Arts Council England’s report on the crisis in literary fiction should serve as a “wake-up call” to the industry to “radically rethink” the way it presents the genre, chief executive Curtis Brown has warned.
Literary agent Jonny Geller said everyone involved in advocating for British culture here and abroad should sit up and take notice of the research – which revealed that the outlook for literary fiction in the UK Uni were “negative” following a drop in sales, prices and advances. for the genre, and with the authors’ ability to earn a living “substantially eroded”.
“I hope this will serve as a wake-up call to all those involved in defending British culture, here and abroad,” Geller said. “We punch above our weight in terms of the creative industries – worth £92billion this year – and the London Book Fair attracts so many international scouts, filmmakers and publishers, thanks in part to our reputation as a launch of so many international writers.
“If we don’t invest in them through publishing, agenting and government grants, we will downgrade that position.”
He added that the industry needs to completely overhaul the way it approaches the genre, which can no longer rely on literary awards for exposure and sales.
“I think we need to radically rethink how we present literary fiction,” he said. “Why can Netflix crank out dark, thought-provoking tales, spending millions on production, development, and marketing when a cheap product like a book barely gets an advance or marketing budget? Clearly, literary fiction is not valued or trust is too low.
Publishers, bookstores and the government all have to play their part, he believes.
“In a country where libraries are closing and prices are not driving sales, the race for the middle has taken over… The state must return to the investment model to develop new and diverse writers,” did he declare. “Publishers need to put money into development and stop looking for short-term fixes. Booksellers must innovate and stop pushing the “event” rare book and connect with their customers in a more dynamic way.
He argued that while risk-taking was at the heart of publishing, the model of relying on prizes to gain success was “clearly hesitant”.
“Man Booker’s recent winner – actually the bottom three – have all shown diminished interest in shortlists and winners,” Geller said. “Whatever the reason, it means we in the literary community need to reinforce the message that these books will change your life. This is why we read literary novels.
Corporate publishers were blamed for part of the problem in ACE’s paper, accused of being risk averse, overly concerned with their “bottom line” and failing to support medial list authors at the course of their career. Meanwhile, independent publishers were praised for “stepping up, in many cases acting as talent development agencies for authors at the more literary and experimental end of the scale”.
Ailah Ahmed, editor of publishing house Little, Brown, agreed that publishers have a “responsibility” to be proactive in acquiring literary fiction.
“I think it’s about being proactive and curious as publishers and just because you’re at a big publishing house doesn’t mean you can’t be,” he said. she declared. “I think there’s a responsibility to do that, and I think a lot of people are.”
However, she said the path to market has become a “more complex picture” these days. “In addition to the traditional publishing model mentioned in the report, where you get yourself a well-known literary agent and you get a big publishing deal, there are different routes now,” she said.
As part of its measures to combat the erosion of literary fiction, ACE intends to further support small publishers and lobby the government for tax breaks.
Juliet Mabey, publisher of the two-time Man Booker Prize-winning independent house Oneworld, said such support would be “very welcome” but wider measures were needed, including reducing commercial rates for bookstores in recognition of the vital cultural role they play in our society.
She added that it was “impossible” to decouple the issue of poor sales of literary fiction from publishers’ struggles with discoverability.
“The literary ecosystem in the UK has changed dramatically over the last decade, as more and more sales are made online and the review space in the print media has been reduced. Established authors tend to sell well online and also receive respectable critical coverage,” she explained. “The impact of these changes is therefore felt most harshly by writers of literary fiction, especially new writers and writers in translation. So, in my view, it is impossible to separate the issue of poor sales of literary fiction from the challenges that publishers face with discoverability. With less space for reviews and more online browsing, brick-and-mortar bookstores have become absolutely essential if we are to ensure the survival of our much-loved literary diversity.
Others agreed that changes in the retail market had an impact on the decline of literary fiction, including the abolition of the Net Book Agreement in the 1990s, which had fixed book prices.
Lucy Luck, literary agent at C+W, said: “When I started in the industry in 1997, there was a big difference in sales of literary fiction, especially since there was a huge library market,” Luck said. “You could guarantee sales of 3,000 to 4,000 copies. But print runs have dropped dramatically with the decline of the library market. The NBA has also made a huge difference in sales and royalties…Looking at any literary endeavor now, i.e. a literary novel, a collection of short stories, poems – there is no There is a guaranteed pound sign attached to it and progress is capped at a realistic level because it is very difficult for publishers to justify their purchase, even if they are brilliant and have potential.
But Sarah Crown, director of literature at Arts Council England, said The bookstore she believed that literary works were “something we must defend.”
“Research shows that reading literary fiction has neurological benefits, it transports you through the world and promotes your ability to empathize,” she said. “Also given our place on the international stage, this is so important. We are seen around the world as the cradle of great literature.