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Joshua Clover: Everything wrong with (academic) publishing

Thursday 10/14/21

A buddy of mine who writes on music and does excellent music books sent me an email, which I just got today, though it was from a couple months ago. He wanted to alert me to this new book series that Duke University Press is doing called Singles. They obviously cribbed the idea from the 33 1/3 series, but instead of a book about an album, the books are about singles. Not even really singles, as in the A-side and the B-side (or the double A-side, for the Beatles). A song that was a single. My buddy referenced something I'd recently posted somewhere about "Strawberry Fields Forever"/"Penny Lane" being the best single ever made. Obviously, I've written on the Beatles often. To understate matters. Obviously, there would be a real market for a book, even with a press like this--and even with me being blackballed by an industry, an industry I am ultimately going to take down--if it's a book by me about "Strawberry Fields Forever." My all-time favorite song. With a fascinating gestation saga. And so much work, backstory, art to plumb.


There is exactly one entry to date in the series. That's by one of the two co-editors of the series, that being Joshua Clover (the other series editor is Emily J. Lordi, who teaches at Vanderbilt, because we should be thorough about this). Clover teaches at UC Davis. Clover's book is on "Roadrunner," the unofficial anthem of Boston--where I live--by Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers. In other words, he edits the series--commissions for it--and selected a book by himself. It's the only book in the series right now.


I sent him this letter today. This would be for a book that wouldn't pay me a penny.


Mr. Clover,

How are you, sir? I can scarcely contain my excitement over what I just learned about your series, as I navigate the hell-space that is my neglected inbox. You must press me into service, and let me do a book in the singles series on "Strawberry Fields Forever." I have a huge Beatles following, with my work on the band appearing far and wide. To wit:


https://www.colinfleminglit.com/beatles-writings


My work has appeared everywhere, just about: Rolling Stone, The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Daily Beast, Slate, Salon, The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and so forth.


I just had a new book in the 33 1/3 series come out on Sam Cooke's Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963, which is selling well and will be excerpted in The Daily Beast this weekend. I'll have a film book out in December, from a series which had the 33 1/3 series partially in mind, as I think yours does, as I understand it.


I was born to write this book. What a great idea for a series. We could do something amazing on "SFF."

So, that's a quick note. I didn't want to prevaricate, having just seen what someone else had forwarded me about you and the series, but of course I can give you more information.


Yours,

Colin


Here is his reply. You'll enjoy this. And no, I'm not making this up. Keep in mind what I said above, about the one book in the series.


Dear Colin,


thank you for your extremely enthusiastic notes! I am cc’ing my co-editor, Emily Lordi.


I am also pasting in, below, our little schtick regarding how to pitch and to make a proposal. We mean for it to be helpful. But I should add, also in hopes of being helpful in the sense of saving needless effort, that as of now we aren't signing up any books on white male artists for the next few seasons.


If you have other/further thoughts, see the stuff below.


I hope you are safe,


Joshua


HOW TO PITCH The following summarizes both a rough sense of what kinds of titles we expect to include in the Singles series and the preferred format for a pitch. We hope these guidelines are useful but also hope to be flexible; we are sure we have not accounted for every possibility and we love to be surprised.

What is a single? By “single,” we mean not only a discrete musical track of great personal or social significance but a chart-busting, long-lasting song with mass appeal. Think big. If it is a song with a long recording history, we are interested first and foremost in a specific version, a singular musical object shared by its listeners. We recognize that our measure is as much an editorial intuition as a science, not least because charts/metrics have changed greatly over the history of popular music. That’s why we start by requesting a brief and simple inquiry (see below). We want songs that draw together a large public in addition to a counter-public. And we want to know why you think they matter, both in and of themselves and to pop music or the culture more broadly. We are interested in how they are made, what they mean in the moment of their emergence, and what their afterlives look like. We hope to think socially and broadly, to keep the masses in mass culture; the autobiographical can have a place in these books, but as a gateway or way station rather than the whole highway. What is the pitch process? Please write to both of us (email addresses at bottom) and briefly explain who you are, what song you wish to do, and why. A page or two is great. There is no need to send us a full proposal at this stage. We will request a proposal if we think it might work for the series. What is the proposal format? Proposals consist of a short (200-word) overview of your book, followed by a chapter outline that includes chapter summaries of approx. 200 words each. The question of how many chapters is up to you. We know that a 30,000 word book is radically different from a long article, either academic or journalistic — but is also not the same genre as a protracted scholarly or mass market book. It’s its own thing, and figuring out how that can work is part of the proposal. Please also tell us when you expect to be able to deliver a full draft. We understand these proposals as blueprints that are subject to change. But they should provide an accurate representation of you as a writer, and of your particular set of interests (musicological/historical/cultural/etc.). We like an argument, a magnetizing claim about the song in the world that can keep things clearly oriented while pulling in material from all around. And, of course, they should show us that your song warrants a whole (short) book.


This was my response. To which he had nothing to say. Because what can you say?


Yeah, I'm good. I've known enough bigots, man. But I will discuss your bigotry on my blog. Wasn't expecting that. Thought you wanted to do a good series with the best work. I'm offended as a human, to be honest with you. You hope I'm safe? I hope you start caring about quality and merit, and becoming a couple of humans focused on internal things, not a person's skin color or gender. And this is a guy who just wrote a book on Sam Cooke saying this to you, dude. And hilarious, my friend, that you, an old white guy, wrote about old white music, and published yourself in your own series. And then you said this. That is some seriously twisted s--- all around.