Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Literary Fiction - Dead or Going Down in Flames?

An interesting pair of articles recently appeared, discussing the topic of literary fiction.

The Death of Fiction?


Third Degree Burns

This statement from The Death of Fiction was astonishing:

Back in the 1930s, magazines like the Yale Review or VQR saw maybe 500 submissions in a year; today, we receive more like 15,000.

The rest of this article, I thought was exasperating. The rest of the article is a typical editor's diatribe about how he'd be happy if writers would write things that are more interesting. I think that is bullshit. With that much material to choose from, it isn't that there's nothing interesting or worthy of his publication. He's just overwhelmed. How does one sift through that much material? With 15,000 submissions, the ratio of bad to worthy doesn't change, requiring him to sift through a lot of sludge. But it's not the writers' fault.

All of us know from the time we've spent reading the unpublished work of other writers in writer's groups, that there's a lot of really great writing going on that never finds a greater audience.

The other article, I think, comes closer to touching on the real challenges facing writers. As long as the publishing industry runs the business with an eye for what it thinks will make the most money, literary fiction is essentially dead. I loved the statement that publishers and editors are looking for what will sell millions of copies now, instead of what will still be read a hundred years from now. I found it interesting that the writer says MFA programs also work to produce writers of blockbusters, rather than literary fiction. Do you think that's true? So much for the Fine Arts part of the MFA.

So, these articles seem to beg a question of us as writers. What influences us? Do we write from our hearts or do we allow the marketing trends and publishing house mandates to influence what we write? When we agent shop, are we listening to the things we are told when we are given feedback and setting out to bend our work to meet what they think will suit demand? I have fallen into that trap. An agent once told me that my YA novel would be marketable if I were to change it into a futuristic story. I can't believe I actually considered it. How much does marketability play into what and how we write? Who do we write to when we're writing? These are the things that the second article brought up for me. Good stuff.