THE DEATH KNELL OF GREAT AMERICAN LITERATURE – Marilyn Armstrong

Many (maybe most) manuscripts are never are “trendy” or popular enough for today’s publishers. As far as publishers go, no matter how well-written or interesting the plot or characters are if it isn’t a genre they sell, it doesn’t exist.

A Kindle and a speaker for listening to audiobooks

Many genres do not fit in any publisher’s predetermined categories. This is not only true for beginners to the field but is equally true for those who have published — successfully published — eight or nine books, including more than one bestseller. Publishers want their authors to keep writing what they wrote before and not veer from it. They also don’t want to pay real money. Or provide publicity, advertisements, or even a professional proofreader.

I’m not making this up.

I know several well-published popular authors who fell out of favor because they wanted to try something different. They weren’t less good at writing, but publishers want books by an author to be the same as the previous one. The one that sold well. If this is something new, then they do not want it.

They also don’t like first manuscripts from mature people because they want nice young authors who will be able to churn out books for a long time and not be stopped by getting old. I also know a number of these authors, too.

I worked in publishing back when all the books being published weren’t “niche” books. When a relatively rough manuscript could get someone’s attention (back when people read manuscripts, not software), and it was the job of editors to help fix manuscripts and turn something rough into a gem. Long before “Kindle” and free publication, they had already thinned the ranks of editors to nearly nothing — and decided the author should do the work the publisher used to do.

In part, this accounts for the many atrocious books they actually DO publish and the good books they ignore. It isn’t only the author’s failure to recognize what the publisher wants. It’s that publishers no longer want to help authors get published.

What was art is now “just business.”

Does anyone think Hemingway, Faulkner, or Thomas Wolfe would have gotten published without their editor’s help? Maxwell Perkins — ever heard of him? Because he was “the man.” Without him, half of America’s great literature wouldn’t exist. Were they less brilliant because they weren’t good editors — or didn’t have the financial means to hire a quality editor? Nope. They were what they were but the industry is entirely different.

Publishers refuse to admit it is really a business issue. It’s not art. It’s business, politics, and aiming books at what they perceive are their target audiences, ignoring all other potential audiences. It was not always like this and I was working in the business when it was not like this.

Everyone is very busy blaming someone else for the state of the business. It’s the Internet, or Amazon or “nobody reads books anymore.” None of them ever looks in a mirror and says “Maybe our failure to help authors work out problems with their manuscripts, give them some decent publicity and help them make some real money is at least in part OUR responsibility too?” It’s true that fewer people seem to read now than did when I was growing up, yet most people do read at least sometimes.

The publishing world is undergoing a huge transformation and we are in the middle of it. How it will end? I don’t know. But just because publishers say what they say, you don’t need to believe every corporate word they utter.

You can write the most glorious, delicious book ever written for whatever genre for which you write and no publishing house will so much as read it, much less publish it. Why? Because it doesn’t fit into their (usually) very short list of “the types of books we publish.” That, to me, is the death knell for great American literature. It leaves no room for the unique or unusual.

This may not be true in other countries. I don’t know. I do know this market.

If only the “tried and true” can get published, the unique and possibly brilliant will never have a chance.

Author: Marilyn Armstrong

Writer, photography, blogger. Previously, technical writer. I am retired and delighted to be so. May I live long and write frequently.

12 thoughts on “THE DEATH KNELL OF GREAT AMERICAN LITERATURE – Marilyn Armstrong”

    1. Some are good, some aren’t — but there was always room for “current news-related” books. But as for the rest of the literature, an awful lot of it is pathetic. Some of it, given an editor who knows what he or she is doing, could have been improved. Some were and always will be somewhere between mediocre and atrocious. But the book biz isn’t helping itself by not helping authors get published.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. You’re right, Marilyn, it is just a business now. And one that’s very hard to break into even for very talented writers, and that’s a shame. It’s the sad way most things are going these days; even sport is just a business now.

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  2. It is sad that everything is about money these days. One thing that I noticed when I got my Kindle was how many books are part of a series. I’m sure some are very good. I like the Jodi Taylor, Chronicles of St Mary’s, thanks for the recommendation but a lot of the books seem to be written to a formula and you can never get really involved with the characters. Or at least I can’t. I was reading a lot earlier in the year but now I find it harder to find a book I want to read although this may be due to my usually looking mainly at the really cheap books. Still, as we have lots of actual books at the Op Shop that I can buy for a dollar each I won’t run short of reading material. I always did enjoy reading older books.

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    1. A lot of the authors I loved are getting old and not writing much. I don’t know if it matters whether books were written as a series or individually. For me, it’s being able to relate to SOMEONE in the book. When I can’t find anyone I like, I stop reading by the middle of the book, if not sooner. And so many books feel like minimal rewrites of other books I’ve read. It’s like watching yet one more cop show. It’s so rare to find anything unique in any of them.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes finding a character that I can relate to is important to me as well in TV and movies as well as books. A lot of shows that people I know said I would like I just couldn’t watch because I didn’t like any of the characters. They don’t all have to be nice and good they just have to make me care about them.

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  3. You said it all! Nothing left to say because it is the absolute truth! Same as the music industry, no room for free thought, heaven forbid you show a little initiative have an incredible voice or write your own music, if it’s not in the “ballpark” of what they want to hear, if you don’t fit in, well, you’re out! You’ll probably never be heard any more than a great writer will be read! These people want a SURE thing, they aren’t willing to gamble, nor are they particularly interested in language culture free thought and real prose.

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    1. Which essentially eliminates creativity and uniqueness. I don’t mind genre books that are very like all the other in their group, but that’s not how literature progresses. You also need NEW idea, new concepts, new formats. If you permanently stay glued to the old, safe stuff, you stop the growth of art.

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