An interesting piece on The Bookseller today about literary fiction. The worry from some agents and publishers is that unique and daring voices are going to fall silent because of the changes in the publishing industry (fewer bookstores, lower advances, less risk-taking). The idea seems to be that without the funds to support these writers, the works will never materialize, and literature will suffer a great loss.
I think the opposite is going to happen. The future of literary fiction will be owned and operated by digital natives — writers who grow up posting on blogs, debating on forums, posting on Facebook and Twitter, and all the myriad forms of self-publishing that we don’t seem to label “self-publishing.” Learning how to turn a manuscript into both a physical book and an e-book at almost no expense to the author takes a weekend of fiddling around. And that’s from someone who learned to type on a typewriter. Digital natives are going to be both literary and technologically savvy. It won’t be long (it’s probably already happening) before the next great voice is putting her work out there . . . simply because she can.
What goes unsaid but seems implied in the message that literary works will die without a publishers’ support or bookstores in which to shelve them is that we write literary works for the pleasure of publishers and bookstores. These works are rarely even written for the pleasure of the audience. The three works of my own that I consider the most literary are the three that I tell people *not* to read. I wrote them for myself. I wrote them because I had to. Because it would have pained me *not* to write them.
Works such as this have been penned in composition books by others and shelved, never to be seen. Digital natives won’t do this. They might post the entire work on a blog. They might text the entire work to strangers, one line at a time. They could craft these works on WattPad for public purview. They might typeset the work at a book crafting workshop and bind the pages into a jewel of stitched leather to be read by no more than one person at a time. They might distribute their masterpiece on thumbdrives. But they will write. It’s what we must do.
Artists have relied on the largesse of patrons for centuries. Increasingly, those patrons will become the general public. Or, as the cost of production and distribution drop to zero, artists will realize the patron has become moot. Anyone today can carve out enough time to work on their masterpiece. And that’s why masterpieces will continue to be written.
The final advantage digital natives will have is the absence of a self-publishing stigma. Soon (this is already true for many) self-publishing will be seen as the purer artform. No tampering with style or voice. No gatekeeper. No need even for monetization. Doing it yourself has all the allure of the hacker culture, the local culture, the maker culture. Doing it for a corporation has all the allure of . . . vanity, perhaps?
Great works are being penned at this very moment. They are waiting to be discovered. The problem for the agents and publishers who like to plant their flag upon such works is this: In the future, it’ll be the reader who gets there first.