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Warren Adler

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The Plight of the Mainstream Novelist

Posted: 11/22/11 01:54 PM ET

Lost in the conversation of the impact of eBooks is the plight of the mainstream novelist, who writes books that fit no genre category but nevertheless represent the crown jewels of the authorial world, the lynchpin of the trade publishing business.

It is these long form fictional compositions that will eventually be lost in the shuffle during the giant tsunami of material in this non-genre category that is now engulfing the Internet.

The slicing and dicing effect of the Internet and, as a consequence, all of the book venues on the Net, favors books that can comfortably fit into categories. A mainstream novel that defies genre is like an orphan in that environment and must depend primarily on authorial branding, which is especially difficult for novelists just beginning their careers.

For currently well-known and best-selling authors, the advantages are still in their favor, but time and volume could eventually dim their financial prospects as more and more authors of mainstream novels enter the fray through both traditional and self-publishing. There will, of course, be exceptions, but they will be rare.

The old-style branding process of favorable reviews, academia recognition, advertising, interviews, speeches, book tours and other promotional opportunities will, of course, continue for a time, but sooner or later such methods will lose steam to the bookstores on the Net.

The old filtering processes where book sections and professional book critics held sway are slowly losing their power to influence, while the Net has opened a vast, undisciplined, self-proclaimed array of reviewers who offer opinions about the quality of mainstream books that could be sincere and authoritative but can also be suspect and self-serving. None have the power and prestige once wielded by big city newspapers and magazines.

Indeed, the various bookstores on the Web offer a free-for-all of opinion by readers, a forum for anyone to review the merits of a book. In such a forum, there is always the possibility of author or publisher-motivated favorable reviews by friends, relatives or hired guns hoping to promote sales. On the other hand, the possibility of negative reviews by readers can have the opposite effect.

Perhaps I am being too pessimistic, but the fact is that the old rules of the game have changed and the day is fast approaching when the traditional publishers can no longer rely on the old filters and the big box bookstores to promote and sell their wares in large quantities. They will have to find creative ways to promote their star writers on the Net, but considering the volume of competition, it will be a tough slog to make a serious breakthrough.

Some mainstream novels could gain traction in certain circles of interest, but it is doubtful that, as time goes on, they will attract those large reading audiences at a price point that guarantees big advances. I hold open the hope that the creative instincts of the traditional publishers and individual authors can overcome such a financial calamity.

I continue to believe that quality writing and great, beautifully written, compelling stories will find their readers, but then, I come from a different era where I was able to find wonderful and inspiring works through the old style filters. I often wonder how Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Roth and many, many others would have gained traction in the world in which we now live.

Still, we cannot discount college professors in the vanishing liberal arts for steering us in the direction of the great writers and I am hopeful that they will continue to do so. But, I am afraid there will be a slow decline in their ability to make choices among the millions of books that will be available. Indeed, we might well miss the extraordinary writers of coming decades who somehow drown in the vast deep sea of oncoming mainstream novels.

Whatever the future will hold, dedicated novelists will continue to ply their art, many believing, like all artists, that they are enriching the zeitgeist by their insight and story telling, whether or not they will be awarded by money or fame. The self-expression of the true artist is unstoppable and profound.

And many will continue to hope that their work, whatever its worth and quality, will reach a wide and adoring readership and perhaps secretly fantasize that they will enter the cathedral of immortality.

Warren Adler is the author of 32 novels and short story collections published in numerous languages. Films adapted from his books include "The War of the Roses," "Random Hearts" and the PBS trilogy "The Sunset Gang." He is a pioneer in digital publishing. For more information visit Warren's Website at www.warrenadler.com.

 
 
 

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