FC2. What other publisher would get into an editorial debate about whether or not to consider potential sales as a factor in publishing a season’s list? And how did a publishing entity of such comic purity manage to survive for 29 years? And let’s not forget that these were years when many, if not most, of the major publishing houses ceased to exist.
The paradoxical answer is lack of money. We all like money but we all know that real writers don’t write for money. So the attitudes of writer-controlled FC2 in this respect mirror the deepest attitudes of writers everywhere. Why do we write? A complex of reasons: for fame or, at least, attention; for love; as a form of therapy; as a way of thinking; as a pursuit of cultivation; as a way of amusing oneself; as a relief from more tedious occupations; and no doubt a myriad of other reasons that make composition an end in itself — of the writer, by the writer, for the writer, and whoever else wishes to listen in.
Other presses go under when they stop being profitable. FC2 is used to being broke. Broke is the water we swim in. Our major fiscal goal is to break even every year in a delicate guessing game concerning how many books we can publish. The main response we get from foundations is that we can’t be endowed because we have insufficient resources to do what we’ve been doing for 29 years. And it’s true, we can’t do it. But we do do it because FC2 is not a business operation, it’s a morale operation. It exists because we want it to exist. There have been times when we only had money to publish one or two books a year and we went with that until we had money for more. Just to keep it alive. Because we wanted it to survive. Because we thought it was important to publish good writing.
Now, however, at a time when FC2 is in optimal working condition, it’s probably a good idea to plan for the lean years that seem to be coming for the arts and book publishing in particular. And first of all, it may be time to throw the concept of good writing overboard. Because “good” in this context tends to slide, begins to mean literary, and the literary, while celebrated in textbooks, always involves a judgment after the fact: based on formal models which when they appeared may not have seemed literary at all but rather strange, abrasive, indecipherable. What I’m suggesting is that we sacrifice the appearance of the literary for books that display high energy, deep feeling, impact and wisdom. And that as such show promise of reaching an audience.
And to hell with form. Subject can be ground-breaking too. Let’s seek out books with rough edges, scandalous books, books distinguished from trash only by vigorous writing, books that break taboos, that piss you off or that sweep you away with their urgencies. And above all, books that don’t toe any line of doctrinaire ideology, no matter how virtuous. We should look for manuscripts that explode off the page with energy, confusion and turbulence, manuscripts that neither we nor the author yet completely understand. We should give preference not to the obscure, but to the dynamically confused and authentically misinformed. Truth and virtue are not the ingredients of exciting fiction.
Literary fiction is dying. Maybe it deserves to die. In any case we need to crystallize a new audience for exciting fiction and to do that we need to look for writers who favor experience over literature. Content over form. Vitality over correctness. American fiction has been sanitized, globalized and nortonized, producing writing that is not exactly slick but more like smooth. Let’s rough it up a little. Let’s elicit the shock of disapproval. Let’s not be afraid of scandal. And let our books be offensive to those who take offense. It’s in the nature of an opposition to offend. And FC2 is in opposition by nature.
Ronald Sukenick was on the cutting edge of American fiction and publishing for four decades. He has won an American Book Award for Lifetime Achievement and the American Academy of Arts and Letters prestigious Morton Dauwen Zabel Award, and is founder and publisher of American Book Review. His FC2 books include Last Fall, The Death of the Novel, Up, Mosaic Man, Doggy Bag, Endless Short Story, Long Talking Bad Conditions Blues, and 98.6.