Against commercialism

Interesting piece on Bookninja about apparent pressure on novelists to ‘dumb down’ their fiction. Consequence of the fiscal meltdown? Whatever, it’s a bad idea, and for more reasons than you might think.

When I started writing fiction my best friend told me to write a commercial book just to get published, then move on to literary stuff. The problem with that approach is that the market changes so rapidly. Ten years ago chick lit sold by the truckload, now many publishers and agents state explicitly that they don’t want chick lit submissions. Say The Da Vinci Code gets published and is a major hit. You decide to write your own ripoff of Dan Brown. It takes six months to write the book, by which time Brown’s reputation has been flushed away like a shithouse rat down a drain.

And let’s not forget the surprise hits. Who would have thought that Life of Pi – which was turned down by about fifteen publishers before Canongate picked it up –  would become a bestseller? Who would have seen The Wasp Factory recognised as a modern classic? Or enduring commercial success for the cerebral and subversive Terry Pratchett?

Compare this to the celebrity bio genre. We think celebrity biographies sell, but often publishers of these don’t recoup more than a fraction of the massive advance.

So selling out isn’t just a betrayal of the craft. It’s also impractical, because good commercial fiction is just as elusive as good literary fiction.


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