“Such are the perfections of fiction...Everything it teaches is useless insofar as structuring your life: you can’t prop up anything with fiction. It, in fact, teaches you just that. That in order to attempt to employ its specific wisdom is a sign of madness...There is more profit in an hour’s talk with Billy Graham than in a reading of Joyce. Graham might conceivably make you sick, so that you might move, go somewhere to get well. But Joyce just sends you out into the street, where the world goes on, solid as a bus. If you met Joyce and said 'Help me,' he’d hand you a copy of Finnegans Wake. You could both cry.” – Gilbert Sorrentino, Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things

Thursday, March 3, 2011

LIterary Links: Big News from Dead Authors

  • Once again, I'm late with Bolano news. Apparently, Bolano's novel, The Third Reich, will be serialised over four issues of the Paris Review. So, the good news is that there's a new Bolano novel, but the bad news is that you'll have to buy the Paris Review to read it.
  • Oh yeah, that Patrick White guy also has a new novel coming out. Wow, this has been a prolific few weeks for dead authors.
  • Harper Collins has written an open letter to librarians about their proposed 26-week licenses for ebooks. First of all, I think it's nice that Harper has decided to write a letter to librarians, because I think librarians would like letters (they seem like the type). Second, if you have no idea what any of this means, you can read this article that explains the background.
  • OK, so few things annoy me more than the current trend to use neuroscience as the alleged basis to make wild and wholly unsubstantiated claims about anything and everything. Exhibit A is Nicholas Carr's essay 'Is Google Making Us Stupid' (turned into the book The Shallows), which, when interpolated in the larger media, largely seems to offer baby boomers the opportunity not only to argue that younger people are distracted, stupid and lazy, but also that their distractedness, stupidity and laziness can now be scientifically proven. Wonderful. This article--while not attacking this particular form of madness--at least points out how illegitimate many extrapolations from neuroscience are. Which, of course, isn't even to note the possible epistemological limits that may necessarily accompany any scientific study of subjective states of consciousness.
  • Possible epistemological limits that may necessarily accompany any scientific study of subjective states of consciousness? Say what? Have a read of Thomas Nagel's classic essay 'What Is It Like to Be a Bat?' Be aware that there are like 30 million responses and counter-responses to this (as is the wont of analytic philosophers).
  • Last week, Kill Your Darlings posted an article on how authors can use the internet to promote themselves successfully. I'll quickly note that I have a real problem with the way these arguments play out; it's not that they're wrong, exactly, but that they tend to be overly enthusiastic and cite the exceptional cases without paying attention to the very details that generally enabled authors to be successful through self-promotion or self-publishing in the first place (kind of like how the whole 'Myspace made Lily Allen famous' meme from many years ago ignored the fact that she has famous parents and thus access to contacts in the industry, which, you know, kinda helps.). Hopefully, I'll have time to write something about this soon.
  • Jeff Bursey, author of Verbatim (which I'll be reviewing in a few weeks) reviews Thomas Bernhard's My Prizes.


Sam Cooney said...

dead authors are all the rage, it seems. they are the new black, the new fad, the new almost-dead running-with-scissorsish twenty-something socialites (who persistently and aggravating-for-the-media-ly refuse to, you know, actually like, die). who cares what the wishes of dead authors are/were? we are alive and want to read what we want to read. anyway, they can't do anything about it, so nar-nar-narnar-nar. (coz they are dead.)

emmett, i'd love to read your article/response to the KYD thing. i like your comments on that piece; they mirror my own. i too am a bit over reading how amazing the internet is and how it's the pot of gold at the end of the internet-rainbow those guys at CERN created howevermany years ago. for some reason, not long ago it was the internet-as-harbinger for the overall and eventual death of the writer/author, but now it's all internet-as-Michael-the-Archangel who will save us all as long as we put in a little bit of effort ourselves, you know, just throw together an ebook and chuck it up on Smashwords-or-equivalent, and maybe write a coupla funny essays at the same time as your book is published, and maybe find some nichey markets who will buy your book in droves, and maybe also just get like 480538244323549 twitter followers while you're at it, because we all know that literary authors are simply riveting when you can read their thoughts day to day.

i better go, i'm sounding flushed.

Emmett Stinson said...

Thanks for your comments, Sam. I agree with you on both points.

If authors really wanted their works destroyed, they would have done it themselves, as far as I can see--leaving stuff around is basically an invitation to publish...

The internet stuff is complicated, basically. The short answer is that, yes, there is now more room for authors to promote themselves and have certain kinds of success--but making lots of money this way is only possible if you are basically writing mass market fiction already.

Also, media in convergence (the fancy way of saying electronic publishing) is traditionally marked by two contradictory movements:

1) Those at the bottom of the food-chain (like writers, who traditionally have had little money/power/access to networks, etc.) usually attain a new degree of freedom, albeit limited (i.e., they don't have the capital to take over publishing, although they might have greater access to certain kinds of networks and resources).

2) At the top of the chain, we see even more conglomeration/money/control (i.e. HUGE companies like Google and Apple are now in the publishing industry, basically dwarfing most already-extant publishing-related businesses). So, really, it's kind of a best-of-times/worst-of-times story, and I think it's silly to tell only one side of this story.

Sam Cooney said...

and no one likes silliness.

ummm did you see some press recently (i caught the arse end of it on HTMLGiant today) about a lass named Amanda Hocking who is taking names all over the internet re publishing. (http://htmlgiant.com/snippet/59373/)

apparently there've been the usual few inflationary articles about: look everyone, it's easy to make squillions from self-publishing on the net. if she can do it, why you must be able to do it too!!!!!!!!!!!!!

p.s. can't say i agree with you about the publishing after death "leaving stuff around is basically an invitation to publish..." (even with your elliptical ellipsis)...

Emmett Stinson said...

Yes, I've seen the stuff on Hocking, and what does she publish? Mass-market fiction, of course! Good on her, but somebody writing minimalist literary fiction isn't going to see the same results.

Sam Cooney said...

careful what you say about mass-market fiction. bryce courtenay has the hearing of a prairie dingo (mixing my South African and Aust references, see? see?)

phill said...

Interesting conversation you two. The reportage on the whole gold rush, Internet saviour, indie publishing boom thing that's going on is, to me, kind of silly. It's like people suddenly deciding that the lottery is a guaranteed sure thing; the odds are almost the same. Yes, the 'net does offer up new options, but the percentage of writers who are actually able to make oodles of money will probably stay roughly the same, and their content will continue to be, as you say, mainstream fiction.

Which is not to say that more people might not be able to make comfortable wages selling e-books. Indeed, I think that the great advantage of this shift in perspective is that there will emerge writers who have their core 100 or 200 followers, whose writing earns them a wage that they might be able to live on, or at least a supplementary income stream that keeps them writing. To be honest, I would be absolutely thrilled to get a few sales per month, let alone the thousands that these indie darlings are achieving.

I'm still not sure what to make of it all. Since I'm primarily a short story writer of fiction with a literary/humour bent, I've resigned myself to never seeing my name in print outside of a handful of journal publications, with an audience of my girlfriend and my writer's group. It sure is interesting to see how it's evolving though.

Emmett Stinson said...

Thanks for your comments, Phill!

Just to clarify, though, a core-audience of 100 to 200 people most definitely will not earn you a living. Let's say you self-publish an ebook at $10 on Amazon (already a pretty high price) and your 200 core fans buy it. That's $2000 gross, and, assuming you got the 'sweet deal' of 70% royalties on gross, you'd be exactly $1400 dollars richer after your (in all likelihood) years of effort writing a book. That's nice and all, but it won't exactly meet the mortgage payments, either. For that matter, in terms of time-investment, it's not even remotely competitive with commercial freelance editing and writing (or book-reviewing, for that matter, which is an income supplement for many writers already).

I agree that the internet can be good for promoting work (my blog has the same title as my book after all), but it's just not going to earn most writers a living or anything remotely like it. That being said, for those literary writers who are 'established' but have a small audience, self-publishing might make sense--there could be a small gain in profit even with diminished sales due to higher royalties, but were not talking about squillions here.

For whatever it's worth, I do think self-publishing will become increasingly important (indeed, it has already been important in the past) in certain areas (eg. poetry, experimental fiction etc.), and I'm not in any way dismissing the practice (two of my favourite books I've read in the last year were self-published!)--but that doesn't make it economically viable.

phill said...

True, economic viability isn't going to be realised by 99% of the people who self-publish. Then again, my sum total of payments from countless hours of writing is around $120 and a modest pile of contributors copies. So I wouldn't be sneezing at $1,400! (although I'd probably price any first collection at $5, so half that) But I get where you're coming from. It's not exactly living large.

While it's nice to think that writers have wrested control from the big publishers (and to a certain, small, extent they have), that doesn't mean they've wrested control from the readers. Readers still like reading the same stuff they've always read.

Although that does raise the prospect of writing mainstream fiction to fund your literary endeavours, much like actors sometimes take big money in order to pursue independent films. But that's pie-in-the-sky thinking.

Anyway, apologies for derailing this post into a discussion of self-publishing!

Emmett Stinson said...

There are (already famous) writers who 'moonlight' in genre fiction--Julian Barnes writes crime under the name Dan Kavanagh, and John Banville does the same under the name Benjamin Black. That's great if you have the connections to do it and an actual interest in writing genre fiction (because the fact is that good genre fiction is just incredibly hard to write, so you have to love doing it).

But, you know, why not just write corporate marketing copy or edit or teach or become a librarian or any of the other millions of jobs related to writing that authors have been doing for centuries to make ends meet?

Honestly, one of my first pieces of advice to aspiring writers would be not to expect to make a living off your writing, and to develop another skill that you can live on. This isn't a good situation, but I just don't see how the internet changes it.

phill said...

Good advice. Writing will never be more than my chosen creative hobby, I'm sure. And that's something I'm comfortable with. I'm fortunate in that I'm trained in something else entirely, so there's no pressure to turn my hobby into a money-earner. But I guess a lot of university-trained writers are coming out of their B.A.s and trying to find ways of making some cash from their skills, and the self-publishing gold rush is looking very attractive to them; sometimes to their detriment.

David Golding said...

Some links I thought you might enjoy:

Reading Markson Reading blogs David Markson's marginalia found in those books from his personal library that were sold through The Strand.

The List by British author Mike Harrison; I won't try to describe it.

(I'm three stories into Known Unknowns and enjoying it very much. Interestingly, I couldn't get into these stories at all when I encountered them online -- but I wouldn't get all Nick Carr about why that was.)

Emmett Stinson said...

Dear Phil:

There's actually an even bigger issue at stake, which is that this kind of 'innovative marketing' will (if it hasn't already) simply become expected of authors. In this sense, this could place a burden of extra immaterial labour on authors to promote their work, resulting in their being exploited further (since they are being asked to do more for the same amount of money). In this sense, internet promotion could end up doing more harm than good for most writers. So, I'm really pretty skeptical of how 'great' this 'innovation' is.

David--thanks for those links and for reading the book; glad to hear your enjoying it (in print, if not online!).

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