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Alt Lit, the Internet, and the State of Self-publishing: Part 2

Not many people have heard of Alt Lit as yet. At the risk of being humiliated, I’m going to stick my neck out and say that they soon will.

The Fortune Teller by Adele Kindt. Image: public domain | Wikimedia Commons
The Fortune Teller by Adele Kindt. Image: public domain | Wikimedia Commons

Oh dear, I’ve done it now. Making predictions is one of the surest ways to incur public ridicule and utter mortification, which is perhaps why fortune-tellers are a largely nomadic bunch on the whole. Still, there is at least some evidence to back up my assertion. Tao Lin, for example, the de facto leader of the Alt Lit community, is due to have his novel Taipei published by Vintage in June. This won’t be the first time that alternative and/or online literature has been co-opted by the mainstream, of course (Fifty Shades, anyone?), but Alt Lit may prove to have a far more profound impact on both literature and self-publishing than E.L. James’s tale of handcuffs and floggers ever did.

First things first: what exactly is Alt Lit?

Straight away, things get tricky. Alt Lit is difficult, and perhaps almost impossible, to define. According to Wikipedia, Alt Lit is “a fairly new form of literature, centered on and/or drawing from the internet, internet culture, and ‘a population of people that are connected with one another through their interest in the online publishing world’.” Rather a  vague definition, admittedly, and one that could conceivably encompass anyone with an interest or involvement in literature and some kind of online presence. Essentially, though, these are writers who belong to an online literary scene and form an online “community”, albeit a rather loose one.

Image credit: Rock1997 | Wikimedia Commons
Image credit: Rock1997 | Wikimedia Commons

More precise definitions can perhaps be given by those who are actually involved in Alt Lit. Stephen Tully Dierks, in this article, argues that “the only consistent difference between ‘alt lit’ … and ‘lit’ generally seems to be a greater embrace of the Internet for promotion and release of work and for socializing.” “I don’t know if you can define ‘alt lit’,” Frank Hinton says, “because I think what people are doing right now is defining it. In the end it will be judged by what it brings into the world.”

Alt Lit seems, in essence, to be a creative community built on social media, one that harnesses the internet in order to create, publish and distribute literature. Nothing new, you might say, in these days of eBooks and self-publishing; but it seems to me that there is something new, something different, about Alt Lit. For one thing, Alt Lit doesn’t simply slot into the more conventional self-publishing model. It is more likely to be found on blogs and internet forums than on Amazon, for example (take a look at the Alt Lit Library). And while more traditional self-publishers create literature that reproduces traditional literary styles, Alt Lit makes liberal use of text speak, common internet terms and abbreviations, and stylistic choices that show the influence of Twitter, mobile phones, and instant messaging. Alt Lit often contains spelling and grammar mistakes, clunky sentences, and so on. Does this make it shoddy, or somehow more authentic – an immediate, unfiltered, as-it-happens (almost) insight into the writer’s mind?

In Alt Lit, the internet is seen not only as a means of distribution, but as both subject matter and a source of inspiration. It draws on internet memes and talks about the ways in which the internet influences our lives. It makes liberal use of cutting and pasting, to such an extent that copyright can hardly be an issue. Spelling and grammatical errors – the bête noire of more traditional self-publishers, who strive for slick presentation on a par with that championed by traditional publishing houses – are inevitable and unremarkable. Most Alt Lit is, moreover, free, and most of its practitioners’ goals are not financial. A career in literature, in the common sense of the term, is not amongst their ambitions.

Naturally, all of this has provoked controversy and, on occasion, indignation (see here for an example). Obviously, it runs contrary to the values espoused by the traditional publishing industry, where presentation is of paramount importance and little is ever available for free. But – and this, from my point of view, is much more interesting – it also cuts across the values that the self-publishing community at large has either adopted or inherited. Self-publishers often try to produce perfectly edited and proofed books and eBooks of the kind that could stand shoulder-to-shoulder with anything produced by the big publishers. A noble aim; but is it really as essential as we perhaps think?

One thing above all strikes me as being worth repeating: most Alt Lit is free. It is circulated freely on the internet, and no payment is requested or received. In a world in which the self-publishing community has largely aped the financial imperatives of the traditional publishers, this is heartening. (I’m targeting myself with that criticism, lest anyone think I’m being unbearably sniffy and high-minded here.) Take a quick look at the Amazon Authors’ Forum, if you wish. Every other discussion, it seems, is about sales: how many, how few, and how to make more. Understandable, perhaps; but in a revolution in which all received wisdom should be up for questioning, it seems rather sad that so few self-publishers seem interested in questioning this particular credo.

Alt Lit, like self-publishing, is far from perfect. It involves and perhaps even encourages charlatanism, pretence and frankly bad writing. And yet it seems to me exciting in a way that conventional self-publishing often is not. If there’s one thing that we can learn from Alt Lit, it is perhaps the simple value of being “Alt” – of not playing it safe, of being prepared to take chances, experiment, and fail. After all, self-publishers are not bound by considerations of financial viability. If we can’t do things differently, perhaps we need to question why we are doing anything at all.

What do people think?

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21 thoughts on “Alt Lit, the Internet, and the State of Self-publishing: Part 2

  1. Very interesting. As an ‘alt’ type person I’ve dipped a toe into this occasionally but the conclusion I (personally) came up with is that the ‘Alt Lit’ movement (if such it may be termed) is for younger folk than I. I can’t get to grips with all that text speak and icon stuff. And my life is less ‘The Wire’ and more ‘The Waltons.’ However, the ‘alt’ bit obviously appeals to me since I’ve been ‘alt’ for a long time and it’s been a lonely furrow. I thought that the emerging ‘indie’ publishing scene might offer an opportunity but as you say it’s mostly about people trying to get into mainstream by the backdoor, – aiming for fame, fortune and SALES SALES SALES. There are lots of problems emerging in the new e-revolution – giving work away for free while being able to eat – and author intentionality which offers something more than simply ‘I want to say something and now I can’ – I have this feeling that somehow, somewhere there’s a ‘community’ of people who think and feel as I do (albeit probably small) but finding them – that’s the devil’s own job. Alt Lit has something good to offer but I suspect at the moment its in danger of being a ‘clique’ like any other. I guess that begs the question when does a community become a clique and vice versa? I am keen on the ‘collective’ idea but it turns out that many people don’t mean what I do by it. They think ‘collective’ just means ‘bunch of people’ and don’t take it that further step of being a group of people with common purpose and shared goals/aims who will work TOGETHER instead of competing with each other. Co-operation not competition are the key for me and I shall look AGAIN at the Alt Lit ‘concept’ to see what it offers and how I might adopt the good parts of it and not get sucked into the bad parts! The whole ‘social media’/ internet thing presents something of an issue for me (as I’ll be posting tomorrow!) I am caught in the trap of WHO IS USING WHO in social media terms. Thanks for the post – discussing these things is important and keeping abreast of it all is too if one is ever to develop a new way of doing things.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Cally. The emphasis on sales, at the expense of anything more interesting, is depressing, and yet I have to admit that there was a time when I once thought in those terms too. I supped with the devil a few times, but I felt so sick afterwards that I soon concluded that for me personally, it just wasn’t worth it. I like your idea of a ‘collective’, too, but of course even in the days of the worldwide web finding like-minded people is difficult. I hope, though, that in the future more and more authors will work together in this way.

      I wouldn’t say I was part of the Alt Lit movement, by any means (though of course the question of what exactly ‘Alt Lit’ is is rather vexed), but when I began exploring that world, albeit from the sidelines, I did come away with a sense of excitement that I’ve rarely had from the world of more conventional self-publishing. It seems to me that Alt Lit, at its best, involves a willingness to experiment, and a related unwillingness to be swayed by the question of what is ‘marketable’. If there is just one thing that I personally find inspiring about the Alt Lit scene, it is this!

  2. Hi Mari – an interesting post, as ever.

    Being something of a spelling and grammar fascist, my instinct is to condemn work riddled with errors. It all depends upon for whose consumption it’s intended, I think. If it’s free and not heavily promoted, then the reader can take it or leave it. It does exacerbate my worry of our drowning in that sea of words, though…

    I’m all for the idea that more experimental, riskier writing might arise out of the liberation from commercial pressures. It sounds like a fantastic opportunity, doesn’t it? We shall see…

    1. Aargh! I just typed a very long and very detailed reply to your comment, Paul, only to see it disappear into the wastes of cyberspace before I could post it! Anyway – thanks for the comment. I agree that if an author is going to charge for work, they should take pains to ensure that it is at least well-presented, with a minimum of spelling and grammar errors and so on. I’m actually a bit of a fanatic when it comes to this aspect of my own work, but I’ve also learned to be a bit more forgiving. And I agree that much depends on whether an author is actually asking for money in return for their work.

      The freedom of not necessarily being wed to financial considerations is indeed one of the most encouraging aspects of Alt Lit and the e-revolution in general, and I hope that this is one area in which it will, in the future, shine. Of course, there is a chance that I’m just being ridiculously naive! Time will tell, I suppose…

      1. Mari, I’m in the process of writing a reply to this post, but I’m pausing to state the obvious. This is something I’m often guilty of so feel free to get verbally abusive! 🙂 Write your replies in Word and then copy/paste them to the reply box. This may seem like a time-waster, but consider what you have just lost. Those in situ comments vanish when you refresh the screen or do anything that prompts the WordPress software to do that. (I refuse to say how I found this out.)

  3. Mari, I must confess that while reading part one of this interesting article, I mistook the term “alt-lit” as just another word for experimental writing. We are always relabeling things these days. (Okay, okay, I admit it. I’m making excuses for not being cool!) After reading part two, I had a quick look at some examples of the “genre.” This proved difficult with some items needing a Scribd Premium membership, one was just computer generated art, a PDF downloaded and then evaporated (probably my security software), and so on. What I did see struck me as crude, immature, and self-absorbed.

    Actually, I doubt that alt-lit has much of a future. The quality seems mostly atrocious and the whole genre is too media specific to last. Traditional literature (trad-lit?) arose from the human love of story, character, and place. It is not media specific and easily made the transitions from spoken word to handwriting to print to digital. It even adapts well to the screen. In contrast, alt-lit depends heavily on the current state of internet and video technology and specific kinds of social media. It is trapped within the milieu that spawned it and will die when that milieu is superseded by new developments. To use a biological metaphor, one might say that alt-lit is an overspecialized species of writing that will vanish when its environment changes.

    I have to say something about standards. Traditional publishers do not go to such lengths for the sake of making things difficult for authors or because they are prissy. They are responding to market forces (i.e. the public) that demand a decent product. Readers of literary novels may not be able to write such works themselves, but they do know how to appreciate them. In the same way, readers of genre fiction may not be natural storytellers, but they do recognize a ripping yarn when they see one.

    I think the debate over standards will resolve itself. If memory serves, you have pointed out that the internet is a vast place with room for everyone. Those who enjoy being on the avant-garde “cutting edge” and don’t care about spelling, grammar, or traditional forms can hang out in unwashed quasi-illiterate egalitarian mobs while those with more “refined” tastes can go where the filterers and standard-bearers are gallantly holding the fort. The free vs. for-sale issue will work itself out in much the same way.

    One last thought: if you don’t care about the old standards, reject all traditional forms, and are willing to work for free, in what way are you taking risks? Surely, alt-lit is the ultimate safe zone where you literally can do no wrong.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Thomas – as always, you’ve provided a fresh perspective and food for thought. (Thanks for the technical advice, too, which I think I’ll follow in the future. ‘Always have a back-up’ should be my mantra, as it’s something I’m frequently guilty of forgetting!)

      I can’t really argue with anything you’ve said here. I’ve no doubt that much Alt Lit (or alt-lit – not even the name is fixed yet!) is ‘crude, immature and self-absorbed’, just as much self-published work in general is. And it may indeed be the case that Alt Lit is too specific to its own time to have much of a future, unless it can either continue to adapt or somehow transcend the social and technological circumstances that gave birth to it.

      I agree that traditional publishers are quite right to uphold standards. They are answerable to the public, and they are businesses. However, I do sometimes worry about the spectre of ‘style over substance’, and would personally prefer substance over style any day. Related to this is my feeling that market forces have held, and continue to hold, too much sway over literature in general. Everyone, it seems – many self-publishers as well as traditional publishers – are on the lookout for ‘the next big thing’, the bestseller that will bring the money rolling in. And while I don’t think there’s necessarily anything wrong with this per se, it is nevertheless a rather limited way to approach literature. If the ‘quasi-illiterate egalitarian mobs’ can help to remind us of this fact, then they’ve done at least one good thing! 🙂

      Interesting final point, too. Yes, if you can literally do no wrong, then the very notion of ‘risk’ evaporates. But again, I’d argue that far too many writers are far too timid – scared of failure (however ‘failure’ is defined), scared of alienating readers, scared of trying new things. (Bear in mind that I myself am far from being the most strikingly innovative of writers, and that I too am scared of all these things – a fear that I am trying to overcome!) Sometimes we need someone to gatecrash the party and trash the room, so to speak, just to open our eyes to new possibilities. It is this aspect of Alt Lit, above all, that excites me.

  4. I’m just cheering at ‘the debate’ here. At last a chance to read something which is worth the effort of reading. As you said on comment to my blog Mari, it takes ‘time’ to get to know people through blog posts but this post is a perfect example of a ‘conversation’ where people put over different views and enhance a conversation, not just throw their voice around into it. I’m mulling over the actual ‘content’ of what’s been said before I take good advice and write the considered WORD CUT/PASTE version to add to the converation. But I just wanted to say that I’m really appreciating this alternative to the fast food internet version of twitface conversation! Slow food is the way to go! (I hope I haven’t just written an example of the aforementioned rubbish – I shall think on a proper response, this is just a YAY of encouragement.) And being me, I can’t even write YAY in just one word. Sorry.

    1. Cally, (at the risk of becoming annoying!) if you put two blank lines between the paragraphs in your “considered WORD CUT/PASTE” comments you will get more-easily-read spaced paragraphs.

  5. Considered response now to be cut/pasted. Now I just need to remember to call back here to continue/rebut/discuss further.
    Yes, the internet is a vast place with room for everyone. So here’s my 10ps worth.
    Yes the ‘standards’ set by traditional publishers have some very good reasons to them.
    I’m not sure that ‘market forces’ are actually dictated by the buyer/reading public though, I think they are largely ‘imposed’ on people as all other choices. I’m talking about the ‘must have’ style choices which people subscribe to because they believe this is ‘right’ because some ‘authority’ has told them so. (ie the Tesco bookshelves cannot be wrong – if Tesco say it’s POPULAR then it MUST be popular and for ME to be popular I must read and enjoy this book!) I have certainly found in the last few years that the ‘intellectual authority’ leaves a lot to be desired and that most of the time it’s driven more by ‘fashion’ or ‘the bottom line’ than by actual issues of quality. And I’ve found a lot of really interesting books (of all kinds) when I gave up on listening to the ‘voice of literary authority.’
    But it’s a murky area for sure. My thoughts are: anyone publishing should adhere to the highest professional standards they know of. However, for me the ‘traditional’ publishers have taken far too much on themselves so that what they produce has become homogenised. So many ‘interesting’ stories are packaged into a format/style which is ‘acceptable’ and then we are told this is ‘good.’ My own experience is that as long as the author knows what they are doing and does it with serious intent you can get a lot out of their work. And nothing in life is perfect. Writing is a communicative relationship and if the reader brings prejudices against the work then it’s little wonder that they won’t ‘enjoy’ it – just a shame that that so often translates into the comment ‘it’s bad.’ Why does the reader not question their own self a bit more in that respect. When I started doing that I began to enjoy a lot more varied work. (But can still sniff out completely illiterate writing – though illiterates also have a right to write – but if you are ‘illiterate’ out of laziness that’s another matter.)
    I would in no way condone poor ‘standards’ of publishing but equally I’m really happy that people who have NOT had the educational advantages of learning grammar, spelling and the like have a chance to be ‘voiced’ now. I’ve spent years working creatively with adults who can neither read or write and they have many good ‘stories’ to tell. Also some people are too scared to ‘tell their story’ and would never feel they could be ‘worthy’ unless ‘validated’ by some ‘authority.’ That’s a damn shame. And I’ve also found that sometimes people DELIBERATELY subvert ‘good practice’ in order to make a point. And that if one is too anally retentive about it being ‘correct’ according to some fixed principle then one can miss out on some brilliant work. For example Stuart Ayris in Tollesbury Time Forever simply ‘invents’ words and writes with a lyricism which is linguistically very redolent of the subject matter. Yet no ‘mainstream’ publisher would look twice at him (until/unless he became the next ‘indie’ triumph). I have lots of other examples.
    I think in this fast changing world holding any fixed positions are dangerous. Yes in general poor quality brings down the general standing of everything but essentially in my mind it comes down to ‘does this person tell a story that compels me’ If they do I can ‘forgive’ many things. And often you’ll find people price their work to reflect their own confidence in the ‘quality ‘ of their product. I guess this is one reason why Amazon and the like encourage self/indie pubs to put work out for free/cheap – a general disbelief in the ‘quality’ of the product. But then they flog ebooks by ‘bestsellers’ at 49p too (not making that price point available to the indie). I know good writer/publishers who put their work out at 79p because they don’t have the confidence that it’s ‘worth’ more than that in the marketplace. I’ve read enough overpriced ones too of course. Some writers don’t suffer from lack of confidence but quite the opposite. And paying £4+ for an unknown ‘product’ may be crazy. However, with the look inside feature and the possibility to ‘research’ an author behind a potentially interesting story one can do enough to decide whether it’s worth the money or not. Personally I have stuck at price points just below £3 for my main fiction and £2 for plays (people don’t really read plays either as paperback or ebook so this is my concession, not to ‘sting’ them pricewise – paper playscripts are stupidly expensive) But I don’t like the ‘cheap as chips’ idea. I’ve written professionally for 20 years so even if I’m an ‘unknown’ I have enough knowledge to know that I’m writing with intent and deliberately (give or take the odd typo which exist in EVERY text) doing what I do. And it’s worth paying for (if that’s what you like to read.) And I leave people to make their own informed choice. I take some creative chances with ‘mainstream’ style both in the structure and language etc.
    Over the last year or so I’ve found that many readers do NOT care that much about the ‘quality’ of the grammar etc, they just want a story they can engage with and they don’t always get that from mainstream. It’s the ‘elite’ who are selling the line that the reader will only accept ‘perfection’ in standards. Having said that I take all Thomas’ alt.lit points onboard and largely agree as well. Some people just a) don’t know how to write and b) don’t care to learn and c) are only interested in the sound of their own voice. They are best all kept in ‘their own little world’ I appreciate I may sound like an ‘elitist’ saying that too – but really I’m just saying that the epublishing world now has many many niches and each of them have a ‘right to life’ but where we stand in our position to the ‘other’ will dictate what we think is ‘good’ or ‘quality.’ For me, author intentionality is key. I get very fed up with the happy clappy middle class view that ‘I don’t know where my characters are taking me’ ‘I never know what my story is going to be until I get to the end’ Maybe this works for genre fiction (I doubt it) but give me an author with heart, who has a story to tell and who builds their narrative intentionally and then lets it loose when it is EXACTLY how they want it to be and not before or after (after editors have ripped it to bits to turn it into a homogenised version of itself) and that is the story I will want to read. (And that is what I loved about The Quickening, Mari. It’s not my ‘genre’ or ‘style’ of reading but I could see what a good example it was of its kind and the story drew me in, regardless and the use of language really showed the ‘intentionality’ to me) Long experience working with writers and proto writers has taught me one interesting thing. It tends to be the writers with least confidence who write ‘best’. They are writing ‘because they have something to say, not because they want to say something. (Fitzgerald)

    1. Thanks for your comments, Cally, and for your kind words. I too think that very often people’s choices, in literature and elsewhere, are actually ‘imposed’ to a certain extent. Quite possibly the best way to approach reading (and to life in general!) is to look beyond what we’re being told to do and like and try to find our own way. It’s difficult, and one is apt to get lost, but it is also highly rewarding.

      I certainly do agree that the traditional publishers are guilty of producing homogenised ‘products’ (a term I hate), and that this is one area in which self-publishing, above all, has a chance to come into its own. And since I started reading self-published books I’ve found that my expectation of perfection, and my tendency as a reader to be complacent and not to question my own attitudes, have both undergone a transformation. That has been, possibly, the most important gift that self-publishing has given to me as a reader. I’ve heard great things about ‘Tollesbury Time Forever’ and intend to read it when my current horror binge (in preparation for the Edinburgh Ebook Festival!) is over.

      I think it’s true that many readers care less about spelling and grammar than is often assumed. Amanda Hocking’s books are, I understand, far from perfect in this respect, but it doesn’t seem to have had an adverse effect on her popularity. And yet of course there is much to be said for aiming for and maintaining high standards. Perhaps it’s a case of finding a middle way?

    2. Cally, the avalanche of complaints about spelling and grammar in self-published works does suggest that many people care about these things. Readers want to lose themselves in the story and do not like being jarred back to reality as they stumble over spelling gaffes and blatantly bad grammar. Standards are not arbitrarily imposed by tyrannical publishers, they serve a very real and useful purpose.

      People with poor spelling and grammar skills have never been excluded from being published. Editors can clean things up. C. S. Lewis, although well educated, was a terrible speller and could not punctuate properly if his life depended on it. (And he was an Oxford don!) American moral and social philosopher, Eric Hoffer, a favourite of mine, was a self-educated migrant worker who picked fruit and worked as a dockworker. William Faulkner did very poorly with his lessons and could not graduate from high school. Before the current era of abundant college graduates, many serious writers included waiting tables and other menial jobs in their curriculum vitae. A background in the working man’s world was considered an asset and mentioned in dust jacket blurbs.

      The issue with traditional publishers is not who should or should not be published, but how many books and/or authors the market will bear. The rush to self-publish is not about getting around standards, it is about trying to circumvent the simple fact that the public (and therefore publishers) can buy only so many books. Self-publishing gets you past the corporate bottleneck, but as sales indicate, the limits remain.

  6. Thomas, while I take your point (for devils advocate sake) yes lots of people complain about poor grammar/spelling but then people wouldn’t naturally spend time saying ‘no, I have no issues with this’ would they ?- people speak WHEN they complain. So who can say whether more people are bothered than not? For me, as a creative writer (drama background) I am wary of the grammar police (I take your point when it jars unnecessarily though) because I often INTENTIONALLY write the way I do ( poor sentence construction?) in order to get across the ‘reality’ of a situation. In the real world everyone doesn’t speak in perfectly formed sentences or without ums and errs and I like to transmute this beyond the dialogue into the very fabric of the work. I understand that will piss off some people but where it’s part of the work I don’t need or want an editor ‘cleaning’ up my intended style. If I pick my words myself then that’s my intentional choice and if readers don’t like that, that’s theirs. Language is a fluctuating, changing thing – how many people say ‘an historian’ any more? How many times do you see ‘someone that’ – but if one lets that spoil ones enjoyment of a piece of fiction I wonder if perhaps one might be missing something. Eg – I would always say ‘an historian’ but one of my characters might not. And none of us write (apart from Mari, in context) like 18th or 19th century authors did and yet I don’t think we would criticise their writing style, use of grammar and punctuation would we? We accept that things have changed and that we are getting something of an ‘experience’ by reading this different ‘style’. Well that’s what we can do with modern work too. The difference is whether the writer is INTENTIONALLY playing around (knows the rules and subverts them deliberately) or whether they just don’t have a scoobie how to write. (But even those people have a voice – not one that lots of people will want to listen to of course!)
    And Mari – as you said, the best lesson of all in this whole thing has been to change and manage ones ‘expectations’ of what one wants from writing. For me (as I think for you) getting into a great story is the absolute core of it and I’m prepared to put up with a few ‘errors’ or ‘rough edges’ because the ‘voices’ I now hear are voices which accord both with my own life experience and with things I’m interested in. I no longer feel I’m being preached to by some middle class erzatz intellectual elite who decide how and what I should read – and give me their ‘aspirational’ notions for themes etc.
    (Sorry Thomas, didn’t cut/paste and didn’t leave space between para’s… ah well… should I go back and insert them? No. But I guess it’s another example of that debate – some ways of presenting will piss some people off and others don’t give a damn.)

    1. Cally, I think you imagine people such as me as more rigid than we are. I have no problem whatsoever with authors deliberately ignoring or playing around with the generally accepted rules of English usage and writing – if they are good enough to make it work, that is. My thinking on this sort of thing is simply this: you can do as you like so long as you can pull it off. As for dialogue: even casual readers understand that what is between the quotes is dialect or a character’s idiomatic way of speaking. Only the neurotics are complaining about “grammatically incorrect” characters.

      It is the writing outside the quotes, the part of a work that is the author’s own voice, that draws legitimate fire. Your position on how many are bothered versus how many not, seems illogical. Why not set good standards and keep everyone happy? Here’s something for you to consider. Pollsters and social scientists estimate that for every person who complains, there are *hundreds* who would like to but couldn’t be bothered.

      We should make an important distinction here between readers with a sophisticated understanding of (and appreciation for) literature and the ordinary person who reads escapist books to brighten an otherwise rather boring existence. You appear to be operating in the rarefied atmosphere of those artist / intellectuals whom the common folk seldom read. Those same unsophisticated persons do not read the old literary works either, precisely because such texts bristle with inexplicable anachronisms, obscure biblical allusions, and unfamiliar sentence structure and punctuation, not to mention the slow pace and long-winded descriptions. I agree that anyone who can appreciate these older works should reasonably take a more tolerant view of modern works that “push the envelope.” After all, things must have changed in the past to get us from there to here.

      If you disagree with the critics, ignore them; don’t take their opinions personally. No one is forcing you to do anything.

      There is one other issue here. You will notice that out of courteous *respect* for anyone who may read this (including you), I have taken the time to keep my paragraphs short and properly spaced so they are more easily and speedily read. As a reasonably skilled writer, I don’t feel the need to have everything my way all the time. Other people matter too. I’m willing to give a little.

      1. I think there’s some kind of consensus developing here, folks. I think we’d all agree that there’s a big difference between authors intentionally subverting grammatical and spelling rules, and doing so as a result of shoddy writing/editing. Thomas: neither I nor Cally, I think, would try to defend sloppy works where the author is either too careless or too ill-informed to write in a manner that doesn’t jar unnecessarily with the reader (or didn’t call in an editor to help them with this). One thing I would say, though, is that there is always going to be a difference in this respect between traditionally-published and self-published. Traditional publishers have the money and resources to put manuscripts through a very rigorous process of proofreading and editing – and one or two errors usually slip through the net anyway! Amongst self-publishers, even those of us who take pains to ensure that our works are thoroughly edited and proofed, it’s not unreasonable to expect that there will be a handful of mistakes and typos. And while I’m not saying we should be complacent about this, nor do I think it’s really so very bad. Indeed – and speaking just as a reader – once I stopped being nitpicky about this, I found that my ability to enjoy books increased.

        I think that there is indeed a great difference between readers, Thomas: some read purely for pleasure, and others are prepared to be challenged. I think the former group probably tend to steer clear of alternative and challenging writing anyway. Authors who bend the rules a little aren’t disrespecting their readers by any means, just striving to express themselves in a manner that is true and meaningful for them. None of us would deny that ‘other people matter too’. Readers make informed choices about what they want, and either take it or leave it, and I’m sure that none of us would have it any other way!

        I think it’s quite interesting that the discussion here has begun to focus on the old ‘shoddy writing’ issue. Occasionally lax attitudes to grammar and spelling is only a small aspect of Alt Lit, self-publishing, or ‘Alt’ in general!

        Thomas, in your comment above you say that ‘the issue with traditional publishers is not who should or should not be published.’ I have to say I disagree to some extent. The market usually decides who publishers think should or should not be published. I’d like to reiterate that I’m not attacking them for this: they are businesses, and the financial viability of their ‘product’ is essential to their continued existence. I think publishers in general do a very good job of giving people what they want. But this approach is limited, and is not necessarily compatible with a healthy and vigorous literary scene.

        Again, I’d like to thank everyone for taking the time to comment and add to the discussion here. I think it’s very important that we talk about these issues, even if we can’t always agree.

  7. A cogent summing up, Mari, to what has been an interesting discussion.

    I would like to add that my remarks about respect were limited to the presentation of comments such as those we have been making here. On my own blog, I *usually* edit en bloc comments to make them more readable. I also correct spelling errors and insert missing words (inside the editorial quotes if the word is non-trivial). I want readers to notice what was said, not how it was said. I also want the blog to present well and at least not offend at this simple level.

    I do not see capable writers who bend the rules as being disrespectful.

    Can’t wait for your next fascinating post!

  8. Thomas, not that I’m wanting the ‘last word’ here, when clearly per se the discussion is now closed. But since you consider it disrespectful and discourteous not to place spaces between paragraphs I feel I should apologise for that and remedy it in this instance. It makes me laugh in a way because you open with the suggestion that I’m misunderstanding you as ‘too rigid’ and yes, I guess I am. For me, spacing of paragraphs in a blog comment has never been an issue of any kind – maybe I just write and read faster in such a context than you do, or than is ‘acceptable’. But certainly I take the point that we should aim for clarity as far as possible and since I’m now appraised that there are folks who find spaces between paragraphs an issue of ‘respect’ I will of course respect the convention.

    As to making paragraphs shorter, that’s again a question of how much time one spends ‘editing’ a blog post and I’m afraid I write them in real time. I think of them more as a live conversation than a polished piece of art (but that of course is where a lot of confusion comes in in discussion – another point I’m taking from your comments – thanks for that!)

    What’s particularly interesting to me, and perhaps it’s occasioned precisely out of my ‘disrespect’ or speed of writing approach, is that it seems to me that you seem to think that what I’m championing is a) bad writing and b) some kind of elitist approach. Neither could be further from the truth. I guess I just don’t have ‘issues’ with any of these and don’t imagine people will misinterpret (or maybe again I’m just not communicating clearly enough) my comments. I certainly don’t occupy any rarified atmosphere – as you’d know if you were appraised of my work – I spend a lot of time giving voice to those who don’t normally have one (that’s why I don’t worry too much about grammar – not everyone has the benefit of a good education and many of those have great stories to tell which will NEVER be adopted by the mainstream ‘elite’ in traditional publishing) There certainly is a confusion here as it feels to me that you are on the one hand suggesting I’m saying that bad writing is okay and on the other hand that I’m a literary elitist. So do you think I’m suggesting that lazy people who should know better are the main proponents of self publishing? (Actually, you may be right there, but that’s not the publishing world I’m moving in!) I believe there is another way.

    To try and clarify: I stand up for the rights of the overlooked and the ‘common’ man not just to have to write ‘for entertainment’ at a low level (or read that, be it self or mainstream published) but to express their voice in the best way they can. Yes, it’s publish and be damned. But the choice of what to read (and the responsibility to find only work you want to read) now lies mainly with the reader in my opinion. And it’s a big world with space for everyone. No one has to read what they don’t like. No one has to come out of their comfort zone, but these days everyone has a right to write and to publish and be damned.

    It’d just be nicer if there was less damning going on and more positive communication. Strangely, having looked at your own blog, it seems like we might have a lot of points of mutual interest in our writing/reading and it saddens me that simply by not putting in carriage returns I’ve caused you to so misinterpret my comments and my motives. As Wittgenstein says ‘language lets us down at every stage of the game’ and maybe double so for presentation! So sorry for that.

    I hold my hands up to not being as clear as I might be, both in presentation and obviously in communicating my argument – not making it suitable for this environment, but that’s because I think we may have a conflict in understanding over how one writes for blogs. I’m happy to be ‘in the wrong’ on that front. But if I have to think, pore and spend a long time editing blog comments I just won’t do it. Obviously I spend more time on my ‘own’ blog posts (and clearly much more on full published writing) but I take your point that all of this is publishing and so perhaps should accept the wrist slap and only post in future when I have the time to present in a more acceptable way. Less stream of consciousness, more considered thought. You have a fair point there. I just don’t know if I’ll adapt myself to that. It all seems a bit more rigorous than I imagined one needed to be when blogging. BUT I perhaps need to learn, since I’m trying to find a better and more serious environment to voice opinion than most of social media dictates. But for me blogging is just like an off the cuff conversation, not even a warm up for the craft of writing.

    So there we go, I’ve talked myself round into accepting a lot of your comments. But should I now go back and edit this? Maybe, but I’m not going to. I have proper writing to get on with. Anyway, thanks for pointing out a view I’d never really considered but certainly will in future. I hope it shows you that I certainly don’t think that I should have everything my way all the time, I’m willing to give not just a little but a lot. If you were inferring that I was being bolshy in some way, I’m really not. I was just amazed that such a thing should ‘matter’ so much. And SORRY MARI for the actual DEBATE getting hijacked by such nonsense.

    I shall try and stick to the POINT in future. Because it strikes me that the more significant points under discussion get lost in the mire of what I consider to be ‘petty’ discussions over carriage returns, editing and whether people are being respectful. Maybe this is what the criticisms of the alt.lit generation actually are as well. Next time we engage I shall have learned my lesson and be more thoughtful in my exposition. Meantime, the sun’s shining and life is too short for long distance conflict over communication itself.

    And Thomas, I’d be really interested to read Einstein’s Folly – when will it be ready? I don’t know whether to suggest you ever try to read any of my work – it sort of would depend whether you would ‘get’ the authors ‘voice’ outside the speech marks. I’m not sure I fully agree with your interpretation of that, but that’s because I’m working a lot on how character/narrator/author all inhabit the text. I’ve been riding two incompatible horses for a while though – thinking that all this can be done for non ‘intellectual’ readers – believing that you can actually write something fairly sophisticated which can be enjoyed by an ‘ordinary’ reader – and that’s the level at which the point over the ‘complaining’ comes in. ‘Ordinary’ readers who have read my ‘sophisticated’ work haven‘t ever complained about instances of poor grammar etc, while ‘literati’ go ape about it. The ‘ordinary’ reader is more likely to complain they don’t ‘understand’ the themes/subtext etc.

    For me, I strive to write difficult things in a way that simple folk will understand (maybe even enjoy)and your comments help in my process of re-evaluating how important ‘correctness’ is for this. I just suggest it’s less important for people who just like to read than for those engaged in the ‘writing’ and ‘publishing’ fraternities. And I think I’ve probably done my time in the writing/publishing circles and am happier talking to ‘readers’ as ‘readers.’ One engages in different discussions with them and strangely, they seem to be much more about the ‘story’ and much less about the technical details. So I guess I need to pick my forums better. Or maybe just stick to writing the fiction and not writing ABOUT fiction. I’ll think on that. I’ll have a deeper look at your blog and if I pop up there (interesting article on Stevenson and morality) I’ll make sure I try and stick to the accepted etiquette of short paras and carriage returns!

    1. Cally, I am in awe of your ability to turn out a lengthy text! I have never before seen such a pure example of someone working it out by writing it out. Stream of consciousness commenting, indeed.

      Allow me to put the discussion about standards and comment format in another context. It isn’t about rigid standards, it’s about *customer service*. My simple practices are those used for centuries by newspapers when dealing with “letters to the editor.” Nothing more.

      I do what I do for exactly the same reasons the papers do it. I want my less experienced commenters to feel confident that I will not leave an embarrassing gaffe hanging out there for all to see. I want my readers to find everything easy to peruse and understand. I don’t want those readers to be annoyed by needless clutter and obvious errors. Again, like newspapers, I prefer to annoy them with the contents of my “op-eds.”

      As for your own writing, Cally, I am assuming only that you are not working in the mainstream on either the genre or the literary side. (You have come here to talk about experimental fiction, after all, and seem to support the concept and place yourself within that sphere.) In my experience, those who champion the “common man” or challenge the usual standards tend to be intellectuals with strong ideological beliefs.

      Your opinion of blogging is widespread, but I see it as an important and legitimate form of writing in its own right. I regard myself as a self-publishing essayist or someone like a newspaper columnist and take what I do seriously.

  9. Interesting points, Mari. I had a bit of a laugh reading some of the ‘Fan Fiction’ based on that terrible film ‘Troy’. ‘Achilles tooked orf his battle gear and his pecs were first rate and Briseis had to admire him, but she hid it and he says ‘I gotta show before Hector…’ Ahem!

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