Fiction writers aren’t about to organize themselves into an extensive network of postcapitalist publishing houses, all of them collaborating with readers to make their books widely and freely available. In part that’s because writer-controlled houses don’t yet exist. Industry-published writers are consolidated into portfolios by their agents and publishers; self-published writers go it alone.
Is the writers’ house proposal feasible? Can the writers do it? Would they want to do it? Ficticities can serve as a laboratory for conducting experiments and simulations that would evaluate writers’ capabilities and preferences about collaborative publishing while incrementally enhancing their capabilities and preferences.
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Can fiction writers edit and review one another’s texts? Many fiction writers already do so. Some of these collaborative arrangements are formal and intensive but limited in duration — e.g., MFA programs — while others are ongoing but informal — e.g., writers’ groups. Most writers who collaborate hope to enhance the quality and publishability of their own writing; few collaborate with the intent of organizing their own publishing houses.
Would writers want to participate in a syndicated cooperative publishing venture in which the writers select and edit each others’ texts for publication? Some fiction writers have worked, often without pay, as editors for literary magazines. Scientific journals rely on unpaid peer review for revising and selecting articles for publication. However, in both cases the authors are not organizationally affiliated with the publications to which they have submitted their manuscripts for review. Some fiction writers teach writing, in which they evaluate, critique, and edit students’ manuscripts. Teacher and students share an organizational affiliation, but the relationship is hierarchically stratified rather than peer-to-peer.
Can fiction writers collaborate in ways that produce coherence of vision among their texts? It’s certainly possible to identify intertextual similarities of theme, style, influence, degree of realism, structure, linearity, complexity, and so on — similarities that may emerge independently of authorial intent or awareness.
Would writers want to produce collaborative coherence of vision? Writers of genre fiction intentionally share fictional orientations; writers of fan fiction, even more so. Even if not collaborating, fiction writers often prefer to have their work associated with a particular approach to the art and craft and with particular writers they deem exemplary.
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An initial experiment could both explore and enhance incrementally the feasibility of writers assembling a postcapitalist syndicate of publishing houses by launching a collaborative fiction writing project in which writers:
- edit one another’s manuscripts,
- identify other writers who share a compatible approach to fiction, and
- assemble the edited texts into publication-ready books.
Fiction writers aren’t about to submit full-length novels to a writer-run publishing house with no organizational structure, no track record, and no distribution outlet. There is, however, the long tradition of writing, without compensation, shorter pieces to be included in published compilations. It should be possible to design an experimental House project contoured to fit within those traditional parameters. At the same time, the postcapitalistic experimental context driving the project should be made explicit to all potential participants.
There are plenty of short story periodicals out there, many of which solicit manuscripts conforming to a specific house style or genre. Short story compilations that take book form tend to impose even tighter editorial constraints: “best-of” editions, or stories that have all been written by the same author. Similarly, nonfiction periodicals typically consolidate articles in the same “genre” 0r discipline: developmental psychology, for example, or biochemistry, or medieval history. Book-length nonfiction compilations tend to narrow the thematic focus within these disciplines; e.g., the development of problem-solving ability in early childhood. Perhaps increasingly, book-length nonfiction compilations cross disciplinary boundaries: the chemistry of synaptic pathways invoked in learning to solve long division problems, medieval practices of teaching mathematical skills.
The nonfictional cross-disciplinary model of book-length compilation suits the purposes of fictional House experimentation. Establish as the volume’s unifying premise a thematic element or thread that spans diverse genres and styles, inviting writers to contribute manuscripts that address the unifying thread in some way. Stand-alone stories, fragments of longer pieces, non-narrative fictions would all be fair game. Even short texts not typically regarded as fictional — theory, autobio, meta, abstract simulations — could be incorporated into the thematic compilation.
This sort of big-tent inclusiveness is compatible with the way fictions are already written, since arguably every novel incorporates non-fictional content. Incorporating a wide variety of texts into a thematically focused compilation could limn the intertextual architecture on which fictional universes are built. Cutting across genre boundaries could also link writers on collaborative trajectories that might not otherwise have been apparent.
Design specs from this treatment will be elaborated and detailed in the next post or two. Suggestions and critiques are more than welcome.