Salvatore Pane

Tag: Tin House

The Paris Review Ignites the Greatest Controversy in the History of Literature

Last week, Tin House ignited the greatest controversy in the history of literature. This week, The Paris Review did them one better. I’m not sure who exactly broke the story, but I first became aware of The Great Paris Review Poetry Purge of 2010 through Mike Young on HTMLGIANT who linked to a story by Daniel Nester on the always fantastic We Who Are About to Die. Nester writes:

Picture this: you have your poems accepted by The Paris Review.  Such an acceptance can mark the start of a great career, lead to a book deal or to be anthologized, or perhaps solidify a reputation in the small world this correspondent and others call Poetryland…

You have this acceptance.  Months, even years pass after this acceptance.  You wait for the issue with your poems to appear.

Then you get an email from Lorin Stein, the new editor of The Paris Review.  With perhaps the memory that there had been an announcement, written about in New York Observer, about a change at the Poetry Editor desk.

‘Dear XXXX,

Recently I replaced Philip Gourevitch as editor of The Paris Review and appointed a new poetry editor, Robyn Creswell. Over the last month, Robyn and I have been carefully reading the backlog of poetry that we inherited from the previous editors. This amounts to a year’s worth of poems. In order to give Robyn the scope to define his own section, I regret to say, we will not be able to publish everything accepted by Philip, Meghan, and Dan. We have not found a place for your [poem/s], though we see much to admire in them and gave them the most serious consideration. I am sorry to give you this bad news, and I’m grateful for your patience during the Review’s transition.

Best regards,
Lorin Stein’

Yikes. More news broke out throughout the day, some of it humorous (check out Blake Butler’s reaction) some of it not. The Rumpus spent a lot of time discussing the fallout. The comments section from their first post recently exploded, and a lot of well-known writers and editors are sounding off. Lincoln Michel of the recent literary journal rankings and Gigantic:

It is fair to note, I think, that according to Stein over a year’s worth of poetry was backlogged. So these new editors wouldn’t be able to put any poetry they wanted, not even 10%, for the next four issues.

I think this is a complicated issue. On one hand, as a writer I totally sympathize with people feeling awful about this and I know that I’d probably die if I’d gotten into TPR and then gotten my piece pulled. Of course, I’m a struggling starting writer, not an established writer like I assume most of the poets being unaccepted. On the flip side, as an editor I can’t imagine getting an editing job and not being able to do my job for several issues. If I didn’t like the work, I wouldn’t want my name attached to it.

And I must say I do think it is odd that, as others noted above, non-fiction routinely gets killed and it isn’t unheard of for stories to be unaccepted. What about poetry makes it unacceptable to be pulled if it is acceptable to pull other pieces?

Also, I disagree that there are no external pressures here, as Amy suggests. Lorin Stein was hired with plenty of buzz and noise and a mission to redo the journal, to make it more relevant and exciting again. He and his staff are, I assume, under plenty of pressure to make their mark and enact their vision. You can’t really hire someone to relaunch your journal and then tell them they can’t do much for the next few issues and by the time they can, most people will have forgotten.

I DO think they could have found a solution, such as a special web section, that would have worked for everyone. But I can understand why editors would want to edit.

Then this journal propped up promising to produce an e-book of all the unaccepted material. And of course, incoming PR Editor Lorin Stein’s response to the culling was dug up by The NY Observer:

Over the last month, Robyn and I have been carefully reading the backlog of poetry that we inherited from the previous editors. This amounts to a year’s worth of poems. In order to give Robyn the scope to define his own section, I regret to say, we will not be able to publish everything accepted. … We have not found a place for your three poems, though we see much to admire in them and gave them the most serious consideration… It’s never fun cutting things. But an editor’s job is to put out a magazine by his or her best lights, and that means you have to have discretion over what you publish.

So to sum up: a lot of anger, a lot of frustration. I’m not going to weigh in on this just yet, because like the Tin House thing, I’m more interested in what you all have to say. Is it cool that The Paris Review did this? Did they have any other choice after inheriting an entire year’s worth of poems? Isn’t this par for the course in the publishing world? Or is the literary journal playing field smaller, and thus, deserving of more courtesy? Let me know in the comments section.

Tin House Ignites the Greatest Controversy in the History of Literature

This is going to be old news for some, but I was out of town and mostly away from the computer the last few days, and I feel the need to touch on this briefly. I don’t know if you know this, but days before the 4th of July Holiday Weekend, Tin House ignited the greatest controversy in the history of literature!

On July 2nd, Tin House altered its submission policy:

Tin House launches Buy a Book, Save a Bookstore Between September 1 and December 30, 2010, Tin House magazine will require writers submitting unsolicited manuscripts to the magazine to include a receipt for a book purchased from a bookstore. Writers who are not able to produce a receipt for a book are encouraged to explain why in 100 words or fewer. Tin House will consider the purchase of e-books as a substitute only if the writer explains why he or she cannot go to his or her neighborhood bookstore or why he or she prefers digital reads. Writers are invited to videotape, film, paint, photograph, animate, twitter, or memorialize in any way (that is logical and/or decipherable) the process of stepping into a bookstore and buying a book to send along for our possible amusement and/or use on our web site.

Seems innocent enough, right? They’re not asking writers to buy copies of Tin House at indie stories, just any book in general. Matthew Simmons, who I interviewed on PANK, posted a relatively innocuous entry on the policy over at HTMLGIANT. Here’s the post in its entirety:

If you want to submit to Tin House, you’ll need to send a receipt proving that you bought a book in a bookstore. What do you think?

Moments later, all hell broke loose as the comments section ballooned to well over two-hundred posts including thoughts, and occasionally tirades, including everyone from Steve Gillis, publisher of DZANC Books, to Andy Hunter, co-editor of Electric Literature. I’m going to include a few of the arguments, but not necessarily in the order they were posted. If that somewhat distorts the nature of the discussion, I apologize. It’s not my intention to sway your opinion on the matter, but merely to report on both sides of the argument.

Authors Laura van den Berg and Lily Hoang both made brief comments in favor of the submissions policy. Laura wrote, “I’m for it. Especially after having worked for a lit mag. And if you only submit to Tin House, say, twice a year, then that’s only 2 books,” while Lily said:

If I start a journal/press, I’ll require people link/photocopy a book review with their submission. That would promote books and ensure that people actually read and think about the book critically, rather than just blindly consume. No? I’m unlikely to start a press/journal any time soon. Besides, with that kind of submission policy, no one would submit.

Jackie Corley, from Word Riot, made a similar argument, saying, “Why would anybody want to be in a magazine they don’t care enough about to buy a copy and read?” Blake Butler, at first, wrote the whole discussion off.  “Is it that hard to get your hands on a receipt for a book purchase? i mean, it’s not exactly plutonium. if you aren’t buying books you shouldn’t be wanting to publish one yourself.” A commentator brought up the library argument, the idea that some writers only read books they can get from libraries, which set Blake off:

i mean, why publish it if you believe in the library system over the bookstore? photocopy a zine and give it to some dudes and stick it in with the other books in the spots where people gather. that also said: not all books worth reading appear in libraries. if your reading history can be all found within the walls of a library, or all of them, you aren’t reading very hard.

Two major points came from Justin Taylor and Andy Hunter. Hunter first:

My first reaction to the Tin House policy was, “Ha Ha. Good for them.”

The economic arguments against it are a joke, as are the ‘local bookstore’ arguments. Most people can afford to buy a couple books a year. Most people live near bookstores. And if you don’t? Write a note explaining that. Not much to get outraged about.

Sometimes I’m amazed at how quickly commenters get outraged around here, but then I realize: being outraged is fun.

Anyway, the condescension complaint is valid, although I think TH meant it in good humor – which apparently didn’t come off.

The thing that I think many here are missing is the incredible volume of submissions Tin House must get. EL is not half as well known, but we get thousands of submissions every issue, and even with 35 readers, it’s very hard to keep up. Especially because everything is read twice. Sometimes we regret our open policy, but it was the policy we wanted to see when we were on the other side, as writers. Now that we’re on the publisher side, it gets a little rough. There are many, many writers who are scanning duotrope and submitting to magazines they’d never fit in. The majority of these writers don’t seem to read enough, to be honest. They really ought to buy and read more books. Collectively, EL spends thousands of hours reading submissions, which is exponentially more time than we spend on anything else. The temptation to put up a small hurdle for submitters is understandable. Especially one that is directed at helping your industry, and supporting what you love.

For about 4 months, EL offered $6 off subscriptions to writers who submitted work to us, via a coupon code. It brought the cost of a digital subscription down to $3 an issue. Out of over 3,000 submitters during that time, less than a dozen used that code. I’m sure Tin House has similar stories.

There has been a lot of wondering, here and elsewhere, if emerging writers do enough to support the institutions which they wish to support them (i.e. ever buy a literary magazine). Tin House decided to playfully push the issue, and lighten the slush pile for themselves at the same time. It’s not so horrible.

Now Taylor:

Did anyone read the actual press release at the TH site? it’s headlined “BUY A BOOK, SAVE A BOOKSTORE.” Hardly an ignoble position or goal. It’s here- http://www.tinhouse.com/all_news.htm Also, if you read the whole post at the TH site, you’ll see that this is part of a larger project designed to instill a sense of happy pride in patronizing brick-and-mortar bookstores. Ever heard of Record Store Day? Comic Book Day? This isn’t just one day, but it’s sort of like that. From their release: “Writers are invited to videotape, film, paint, photograph, animate, twitter, or memorialize in any way (that is logical and/or decipherable) the process of stepping into a bookstore and buying a book to send along for our possible amusement and/or use on our Web site.”

And to all the people waging the classism argument, I would like to suggest, with all due respect–which is to say, not much–that you are full of shit and that, what’s more, you damn well know it.
Let’s say I want to submit a book manuscript to Tin House. I enclose a copy of the receipt for the last book I bought new in a bookstore, in this case ON BEING BLUE by William Gass from McNally Jackson books on Prince Street, NYC. This paperback book has a sticker price of $11.95, and I got it at 10% off because it was a staff pick.

That makes OBB about the same price as a movie ticket, or a full-album download on iTunes, or two drinks at a reasonable bar. Granted, those are New York prices, but any urban center is going to be within about spitting range of those numbers (iTunes of course costs the same all over), and if you happen to live in the sticks, where you’re used to dollar drafts all the time and $4 steak dinners–hey, good for you, bud. Spend that extra scratch on a second book.

I think it’s incredibly noble of Tin House to forgo any kind of “reading fee” that they would keep for themselves, and instead encourage you to simply present evidence of an active engagement with literary and bookstore culture today. Presumably, because you are an aspiring writer and an avid reader, you are not being “forced” to go out and buy a book just to submit your work–you probably buy books on a semi-regular basis, and so it is really no problem for you to simply dig out the last receipt you generated and send it along.

I think the people who are asking about the library card option are missing the point. This isn’t an elitist disenfranchisement scheme–it’s not a matter of proving your literacy to them. The fact that the majority of respondents here presume it is their “literary-ness” which is under question says worlds more about y’all than about TH, which I assume takes it for granted that people who write, read, and vice versa. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that they don’t really give a shit if you even read the book you’ve got a receipt for having bought. They are looking for displays of enthusiasm for the process of publishing on the consumer-side, from those who would inflict themselves on the world of publishing on the supplier-side.

If patronizing a physical bookstore in order to purchase a new book at its full retail value strikes you as morally derelict in some way, then you have no business asking Tin House Books–or anybody–to publish your work. It’s emphatically not a question about book-reading, but about book-buying. They are book-makers, and book-sellers, and they are looking for people who are interested in what they do: make books, and make books available to be bought. If you hate those things, and hate them for doing those things, why would you want to court their attention in the first place, or pursue this course for your own work?

All that being said, many, MANY detractors showed up over the course of the thread. Some of the most insightful commentary came from Roxane Gay:

As a sort of publisher, I can absolutely say the money goes further when people buy our books or magazines directly from us. The distributor takes 50 percent. We’ve been working with a distributor for a year now and haven’t seen a penny.

Some of us live in towns where there are no actual bookstores but I buy books almost every day online, from big outlets and small. This requirement largely excludes people who live in rural areas. The ability to buy a book in a store is not that easy for everyone.

The rural argument was one that few of the pro-submissions camp could effectively deal with. Mike Meginnis, Co-Editor of Uncanny Valley, and Steve Gillis both had funny replies about the absurdity of the situation. Meginnis wrote, “Anyone submitting to Uncanny Valley a manuscript accompanied by a receipt showing five hundred dollars spent on pornography will be automatically accepted.” Steve had this to say:

Having had a night to sleep on the Tin House policy, I have had a change of heart. What a brilliant concept. We at Dzanc Books will now require a resume and college and grad school transcript – there must of course be grad school – with all unsolicited manuscripts. The submitter will be required to provide a reading list of all the books they’ve read in the last five years. We at Dzanc will also provide a reading list and the submitter will need to have read each book on our list and provide a review. Failure to meet these standards, the submitter will have to bake us a cake. And not just a cake but a poetic cake, and a film of them baking the cake. As we receive thousands of submissions a year at Dzanc, we have every right and reason to limit the folly of would be submitters thinking they can just submit us their work. This is brilliant. Thank you Tin House for blazing this trail.

About a day after the original post, Jimmy Chen uploaded this to HTMLGIANT and tried to recruit as many people as possible into submitting with this receipt.

But one of the funniest posts came from Matthew Simmons, the original poster, who seemed a little horrified by the amount of venom spawned by his two-sentence post. Halfway through the thread, he wrote this: “Okay. Let’s just forget I mentioned this. How about that World Cup?”

I’ve very intentionally tried to leave out my biases and position on this argument (I definitely have one), and what I’m interested in is what you think. Is Tin House‘s submissions policy the end of modern literature? Are they blazing a path that other journals will soon follow? Is their initiative simply misunderstood and similar to Free Comic Book Day like Justin Taylor suggests? Or is this whole argument ridiculous and another example of writers getting pissed off over absolutely nothing? Sound off in the comments.

An Online Panel on Literary Journals (Part 3 of 4): Those Writerly Calluses

Check out the first two installments of our discussion on lit mag publishing here and here. We continue today with thoughts from one Adam Reger. He earned an MFA in fiction from Pitt in 2008 and has published stories in the New Orleans Review, Pear Noir!, and Juked. He lives in Pittsburgh.

From Adam:

“I would second everything Robert mentioned. I also worked on Hot Metal Bridge, and found the experience instructive not just in the ‘I can’t believe someone sent this in’ sense Robert mentions, but as a chance to see how many good stories got rejected for nebulous reasons having everything to do with the readers’ tastes at that particular time—it was an opportunity, basically, to see how arbitrary the process can be. Applying that insight to my own submission process has helped me develop those writerly calluses one needs to be rejected over and over again. Every rejection slip says that it’s not personal, and that many good stories get rejected, but you never quite believe it until you see things from the other side.

And on Robert’s point about subscribing to lit mags, I’d also suggest buying sample copies (which are usually cheap, in the $5-$10 range). For both, the point is not so much supporting the magazine (though it helps that way) as getting to know what they publish. I’m just reiterating classic advice here, but it pays to know the market; many years ago I read in Writer’s Market a fiction listing wherein the editor said that most of the stories he rejected ‘were inapt, rather than inept,’ a line that’s stayed with me. To be honest, a couple of my publications have come about via shot-in-the-dark submissions to magazines I hadn’t read, but in all cases going about it that way took a needlessly long time and was pretty much a matter of getting lucky.

One thing I’d (sort of) disagree with Robert about is submitting to lesser-quality journals. I wouldn’t submit to the kind of places he mentions, either, but I want to warn against taking this mindset too far. My overall theory on this goes as follows: insofar as I’m going to keep writing short stories, and presumably they will be better than the ones I wrote last month, I’d do well to have some publication credits to list in my cover letter so that these (hypothetical) better stories get a more favorable reading when I send them to Tin House and Harper’s. (To refer to the Hot Metal Bridge experience again, editors are absolutely influenced by the previous publications listed in a writer’s cover letter (although, in support of Robert’s point, listing a long string of journals with ridiculous titles that no one’s ever heard of won’t necessarily help your cause).)

This is not to say that you shouldn’t send your best stories to the best literary magazines, and in general give every story a good chance to be published somewhere you’d be excited to see your work. But if your best stories keep getting form rejections, and you’ve already gone down the ladder quite a ways, in my opinion you should be open to submitting those pieces just about anywhere and moving on. (If this advice seems really abhorrent to you, though, consider acknowledging that these pieces are not quite working and going back to the drawing board. I’ve done this before and, while it can be pretty damn humbling, the redrafted pieces were far better than what I started with.) You want to avoid the kinds of questionable publications Robert talks about, but my own feeling is that when your book of stories comes out, the place where the fifth story in the collection was published will be of minor interest to anyone. The way to inch closer to publishing that book of stories, meanwhile, is getting those pieces published rather than their collecting dust on your hard drive.

Finally, this is a little beyond the scope of the question being considered here, but I would recommend reading and thinking about this post, by Blake Butler (as recommended by Cathy Day, a Pitt professor]. The internet has made it incredibly easy to reach out to writers whose work you like, and with sites like Facebook it’s not at all difficult to stay connected with those people in a kind of support network. Doing so can help in practical terms: a couple lit mags have friended me (after rejecting my stuff kindly) and having them on my news feed has alerted me to some interesting contests, calls for submission, etc. But in terms of karma or whatever, supporting others’ work is also a good thing to do.”