I’ve approached a number of book blogs and websites asking that they review SAD JINGO. It turns out that some of the plum ones, such as Bookslut, do not review purely digital books, as a matter of policy, and will only review books submitted by publishers rather than the authors themselves.
I understand that completely, and imagine I would have the same policy were I a book review site (though there is just a tinge, the merest smidgen, of irony in the phenomenon of an online book review site refusing to review purely electronically published books, unless the books are also available in ye olde corporeal ink + paper + binding form; alas, it’s a buyer’s market, so to speak, and us indie/micro-published writers can’t very well sniff at web sites and say we refuse to be reviewed by anything but printed and bound book reviews).
The fact is there are too many books out there by self-published, unedited, non-professionals that the decision to let actual physical publishing do at least a little of the curatorial job of the critic seems reasonable. Not to mention practical. Perhaps even necessary.
It does make it hard, though, for sad folks like JINGO.
So once JINGO is available via print-on-demand, I will urge my publisher to submit copies to folks like Bookslut, The Millions, and others. Even though I can’t read them on real, professional ink and paper.
A short short of mine is up at the online zine Underground Voices. It’s called “Top Shelf.”
This was one I wrote very quickly after dithering with a longer version for some months. One morning, a scene popped into mind, a fragment of it, and forty minutes or so later I had this version as is, more or less.
Original had the main ingredient of the story found by a boy in a field and hidden in his room and talking to him in his mind. Then he brings it for show and tell at school. Couldn’t make that version work somehow. Also was distracted by reading somewhere online (do too much of that sometimes, methinks) that “boy finds something in a field” was a cliche to be avoided.
Anyhoo, thanks to the kind folks at Underground Voices for accepting the story.
The most excellent writer and editor Cindy Rosmus interviewed. Wow.
One of the useful things about Duotrope is the editor interviews. Let’s be real: Most writers do not exhaustively study small, niche markets flung far and wide over the Internet when trying to find a home for their fiction. We sort by category, scrutinize the guidelines, and read a story or two to see if what we write might be in the ballpark.
But often Duotrope will have interviewed the editor of a prospective market and we get to see a bit of their thinking, which can be helpful. One of these ticked me off the other day.
This editor went on about how he wanted to know what sort of work a writer had done. Work as in jobs, paid employment not involving writing. The more physical the better. He said something like people who have worked hard have better stories to tell than those who’ve spent all their time writing.
What a bunch of horseshit. One has nothing to do with the other. Yes, great men and women of action, as well as humble and anonymous laborers who would never be deemed illustrious in any way, have written great fiction. So, too, of course, have worker drones who peck and peck and peck until they hit and on their death bed have only their writing and whatever human and familial relationships that have lasted to comfort them (or regret). Show me an editor who has to know how you’ve spent your workaday life before he judges your writing and I’ll show you some literary judgement that’s not to be trusted.
I suppose this is related to the trope toward “authenticity” common in some circles of contemporary letters, which is often allied with some manner of identity politics. The writer who is most interesting is the actual type of person the story is about. These days that means non-white, non-male, perhaps non-heterosexual.
Again, as if any given writer who fits the non-criteria a) has a special insight that only having lived that condition his or herself could enable rendering it in a work of fiction and b) conversely, wouldn’t be able to write convincingly about other points of view.
That’s baloney. Writers have imaginations. Writers have hearts. Writers, when they are lucky and working hard enough and the muses and the constitution and the emotions and the mind and body and writing tools are all aligned just right, are able to express things that move us. How they earned their bread prior to those creative moments, or what color or ethnic background or sexuality they are, is background. Non-determinant. Not all that important.
I prefer those Duotrope-interviewed editors who say they don’t read cover letters at all to this one that ticked me off. That’s a bit extreme in itself. I think a cover letter mentioning the basics about whether something has been published before, simultaneous subs, and a few publishing credits, if any, is fine. But I’d rather submit just the work itself without any letter at all than have to apologize for not ever having been a lumberjack or a bouncer or a coal miner or a Nascar pit tire changer. Or whatever.
The times we live in. Just saw on Facebook that a former colleague has published a science fiction novel. I read a sample at the Barnes and Noble site. It’s not very good. He’s a nice enough fellow, but his book has many of the telltale signs of self-publishing amateurism — obvious plot, action-stopping exposition, political axe-grinding.
Another former colleague, from the very same workplace, is a poet. Not self-published, and pretty successful, it seems. He has two book-length poems out, published by small presses, and is always doing readings. I have his first book. It seems to work. It’s readable. I am not a poet and cannot judge poetry (one of my many failings), but this effort seems legitimate.
Another former colleague was also a published poet, before he died. I saw him perform a poem once, in the Village. Impressive.
A current colleague is a mystery novelist. A series character, female. Two books in. Traditionally published. Has a promo blog and does book tours. She’s a member of Sisters in Crime. Legit.
Another Facebook friend, a singer, is writing a YA mystery in the Rex Stout vein. At least two fellow attendees at an Algonkian Pitch and Shop conference I went to a couple years ago have self-published their novels, and a third has published traditionally, through Writer’s Digest.
Someday, maybe when our kids are our age, it will seem odd when someone hasn’t written a book. It will come out in conversation, at random, by surprise, when partygoers are just beginning to feel their beer. Someone will ask someone else “So what’s your book about?” and this odd someone will say, “I haven’t written a book.” And the conversation will pause and heads will turn and then the subject will be changed and the party will move on, but the bookless wonder will be marked as odd, unusual, strange.
I suppose it’s a great time, this moment in history, when the means of production are so accessible. Everyone who wants to can publish everything they have. Let the public decide what is good. Let ardent curators tout what merits touting. Let the rest settle to mere self-satisfaction of the publishing, the creative itch.
But I have to admit discomfort at the spectacle.
This is why I will not promote on Facebook, for instance, when SAD JINGO is published. Partly it’s because I’m neurotic, quite shy. I almost want to use a pseudonym, but am forcing myself not to. I have fantasies of being spotted as the book’s author when it is finally published (latest ETA is July, by the way) — and denying it. Yes, something is wrong with me.
But I digress. Facebook, to me, is for family and keeping in touch with folks I’ve lost touch with. My fifth grade teacher, for instance. Wonderful fellow. Old book-writing colleagues. And the extended family. And a few true friends.
The old publishing paradigm — write, write, write, query an agent, fail, try again, fail, try again, get an agent at last, submit to publishers, fail, try again, fail, try again, repeat, repeat, repeat, and at last succeed — was at least a meaningful signpost. Of course not all books published that way are better than self-published books. But it’s a cinch that most self-published books would not make it through that gate.
Here’s “Judgement Call,” a story about a piano teacher who decides to tell his students what he really thinks of them. It’s up at the nicely done web edition of Title Goes Here:. Thank you editor Inanna Gabriel, for picking me out of the slush pile.