Have Books Become Boring?
There a lot of people out there who criticize the current state of the publishing industry, and in some aspects, I am one of them.
Although an erroneous generalization, many people have to turned to or turned away from literature because of certain over-saturations within the mainstream market. This is the very reason mainstream literature is often stigmatized. The overall notion is, the publishing industry finds one profitable concept and milks it dry.
Since the increased popularity of romanticized monsters in the young adult market, a lot of fiction has turned to run-of-the-mill stories about falling in love with the dead or undead. On one hand, this is a very odd notion since it's illegal to practice necrophilia, vampires do not possess the proper circulatory system to practice procreation, and it is doubtful beings who have been around for hundreds of years would have any interest in spending time with young women drowning in lust, gluttony, and teenage angst. However, it is translates to many who long for a sort of eternal love and who want to take a step back from the offerings of reality.
Unfortunately, such stories have become too far and vast for anyone to have an interest any longer. The general feeling in the realm of the reader is that very little fiction is revolutionary. Their aren't many books with strong cult followings, such as with Fight Club or Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
I want to discuss both ends of the spectrum - that is, why the aforementioned ideas are both accurate and inaccurate. It's important to look into the difference between marketability and the way stories translates across many demographics, as well as how some ideas have become lost in the translation. It's also my point to establish the difference between taking risks and taking risks that work, which includes writers and publishers alike.
Market Vs. Universal Meaning
If you've ever tried to be a writer, there were a lot of things you probably didn't realize about the publishing world, and most of it involves the business. It's called the publishing industry for a reason: There's money involved. It costs a lot of money to sign an author, pay for editors, distribute the book, market it, and so on. Bills have to be paid, so books have to make money if they want to be published. This is the same with all mainstream media such as film, music, and television.
What's unfortunate about this scenario, though, is the fact that there are too many books that aim to blend in. If you don't believe me on this one, search paranormal romance or something akin to the genre. Look for books involving romance and vampires, zombies and humor, etc.
This all works in one light. See, stories have to relate to an audience to sell and quite simply work as stories. If people are going to pay for something and read it, they better like it. Some writers take a lot of pride in their work and are shocked to find out a story may be too personal or too farfetched. It all depends on your audience. According to this article, children are more likely to take creative approaches to their ignorance, whereas adults are more likely to dismiss it or search for a logical approach to a situation. The days of the suspension of the disbelief are dwindling.
So while writing a book that is marketable seems like the ultimate sell-out to an aspiring author, remember some of the rules of the publishing industry make sense. Some books sell better because people can relate to the stories; the basics of empathy and sympathy. It is fair to say some publishing companies rely too much on one working concept and are reluctant or too late to try another. Unless you're publishing on your own, you're going to have to write a story that thousands will enjoy.
Risk: Success vs. Failure
The problem with risks is the fact you never know what's going to work. This is why they are called risks in the first place.
Writers tend to be willing to take more risks when they are young or no longer have to rely on the income of their writing. Both ends of this spectrum are rare.
Publishers tend to only want to take risks when they see a possible profit to be made off of the risk's "edginess". In another words, they'll take a risk if they know it's something cut-throat that an audience will want. With the earlier example of Fight Club, publishers were a little weary of allowing a manuscript to hit the public market considering it teaches you how to makes bombs and suggests that the way American culture thrives is lackluster and needs to be destroyed. They also knew such a story would feed to American woes and stress of the time and would appeal to younger audiences that are more accepting of radical behavior.
It seems the day of trangressive fiction may be over or halted - although I will never stop writing it. There's an overall escapist feeling behind most popular fiction, when in reality, the average reader might want to see human reactions under stressful and extreme circumstances. With the economy still on a downward slope in many areas of the United States, people may be more interested in job-related stories involving the overworked, over-stressed, and unpaid protagonist instead of the the hopeless romantic and their encounters with the paranormal.
Of course, sometimes we, the readers, do want something ethereal in our lives. We have these emotions we cannot quite isolate into fathomable forms that we can share with others. Our stressors are often our ghosts.
Either way, the publishing industry needs to make safe risks more than ever. This isn't bad from a business perspective, but it certainly is rough for artists. In the same way many people hate a 9-5 job, writers hate producing novels that "work" in the market. There seems to be something lost in the translation of marketability. Sure there are trends that should run for awhile, but something new can be good for business too.
What I Recommend
My suggestions for remedying the dilemma between the art and business of literature:
There should be a greater consideration for what "works". No doubt women are reading more than men, and in some cases young adults are reading more than their elders. Perhaps the missing demographics can be lured into reading with more literature tailored to their tastes. Want more men to read? Offer more material men will read. Basically, if there is more of an investment in the other demographics, then there won't be such a call for the same ol', same ol'.
For writers, there sometimes is a reality we don't want to face. Sometimes no one will like our stories besides ourselves. Just because you're writing, doesn't mean you deserve to be read. But this doesn't mean a story doesn't worked; instead it just needs a re-envisioning.
Together, writers and publishers can work together to reach more readers. If you want to see the way genres are working right now, just search here.
Fear, focus, and the future. C.M. Humphries talks about writing, horror, and whatever.