Simon Collinson is a man who loves surveys. When last we heard from him, he was working on a survey of small publishers' data on ebooks. Now he's joined the team at a small publisher specialising in ebooks—Canelo.co, the company founded by Michael Bhaskar, Iain Millar, and Nick Barreto. And he's looking for input on what's happening to literary fiction in the digital dynamic, a topic worrying many of us. No lookbacks in fond reverie for Collinson, either: "It’s easy to believe there was once a Golden Age for literary fiction," he writes, "but the history of publishing tells us otherwise."—Porter Anderson
What is happening to literary fiction?
Canelo and the Arts Council need your help to find out.
We’ve heard it all before: it’s a time of great change. That much we can probably all agree on. What the changes are, who they impact most and how are all slightly more difficult to gauge.
It feels like literature and literary writing are at a crossroads, but where are they going?
Regardless of the received wisdom, structural and reporting challenges within the book industry and wider literary world make gauging the true state of play difficult. It’s easy to believe there was once a Golden Age for literary fiction, but the history of publishing tells us otherwise.
From the earliest days of the press, publishing has been saturated in risk and hungry for capital. The correspondence of early publishers like Caxton or Manutius is filled, then as now, with anxieties about low sales, the cost of print runs and the difficulties of marketing books.
However, it is equally true that our current environment presents unique challenges.
Changing technology, a historic shift in the markets for informational and entertainment goods, and rapidly evolving consumer preferences all mean assumptions that literary fiction is in a precarious place must be explored in depth.
What are the models that support literary fiction and are they in trouble?
- Are writers struggling as much as we might think, or are there new opportunities?
- And if so, why, and what should be done?
- Are authors from a BAME background particularly affected? If so, how?
- Is the continued evolution of digital publishing an economic problem for the literary community, or a potential solution?
- Has the death of the novel been greatly exaggerated? Earlier this month, author and Society of Authors president Philip Pullman was talking about the professional writer as an endangered species—and perhaps none more so than the literary writer.
The data and evidence are, however, patchy at best.
We want to find what’s going on
Canelo is collaborating with the Arts Council to survey what’s happening to the support structures and models for literary writers from advances to grants, prizes to freelance writing. We’ve created a six-question survey to gather the industry’s thoughts on these questions. It will only take a minute for you to respond, and will make a huge difference.
The survey will close to responses on Monday 22 February.
What models of support exist currently, what new models are emerging? Is it a new Golden Age or are things terrible? Are literary writers endangered?
Some data suggests that a decline in hardback fiction sales—of around 11% from 2013 to 2014—may be due more to migration to ebooks than to a loss of appetite for literary fiction.
Discoverability is much more difficult than in the past, but some debut authors have recently secured six-figure marketing budgets. So despite a flatter, noisier landscape, is it possible that the literary writer of today in fact better off than if she had been writing in 1950? We hope to find out.
Are literary authors now relying on appearance fees and other incidental earnings to make up for declining royalties? How do the hundreds of literary festivals throughout the UK—and the recent launch of the first festival for BAME writers—support literary writers, if not by paying them? [Editor's note: See Benedicte Page's writeup of the latest news on the Oxford Literary Festival's stance on remuneration for authors.]
We’re looking into the numbers and the conversation around the topic, but above all we want to hear from the people working on the frontline, directly invested in the present and future of literary writing: authors, agents, editors, readers, booksellers, journalists, and bloggers, as well as employees of literature and arts organisations.
Click here to answer the survey. Please respond before Monday 22 February.
Image - iStockphoto: Stagnatilis