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Bad times for literary fiction

“Few people who spend much time in the literary world emerge without at least one paranoid conspiracy theory,” writes Mark Lawson in The Guardian. Hard to disagree with that. His own theory as to what ails publishing is equally hard to dispute: “Increasingly, judgments involve not literary quality but commercial prospects.”

Though he’s referring specifically to the situation in the U.K., Lawson’s gloomy take on the current state of literary publishing is easily applied to the North American scene:

At the Christmas parties, many publishers were talking guiltily about new books by authors you might have heard of “ winner of a Whitbread 20 years ago, writer of that book that became that film “ that they have been forced to turn down because marketing was alarmed. This has happened largely because of a shift in the priorities of libraries, which used to be a guaranteed haven for several thousand copies of hardbacks that take a bit of brain work, but which are now rapidly ceding shelf-space to Citizens Advice Bureau leaflets or DVDs. And pressure on leisure time has made both producers and consumers of entertainment reluctant to sample a product that does not have some advance buzz.

None of this is particularly shocking, and at times it’s hard to see what Lawson’s point is beyond “we’re all doomed,” but still, it’s a cheery way to start the new year, isn’t it?