Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Too Literary For What?

Indicators of the way the wind may be blowing in our literary world, perhaps?:

Vanessa Gebbie reports that the publisher turned down all of the winning and commended novels in the Lichfield/Time Warner First Novel Competition as 'too literary'. Vanessa comments: 'If you want to get anywhere… dumb down, folks!'

Yet DJ Taylor notes in a Guardian article titled, 'Independents fight back' that independent publishers (less in thrall to the 'market' than the big guns) feature significantly on this year's Costa shortlists. (Can't find a link for the Taylor piece, I'm afraid.) *

* Got the link now, thanks to Adele Geras.

8 comments:

adele g said...

An extremely best-selling writer who has to remain nameless, just in case she minds being named put forward a very interesting theory. Now, she says, that editorial power has passed mostly into the hands of women, the REAL power has moved to the sales and marketing department heads who are still mostly MEN....that's her opinion. I couldn't possibly comment!

Elizabeth Baines said...

Mmm....

Charles Lambert said...

A novel of mine (not Little Monsters) was one of the five to be short-listed for the Lichfield Prize that year. Judging from the extracts read out at the award ceremony all five were, at the very least, well-written and I wonder if the problem might be that the jury member from Time Warner - the woman who would have made the offer to buy - was looking for something more instantly commercial, as her track record would suggest, whereas the final five were chosen by people who simply loved to read. The mismatch helped no one. I do know that two of the writers on the jury were very impressed by more than one of the finalists.

It's also true that, as far as I know, no publisher has picked up on any of the books to be chosen, which may indicate the generally lily-livered state of UK publishing or simply prove that there really is not much of a market for literary fiction that no one is prepared to invest big money in.

Elizabeth Baines said...

Congratulations on your shortlisting, Charles, and what a scandal that none of you got publication out of the prize. I know which of your two suggestions I think is the cause - as I've said often enough, you can actually CREATE a market, if you care enough.

NMJ said...

Hey Elizabeth, As you know my book was turned down for being 'far more literary than most sick-lit' - that was the charming term given to my book by one editor (but it had been pitched as fictionalised memoir (I'd reluctantly agreed) by the agent, who then dumped me cos the book was 'tricky to market' in spite of being, in her words, 'compelling, charming & perfectly formed'.). It was a hugely dispiriting & confusing couple of years, coming up against this 'tricky to market' label. The whole novel v memoir put their knickers in a real old twist, even though they (mostly) loved the writing. So thank God for The Friday Project who know an autobiographical novel when they see one!

Bournemouth Runner said...

I was twice shortlisted for the Lichfield a few years ago (when it was for novels centred on that location - rather than for first novels), and I don't think either time the publisher who was the judge/partner actually picked up the winning novel, even if they got picked up by someone else later. We were all writing commercial novels, yet I felt that the publishers were wanting something in a genre - aga sagas, romantic, detective etc. The irony was that the judges were genuine book lovers - its the publishers who let the side down.

Elizabeth Baines said...

Runner: so you had the same experience, and it wasn't a one-off...

Nmj: Well, as you know, I can sympathize all too well as something similar happened to me. It's absolutely fantastic, though, that your novel has been taken by The Friday Project!

Steerforth said...

Adele's comment is interesting and although I'm not qualified to comment, I often hear the sales force bemoan the fact that the people in the editorial department are completely out of touch with the market. As a non-metropolitan bookseller I have to agree.

However, as a reader I think that if you let market forces completely determine what gets published, we're all going to Hell in a handbasket.