Hack Jobs Dept.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2010-04-15 13:22:21-04:00 No comments

So what's killing good literary fiction? It's not just a surfeit of navel-gazing authors, according to this fellow, but editors too scared to rock the boat:

To encourage writers to write about big issues is all well and good, but writers in an open society are going to do that regardless. The best writers write because they have to, but the best editors edit because they want to. It’s the editors, not the writers, who need encouraging.

Editors are part and parcel of the pipeline that bring books to the public — the gatekeepers, to use the other oft-cited analogy. They're in the same position as movie producers or A&R people at big record labels: they have to go with what they know will work (Big Hits), or be cycled out in favor of someone else who may do that better. Their main motivation is fear of failure, not enthusiasm for success on its own terms.

The problem I have with the blockbuster model is not that it makes money, but that it drives out everything else which doesn't resemble it. George Lucas once defended what he was doing by claiming that more multiplexes meant that many more screens for intelligent indie productions to play side-by-side with big movies like his own. Nothing of the kind happened, of course, as Peter Biskind showed in Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: we instead ended up with 12-screen theaters where the same three or four movies all get played side by side to maximize ticket sales, then hustled out and replaced with the next blockbuster wanna-bes. There is no marketplace for selling intelligent filmmaking anymore; that marketplace has been all but driven out of existence in favor of finding different ways to sell the same things over and over.

The same goes with books, where the aim is not to find markets for a specific book, but to fill existing markets with books tailored to sell to that demographic. That the demographics become increasingly vertical and splintered with each year (romance — paranormal romance — undead paranormal romance) doesn't mean that much more diversity. It just means that much more fragmentation, that much less chance of any one book connecting with that many more people, because they're not sold that way anymore.

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