All those traditional publishing complaints about the self-publishing/online writing slushpile rather get thrown into perspective by this development. If Lanzendorfer is correct, hopeful online writers haven’t made one bit of difference to the practices of literary journals. The MFA industry has. Time and again, writers and others involved in the book world have complained about it. And here’s one evidence of it doing actual harm and penalizing poorer writers.
There is a massive problem of felt entitlement around MFA programs, as has been chronicled at length. The problem is clearly not being helped by the fact that there’s an alternative path to writing success that MFA participants are apparently ignoring. Yes, jump into the online writing/self-publishing slush pond. You may be drowning in a pool of talentless peers, and struggling to get your head above the general level, but know what? Looks like exactly the same will apply in MFA programs these days. So much so that literary journals are effectively putting up paywalls to make you stay away. At least the internet doesn’t do that.
But it doesn’t confer an obvious qualification and other snob value brownie points either. An MFA does. Publication in an accredited literary journal, of course, also confers snob value. And this is snob value you pay for. Why wouldn’t you? It carries the Jonathan Franzen Seal of Approval.
Chris Meadows ran a couple of insightful pieces on how The Martian went from self-published surprise hit to Ridley Scott movie script. And the problem of snobbery that still lingers despite such breakout successes. The hidden, prejudiced assumption he cites there is that “self-publishing was vanity publishing.” Well, despite the work of Penguin Random House and Author Solutions, it now looks as though the equation has been turned on its head.
Snob writers from snob backgrounds are now paying snob fees for snob credentials and the snob kudos of proper publication in real literary journals. Not for them the sordid smut of a Fifty Shades-style popular success. They aspire to higher things, with real publication, on paper. After all, that’s what they paid for.
“I have faith, though, that if we develop our craft as online writers based on our own tastes and on the feedback of people we know and trust, with the understanding that finding and keeping our audience is just as much a part of the creative work as the writing itself, we’ll take this new form in wonderful and unexpected directions. Online content is a separate and worthy discipline and a nascent art form in and of itself. Let’s give ourselves permission to experiment, make mistakes, and develop new approaches to the craft. It’s too early to imitate as much as we’ve begun to, because there are still no sure things. Nothing is settled yet and we should resist the temptation to start locking things down and then chiding each other for getting our e-mail subject lines wrong. Internet content is a mess, but it holds all the potential of previous mediums and then some, once we evolve to catch up.
There is no one right way to blog, e-mail, or otherwise share content with the world. No right time to post, no right combination of networks to use, no perfect font size or color. So at a certain point you’re going to have to go back to the only true metric, the only like that matters in the end. Yours.”
[“BLA and GB Gabbler” (really just a pen name – singular) are the Editor and Narrator behind THE AUTOMATION, vol. 1 of the Circo del Herrero series. They are on facebook, twitter, tumblr, goodreads, and Vulcan’s shit list.]
“It’s sort of a joke, but for real,” she said. “I wanted the award/competition itself to be science fiction. After all, if it can’t expand the imagination of the general public, what’s the point of having a sci-fi competition?”
“A comparison to Tolkien is inevitable for any fantasy writer—as is a comparison to C. S. Lewis, J. K. Rowling, and just about every other fantasist who ever was (T. H. White, Le Guin, Feist, Pratchett, Pullman, Alan Moore, and so on, as well as some notable non-fantasists, like the great Evelyn Waugh). But with Grossman, the comparison is even more unavoidable than usual. If the references to a school for magic and a mystical land didn’t already tip you off, Grossman’s trilogy plays as an epic riff on the entire genre. And just in case you still don’t get it, he drops allusions to these works throughout, from specific (Rowling’s “muggles,” for instance) to structural (boy-wizard trope, Lewis’s Narnia). The goal, it seems, is to be so derivative, so plagiaristic in its parts, that their sum somehow circles back in an Ouroboros of meta-magic and achieves a kind of renewed originality. The entirety of protagonist Quentin Coldwater’s journey is supposed to transcend the familiarity of its particulars. ”