excellent financial aid to its students. That's not to say that one *should* get an MFA--but the argument that only rich kids get advanced degrees in creative writing is false. It's also untrue that people with MFAs are suddenly inside some elitist world of non-rejection. I wish.

If I want to read a short story in a magazine, I read the New Yorker, or Tin House, or McSweeneys, or One Story, or Meridian, or American Short Fiction, or 9th Letter, or the Georgia Review, and so on. If I want to see celebrities galavanting and read about the latest trends, I'll read Vogue. If I want a long article on the Kennedys, or some Christopher Hitchens nonsense, I'll read Vanity Fair. In the same evening I'll read US Weekly and Robert Bolano's The Savage Detectives, and that cocktail of reading feels good to me.

I understand about wanting to be paid for your writing. But I'd write no matter if I got paid or not. If you're doing it for the money alone, why not do something else?

Anonymous said...

So true. There are a heckuva lot easier ways to make a buck. Can't squeeze blood from a turnip.

z said...

As far as I know, of all the journals you mentioned, the New Yorker is the only one that pays (well), but usually publishes big names and almost never accepts slush. So besides the New Yorker, where else can one get paid decently to publish short stories?

And once one is no longer a young student out of college and instead an adult having to work full-time and maybe support a family, the MFA choices tend to be limited to low-residency and they are not free and their costs tend to be prohibitive, if not exploitative of everyone's desire to be a writer. And their quality is often inversely correlated to their cost.
And you're right, it's no guarantee of anything.

Just a thought. Or two.

Anonymous said...

Everybody's got choices to make and none of it is fair. It's never going to be fair. Not who gets published, paid or praised. In fact, it's going to be a frickin' outrage against human decency and taste. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be. Rejection without end. Amen, amen. Yet, by Godfrey, are you going to get out there and write something or aren't you!?! Personally, I'm sick of this: I'm not rich, I can't write. I'm not young, I can't go get an MFA. There's no places for me to publish. No one will see what a genius I am and no one will love me. Meh. And let me give you a quote from the great Katherine Anne Porter: "Too many artists want to be middle class." There are far greater problems in this world than the unpaid American writer. Perhaps if we got to work on some of them--even if that means writing passionately and for the love of it (first and foremost)--we could generate the kind of material people would be willing and desirous to actually pay for.

z said...

I love it. A surly idealist.

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Gloria, you say, 'most writers would pay to wee their work in print...' etc.

I can't say Ive met many of those.
The ones I know who enter literary short fiction competitions do so in the faint chance that they might actually earn something, for, as has been pointed out here, so many places don't pay. And of course, if you are lucky enough to hit, you'll also get read. And that for some of us, is as important.

Why write unless you want your work read?

The thread does seem to be veering about. But to bring it back to one of the initial questions..., can anyone see a reason for the non paying mags to start paying? And speaking as the editor of a non paying (albeit tiny and specialist magazine), how exactly would they do that?

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Oh my typing! apologies.
and a wonderful accidental description of writers writing rubbish..

'wee their work in print'

Anonymous said...

Of course writers should always write for love. It shows in their work if they don't. Most writers have to have a day job, unless they've got a well-off spouse able to take care of them, so it's not beyond the realms of possibility that a writer could only work for pay. I'm not talking big pay days. Some markets only give a few dollars plus contributor copies, but they're still respecting their writers enough to pay them for their work.

The non-paying ezines are no more than showcase sites. Yes, some might have their own standards and high rejection rates, but that doesn't mean that what they publish is worth reading beyond a small spectrum of society eg. those who want to be in them and who share their world view. The same goes for non-paying small press lit mags, only their editors can't or won't admit that they're publishing stuff that few people want to read.

There are paying markets out there. The genre markets are bustling. It's a pity every writer wants to be Carver or Bellows and then does a crap job of it.

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Bellows? Oh that windbag...


Whereas I share your frustration that fiction writers have to work for free in order to get a toehold, these days, I'm not sure that censoring all small outlets would be a good thing. How would they get those toeholds?

Is the fact that something is not read or seen by millions a reason for it not to exist? Should we ban tiny art galleries which only attract a few viewers? Art house small budget films?

I'm glad all the outlets are there. Big and small. Long-lived and short-lived. It gives the consumers and the producers a choice.

The middlemen will always seek to bend the curve to their own advantage.

Anonymous said...

I wasn't suggesting shutting these smaller markets down. I was suggesting that writers recognise them for what they are. Though I see from your blog that you don't feel the same way about small writing competitions, Vanessa. You're quite scathing of those, even though they also give writers a toehold.

If there's to be a writers' manifesto it should be that we don't give away work for free, not that we boycott the magazines who, despite what writers would like to think, are only giving readers what they want. They know who buys their magazines and what these readers expect and want from the publication. Perhaps that's something we should bear in mind, if we do want our work to be read by others. If not, and writers truly are writing just for themselves and for the love of it, then just write, put it in a drawer for your grandkids to find, and shut up moaning about how unfair it all is.

z said...

To clarify: I only write for love, I never get paid. I also never enter contests because I view that as paying to get published, since the chances of winning are about as great as buying a lottery ticket. I also don't buy lottery tickets. I want my writing read. I do submit to non-paying venues and have been published there for not a cent and I keep writing because I believe, as surly idealist does, that writing can change the world, and there is a heck of a lot more important issues in the world than writers getting paid. It is very easy to veer off topic and get misunderstood on these long rambling posts. To bad we can't all sit around a big table at a pub or big Italian dinner and have at it. Ah, the beauty and the limits of the internet.

Anonymous said...

"There are far greater problems in this world than the unpaid American writer."

Admit it, you're a teacher. I bet you like to say that you write for the "love" of it. This makes you feel superior to those who have to scramble to make a buck. And especially to those idealists who happen to notice that certain things were better in the past, that for all our computers and medical advances a lot of things are lousy today, are getting worse, and so we're trying to do something about it. The very fact this writer put out this rant in a high-profile blog, well that's going to inspire others. LROD has been very inspiring to me -- I can't think of many things in my whole writing life that has been more inspiring than this blog. Why? Because in the face of all this crap (that the MFA/academic culture engenders), in the face of the junk that's out in the commercial magazines, I know that there are others out there who feel as I do and are not afraid to speak their minds. Even when people like you (a teacher, most likely) give us your venom and hate and try to shut us up, stand in our way when we're out here voicing our greivances and trying to band together and do something about it. Well I've got news for your mister, we're not going to let you and your merry band of self-satisfied, effete lit'rary types push us around. I'll take the original poster up on this. Instead of queries I'll be writing complaints, and I'll call these magazines for what they are. I'll talk about their disgusting articles in public, and I'll contact their advertisers. I'll question their content. And I'll keep writing what I believe is good fiction, the best writing that I can. And if enough of us do this, as I believe we will, there is going to be a big change coming.

Anonymous said...

Vanessa, I think small mags have to be more choosy. They should take advertising. And if they publish material that people actually want to read, people will buy their magazine. If it's a web magazine, people will link it and read it and they'll sell more online ads. And some of that ad money should go to paying the writers.

Anyone can start a "journal." You have to pay the printer, you have to pay the ISP. But the first thing you have to pay is the producers of the content you print. These journals decided that they don't have to do that, and as a result they aren't going to get the best work out there. So if someone decides to start paying the content producers just as they pay the ISP, the domain provider, the graphic designers and web programmers (well, from the designs and layouts of most online "journals" you can tell they didn't pay much for these either), and the printers and whatnot, then there will be a good change. But it takes a bit more effort, and more time with a business plan. These journals don't do that, which is why they're so half-assed.

Anonymous said...

You omit an important point. You mention Esquire Magazine's infamous Heath Ledger story, and call it "crap."

Crap it may be, but there is (imho) an even more important point to bring up about this story, and all the stories in Esquire Magazine (and for all I know, in all the other top paying commercial magazines). That is the fact that the story was ***assigned***. We could never have our stories in the magazine by sending in over the transom. This appears to be the m.o. of EIC David Granger and fiction editor Tom Chiarella. I think the same applied in the Adrienne Miller days but haven't checked into that. They are doing the same now with letter inspired fiction: they pull a line from a reader mail and give it to a writer to construct a story around. A juvenile idea that makes me feel icky inside? Yes, like an assignment on "creativity" in a grade school English class, how dumb. Are the results crap? I think so. But we could never contribute anyway because we are not given the out of context line of reader mail: these stories are ***assigned***. The same applies to the napkin fiction project that has been featured in the magazine for so long. The EIC sent out Esquire cocktail napkins to like a hundred writers with the request that the write a flash fiction story on the napkin. Again, the idea seems juvenile, even infantile -- how dumb. And the results? I do believe they are mostly crap. The ones I read would surely have been rejected from Smokelong Quarterly, Vestal Review, Kenyon Review, Virginia Quarterly Review and any other journal who takes flash. I do believe that. (Maybe some of these editors can comment.) But the most important point that you missed is this: we can't contribute to this project since the stories were ***assigned.***

I know that the recent post on cronyism dealt with this subject, but here is a concrete example of it in the context of the fiction that is appearing in the commerical magazines. I think that any overarching manifesto you might eventually come up with should include this issue.

Anonymous said...


I don't feel superior to anybody who has to scramble to make a buck. I'm just saying that if you do have to scramble to make a buck, there's a hell of a lot easier ways to do it than by writing fiction. That's just a practical concern--not venom, not hate.

I'm also saying that writing that comes out of necessity (economic, perhaps, but also perhaps the necessity of writing the stories that keep one from putting a bullet in one's brain) are what will move fiction in the direction of what people would be willing to pay for.

Also, I think you ought to be inspired by this blog, because every writer--teacher or not, connected or not--experiences the heavy hand of rejection. If you write and send out, you get rejected. My hate and vitriol is for the folks who feel as though they are owed something for their blood, sweat and tears. They're not. The real reward of the activity--and sorry to sound like a teacher or some holier-than-thou here--is the way it changes you, opens you up, deepens your experience. To create in the face of oblivion, to create with no reward in mind--that makes your writing a gift. Faulkner wrote AS I LAY DYING while working the night shift--because he was trying to make some money. Because you could make some money from writing back then. But do you doubt for a second the man's commitment to writing about his obsessions? It was that commitment and the subsequent work that such a commitment produced that gave us books worth buying.

Anonymous said...

P.S.--When did it become such a bad thing to be a teacher?

z said...

TimothyS: I'm confused. Was that post addressed to me? I'm not a mister nor and teacher and I struggle to earn a buck like anyone else and I only mentioned my love of writing because another blogger implied that wasn't my motive. I've been totally supportive since the beginnings of my comments of people who want to make changes. I believe in unions. I believe writers should organize. Just not me. Sheesh, it's so easy to be misunderstood here, LROD. I think a little more moderation and clarification by you would be more helpful, unless you enjoy the mudslinging too much, which I view as nonproductive venting of venom for no good reason and which gives me a love-hate relationship to this blog.

z said...

OK, here's an idea. You writers who want change want to put your money where your mouth is? Start a creative writers organization that follows the money. Many journals are minimally bankrolled by universities with enormous endowments. Why aren't the journals demanding a bigger slice of the endowment pied to pay the writers that enhance the PR prestige of the university? What about Zoetrope, run by a major film company that pays millions to actors: think of how much in reality they really could afford to pay writers. Any accountants in the crowd? Private investigators? Legal specialists. This is no joke, writers are totally taken advantage of because we are so sycophantically grateful to be published at all and have accepted the fact that we will never, ever, live off our finest work. The money is there, it's just not being allocated to us! I don't expect that to change in my lifetime, but you young energizer bunnies, run with it.

Writer, Rejected said...

Would love to, Gloria. But busy at my day job and then trying to finish a writing project so I can send out and get more rejections to feed the hungry blog. A rejected writer's work is never done!
But, yes, confusion abounds. All you anonymice, take a name here please. Otherwise, play nice children.

Anonymous said...

Where is Dave Clapper and Kelly Spitzer? I noticed they haven't said anything. The whole manifesto was addressed to Dave. Surely he read it? Good points were raised and I for one would like to see their reactions and ideas to them.

Dave Clapper said...

Sorry, just now saw this post. I think the original post is great, as are many... hell, most... of the comments. I totally appreciate where the original writer is coming from.

I used to act for a living. The kind of theater I most enjoyed doing paid crap, if at all. The kind of theater that paid well was awful, total lowest common denominator stuff, like doing "Married with Children" on stage. But I did both, one to feed my soul, and one to feed my belly.

My feeling is that it's a great thing to make a living as a writer, if one can. But if what one has to write to feed the belly is so soul-deadening as to make writing a chore, just another miserable nine-to-five job, isn't it in the best interests of the writer to do some writing that keeps the soul from dying out entirely? Keep it in a drawer if your insistence is to be paid a dollar a word, or send it out to lower- or non-paying gigs if you want your words read.

My own personal choice as a writer is that I already have a nine-to-five job (that I'm fortunate to like well enough). I don't particularly care to take a passion such as writing and turn it into something mundane. So I write what I want to write, with the understanding that the market ain't gonna pay me much for it, much as I'd like it to. Every other writer is more than free to choose what's right for him or her.

(On a total tangent, I totally agree with the issues anonymous posting cause. I have no problem with people remaining anonymous, and totally understand the reasons for it, but could the various anonymice at least come up with pseudonyms so we can speak to each person individually, without fear of confusing their messages with one another? Surely, a John Doe, or a Passionate Freelancer pseudonym wouldn't violate the anonymity?)

Vanessa Gebbie said...

To anonymous, many posts up (re small competitions)

yes, I am less than happy about some small 'compeititons'.

Why? because I have been stung in several ways. I have had entry money taken in the past by 'literary short story competitions' which advertise heavily on reputable websites, never publish any results, and never return the entry fees. One such was based in Brighton, UK.

I resent writers being defrauded like that.

And other 'competitions' run by tiny outfits that turn out to be wee writing groups full of well-meaning unpublished writers, where to 'win' means absolutely nothing.

That's not a 'toehold', anon, it is a chimera.

z said...

John Silber, former president of Boston University, made over five million a year in office. This year, Boston University is upgrading luxury dorms to draw more upscale students. Agni is published out of B.U. once a year. They don't have money to pay their writers? The whole issue would cost less than half an academic's salary. I really am not looking for an income from writing, as I have a whole separate full-time profession. I don't need the income. It's the fairness and validation issue. It's the lack of valuing the arts. What painter would be asked to give away her art for free? I don't know, I'm writing anyway, no matter what, but the values of where this society chooses to put its money, as we all know, suck. Guns and bullets over food and housing and art for the soul.

And yes, why aren't Anonymice creative enough to come up with Superhero names or something. This Anonymous business is such a cliche.

Anonymous said...

Gloria, I think you're on to something. While the litmags always complain about being on a shoestring budget, that might not apply to the university-run mags, such as BU's AGNI. Interesting that you used that as an example: remember the guy who posted on here looking to buy a magazine that had stories? He couldn't find AGNI anywhere, and even contacted AGNI several times about it and they didn't reply to him. I don't know, I don't think you can expect a university journal to have the same distribution, sales and customer service departments that a commercial magazine would have. That again is part of the problem.

x said...

Still, think how much a university would have to pay a public relations firm for the same amount of class and cache to exhibit to, say, visiting parents on college tours. Also, if distribution is so low, there is also no reason for them not to post issues on line, which is also PR, and which Agni does to some minimal extent. They would counter that they can't get the budget because all the shoestrings aren't paying writers, why should the university bother. It's an ethical issue for the journal editors to fight with their deans. Writer Reading: you really should push this issue a little farther on your blog. There's a foot in the door here.

Anonymous said...

Read over these posts, to my mind there are a few different issues being raised here:

* Academic journals sponsored and run by universities are not playing fair (or smart): if they have low circulation, there's no reason why they can't publish everything on the web, make the print copies an extra souvenir or sentimental type bonus or even stop print altogether; certainly pay their writers just as they pay the printers and make it a point that they do so or do not publish. Paying pro rates of $1/word or more is a drop in the bucket for them. If you can't pay, then stop publishing until you can! Make it a moral issue - fairness to the working writer. That the university can't stand exploiting writers. Combine with other struggling journals at other schools then if you can't get funding; but whatever you do, pay the writers. So pressure on universities to pay writers and improve distribution (or place it all on the web).

* Commercial magazines are lost on gimmicks and making the lowest common denominator even lower than it is. They largely ignore fiction or assign "cute" sound bite stories. So, pressure on the commercial editors to print more work of substance, especially fiction.

* Demands of exclusive submission are wrong and exploitative when they take months, even years, tying up work and coming with no response but form letters. Exclusivity should only be honored for paying journals that reply in a timely manner, so list out those journals that demand exclusive and don't pay or take unreasonable amounts of time, and state that no writer should follow the rule of exclusivity for them. Even The New Yorker is amiss here, what with waits of a year or more.

* Non-academic non-commercial magazines like Smokelong Quarterly can't pay, but they can have useful toehold for the struggling writer. So if they recognize the issues addressed here, maybe some kind of solidarity with all of these complaints?

* There is some kind of spoken or unspoken divide between academics and non-academics. Do some journals really prefer writers with MFAs, or even teachers as some posts contend? Maybe list out some contents of these journals and see. If true, call them on it. If false, take it back and shut up already.

* Agents today are mostly shallow and without taste, certainly without Amanda Urban level ambition. So why do we even need them? Pressure on publishers to look at unagented manuscripts?

* This blog is getting quite popular. Not an issue but how much longer can they keep ignoring what's being publicly stated here? The silence is deafening.

What I would do is list some names, maybe invite some to comment. I would amplify this. The Esquire examples were great. So is the example of AGNI. I'd love to see some response to this stuff. Call them to task, name some names. Let them defend their position (or consider changing it). Wonder if they would care to comment? After all, they're committed to literature. This is a big issue, raised in a high profile blog. How could they possibly refuse?

Dave Clapper said...

* Non-academic non-commercial magazines like Smokelong Quarterly can't pay, but they can have useful toehold for the struggling writer. So if they recognize the issues addressed here, maybe some kind of solidarity with all of these complaints?

Yes. Many of these very issues factored into why SmokeLong was started in the first place. And I suspect the same holds true for any number of other non-acad/non-comm publications.

Anonymous said...

The problem is we're moving into a post-literate age. Mass literacy will be seen as a historical fluke, a pause in the oral culture that now has the technologial means to continue its predominance.

JohnFox said...

Timothy S., Gloria, and LA Poet,

All of you address what would be ideal in a university-based lit journal. Unfortunately, you have such wonderfully high expectations it's obvious none of you have ever edited one. I have. I started one for the University of Southern California. It's an enormous amount of work, and the university supports us, but not so much that we can pay our writers. In fact, shouldn't the first payment go to the editors? Because they are the ones who create the entire journal, without with there would be no journal. You say that writers should do it for money, not for love: well, many editors are doing it for the love, not the money.

Would it be great to pay our writers? Absolutely. Are all three of you radically oversimplifying the process by which we could squeeze money out the university, who operates like a business and has little to no incentive to give our program or our journal any more than it already gives it? Absolutely. There is a difference here between the ideal and the real, and the in the real world, fundraising plays a HUGE part in the journal monies, and university funding is often not the main support, even for a Uni lit journal. But for fundraising, I would need to devote myself full-time to the journal, not part-time, which I can't do because I have to work because I don't get paid for the journal. Because if they paid the editors, they could raise money, and then that money could go toward paying the writers. But we're talking about years and years of work, and to cheapen or oversimplify the process by just demanding WRITERS should be PAID overlooks the actual process by which this happens.

JohnFox said...

Oh, and Gloria and LA Poet, you're looking at the money from a bird's eye perspective "It's just a drop in the bucket" and "huge endowments." You see the "university" from far away and say, "Hey, they have TONS of money, why can't they send some of it our way?" Don't you realize that every single part of the institution says the same thing? That every department has some need that they want funded? If you look at the money from the ground, all the monies are allocated, and it's very difficult to fight for money. And when you're fighting for money to Deans, they're all business. Why should they fund the journal anything more than barely necessary. The editor can talk about PR, can talk about improving the reputation, etc, but this often falls on fairly deaf ears. Many are not artists, they are business men/women. And monies for a lit journal are kept low.

Steve said...


you breathe a refeshing bit 'o reality into this discussion. thank you. i think that if more writers understood the system from the inside out (and, to be fair, it seems like many on this blog do) we might have a better chance at directing our energies toward something that could actually make a difference.

Anonymous said...

johnfox: "well, many editors are doing it for the love, not the money."

Can you give us the name of *one* editor in chief at a university-run journal whose unpaid job is *not* listed on that editor's cv?

Just *one* example?

Johnfox, if the university knew it could get away with making English professors work for free, it would. Because it's smart. This is business. You're saying that writers don't have to be paid for their work; I say that's unbelievable and wrong. The university has to pay its English profs or it would lose its English department overnight. There is *no reason* why it shouldn't pay writers of its journal. Your university, does it have an alumni journal? Does it have a PR or news type journal? An annual mailing? A magazine? Yes, and who writes for these things? Are they paid? Is the printer paid? Are the graphic designers paid? Is the post office paid when you mail out the journal? WTF's the difference?

We're radically oversimplifying nothing, except the fact that this is lousy time period in this nation's history, and literature has taken a major hit. These lousy universities exploit writers who are desperate for an audience. I say boycott them.

Gloria is totally right. These universities have the dough to pay writers *and* editors. They also have the dough to support a journal like SmokeLong Quarterly. The money is out there. There is no money shortage. How much do the Deans make? How much do the English profs make? A dollar a word, for a single issue, how much is that? A drop in the bucket. And one of the most important things that could be done now is for writers to boycott non-paying academic journals. Contact the Authors Guild and NWU for additional publicity, because they would support such a boycott.

Steve said...

Aren't the writers for alumni magazines often students working for free as interns?

Anonymous said...

Steve, these are mostly paid positions. Depends on the college I'm sure, but they all employ writers for their various pubs. Just not the lit journals I guess. Any exceptions? VQR, I think. And surely some others.

Anyway, people complain about the pay but I think the issue is more than that. Distribution's largely ignored. So you're paid for your poems, but will it matter if nobody can find the magazine? Most of these journals aren't even in the big Barnes & Nobles and Borders of the world.

I say forget the journals completely, go for the web. It's time.

Anonymous said...

Doesn't the whole world want to be paid for doing what they love? Wouldn't my mom love to be paid for her passion in gardening? Wouldn't my boyfriend love to be paid for his painting? At my office 9-5, no one is doing what they love but they have to eat just like writers.

I have a MFA. I'm a working class black girl who happened to have found an inexpensive program and was young enough to have had the time, but it didn't give me insider status and I can show you my boxes of rejection letters.

I doubt the old days of Saturday Evening Post would publish my fiction since it focuses on the politics of race and class in a non-Norman Rockwell way. At least in these days, the fiction market is open to more diverse voices.

Lastly, Annie Leibowitz is an artist. She's interested in creating art. When she starts taking photos for Us Weekly then I'll believe she has sold out.

Anonymous said...

"Doesn't the whole world want to be paid for doing what they love? Wouldn't my mom love to be paid for her passion in gardening? Wouldn't my boyfriend love to be paid for his painting?"

Samantha, thank you for your valuable and educational post.

You are the problem. Thank you for giving us such a great example.

Look at you. You went out to get an MFA in writing, and you come here to equate such work with your mother's gardening hobby.

"At least in these days, the fiction market is open to more diverse voices."

Not really, Samantha. Do you equate "diversity" so something so skin-deep as race and ethnicity? In the SEP heyday the USA had a much more cohesive culture, as do some of the greater nations today (just not the US or those in western Europe). If it's so much more "diverse" today, then why can't stories with certain racial and ethnic types get published? Quotas? Guilt? Just try getting something published that isn't talking the PC party line.

Norman Rockwell, by the way, was one of the greatest artists the American nation has produced. If his race were different and he were working in some other nation in some other time, you would probably fetishize his work.

And if having your work to US Weekly as opposed to Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair means you've sold out, then honey I've sold out years ago. But it's not a hobby, like your mother's after work gardening. It's my job. And I didn't waste time and money getting an MFA to get this gig.

Unknown said...

The statement "The ones that killed the short story, and subsequently killed literature."
That is NOT true. Literature, if defined as a written body of art, was ONLY reserved for long stories, example The Iliad the Odyssey, et al. The short stories were transmitted orally in the earlier societies. In our fast paced world, one would think that the short story will be king. (Easy to read in commuting time) But it's not the case. Do not blame the editors, this is due to the lack of quality of many of the anthologies you'll find around. To pay the full price of a book just to get two or three stories that are readable. That is a shame.