“Unless you’re a terribly bad writer, you are never going to have too many readers.” (The Dastardly Defender of Letters,” by Laura Bennett, New Republic, October 21, 2013, pg. 29)
I read the above statement twice, thinking I’d misunderstood Andrew Wylie, a top literary agent. I hadn’t. Like one of his clients, Phillip Roth, he believes literature is doomed.
I thought his perspective was not only dour but a bit theatrical until I turned the page. There I found a second article that was more distressing: “I Hope They Read Books in Hell,” by Noreen Malone. (New Republic, October 21, 2013 pgs. 30-33)
Thanks to Malone, I got my first glimpse at publishing’s underbelly, how anti-literature is becoming the main source of revenue for the print world. As one agent from that dark side enthused, publishing “shouldn’t be about the book but the money you can make from the book.” (Ibid pg. 33)
Agents, like the one quoted, don’t waste time rummaging through submissions looking of an author with talent. They spend their time searching for “tribes.” Tribes are people who cluster together on the internet to share interests. Once a tribe is located, the agent looks for a writer to produce a book that will satisfy the tribe. If the formula proves successful, copycats mushroom, a phenomena known as a cross over craze. Here’s an example of one sequence: The Hunger games, followed by The Bone Season, followed by Divergent.
Anti-literature puts the lie to the image of an artist working at his or her craft. It also puts the lie to agents who want to promote talent. What’s more, marketing a book to grow an audience for a writer is out. Chasing the readymade audience, the tribe, is in. Unfortunately, what evolves from courting the lowest common denominator are books of the lowest common denominator, an adage that explains the success of a book like 52 Shades of Grey.
There is an upside, however. The profits from anti-literature make publishing serious literature possible. Without the subsidy that flows from that source, good writing might cease to exist. Literature and anti-literature may make strange bedfellows but for the moment it works. Only one worry remains, which brings us back to Andrew Wylie and Phillip Roth. If the public becomes addicted to pulp, will anyone care what becomes of literature?
(Courtesy of www.printrest.com)