Literature Isn’t Declining – But The Gatekeepers Want You to Think it Is

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A couple of articles were brought to my attention on monday about the state of the industry. It’s no wonder the publishing world is shaken, after Barnes & Noble is undergoing a decline. It’s literally their last, best outlet to maintain control over what people see, keeping a limited selection of perspectives and ideas.  What will the sensitivity reader racket do if they can’t control the few publishing companies left?

Publishing Perspective put out an article at the end of december, sounding the alarm:

‘Overall the books selling well’ in the UK ‘are not literary,’ Arts Council England’s commissioned report announces. Even breakout hits, the study says, ‘are selling fewer copies overall and making less money.’

Not literary. What they mean by this is they’re not boring pieces that are pushing extreme leftist social agendas. There’s never “literary” books from a Christian perspective. There’s never “literary” books from a conservative one. There’s never “literary” books that aren’t pushing a very specific social agenda. Notice as science fiction as a genre tries to go more “literary” they’re cutting off a big portion of their audience as well. It doesn’t matter how many awards they give themselves for their boring society of as one author put it on twitter, “a society that doesn’t need men!”

Of course the garbage isn’t selling. No reader is interested in rehashing the exact same generic establishment-approved ideas of the last 50+ years. They are interested in different ideas, positive worlds, not negative dross coupled with flowery language. Their report goes further:

The team’s executive summary highlights these points (edited here):

  • Print sales of literary fiction have fallen over the last decade in the UK, particularly after the recession. They remain significantly below where they stood in the middle of the last decade
  • There is only a small “long tail” of novels that sell in sufficient quantities to support an author
  • The price of literary fiction has fallen in the past 15 years; book sales are down by volume and publishers net less per copy sold
  • While ebook sales have made up much of the fall in print sales elsewhere in the book market, this does not appear to be the case for literary fiction, while genre and commercial fiction predominate in ebook format
  • Large prizes have become even more important to literary fiction
  • Advances are very likely to have fallen for most writers
  • Literary fiction is dominated by “insider networks” hard to break into [This point is primarily referring to the diversity debate, and the ongoing conversation these days about the London-centric nature of the UK industry.]
  • Nonprofit support for literary writing is unable to fill the gaps

The woes of traditional publishing are very real. It’s a warning. And the warning is the old business model is failed. The price points are too expensive because there’s too many middlemen. The content is something most sane people don’t want to deal with after they’ve been bombarded with the fake news all day long telling them they’re awful people, who wants more negativity in their lives?  And to pay for it as entertainment? It’s the same thing sinking most of the establishment culture. But there’s good news!

Despite those negative points, the Canelo team offers some upbeat remarks

  • New independent publishers continue to emerge
  • There’s no conclusive evidence that publishers are reducing their marketing, even if this is a common feeling among writers
  • Film rights, translation rights, audiobooks and new crowdfunding models are all on the rise as ways of supporting literary fiction
  • The growth in creative writing courses offers teaching opportunities for writers, but also creates a more competitive landscape for authors

It’s the indies that are being successful. It’s those pushing boundaries and not limiting their ideas for the outrage mob who cries “literary!” who are selling books. There’s growth and opportunities, it just doesn’t involve the few gatekeepers in New York trying to force the same cultural mantra down our throats for decades. We are winning, and this report sounding the alarm actually is a breath of fresh air for independent authors.

There’s no decline in culture in reality, there’s just a wider net being cast and the barrier to entry has been evaporated. Indies are dominating the ebook market with more than 50% of ebook sales going to authors like your humble correspondent here. The big book companies blame amazon, like they did wtih B&N yesterday. But the problem is they are telling the audience “we don’t like you, and we want a different audience reading our book.” Like always, that’s a bad plan. Love your audience, don’t alienate them, and there won’t be problems.

Meanwhile, the rest of us can enjoy while big publishing burns their own ships and complains about it as they’re still standing on the deck.

Speaking of ships. I like space ships. Most my readers like space ships too. I think my book is very literary in that it’s about standing up to collective behavior, even in extreme environments that are ingrained genetically. While the world around them descends into chaos, the individual making a path can still keep her soul. Check out The Stars Entwined here! 

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2 thoughts on “Literature Isn’t Declining – But The Gatekeepers Want You to Think it Is

  1. “… genre and commercial fiction predominate in ebook format.”

    You can almost hear the haughty “SNIFF” at the end of that sentence. It’s adorable.

    If I want to hear a sermon about how sinful and awful I am, I’ll go to church. The difference is that my pastor will give me hope, whilst these “literary” types would just leave me wallowing in the terrible.

    • Julie
      I laughed at your comment. Thanks for making my day.
      To follow up well in Europe the publishing industry got smart and called themselves a cultural industry and boy do the govts throw cash. But Spain still doesn’t read enough
      Well yeah the ebooks are higher priced, limited or non existent. Audiobook are juuuust starting in Spanis as an experiment but they simply don’t exist in Catalan
      Even the indie publishers in Europe are so reticent to adopt ebooks
      So frustrating

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