Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Staggering Work of Publishing Genius
By Andrew Richard Albanese -- Publishers Weekly, 2/22/2010

In the January/February issue of Mother Jones magazine, Ted Genoways, editor of the venerable literary journal the Virginia Quarterly Review, laments the impending “death of fiction,” and suggests its cause: too many publication outlets, and too many writers flooding the commercial market.
There are now some 822 creative writing programs, Genoways writes, citing Louis Menand's 2009 count. “Graduates of creative writing programs are multiplying like tribbles,” he warns, suggesting a deluge of crap that will choke the life from the literary world as we know it. “The reality is that not everyone can be a doctor, not everyone can be a professional athlete, and not everyone can be a writer.”

But a number of young writers and M.F.A. students, like Baltimore's Adam Robinson, don't quite see it that way. Thanks to technology—from blogs to social network tools, e-book formats to templates and inexpensive design, printing, and distribution—the reality is that not only can everyone be a writer these days, they can publish, too—and a generation of tech-savvy, culture-minded writers have spawned a wave of DIY presses not unlike the alternative record labels that once energized the music world. In 2006, Robinson, a grad student in the University of Baltimore's publishing program, started his own imprint, Publishing Genius (as in, he publishes works of genius, he says, rather than he is a publishing genius). So far, he has published about a dozen books and earned a modest yet devoted following—and even a shining success story: Shane Jones's novel Light Boxes.

Among his first “signings” (although in true DIY fashion there was no actual contract), Light Boxes, made its way to the hands of film producer Spike Jonze, who optioned it. Jones then signed with William Morris agent Bill Clegg, and reprint rights were sold to Penguin, who will publish the book later this year. “Things happened kind of backwards for me,” Jones tells PW. “I never pursued a major house or agency. I just pursued getting people interested in my writing and my book.”

Jones, 30, says he has been writing since he was 16. The author of three books, several chapbooks, and a host of “other little projects,” he has published all his work so far with small, community indie publishers: Publishing Genius, Fugue State Press, Scrambler Books, Boneworld Publishing, MLP, Greying Ghost, and Vis-a-septic. “I found most of these publishers because I just loved what they were doing and how close the editors worked with their writers,” he says. “I never really even thought going to a big publisher was a possibility because they felt so nonaccessible. You need an agent, an M.F.A., maybe a Ph.D., publications in the New Yorker. I figured I was just going to publish in indie places. But I also love having my work put out by these publishers. There's so much care and love and fun involved. It's exciting.

Read the rest at PW online.

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