A Snake Eating its Own Tail and Other Paradoxes of Publishing
By Brianne M. Kohl
A paradox exists when two contradictory statements are considered true at the same time. The word paradox comes from the greek word "paradoxon" meaning contrary to expectations, existing belief or perceived opinion. Schrodinger's Cat, for example, tells us that if you shove a cat in a box with a radioactive source, it will be considered both alive and dead until you open the box and that cat jumps out and claws your eyes out. Nowhere are paradoxes more self-evident than in the publishing industry.
The Welcome To The Slush Pile Of The Damned Paradox
Truth 1: Great writing always finds its way to the top.
Truth 2: You will likely die in the slush pile. Buried beneath the weight of a million other emerging writers.
The Byline Catch-22 Paradox
Truth 1: Editors take note of writers with impressive bylines. Previous publications will move you out of the slush pile.
Truth 2: You can't get bylines unless editors take notice of your work.
The Exposure Paradox
Truth 1: Beginning writers should expect to get paid in exposure. Most journals can't afford to pay their writers but they can signal boost your work.
Truth 2: If you accept a non-paying publication, you are reinforcing a system that says writers don't deserve to get paid. You are a traitor to your kind. Other writers will hiss when they see you.
The Submission Fee Paradox
Truth 1: Journals charge a submission fee not to make money but to tamper down on the number of electronic submissions they receive each reading period. No editor has ever rolled around in a bed of money they stacked out from submission fees.
Truth 2: Submission fees are a goddamn scam. New writers are paying for the privilege to get rejected while journals solicit writing from already-established writers.
The Don't Cheat A Cheater Paradox
Truth 1: You have to cheat to get ahead in this business.
Truth 2: Cheaters never prosper. Do it right. Don't be that guy. You know the one – the mediocre asshole that tricked his way into a Pulitzer.
The Fancy Pants Literary Contest Paradox
Truth 1: Send your work in to a literary contest – the prestige alone will get you noticed.
Truth 2: Why do I keep paying $20 for Ploughshares to reject me?
The Not All Editors Are Blind Paradox
Truth 1: Blind submissions means only the best get chosen.
Truth 2: You are a white, hetero-normative, 00100100 binary cis-male, right?
The Ouroboros Paradox
Truth 1: Short stories are in the midst of a powerful comeback. People have shorter attention spans meaning shorter works are the new black.
Truth 2: No one gives a shit about short stories. Who pays for short stories? No one. This industry is a snake eating its own tail.
The Never Ending Leaves Of Grass Paradox
Truth 1: Readers love poetry! Tracy K. Smith! Billy Collins! Eileen Myles! Saeed Jones, for crying out loud!
Truth 2: Verse is dying. It is dead. It died. It is deader than Walt Whitman. Give up now.
The Shameless Self Promotion Paradox
Truth 1: Self promotion is vital.
Truth 2: Nothing is more annoying than a self-promoter. Why do you have to push so hard? If you were any good, the world would just feel it in her bones. Your words would be tattooed blue on her skin like waves in the ocean.
The Bear Came Over The Mountain Paradox
Truth 1: Want to be noticed by an agent? Put together a collection of your finest short stories. Shop it around. Show you can complete a full manuscript with a cohesive theme.
Truth 2: No one wants your short story collection. Who do you think you are, Alice Munro?
The Agent Paradox
Truth 1: To get published in the Big Name journals, you'll need an agent. Only .00004% of writers are selected from the slush pile. An agent can help get you where you need to be.
Truth 2: NO ONE WANTS YOU, SHORT STORY WRITER. Do you have a novel in progress? Seriously, you should focus on that instead.
The Art of Persistence Paradox
Truth 1: Focus on your craft, get better, keep trying. Persistence wins the day! The only difference between a published writer and you is the published writer didn't give up.
Truth 2: My mother really thinks you should write a novel. Have you even thought about it? How hard can it be?
The Giving Up The Ghost Paradox
Truth 1: Every writer gets rejections. Every writer feels like an imposter. We all think about giving up the ghost.
Truth 2: Giving up is easy. Giving up is boring. Success does happen. Why shouldn't it happen for you? Ignore the screams of the damned. Let them hiss. They've abandoned their bones but you don't have to.
In truth, there are no absolutes in publishing except for one: the writer. Trends and politics change. Truths become untrue over time. If a paradox is born by contradicting expectations, maybe the real paradox is that this industry is designed to discourage and yet writers still write. Writers still exceed expectations. Maybe the only way to do that is to write your own truth and dare the industry to contradict you. I would love to read that story.
Brianne M. Kohl's mother really thinks she needs to write a novel. Instead, Kohl writes and submits her short stories for publication from her home in North Carolina. Her stories have appeared in several publications including Spark: A Creative Anthology Volume IV, The Bohemyth, The Stoneslide Corrective and The Masters Review: New Voices. She has a story forthcoming from Coup d'Etat. Visit her at www.briannekohl.com or follow her on twitter: twitter.com/BrianneKohl