Marketing Contemporary Literary Fiction in Britain: Constituting the Literary in Publishing Today
Literary fiction presents certain difficulties for contemporary marketing and publicity, some of which appear quite intractable. Definitions of literature rely on establishing the unique character of the text. Second, the literary text is deemed to merit certain types of public evaluation, which lie outside the jurisdictions of ‘ordinary’ reading. Third, whilst the marketing of many genres builds on readers’ expertise, in the case of literature, readers are commonly perceived (and this includes self-perception) as under-resourced or lacking in literary knowledge. In stark contrast, marketing conventionally builds up its representations of texts through assertions of resemblance - not individuality - and cannot guarantee an accredited critical reception. Nor can marketing exploit readers’ confidence in their own judgement as to what contemporary literature is, without weakening its value as a category: defining literature relies on expert judgements. This dilemma is directly addressed in the contemporary forms of literary festivals, book clubs, reading groups and prizes. These contexts construct a wide range of intertextual settings for any ‘individual’ text: as part of a panel at a festival to book club choice and so on. These are also settings that routinely incorporate various practices of evaluation. Most importantly however, these various institutions and practices share a formal structure that constitutes the relations between books, readers and cultural knowledge and authority in a distinctive way. Within them, readers acquire certain kinds of knowledge, but this knowledge only has currency within the perimeters of a set of always-already sanctioned judgements. Another way of saying this is that these institutions and practices necessarily constitute readers’ relations to the literary in resolutely middlebrow terms. The paper, which will be formulated in a series of theses, will end with a brief definition of the middlebrow as the characteristic relation between text and reader in contemporary literary fiction.
Keywords: Publishing, Marketing, Literature, Intertextuality
Dr. Rachel Y. Malik
Senior Lecturer in Literary Studies, School of Arts and Education, Middlesex University
Three of her recent publications include:
‘The Afterlife of Wilkie Collins’ in Jenny Bourne Taylor, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Wilkie Collins, Cambridge: CUP, 2006.
‘”We Are Too Menny”: Literature’s Proletariat’, New Left Review 28, July-August 2004, pp.139-149.
‘Fixing Meaning: Intertextuality, Inference and the Horizon of the Publishable’, Radical Philosophy 124, March/April 2004, pp.13-26.