Friday, July 2, 2010

Tin House's receipt mistake

Look. I like Tin House. As Tracy said below, we bought an issue not too long ago because often they publish really excellent work in a pretty gorgeous format. Their Fantastic Women issue is, well, pretty fantastic.

And I would also like to be published there someday. I think they'd be good for me, I like to hope that someday they'll feel I'm good for them. But stuff like this really, really makes me question my esteem for them. It seems that if you want to submit to them in the next few months, you've got to send them a receipt showing you've bought a book at a bookstore.

This is so condescending it just makes me ill. There are two reasons to do this: 1) You think the writers who submit to you are genuinely the sort of morons who try to participate in writing without reading, or 2) You want to make submitting to your magazine a big hassle. I imagine it's a bit of both. Like many magazines today, Tin House likely believes they are besieged by too many undeserving writers, the sort of people who submit too frequently, too carelessly, and without buying a sufficient number of books from them. Long-term financial success of the sort they're seeking would require them to market their product outside the world of hopeful writers, but that would be too much work, and so they attempt to guilt and shame those writers into buying their magazine, giving up on submitting, or, ideally, both.
They can partially mask the ugliness of their attitude by requiring not the purchase of their own magazine (as some do) but, as a sort of charitable gesture, books more generally. But this is where it gets stupid. At least if someone isn't buying Tin House but is submitting, you can argue that anyone submitting to Tin House must also buy it. Is this an attitude I agree with? No, it is not. But there's a principle there. If you're making me just plain buy a book, any old book, well, for God's sake, I already do that.

Are there any unspoken rules here? It seems you can't buy your book from Amazon. But I like Amazon. But okay, some of their business practices are questionable, and not much money gets back from them to the presses and writers they work with. As Darby points out in the HTMLGiant thread, if you can use a receipt from Barnes and Noble or Borders that would seem to defeat the point, because God knows they don't need your money or work with small presses any better. Why not reward purchases direct from small presses themselves? Is it really morally essential that everyone gets a cut? If I send a receipt from the Publishing Genius store is that really not good enough?

What if I buy a record or a DVD produced by a writer? Jonathan Lethem has a band. Is buying their CD good enough? In some ways I prefer Narrative Magazine's absurd $20 reading fee. At least there you're straightforwardly entering the lottery.

It gets worse. If you can't afford a book, or you've got some other problem with the new policy, you've got to explain yourself to them:
Writers who cannot afford to buy a book or cannot get to an actual bookstore are encouraged to explain why in haiku or one sentence (100 words or fewer). Tin House Books and Tin House magazine will consider the purchase of e-books as a substitute only if the writer explains: why he or she cannot go to his or her neighborhood bookstore, why he or she prefers digital reads, what device, and why. Writers are invited to videotape, film, paint, photograph, animate, twitter, or memorialize in any way (that is logical and/or decipherable) the process of stepping into a bookstore and buying a book to send along for our possible amusement and/or use on our Web site.

So if I'm genuinely poor enough I can't afford a goddamn book, I've got to write them a letter or a cutesy haiku to explain why? The truth is that if you truly can't afford one book, you're genuinely impoverished, in which case Tin House apparently thinks what you need in your life is more shame, more scolding, more pleading.

I certainly won't be submitting anything to them during this period, though I will likely buy several hundred dollars worth of books. You know anyone who submits something you would ever even consider publishing has bought a book recently, and you know it by the fact that they wrote a decent story. You simply will not find a great writer who doesn't read.

It's all just one more way to shame and guilt writers because we are, collectively, apparently too lazy to do anything that might actually promote today's best writing to today's untapped readers.


  1. This is perfect!

    I've started a personal blacklist of any magazines or publications that charge submissions fees or otherwise shame/guilt their would-be contributors. It is fun! Not that they'll ever care or know about the fact that I'll never submit to them, but, I dunno. It feels good.

  2. Ultimately I think this was a result of obliviousness on their part. There's been a largely negative reaction in all quarters and I don't get the impression they saw it coming at all.