Friday, April 15, 2011
Self-pubbing vs. MFA ???
Jessa Crispin is otherwise known as Bookslut at Bookslut.com and recently wrote "A Sea of Words - Publishing isn't dead. Smart publishing, well, that's a different story." Published in The Smart Set from Drexel University
...where once there were only empty rooms, lost potential, and would-be writers intimidated by the task of breaking into the conversation with a woman’s voice, there is now only din. A loud, swarming noise of hundreds of thousands of books published each year, one almost indistinguishable from the next.
Crispin isn't the only one I've read about lately who almost prefers to sink back into the classics to avoid reading the massive deluge of mediocrity that's evolved from self-publishing. Don't throw virtual tomatoes at me. I realize that some quality rises out of self-publishing here and there. It's still lottery odds, though. It takes platform to rise above the huge number of self-pubbed books out there. But let's say you develop a platform. Why should platform determine whether your book is any good or not? Somebody's savvy website shouldn't sell books. Quality should. At least that's what I hear over and over again. Trouble is, what's considered quality anymore?
So the righteous swarm to low-residency MFA programs, endeavoring to break into writing with quality, instead of hype. Having those initials should catch the attention of traditional presses, helping to preserve top shelf writing. Right?
Crispin: It’s a noble thought, that modern day MFA students are fomenting revolution in their workshops, fighting against the menacing capitalism that exploits our artists’ fantasies of fame and fortune. What these MFA candidates are really doing is forking over tens of thousands of dollars to Stony Brook, all in the hopes of attaining a lucrative book contract. They are not protesting against our age, they are actively participating in it.
With renewed interest in MFA programs, and with schools strapped for money, MFAs have become popular. Open a Poets & Writers Magazine or Writer's Digest and check out the ads. Self-publishing and MFA programs. Kissing cousins. Both are fighting to scoop up hungry writers for profit.
Chad Harbach wrote in the Slate article MFA vs. NYC: America now has two distict literary cultures. Which one will last? - MFA programs today serve less as . . . finishing schools for almost-ready writers . . . and more as an ingenious partial solution to an eminent American problem: how to extend our already protracted adolescence past 22 and toward 30, in order to cope with an oversupplied labor market.
He also pointed out what will happen with this market glut of writers:
The lit-lovers who used to become editors and agents will direct MFA programs instead; the book industry will become as rational—that is, as single-mindedly devoted to profit—as every other capitalist industry. The writers, even more so than now, will write for other writers. And so their common ambition and mission and salvation, their profession—indeed their only hope—will be to make writers of us all.
Indeed it does seem that way--that there is a clandestine plan to make everyone want to write by creating an overabundance of writing instruction. Face it, we have a mushrooming supply of low-res MFA programs, self-pub companies, ebook formatters, writing coaches, freelance editors, and how-to books from writers we never heard of. In my opinion, writing has almost become a racket, and if you aren't careful, you'll fall prey to some of the not-so-honorable participants.
We have self-pubbing vs. traditional, MFA vs. NYC publishing, and when we look economically at the industry, self-pubbing and MFA programs suddenly become related.
I don't know what's right, or what's wrong with this picture.
For a long time, everyone wanted to write and nobody wanted to read. It saddened me. Then along came e-readers, and reading became faddish again.
Point is . . . everyone in this business is trying to make a buck, from the agent to the self-publisher, from the university MFA department to the freelance editor. The sooner you understand that the better. Nobody short of your readers love you for your writing; these companies love you for your sales or what you can purchase from them. The romance of storytelling is a distant second place to turning a profit. But there's still one shining outcome from all of this confusion--from all of this clammoring for titles, bylines and sales.
More people are writing than ever before. In any stretch of the imagination, how can that be a bad thing?