How Publishing Is Rigged You thought it was a meritocracy??


Guess Who (Part 2)

Guess Who?

Here's another installment of Guess Who? that's guaranteed to surprise and horrify you. Here we have an author who is near-universally praised among the literary set. “Real People” even know this author's name. This person is a prolific writer—in magazines and in book form too. It seems like a short story by this individual is coming out every week. Let's have a look at the first two paragraphs from a story that has appeared in a recent story collection, and that was also excerpted online:

“Excuse me?”
It was the third day of her new life. This life was diminished as in the aftermath of brain surgery executed with a meat cleaver yet she meant to do all that was required of her and to do it alone, and capably, and without complaint. (1)

You might think that I messed up something in that third sentence. “Oh, Rigged,” you're thinking to yourself. “You forgot some words in there somewhere. And clearly you've also left out some punctuation.” Alas, I left nothing out. This is how the story was printed in a story collection, and also in at least one print magazine. This so-called master of prose wrote the first two paragraphs of that story just as they appear above.

Here's another except. This is the very beginning of a different story from a different story collection:

You are the love of my life. Only you!

He was seventeen. He woke from sleep with the abruptness of a rifle shot. These past months his sleep had become a stupor, a torpor, a warm suffocating black muck that was his only solace. By day he was suffused with shame for his very name Smartt and for what was crudely whispered and scorned and laughed at that accrued to Smartt but by night he slipped from that identity like a young snake shedding its first crinkly skin, no longer Smartt but a no-name being of coarse appetites and raw emotions inhabited him, and this was his solace. (2)

In this unintelligible example we have a series of syntactical disasters and several lazy attempts at symbolism. This author thinks that it was clever to give the character the name “Smartt.” This is as subtle as naming a baker in a story, “Mr. Baker.” And if you're over the age of nine, you're too old to be using the “snake shedding its own skin” simile. And yes, this author thinks that they can get away with such lackluster language. Read this first part of this sentence again:

By day he was suffused with shame for his very name Smartt and for what was crudely whispered and scorned and laughed at that accrued to Smartt...

What, specifically, is accruing to this guy, Smartt? Is it the “name shame” or the “crudely whispered things?” The syntax has totally broken down and by the end of that last excerpted sentence, I am totally lost. Can I guess at what our writer is getting at here? Sure, I can guess. But shouldn't an esteemed writer be able to construct clear prose? Why should I have to guess?

There’s no excuse for shoddy copyediting, but one expects at least the first page of a story to get a careful read—and probably multiple reads—by the author and the editor who does the accepting of the story for publication. But not with this author. The emails I send to the Director at my company get more scrutiny than the published prose of this author. The above paragraphs (and parts of paragraphs) are all found on page one of their respective stories. And look at everything that got through and into publication—in magazines and also collected into story collections. An eighth-grade English class would tear apart those sentences with ease, because those kids can easily tell that those sentences are artless garbage, and full of grammar errors besides.

What do two these story excerpts have in common, besides being embarrassingly bad? They're both stories written by none other than...

CLICK TO READ MORE...Guess Who (Part 2)

Tagged as:


HTMLGIANTIf you've not yet had cause to visit the hipster ramblings over there at, I'd like to apologize for again bringing something miserable into your life. When I think of hipster writers doing their worst upon an undeserving world, I think of the garbage that spills out of HTMLGIANT. I don't want to give these guys and girls any more attention that they deserve, which is less than zero attention, really, but let's have a quick run-down of one particular brand of cronyism that is evident in their (virtual) pages.

First, HTMLGIANT is a blog, not a magazine. Contributor Roxane Gay even counts each blog post as a separate “accomplishment” in her yearly round-up of accomplishments. It's not like anyone is approving these posts for publication; contributors do basically whatever they want to do.

I wrote 130 posts for HTMLGIANT and sometimes ruffled feathers though that was not my intent.

That's like me tallying up agendas I've written for my projects at work and presenting the final number to my boss at review time. 50 agendas for Project A and 24 for Project B. Tallying up your blog posts–that's more than a little silly, right? It's a blog, folks. Sure, HuffingtonPost is also a blog, but last I heard, AOL wasn't queuing up to buy HTMLGIANT for any reason, and certainly not because of its cultural impact or potential profitability. Also, it's pathetic that Roxane Gay feels the need to apologize for ruffling feathers. Again, it's a blog. Inciting dialogue is kind of the point, right? Not for Roxane Gay, who is desperate for everyone to love her, and who makes a point to kiss asses whenever she can. She is such a faker too, and if you read enough HTMLGIANT, you'll see what a nasty person she can be when someone challengers her, and even more so when a challenger has a well-thought-out argument to back up their statements.

[I'll get into more of the absurd personalities at HTMLGIANT in a future post.]



Lorin Stein, Mister Cronyism

Lorin Stein A recent blog post over at The Paris Review displays exactly the kind of cronyism that I've come to expect from the Editor in Chief, Lorin Stein.

In a different post, I noted that Anna Stein (Lorin's sister) was promoting her brother's magazine in an interview (she says that she's very much looking forward to the next issue of The Paris Review), without revealing to the interviewer that she was Lorin Stein's sister. Not very honorable of Ms. Stein, who is in the business herself—she's a literary agent. In early August, it was apparently Lorin's turn to return the favor, pushing a book on TPR blog-readers that was written by an author who is represented by Anna Stein's agency.

The blog poster asks the following question:

Are there any books coming out this fall that you’re particularly excited about? —Leo

An excerpt of Lorin Stein's answer appears below:

Lots—and the stack keeps growing. Two days ago, for example, my sister gave me the galleys of a first novel, Various Positions, by the young Canadian writer Martha Schabas, all about the sexual awakening of a ballerina.

It's an editor's right to like whatever he wants to like, but with such a visible position in the literary world, should Lorin Stein be doing advertising for his sister's client? Instead of doing favors for their family members and friends, editors like Lorin Stein have a greater responsibility to their reading public. Instead, he's functioning as free advertising for his sister's agency by noting a client's book in his blog.

(I'll also note that Stein again loves his faux sexual content. Everything, no matter how mundane or exciting, is made better in Stein's eyes by a dash of faux sexual content.)

Doesn't anyone in this business care to excuse themselves from praising—or outright promoting—works that might be tainted by the stain of cronyism? Does anyone in the publishing world have any sense of ethics or morals?


Guess Who (Part 3)

Guess Who?This next writer is one whose name is not generally known to the reading public at large, but is fairly well-known within literary circles. This person founded a prominent literary magazine thirty years ago and continues to provide editorial oversight at that magazine today.

This person's work is dreadfully overworked and is crammed full of MFA-workshop writer tricks. You'll see indefinite articles dropped, you'll see forced metaphors, you'll see faux-drama, but you won't see anything that is actually interesting or impactful as a story in this person's writing.

This guy has published, co-authored and co-edited a whole bunch of books, and has won a heap of awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship (200+ fellowships are granted annually, with and average award of approximately $40,000 for winners to spend as they see fit. Fellowships are meant to give winners the ability to spend time doing their creative thing, free from the pressures of their normal obligations. From Wikipedia: they are awarded to individuals “who have demonstrated exceptional capacity for productive scholarship or exceptional creative ability in the arts.”) and the O. Henry Prize, an award that’s given to a number of short stories each year.

Given this author's immersion in the literary world, and given the fact that others have seen fit to lavish praise upon his work, you’d want to believe that his stuff is pretty good, right? But it’s not. It’s terrible. (If you've spent some time at this site, you might have picked up on the fact that the stuff that wins awards and garners praise from the Lit Biz crowd is generally terrible.) He writes in the show-off self-conscious way of the MFA graduates that he teaches in classrooms and workshops. His stuff is overly showy and somehow at the same time, boring as hell.

From his website, the start of a story called “Gardener of Heart”: (1)

[Right from the title, this story is awkward. One wants this to read “Gardener of the Heart” not “Gardener of Heart.” When I think of a gardener, I think of someone who cultivates and harvests things, items, vegetables, crops, or flowers. The author is already showing off and trying to look like he’s more clever than I am, by making his gardener a person who gardens a character trait, not an object.]

CLICK TO READ MORE...Guess Who (Part 3)


Meet Ms. Lily Hoang

Lily HoangLily Hoang is one of the HTMLGIANT regulars who is also a MFA grad who now teaches in the MFA program at New Mexico State University. These details in themselves are not very distinctive, as many MFA graduates go on to teach English at the college level because they can't get a job in the publishing business. They've got to do something with that degree, right?

[For more information about the kinds of cronyism practiced at HTMLGIANT, please read this post.]

But Lily Hoang is one kind of fraud who practices cronyism like it's nobody's business. Let's take a look at a few different facts about Ms. Hoang and then draw some conclusions based on what we just learned.

CLICK TO READ MORE...Meet Ms. Lily Hoang