It is the hour of despair. The writer sits immersed and waits. sunset. He puts his head on his desk. a Piece—Must have a file Piece. The insatiable audience for the story is of no use in his careful observations and accurate characterizations. a Piece: His publishers are asking for it, and his wife is asking for it – there is a baby now. Slowly and miserably, he extracts the words from himself.
George Gissing’s 1891 novel, “New Group Street,” is one of the most gruesome depictions of a writing life of any era. Set between London hackers, intellectuals, and literary “most descriptive women,” the story follows Edwin Reardon’s financial and nervous meltdown as he struggles to complete a book that might sell. His friend, elegant and cynical, Jasper Melvan considers his efforts an unnecessary fanfare. Melvan asserts that “literature nowadays is commerce.” Find out what the reader wants and provide him with style and efficiency for the sake of Allah.
It’s not just the writer’s usual demons — meager word rates, self-doubt, the smooth ascent of one’s enemies — that torment Reardon but the limitations of the three-volume frigate that dominated the writing of Victorian novels. The triptych, as it was called, was the form of much of the work by the likes of Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot, Benjamin Disraeli, and Anthony Trollope: usually nine hundred octavo pages divided into volumes of three hundred pages each, bound by b. “The three volumes in front of me are like an endless desert,” Reardon sighs. “It is impossible to bypass them.” Gissing lifted this lament from his diary. New Group Street itself was three-story, Geising’s eighth, and he used every trick available to stretch it, humming, to lengthen it. “The stuffing trade,” Trollope called the literature of the time.
Since they are luxury items that most readers cannot purchase outright, Mudie’s Select Library, a giant British book distribution company, has advocated. For its founder, Charles Edward Moody, who often bought the bulk of the prints and could demand commensurate discounts from publishers, the appeal was clear: since its subscribers—at least those who pay the standard guinea rate per year—could only borrow one volume at a time. , each triplet can be distributed to three times the number of subscribers. Publishers were equally fond of the model, which allowed them to tiered printing costs. A confusing first size can increase demand for subsequent sizes, and help pay for it.
A slew of defining features of the Victorian novel seem expressly designed to fill that “endless desert” and entice the reader to cross it: a three-act structure, bloated subplots and massive templates, tumultuous slopes, characters with phrases or names referring to their characters, and making them memorable across the nine hundred pages . (Dickens’s naming of Poundby, in “Hard Times,” is one shameful example.) Fictional biographies and biographies—”Villet,” “Jane Eyre,” “Adam Beede”—worked well with the three-story demands. A life story can include any necessary distractions and give them a sense of the unity of the narrative.
The three-story book prevailed until the end of the 19th century, Moody was frustrated by the abundance of books and began to demand one-volume novels from publishers. With the advent of paperback books on the massive market printed cheaply on pulp paper, new forms were born (pulp fiction, anyone?), with their own dictates, hooks and temptations to the reader. But, then, style has long obscured patterns of distribution in the history of the novel, from magazine series to the Internet. In Everything and Less: The Novel in the Age of the Amazon (Verso), literary scholar Mark McGurrell looks at all the ways the New Colossus has changed not just how we get fiction but how we read and write it — and why. “The emergence of Amazon is the most important novelty in recent literary history, and represents an attempt to recast contemporary literary life as an aid to online retail,” he argues.
Amazon — which, as founder Jeff Bezos likes to point out, is named after the river that is not only the largest in the world but the largest of the next five largest rivers combined — controlled nearly three-quarters of new adult book sales online and nearly half of all new book sales in 2019, according to The Wall Street Journal. Unlike Mudie, he is also a publisher, with sixteen books in print. Amazon Crossing is now the largest publisher of literary translations in the United States, and Audible, another Amazon property, is the largest provider of audiobooks. The social media site Goodreads, which was acquired by Amazon in 2013, hosts more than a hundred million registered users, and McGurl Enterprises “may be the richest repository of literary relics ever collected, surpassed only by the volume of minute data sent home from every Kindle device.” almost in the world.” But what McGurrell considers “the most dramatic intervention in literary history” is another division of Amazon, Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP); It allows writers to bypass traditional gatekeepers and self-publish their work for free, with Amazon taking a large portion of any revenue.
As book historians such as Ted Stravas and Leah Price have written, there is nothing new in the concept of a book as a commodity; Books were the first things sold on credit. It was too early to be bar-coded, allowing inventory to be tracked electronically, making it a perfect fit for online retail. “All and Less” casts a cursory look at this history; McGurl’s real interest is in a graphic of how Amazon’s tentacles have worked their way into the reader-writer relationship. This is evident in the case of KDP. The platform pays the author by the number of pages read, which creates a strong incentive for early cliffhangers, and to create as many pages as possible as quickly as possible. The writer is advised not to produce just one book or series, but to produce something closer to the compendium – what McGurrell calls a “series of series.” McGurrell says that in order to take full advantage of KDP’s promotional algorithms, the author must publish a new novel every three months. To help with this task, a separate shelf of self-published books has appeared, including Rachel Aaron’s “2K to 10K: Write Faster, Write Better, Write More of What You Love,” which will help you unravel a novel in a week or two. Despite his outspoken interest in quantity over quality, KDP maintains some special standards. Amazon’s “Kindle Content Quality Guide” warns the writer of misspellings, “formatting issues,” “missing content,” and “disappointing content” — not least of which is “content that does not provide an enjoyable reading experience.” Literary disappointment has always violated the supposed “contract” with the reader, no doubt, but in Bezos’ world, the terms of the deal have become literal. The writer is dead. Long live the service provider.
The reader, in turn, is reborn as a consumer in the contemporary market, the distinguishing features of which are the accuracy and reliability with which certain desires are satisfied. “A digital presence is the presence of a liquid, something like breast milk, that flows into the spectacle of need,” McGurrell wrote. This is what Bill Gates promised the web to do: provide “friction-free capitalism”. Can the ease of purchasing a product translate into its own aesthetic? Critic Rob Horning has described friction avoidance as “a kind of content in itself – ‘readable books’.” ‘music to listen’; ‘musical percussion instrument’; ‘ambience’ etc. : With the algorithms highlighted, not only books can be read; Can be specifically read by you.
Hence McGurrell’s focus on the explosion of the literary genre – the bulk of fiction being produced today. Here we find the downstream where the books fuse with Amazon’s service ethos, and its determination to be “the most customer-focused company on Earth.” Genre, of course, has always been an organizing principle in book marketing. The glossy, embossed titles of books perched on the rotating shelf of the airport kiosk are a hit of trusted delight for readers longing for a Robert Ludlum thriller or Nora Roberts love story. But Amazon is taking this targeting to the next level. Romance readers can categorize themselves as “clean and healthy,” “paranormal,” or “later in life” fans. As for Amazon, after it has tracked your purchases, it has the receipts – and will make suggestions accordingly. These subtle types make a very specific promise of quality, but they also end up reinforcing the company’s promise of quantity. What else guarantees type but variations on a reliable formula, iterated endlessly to fill the Kindle’s endless library?
Genre, in particular, is key to discovering one’s book on Amazon, where titles are neatly broken down into a complex web of categories. McGurl presents these developments very quietly. He does not worry about the pressure that the network may exert, and the possibility of exclusion or homogenization in the recommended books. His basic assumption is that Amazon gives readers the books they want, and his curiosity lies in discerning the function of these genres, the “needs” they deal with. Exploring romantic fiction, which seems to inspire contempt, in part due to over-reading and the “bad” reading associated with it, McGurrell questions why the desire for repetition has gained irony. After all, he notes, many pleasures are born of repetition, and perhaps none more than reading – as children, we are called upon to hear the same stories over and over again.
McGurrell himself has been following the same story, in a way: the history of the American novel in relation to the institutions that support it. In The Art of the Novel (2001), he examines the rise of the novel to the level of fine art, as modernist writers cautiously sought to distinguish their work from popular fiction in the era of mass literacy. In The Age of Program (2009), he centralizes sections of creative writing in post-war literature, and their imprint on style. It is in keeping with America’s distinctive quirk of class, fun, and mass culture revolving around reading and education. In Everything and Less, this takes the form of wild anthropological delight as he explores species and subtleties, which have long been rejected by most scholarship and mainstream criticism.
In these Badlands, McGurl discovers quirks, surreal experiences, grotesque political utopias, and even sweetness. There’s performance art by Dr. Chuck Tingle, with his signature “porn cues” like “Bigfoot Pirates Haunt My Balls.” McGurrell is fascinated by Penelope Ward’s show and Keeland’s “Cookie Bastard” romance. (“There is no justice in the literary realm—this novel is so much better than ‘Fifty Shades of Grey,’ not to mention the stupid ‘Cocky Roomie’, with a real sense of humor plus a supporting role played by a blind child goat.”) He writes of ‘opportunistic prosperity.’ In the far reaches of the KDP world—how group sex in “The Enchanted House of the Feminine,” for example, represents “a rush into erotic group and community if not communism.”
Everywhere he looks, he finds codes for Amazon. Zombie fiction – the kind that says it’s the most sought-after – may represent how Amazon views its customers, all of whom have insatiable appetites. Meanwhile, adult diaper lover books (ABDL) may be the “perfect Amazonian literary genre.” A typical story – Take “Seduce, Dominate, Diaper” by Mumie Claire – stars an alpha man who is now submissive to the delight of the book’s female lead. The man’s breastfeeding process exemplifies the customer’s dependence on Amazon, which, like any good mother of a baby boy, strives to “reduce the lag between demand and satisfaction.” There’s also an interesting mother feature – the threat of punishment and servitude – which serves as a “helpful reminder that Amazon customer obsession is ultimately an investment in its market power.”