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

8Sep/11

Crumbs

Most of today’s fiction can be placed into one of four story types and in this post, I’ll be looking at the variety I call “Crumbs.” A Crumb is a type of story that is very popular in the Lit Biz world today. A Crumb is usually a very short story, lacking in plot and characters, and is often just a series of observations, without any actual narrative. The other types of stories are listed here—but please remember—there can be a fair amount of overlap. An MFA Story can have a lot of Bauble Story elements, for example.

A Crumb can only do so much. Often, it will set a scene, provide a series of observations about that scene, and then simply end. Give a normal person one of these Crumbs, tell them it’s a complete story, and they’ll think you were totally putting them on. The piece (it's so hard for me to call them stories, since they're not stories by definition) never goes anywhere and then after a few hundred words (or fewer than 100 words), it’s just...over. An observation about the stories that are published in today’s journals: they’re getting shorter and shorter all the time. And it’s not that one can’t do a really good shorter short story, but the current trend is almost universally toward ever-shorter stories, dwindling in length down to the shortest form out there, which is called “hint fiction” a.k.a. “flash fiction” and comes in at under twenty-five words. These “stories” are devoid of substance, and have no point whatsoever.

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8Sep/11

The Paris Review Loves Cronyism, Nepotism and Sex

The Paris Review The Paris Review is a literary magazine that holds a special place in the history of modern literature. For one thing, it’s one of the few literary journals that most regular people have heard of, and for another, it’s stocked in most bookstores—even those that have only a small selection of literary journals. There are actually hundreds of literary journals being published today, but most of them are unknown to readers at large because of their limited distribution; most literary journals have a very small circulation and are difficult to find at bookstore. Not The Paris Review, which can be found almost everywhere.

So The Paris Review is one of the better-known literary journals. That fact probably also has something to do with its long history. Founded in Paris by Harold L. Humes, Peter Matthiessen, and George Plimpton in 1953, The Paris Review began with a simple editorial mission:

“Dear reader,” William Styron wrote in a letter in the inaugural issue, “The Paris Review hopes to emphasize creative work—fiction and poetry—not to the exclusion of criticism, but with the aim in mind of merely removing criticism from the dominating place it holds in most literary magazines and putting it pretty much where it belongs, i.e., somewhere near the back of the book. I think The Paris Review should welcome these people into its pages: the good writers and good poets, the non-drumbeaters and non-axe-grinders. So long as they're good.”

With the above set-up, even if you’ve never picked up a copy of The Paris Review, you’d probably expect it to contain some good stuff. Given the above, the “good stuff” conclusion seems logical, right? The magazine has been around for a while. It’s well-known, you see it all of the bookstores, and you have this impression that it is well-respected. You might be surprised, then, to learn that TPR contains some of the lamest, least-relevant, laughably juvenile stuff being published today. And under their new editor-in-chief, Lorin Stein, the quality and reputation of TPR is plummeting at an ever-faster rate.

Much has already been written about what happened when Stein took over the magazine in 2009 and subsequently “un-accepted” several poems which had previously been accepted for publication. Pretty classy of Stein: “I'm the new boss around here. I know you've been counting on your work being published—but I don't like the editorial decisions made by my predecessor, so you’ll have to look for a new home for your work.”

It's damn rare to have something accepted only to have it un-accepted later. Daniel Nester at the website We Who Are About To Die wrote an eight-part series about what went down at The Paris Review and if you want to know more about what happened, Nester gets into all the details surrounding this un-acceptance debacle.

The un-acceptance thing was one of the first things that Stein did as the new editor-in-chief. Since that very questionable editorial decision, he’s been busy on a number of fronts, all designed to make The Paris Review magazine and website appeal to the most insecure, un-self-aware, sheep-like Lit Biz drones. He’s also spending a fair amount of time publishing his cronies and the kind of stuff that is only appealing to uptight people who think they’re finally getting in on what they missed out on in junior high school.

Stein has even turned The Paris Review blog into a relationship advice column. One of his favorite topics? Sex! (Oh my now, isn’t he so naughty?!)

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