The slow death of the literary novel: the sales crisis afflicting fiction
The percentage of authors earning a full-time living solely from writing dropped from 40 per cent in 2005 to 11.5 per cent in 2013.
Of all the things currently described as being “in crisis” – the NHS, the White House, Britain’s hedgehog population – literary fiction might not rank highly in terms of public alarm. But a dramatic report published by Arts Council England (ACE) in December has raised the spectre of the highbrow novelist as an endangered species – and started a combative debate about how, if at all, writers should be funded.
The study claims falling book prices, sales and advances mean that literary authors are struggling more than ever to make a living from their fiction. In today’s market, selling 3,000 copies of your novel is not unrespectable – but factor in the average hardback price of £10.12 and the retailer’s 50 per cent cut, and just £15,000 remains to share between publisher, agent and author. No wonder that the percentage of authors earning a full-time living solely from writing dropped from 40 per cent in 2005 to 11.5 per cent in 2013. To avoid novel-writing becoming a pursuit reserved for those with independent means, ACE suggests emergency intervention: direct grants for authors and better funding for independent publishers and other organisations.
Tim Lott scorned these proposals in the Guardian, arguing that “literary” authors must “write better books” – that is, books with strong stories. “My impression of literary fiction,” Lott wrote, citing Eimear McBride’s A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing, “is that it has lost the plot. Literally.” In 2013 McBride won the first Goldsmiths Prize, co-founded with the NS to reward authors taking the sorts of risks with form and language that Lott so objects to. The prize’s most recent winner, Nicola Barker, tells me …read more
Source:: New Statesman