Category Archives: Feature Request

A Letter to the Warren Campaign from a Supporter Who Feels a Bit Overwhelmed by the Irregularity of Things These Days with a Request About Email Regularity

Dear Senator Warren,

In answer to your campaign’s online survey question: “Is there anything else you’d like to share about why you’re in this fight?”

Yes, there is. I am in this fight for regularity. For predictability. If I were to put it in a campaign slogan, it would be this: Make Public Service Boring Again.

And to get there, I want to put in a small request: Please give us, your supporters, two choices for the emails we receive from your campaign, as follows.

1) Keep getting fundraising emails the way everyone has always done them. Emails sent unpredictably, at random hours on random days. Emails from unpredictable senders (“Elizabeth Warren,” “Warren HQ,” “Team Warren”). Emails with a chance to be one of 224 donors from Ohio today, or with a request to meet this fiscal quarter’s fundraising goal, or with a favor, Thomas, to give even more than you already have done—even though at my age, and with two kids and a mortgage, and with our tight budgeting, I have already given precisely how much money I can.

Or,

2) Start receiving a new, secondary email campaign, one like no one has ever done before. (No one that I’m aware of, I should say.) Emails that are always sent from the same sender. Emails that are always sent at the exact same time once a week, like a magazine (say, Fridays at 10:00 a.m.). The Elizabeth Warren Good News Friday Digest. Emails that are a campaign diary, essentially; emails that are a summary of Senator Warren’s previous week. Possible additions at the end could include events in the following week that we can attend, and/or a list of follow-up concrete actions that we Warren supporters can take.

And then maybe—just maybe—a postscript. Not a grid of multiple pre-populated ActBlue buttons. A PS with just one maybe-give-whatever-else-you-can donate button.

Getting back to your campaign’s online survey: I want all the things on the list in the survey of “the issues that matter most to [me]”: from campaign finance reform to corporate accountability, from jobs to nuclear non-proliferation to universal child care. All of it.

But I also I want to have the confidence now that in 2050, we’ll have the confidence that civilization itself might have a shot of making it to 2100.

In our current political spectrum, this would be called liberal. But to me, it’s cold-hearted conservative capitalism: I want money and trade and capital and banks and voting American citizens all to continue to exist in 2100. I want elected representatives to still exist in 2100. I want there to still be people saying “Oh look, can you believe it’s 2100, and these blueberries are delicious, and boy the Green New Deal and President Warren’s Green Marshall Plan were such good ideas, and also I have to walk the dog” in 2100.

I want there to still be dogs and blueberries and spoken language in 2100.

I would like regularity and predictability at the large scale and the small scale, the epochal and the daily. The regularity and predictability of the world continuing to exist, instead of the deadly chaos of climate denialism. The regular, predictable positivity of scheduled magazine-like emails, rather than the deadly chaos of the unpredictable tweets of a madman.

My cautious, tired, middled-aged and middle-class dreams might seem contrary to those of “Dream Big, Fight Hard, Live Proud.” But I think they’re one and the same. They’re both about love.

Living from love—not from toxic narcissism.

In addition to the unpredictability of campaign emails, the strategies of Democratic candidates all too often seem like inside-baseball panic. I remember a call I received from a fundraiser who yelled “We’ve got to stop these Republicans!” at me right before I hung up.

But we don’t stop something by trying to stop something. We make something wither by starting something better. We don’t stop people from wallowing in the spiritual gutter of a nihilistic death cult by yelling “That’s bad! You should feel bad about yourself for wallowing!” We draw our fellow Americans’ better angels up and away from the death cult by calling to them from Dr. King’s Beloved Community, from JFK’s—and Reagan’s—City upon a Hill.

We stop something bad by starting something much better. Something good.

You, Senator Warren, are starting something.

Elizabeth Warren has a plan for that, goes your slogan. Yes we can, went Barack Obama’s slogan. I voted for Obama because I felt like I was helping to build something, not stop something. I feel the same way about your campaign now.

Plans, not reactions. Collaborations, not fomented divisions. Steady progress, not strategic chaos. Partial victories, not the angry purity of “We’ve got to stop these Republicans!” FDR’s Fireside Chats, not the Stephen Miller strategy of an exhausting blizzard of hatred and lies—a strategy from a man who seemingly read Arendt’s Origins of Totalitarianism as an instruction manual.

Back again to emails: I’m not saying get rid of email strategy choice #1 entirely (“Can you give another $5 before midnight, Thomas?”).

But please consider also giving us the optional email strategy choice #2: the Elizabeth Warren Good News Friday Digest. Give it a shot!

Instead of thousands of us clicking “unsubscribe” to get rid of the email strategy choice #1 emails altogether, some—or even a lot—of those of us who react badly to unpredictability might stick around. And by sticking around, and by feeling good about all the good news in the President Warren Good News Friday Digest emails, and by having the calm feeling of regularity and predictability, and the feeling of an industrious and thrifty nation working together in a steady way toward shared goals, then we might just also click on the “PS please donate” link and give more money to the campaign.

Thank you for considering it, and thank you for being such an inspiration.

Sincerely,
Tom

Feature Request: Kindle Second Acts

A selection of my contributor copies.

A selection of my contributor copies.

The short version of my idea: 1) Amazon should open up the Kindle Singles program to include stories and essays that have been previously published by a curated group of print literary journals. 2) They should hire me to manage this.

The longer version: University-affiliated lit journals could partner with Amazon to make a little more money than they currently do, and benefit the careers (and wallets, a little bit) of the writers they publish. Here’s how:

Amazon has its Kindle Singles program, but at the moment, it’s only for previously unpublished writing (from the Singles Submissions Policy: “Original work, not previously published in other formats or publications”).

At the same time, we have this whole world of fantastic lit journals that have back catalogs of high-quality writing, much of which is only available in print, or for university-affiliated readers who have JSTOR access. Some lit journals might balk at the idea of a partnership with Amazon (see my one caveat, below). But if Amazon opened up the Kindle Singles program to include stories and essays previously published by a curated group of reputable lit journals who mostly publish in print, it would achieve the same purpose of having Kindle Singles be by submission and not a free-for-all. Essays published by AGNI have already been vetted by Sven Birkerts; stories published by The Paris Review have gotten the go-ahead from Lorin Stein. The cohort of lit journals itself would be curated (this is where I come in, Amazon)—again, to keep the program from being a free-for-all.

Lit journals and authors could split Amazon’s usual 70% royalty. Everyone wins: Amazon, the journals, and the writers make a little bit of change, and the writers get a slightly wider audience than they currently have.

I should add that I agree wholeheartedly with Emily Wojcik at The Massachusetts Review in her blog post from this past February (“Rethinking the Future of the University Quarterly”): “The capital offered by the university literary magazine is not financial but cultural, and should be measured accordingly.” I.e., I’m not at all arguing that university-affiliated lit journals are obligated to carry their weight. But I do think that a new way for journals to reach readers would be both a financial and cultural victory.

Here are some readers for whom this would be awesome:

The frugal: A reader might want to spend $2 for one story or essay by a favorite writer, rather than spending $10 or $12 to buy the whole lit journal in which it was published.

The curious: A reader might be interested in a particular writer, but isn’t sure yet whether she or he wants to spend the money and time on her or his whole essay or story collection.

The fans of the not-yet-collected: There are plenty of writers who have published dozens of stories and essays who have not yet had them published in collected book form.

The completists: A writer might have published a collection, or even more than one collection—but their book(s) might not include all of that writer’s work.

Have I covered all the possible scenarios? Let me know if not!

I want this program to happen for selfish reasons (and not just because I want Amazon to hire me to run it). I have a story collection manuscript, but I haven’t yet found an agent or a publisher for it. The collection has twenty-two short stories and short-short stories, twenty of which have been published. Some are online, but quite a few are not; none of the four stories in the ms that are over 5,000 words are available online. They’ve been published by amazing journals, ones that I’m honored to have had select my work—Printers’ Row Journal, One Story, The Massachusetts Review, Indiana Review—but again, $12 is a lot to spend if someone might want to read just my story “The Man in the Moon Is a Lawyer.”

Also, personally, I feel like you can read short-short stories on a web page, but a full-length story is a whole other business. I know not all readers feel this way, but I do think that many readers like the way in which either a physical book or an e-reader doesn’t have the constant temptation to multitask, to flip over to some other app or program that wants to take them away from the submersive experience of reading (what John Gardner called the “vivid and continuous dream”).

Part of why I think this could work brilliantly is because Ploughshares is already doing it with Ploughshares Solos: for example, you can buy my friend Alix Ohlin’s (not-yet-collected) story “The Brooks Brothers Guru” for $1.99 either on the Ploughshares website or on Amazon. This is totally great. And it makes me think that surely there’s a market for a larger program, one that includes a much wider range of established journals.

Possible names for the program: Kindle Second Acts? Kindle Take Twos? Kindle Duos?

Once more: Hey Amazon! If anyone there reads this, and if you want to hire a tech-savvy editor with great literary/publishing world connections and to launch and run such a program: I’m available!

And finally, one small caveat: I’m well aware of the criticisms of Amazon—monopsony, the Gazelle Project, etc. But since Amazon’s not going away anytime soon, my feeling is that what they do incredibly well—what they do better than anyone else—can surely still be harnessed for the much vaster project of literature itself.