welcome to the second edition of the ronin press newsletter.

with this newsletter comes a series of new publications. by concentrating on poetry and having an amazing selection of poetry submissions, we have balanced out both sections of the site. a total of three poetry eBooks have been published since the last edition of ronin news, making a total of 10 eBooks available to download.

our new books include:

[POETRY003] howie good - half-life and other poems
[POETRY004] sergio ortiz -topography of a desire
[POETRY005] owen calvert - notes from a felltown

[PROSE005] chris vaughan - notes of a new financial year

howie's poetry is heartwrenching and hard hitting, laced with black humour, evoking sharp images and mobid reality. in the next issue, sergio shares what could very well have been his last thoughts in 'having a heart attack'. sergio's eBook also includes his paintings and illustrations... have your scalpals ready. my own poem 'notes from a felltown' explores the two sides of a lake district town, keswick, which served as an inspiration for the english romantic poets.

alongside our fresh poetry books, we have published short story by chris vaughan entitled 'notes on a new financial year' [PROSE005], a story of mayan mayhem in the straightjacket of a financial advisory office. but thats not all, we have included an analysis of the small press scene from chris after the news.

it's now crunch time. we're going to publish more eBooks (both poetry and prose) and a periodical in the coming month or two. that means were on a major submissions mission, so no holding back. send us what you have. don't be shy...

we're also going to put all of our eBooks into print as soon as possible. 'tube rats' is now available from the purchase section as the first test print run. adopt one at your convenience.

stay tuned. pressing matters.

owen
roninpress.org

 


 

Small Press, Big World

To define the average reader would be to generalise in the way of talking about the general film viewer, the general eater, the common listener. It is too often assumed that the population of readers in the world all fall into similar, industry-geared categories. Readers that enjoy horror don't enjoy classics, those that enjoy classics don't read crime, crime readers that don't touch the literary novel ... the minds of literary marketers are confined to these sorts of demographic fallacies and it is all too evident in the books touted as the-next-big-thing, which inevitably never are.

What so many big publishers and literary talent scouts so rarely understand is that talent does not have to appear from nowhere. It is not hiding in the solitary annals of literature waiting to be found out by a savvy agent. Writers, good writers, are being published every week in some well known, lesser known, practically unknown literary press. These writers usually don't go looking for the million dollar deal because they are aware in themselves that the sort of stuff they write does not turn up on the first page of Amazon, the best-of-the-best table in Waterstones or reviewed in The Big Issue - their stuff is not what publishers want.

Partly this is true but partly it is instilled in them from seeing what goes on in the literary environment around them.
So there is this mix of nurtured neglect and big press arrogance that makes it near impossible for most writers to find a niche. The practical side of this is that few writers ever make money from what they do and therefore have little time to do it, meaning they will never have the time to sit and write the novel (there is a reason these writers are almost exclusively confined to the short story) that could, perhaps, given some slog, propel them a little further up the literary ladder.

I'm not saying everyone ever published in a literary magazine is a good writer. In both the highly regarded to the barely visible presses there is very bad writing exhibited which somehow slips like marshland sludge through the otherwise discerning net. Taking into account the niche magazines publishing short fiction in every imaginable form, genre and length there are bound to be some bizarre efforts, which there are - plenty of them. But excluding the tight-niche-genre's like erotic horror, environmental fantasy et al (only for the purpose of this article, nothing wrong with it overall) there are great pieces of short fiction published on a regular basis.

So, there are great stories published by small presses of varying standards, what's the problem? The main problem is that the readership generally consists of 1) Students attending the University that prints it 2) Book shop staff 3) Writers that submit to the magazine. Aside from these there are few 'general readers' that have any idea 99% of the literary magazines out there exist at all.

There is a tradition of literary journals that exists mainly in America. In the UK, for example, there are only two literary magazines that are really known outside of the circle of writer/readers, publisher/readers, those being Ambit - formerly edited by J G Ballard and Granta, the powerhouse of British presses with real artistic intentions.

There are countless others that can only survive on the smallest scale. Like if I said The Ronin Press you would likely not have heard of them, but would be surprised if I told you that in its infancy it has already attracted as diverse a selection of writers in its online pages as Hugh Fox, founder of the Pushcart Prize and first to publish a critical study of Bukowski and professor in the Department of American Thought and Language from 1968 until his retirement in 1999, sitting next to Tyler Knight, former LA based porn star, winner of countless awards (albeit in porn) whose true story about having a line of his own dildos moulded from his penis (this product has been verified) is the feature story. It is these sort of presses, off the radar to anyone but those trying to find them in the first place, that offer the sort of work that people would want to read but rarely find.

Marketing is the big clincher here. Without any budget there is no advertising, no marketing and no public exposure.

We live in an age where art is frequently quantified by its expected ROI. It is not surprising and not exactly new, but there is now more of an interchangeable culture of art and finance than there ever was before. A good book is not a saleable book until it has been given a brand in itself. Look at Life Of Pi, a book which in reality is not remarkable. It is not a new concept, the majority of its plot was taken from Moacyr Scliar's novel Max and the Cats ( a superior but lesser known book). Life of Pi is in many ways childish - but it was marketed as something entirely new, original, serious, offbeat - and because of that it earned itself a readership far outstripping any of the recent Nobel Prize winners.
Another example of this is the publishing world's penchant for adopting National Literature. Indian literature has always thrived in many areas, Narayan, Rushdie, the explosive publication of A Suitable Boy. But where publishing firms get it wrong is in thinking that people buy into a trend, not great literature. The publishing world saw the public fervour for A Suitable Boy most strikingly and went looking for replicas.
Another example of getting it wrong by looking in all the wrong places was Matt Hilton's 800,000GBP advance for a five book deal when he has yet to publish his first book. Writing about this incident I went to look at the Amazon.co.uk reviews and the customer reviews are glaringly illustrative of my point (How did this find a publisher? Best avoided, shockingly bad, Needed more work - a lot more work. This is a small sample of headlines from an overwhelming consensus of general readers.) He secured this incredible sum simply because he was an authentic Cumbrian PC.  It is a simple case of buying a marketable product. There is no difference between the 800,000GBP advance than there is in investing in a stock market trend. The publishers see him as the 'real deal', and therefore regardless of the writing itself (two more reviews: very mediocre, very poor) it will bring a healthy return if sold in the right way. I doubt many of the people responsible for paying its huge advance, expecting manifold returns ever read the book and they certainly had not read the unwritten four sequels to be written in 6 month intervals (this in itself tells any writer it is a cop out, pun fully intended). It was an instantly marketable literary dud.

If only the big presses knew how much power they have to change the course of literary impressions, to change perceptions of what a good book is. If only the smaller presses with the right ideas but no funding could have anywhere near as much influence.

Writers enviously look back at the days when a story published in the Parisian Review, TriQuarterly or any other of the established journals could spring a writer into the firmament of literature. It was never quite like that of course. Saul Bellow was not exactly made by The Parisian Review, nor  T C Boyle risen to the heights he enjoys today purely on the back of stories published in Harpers or The New Yorker. Even publication in one of these won't cement a reputation without backing it up with consistently good work. But writers coming out with great story after story still seldom get the attention they deserve.

A good point in case would be Roy Kesey. With stories featured in Hobart, Quarterly West, Nigh Train, Zoetrope: All Story and Mississippi Review, not to mention countless other smaller magazines, two collections: All Over and Nothing in the World - all of this has established him in the world of small presses but who outside this world has ever heard of Roy Kesey? The Los Angeles Times and Time Out Chicago both gave him flattering reviews, one of which claims he is a 'near-direct descendant of Samuel Beckett', and even American Book Review brand him as both the closest thing to Donald Barthelme yet accomplished in his own right; all of these things are the stuff of fiction writer's staying-awake dreams, but again - who has actually been paying attention, who has heard of Roy Kesey?

Surely out there one major publishing firm would see that in Kesey you get much more than from the countless tragi-memoirs now reserving a space for themselves on the bookshelves. But unfortunately it is these sort of books - without any substance, art or longevity - that are elbowing writers like Roy Kesey into tighter and tougher internet-only spaces. It is almost impossible that you will find Kesey in a book shop in the US, let alone in the UK, and this is one of the successful writers on the small-fairly established press scene. So for the countless other short story writers the chance of making a ripple, let alone a thunderous crash onto the literary circuit is practically zilch. And this state of things only exists because of the untenable gulf between the small press/literary journal and the large, market-orientated publishing world.

If there were even a minor shift in the dynamics between artist - small press - commercial author - Big Press, then authors that receive little or no attention would have the chance to prove themselves on a larger stage.
There is hope though. Some presses know about this dearth in great writers being published and are trying to make a difference.
Take Salt Publishers, the independent publishing firm that get David Gaffney, Matthew Sweeney and Alex Keegan in print, incredibly good authors that may otherwise have never even got the small following they now have. Search Salt Modern Fiction and you will find some books that should be reappearing on top 10 lists, in book shops' favourite shelves and through word of mouth should by all rights have earned a reputation - but in reality they are barely ever mentioned outside the Salt Modern Fiction circle of disciples like myself that found them entirely by accident.

But it is in places like Salt we can see a resurgence of interest in the short story and a more honoured place for the small presses these authors depend on.
One of the reasons Salt offers writers a real opportunity is that there are very few places on which writers find themselves resting from their literary-ladder ascent. For the majority of writers the ladder from one literary journal to the next is the only path to follow and there are very few ways to dismount that ladder without falling off altogether.

But with Salt and some other smaller presses publishing great books with little funding, such as Danzc books, there are opportunities to have something tangible, more for a writer than a transient feature in a seldom read journal and more for a reader than a black hole of literary journals.
That is not to detract from the journal. But at the end of it, once the next issue comes along, where does the story go? Magazines don't want previously published stories, readers rarely want back issues, so that story is lost in a literary ether hoping one day to be shored up and rescued by a Collection.

It is the often elusive step in any writers progress to find a publisher to print a collection of short stories. Herein lays the problem for most writers of short fiction. While they continue to exclusively feature their work in magazines it becomes increasingly hard for them to publish a collection. Since mid-large publishing companies are very rarely interested in publishing a debut book of short stories it becomes a vicious-literary-circle of writing for largely non-profit (meaning non-paying) journals and therefore never earning an allowance of time to write a more sustainable (to publishers this will equate to saleable) bigger work.

It is pointless to rally against big publishing firms. It is too often seen as a cry in the wilderness to a bunch of other authors echoing the same desperate melody. But when we see the great flops of Matt Hilton (please do verify this by reading the extensive Amazon reviews) or banking on a proposed novel about class struggle in middle England to cause a stir, then some sort of intervention must take place, however small, however unheard. Especially when we see the likes of Roy Kesey, the multitudes of cutting-egde authors appearing in Thieves Jargon, Mudluscious, Ronin Press, Crazy Horse, 34th Parallel, The Delinquent - and I could go on - but what I'm trying to say and what I may have overstated for good reason is that there is a big iridescent pool of first class writers spread over a huge surface area, but still big publishing firms are toe-testing the shallows looking for something which doesn't exist - The Next Big Thing.


- Chris Vaughan, June 2010

 





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