The world of writers is just too cramped, I’ve decided. Underneath the big names, the franchise players, there’s a whole jungle of would-be authors: news-gathering automatons, crybaby goth poets and the cream of the crop, the aspiring novelist. More than 85% of all works of fiction are stunning economic failures, each loser falling underfoot as eager multitudes rush to fill the gap. Professional writing is a seedy hole teeming with all manner of beastie, and I think it’s time to thin the herd. Ladies and gentlemen, start your chainsaws.
We’ll start with the dinosaurs, the John Grishams and Danielle Steeles who’ve been on the circuit for far too long. Sure, they’ve given us some laughs and some tears but they’ve been at the peak for decades, phoning in their efforts with a snicker. The multinational publisher does the rest, setting the great wheels of marketing into motion and buying some time on the best-seller lists.
What? Movie deal? Of course! That’s like half our revenue, right there. The same exact plot as last time, you say? But look, there’s a saucy love interest! And pirates! And a cyborg ninja with a heart of gold!
Cool. Good job. Cha-ching! Now take this fat bag of cash and get started on the sequel, unless you happen to be suddenly killed by an angry mob with chainsaws.
Next on the list are the pulp writers, the guys who churn out ten books a year. Usually they unapologetically rip off an existing format. Select from the following: science-fiction (“Grog pulled the blaster out of his space-pants and leveled it at the evil alien!”), fantasy (“Grog pulled the broadsword out of his loincloth and leveled it at the evil troll!”) or Tom Clancy (“Mr. Grog, the evil Palestinian authority is vastly displeased with our micromanagement of – aah! A mob with chainsaws!”).
And so on and so forth. Killing the entire food chain of modern literature would admittedly take quite some time, but this system needs a little reform and what says effective reform better than a bloody coup?
All murderous intent aside (for now), a recent interest in the glittery world of mainstream publishing has left me with a sad feeling of disillusionment. It’s all about the name recognition, I learnt. It’s about what’s marketable, what image you can sell to the most people. It’s about whether your book translates nicely into a television miniseries and which reviewers your publisher has under their steel thumb.
Seven conglomerates control the world publishing industry, and each has tethers to a wide variety of other media outlets and corporations. Popular novels increasingly rely on these connections for cultural success and, well, if the tendrils aren’t there, neither is the interest (or the dollars!). The politics of publishing are staggering and writing a good book appears to be the least of an author’s worries.
In fact, quality and innovation almost seem to be the bargain basement values in this system. Formulaic writing is encouraged, as it helps with brand-building and won’t scare the poor consumers who apparently can’t take the intense stress of new formats. If change comes, it’s from the grassroots – the ‘zines and the indie publishers – who take a chance on new authors and ideas and get pillaged by the major-leaguers whenever they meet with any notable degree of success.
Literature carries a standard of wholesomeness, an image of nobility in contrast to other ‘base’ media, but it doesn’t deserve any unearned respect because of its rich history. The business of modern writing is a cesspool, a dank soup of underhanded politics and unoriginal thought. Just thought everyone should know. Now, about that mob…