Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Joan Smith Tells Writers to Get Angry

Looks like it's not only me who thinks that writers have been cowed by the current commodification of literature. In an article printed in the latest newsletter of the Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society and, I understand, that of the Society of Authors, she invites writers to get angry at last.
'No one likes us much; the general public imagines we're all earning as much as Dan Brown and if we aren't it's our own fault for not being popular enough. Publishers don't like us because we're not Dan Brown, and they don't know how to sell books by writers who aren't already bestselling authors.'

I'll skip over the bit where she says 'bloggers' loathe 'us' because 'they' are jealous of the small success 'we' have achieved and concentrate on the other, more insightful things she says:
'No one wants to hear about the things which have become standard, from barely civil rejections of manuscripts by editors who've loved previous books to incessant demands that books should be easier to read and make fewer demands on readers.

Twenty years ago, when I was writing Misogynies, I was able to include a discussion of the Yorkshire Ripper murders. No one suggested it was too dark or challenging but I very much doubt I'd be able to do it today; not long ago an editor at one of the country's leading publishing houses told me that readers expect even such subjects as sex-trafficking to be handled in a light way....

...Contemporary publishing is driven by an obsession with profit, celebrity and gimmicks, which has resulted in a cull of non-populist writers ... terrorised by accountants and marketing departments, mainstream publishers are desperately trying to work out what sells and the only way they can do it is by referring to something else ... I remember reading that one author's first novel had been reissued under a new title to maintain his 'brand' while another had her career mapped out for her - a string of bestsellers with imaginary publication dates - before her first novel was even in the bookshops.

The result of all this hype is a migration to small independent publishers by authors of the calibre of Francis King, Emma Tennant and Maureen Freely...

...We can react to this in two ways. One is as individuals, demoralised and struggling to find the energy to keep writing. The other is as professional writers who understand the vital role of literature in our culture, and how it's being undermined. When publishers stop doing their job, ours is to get angry and tell the world.
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