No One Buys Literary Fiction

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All my life I have wanted to be a literary author, and about 98 per cent of the books I read are literary fiction. When I discovered the works of Hemingway in high school I wanted to write like that. I wanted to tell the kind of poignant stories about the human condition that become an indelible part of the cultural fabric for generations. Hemingway wasn’t poor and starving. He was quite successful and lived a fascinating life of adventure. That was the life I wanted. It still is the life I want.

The thing is that today no one buys literary fiction. And because no one buys literary fiction, finding a publisher for such works is virtually impossible. If you look up the bestseller list on Amazon, you will always find it dominated by genre fiction, non-fiction, and self help books with only a scant few literary titles in the mix. Right now the #1 book on Amazon is Dan Brown’s Inferno, a thriller.

The publishing business is a business just like anything else. If the biggest hit last year was Twilight, they will try to figure out how they can put out 50 versions of Twilight to maximize their profit potential. Today’s publishing industry is in dire straits, so looking at what’s bankable is more important than ever. When it comes to literary fiction, the sad truth is that there is very little money to be made and the market is puny. Most literary titles won’t even crack 10,000 copies sold in their first print run. If they do it’s considered an incredible feat. The only way that literary novels ever do sell well is if they are written by a well known author like Michael Chabon or Margaret Atwood, or if they win a prestigious literary award like the Giller Prize and garner an onslaught of media attention.

Given all these facts, the grim reality appears to be that my literary hopes and dreams will likely never come true. The book that I am currently working on is about the rave scene in Toronto circa 1999-2001 and is based out of my own life experience. It is a literary novel. I can try to frame it as young adult fiction, but really it is more literary. There are many themes; drugs, sex, music, violence, self discovery, and death. This is far too much meat for the bones of a genre title. My little book may never see the light of day unless I am an incredibly talented writer, and some agent or publisher out there sees something brilliant in my words. I like to think I’m pretty good at this writing thing, but I do not have an MFA like many of today’s literary authors nor would I ever go to school for that.

Right now I am reading Hopscotch by Julio Cortazar. This book is about as literary as it gets. In fact, it was on a list of the 50 hardest books to read on Flavourwire recently. This book is indeed a tough read. Most people probably wouldn’t be able to get through half of it, but the writing in here is amazing stuff. It is a dazzling compendium of thoughts, images, and feelings and Cortazar’s stream of consciousness prose is mesmerizing. Although this really is an impressive work of fiction, a genuine work of art, a book like Hopscotch would probably never get published today. Even if it did, the author would make very little money from it.

If you want to make money as an author, you have to write in one of these categories:

  • Genre fiction
  • Non-fiction
  • Memoir
  • Self help

That is what sells today, and that it what publishers are interested in. There is always the option of self publishing my literary novel, but that doesn’t change the simple fact that even if I go that route still no one will buy it.

But I still want to write my rave novel despite all of my doubts. It is something that I feel has to be written one way or another. I write it for passion, not for money.  That’s the purest motivation a writer can have.

Read Next: What It Means To Write A Novel

2 thoughts on “No One Buys Literary Fiction

    Ashley said:
    December 4, 2013 at 6:26 pm

    How far along are you on your rave novel?

      Chris Riddell said:
      December 4, 2013 at 6:27 pm

      I just finished chapter 6 today. Its turning out to be a slow process as I only take maybe an hour in the morning to work on it before I have to do other things.

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