Is Literary Fiction in Trouble? Readers and Authors Respond | fiction


Arts Council England has sounded the alarm bells for literary fiction with a report revealing a collapse in book sales, advances and prices that have prevented authors from supporting themselves by writing on their own. General fiction sales in the UK fell from £ 216million in 2010 to £ 143million last year as the market increasingly shifted towards commercial bestsellers which was a good news for the Arts Council’s Twitter account – @ace_national – trending on Twitter, as readers and writers watched the barrel of cultural Armageddon.

It might only be 10 days left, but the report was enough for author Anna Mazzola to start tearing up Christmas plans:

The report may be ‘disturbing’, but the Literary Consultancy has tried to strike a positive note:

For others, the report only confirms what the authors have known for some time:

But what is behind the alarming drop in the income of literary fiction writers? According to Matt Haig, the failure of literary fiction is due to “an unconscious snobbery which repels many books”, he tweeted. “Books as status symbols. People feel intimidated. Smart books CAN be popular books.

“Snobbery creates a class system of books out of step with the age in which we live”, He concluded.

On the Guardian website, commentator GRANFALL00N had a much simpler answer:

Far too many books published as “literary fiction” are just not very good. There are loads of minor touches, of bourgeois navel-gazing, presented as a deep insight into the human condition. Readers literally don’t buy it.

This seems to be a particularly English-speaking problem – there is no English-speaking equivalent of Michel Houellebecq, addressing the very big issues. Or at least none that has been published. I suspect an unknown writer who wrote something like Atomized Where Submission would have no chance of finding a publisher or agent in London.

Reginald side blamed wider issues within the industry:

Internally, the effect of consolidation in publishing has meant that the balance of decision-making has moved away from the most favorable conditions for the long-term support and development of literary fiction. So it’s no surprise to see small, independent footprints filling the void. Additionally, the power of retail chains to create space for literary fiction has been undermined by online sales, especially when the leading online bookseller relentlessly pursued digital delivery. The form of publishing has changed dramatically since the 2000s, it’s true, but it also changed massively before that.


Writer, publisher and former Waterstones buyer Scott Pack was particularly struck by the drop in paperback sales from £ 163m in 2011 to £ 120m the following year, emphasizing that “2011 is the year Waterstones finished 3 for 2”.

According to Felicity Page, the decline is not explained solely by developments in the book market:

Falling fund budgets for library books, particularly since 2012, must have contributed to this decline. They energize the fiction market and encourage wider reading.


While for Lagado, the decline of literary fiction is an inevitable consequence of the modern world:

Fiction cannot compete with our reality now.


Maybe Lagado is just too busy playing Candy Crush – or is that just the kind of joke Tom Rayner Fox is talking about?

Maybe I can answer that when I get past level 253 …


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