At some point, Dan Brown's books became American literature--not thrillers, not genre work--but pieces of fiction that could sit on a bookstore shelf right next to Larry Brown. I'm not exactly sure when this happened, maybe around 2005. In the approximate five or so years since, every grim prediction for the future of literary publishing has come to pass, especially in the large corporate publishing houses.
Recently, an editor/publisher that I've worked with for several years told me, "It is really a desperate time now, and publishing is going down the drain and I doubt that writers will be able to just write, they will need jobs in the future to support themselves. And who knows what will happen to us. But we carry on until we are pushed off a cliff." She went on to mention how a quote from Don DeLillo that I've used forever as the signature to my e-mails has now come true; the quote reads: "As the movie industry becomes more like the merchandising industry, the book business becomes more like the movie industry. There's more pressure. I think it's very difficult to be a young writer today. I fear that younger writers, after one or two books, will disappear the way young film directors do." And so what I had always considered as a cautionary observation from DeLillo has, in fact, become a kind of prophesy.
"I do think that publishing will eventually evolve into the independent smaller companies being the survivors," my editor/publisher associate concluded. "The demands of profit are too high to nurture writers as we have in the past, which makes putting together a list like mine very difficult. Thus I do agree with Don DeLillo."
This sorry state of affairs is something idealistic writers, agents, and editors have been talking about discreetly among themselves for some time. We bemoan how editors now have to act as middle management between writers and the marketing interests (the people really calling the shots these days). We smirk as we recall that ten years ago editors often felt novels lacked appropriate closure, whereas today no one talks very much about closure issues anymore--instead, the young editors talk about books being a little "too quiet" for their tastes, hard to get into without something exciting occurring in the first ten pages. Sipping our drinks, we shake our heads when it's pointed out that pretty much the same 10,000 readers are the ones who buy serious literature in this country, and, at the height of intoxication, we pound our fists on the table when the dirtiest secret of all comes up (the one we hate the most, the one that makes us have utter contempt for a publishing world we once believed would champion and take care of us): it's way more profitable to market books toward those who don't read than it is toward those who do--hence a lowering of the bar to the very ground.
Since I started writing fiction nearly a quarter century ago, the death of literature has been proclaimed again and again, and never once did I take such proclamations seriously. Nor do I now. The classics will always be read and studied, the long thread of arts and letters will continue to unravel for future generations. Yet what troubles me under the current situation--with the rise of Bookscan dictating who publishes to a wide audience and who doesn't, intertwined with a new breed of younger editors that are seeking the literary equivalent of "jazz hands" in written texts--is a concern for where the new classics will come from? How will the next great American writers come to be recognized if they are deprived of mainstream publishing before they can maturate into considerable talents?
Or should we even care anymore? I don't know. Perhaps, it is time to grow up and acknowledge the end of something, to put aside all the grand ideas we "literary" folks have harbored about the importance of what we imagined as a calling. Maybe we need to realize that in an age of diminishing attention spans Dan Brown is about as deep and meaningful as it's going to get, at least for a long while to come.
For further reading on this miserable subject, I'd like to point anyone that's interested to "The Rise of the Machines: Notes on the Literary Apocalypse" on Bill & Dave's Cocktail Hour site: http://billanddavescocktailhour.com/the-rise-of-the-machines-notes-on-th...
Causes Mitch Cullin Supports
Amnesty International, Gilda’s Club, International Lesbian and Gay Association, Moveon.org, National Film Preservation Foundation, People For The American...