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


The James Franco Problem

James FrancoJames Franco has been turning up in the fiction section of various magazines and websites over the past year, and it’s a problem. It’s not a problem that he’s an actor, or that he’s handsome, or rich. The problem is that his work sucks, and it was being an actor, handsome, and rich that led to his recent run of publications.

  • He’s had fiction in Esquire.
  • He’s had fiction in McSweeney’s.
  • He’s been writing reviews [Review 1] [Review 2] in The Paris Review blog.
  • He read something on video for The Paris Review blog. In his bed. (Because Lorin Stein loves to be faux-naughty, anything that contains the slightest hint of sex is embraced at TPR.)
  • He published a short story collection with a non-indie press.
  • It's well-known that he got a MFA at Columbia and is pursuing a Ph.D. at Yale.

[To read more about how The Paris Review loves Cronyism, Nepotism and Sex, click here.]

I don’t have anything against James Franco personally, though I suspect the guy is due for a major embarrassing scandal, given all of the attention that’s been paid to him and the extent to which he seems to over-extend himself. But my scandal theory, why the hell is he showing up in the fiction section of these magazines?

Is he any good? Is that why James Franco is taking up real estate in these popular magazines?

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Who’s my Guinea Pig?

Guinea Pig

Earlier this year, Boston Review published this boring piece of MFA Story-styled fiction. I’d like to take you through this story bit by bit and point out some of the places where this story fails. And I promise you, I’m not looking high and low to find examples of stories that fall into one (or more) of those four categories. Pick up any magazine, flip to the fiction section and within the first few paragraphs (if the work contains paragraphs) you’ll be able to tell which of the four story types you’ve got on your hands.

Link to the full story: Guinea Pig by Charles Johnson, Boston Review January/February 2011

Here's how “Guinea Pig” starts:

I was a student at the University of Washington in Seattle, with a double major in Philosophy and English, those two broken and declining (if not already dead) fields in higher education.

There are major warning signs right from the beginning that we’re going to have an MFA Story ahead of us. Didn’t even have to finish the first paragraph, right? From the start we have an English major—no, wait, our guy is a double major—he’s got Philosophy too. And we have a college, so the story is most likely set on or around a college campus. Of course the featured university is the very same university where the author is a professor. I know this because I looked him up: “Charles Johnson is a National Book Award–winning author and Professor Emeritus of English at the University of Washington.” As in: Seattle, Washington. I wonder if Charles Johnson also majored in Philosophy.

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