Breaking out of the stereotype

Via Confessions of an Idosyncratic Mind , I have just read an essay by author Scarlett Thomas on becoming a published novelist, the compromises she had to make with the publishing company, and how she escaped.

"At the moment, I am actually being allowed to write the books I want to write, which is something many women never get to do. In an industry that can write off the whole literary output of entire nations in two seconds (Chinese books, for example, are ‘so last year’), this is pretty good going. I am not selling very many books but people do read them. And I have the kinds of fans I always wanted: men as well as women, lots of students, people who like ideas. I try to use the fact that I have ‘escaped’ to talk about what’s wrong with publishing.."

I think the essay is  a very honest and clear account, though not comforting or comfortable. 

Link: Scarlett Thomas, author of PopCo, Going Out and Bright Young Things – women in publishing.

2 thoughts on “Breaking out of the stereotype

  1. I think the question is not whether good but idiosyncratic books will get published, but whether they will make any money. Literary fiction may not, but someone will still publish it: Perhaps a university press or a small house (Gray Wolf Press in the U.S. comes immediately to mind — they do lots of poetry and small, good books).
    If a writer wants to make money, then they have to fit in a market niche. For women, that seems to be Chick Lit.
    But I can think of loads of lovely novels by women that don’t fit into such categories: “Bee Season,” by Myra Goldberg; “The Song Reader” by Lisa Tucker; most novels by Margaret Atwood, and so forth. And of course most of the best short story collections are by women: Alice Munro, Deborah Eisenberg, Joan Silber (I recommend “Ideas of Heaven” to *everyone*), Annie Proulx, et al.
    The difference, again, is whether an editor or publicist will throw themselves behind a really literary book that aims at the smallish part of the population who actively seeks out literary fiction. The answer is probably no, not unless the writer is willing to somehow disguise what they’re writing as chick lit.
    What do the rest of y’all think? I am basing my opinions on years of reading and reviewing books and several friends who are literary fiction writers.

  2. Well, certainly Scarlett Thomas’s expereinces in her essay do concur with your view, Susan, as it is about how she had to rewrite and package her first few books as chicklit and how unhappy that made her.
    I don’t know much about book publishing from the inside, but I do know the story of how hard it was for JK Rowling to get published as a “one-off” author: she was eventually picked up by a (then) small publisher, and was advised to use her initials rather than her (obviously female) first name — I think so that it would not put off boys from reading the book!

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