Sunday, September 26, 2010

TIN HOUSE, CLAY FEET

LEON BLOY, AUTHOR OF PILGRIM OF THE ABSOLUTE
"Every true writer is surely a judge."
After months of work, I recently sent off an essay to a "literary" magazine called Tin House. I didn't want to bother with their pesky online submission protocol, so I went the old-school way: I printed out the 3400-word piece, addressed a manila envelope, and happily walked my little package to the Post Office. 

Last week, my self-addressed stamped envelope came back with a small Xeroxed notice to the following effect:  "Between September 1 and December 30, 2010, Tin House magazine will require writers submitting unsolicited manuscripts to the magazine to include a receipt for a book purchased from a bookstore. Writers who are not able to produce a receipt for a book are encouraged to explain why in 100 words or fewer." 

SAMSON AND THE DONKEY JAW
As you may or may not know, submitting to a literary mag means months of waiting, usually for a rejection, and getting paid, if at all, two or three hundred bucks. I don't mind begging; I don't mind being a slave to literature. But if you want to start a "Buy a Book, Save a Bookstore Campaign," the idea is to make a sacrifice yourself, not to compel a sacrifice from others. I, too, am saddened and perplexed by the rise of "digital" reading, but to blindly go out, buy a book because someone else thinks I should, and submit proof of my purchase to a rag that, in this case at least, has the temerity to hold itself out as on the side of the artist is one place where I must--I will!--draw the line. 

So here's the letter I'm mailing out tomorrow (with a Mother Teresa stamp) to Tin House: 

IN 100 WORDS, WHY I AM NEITHER SUBMITTING A RECEIPT INDICATING THAT I HAVE PURCHASED A BOOK FROM A BOOKSTORE, NOR RE-SUBMITTING MY ESSAY:

Dear Sir/Madam:

I devote my life to writing. I made in the neighborhood of $13,000 last year. In good faith, I submitted my ms. via U.S. Mail. I walked to the P.O. You used my 44-cent stamp to tell me that I had to buy a book. I am too poor to buy a book. I’m also well able to make my own decisions about how to spend my money and how to support literature. Here’s an idea: why don’t you pledge to buy a book from every writer who takes the months of work required to write, edit, polish and submit an essay?


Sincerely,

Heather King

And as my ex-husband Tim would say: So there, March Hare!!



6 comments:

  1. Close to ten years ago, I had a subscription to Tin House, read a couple issues, and was so put off by its pretentious tone I wrote in the margins of each piece exactly how it irritated me and sent it back to them with a cancellation request. I know it was pretty arrogant of me to do that and certainly made no impact, but it was such a catharsis. It sounds as though not much has changed with Tin House in the past few years.

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  2. Your elegant act of rebellion made my morning. So much for Tin Horn -- I mean, Tin House.

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  3. how about tin ear? tin man?...hard heart?....

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  4. Not on your tin-type!

    I like your riposte: elegant and pithy. And true confessions - my wife owns a kindle, loves it to pieces, and totes it around all the time. In our case this doesn't mean the demise of the physical book; we spend so much time and spare coin at various bookstores that we ought to pay rent, and we don't have bookshelves enough to hold the stuff.

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  5. Well, I'm more interested in supporting authors if I'm going to support anyone. And I don't have a lot of money for luxuries like real books. So, when I was looking on Amazon for Parched, I saw that I could buy the Kindle version (for my tablet PC with the Kindle app on it) or I could buy a used book. Or I could buy a NEW "real book" for more money than both. I thought: "Well, Heather isn't going to make anything if I buy a used book, but I can save money by buying the Kindle version, and probably Heather will make something on that." (Unless you were paid a flat fee, in which case it doesn't matter what I buy) (But then, if people are only buying used books, the publisher isn't going to see as many sales, and they might be less likely to buy a new manuscript from you, so again, either a new book or a Kindle book is going to be more helpful, I think)

    Anyway, to make a long comment not too, too long, I love being able to carry a library with me on my tablet PC, and if I'm not getting free books from Gutenberg, I like to get a Kindle book so I can hope to be helping the author while saving a little money.

    That said, Tin House's return letter was very annoying and very much of the current PC attitude of "we'll tell you what is right." Your response was just the ticket!

    I've only had two religious pamphlets published, so I've had some experience with the letters from publishers. Rejection, if anything. Such a letter would have annoyed the hell out of me.

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