"Literature" in the Digital World


By Mick Spillane


The reality of the publishing world is that novels—or at any rate, literary novels are a very small part of the book market. People are more inclined to read nonfiction or mysteries, sci-fi, romance, and Westerns, as well as the book-of-the-moment on the bestseller lists. So, for me, my chance of editing that great novel, PEN/Faulkner, The Man Booker Prize is very small.


In general, the publishing world takes a prejudiced view of "literature" or quality fiction—with good reason. Novels, short stories, anthologies, poetry are not big sellers; they end up losing money for the publishing house. However, literature will continue to be published—for the prestige, of course. According to conventional wisdom, literature does not sell. People want to be entertained; not challenged. Modernity has its roots in existential and Freudian motifs. People do not desire such patterns in their escapism.


The theory that literature does not sell is or seems recent. The idea of the chasm between arts and entertainment could be a product of our digital age. It was recently addressed at Salon.


If I am reading Georges Simenon or Roberto Bolaño, I understand that the building of characters is slow, incremental process. For Georg Lukács stated it ever so awkwardly, "...it must transform itself into a purely receptive subject, as is normally required for great epic literature."


For the editor who chooses the path (not that it is economically possible) to focus exclusively on editing literature, sensitivity, judgment, diplomacy, along with a basic understanding of philosophy and psychology are indispensable.


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