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Fiction, Publishing, The Writer's Life

The Latest Attempt to “Expose” the Publishing Industry

So every few years, some frustrated writer gets the idea that he will expose the publishing industry for the hypocrites they are by submitting a piece of famous writing to a few agents or publishers, and daring them to reject it. Yes, they always do reject it, but no, that doesn’t mean anyone’s been “exposed.”

The latest attempt is described in an essay and rebuttal, on the excellent online journal Mobius. G. D. McFetridge chronicles how he pilfered an excerpt from Faulkner’s novel series, The Hamlet, made “adjustments in the opening and ending pages,” re-titled it, and submitted it as a short story to a few literary journals.

As the rejections came in McFetridge speculated that the reasons he couldn’t get the pieces published ranged from a network of cronies whose ranks he couldn’t crack, to literary elitism enforced by the self-appointed gods of the lit world. The possibility that that what he submitted didn’t match what the readers and editors were seeking didn’t enter into his equation.

He tried the same scam with more recent short stories already published in The Atlantic Monthly and a “best of” anthology, and got the same result, although the rejections were at least more personal.

Later, he ramped up his attempts by masquerading as a well-known author (he didn’t say who) championing an unknown writer from the Montana plains, whom he called a “diamond in the rough,” a barely-disguised reference to himself. He called a few journals and was received warmly, with promises that the writer’s work would vault the slush pile because he knew someone famous.

The morals: If you’re not already on the inside, you don’t have much chance of ever getting there, no matter what you write. Being one of the chosen has much more to do with networks than talent. Most readers and editors play favorites and are not qualified to do their jobs. Industry exposed!

Well, not really.

To be honest, I’ve had all these thoughts myself. Often. And all these statements are, to some extent, true.

But here’s the thing—it doesn’t matter.

Name an industry or endeavor in which cronyism, favoritism, elitism, and every ism you can imagine isn’t practiced. Politics, business? Come on. Sports? Get serious. The clergy? Don’t make me laugh. Art and literature? Why should they be any different?

Developing cliques, valuing reputations over talent and substance—that’s what people do and have done throughout their history. The reasons are complex and stem from many factors, such as our inherent desire to be accepted by a group or people we perceive to be role models, comfort levels, chains of command, experience, inexperience, incompetence, ignorance and more. It’s what makes society work the way it does. It builds civilizations and brings them down, and keeps even the most established institutions in flux. My only actual objection to McFetridge’s actions is that, as a writer, he should have realized that aspect of human nature long ago.

So as a writer on the outside, looking in at the literary cognoscienti, what should McFetridge (and I, and thousands of others) do?

I can only answer that for myself. I’ve thought about quitting, rather than spending the next few decades writing in obscurity and never having a novel published, or a short story in a “name” journal. It might be nice to come home from work and relax with my wife or watch TV or read, rather than hunker down with the laptop and try to improve my latest fiction, or apply for yet another residency or retreat or teaching job, knowing that it’s likely an exercise in futility.

It hurts sometimes, enrages at others. I’m a good writer, as good as ninety percent of the writers who make it into the prestigious journals. So are thousands of other writers. Where I live, which I admit is not anyplace known for its writing community, I am the writer most other writers come to for advice and critiques. None of that matters when I submit my manuscripts.

But I’ve also imagined how I would feel about myself if I didn’t write, didn’t see this thing through, and have already felt the overwhelming regret in store if I didn’t pursue this passion. Not so much because I deserve to be famous or even successful as a writer, but because, of all the things I’ve done in my life, all the jobs and outside pursuits, this is the one that feels right. This is the one I want to pursue, even after coming home from a grueling day only to find more rejections in my mail and email. This is the answer when someone asks why anyone would want to be a writer.


That’s human nature too.


About Joe Ponepinto

Co-publisher, with Kelly Davio, of Tahoma Literary Review. Author of "Curtain Calls," a featured Kirkus Review. Married to Dona. Dad to Henry, the coffee-drinkin' dog.


10 thoughts on “The Latest Attempt to “Expose” the Publishing Industry

  1. Thanks for this post. There is indeed so much yammering about insiders and outsiders, and you’re right — this issue is true everywhere. I wonder sometimes if these jeremiads about the book industry aren’t a way to keep us from talking about the more urgent issues — like libraries, literacy, education, and how access to the “word” in all its senses is being severely limited in the US. Just saying… Thanks again!

    Posted by Stephanie Barbé Hammer | January 13, 2012, 5:52 PM
    • Yes, Stephanie, that is a much more important issue. Was just talking with my wife about how some people with little education see a liberal education as a threat. Yes, liberal–as in open, investigative, enlightening… free.

      Posted by jpon | January 16, 2012, 12:11 PM
  2. A wonderful post. I say to G. D. McFedridge: stop complaining and work at improving your craft and building bridges with editors.I also have concerns about his investigative “methods.”

    Posted by nadiaibrashi | January 13, 2012, 6:27 PM
    • Thanks, Nadia. I would say that McFetridge’s scam has probably closed the door on his being able to get into those top tier journals now.

      Posted by jpon | January 16, 2012, 12:12 PM
  3. What you “expose” above — the “isms,” the desperation for publicity, etc. may be why I tried my damnedest to do anything but write. Then I gave in, step outside the solitary, determined urge to do so, and discovered my muse is fed in the writing and publishing community in wonderful, surprising ways. Thanks for the insights.

    Posted by Claire Gebben | January 13, 2012, 7:34 PM
  4. Hi jpon, interesting post. I have been lucky, when I was out of work, I sent a story (in Dutch) to a publisher and I have been working for them for 14 and a half year, writing 270 novels. When I heard complains on blogs about poetry not being published, I sent (English) poems to a publisher and now my book with 160 poems will be published in March. Sometimes luck is what you need? :) Don’t give up too soon, but also, not too late.

    Posted by Ina | January 20, 2012, 1:07 PM
  5. I read the essay when it first came out at Mobius, and thought about a response, as well. G. D. McFetridge’s essay’s main complaint can be summed as such: “The publishing world doesn’t publish quality, and isn’t objective, and isn’t interested” thinly disguised as “The publishing world doesn’t publish G. D. McFetridge enough.”

    Although G.D.’s complaints have some element of truth, lit mags are guilty as he charges, it’s only one part of the story. Lit mag editors are as conscious of these conflicts of interest as the writers. His submission example of “quality” stories was an inconclusive sample, revised Faulkner????….yet he made conclusions. As far as contacting lit mags as an “imposter literary star” and discovering that he’d get favoritism. No duh! So?

    I’d love to have lit mags call me up and ask for my stories, and be able to jump straight to the top of the sludge. The way to do it is by always questioning and blaming myself, not the industry. Keep submitting, be part of the conversation, and accrue publications. And if you can’t, well, the conclusion to make is that you gotta up your game, not that publishers/editors have sticks up their asses or don’t know what they’re doing. The reason why editors aren’t contacting me is I haven’t earned it, nothing more nothing less.

    Posted by notesofasexiststayathomefather | March 2, 2012, 8:42 PM
  6. Hey Jpon, go buy the Spring 2013 issue of “Confrontation,” out of the University of Long Island. I’m published right in your backyard, so to speak! Make sure all your readers buy one too, seeing how they did a lot of BS-ing about SUMF and how I didn’t deserve to be published and all the other cheap shots. Not to mention the other ten publications I’ve earned in the last six months, including the University of Wales. I’m thinking of hiring Shafartsman and F. J. to be my PR people!! Hope you’re doing well. GD

    Posted by G. D. McFetridge | July 4, 2013, 7:29 PM
    • Good to hear from you, George, and great to see you doing so well with the lit journals. I know how hard you’ve been working at it. interesting about the U of Wales. I’ve had a couple of pieces published in Australia, so maybe this shows that the folks overseas appreciate good writing.

      Posted by jpon | July 5, 2013, 2:37 PM

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