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Publish it Forward: Who decides?

28 May 2013

From Grub Street Daily:

Who gets to decide that you are a writer?  Who gives you permission?

It used to be that writers would have to get through the gatekeepers in order to be considered legitimate writers.  If they didn’t manage that, then the next best thing was a personal testimonial from a trusted source.  Amanda talks about the wish to have an older established author call you the “real deal” at a cocktail party.

This struck a cord with me because as a young graduate of BU’s creative writing program, feeling very insecure about my own writing, I had the audacity to launch Grub Street by teaching classes out in the community.  My credentials were thin:  I had taught one creative writing course at BU and I had zero publications.   I wasn’t even sure I was going to keep on writing but I knew I was a good teacher and I thought I could explore my writing with fellow fledgling writers.

. . . .

I still cringe when I think about a summer afternoon more than a decade ago, when I was walking around Coolidge Corner and I ran into an old childhood friend and her mother.  When my friend mentioned Grub Street, her mother began to talk in detail about a writer friend of hers on the Cape who was teaching and who was really qualified and experienced.  She started listing all of her publications.  I felt so ashamed that I quickly excused myself and went to buy a packet of cigarettes even though I hadn’t smoked in years.    

What right do you have to do what you are doing?

Another common reaction involved questioning the legitimacy of my students. What were they thinking?  How could they be any good? They didn’t have to apply to get in?  The subtext again: what right do they have to write?

. . . .

The growth of self-publishing has challenged this openness some.   I sometimes sense that the community views an author backed by a New York publishing house as somehow more “legitimate” than an author who has chosen to self-publish.  Last year, at the Muse, an author told me she was chatting happily with another author until that author learned that she was self-published whereupon she turned on her heels and walked away.  The self-published author was left feeling rejected and shamed.

Self-published authors – like me over a decade ago – are subverting the proper power channels and giving themselves permission.  This might be deeply threatening to many but it shouldn’t be to us.   What we care about is the quality of the work, not who is packaging it.

What matters most is whether, to quote Amanda, your writing “can scratch an opening in the scarred up heart of a human being.”

Link to the rest at Grub Street Daily and thanks to Mira for the tip.

Self-Publishing, Writing Advice

7 Comments to “Publish it Forward: Who decides?”

  1. What right do you have to do what you are doing?

    It’s still a (relatively) free country. You get to do whatever you want to do. That’s our right. “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” It’s in the Declaration of Independence.

  2. I think this is a lovely article. Empowering and abit moving.

    Good luck to her! She was and is a pioneer.

  3. This explains why I am so open to the idea of e-publishing.

    Because my approach to “What gives you the right?” has always been, “See if you can stop me.”

    “I hated cigarettes until I saw my first NO SMOKING sign. KEEP OFF THE GRASS? Let’s play soccer.”

  4. Yup, I learned a long time ago I don’t need or desire anyone’s permission to do what I please. I’m sorry for the people who feel like they need external validation to follow their own path. I think the writers on the inside of the trad system dismiss self publishing because they see it as people circumventing the perceived dues paying process they went through even though it has very little to do with quality and more about the commercial interests of publishers. That’s why so many of them gloat about their number of rejections and wear them as some perverse badge of honor. Its really quite sad to me.

  5. Grub Street is a really, REALLY wonderful organization.

    I would like to provide a counterbalance to the story of the snubbing of the SP author:

    One of Grub Street’s supporters and volunteer teachers is Ladette Randolph, the Ed-in-Chief of Ploughshares, the literary journal of Emerson College, and a professor in their MFA program (and a damn fine writer of literary fiction). I have shared lunch with her on several occasions.

    When I told her I was self-publishing my novel, she congratulated me, encouraged me, came to my launch party, bought my book, told another professor/author (Pamela Painter) about it, who also bought it.

    At a Grub Street reception, Pam told me she thought the changes in publishing were “refreshing” and she felt that any author is entitled to be judged on the quality of the work, no matter who published it.

    I would like to think they are not the only two MFA instructors and traditionally published literary fiction authors who feel this way.

    • Thanks for the kind words about Grub Street. I’m so glad to hear this story and there are many more just like it. The community is moving toward being publishing agnostic – which is where we should be.


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