Sunday, January 9, 2011

Several Reasons to Be a Publisher

I think there are some well-understood benefits to being a publisher. One is that it supposedly grants you some name recognition or sway with other editors and publishers. This is probably more true for more successful publishers -- while Tracy and I have met some people as a result of our work with Puerto del Sol, for instance, we haven't as far as I know gotten a whole lot of attention as writers because of it. Publishing is nepotistic so long as there's nothing at stake. When people have to actually put down cash, time, and effort, this effect can persist, but I think its strength is exaggerated.

Another is that you get to help great writing come to the surface, as it were -- you help to make people aware of things they might otherwise not see. Again, with the saturation of venues available today I'm not sure this is as much of a thing as it has been in the past; people can self-publish, they can self-promote, and in general if your work is of the sort that will attract one publisher it will attract several. Not a big deal (unless, of course, you luck into the sort of venue where placement can start a career -- something Uncanny Valley definitely isn't, as of yet).

However there are some less obvious benefits that ultimately make me happy we do this, even as it devours time during a busy and stressful period in our lives.

1. It makes you learn things.

I wanted to leave this school with better knowledge of several things, some of which are lapsed skills: Indesign use, CSS and web design generally (especially in Dreamweaver), and Photoshop. Publishing more or less requires a mixture of all three. I've been comfortable with graphics programs in the past, as well as basic web design skills, but I've fallen behind on both in my time at school, as I've focused on my writing. It's been really good to catch up on these, and to learn Indesign for the first time -- and it should benefit me in my career, as well.

2. It makes you think about problems you'll need to spend your life thinking about anyway.

If you're a writer, you need to think about how to engage readers. You need to think, at some point in your life, about how to market writing. You have to think about how to adapt yourself to the changing ways in which people read -- or how not to adapt yourself, as the case may be. You have to think about what it means to publish something in a world where publication is potentially instantaneous. What parts of the process matter the most to you? How do you want to interact with editors? These things are inevitably clarified by working with writers as an editor.

3. You get to serve someone else.

One thing that's always made me want to get into more naturally collaborative forms -- comics, games, film, television, etc. -- is the unbearable selfness of writing. Not the selfishness, exactly, although that's certainly an issue. The selfness. Meaning the way that while our writing is always of course a product of our environments and culture and conversations and so on, we can't help but experience it as mainly a product of ourselves. I can barely perceive my own writing -- as in, I can barely even actually see it -- I feel so connected to it. I can, with great effort, read with sufficient care so as to revise my work, but even this requires outside interference, and it doesn't allow me to take pleasure in my writing, it only allows me to imagine how I might change it. Just about the best thing that can happen when you're a writer working on a manuscript is that it turns out more or less the way you want it to. Maybe if you're lucky it becomes something you never imagined. But even then it's still really yours in a way that can be crushing, deflating, etc.

I understand the chief pleasure of making collaborative work to be the possibility of enjoying one's own contributions in the context of the whole. So, for instance, while I have real issues with self-loathing in relationship to my art, which is better than the average person's art but not I would really say good exactly, the sort of issues that frequently lead me to destroy it, I can draw for someone else and be satisfied with the results, more or less, insofar as they serve the writer's needs. The same can be said for my designs, which are maybe not the designs of an expert yet but feel very nice to me when I look at them as a part of the larger product that is the result of someone else's writing and my editing -- my curation, my proofreading and suggestions for revision, my design, my promotion. Are any of these things as satisfying as writing? Ultimately, no, which is why I generally spend more time being a writer than an editor. It's way more fun to be on the writer's side of that interaction, most of the time. But editing does allow me a different kind or category of pleasure all together -- the joy of knowing I helped something I love to be just a little bit better.

Tomorrow we publish our first piece. I hope you'll come back to read it.


  1. hoa nguyen, in her craft talk here, spoke about writers becoming publishers as a way to "pay back" the writing community, or keep up your writing karma. that stuck with me, even though she snubbed me when i tried to talk to her about being mutual university of maryland grads.

    in those terms, being a publisher appeals to me. giving back, reading new work, learning stuff--all of these things you mention are good. still, in the publishing climate we live in, i don't think it's necessary for EVERY writer to somehow be involved with a journal or a press, which is increasingly what it seems like to me. it seems like many writers are involved with publishing ventures as a way to pad their contributor bios, cvs, or to network with people who can publish their own work. am i wrong in this thinking? i know that there are many truly dedicated people behind the scenes at the journals and presses out there, but are all of them in it for the reasons you are?

    no less than six graduates of or students in the nmsu mfa program have started journals in the last year, year and a half. doesn't that seems like a lot? since you and tracy do such a good job, i'll let you guys keep going and admire your work as merely a reader and a writer.

  2. Oh yeah, no, there are tons of people doing it just to do it. I try not to submit to the resulting venues or really pay them much attention. And honestly some of the stuff coming out of NMSU looks that way to me. A blog is not generally a magazine. But, you know, no harm done.