Literary Fiction in Tempore Digital

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, author platform, blog, blogging, journalism, TOC, #TOCcon, Author (R)evolution Day, #ARDay, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, The Bookseller, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, Foyles, #FutureFoyles, London Book Fair, #LBF13

Writers are still writing; readers are still reading; we see Blackfriars as enriching our literary publishing and making the relationship between reader, writer and publisher one of real collaboration.

— Ursula Doyle, co-founder, Blackfriars

What Digital Disruption Does to Us 

Here in the industry! the industry! there is a subtler side to things than we usually like to admit.

The digital dynamic favors entertainment over art. In every industry it affects, it promotes feel-good hokum. Not difficult drama. Sit-back-and-relax “very funny” crap. Not important documentary. Short things over long things. Shallow things over deep.

The book business faces a hollowing out of its culture.

–Philip Jones, The Bookseller

Why? Because when we say “digital,” we’re talking about distribution.

What can be digitized can be distributed farther, faster, more cheaply, less discriminately. What once was viewable only on big screens in cinemas with popcorn and greasy floors now can be watched on your phone, right? It has been digitally distributed to you. And I’ll bet that film you’re watching isn’t Lawrence of Arabia, is it?

The digital dynamic electrifies the gutter. The main thing it changes is how much (of anything) can be pumped into society, more quickly, more easily, and by fewer workers than before.

And so once the Angel of the Digital Death has passed over your home and left your family huddled around the television, confused and cold—but online!—what’s missing? The good stuff.

I’ll give you a brief respite from the book world. Let’s look at television for three examples.

  • The Bravo cable network “was the first television service dedicated to film and the performing arts when it launched in December 1980,” according to its site. It now produces what it terms “the best in food, fashion, beauty, design and pop culture.” Such as The Real Housewives of...
  • The Arts & Entertainment Network began in the 1980s, too, and with a similarly serious mission. Today, it dares not speak its original name. Since the 1990s, it has been simply and officially “A&E.” A few years ago, it brought you the  misogyny on wheels of Rollergirls. Now, it puts you into a Paranormal State.
  • Take even the Sci Fi Channel, which is said to have included Gene Roddenberry and Isaac Asimov on its first advisory board. As is cheerfully rationalized in a folksy FAQ entry on its site, the new “Syfy” was something that could be trademarked. Have you seen much science fiction there lately? Maybe some horror, right? Including SmackDown. Imagine lesser.

I’ve put you through that tenebrific triumvirate of trivia not because I don’t love you but because it’s easier to see the fulsome folly of others’ faux pas than our own.

 

Publishing’s Best News of the Week 

agent, author, books, digital, ebooks, Jane Friedman, Porter Anderson, publisher, publishing, Writing on the Ether, Tools of Change, O'Reilly Media, author platform, blog, blogging, journalism, TOC, #TOCcon, Author (R)evolution Day, #ARDay, Publishing Perspectives, Ether for Authors, Ed Nawotka, The Bookseller, FutureBook, Philip Jones, Sam Missingham, Foyles, #FutureFoyles, London Book Fair, #LBF13Yesterday, Friday, Little, Brown in London announced that it’s creating Blackfriars, the first digital literary imprint from a major UK publisher. Normally, I don’t celebrate the creation of new imprints because we have too many imprints already; they’re an Old Publishing device that merely clutter the scene and never made sense to readers.

In this case, however, I’m delighted.

 

Laura Hazard Owen: "More serious fiction of the type that wins awards and gets major reviews."
Laura Hazard Owen: “More serious fiction of the type that wins awards and gets major reviews.”

Laura Hazard Owen at paidContent writes it up this way in Here’s something new: Little, Brown UK launches digital-first imprint for literary fiction:

Several publishers have launched digital-first imprints for genre titles — science fiction/fantasy, romance and so on. In these instances, books are published first as ebooks and aren’t released in print unless they take off. Until now, though, we haven’t seen a major publisher launch an e-imprint focused on new literary fiction — more serious fiction of the type that wins awards and gets major reviews.

Blackfriars’ news release says the list will launch in June with its own site, “a lively, interactive home” including “a ‘reader recommends’ function where the general public can make a case for why their favorite unpublished writer deserves a place on the Blackfriars list.”

(That last bit is ingenious, by the way. Committed readers will help flag good new work for this publisher because it’s smart enough to leverage the interactive power of community. Publishers didn’t get it at first. Many still don’t. A few, we see now, are starting to catch on.)

The BooksellerCharlotte Williams at The Bookseller (which requires a subscription) spoke with William Morris Endeavor agent Cathryn Summerhayes, who has worked already with Blackfriars for early titles.

In Little, Brown launches literary e-imprint, Williams writes:

Summerhayes said another “convincing” element was that the imprint’s titles would be viable for submission to the literary prizes, including the Man Booker.

And Owen at paidContent points out that two titles planned for June have been published in the States already: The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan from Penguin’s Riverhead, and Benjamin Anastas’ Too Good To Be True from Amazon Publishing.

Blackfriars royalties “may be problematic,” as James Scott Bell said to me en tweeterie upon hearing the news.

Although Blackfriars’ people in London haven’t answered my questions on this yet, Williams at The Bookseller writes of it being “understood” that royalties at Blackfriars will reflect traditional levels, meaning, as Owen writes, some 25 percent. The positioning power of a major publisher (let alone advances, if any) might help offset lower royalty rates, if, indeed, they are lower.

 

Three Questions and Answers About All This

Royalty questions aside, what the Blackfriars news from London prompts me to write about is what has happened to literary fiction in the digital disruption of publishing.

You do remember literary fiction, don’t you? Well, of course you do. For many of us, it was the childhood entry to reading Most of what are considered “classics” among books are, in fact, literary fiction.

True to form for the digital dynamic, genre work has fared far better than literary.

Entertainment has held up better than art.

And literary work is the art of the book world.

Here in our final moments together before you rise up and take my life for saying all this, I’m going to set out several questions about this whole, ugly standoff in the books world. And I’m going to give them truthful answers. Thus, I will die what Albert Camus called A Happy Death. (The man was so literary he could barely walk.)

(1) Can there not be artistry in genre work? Of course there can, and I’ve read it. By the same token, there can be car chases in literary fiction. But, on the whole, literary fiction is to genre work as classic stage drama is to TV’s reality shows—art vs. entertainment. The entertainment hawkers don’t like you to remember that art can be outrageously entertaining. The digital determination to lower the common denominator for that big, big audience has done its work: literary is out of the boat these days and swimming for it.


(2) Isn’t literary fiction a form of snobbish, abstract, experimental avant-garde plot-less showing off by people who belong to Mensa and wear nothing but blacks and grays? No, but your anti-intellectualism is showing if you think that. And the genre-jugglers who tell you these things about literary know very well that they’re liars. I’ll just nay-say some of them here quickly to be sure it gets done.

    • Much, if not most, literary fiction has story and plot, characters you care about, and even many feel-good, warm-and-fuzzy moments. Even titillation. Your Shirtless Men Kissing Beautiful Women would have a much better time at a literary salon than you (or they) might think. And they could bare their romance-glutted minds, for a change, too, not just their pecs.
    • Do “literary people” not disparage genre people? Not nearly as much as genre people slag literary folks, in my experience. Literary workers are far outnumbered by the mighty marching militant mavens of mush, who order five and six short romance/erotic-romance books per week from the big houses of heavy breathing. Genre people have nothing to fear from literary.

  • Me, I do disparage genre. Every chance I get. Okay, not really, but I do think we’re built for better things and I think we owe each other our best work always, as does my Writer Unboxed colleague Keith Cronin. (See his Write Like You Mean It.) I read work in several genres. And no, I’m not going to tell you what or whom. I read it, some of it, because there are good people, talented and intelligent people, working in genre. I want to see them break free of its cloying strictures and overweening fans, but I understand their fondness for eating and paying bills.
  • And keep in mind that we’re having a chat here that the “man on the street,” or MOS, as we call him in the news business, wouldn’t recognize: the awfully-general public isn’t thinking about genre-vs.-literary. They, like Ms. Lauper, just want to have fun. The fact that literary lands on bestseller lists as frequently as it does means they’re finding some of that fun in those books. 

(3) So, lastly, what IS literary, that you and I should be excited about a digital-first imprint for it at a big house in London? Literary work has a higher purpose than merely entertaining. It usually seeks to illuminate some part of life in a way that might cause us to reflect on who and what we are. Again, it can be entertaining, but you’ll be laughing all the way to an epiphany when it goes well. Unlike genre, literary is not bound by formulas and guidelines issued on pink copy paper by publishing houses redolent with after-shave lotion. Literary work may—but not always—use a wider vocabulary than much genre work because our language is a magnificent treasure of specificity when we know how to roll its glories our way.

A great genre work may make you laugh or cry. Good literature will make you think.

Philip Jones: "The book business needs to maintain a better balance—jam today, vintage wine tomorrow."
Philip Jones: “The book business needs to maintain a better balance—jam today, vintage wine tomorrow.”

In a blog post at The Bookseller, editor-in-chief Philip Jones has written about how damaging the digital drive can be to what books have meant to us all. His piece, Balancing the Books (again, a subscription is required), rightly defends multi-prize-winning author Hilary Mantel from the sort of cowering attacks digital can prompt in journalism.

A decade into digital, Jones writes:

The big books sell more (much more in fact), and the difficult titles continue to sell enough to justify time and money…The three pillars that support the sector—price, a diverse marketplace, and copyright—are all under threat, while the shift to digital has up to now favored quickly produced commercial fiction over slow-burners, when it is the latter that will underpin the sector in the long term.

I’m sick of seeing digital’s dumb distribution have its ham-handed way with us and leave literary behind. I’m glad to see one home announced for it in a major house in London within that digital array.

 

And I’m ready to hear from you on this. Want to tell me I’m a cultural cad and a colossal killjoy? Know that whatever you say is fine, you won’t be put down. We can disagree with respect. Happens all the time. In literary circles.

Image: Porter Anderson, Kingsway, London

 

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About Porter Anderson

@Porter_Anderson, BA, MA, MFA, is a journalist, critic, and speaker specializing in publishing. A Fellow with the National Critics Institute, Anderson's "Porter Anderson Meets" live Twitter interviews are conducted weekly with the hashtag #PorterMeets on Mondays and run in London's The Bookseller magazine on Fridays. He is also The Bookseller's Associate Editor for The FutureBook, a sister site focused on developments in digital publishing, with #FutureChat live Twitter discussions on Fridays. Anderson works with BookExpo America (BEA) to program the uPublishU Author Hub, which had its debut at the 2014 BEA. And he is working with the Frankfurt Book Fair on special programming for its new Business Club suite of events and facilities, a first in the 2014 Buchmesse. More: PorterAndersonMedia.com | Google+

Comments

  1. Linda Pennell says

    Porter,
    Enjoyed the alliteration and, yes, chuckled a time or two. With the launching of Blackfriars, I foresee a possibility that chills me to the core of archaic little soul – the death knell of actual paper and ink, hold in my hands, moisten my finger to turn the page books. While I am not such a fool as to believe we can hold back “progress” and I realize that digital is the future of publishing into which we must all ultimately step, I grieve for future generations who may never know the joy of wandering through the stacks skimming actual volumes until just the right one is found. Where brick and mortar bookstores go, so go the bastions of literacy, our public libraries. I foresee a digital future in which readers for pleasure and serious researchers alike go blind from too many hours spent staring at blinking screens. Even more dire is the prospect of loosing one’s entire “library” because one’s computer decides to crash. Yes paper burns, but when did you last hear of a brick and mortar library burning to the ground? Now consider when you last heard of someone’s system crashing. And for those of us who do our research with multiple sources laid open around us, are we to be forced into buying multiple laptops to accomplish the same in the digital age? And no, flipping from screen to screen IS NOT the same. I hope I have passed on before the awful day of no more paper and ink. Until then, I will be happy for any worthy author who receives the validation through publication success he/she deserves regardless of format, but I will cling to paper and ink. It just feels so right.

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    • says

      Hi, Linda –

      Thank for reading and for commenting!

      Really, you have very little to worry about in your “archaic little soul” about paper books. Remember that the majority of books sold still are hardback and paperback, not ebooks.

      And there will always be paper books as well as people who prefer to read that way than electronically. Remember that even today, the Amish are using horsedrawn carriages. Nothing has to be completely left behind.

      That said, I hope for you that you can find the joy in electronic reading some time. The screens are not, actually, known to hurt people’s eyes and they have lovely adjustments for the size of the font you want to read, the brightness of the screen — many good-for-your-eyes things that our paper books can’t do.

      As for losing your library, it’s actually safer in cyberspace than in those burn-able buildings you mention. Your books from Amazon, for example, exist in “the cloud” — massive banks of offsite servers that hold the material with redundancy for protection unimaginable in the average library setting a few years ago. You don’t have to depend on your local system to hold your books — crash all you want, the books are still right there, and you simply download them to your computer or your e-reader when you want them. In fact, this saves you “shelf space” on your local devices: you need not hold all your books on your own machines, they’re safely stored for you in “the cloud.”

      Try not to let alarmists get to you. Paper and ink are not going away. You won’t lose your books in a computer crash. And reading electronically is quite wonderful once you try it.

      All you have to worry about is picking out good stuff to read. And I have a feeling you’re an expert at that.

      Thanks again and all the best!
      Porter
      @Porter_Anderson

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  2. SJ griffo says

    I don’t blame the digital age for this. Entertaining ourselves to death and dumbing down started long before the digital age. It is just a natural progression. I am happy to hear of the new imprint and hope there will be more.

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    • says

      Hey, SJ –

      You do have a point that people have been capable of seeking the more ridiculous material for eons. :)

      I think what’s changed is that the digital dynamic puts more sheer distribution power into the hands of industry than at any time before us in history. Global releases are now fully possible of almost any sort of material. Radio, alone, has undergone a dramatic transformation and rebirth as Internet radio. The sheer reach — and the resulting potential for homogenization of cultural assets — already has attracted a lot of study and concern. There’s an “international” style of art and literature being discussed, for example, one that tends to overlook national and regional richness and cast the world in a sort of transAtlantic glow.

      So at the very least, we now have many more ways to dumb ourselves down than before. :) God knows, I seem to find some ridiculous potential obsession right in front of me daily, lol.

      I’m glad about the new imprint, too, and hope it might inspire some more production of and interest in good literary work.

      Here’s to hoping for the best and thanks again!
      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson

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  3. says

    I am a fan of anything that provides more opportunities to get books in front of the eyeballs of readers. But I confess that I’m disappointed by the tone of this piece, by the put-downs of genre fiction as something that doesn’t make the reader think, as mere entertainment, as a prison authors should want to escape. It feels out of place here at Writer Unboxed, which I experience as an arms-open-in-welcome-no-matter-what-you-write kind of place.

    I read widely in genre, literary, nonfiction and find scope for thought and inspiration for better living everywhere. Sometimes my main thought when I read self-consciously literary works is, “Why am I spending all this time with unpleasant people doing unpleasant things with only self-justification on their minds?” Not all literary novels, of course.

    But that’s my point. Works vary so widely in those broad classifications. I’d loved to have seen this post a little more “unboxed,” and not lumping such diverse works under the simple labels of “genre = entertainment,” and “literary = high-minded and good for you.”

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  4. says

    Hey, Natalie, and thanks very much for your response.

    I do understand what you mean, and my intention isn’t to make you feel unhappy about my aggregation of much genre work into the entertainment camp.

    You’re right, of course, that it all doesn’t fall that way — indeed, as I mentioned, I do read selected authors and works in genre. I respect their skills and talents and learn from them. As you read widely, so do I. Our difference seems to be that I might question “why am I spending all this time” when, instead of the “unpleasant people” you’ve enountered in books, I find myself confronted with overly-pleasant, inconsequential characters. These are matters of taste, of course, and I certainly respect your preferences as I’m sure you respect mine.

    Overall, however, I think the largest division represented by the entertainment criterion is adequate for the kind of discussion I think we need to have about these things.

    Were I to withhold my evaluation of these things because one or more of our friends and colleagues here at Writer Unboxed could feel some displeasure, then we wouldn’t have the debate I think we need to have.

    And I very respectfully disagree with you that saying what I think and how I feel in this space is in some way contrary to being “unboxed.” Indeed, I think that’s exactly what the honesty of my position is. An unboxing, if you will, of my sense for where books and publishing are at this point in the digital movement, and the fact that this forum makes it possible to speak of this is one of the great successes of Teri and Kath’s development of Writer Unboxed.

    It’s good to encounter opinions, even strong ones, that differ from our own. And I’m glad you’ve shared yours here, thank you. And I’m glad that Writer Unboxed allows us all to do so.

    We’re all better for it.

    Thanks again,
    -p.
    @Porter_Anderson

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    • says

      Thank you for your response, Porter. I am glad that I had to be gone all day yesterday, so I can respond after some time to formulate what I want to say.

      1. I am an adult. For you to apologize for making me “unhappy” when all I claimed was disappointment is patronizing. You pissed me off and I was trying to be evenhanded about expressing it.

      2. I do not feel that literary vs. genre, high-minded vs. entertainment is a discussion we “have to” have. It is the oldest fight and when kept at this general level, almost meaningless, except to make the high-minded folks feel good about themselves. I believe the ancient Greek writers complained about the frivolity of the younger generations, as has every generation since. That complaint ramped up even more when women got into the novelling game. So when you start going on about it, it raises my feminist hackles.

      At essence, your post made a good point: so much junk gets published digitally now because it’s so easy to do, it’s great that there will be a digital imprint for literary fiction.

      You didn’t need all the other stuff. It is not necessary to denigrate genre fiction to celebrate literary fiction.

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      • says

        I love literary fiction and I love genre fiction. They don’t cancel each other out. I can go to movies and watch Survivor and enjoy symphonies and plays. I can also write very well and with greater intent within a genre novel, as do many others.

        I’ll also say that I’ve been worrying about the place of literary novels in the emerging digital world and I’m glad to hear of Blackfrairs. It’s a step toward embracing the new world.

        BUT….What I found enormously offensive about your post was the snide and sexist slant directed heavily toward romances. It’s exhausting and exasperating that it is always romances that are signaling the end of Books Worth Reading.

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  5. says

    While I appreciate the shout-out, please don’t assume that I equate “writing well” with “writing literary fiction.” To me, there’s good writing and there’s bad writing, and they exist in every literary style. I’ll take Raymond Chandler over some plotless angsty oh-so-literary Pulitzer-winner any day. Conversely, I’ll take John Fowles over Clive Cussler. (Hell, I’ll take a root canal over Clive Cussler, but I digress…)

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  6. says

    Ha! I’ll race you to that root canal, sir, and make mine a double if Dan Brown comes around. Point well taken, and no, I had not actually felt that your interest in “writing well” meant one had to do it in a literary context. I’m with you, seeing bad and good in every sector and wishing for more good all over.

    I’m pretty worried about the sorry prose of this grocery list I’m working on, as a matter of fact… :)

    -p.

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    • says

      Spice up that grocery list with some adverbs, and you’ll be good to go. After all, an “unusually large onion” is far more compelling than a mere “large onion,” is it not? :)

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      • says

        Lord, thanks for reminding me! I’d almost forgotten my adverbs AND my onions!
        Superbly crunchy peanut butter (see? better already!)
        Deeply green broccoli
        Wildly yummy granola…
        This is so much better, thanks, Keith! :)

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  7. Vicki says

    Oh, come on Porter! Why don’t you tell us what you really feel? I teach Introductory Creative Writing and introduced this literary v genre subject in my last class. Some writers do have a natural talent for the written word, others need to learn the craft. Part of that learning is being an open minded reader. Some people read quickly, others not and, in this always on the go world we now live in, I suspect that people opt for genre over literary simply because they can read it more quickly. Literary tends to make a reader think, and at the end of a busy day how many people really want that? Although I have no contact now with the education system, I know the set books my children read at school were far less literary than those I read. I also strongly believe that, to be a good writer, you need to be an open minded reader in order to develop writing chops. I have never subscribed to the myth that hard copy books will disappear from our lives, remembering the promise at the beginning of the computer era that paper would be a thing of the past. That aligns with the statement the cheque is in the mail. I love the convenience of my ereader for mobility, but my book shelves continue to overflow.Thank you for a thought provoking post.

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    • says

      Hi, Vicki,

      Many thanks for taking the time to read and make such a full response!

      I’m so glad to hear that you’ve worked with your students in the past on the literary and genre question. One of the most important things we can do for folks discovering literature in general (and especially those in creative writing) is make sure they know that they have choices — and that it’s okay for them to MAKE those choices according to their own tastes and interests, without apology.

      My suspicion from time to time is that many more people would love a lot of literary work (I read so many fine, fine works) but they’ve been programmed by social norms and friends’ attitudes to feel that their own proclivities are wrong. It can be hard to swim against the tide and explain to someone that you’d rather find out what Ayn Rand was about than read another Anne Rice, etc.

      You may not be surprised, for example, when I tell you that at the end of a busy day, what I DO want is to think. The last thing I want is something fluffy– “vegging out” doesn’t replace the exhaustion with anything. There’s no question that everyone has the right to veg out if they want to, mind you, lol. And they’re not bad people for it, either. But, speaking only for myself, the stimulation of new material and others’ perspectives give me a lot more back.

      And yeah, I’m with you, surrounded by both paper and hardback books and by the e-editions on the cloud. I’m sorry sometimes that people seem to feel the world is waiting for them to make these all-or-nothing decisions, in fact. Nothing says it has to be all ebooks or all traditional “book books.” Inclusive reading, open-minded reading, as you advocate, has always been the key.

      Thanks again for the great input, much appreciated!
      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson

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  8. says

    How wonderful to see an imprint claiming a digital territory for literary fiction.
    And how wonderful of you, Porter, to tackle this point.
    Literary fiction doesn’t have to be difficult, plotless, miserable, aimless, angsty, cliquey or navel-gazing. Actually, if it’s too obscure or tricky to understand, perhaps it hasn’t been written very well. I don’t like books like that either.
    And what is this term ‘entertainment’? For some of us, entertainment isn’t timekilling. I want to be challenged, engrossed and transported. That is what I find relaxing and invigorating. I’ve got an overdeveloped sense of curiosity and wonder, which I need to feed. If I don’t, I’m bored.
    For me, literary fiction isn’t lofty or worthy. It’s red-blooded reading.
    And how refreshing, at last, to have an imprint that fosters new literary writers. It’s hardly a profitable genre, so presumably the digital release will keep costs down (though they’ve probably learned this from digital-only micro-presses, who have operated this way for years). It’s even better that they’re encouraging feedback from readers – and even (gasp) nominations. I’ll be interested to watch their output, to see how much notice they take of reader suggestions and whether they’re braver than their print counterparts elsewhere.

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    • says

      Hey, Roz,

      Thanks for the generous input, and I have to admit I have the same curiosity as to how seriously — or how well, really — Blackfriars might use the input of readers on, effectively, nominating writings for consideration. If they’re serious in this and really do it, it could be a fine, door-opening effort in terms of publisher-reader give-and-take, the kind of thing I think we’ve all wished we might see more of from traditionally based publishing.

      Let’s hope for the best on that angle and for the success and genuine growth of the enterprise. On paper this sounds great and, as you know from the post, I’m with you on being very glad to see a literary-specific digital outfit move into action.

      Taking the wisdom of micro-digital publishers makes perfect sense, especially if the Little, Brown machine can be brought to bear on marketplace positioning and promotion for the Blackfriars authors and their work.

      Time will tell, but at the outset, it appears to be a good moment for #legitlit and #seriouswriting, indeed, maybe an early step toward beginning to catch literary work up to the advances made by many good people in genres.

      Thanks again, we’ll watch and see,
      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson

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  9. Bernadette Phipps-Lincke says

    OKay. I admit I stopped reading because I am seeing red. I will go back and read the entire article. BUT a new model of publisher “more serious fiction of the type that wins awards and gets major reviews.” ???!!! WTH???!!!

    Awards and major reviews?? awww yeah that’s what GOOD WRITING is all about. And that’s the aim of why it’s written. For the important awards and important reviews.

    It’s all about the importance of being earnest.

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    • says

      Hey, Bernadette!

      Thanks for dropping a note through that red you’re seeing, you’re a trooper! :)

      Just a point of clarification here that might make things easier — when Laura Hazard Owen writes about literary work being considered in large-scale award and review settings, I don’t believe she’s saying that this SHOULD be the case. At least, I have never heard her (or anyone) say that literary should be considered for awards and/or major review attention at the expense of any other kind of work, fiction or otherwise.

      Nor is that my intention.

      As far as I know — and for myself, I’m sure — neither of us is saying that the criterion for “good writing” is award consideration and major review attention. No, I think that Owen is saying, and I know that I’m saying, that this simply is what occurs.

      If you look at the biggest award programs of the year (the ones, let’s say, that are played up the most heavily by the media, just to qualify that — National, Pulitzer, Nobel, Man Booker, Costa, etc.), the fiction put into contention and consideration tends to be literary, primarily. Right?

      I think Owen is simply using that award/review factor to help some of her readers locate “literary” in the pantheon of fiction writing. Messengers need not be killed on this one, she’s carrying in the apparent fact (at least it looks as if she’s right about this to me) that this is the material that most often receives such award/review attention, right or wrong. I don’t see her saying this should be the case, nor that something else shouldn’t also be in contention or instead by in contention.

      As we all know, literary writing can be found in many, many places, certainly in many genre-fiction entries (hence the very high regard for many of the great science-fiction writers, for example). As a category, however, award attention certainly at times seems to be aimed at work categorized as literary. Yes?

      I’m quite certain no offense is intended, not by me and, I feel sure, not by Owen’s reference to awards and reviews. :)

      Does that help?
      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson

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      • Bernadette Phipps-Lincke says

        Porter,

        I enjoy your posts and our discussions immensely even when we disagree as I am disagreeing with you now. And I have the utmost respect for you, but I think you are missing my point with your reply to me above.

        Please let me clarify my stance. You said in your reply:

        “As far as I know — and for myself, I’m sure — neither of us is saying that the criterion for “good writing” is award consideration and major review attention. No, I think that Owen is saying, and I know that I’m saying, that this simply is what occurs.”

        The point I am making is not about awards or important reviews and what type of literature deserves such awards. That misses the point of great literature in my opinion. And Owens said she was looking for ““more serious fiction of the type that wins awards and gets major reviews.”

        That to me is a horrendous statement in itself. I would feel much better about her endeavor if she had said she was looking for enlightening works of such power they knocked her socks off her feet.

        There is a big difference in perspective in those two statements in my book.

        PS I love your blurb at the end of your post about disagreement. I really enjoy our discussions. XO

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        • says

          Hi, Bernadette,

          And a huge right-back-at-you on the pleasure of intelligent, tolerant disagreement. It’s what founded our nation, though we tend to forget this in our era of political correctness and happy faces, lol. We were set up as a place for people who disagreed (at the time, expressly with the strictures of the British Crown), and the right to dissent — and our joy in it — is something we seem so eager to forget at times. The Internet is a place of such overweening compliment and congratulations and “best ever” back-patting that you wonder how ever we’ll hear another discouraging word, LOL.

          So yes, delighted to have your question. And your clarification. And here’s something I want to ask you to be sure you — and I — do still understand each other.

          You realize that Laura Hazard Owen is not with the publisher, right? She’s a reporter, perhaps our very best in publishing, based at Om Malik’s paidContent and GigaOm suite of news services. (Despite its name, paidContent.org is a free news service specializing in digital elements and business, I highly recommend it.)

          Owen, therefore, isn’t the one who will have any choice in who gets published — or even in what is literary? — although I believe she has the makings of an intensely fine publisher if she ever wanted to jump the fence in that direction. She won’t be “looking for” authors writing work of any kind for Blackfriars, in other words. Nothing to do with the publisher, which is in London. Owen is a journalist in New York.

          Does that change your concern?

          -p.
          @Porter_Anderson

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          • Bernadette Phipps-Lincke says

            Porter,

            I went back and reread and I stand corrected. As I said in my first rant, I saw red at that comment: “more serious fiction of the type that wins awards and gets major reviews.”

            I am very relieved that was not Blackfriars. Too often, the term “literary work” gets bandied about and praises sung about its importance and awards in a way that is as clueless as I was in my last comment.

            Thanks. :)

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  10. says

    A digital-first literary imprint? Awesome. I’m sincere in that sentiment. I can celebrate while still noting the exquisite ironies that the business model was proven to work by genre. Also, they’ll be turning to the public–the same public which doesn’t know what’s good for it?–to earmark the winners?

    From my perception, literary hasn’t been left behind at all–rather, until now, some publishers/authors have chosen not to enter the race. To be clear, I’m glad that they have! In part, I wrote a post a while back here to address this issue. (What about the Quiet Ones?)

    As for the debate about merit of literary versus genre, I’m past that, personally. There was a time when your analysis–shared by a great many people I respect–would have caused me to wonder if I were less-than as a writer and a reader. (I read both genre and literary, seem to be writing genre.) I would have allowed it to fuel my Internal Editor; I’d have been sidetracked from my WIP. While I don’t expect to change your mind, Porter, I worry others who read this post might mistake my silence for assent. I’m concerned that other genre-writers and readers could feel alienated from WU, particularly the ones popping in for the first time.

    So to them, here’s what I believe, speaking as a lowly unpublished writer, and consumer of both genre and literary fiction:

    When you sit with children who struggle to read novels and find them relevant, as I have when I volunteered for the school system, you’re grateful to any writer who’s composed a book that child will find tolerable, perhaps entertaining. I’ve seen a good number of children who wouldn’t be reading fiction at all if it weren’t for commercial fiction. This goes beyond their willingness to purchase art–it has an impact on their employability and self-concept.

    I’ve seen no evidence that this pattern changes as those readers mature.

    Lastly, there are intrinsic benefits to reading genre fiction as an adult, even by the basketful. I’ve been and will be one of those consumers. To elaborate would take too much space and invite a debate on my feelings–which are mine and therefor unarguably real. ;-) But if there’s one great benefit to the digital world, it’s that there is room for readers and writers of all types.

    Personally, I think WU is one of their hangouts.

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    • says

      You know, Jan,

      As is so often the case, I find that there’s not a thing you say here with which I disagree. Not a thing.

      In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that you’ve just made one of the very best demonstrations of the wonderful, deep-bench community we have here at Writer Unboxed, and what gives the site such strength: the diversity and tolerance that allows me to lay out an issue as I’ve done, to see and appreciate your very experienced and thoughtful response to it, and to enjoy and appreciate the comments from everyone who’s engaged in the discussion today (and every day for that matter).

      I see communities at times in which every comment meets with a chorus of “yes, yes, yes” and I can only hope that in those cases of agreement-all-around the actual needs of the members are being well-served.

      In the case of WU, I find that in any week, there will be one or two posts by respected colleagues with which I won’t agree. Or I’ll see an assumption go by that gives me a qualm, an opinion roll through that doesn’t match mine…and my admiration for what Teri and Kath and you and Vaughn and so many others here help us all nurture grows even richer. Because this is the very stuff of individual development, the ability to turn to a trusted community and put forward ideas, react to others, in respectful and friendly honesty.

      I love what you’re saying about commercial fiction in situations in which some readers can’t approach something else. I know you really have seen this because your career background and social sensitivities have guided you for so long through medical and educational settings that inform you as a person and as a writer.

      While I do feel, as you know, that the power of digital distribution has overweighted the larger society’s reading habits and interests more toward the entertainment-based pleasures of some genres (and not all, by the way — historical, for example, never seems to get its due appreciation), I would never for a moment suggest that we should somehow be without the entire, fullest range of work of which we’re capable, right down to the most arcane subset of a small genre most of us have never encountered.

      It all has a place. It’s all part of life, after all. And, as you so brilliantly point out, much of what I might not find satisfying as a read may be precisely the work someone else needs to find literature even approachable. In that case, I say we get in there with exactly what works, and if it’s zombie vampires on parade, then so be it.

      What I’d like to see on the broader scale is simply more movement of the type the UK Little, Brown has shown us might be possible (remember, we need to see how Blackfriars plays out to know how effective it will be). I’d like to see some of what I perceive as the natural entertainment-directed imbalance of the digital drive balanced by more digitally directed efforts in literary.

      I can agree with you that where literary is tardy to the digital dynamic, it may indeed in many cases be because its primary publishers haven’t come along. In fact, this to me is one of the reasons it’s so valuable to see a major player like Little, Brown do this. We hear a lot of complaints that the majors aren’t stepping up to the digital plate and catching on to what’s happening all around them. To see one of them yesterday surprise us with an announcement like this? Terrific! A few details that sound promising — IF they carry them out, such as those recommendations? — fantastic!

      Let me try putting it this way for you, and see if perhaps your sense of how things come across makes you feel it works better: we may not need to see less genre; we may just need to see more literary taking advantage of the dynamo that digital offers to publishing. And if we can get some digital action moving on the literary side to help balance that entertainment-trending push we see on the genre side, then, I believe, we’ll have a healthier, more broadly articulated community.

      I’m with you, I’m reading all which ways. I’m wanting to feel that the digital energy of our era helps offer that kind of breadth to more people. What do you think?
      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson

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      • says

        I’ll keep this brief, lest our duet run everyone else off the page. (Are you in the upper registers or the lower, because I’m better with my right hand? ;)

        You know this statement you made? “As is so often the case, I find that there’s not a thing you say here with which I disagree. Not a thing.”

        Ditto to your response! Thanks for the discussion, Porter.

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  11. says

    I’m going to avoid the genre issue, because… I guess to me to genre or not to genre is just another of those issues writers get fired up about that really is a matter of personal preference. My reading habits don’t run deep, while most of my friends read literary. It’s always been a running joke between us that, when we do a book trade, I bring the mind candy. I’m okay with that. I still think I’m smart. :)

    I think having a literary digital-first imprint is a good thing for all. Anything that increases a new author’s chances at getting readership, and/or chances of breaking into trad publishing is good news. As long as Blackfriar doesn’t charge a ton for the books, having access to good books at the decreased prices digital-first publishing allows is good for readers. More power to them!

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    • says

      :) You sound plenty smart to me, too, Lara — especially avoiding the genre question, LOL. Very wise, you’ll live longer. :)

      You actually bring up a very good point about the newly announced Blackfriars imprint, too, and that involves pricing. It should be very interesting to see where they come in with some of these works when they start releasing material in June. As we’ve known for some time, the overhead of the majors — as well as the actual costs of high-quality editing and other preparation, design, etc. — can mean that digital is not necessarily that much less expensive a route, particularly when done well. What kind of price points Little, Brown might be able to hit in such an environment should be really interesting to see.

      So thanks. I agree completely with your over-arching point, that the more opportunity we have for more writers right across the board, the better for all, and on that level, we can all welcome this new move and look forward to watching it.

      Appreciate your input, as always,
      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson

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  12. Ronda Roaring says

    Thanks for this post, Porter. I’m thrilled that there will be a new literary imprint. But I’m leary of the benefit of a digital imprint from a publisher. I’m not convinced that it will benefit a writer over self-publishing since Blackfriars will not print in book form unless the ebook does well. Do you have any thoughts on this?

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  13. says

    Thanks for reading and commenting, Rhonda,

    And I have to agree with you, we all need to keep an eye on this. While it looks great, as you say, to see this imprint announced, the question of these books going to print does hang in the balance.

    There are options, of course, as recent new contracts have shown, in which authors may have a chance to go to another publisher for print if it’s not forthcoming from the Blackfriars arrangement.

    On the other hand, some authors working with this program may be happy to be entirely in ebooks. The Bookseller writeup from Charlotte Williams notes that print runs will be made “if the demand is there.” And while it’s natural for a new venture to want to hedge its bets at the outset, this is a key point to watch, along with such issues as pricing of the new releases, marketing support, actual royalties (we still hope to learn more), etc.

    It should be interesting to see it play out. I know exactly what you’re saying about being wary of it coming from a publisher. But the time is coming, I think, when we need to see some initiatives from the traditional side of the business to get a better look at where things lie in the long transition.

    Thanks again so much for reading and for your note!
    -p.
    @Porter_Anderson

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  14. says

    I can’t agree on all counts here, but I support the statement that “we are built for better things.” I prefer reading a meatier blend of fiction, myself, but I don’t disparage the leaner variety.

    The fact is, on a day to day basis, I eat fairly healthy foods, avoid too much sugar and sodium, and choose lean protein over fat. But sometimes, even a couple of times a week, I like to consume junk: chocolate, french fries, margaritas WITH salt. In small doses, it is heaven.

    A diet shouldn’t consist of one layer of the food pyramid, and I would argue that the same rules should apply to reading. Also, as a developing mid-list author, I appreciate that Nora Roberts’ four books a year help support the publisher who publishes my one book a year. I’m sure many of the authors at the publisher of that number-color bestseller feel the same.

    The publisher starting authors on ebook is rather brilliant, and I’m looking forward to seeing the results of that experiment.

    As always, your posts give me much to think about.

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    • says

      Hey, Erika!

      Thanks for your well-considered response here, it’s much appreciated.

      I know exactly what you’re saying about the usefulness of variety, and even of the kind in which all isn’t “good for you,” lol. I think I’m probably closer to you in eating habits than reading habits, as I, too, get into the carbs from time to time when I shouldn’t.

      And, of course, as I’ve mentioned, I’m reading some genre work, too, finishing one book this week. This has always been the case for me, and as you’ve likely found, too, it’s always a problem that some folks seem to want your reading habits to be (pardon the pun) black or white. As you say, what one reads isn’t usually all one thing or another.

      Certainly, you have a point about the Roberts books supporting others, too, although I think I’d feel better about that if each of her readers got a copy of your one book a year, too. Ask for that on your next contract. :)

      For the most part, I’m concerned less about genre material, itself, than about the rapid inflation of its dominance in the market with the wind of the digital transition in its sails (and sales). It can feel as if there are reality shows on every channel, margaritas (with salt) in every glass…which somehow sounds pretty good right now. :)

      Thanks again for reading and commenting, always great to have your input!
      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson

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  15. says

    Porter,
    Ah, this is the sixty-four thousand dollar question. As Billy Martin said in the beer commercial, I feel very strongly both ways. I love literary fiction, but I also like a quick, entertaining read. It’s the diversity of genres and voices that are the strengths of the book world. There’s room for endless styles and unconventional stories. To your larger point, I share your fear that digital, with its emphasis on speed and volume, will crowd out literary fiction. I guess in the end book buyers will vote with their dollars. Thanks for another insightful post.

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    • says

      Hey, CG,

      And what a welcome laugh you gave me! :)

      Yes, feeling strongly both ways, as Billy said — perfectly possible and particularly in this situation. I find myself quite torn on issues around the nature of one kind of literature and another.

      In fact, I’ve just read a book by a young writer who, I’m sure, wrote in a genre format because this reflected his own background as a reader, but he’s so talented and brings so much to the table in his skills and intelligence, that I can only hope he’ll feel he can free himself and work in the additional mental and aesthetic space that literary work offers. (Fewer expectations from readers, greater range of expressive license.)

      The concern about the digital effect on literary is shared by many in the business, we’re hardly alone. I keep reminding myself and others that we also can’t fall back on past resolutions to problems because the digital capabilities technology has created in distribution and production aren’t something we’ve seen before. This is truly unprecedented in human experience. Meaning we’re in uncharted waters. Hence the need to keep a very close eye on things we value, such as literary work.

      Thanks again, CG, you’re a grand voice for all of us here at WU, and I always appreciate your attention to my writings and your comments!
      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson

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  16. says

    You’ve already expressed most of what I have to say on the subject, Porter, and more elegantly than I would say it. But I would just add that I’m rather surprised at how many people here equate good literature with “difficult” works. I find Nabokov, Flaubert, Hardy, Greene, Dostoyevsky, et al to be the most compelling page-turners. Without great literature I would get to sleep a lot earlier, but there’s always that “one more chapter” :)

    Mind you, I never feel like a Big Mac either. Give me tournedos Rossini every time.

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    • says

      Same here, Dave,

      And thanks so much for dropping in and commenting! I’ve found myself comfortable with those “difficult” books as long as I can remember — which leads me to think this is a point of almost biological taste, to make up a completely idiotic phrase, lol. What I mean is that some of us seem to simply arrive with a receptivity to certain forms of literary language and expression, while others find it baffling and a negative experience (you hear many talk of literary work as being depressing and, as has been said in at least one comment on this post, focusing on “unpleasant people”). I’m not sure there is much of an answer here on this subject. The faculty for literary work frequently just appears to be inborn, innate, essential to some personalities and not to others. A pleasure in situation comedy and the competition-appeal of game shows may, in fact, be just as rooted in one’s nature.

      And over the span of time, I think this is why we see great push and pull between people “of letters” and people whose populist natures might fare better in most eclectic societies.

      The good news is that most of us can understand each other’s proclivities, even if we don’t share them.

      And we end up close to the process by which such elements of culture as fine art must find its younger, newer audiences: You expose young people to it (to art, to literary work, to ballet and modern dance, to serious music as well as popular, etc.), and you hope that those who have a personality that can engage in one or more of those things will be snagged.

      The longer I’m in the business, the more I think that trying to “change” people to make them more interested in one kind of book than they are, or to woo them into museums and concert halls — or bowling alleys and shopping malls — is futile. Some of this simply seems to reside in our natural, individual characters, and the best we can do is respect each other and try to find the pleasure in such diversity.

      I think one of the best things we could all offer each other in our better moments is a lack of expectation. Popular culture tends to think “everybody likes…” whatever. Everybody Loves Raymond, as the title goes. No, in fact, everybody doesn’t love Raymond. But neither does everybody like Howard Hansen’s music or David Parsons’ choreography or Taniguchi’s architecture. So frequently, we all get into the “everybody likes what I like” trap — which sets us up for disagreement, shock, unhappiness.

      Thanks again for the comment, very much to the point. Different strokes for different folks.

      All good.

      Carry on. :)

      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson

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  17. says

    Hi Porter,

    I’m not being contrary (promise!) but I disagree with most of your positions here – and I say this as a reader and writer of what is generally referred to as literary fiction.

    I think the literary/genre divide is somewhat artificial (and/or contrived), but, leaving that aside for a moment, I think what is even more problematic here is the mapping of that literary/genre notion directly onto art/entertainment.

    I’ve read innumerable “literary” novels that were mildly diverting, passably written, and instantly forgettable. And I’ve read plenty of “genre” novels that were deeply moving, profoundly thought-provoking, and had language which made me *gasp* (in a good way!).

    I’m also skeptical about what basis there is for saying that the “digital dynamic favors entertainment over art.” I’m assuming that contention is based on the big e-sellers being what you would call “genre” works.

    However literary fiction was always a small genre. Sure, it got lots of column inches and review space, but that’s more down to a general snobbery towards “genre” books than any kind of accurate reflection of its inherent popularity.

    You might respond by saying that literary fiction is underperforming in a relative sense, that it is doing (or did) much better in print. And you would be right, but the reasons for that run far deeper than saying digital “favors entertainment over art.” In short, I think that publishers are doing an extremely poor job of marketing literary fiction online – something I expanded upon in this HuffPo piece last year: http://huff.to/Xypf90

    You said that when we say “digital” we are talking about distribution. I fundamentally disagree. I think that’s only one area where digital is making hugely disruptive changes. I also think that digital is disrupting what you could call the “recommendation ecostructure” surrounding books.

    Aside from hugely influential digital recommendation engines like Amazon or Goodreads, there’s a whole army of blog and Kindle-owner sites that drive tens of thousands of downloads every day (some of these sites have almost half a million subscribers). Just like digital blew open the distribution system, it’s also blowing open the recommendation orthodoxy.

    If literary fiction is struggling to make inroads with this new recommendation ecostructure, I would suggest that is reflective of the actual size of the genre, rather than the increased importance that was bestowed on it by newspaper editors.

    But: don’t panic. Certain genres went digital first (romance, thrillers, mysteries). I remember SF/F writers freaking out before their readers moved over too. For a variety of reasons, certain genres like literary, historical, and non-fiction have been slower, but they will move across – they are moving across – and the landscape will ultimately relect that.

    As for Blackfriar’s, we’ll see. I haven’t been impressed by the digital-first offerings from publishers so far. From an author’s perspective, they combine the worst of both worlds: no advance, virtually no marketing, often the same crappy royalty rates, and no print distro. Publishing spaghetti.

    Dave

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  18. says

    Hey, Dave,

    Thanks for your very thorough rundown of your thoughts on these topics, always good to have and, as ever, you lay out your points beautifully.

    My experiences of the digital dynamic are extensive and are influenced by other industries in which I rode out its arrival and disruption(s). They’re playing out now in publishing in ways I don’t have time to sort out here for you adequately (my perception of those ways, that is). And I’ve learned not to start on this topic unless I can finish. It’s complex, not simple, and deserves a complete rendition, not bullet points or highlights.

    Suffice it to say, though, that I’m appreciative of your interpretations. I’d say that recommendation is part of distribution, actually, not a separate element of digital’s dynamic. It’s just that component of distribution that has been most disruptive in other industries, too (take “info-tainment” — please!), and when the technical fact of distribution is reduced to a single mouse click (who am I echoing, Clay Shirky? lol), the recommendation that prompts that click, in my opinion, cannot be divorced from distribution.

    So I don’t think we’re as far apart as you may feel, nor, however, do I think the case for literature is as simple as you may understand it to be.

    Not that you’re wrong. I may be quite full of caca, believe me. Many have said so. Often. :)

    There’s no question that it all is “moving over” to digital. It already has. That’s one reason that in an industry that frequently yells at legacy publishers that they’re not responding fast enough, I think it’s incumbent upon us to recognize and hail the moments when we do see the majors try to take a considered step in the direction their world has rather suddenly turned. I’ve bemoaned the feinting response of the traditionals so comprehensively that I’m tired of hearing myself bemoan them. I think this must be how Medea feels in Act III. Sometimes I want to write, “Will I never be able to shut up about these companies’ shortcomings?”

    So, hey, I’m glad to see a little something digital dropped in the staggered path of literary by a major house that speaks — holy God — of interacting with readers. Am I cheering? Are you kidding? But am I scowling? No, I’m trying not to. This is my “cautious smile.” Let’s let them try it.

    I’d be shocked, of course, if you felt you wanted to praise a traditional publisher, lol — not for nothing are you a sane, rational, and immensely patient leader in the self-publishing community, after all. :) But we’re all better people if we note a move like Blackfriars with a handshake, try our best not to scream “too little too late!” at them (although it well may be just that), and give them a chance to get something out the door and make a go of it before casting doubt on its prospects.

    We just keep the cleanup crew on standby, you know?

    I’m so glad you came by and commented, it’s always a better exercise when you chime in because you help us see wider possibilities in what’s coming. That’s important. Don’t stop doing this.

    -p.
    @Porter_Anderson

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  19. says

    Oh Porter, you cultural cad ;)

    First off, liking this post a great deal. I find genres in general rather infuriating, and so often things are bottlenecked and stifled because it has to fit into a lovely, neat package.

    My own novel seemed to straddle a few genres and it drove me insane. It’s so much easier when you can just write.

    I find it sad that books are often turned away from ‘literary’ ways these days, because some of my favourite books most certainly fit into this category. It expands the mind, teaches, and immereses (in my opinion) more than most genre books – not as fast paced, sure, but I find myself remembering and dreaming about these types of books much more often and for a great deal longer.

    Sometimes I read genre books though which are very much literary, but they would never be called that because it isn’t cool enough, or it would turn off readers, but I find this all very sad. A good book is a good book, and I’m personally willing to read almost any genre if I feel a good book can be had.

    Genres should be used as a guide, not an iron fisted regime.

    Anyway, just some early morning thoughts and thanks for a good article.

    Peace to you,
    Matthew

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    • says

      Hey, Matthew,

      Thanks so much for your good comment here — I really like your line “A good book is a good book.” That really says it, doesn’t it?

      It’s too bad, really, that the industry long ago became so stratified in how it thinks and operates. The reading public is not as aware of our complex system of genres and sub-genres as we are, of course, but they’ve picked up on various presumed value judgments, which really help no one.

      Add that to a general anti-intellectual climate (in which populist initiative is valued over scholarly, etc.), and the lines harden, the excuses are laid out, and we end up as a reading society in bits and pieces.

      You’re absolutely right that guidance, not directive, is the better use of genre, and here’s hoping it’s used more that way than less. :)

      Thanks so much, again, for dropping in on the conversation!
      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson

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      • says

        I sure hope so. As a guide a genre can be great, but to live by it is sad (especially when you can often be pitted in several categories on Amazon. If Genres were meant to be so precise, you would only have one option, surely).

        I sometimes read great books by trying something new. I’m not a sci-fi fan, for example, or a fantasy fan, either, but I really enjoyed some books that fit into these categories recently.

        Matthew

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    • says

      Hey, Erin!

      Great of you to read the column here and drop a note. So glad to have you and thanks for the kind words, they’re very much appreciated!

      All the best and enjoy you’re reading AND writing!

      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson

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  20. lit observer says

    Interesting discussion. I am a writer of literary fiction, and have been very interested in the indie phenomenon. Advances have dwindled now and without teaching there is no money in this.

    Everything I have heard about indie so far is that it’s for genre work and that’s why literary editors and critics (and, let’s face it, writers) don’t take it seriously.

    Can this change? Can indie publishing work for literary fiction? I am really curious about this. Have to admit that I’m not interested in making crossover genre-literary work (like Darcie Chan and things that were discussed here), but instead genuine literary fiction. So far, paging through Amazon’s Literary Fiction category on Kindle, I haven’t found much (if any) real literary fiction that has been published as indie. And surely none of the indie infrastructure, from the freebie sites to Kindleboards and the bloggers, are at all geared to accept literary fiction. It’s a different, incompatible world; you won’t have the Kindleboard readers making any sense out of books listed on the American Fiction Notes blog or stories in Recommended Reading or the Paris Review (or Baltimore Review), just as readers of these outlets are not going to give a second of consideration to any genre book, indie or otherwise.

    So to make this really work, there’s going to have to be a community and “infrastructure” for literature. Blogs, reviewers, the works. Maybe in combination with small press literary publishers this might work. You need to have a core of dedicated people to start with. I don’t know much about the “literary indie” people to know if enough of one exists.

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    • says

      Hey, Lit Observer!

      While I wish you’d give us your name, I very much appreciate this comment — you’ve very nicely laid out one of the most difficult elements of the issue: At this point, I don’t see the formation yet of any kind of shared, organized, communal approach to literary in the self-publishing world, either.

      I’ve been contacted by several authors who are writing literary and have had to publish themselves because they didn’t find representation and/or contracts in legacy settings for their work. But as yet, I don’t see “a place to send them,” if you will. No standing community for the promotion of literary work outside the traditionalist structure.

      Our greatest hope for this, I think, lies in author collectives. My own interest has been in seeing something as serious and business-based as the longstanding Magnum Photos collective for world-class photographers, something I outlined here at Writer Unboxed in this piece: http://writerunboxed.com/2012/03/24/social-media-and-the–boat-we-rowed-in-on/

      Your point is so well made and parsed, though, that it makes me realize I want to give it some more thought. We may need to consider doing something to support literary work specifically outside of legacy, rather than thinking that eventually it will somehow function just as genre does in the self-publishing arena.

      You’re right, the infrastructure isn’t here yet. Much to think about. Many thanks again!

      -p.
      @Porter_Anderson

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