There Is No Room For Good Literature

Today I received an email rejection for a short story I submitted to the New England Review.  Like all of the other rejections I have received for my writing, it was form (“Dear Author…”); it went on about the high level of subjectivity in the business of publishing; and, of course, wished me the best of luck in placing my short story elsewhere.  Rejection is something writers of all kinds have to get used to – it is probably the most quintessential part of being creative.  But on the heels of this rejection, which seems to have bothered me the most of all those I have yet received, I wonder if it’s time for us to finally accept that there is no room for good literature anymore.

I’m not suggesting that my writing is brilliant or anything, but I know that I can write well (unless everyone that has read my writing is just humoring me).  And, in fact, there are tons of writers that I have encountered that could be called brilliant in their writing, and yet they too face the same rejection foes as I have faced.  While masterful works are passed up by the dozen, hackneyed books like A Partisan’s Daughter, Snow Day, and (dare I suggest) the Harry Potter series are hitting the best seller lists.  While groundbreaking books are sent rejection after rejection, after rejection, books that don’t even make sense like A Visit From the Goon Squad are winning prizes by the barrel-ful.  And while a lot of people may love some of these books, especially the most commercial ones, it is wholly undeniable that something is awry in the industry of publishing.

Let’s look at some statistics, compiled by :

  • Only 53% of books now purchased are fiction, with only 4% of that considered literary or upmarket;
  • 57% of books are not read to completion;
  • 33% of high school graduates never read another book  again for the rest of their lives;
  • 42% of college graduates never read another book again for the rest of their lives either;
  • 70% of adults in the U.S. have not stepped foot in a book store in at least five years;
  • 80% of U.S. families did not purchase or read any sort of book in the 2010 calendar year; and, perhaps the most disturbing of the statistics,
  • Daily, Americans spend 4 hours watching television, 3 hours listening to radio or music, and no more than 14 minutes reading magazines or news online

So, what do you think faithful blog followers?  You think there’s room for good literature anymore?  The answer to that is quite obvious, what is not so much is in trying to figure out just what we are to do about that.


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  3. nikkie

    Those may be disturbing stats but I still believe that there is and will always room for good literature. If the average John Doe doesn’t read, so be it, but there are readers all over the place and as sad those percentages are, don’t forget the foreign market. We’re all reading english literature 🙂

  4. Tom

    Okay, here’s my perspective, for what it’s worth. You’re making the assumption that publishers base their decisions to accept or reject submissions solely on one criteria: whether they like the material or not (whether it’s “good” or not). In reality, a myriad of factors may weigh in on a publisher’s decisionmaking. Does the company currently have enough money to publish most (or even a few) of the authors that come knocking at their door? Is the company looking to publish every sort of story, or are they “full” on some genres, and only looking to fill a few specific niches? Or is the company not taking new submissions at all, and only looking to work with the writers they’ve already signed?

    Another way of viewing this, from my non-writer’s perspective: I see the business side of writing (especially the submissions part) as if you’re applying for a job. Even though you do your writing on your own, at this point you’re submitting your writings to companies in much the same way that a job-seeker would submit a resume of his/her knowledge, skills, and abilities to companies he or she would like to work for. So all the same factors of why a person may or may not get the job apply here, from both the employer’s and the job-seeker’s perspective. At least around DC, the job market is extremely competitive (in the same way I’d predict the writing business is), and being in a down economy makes things even more competitive. There are tons of (over)qualified people hawking their resumes on the market, and tons of them get turned down every day because employers simply don’t have the money to hire people right now, or are only looking to fill certain specific positions and skills, or are fully staffed, or the job-seeker’s timing is simply wrong (there are hiring “seasons” here). So while it can be tempting to get frustrated and say that nobody appreciates your “resume” (your writing), or that it just isn’t good enough, etc., etc., realize that there are loots of other factors in play that you may not have any control over. And keep trying!

  5. Tiffany

    Those stats are frightening. Or I’m just weird. How can 33% of people never read a book after high school?

  6. Jeremy (@takeshikitano3)

    Bring on the sparkly vampires — statistically speaking, high school is the largest audience!

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