Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Abusive Snark

Literary agent Miss Snark (www.misssnark.blogspot.com wouldn't know an original writer if the person dropped on top of her. She and her ilk don't want originality. They cherish conformity-- which is why their main concern as editors and agents is in the manners, presentation, and obsequiousness of those who approach them. Make sure those manuscripts are neat and clean! Uh oh! He misspelled a word. Send the novel back to Mr. Dostoevsky immediately!

Miss Snark can abuse authors daily on her blog because she knows standard demi-puppet writers are interchangeable. She can always find a replacement, exactly the same, for the author she's just kicked down the stairway.

Why is this? Why do standard MFA writers get no respect? Why, after having paid for the preciously worthless certificate, are they asked to pony up another $350 (in New York) or $200 (in Philly) just to be allowed to briefly say "hi" to arrogant agents, editors, and publishers from the mainstream?

An artificial oversupply of writers is continually created by MFA factories. These aren't writers, but writer-wannabes. They think, "Golly! It'd be cool to be a writer." The vague notion appeals to their egos-- so they take expensive writing classes to "learn" "how" to write. They eventually achieve a basic competence-- a veneer of mediocrity. (The real writer, on the other hand, writes, regardless of background or circumstances. For the real writer, writing is an integral part of his being-- like breathing-- like Wild Bill when he was living off the land in New Mexico yet never failing to produce new issues of his hand-made zeen.)

When you have an oversupply of anything, its value plummets. This is how a Miss Snark is able to treat writers-- the foundation of the process-- with total contempt. "If God did not want them sheared he would not have made them sheep." The Snarks of literature are like the bandit leader from the movie "The Magnificent Seven." They carry his attitude.

Who put Miss Snark in charge? Does she know anything about literature, about art? Her posts show that she knows only about business. Art is secondary. Art is incidental-- an afterthought. If Snark received the hand-scrawled yellow pages of Thomas Wolfe's Look Homeward Angel in a box she'd have it taken quickly to the nearest dumpster in the alley behind her Manhattan office building. "Ugh!" she'd exclaim. "Disgusting!"

Robotic apparatchiks like her are in charge of literature today-- which is why this culture finds no great writers.

One can stand up like a human being or crawl like a mouse. Until writers begin to stand up for themselves, they'll have no value in this corrupt society.

In the Underground Literary Alliance, writers are in charge of the operation.

(p.s. For those who think in stereotypes, I've not sent an unsolicited manuscript anywhere in fifteen years. Jumping through hoops like an obedient dog has never been my game. I'm more interested in DIY. Creating an alternative literature is what ULAers are doing.)


Anonymous said...

For what my experience and perspective's worth, I suggest you don't read or post there too much--that place is too frustrating and fake, too much a waste of energy better spent on other things. She's censored my posts too, which is why I stopped posting there and hadn't even read it in months and months. I've been all over "Miss Snark's" blog a few days ago and in the past:

You know what?

The groupies at Miss Snark’s place really are unfuckingbelievable

I agree with your post, yet I also think you're missing something: most of the people posting at Miss Snark's probably don't have MFAs--the nasty shit there really isn't about MFAs. It's about money. In my opinion, the publishing industry is mostly about money, and "it" thinks that in order to make maximum money, cutting the money flowing to writers is the first order of business, just like with many big businesses, rather than cutting frivolous executive spending and increasing efficiency in their business practices by removing waste--they take an axe to their employees, the foundation of their business. And just look at that Snark thread you responded in--right away people started using the employee term.

Amazing that some writers would think publishers are like their employers! So then where are the writing salaries, the benefits, the pensions? Most published writers probably don't make more than pennies per day--that's slaves wages, that aint EVEN a "wage." Writers normally aren't employees to publishers; writers are the foundation of the whole fucking industry. When a building foundation's components are in shitty broken shape, so will the building ultimately be; hence, all the shitty books on bookshelves today because so many writers themselves are broken.

The masochistic suck-ups at Miss Snark's have been beaten down by the publishing industry, and I think the publishing industry beats them down so it can get away with paying writers a pittance--that's the bottom line. People trying to make maximum money off writers, no matter if the writers starve. And, apparently, plenty of no-self-respect writers are more than willing to lick lots of ass for a pipe-dreamer's chance at a pittance. I think the asslickers see a select-few token-awarded writers getting huge advances and think that's gonna be them next! They think publishers take care of writers, when I think that, overall, most publishers shit on the vast majority of writers for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Anonymous said...

...Ooops, just wanna add that I didn't mean to equate writers and employees in my post, which I think I sort of did. I just meant that writers are the foundations of publishing, which, yes, is a business, and, yes, employees are the foundations of businesses in general, but that doesn't necessarily mean "writers" equals "employees." They may both occupy similar positions as being foundations, but the employees of businesses in general are really equal to the employees of publishers, who are the editors, copywriters, janitors, etc. Both writers AND editors, copywriters, janitors, are foundations. I just happen to think writers are more like the real foundations of the foundations--or maybe saying they're the supportive soil beneath it all would be a better analogy because all those editors et al. probably wouldn't be employed at jobs in publishing if it weren't for the works writers created.

King Wenclas said...

Great remarks, Fran.
I hope you can see what we're trying to do with the ULA.
We want to eliminate the "cut" of the pie that the snobby Miss Snarks take; that publishing bureaucracies take; that the Morgan Entrekins sitting in their plush offices take.
We want eventually to kick out the 55% that places like Amazon take.
We want writers to control their own product and take in the proceeds, cooperatively.
I post at places like Snark's because we're engaged in a battle of ideas.
We want writers! We want the most kick-ass independent-minded writers on the planet, prepared to stand with us and work with us as equals.

Anonymous said...

Yep, I see and agree with what you're doing overall. I've just disagreed with you sometimes on technique--I do things a bit differently.

I used to argue a lot with people head-on, but I think a person can spend too much fruitless time trying to reason with the unreasonable. Some people are just unreasonable. Probably nothing you could say will change them, but there are other people who aren't so unreasonable, who are able and may someday be willing to change. I'd rather spend my time trying to reach those people--I actually think they're more numerous than the unreasoners; the potentially reachable are just a more diverse group and require a multipronged approach. The unreasoners are pretty much all the same, a monopeople, who blather on and on and on with the same unreasoning crap. Ignoring them as if they don't count may be the best approach, though it's also (unfortunately) true that when the unreasoners temporarily hold most of the money and power in society, you're forced to pay attention to them occasionally....

- Leopold said...

Not much to say other than to agree, great comments by Fran. But a few points.

1) You can't eliminate the MFA from the publishing trust's hunt for money. The MFA programs overproduce writers who are willing to 'pay' to write and be heard. It's like saying scabs don't figure in strikes. (note, I'm not saying MFAers are like scabs - just that the end result is the same).

2) I'd like to take exception to the comment 'I do things differently' as it implies there is only one way the ULA does things, which I think if anyone investigates is very much untrue. We're working on a whole number of levels. You'll find the ULA made up of a number of members - some who are attack dogs like Karl - others who do less confrontational work in the background - Pat, Jeff P, Wred - many many. The ULA is an organization of people who feel the current state of writing can't go on and are willing to fight for it, who put in the best they know how. That includes Attacking, (and let's face it, everything Karl does gets much more attention than most of the non-confrontational stuff we do) though this is only part of what we do.

Jeff Potter said...

I'm not sure that publishing today is about money. There's something else going on. It's certainly not about direct money. Almost any activity is more profitable. It's the indirect revenue and power that seem to be dominant today. People don't read and lit doesn't sell---not hardly. But there are grants and funded positions (rarely involving writing---"teaching" instead) and there are stepping stones. Maybe the far better money is in slick mag articles or even copywriting. Doing any amount of work for Hollywood is a clearly known cash cow. Screenplays are the obvious item there but, ya know, that's gotta be a tiny fraction of the "creativity" that Hollywood funnels its river of cash to. Where DO all the writers end up, huh? The well-trained, docile ones, I mean.

More candor in this trade would be helpful, eh?

Maybe their insistence on docility is just part of their method of finding decent catalog copy writers. If so, so be it. But they should be up front about it.

Maybe that was McInerny's career path all along: to write a few pop novels so that he could finally get to write blurbs for wine makers and get a few real paychecks.

Anyway, if publishers were serious about money they'd let writers sell their own inventory. But they stick to old-timey, self-defeating exclusive deals there. Bands can sell their own CDs at shows, but writers are usually prevented from directly profiting from the sale of their books. So they have no direct incentive.

Well, we of the ULA aren't satisfied with a dead lit trade or with secondary opportunity. We're going to do all we can to revive lit itself.

I just got word from the printer that the ship date for Wred Fright's "The Pornographic Flabbergasted Emu's" is finally set at 11/17. Here we go!

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

...I didn't necessarily mean the MFA part of my post toward the problems in publishing in general--I said at Miss Snark's place, which, as far as I can tell, isn't populated with the snooty MFA-ers. Most of the people commenting there don't seem like literary writers, and Snark herself doesn't seem to place an emphasis on MFAs.

I do think the MFA emphasis is more a problem in literary publishing, not so much in commercial publishing and in the little "in-between" publishing that goes on ("little" being the operative word as publishing has become very polarized and compartmentalized), though a significant number of published MFA writers exist even in commercial circles. Unfortunately, in today's world a person's credentials often matter more than the person herself. People aren't people anymore; people are their credentials.

I consider the bulk of the large and medium houses (and even some smaller presses lightly) commercial, no matter that they may publish some literary fiction. And in "commercial" the emphasis usually is on money. In America especially, money and economics often take precedence over practically everything else; going on what I've seen, publishers haven't escaped that mentality. That doesn't necessarily mean there MUST be a primary emphasis on money--I ain't arguing THAT. That money seems so extremely important to many publishers--I find that disgusting. But it's still the way they normally operate. Life: The Movie by Neal Gabler discusses the history of publishing (I wrote a little about that book and other related stuff here http://franswhatever.blogspot.com/2005/10/quills-awards-hollywoodizing-of-books.html)--populist publishing and an emphasis on sales over quality apparently isn't a new phenomenon here. I just think it's gotten worse in recent times. Also, I've worked at a large nonfiction house that primarily published textbooks and science journals, and even THERE sales too often took precedence over quality.

"Anyway, if publishers were serious about money they'd let writers sell their own inventory."

--Jeff, I think you seem to be assuming publishers are smart business people--in my opinion, most publishers are not! Just because someone's extremely focused on money doesn't necessarily mean that someone knows how to make and manage money. Obsessed-with-money people usually wind up LOSING money somewhere. Many publishers are perpetually stuck in a time-warp: they keep publishing today what they think made money yesterday. They keep doing that over and over and over again in the deluded belief that what made money yesterday will automatically make money both today and tomorrow. And then they complain when they lose money tomorrow, when the quarter returns are low, etc., when they never stopped to think that, gee, maybe they could try publishing something different?

I can't stand when people entirely blame readers/buyers for the many shitty books being published today. Yes, buyers are partly responsible because maybe if they refused to buy the crap on the shelves, lots of that crap would disappear from the shelves. That they keep buying it, even if in decreasing numbers--that still keeps some shitty publishers and their shitty books in business. But I really think it's more that sitting in la-la land publishers and their bean counters are determining the market, are determining what the bookshelves hold. I think in most life situations, all parties involved likely share some responsibility, just maybe the amount they share differs. Both readers and publishers (and writers) are responsible for the shitty state of books and publishing today, but publishers are more responsible to me because they seemingly make lots of decisions independent of what the public may want. It's almost like they've got their own language and it's unintelligible to and disconnected from the rest of the world. They just declare their language and declare what the bookshelves will hold, and don't take other people's interests into consideration enough. Some publishers honestly seem insanely disconnected with reality.

I've written some screenplays, I used to hang out at screenwriting websites a lot, and I've talked with professional screenwriters privately--screenwriters generally have the same complaints most prose writers have. Most screenwriters supposedly cannot make a living; the cash-cow thing applied to screenwriters is kind of a myth. Lots of new writers pen screenplays thinking they're gonna hit it big, just like they pen novels thinking they're gonna hit it big. The vast majority of screenwriters don't make enough money to live on. Many may make more than novelists do, but they make practically NOTHING compared to what directors and actors make overall. And as far as "prestige" is concerned--forget it. Their works are routinely shat on. In my opinion, a significant number of movies technically suck not because the writing was necessarily bad but because the production process destroyed the original visions of the writers. Probably most people--writers included--can easily name directors and actors; they can't easily name screenwriters. They're pretty faceless. It seems writers are bottom-rung-residing third-class citizens even in Hollywood.

I think the snooty MFA mentality and seeming "credential" necessity and the I-must-dominate-the-writer-underlings mentality in way too many publishing circles are definitely big problems. I just don't think they're the only problems and maybe they're not the primary problem as far as most writers--MFA or not--being paid pittances is concerned. And even if you look behind the MFA shit, you might find dollar signs somewhere....

Anonymous said...

Sorry for the deletion--had to fix some spelling mistakes. Hope I got them all....

jimmy grace said...

MFAs can be about money from another angle, too.
I'm a visual artist, and many other artists I know got MFAs on scholarship. They found it was the best way to have studio access and time to work. If you're making stone sculptures, for example, it would take months to save up from some bumass job to buy the stone you need, and as for enough time to concentrate on work, forget it.
This is less excusable with a writer whose materials are affordable, but it still works. Some people can get home from their stupid job and write well into the night. Some can't. The MFA - as long as you don't pay for it - is a way to find that time. The trouble is, there's a mentality that goes with it, so I suspect many writers enter an MFA program for fair reasons but end up embedded in a system that demands limp prose about rich Manhattanites to get published.
Meanwhile, publishing's a smiliar gambit. Corporate publishers are in New York City, a brutally expensive place to live. Publishing doesn't pay well. Most people who can afford to work in publishing come from rich families. So rich Manhattanites end up choosing...manuscripts about rich Manhattanites.
That's where art and money collide, in my view - the tougher it is to scrape out a living while making art, the more artists come from the upper classes.
I doubt serious fiction - like serious art - is a major money concern for corporate publishers. It doesn't sell enough! Even some hotshot novelist doesn't sell enough to make real money for a corporation. Publishers are kept afloat by books like HTML FOR DUMMIES.

Adam Hardin said...
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chilly charlie said...

Re "Jimmy Grace." Here is Tim Hall again, with his envy of "Manhattanites" and MFA's. There is also the same unmistakable writing style, an inept blend of pretension and faux populism. I've compared his prose to Holden Caulfield before. Here we go again.

In the posting above, we have a "bumass job" in one sentence and beautiful classical syntax in "This is less excusable with a writer whose materials are affordable..." It reads like a forty-year-old wanting to sound like he's twenty-seven.

And this crap about rich Manhattanites and their novels. Sheer demagoguery. Just like his crap about the MFA being "the SUV of academia." Bullshit.

Couple that to Tim's demonstrated racism and homophobia, and you've got to ask, why the hell does this guy want to be a writer and live anywhere near New York?

Be on your guard. I suspect that Tim Hall wants to weasel his way back in here as "Jimmy Grace," and then have a big laugh if he can take you all in.

Big fat weasel.

jimmy grace said...

Envy of MFAs? Don't make me laugh. Er, I mean "chortle," if that's a preferable bit of prose. No, wait - I mean "laff my ass off" to get the popular vote.
I'm just a guy, Chilly. You don't know me. Debate my views or ignore 'em.

chilly charlie said...

Tim, you have a good point. You are suffering from so much envy of BA's that you haven't even worked up to MFAs yet.

Debate your points? Why don't you address mine? You are Tim Hall. And yes, yes Tim, I do know you.

jimmy grace said...

I've been doing nothing but addressing your "point." I'm not Tim Hall. I'd never heard of him until you started accusing me of such.

chilly charlie said...

You're Tim Hall, Tim Hall. You're a vindictive, hateful human being. You're a narcissist and a bully.

This is just like your "Bryan Guski" phase, you keep denying till you can't deny any more, then "Jimmy Grace" will also fall silent and you'll cook up somebody new.

You're a lying, dickless bag of water, and you deserve all the contempt you get.

And you are JEALOUS AS HELL of people with MFA's. I'm not. You know why? Because I earned a BA. And you didn't. Loser.

jimmy grace said...

You're just fucking wrong.

My name is Jimmy. I make visual art under the name Jimmy Grace in Oakland. I don't use any other names. I wandered onto the ULA site awhile back because I like to wander around the Web when it's slow at work or when I'm drinking at an Internet bar. I post comments all over the fucking place whenever I want, whatever pops into my head, which is free speech, asshole. But King requires registration (for no rational reason) so here I am. But I'm done with your stupid conspiracy theory. I'll continue to post on this blog or any other blog whenever the hell I want, and you can think I'm Bill O'Reilly for all I care.