Plastic fiction: What happens when writers give up on soul

Three years ago, Ursula K. Le Guin gave an impassioned speech in which she basically implored writers to write what they wanted to write and not what the publishing industry told them to write. She asked that literature in all forms return to being considered an art form. “Books aren’t just commodities,” she said.

I’ve often wondered if I would sell out if someone offered me the opportunity to sign with a big publisher that would basically guarantee my book would be a bestseller with an awesome marketing plan and everything all taken care of—but I had to write a book the publisher wanted with the plot all spelled out for me. Would I do it? Would I sell out? Would I turn out a plastic fiction book with no soul and no art just to gain readers?

I can’t answer that question. I fear I might. It’d probably be easy enough to write if I didn’t have to come up with the plot myself. And I have a respectable backlist now. Surely I should consider that in the equation. If I gained lots of readers with my plastic fiction—readers who enjoyed my style of writing and who would then consume my other books—wouldn’t it be worth it? But then, too, I’d be feeding the plastic fiction industry that has taken over the publishing world and made it more difficult for writers to be the artists they are meant to be.

Not sure you know what I mean by plastic fiction? Oh yes, you do. It’s especially prevalent in my chosen genre at the moment. For a while it was vampire romances (which has now morphed to include werewolves and shapeshifters and lots of other paranormals). I’m not saying these are all bad. I’ve even read a few that are exceptionally good. But those can be hard to find. And then there’s the fifty-shades phenomenon that is reflected in everything from content (way more explicit than just a few years ago) to covers (haven’t you noticed the trend to monochromatic still life since Christian Grey’s silk tie?).

I think the surge in independent publishing has been a reaction to writers trying to avoid the plastic fiction publishing industry. I’m proud to be a part of that surge. I love what I write, and I love publishing my little bits of art. They aren’t the highest quality—maybe they’re made of aluminum instead of gold or silver—but they aren’t plastic, either. I know this because they come from my heart and contain bits of my soul.

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