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The Tin House Attention Tax

In my Design Observer essay, “A Short Manifesto on the Future of Attention,” I imagined what I called an “attention tax” that aspiring writers, musicians, artists, et al. should pay. It was based on the notion that writers don’t read or buy enough books, and we pay fealty (and real money) to cultural forms that don’t kill writing directly, but endanger it by competing for attention. I summarized the tax like this:

If you want people to read your book, then you have to read books; if you want people to buy your book, then you buy books. Give your attention to the industry of your choice.

I might have also said, don’t bemoan your inability to sell your book if you don’t yourself buy books.

Well, the indie press Tin House Books and literary journal Tin House has stipulated that submissions between August 1 and November 30 must be accompanied by a receipt from a bookstore.

In the spirit of discovering new talent as well as supporting established authors and the bookstores who support them, Tin House Books will accept unsolicited manuscripts dated between August 1 and November 30, 2010, as long as each submission is accompanied by a receipt for a book from a bookstore. Tin House magazine will require the same for unsolicited submissions sent between September 1 and December 30, 2010…ALL MANUSCRIPTS WITHOUT RECEIPT OR EXPLANATION

WILL BE RETURNED UNREAD IN SASE.

I love this and heartily support not only the requirement, but that it be made permanent. There’s a work-around for writers who can’t afford books or prefer e-books, so it’s not absolutely exclusionary, which is fair. Anything that makes writers, who would publish and presume upon others’ attention, examine what attention commitments (and economic commitments) they themselves make is a wonderful, wonderful thing. (And to see part of my essay come true, well, that’s just icing.)