A conversation with Jeff VanderMeer, on writers’ roles and modern publishing
August 22, 2014 | 10:25 am
At the Edinburgh International Book Festival 2014, I was lucky to be able to catch up with Jeff VanderMeer, multiple award-winning and hugely productive speculative fiction and fantasy writer, editor and anthologist, whose latest literary outing is the Southern Reach trilogy. These are a few excerpts from our conversation, with more to follow.
TeleRead: Do you think that modern speculative writers tend towards a Victorian level of industriousness?
Jeff VanderMeer: When I started out I just had this idea in my head that a writer did all these things. It didn’t become a strategy until later: it was just that I was writing, editing, doing non-fiction and everything else, and enjoyed it, and was interested in exploring it more. Later on, especially as the publishing environment began to change I began to see it as a strategy: You’re less susceptible to change if you have several different types of things going on.
What it really is is a way of continuing to keep your finger on the pulse of things without burning yourself out: doing different things so you’re not always writing non-fiction. When the publishing downturn came in 2008, I survived better than some other people largely because I could switch to coffee-table books which were largely immune and which my publisher was selling into various museums, and was then able to turn to other projects after.
TeleRead: What influence do you think publishing and internet technology have done to change what writers do?
Jeff VanderMeer: The thing that drives me nuts is the number of readers who seem to think that traditional publishing has gone away when it’s still the dominant form in book culture. The other thing is when writers who have never been involved in traditional publishing spread misinformation about what publishers do and how they do it, and on the other side, people who have never self-published do the same thing. It’s people who are committed to an ideology: they can’t just self-publish, they need to go to the church of self-publishing, and vice versa. The truth of it is what’s truly good for writers and publishers is a hybrid system. We’re going to lose a lot of writers if we believe that all you have to do is self-publish, because there are some writers who do not want to be their own publishers, and who are not good and PR, and those are some of the most unique voices. The pressure to do that is very damaging.
The pressure for people to behave like pundits and predict the future now is wrong, because a lot of the things are not inevitable. They are on the table and happening right now, but they are not inevitable, only we make them so by talking about them: it’s “create your own reality” again. It doesn’t have to go that way.