Advice to Authors

by Kieran Healy on September 26, 2004

Here is one of the many footnotes from Susanna Clarke’s novel, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, which Henry reviewed recently:

Horace Tott spent an uneventful life in Cheshire always intending to write a large book on English magic, but never quite beginning. And so he died at seventy-four, still imagining he might begin next week, or perhaps the week after that.

“Publish-or-perish” is hardly the best motto for good scholarship, but if the alternative is to perish without publishing at all then perhaps it might not be so bad. This footnote may find itself stuck above my desk come Monday. Or Tuesday, at the latest.

{ 9 comments }

1

Robin Green 09.26.04 at 1:58 am

Yes, relatedly, I have been fervently believing that my new programming language will be ready-to-use in about one week, for literally about three years now.

5% perspiration, 95% prevarication – that’s my magic formula!

2

Adam Kotsko 09.26.04 at 3:43 am

That thing where you reversed the normal order of “publish” and “perish” was pretty clever — you should consider becoming a postmodernist.

3

rea 09.26.04 at 3:59 am

Jeez, sounds like my novel . . .

4

David Tiley 09.26.04 at 7:20 am

Struck to the heart I am, struck to the heart.

I nearly choked on my pap.

5

bad Jim 09.26.04 at 9:55 am

Perhaps the devil is right, and the world needs less, rather than more.

6

kevin donoghue 09.26.04 at 11:46 am

To perish without publishing may be no bad thing.

“Almost everyone has a novel inside them, and in most cases, that’s where it should stay.”

7

Doug 09.26.04 at 12:17 pm

Irrelevantly, from pages 236-37:

“Oh! Indeed!” cried Mr Norrell irritably. “People believe that magic begins and ends with fairies! They scarcely consider the skill and learning of the magicial at all! No, Mr Strange, that is no argument with me for employing fairies! Rather the reverse! A hundred years ago the magio-historian, Valentine Munday, denied that the Other Lands existed. He thought that the men who claimed to have been there were all liars. In this he was quite wrong, but his position remains one with which I have a great deal of sympathy and I wish we could make it more generally believed. Of course,” said Mr Norrell thoughtfully, “Munday went on to deny that America existed, and then France and so on. I believe that by the time he died he had long since given up on Scotland and was beginning to entertain doubts about Carlisle … I have his book here.”

8

Kate Nepveu 09.26.04 at 2:08 pm

On a slightly different note–as Gavin Grant memorably pointed out at a Worldcon panel on “Tough Love for New Writers,” the career path of “write a lot, don’t get published, and die” has considerable interest for new writers: everyone can die, it’s very easy not to get published; and if you have a friend, maybe you’ll be published posthumously, which will be a nice story.

But then that was fiction not academic publishing.

9

Yesh 09.26.04 at 5:29 pm

Dare to be obscure.

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