Why hello! Thanks for visiting. You are looking great, by the way. Younger every time I see you.
I’d like to serve up, today, some luscious literary links.
First up, David Gessner, in the New York Times magazine, on what it’s really like to be an MFA writing professor. Times have changed since his day:
I attended graduate school at the University of Colorado in the early 1990s, and only one professor there ever learned my name; the rest, most of whom were granted their positions in the 1960s after the publication of a chapbook or two, approached their jobs with all the liveliness and enthusiasm of members of the Politburo. Iowa, of course, set the standard for the genius approach to writing in which the great man or woman allows the eager young to gather round, where they are to learn by osmosis.
Gessner teaches at UNC-Wilmington, in case you are interested. At the end of the piece, Gessner worries that he might be intentionally sabotaging his teaching career by publishing his thoughts about it, especially a few weeks before he goes up for tenure. But if I were applying for nonfiction programs right now, his essay would make me add Wilmington to my list, if it wasn’t already on there. Just so you know, tenure committee.
Then there’s New York magazine on the end of book publishing as we know it. Cheery!
Lately, the whole, hoary concept of paying writers advances against royalties has come under question. Following their down payments to authors, publishers don’t have to pay a cent in royalties, which are usually 15 percent of the hardcover price, 7.5 for paperbacks, until that signing bonus is earned back. The system is supposed to be mutually beneficial; the publishers guarantee writers a certain income, and then both parties share in the proceeds beyond that level. But it only works for publishers if they’re conservative in their expectations. As auctions over hot books have grown more frequent, prudence has gone out the window— paying a $1 million advance to a 26-year-old first-time novelist becomes a public-relations gambit as much as an investment in that writer’s future.
That money has to come from somewhere, so publishers have cracked down on their non-star writers. The advances you don’t hear about have been dropping precipitously. For every Pretty Young Debut Novelist who snags that seven-figure prize, ten solid literary novelists have seen advances slashed for their third books.
That’s it! It’s all Jonathan Safran Foer’s fault!
Finally, Wired magazine is blogging the development of one of their stories, from the pitch to the “get” to the copy edit, with all the emails in between. It’s a great primer for anyone interested in the actual process an idea goes through to wind up on the pages of a mainstream magazine. Read it here.