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Dan Wickett

Thanks Gina.

I too anticipate Stations West as the condensed version, or chapter, published in One Story was fantastic.

An imprint???? I think I'll stick to the blogging and the new story contest for now, thanks.

It is frightening though, knowing there's a list of many, many that I'd be asking to see their full manuscripts within an hour of making such a decision though, and Allison Amend would be right at the top of that list.

Allison Amend

Dear Gina,
I would never disown someone who said such flattering things about me! Unfortunately, your theory that my fiction is cerebral and therefore too radical for mainstream publishing to take a chance on goes against my theory that I suck, and that all this time any accolades or publishing opportunities were presented to me out of pity. (Yes, I’m aware that this makes no logical sense.) Your theory is compelling, however, if only for the reason that all meetings I had with mainstream potential publishers (and there were a couple, with apparently the sole aim of maximizing my later disappointment when they “passed”) consisted of the editor floating such asinine ideas as: “Your book really needs a female protagonist. Women buy books, and they like to read about other women.” and “What if instead of your novel spanning 130 years, it spanned only 5?” “Would you consider cutting the last 250 pages and rewriting them?” “I just didn’t fall in love with the main characters.”
You can’t really blame publishers, though. Or publisher (are we now down to one?). They are a business, not a grant organization. If anything, they are guilty of underestimating the public, though no one ever went broke underestimating the American public. I feel like screaming, however: Do you not understand that my mother, despairing of my ever getting married, will spend every penny she saved for my wedding to buy all extant copies of my novel? I feel like showing them the list: college dormmates, 75 copies; former students, 130 copies; relatives, 213 copies, etc. I will stand on a street corner in a sandwich board hawking copies of the novel (I’ve done it for someone else’s book for a mere $200. There’s really not much more humiliation left.).
So my devoted, beleaguered agent and I are on to small presses. I adore small presses. I would be thrilled to see my novel Stations West emerge from small press’s loins. The only problem is that small presses offer no money. Money right now means time to write. Up until now, I’ve survived on freelance and teaching gigs and the generosity of deceased grandparents. I have a composition teaching job that I enjoy that almost covers my mortgage. I earn my ramen noodle money from various writing-for-hire gigs (the literary equivalent of working in a hot-dog stand). Between teaching, freelance, and regular life (gym, dating, friends, staring out the window morosely), I have no time to write. When I do have time, I lack inclination. So if book=money and money=time and time=writing and writing=book published and book published=better teaching job that pays a living wage and doesn’t require a 1 hour commute each way and constant vigilance for plagiarizing nincompoops, then I need a book.
Every time I get too angry at mainstream publishing, I think about what it has done for my friends and classmates: Thisbe Nissen, ZZ Packer, Adam Haslett, Justin Tussing, Sarah Bynum, Curtis Sittenfeld et al. My book, Stations West, might not be better than theirs (I’d wager that it isn’t), but it certainly isn’t worse than much of the schlock I see on airport newsstand shelves. In a postmodern paraphrase of Popeye’s reductive syllogism: it is what it is.
But thank you, Gina, even if your enthusiasm can be explained by hormonal surges. I appreciate the vote of confidence (or the expression of despair). If anyone would like a copy of Stations West, I’m selling it in manuscript form: $4.50 for 10 point font, $6.00 for 12-point. For an extra $2.50, I’ll throw in my first failed novel, and for $10.00, you get the complete works of Allison Amend: short story collection, novella, two novels. Plus shipping and handling. All sales final.

Kelly Zavala

Poor Allison... I would buy it! All of it! What can I say, I'm a sucker for amazing writers who never get published. Perhaps, though, this stems from the desperate desire that someday someone will publish something of mine other than a book review. One can only hope.
Most of this is new to me, all over my head, as I am only being introduced to the whole literary world, and even then, mere pieces at a time. I must be one of the few then who enjoys whole-heartedly short story collections... sometimes more than whole novels. My first intro to them was Elizabeth Crane's "When the Messenger was Hot," not to long ago, and I don't think I'll ever go back. It's one thing to follow a single set of characters throughout a novel, and another thing entirely to be shown pieces of different character's lives, and to want to show them around the world, pointing and screaming at the top of your lungs, "Look at this! How can you pass this beautiful moment by?"
But maybe I'm being dramatic. When "Stations West" and the short story collection come out (because they both will, I feel certain of it, even not knowing anything of them... Gina's confidence says worlds to me), I would like to be among the first to purchase and peruse them.



This is a perceptive post, and I agree with just about everything, but I think your point about Kundera and Doctorow having trouble getting their books published is probably the most important point you are making.

I would think, though, that Ragtime would probably interest publishers a lot. But Doctorow's first book was Welcome to Hard Times, written in the late Fifties and published in 1960, a good fifteen years before Ragtime, Doctorow's "breakthrough" book and his fourth book.

Would the publishing industry today stay with a writer until he or she achieved a "breakthrough" book like Ragtime? Would Doctorow have been able to even get to his third book, the National Book Award nominee The Book of Daniel, based on his earlier Bookscan numbers?

I wonder what my friend Doctorow would think.

Had he not gotten published, would have he have thought he sucked as a writer?

I mentioned "Doctorow" last month to someone, and she assumed I meant Cory.

Sheila Amend

WOW! what nice things to read. I think that Gina is dead on and I will add to this discussion, that as I am reading THE ADVENTURES OF AUGIE MARCH by Saul Bellow, which won a National Book Award when it came out in 1953, would not get published today. It is wordy and the action is muted (although there is a lot of action), and it is difficult reading. It is not the page turner that even SHADOWS OF THE WIND is, and yet there is something to sustain the soul---something inexpressively human in it.

Anyway, you are probably sick of reading and thinking about this--but I love you and wanted to contribute to the discussion. I'll talk to you this weekend.

Much love,
(Allison's Mom)

Cliff Garstang

This is a terrific discussion, and I think there are plenty of examples of fabulous work that would have a find time getting into print today. Under the Volcano is one that I recently read--mind blowing, but unwieldy and, for most modern readers, probably unreadable. Many of us want access to the new quality work; so what's the solution?

Carol Novack

Thanks, Gina --
I rave on about what I'd consider similar issues in my interview as a web mag editor: http://webdelsol.com/PortalDelSol/pds-interview-mhr.htm. Now I really want to read writings by Allison. The salient remarks (whether anyone agrees with all of them) are here:

CPR: Okay, I have to know. "Paper or Electronic" -- which form do you think has most credibility? What form thrusts a writer's work into the great "out there" and gets it read by the right people, like agents and publishers?

CN: I think that both forms have equal "credibility," though the "establishment" is still pushing the concept that print magazines are innately superior to webzines. This makes no sense for various reasons, one being that there are incredible writers published on the Web and e-zines can offer so much more than print magazines, in terms of innovative multimedia presentations, exciting collaborations, virtually unlimited space and expandability. (Ok, so you can't get into bed and cuddle up with a warm webzine.) Imagine MHR as a print mag – the cost of reproducing the glorious artworks would be prohibitive. And we'd have to include a CD of the music, but how would one manage easily to play simultaneously the recitation or music made for the text one were reading? And what of our animated art and movies? One can't reproduce them in print! The integrated visual and audio experiences presented online would be impossible to duplicate in a print mag.

Agents do read Internet magazines; I'd wager that some actually scout webzines for talent. I was contacted by an agent who'd read one of my quirky comic pieces in an online magazine. In fact, the agent encouraged me to write a novel based on the characters in that piece, but he also urged me to seek publication of my stories in well-known print magazines in order to impress putative publishers of the putative novel. So okay, it seems likely that in general the big publishers and agents want print credits from their authors. There's this snobbish perspective that print publications are superior to online publications, and there's this crazy "top tier" approach most writers buy into – e.g., better to publish in The New Yorker or Harper's than literary magazines such Mississippi Review; better Ploughshares than Conjunctions, Tin House than New England Review; better Wanky Dink (stapled print magazine published by the Ohoochitaha County Poetry Society) than 5_Trope. One sees the same "successful" authors over and over again in the "top" publications, rarely the innovative/risk-taking writers, but the tried and true, the ones who are selling. "We welcome innovative/experimental writers" is most frequently a sad joke.

Writers are tripping over themselves in order to get into top tier print magazines -- if not the top tier than the next to top or the next to the next to the top and so on ad nauseum and absurdum – that's the reigning mentality in this brutally competitive field, and most of us succumb to this mode of conventional thinking. Most people want to write like well-published X and Y, with their perfectly crafted characters, arcs, plots, and resolutions, or maybe like B and C, those awfully witty, stylish boys and gals so popular at readings. Few print mags pay well, and pay is supposedly an incentive. But how many writers of fiction and poetry make decent incomes from publishing in magazines that pay? Hell, I'd love to pay my contributors more than the token the usual "paying" print (or occasional online) magazine offers to include itself as a member of the "paying" market. Instead, we give our contributors custom-made art and music, a nice fat bio with pics, and global exposure. Our artists and musicians also benefit, exposure-wise, from the collaborative package. One volunteer artist's collage was accepted into a juried international show.

Just think how much exposure a writer gets when s/he publishes online. People from all over the world can access her work. Compare the potential readership to that of even the most prestigious literary (print) magazine and the reasonably popular or well-known webzine obviously wins hands down.

Judging by the Best Seller lists and ads in Barnes and Nobles windows, the vast majority of publishers and agents are going for memoirs -- memoirs are the latest craze. Those "right" people are following their green noses, looking for comic pop novels and heartbreak tales that will appeal to the literate masses. Hardly surprising for business people. They're certainly not going for innovative, surprising, and intellectually challenging fiction like Raymond Federman's (we're featuring him, and also presenting translations of avant-garde French poets). And lyrical/rhythm and image-driven prose? What's that? Thank goodness for Dalkey Archive, the FC2 Collective, and the other quality independent presses out there ( e.g. Ravenna Press and Ugly Duckling Presse), that print books by unconventional writers as a labor of love. Actually, I'm hard pressed to figure out what print or online zines consistently demonstrate a love of narrative prose that focuses on lyricism or rich imagery rather than STORY. How many of those sought after print zines would publish an unknown Robbe-Grillet, Stein, or Borges?

So what's the future? I believe that as long as the telephone monopolies in the USA aren't permitted to charge people for every click, USA-based Internet art and literary zine will thrive and become more and more accepted as credible publications that offer top quality creations. If monopolies win out over here, webzines in other countries will thrive without much of an American audience.

jai Clare

Hi Gina

This was great to read. I've been going on about this sort of thing on my blog for some time out I am always impressed and pleased ~(in strange way) to see publishers/editors seeing it the same way. Many thanks and for introducing me to a writer I haven't read before

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