Thursday, 28 May 2009


The Salon de refusés meandering in the previous posts is essentially about who pays for what. Getting some good books published that otherwise may never see daylight, yes, but the means involves switching the money around.

Money, ah. Salt Publishing currently has a nasty (but charmingly named) budget deficit and is asking people to buy books – see their website. Sounds obvious, but part of the reason for this situation is that even to many of those who applaud the whole idea of publishing non-mainstream books, the point seems not to have struck home: if you don’t buy, then there’ll be no books.

A comrade in the US reminded me today that one of the regular ways for small presses to raise money is competitions. Poems, stories: charge an entry fee you can get away with, and even after you’ve paid the ‘well-known’ judge and paid and published the winners you should still come out on top. In the US there are hundreds, thousands of these. As my correspondent writes: ‘Part of the whole pobiz thing in the USA: MFA programmes churn out graduates who go into teaching MFA programmes (cash cow for universities) who need to publish . . .’ It happens here too.

I would prefer not to. (Bartleby – reissued recently, by the way, by Hesperus, with an intro by Patrick McGrath.) ‘Wherever there is judging, there is always injustice,’ says a very minor character in War and Peace. Not reason enough in itself; there’s plenty of injustice around without any competitions. More a temperamental aversion to the whole winners-and-losers thing: good books, yes, but (I repeat from somewhere else) a best book is a mythical beast.

To money, I am not averse.

There’s that good story about Lincoln (told in, I think, an Annie Dillard book): a lobbyist offers Lincoln money to vote a certain way and Lincoln pretends he hasn’t heard; doubles the offer and Lincoln brushes him off; doubles again and Lincoln wearily shakes his head; doubles again and Lincoln explodes in fury, ‘How dare you attempt to bribe me?’ Lobbyist, bemused: ‘Why so angry so suddenly?’ Lincoln: ‘Because you were getting damn near my asking price.’

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