With the flood of self-published titles out there, Ampersand Press has to wonder which of this copious new litter will stand the test of time. So much of what the press has run across in its search for interesting material is precisely uninteresting: predictable subjects, titles, covers (and doubtless, text). Here is a quick list of things to avoid if you are a writer seeking durability over quick financial remuneration:
1) Genre Fiction. Easier to read, harder to remember. Some of the best books that AP has ever come across are genre fiction, but invariably these titles reflect the deep-rooted interests and obsessions of the author. A Door into Ocean comes to mind. The writer was pursued by her subject, that’s pretty clear, and she had a pretty big subject to explore.
Rarely will this obsession, however, take more than one novel to explicate. If you want to out-Tolkien Tolkien, then your range had better be vast–everything from elves to the Finnish language to who knows what. Genre fiction will produce a first commercial contract, but if you enter the world of publication by this door, be prepared to step beyond the boundaries of your chosen genre and explore the things that matter to you.
2) Advice from the Experts. There is a lot of this on the market, whether it be an online article telling you how to get published, a crash course in writing from an individual or a school, or a long wish-list of items a publisher wants its authors to adhere to. Forget all of it. Writing is not about getting cozy with the “in” crowd; it is not a game. You the writer are a finite being with a limited amount of time at your disposal, and just about anything will produce more bacon for the homestead than being a fiction writer–or even worse, a poet. If you want bacon, then write a piece that looks, smells, and tastes like bacon. Not exactly easy to do, and perhaps you will end up with a poem. One man’s meat is another man’s poison (unless you are very careful).
3) Talking to Yourself. Nowhere is this sin more evident than in the swamp of new poetry collections, beautifully printed, impressively blurbed, harder than hell to read. Poetry should be hard–hard to write, not to read. The issue, it seems to AP, is that poets have given up on creating a common vision. The author, not the audience, has become the subject, and who wants to waste time on someone else’s search for happiness? The audience has always been and will always be the subject, so what have you the author done recently to join your work to the stream of consciousness that goes back beyond Gilgamesh to those cave paintings that keep turning up, and even to the first stone tool.
Read mythology, history, the humanities, Stephen Hawkings. Drown yourself in the collective unconscious. Or at least forget yourself.
4) Polite Writing. This is not about offending your readers; it’s about offending yourself. Once again, poets are particularly susceptible. Did your piece end up sounding and looking the way that you imagined it would? Did you achieve your visualization? Then you’ve failed. Failed to hear the voice that was trying to talk to you, to follow the golden thread of the poem in your mind. Writing is not construction, though construction is an apprentice writer’s way of learning how to let the circumstances dictate fictions and revelations. Put tea out for the muse. Let lightning strike.
5) Excellence. Nobody thought that Emily Dickinson was excellent. Gifted in her way, talented if you were willing to overlook certain failings, worthy of publication once the flaws had been removed. That didn’t stop her.
Victorian America got Central Park, the work of genius that transformed Manhattan into a great city; eternity got Ms. Dickinson’s fascicles–recondite, obsessive, gorgeous, transformative war music (look how many were written in 1862, the year of Antietam!). The Book of Kings may have its flaws, but it is still about kings. Kings!
Photo: Biblioteca della Keats-Shelley Museum, Rome. Giovanni Dall’Orto. WikiCmns. Public Domain.