Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Negative Capability

Somewhere along the line, when I was writing yesterday's post about Ansible, it occurred to me that Ansible was a sort of fanzine. And, if you're wondering, as I once did, what a fanzine is, it's 'an amateur-produced magazine written for a subculture of enthusiasts devoted to a particular interest' -- mainly science fiction enthusiasts, it seems. At least that's the definition according to the online Free Dictionary. And no, I don't know how to pronounce fanzine either. You can find a much longer definition of the term, and a discussion of the fanzine phenomenon, in the Fancyclopaedia.

Strictly speaking, the fanzine seems to be a printed magazine, though I have a feeling that there is lots of stuff on the web which could sensibly be called a fanzine: Ansible being a case in point. And what immediately came to my mind, when I remembered the word, was a passage from the writing of one Josh Saitz, which I came across a year or so ago. So I looked up old Josh to see how he was doing these days. And you can easily do the same by clicking on the link to his web site, Negative Capability.

As you will see, Josh runs a fanzine (of sorts). Or at any rate a small-scale printed magazine. The front page of his web site tells us that it offers (among other treats) 'hidden celebrity nudes, MP3s and lots of other stuff that will get me cease-and-desist letters from lawyers, but I don't care.' I really like that sort of attitude, though it is of course grossly immoral and a flagrant breach of the copyright laws which all us writers worship and revere. And I haven't actually found any of these hidden nudes yet, but I live in hope.

Of course, the first thing that you will notice is that Negative Capability isn't a fanzine at all -- not in the classic definition of the term. It seems to be just a small and irregularly issued magazine -- edited, and largely written, by one short-tempered and outspoken individual who has been enraged, over the years, by the repeated failure of editors to recognise his talent and in the end has just decided, fuck it, if they won't publish my stuff I'll publish it myself. Josh's own definition of the thing, by the way, is 'a zine specialising in humor and anger.' Which is a pretty good combination. It has served Private Eye fairly well over the years.

Anyway, the bit of Josh Saitz's wisdom that caught my eye, a year or more ago, was his little rant on the submissions page. And as it's still there I thought I would give you the benefit of bits of it here. This is what Josh has to say:

If you are a talented writer and are thumbing through the writing market book looking for a place to send your submission, do yourself a favor and save yourself the postage. Publish it yourself. Write it, edit it, get pictures yourself, print it and sell it. You don't need anyone to validate you and you definitely aren't going to make any money or get any fame by having a short story published by the Pine Cone Journal in Wisconsin because nobody fucking reads that shit anyway. And if you only write sensitive poetry, please, for the love of god, please stop because it's a waste of paper.

I am sorry if this short spiel has left you feeling disappointed, but I really do have a great deal of empathy for you because I too was a miserable unpublished writer for a long, long time. I also sent out hundreds of short stories, essays, reviews and other wonderfully insightful pieces and I was rejected 99% of the time, usually by being ignored. The 1% of people who responded were either liars or total frauds,and none of the people I ever found from Writers Digest or any other book ever published anything I ever wrote. I have written for dozens of magazines and zines since then, but it was only because they had already read my zine. So my advice to you is to publish your own work, send it out, trade it, sell it wherever they sell stuff like that, and eventually you will be able to find your audience before you go crazy.

Now this is all excellent stuff, and I agree with every word of it. It so happens that once upon a time I had an 'orthodox' (if not very lucrative) career as a writer, publishing novels through mainstream firms in a variety of countries. But in the end I grew weary of dealing with such people (individually pleasant though they are), and in any case they decided that my work was not sufficiently commercial for them, so we parted ways. Ever since I have published my own stuff (Kingsfield Publications), and feel much better for it.

So I commend Josh Saitz's strategy to your attention. Why not buy old Josh's magazine? He deserves it, on the grounds of effort alone. At least he doesn't sit on his arse and whimper about the need for more Arts Council support.

1 comment:

Natalie Bennett said...

I have it on reliable authority - a librarian no less - that it should be "fan-zeen", as in magazine.