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Is This What it’s Come To?

A new tactic in the war between rejected writer and editor came to my attention yesterday. In the following video, one Josh Smith of Buffalo, NY calls out myself, fiction editor of Artvoice, (a Buffalo publication) and former editor Forrest Roth. From the details below the video:

At an reading in 2009, Josh Smith spotted then-Artvoice Flash Fiction editor Forrest Roth in attendance. Having just submitted his set’s first piece to Roth just days earlier, Smith implored the audience to put intense pressure on Roth to accept the piece for publication.

In response to this, Greg Gerke, also in attendance, put a “finger gun” to Roth’s head, insisting, “Do it! Do it!”.

Shortly after this event, Gerke became Roth’s replacement for Artvoice’s flash fiction department.

Despite a favorable reaction to the piece’s reading, Roth did not publish it.

Ironically, the piece was submitted again to Gerke, who also passed on it, as well as eighteen other pieces sent to him by Josh.

If you’re a fan of Josh Smith’s work, and agree that, “There’s nothing wrong with Smith”, write, call, or email Artvoice, and let them know!

Josh’s video bricolage is impressive, even comic, including his using one of the least flattering pictures of myself. I applaud him.

32 thoughts on “Is This What it’s Come To?

  1. It’s generally true that the best way to get published regularly is to become well known. It doesn’t really matter why you’re well known; notoriety works fine. Editors spend more time considering pieces by writers whose names they recognize, and are always under some pressure to publish established names, in order to induce readers to pick up the new issue.

    1. Wait a minute, I thought the best way to get published was to write well–to write more than well, to startle, to make someone stop considering something else to do and read.

      1. No, that’s the best way to write good stuff. Which has only a little bit to do with getting published.

        Writing good things can lead editors to take notice, and to remember your name, and to therefore want to publish you. But it can also be ignored. (Editors are not always good arbiters of good writing. Sorry, editors.)

        I could name dozens of excellent writers who have been around forever and who have been doing excellent work all that time…and whom no one today cares about, or ever wants to publish. Because they’re not names; they don’t have any recognition; they don’t help shift units.

        Sorry to be so cynical, but I think I’m right. Publishing is not a meritocracy.

        1. Adam,

          The trouble with blanket statements is that sometimes things are left uncovered. Yes, it would be naïve to think that getting published is solely based on merit. However, it’s just as naïve, not to mention self-defeatingly cynical, to surrender to the idea that getting published is strictly (which is not what you’re saying) or even generally (which is what you are saying) based on some kind of name recognition. Surely, the road to publication is much more complicated than that. Let’s say you’re supposition is true, that “[i]t’s generally true that the best way to get published regularly is to become well known”, how does a writer go about becoming well-known, anyway? Unless we’re talking about presses who publish celebrity memoirs, I think that journals are publishing writers, that is, people who write, and I can’t think of many ways for a writer to become known except through getting their work published. Sure there are more than a few writers (James Franco comes to mind) whose work wouldn’t make it past any self-respecting editor who end up getting their work published. Sure there are insufferable blogorrhea sufferers and stunt-writers, writers whose hijinx and juvenile calls for attention enable them to get their drivel published. But most of the writers that are published by respectable publications are writers who did nothing other than writing something and sending it out to publications for consideration, and even the more established writers did nothing other than writing and getting that work published to become well-known. Sure, there are editors who publish their friends, who publish only established writers, and there are publications that publish writers on their masthead, publications that offer very little opportunity for emerging writers. Yes, when it comes to celebrity tell-alls and politicians’ various stabs at writing, as you say, “[i]t doesn’t really matter why you’re well known; notoriety works fine.” But I think you’re wrong that “[e]ditors spend more time considering pieces by writers whose names they recognize, and are always under some pressure to publish established names, in order to induce readers to pick up the new issue.” While that pressure may exist for the very few literary journals that are serious moneymaking ventures, and, perhaps, true of major presses in general, I think most self-respecting editors spend more time wading through the piles of mediocrity from writers, whether established or emerging, and the innumerable hacks out there. Gods and monsters know that as an editor I spend more time getting rid of the garbage than mining the gold.

          This discussion veers away from what Josh Smith has done. To me, he’s breached decorum. It’s simply juvenile to whine in the way that he does about not having his story published. I really can’t see how his stupid stunt will result in his getting published by a respected publisher.

          1. Hi John, all,

            To be sure, I was being polemical. And I never said that getting published is based even generally on name recognition; that rewording changes the meaning of what I wrote, which was “[i]t’s generally true that the best way to get published regularly is to become well known.” There’s a subtle difference there: my claim was that the best strategy for an emerging author to pursue is to pursue name recognition, regardless of how it’s done. I think that’s true.

            But that doesn’t mean that all publishers and editors generally do is look for names they recognize; that’s just one of the things that they do (it’s one factor among many). Of course there are many ways to get published, one of which is to write quality work.

            But even then, writing quality work plus having a recognizable name—that’s a stronger strategy. And, color me cynical, but I think that being well known, for whatever reason, will in general give a writer a bit more of an edge than writing quality work. Mind you, I’m not trying to be prescriptive, but descriptive.

            (There was a a relevant article in the Sunday New York Times Magazine two weekends ago, about the Gap logo change kerfluffle. Studies have found that, if you’re not too well known, there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Being criticized only starts to hurt you, public opinion-wise, once you’re well established. For instance, it’s been pretty well demonstrated that negative reviews don’t hurt smaller-known films, or films by emerging actors and directors. They hurt only big movies by already-popular stars.)

            As for how an emerging writer becomes well known, as you ask, many rivers lead to the same ocean. My point is that, as the SNYTM article claims, I don’t think it really matters whether the author gets well known for writing brilliant work or for engaging in publicity stunts or in pestering the crap out of editors.

            The next time you’re in a bookstore, browsing the racks, pay attention to how much time you spend noticing things, and which things. I’ll bet your eye gravitates toward the journals / authors’ names / presses you already recognize. I’m not saying you won’t look at new things. But it’s natural to be biased toward what one already knows. That’s just how the human brain works: we build new knowledge on top of old knowledge. We pause when we recognize something, slide past it (and quickly forget it) when we don’t. (This is the whole principle behind mnemonics.) Very few people walk into a bookstore and start looking long and hard at all the things they don’t recognize. And absolutely no one starts with A and works their way through alphabetically… (Not even the most meticulous slush pile reader does this! We always begin with biases, and skim to find things that we like—things we already know…)

            I think most self-respecting editors spend more time wading through the piles of mediocrity from writers, whether established or emerging, and the innumerable hacks out there.

            That may be true, and god bless editors big and small, but when I started blogging here, my unsolicited submission acceptance rate went up like 100%. And I was still sending out a lot of the same pieces. It’s obvious to me that what changed is that editors started recognizing my name more, and giving my work more attention, perhaps seeing publishing me as being (slightly) more desirable. Please note that I’m not accusing anyone of anything; again, I think it’s only natural human behavior to gravitate toward what one recognizes. And I also think that you can’t really blame writers (and editors) who understand that and who exploit it. You know me, John, and you know I think the writing’s the important thing, but at the same time I’m very practical. “That’s the magical beauty of capitalism!”

            Another way of arguing my point: what’s the most popular post I’ve written here? The Inception one, by far. (By far!) After that, it’s my Dark Knight posts. It’s no coincidence; people are more likely to click on a post if they recognize something in its title. Meanwhile, here are a few posts that not many people have clicked on: My post on Peter Wyngarde. My post on Mike Batt. My post on Jack Horkheimer. Etc. It doesn’t matter that Peter Wyngarde is infinitely more interesting than Inception. Even if someone hated Inception, they are more inclined, I think, to want to read more about that film, and not some obscure British spoken word artist whose name they probably don’t even recognize (which is why I took time in that post to point out how Peter Wyngarde influenced the X-Men: it’s ultimately irrelevant trivia, but I thought it might make people care a bit more about the guy’s very interesting language art).

            (This is also why, when I recently posted on Barbara Loden and Yoko Ono, I titled the post “Barbara Loden and Yoko Ono (& John Lennon & Mike Douglas)”—I knew that having Lennon’s name in the title would make readers slightly more likely to click.)

            Teachers know this principle very well. If I want to get a student to read, say, Jane Bowles’s most excellent novel Two Serious Ladies, it’s not effective for me to say, “Hey, you should read Two Serious Ladies; it’s most excellent.” Unless the student really loves me, he or she merely thinks, “What’s a Two Serious Ladies? What’s a Jane Bowles? And why should I care?” A far more effective strategy is for me to connect that novel to something the student already knows and likes.

            As for what Josh Smith has done, I have no real comment or judgment; I don’t know the guy and wasn’t there etc. Although, to be sure, I now…recognize his name.

            Most loving peace and sincerity,

            1. Hello Mon Ami,

              I pretty much agree with all of your words.

              The joke is always on the audience, it seems, until the comedian goes home at night and they are alone, or maybe they are not alone in bed, but the performance has ended.

              1. That’s the thing, isn’t it, though? As the Poet wrote:

                Ah, but sooner or later you sleep in your own space–
                Either way, it’s okay to wake up with yourself.

                …Ah, but what dread face,
                blasted and twisted by a conscience wrack’d,
                peers back out of the looking-glass?

                –Billy Joel, “My Life”

            2. Hey Adam,

              Your polemics are a comment on what Josh Smith has done. And what it says to me is that you approve.

              You write “that the best strategy for an emerging author to pursue is to pursue name recognition, regardless of how it’s done. I think that’s true.” But you’ve done very little here to demonstrate how that might be true. The only evidence is your personal experience of having your “unsolicited submission acceptance rate went up like 100%” after you “started blogging here…” In other words, you wrote something here, and then you sent something else you wrote somewhere else and it received a better response than it did before. This, to me, seems the best way as a writer to be recognized: write well, publish it (blogs are a form of publishing, perhaps even in some ways a form of vanity publishing; and there’s historical precedent for that (Whitman, etc.).

              What would happen if you started pulling stunts like Josh Smith has done? But you haven’t. Josh Smith’s stunt perhaps has brought him some name recognition. But it has also made me less likely to read his work.

              1. No, I don’t approve; I don’t know anything about the guy, and I don’t really care. I haven’t even really read this post, or watched the video, and I don’t really care to. I have no time for some writer’s publicity stunts.

                I’m trying here to be purely descriptive. When I write “the best” I’m trying to be factual, not celebratory. I’m not saying that it’s great that things are this way. But I’m trying to be honest about how I think things are.

                If I say, “Sarah Palin is a real danger to the Democratic party because she brings populist cred to racist ideologies that energize traditionally apathetic non-voters,” I’m describing reality. I’m not endorsing it. And it does no good to ignore said reality, even if it’s not comforting. Please read my comments here in that light.

                As for me finding more acceptance after writing here, etc., I think it’s pretty obvious that editors were looking at my work more closely because they recognized my name. But perhaps I’m wrong in that conclusion? I’m wrong in many others.

                Much (tough) love as always,

                1. I hear you, Adam. It’s just hard for me to accept “facts” when there’s little evidence to back it up. You’re not being descriptive of reality, you’re offering guesses, gut feelings, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

                  1. I think that a lot of what I wrote can be easily demonstrated. Give me a couple days, and I’ll back it all up with a post.

                    My main goal in writing these comments here is to point out why people do such things. You ask below, “Were you seriously hoping to achieve greater exposure for your work, for your public image? Why are you taking this approach?” I think the answers to those questions obvious, and their efficacy similarly obvious. They’ve been working for at least 50+ years! (This has not been an endorsement.)

                    In the meantime, since you disapprove so strongly of the guy, I suggest you stop talking about him, and ignore him. Because I think it’s been amply demonstrated that, at low levels of fame, there’s no such thing as negative publicity. All you’re effectively doing is making him more familiar, adding to his Google hit count, WordPress tag count, etc. In short, you’re giving him the tools to become more familiar, and contributing to making it more likely that he will be published elsewhere (even if you as editors don’t care for what he writes). …If he does another stunt later on, will Greg post again about it? Will this become a regular series? To what extent will he owe his fame to Big Other? And so on.

                    In all possible fondness,

                    1. I never said I disapprove of the guy, I disapprove of his behavior.

                      Moreover, for every drone and clone, there’s a conscientious person. Well, maybe the ratio is not as high, but I think that for every opportunity a person gets for performing a stupid stunt, they also lose an opportunity, or more. For instance, anyone who performs such stunts has locked her- or himself out of my taking any further interest in looking at his or her work, considering his or her work for publication were it to come my way, locked her- or himself out of being invited by me to be a reader at readings, locked her- or himself out of ever having his or her work reviewed by me, or whatever else. That may mean nothing to his or her long term success, but it’s something.

                      I asked Smith those questions to give him an opportunity to participate in the dialogue. He hasn’t, as yet, decided to answer. This, too, that is, an unwillingness to engage detractors in a dialogue, is typical with people who perform such stunts.

                      As for efficacy, just because something works, doesn’t mean it’s not broken.

  2. Did he have permission to use that photo of you, btw? Just wondering :) Because I believe I was at that reading and he FLIPPED when I told him I thought he was hilarious and I had taped him (I suppose I shouldn’t have without advance permission) and wanted to share the video with him–as in send it to him for his own use (not for my own). I did feel he took himself a bit too seriously and then he followed Forrest around begging him to publish him.

    Anyway. That’s how I remember things happening.


    1. You shouldn’t feel bad, Josh is notorious for recording other people at comedy shows. He doesn’t ask permission, but he does offer to sell you a copy of it for $5. You have to ask in advance for him not to record if you don’t want to be on his reel.

        1. Thanks for checking in, Josh. No one here has called you a name, or any other, or has said that he or she didn’t like you, though your behavior: your breach of professional decorum, has been criticized, and called, by me, pathetic and shameless and juvenile.

          Would you care to explain why you put the video above together?

          In this video, and the video I mention below, you implore the audience to help you put pressure on those venues where you hope your work will receive greater attention and exposure. Were you seriously hoping to achieve greater exposure for your work, for your public image? Why are you taking this approach?

  3. I’m consistently unimpressed with Smith’s works, and with his aggressive, bullying tactics to get his work noticed. When he reads as an open reader, I cringe. There are venues where his street-fighter tactics may be more acceptable, and he needs to put his energy in identifying and promoting his work there. I commend Roth and Gerke for passing.

  4. This whole thing sort of horrifies me. If people like Smith put all the energy they put into promoting themselves into doing something good for the world, we’d all be better off.

    Not that I want to start a Tao Lin conversation, but I feel the same way about a lot of his promotional stuff. I understand that more is needed to promote your shit today in a loud, busy world, but I hate that so many people applaud relentless self-promotion like it’s a talent. I mean, I guess it is one, but where does it get you in the end? What do you lose of yourself as an artist and a person to get there? At least back in the day you had the Sidney Falcos of the world to do your sleazy work. Now you become the wounded artist and the predatory salesman. It makes me realize I’ll probably never be famous but that I’m okay with just keeping my head down and doing my work the best I can.

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