Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The View From The Ivory Tower

I was reading an article about authors and financial hardship in the Wall Street Journal, and a quote jumped off the page.

A graduate of the University of Georgia's English department was having a hard go of selling her debut novel, a work of literary fiction that the major publishing houses turned down. Much to the surprise of Jed Rasula,  a teacher in that very department, he was sure the manuscript would sell because it was "one of the most exemplary".

Or so the manuscript appeared from the pinnacle of the ivory tower.

There's a tendency these days to worship the MFA and the cookie-cutter format they follow to publishing success. The MFA knows how to use words and create lovely phrases and delve into the deep meanings of life and love and loss and all the rest.

Could it be that the major publishers are starting to realize that the reading public is sick to death of clever young things putting their navel gazings on paper and calling it art?

It's the denizens of the ivory tower who applauded Kirsten Kaschock's efforts, praising her from their perspective of how it should be done properly. The problem with all that lauding is that it doesn't translate to the real world.

The Wall Street Journal blames e-books for the suffering of the literary artists. The major publishers don't nurture the verbal seedlings as they once did in the days of Hemingway and Fitzgerald, so books go unpublished and the authors wither on the vine.

As anyone who's been to university knows, what the professors preach in a lecture rarely translates into the real world. It's all well and good to compose a technically splendid manuscript, but publishers know that the reading public is facing financial hardship, high unemployment and frightening uncertainty.

They aren't about to put out books that ordinary, non-university denizens will not find appealing because they're not living in the ivory tower of academia and don't appreciate the exemplary in literature if it doesn't answer their questions about how they're to cope.

Look at the author bio on the backflap of literary fiction and you'll find a writer who also teaches writing. While that's a clear indication that one can't make a living with one's writing alone, it's also indicative of an incestuous relationship, and students of biology know that such inbreeding results in a lack of diversity which leads to a decline in the species.

What is truly sad about publishing today is the fact that only the bearer of the proper writing degree can be considered a literary writer, and who knows how many good books go unpublished because of a belief that creativity can be taught like chemistry.

It isn't the e-book that's lowering advances on literary fiction. It's the inability of someone fresh out of university, with precious little life experience, to craft a manuscript that's meaningful to a broad slice of the reading public. Publishers want books that sell and make them money. That which college professors find exemplary rarely shines so brightly beyond the confines of the classroom.

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