Saturday, September 27, 2008

Letter to --Ed.

This one from a reader named Mike:

Last year you said you were planning new Thieves Jargon Press books. What ever happened to that? Is a Belgian ex-hooker and a rock & roll porno junkie story a hard act to follow? Or is it that people just don't read anymore. I have the sense it's the latter. A comment a fellow writer/publisher made to me - "People don't give a second thought to buying new CD's or DVD's, but a book?"

My sense says the small press, even though it's gravitated to the internet with tons more readers than the paper zine days, is still the small press, always on the verge of imploding. Too many writers and not enough readers.

Well, this could lead in a number of directions, so I'll see what I can cover.

As for TJ Press books, there are two big differences between where I'm at right now and when Dollhouse came out. The first is that my job is completely different. A year ago I was answering phones in a call center, and the phones never rang, which gave me about six hours a day of unfettered internet/computer time. Now that I'm getting my cubicle on, there's much less time to devote to the proper promotion of a book. I can still do the editing and the layout and the printing, that can all be done on the down-time. But when I published Kittens in the Boiler in 2005, I assumed that by virtue of publishing Thieves Jargon on a faster and more reliable pace than any other literary journal, I'd have this built-in audience of book buyers who would be interested in reading books written by more notable TJ writers. Three books deep, I now know that for whatever reason (and we can theorize on that later) it's not enough. Which leaves the getting out there and finding as many strangers as you can and talking to them about books and trying to convince them they should buy the books you're publishing... and that right there needs to be done on a full-time basis. This has all been cemented to me as necessary by various classes I've taken on book marketing and publicity.

Which leads to the second big difference: I've been back in school since last fall, which creates an obvious problem in that it chews up most of my free time (class two nights a week until ten pm, at least two nights of homework, on top of the day job and maintaining Thieves Jargon as a daily publishing entity?).

Also, since I'm in a publishing program, I kind of want to hang back, learn as much as I can from professional book publishers, see how it's done, and absorb as much as I can before I publish another book.

All of which is frustrating, because I know of at least three good manuscripts that deserve to be published, and I could probably coax out and develop one or two more if I could have a reasonable opportunity to publish them. Which is why I need to meet more literary agents.

As for the small press and internet scene, I'd definitely say it's mostly writers that are reading Thieves Jargon, but I'd say the same thing about any other literary journal, online or in print. I ride the subway to and from work each morning, and am very interested in what other people are reading. I've never once seen somebody reading a literary journal on the train. I think mostly it's that the popularity of the short story (and poetry) is at an all-time low. You can say a journal like Ploughshares sells a huge amount of copies, but those are all going to MFA programs, not casual readers. Who is open to reading a short story collection by an author they haven't heard of? Who runs short fiction and poetry that gets read by casual readers opposed to non-writers? New Yorker. Playboy. Harper's. The Best American yearly anthologies. McSweeney's has some brand recognition because of Dave Eggers and their Believer magazine. That's all I can think of. In five years of publishing Thieves Jargon, I can count on one hand the amount of email I've received from people who said they enjoy the journal but weren't writers themselves, just looking for something punchy and interesting to read.

So, why would I keep doing this? Simple. I still stand behind the work we publish. There's no shortage of really good writing to choose from, and I take great pleasure from reading it and putting it up there for other people, even if it's only writers looking for a place to submit their own work. The shit's quality. Also, I have some hope for the future. I think America can't get much more stupid than it is right now, and I have hope that willful ignorance will at some point slingshot in the other direction. Maybe someday we'll get to see some sort of cultural renaissance and, among other things, general interest magazines will begin to run short fiction again. Someday a magazine editor is going to come calling, and he'll say hey, nobody's published more fiction than you have in the past x amount of years, any chance you know some talented and interesting writers who we can get published? and I'll ready to step up.


Mike said...

Thanks for airing this one out, Matt. I figured as much, but thought others might be curious.

Anonymous said...

your mag is getting around and getting renowned. nothing but good stuff in it, and whether or not it's only writers who read it, TJ has a very good rep.
step it up a notch, reject more and concentrate on TWO pieces a week. pass the work and the word on to your helpers that the slot just got a little smaller.
might save you some time and give the writers who get in more cred.
just a thought.
keep up the good work.

i think that the lack of interest in literature in general is a lot like the housing market. it will have it's booms and busts. we may be in a bust, but it just takes a spark to light off the boom..!

Anonymous said...

who knows why it's been cool to be stupid lately and what it would take for people to read on trains. they love that shit in paris.

Steve Barker said...

The best example of people's lack of interest in reading these days is at the airport. I see more people watching DVDs than reading. Even some of the bookstores have DVD sections larger than the actual paperback section.

fagonamous said...

I don't agree with the comment about DVD's and CD's. I haven't bought a dvd in four years and a CD in ten. I get it all online and will only pay for online music if it's an artist I really love and can't bring myself to steal from like Jenny Lewis. Otherwise the only entertainment I spend money on is buying books. All that got me through my time being locked up was books, the same with train rides and bus rides and anything else. I personally love short stories and novellas the most and find it a shame they aren't published as much. The old pan books of horror are great and I wish somebody would do something like that again. Television and movie horror anthologies hardly ever live up to the quality or entertainment value of short horror stories. Clive Barker's best work is in his short stories but he is rich and well known from his mediocre novels and films. Nothing can ever replace the experience of getting engrossed in a good novel or story. No films or tv shows ever hold my attention or distract me from my hellish life but books do as long as I am reading them. The saddest thing about the writer's strike was seeing that the majority of the WGA were nothing more than tracers. I mean like if they were artists they would just lay a sheet of tracing paper over a well known work and add minor variations, enough to avoid charges of plagiarism. Look at the 40 or so popular police/CSI type dramas on TV today. The only difference between any of them is whatever squinty eyed actor they cast to play the main cop or detective or whatever.

I have read the complete works of Flannery O'Connor at least three times since I've been into and almost just by accident because I can't help it. If you read her it reminds you that shorts stories and fiction that are important and just meant to sell or make money or entertain people, they give you some way of understanding people and life and yourself kind of like how religious people get that out of the bible.

And if you look at any other field there really aren't too many writers out there. I run into a lot more people who say they plan to write or want to write, I meet a hell of a lot more aspiring NBA stars and rappers and rocks stars than I do writers.

If anything there are too many lawyers, too many cops, too many poorly trained doctors and psychologists and not nearly enough writers or teachers.

Anonymous said...

Your problem is that you spend half your time running hi-end MFA-influenced work and the other half your time running street-level wino work. Either is fine, but you confuse the hell out of your audience, they never know what to expect, and the two crowds never mix well. You should pick one style and stick with it.

Anonymous said...

People don't read anymore because their brains have been made into mush from audio visual overload. Remember: The 'word' became flesh and look what they did to that flesh.

I hope that Thieves Jargon stays the way it is...the best literary mag on the internet!!

andy.riverbed said...

i think fag has a good point. the anon complaining of the mix of high and low brow on the jargon oughta shove it.

Anonymous said...

i like read the words on them. when on plain. or car. books. with the plots. and i like the pictures with the capshuns, and i like.

keep the coming with stuff. of words. likes. the story with the things said.

merican scum

Anonymous said...

I duspute the notion that people are less smart today than they were a hundred years ago. At least now we don't think fags, niggers and women are subhuman. Another sign that smarts are on the rise is the fact that less people than ever before believe in religion.

But without the fear of religious retribution, it's way easier to be greedy and insulated.

As someone who has been around for more than 30 years, I can say, it's not like there used to be people reading collections of short stories on the train. It's just never been a big thing.

Matt DiGangi said...

Thanks everybody for weighing in.

I almost convinced myself to go back to running only three pieces a week, but nah, not unless I see a drop in the quality of the incoming work. I think I'll go full steam until I'm done.

As for the format, the uhhhh mix of trained writing and underground style, well, I come from both schools, and think there's room for both, and probably get happiest when the two styles mix. I wouldn't be doing myself justice by sticking to just one style.