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

8Sep/11

Another perspective

Offering a different take is Paul Vidich, of The Millions, who makes the claim that there is only one problem related to the decline in consumption of the American short story: there are very few mainstream magazines that publish fiction. In other words, it's not the product, it's the delivery mechanism.

Publish or Perish: The Short Story.

An excerpt:

Is today’s short fiction not as good? Hardly. Why aren’t readers holding up their part of the bargain? The answer, let me suggest, is related to how readers are given the opportunity to read – distribution, in commercial terms.

This other guy, Karl Wenclas, takes a look at the modern literary landscape and sees many of the same problems that I see.

He discusses the lack of quality writing today, and I like the analysis he does of the endings of several stories that were anthologized in Best New American Voices from 2008, 2009, and 2010.

The Literary Story Examined.

In this next link, Wenclas makes the point that writers are writing for themselves, not the masses:

Hitting the Demographic.

Vidich's defense of the quality of today's short story is completely absent. He proposes that the quality of the stories is high, but does nothing to support his claims. Wenclas' empirical study of the endings of the stories in Best New American Voices makes for much more compelling evidence; the crappy quality of the work is right there in front of you, not masked by that arrogant, “Hardly.”

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The Best New American Voices anthology series is now defunct, but the one qualification for consideration was that you had to be a part of either an MFA program, participate in certain writer's conferences, or be the recipient of a writing-related fellowship. Basically, you had to be a part of the MFA/Creative-writing instructional system in order to be eligible for consideration. If you weren't somehow enrolled in the systems, or receiving money from the system (and let's face it, the fellowship recipients were most likely paying members within the system at some point), you weren't eligible to have your work considered for this annual anthology.

Taken from The Atlantic's 2007 Fiction issue:

One shorter-term measure might be the annual Best New American Voices anthology, which publishes student work from graduate writing programs as well as from a host of non-degree-granting conferences and fellowships. Each program nominates two stories a year, and each entry is read blind by the final editor. In the series, published by Harcourt, the submissions of Iowa students have been selected more times than those from any other degree program, though both Virginia and Florida State have consistently had strong showings. (Oddly, Columbia, always considered a top program, has placed none.)

Do you think that Shakespeare sat down and thought to himself, “I need someone to teach me how to write!” Do you think that Dickens sat down and thought, “I need someone to teach me how to write!” Did Joyce think to himself, “I need someone to teach me how to write!” Those guys all had talent. They worked to develop that talent, and no doubt received some suggestions when they were getting started in their respective careers. But they had the talent to begin with, and talent is something that cannot be learned in any MFA program. You either have talent or you don't; talent cannot be taught.