Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Publishing/ Internet Promotion

An intriguing exchange between A and B elsewhere yesterday:

A: On a note of contention, and for the record, I still have a great deal of time for the view expressed below:

FELIPE ALFAU: I am not a professional writer. Only by necessity have I ever received payment for my work. Dalkey Archive Press offered money for my two novels but I refused to accept it. For my poems I received $500 because I needed to pay the monthly payment here, in the retirement home. The truth is, I was never interested in writing, nor did I ever dream of making a living at my craft. I hate full-time authors. I hate intellectuals that make a living from abstractions and evasions. The art of writing has turned into an excess. Today, literature is a waste. It should be abolished, at least in the form we know: as a money-making endeavor.

IS: How do you think writers should support themselves?

FA: I am not sure, but certainly not by selling their books as jewelry.


B: No one is going to force a writer to act commercially. Don't blame publishers for making money. Any author who doesn't want to submit their book to feelthy capitalists and thus sully their endeavours will be entirely left alone by said capitalists. Different strokes...

A: The problem is that the system, by which I mean the profit-driven mass-market publishers, will force a writer to act commercially. If, that is, said writer wants any wider recognition beyond the small press. Even those writers who profess strong left-wing views end up having to accept the system's market values (self-promotion, self-promotion, self-promotion) as opposed to allowing the quality of their work to speak for itself. This is one reason why the "mid-list" has been destroyed. The final say in mass-market publishing houses is now made by marketing departments and not, as previously, by commissioning editors. I suspect it also has a great deal to do with the smaller mainstream publishing houses being swallowed up by conglomerates as has happened over the past twenty or so years.
PS: Sorry, when I said "profit-driven", I should have said "substantial profits-driven". I realise that all businesses need to make a profit, but it's whether they're satisfied with a moderate, rather than a walloping profit that I had in mind.

B: As far as I'm concerned, one should want to make as much money as possible - it's a business. And as I said, if you don't want to be involved, that's fine. All businesses change over the years, and who knows when they will change again? Ten years ago, you couldn't give historical fiction away, but now it works every well. I'm well known for believing that sales and marketing departments have too much power in present-day publishing. However, new authors are still published successfully. It's pointless to wish it was the fifties again, because it isn't.

One thing I will say. I find Mr Alfau's attitude smug, self-satisfied and pretentious. He seems to feel that he is somehow better than those who write for money. He ain't. It's as smug, self-satisfied and pretentious as it would be for me to say that authors who ARE paid for their endeavour are obviously more important than those who choose not to be.

Dr Johnson said that only a blockhead wrote for any reason other than money. I'd say that was a touch extreme! However, I'm not having anyone tell me that they command moral high ground because they DON'T write for money.

I come back to my main point: it's a business. I've published a number of left-wing writers who work within that. What they then do with the money they make is up to them. But to have this...distasteful...attitude to commercial publishing is, I think, less than pragmatic or realistic.

And the mid-list was dying in the 80s, long before the rise of marketing power. I saw it happen.


Now from me yesterday (as I thought it may be considered rightly off-topic on the original thread):

I have sympathy with both the views of A and B. I will say at this stage that commercial demands can affect an author unduly: and if he concentrates his life on writing pot-boilers or even great commercial fiction, he may have written different and longer-lasting fiction without those commercial demands diverting him. That would be a shame. Equally, it can work the other way. Someone could beaver away for years at pretentious poetic prose which is not likely ever to be successful in any field of literature when, all the time, he could have been writing successful commercial fiction, but hadn't done so becuase he had a 'thing' against being commercial!!

From me today:

Well, A and B have happily come to agreement on the original thread.

I'd just add:
There is no complete distinction between Commercial, Literary and Small Press. They can fail or succeed at the time they are published in terms of monetary and/or critical considerations. Some Small Press becomes commercial many years in the future or becomes accepted 'standards' of literature much later (even in a later century!); some contemporary Commercial fiction immediately falters at the wayside or succeeds greatly in the short term or succeeds as an accepted 'standard' of literature eventually.

An overlapping spectrum:
(1) Pot-boilers
(2) Quality Commercial fiction.
(3) Acquired Taste literature.
(4) Off-the-wall/experimental!

And the discussion could continue if anyone wants to define the word 'quality' in the above spectrum!

And I'd repeat my point yesterday: many writers are diverted from their more natural course to get into what they consider to be their 'felt' aim ... whether it be (1), (2), (3) or (4). And most writers, I guess, aim mainly for (2) because of the pressures of peer rivalry, domestic constraints, agential editing etc.

Within each of (1), (2), (3) and (4) above, I feel there are two other spectrums, i.e. (a) Commercial, Literary, Small Press and, separately, (b) all the specific fiction genres.

An overlapping complexity, true, but one I feel that needs to be appreciated in the round, before being able to discuss the points made by A and B above and before any agreement can be reached.

I intended 'Nemonymous' (all 5 issues so far) to comprise all these spectra in working shape.


I think most internet communication comes out 'wrong'. With regard to self-promotion, I tried (but more for enjoyment than promotion) and am still trying blogs, experimental discussions, websites, spraying my previously published fiction in various places on the Net etc.
I am often misunderstood. Or mostly ignored.
Re the last bit - I don't know that what I say on the Net is ignored. It just feels ignored, despite some very kind people who have given me feedback. I suspect everyone feels ignored (or more ignored than they think they deserve). I am no exception. I agree that nobody owes me feedback.

I don't know if I feel more sensitive than I should. Experience doesn't always help, not even the experience of nearly sixty years!

Further thoughts: I believe that youths these days spend all their spare time socialising electronically; their whole conversation being about who said what to whom about what or about whom; they don't talk about films, books, music, TV programmes etc.; they just talk about their own inspiralling of electronic communion with each other?

Are we the same, we on these blogs, boards and elsewhere? Have I - at the age of nearly 60 - been trapped by these new modes of communication to live for each day so as only to carry on these electronic conversations, instead of concentrating on more tangible things?

Or am I an old fogey in thinking this?

Even further thoughts: My contention is that the Internet is so overcrowded, so fraught with misunderstanding, so susceptible to spontaneous mood (anger, joy, depression, intoxication, temporary stupidity, nepotism etc etc) that nobody reads anybody else's work or promotion on the internet. That's an exagerration! Temporary stupidity? But this morning, I believe it. For 'nobody' above , please read an extremely small number compared to the hordes posting work or promotion on the internet. It's just self-deception to believe otherwise. Of course, like pop stars or footballers, some 'famous' writers do get a lot of attention on the internet and elsewhere. But there are millions and millions of active creative writers compared to a handful of what I would call 'famous writers'.

Coupled with above, if your own promotion on the Net is noticed, it's often counter-productive, inasmuch as the Internet does not give good promotive techniques. It's good for information and discussion and sometimes creating new friendships (which, ironically, can so easily then be lost because of the nature of the Internet!), but for work promotion (however professionally done) I feel it is endemically counter-productive - and many people are becoming more and more averse to buying things on the Net with credit cards or whatever means of money electronic exchange because of fraud.
And all this ignores what I said earlier about how it's affecting badly the behaviour of future generations, grooming people from temporary stupidity to permanent!


Sales of Nemonymous seem to have livened up in recent weeks - as well as constructively giving away some of them. Fingers crossed that I'll be able to do Issue Six sooner rather than later, as there seems to be a gap in the quality-produced UK dark fantasy market at the moment.

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