F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” was released on this date (April 10) in 1925. It was a critical success, but not a big seller. The second printing left thousands of unsold copies in the warehouse. How this must have discouraged Fitzgerald, who was likely hoping for a commercial success to help with his mounting debt. Why wasn’t it popular in its own time, and what about this novel has earned it a place in American literature and on every High School’s mandatory reading list? I’m sure volumes have been written on the answers to these questions, but now I wonder about a new one. How would Fitzgerald fare in today’s publishing environment? If Gatsby failed to sell, would he have been dropped by his publisher as a commercial flop? Would he have turned to self-pub in order to find an audience? How many undiscovered Fitzgeralds are there out there now with a story that is not considered “commercially viable”?
Tag Archives: commercial success
Recently, every employee at Random House was awarded a $5K bonus, owing to the success of a particular series of books–The Fifty Shades of Grey Trilogy by E. L. James. I had heard many things about the books–the erotica mostly–and was wondering about all the hype. My writers group got together one evening and read the first chapter. We couldn’t bring ourselves to read much further–it was a lesson in how not to open a novel, how not to engage the reader, basically–how not to write. It was, as one Amazon reviewer observed, like reading something written by a teenager (and a not terribly literate or educated one at that.) In addition to the poor writing, the plot is disturbing on many levels, not least of which is the fact that it revolves around yet another older or more experienced man who stalks, isolates, and takes over complete control of a young girl. Hmmm. Why does this ring a familiar bell? Perhaps another teen series in which a whole generation of ‘tweens became convinced that a guy following, obsessing, stalking, isolating you is equal to romance. Really? Twilight enjoyed the same phenomenal success and I am still scratching my head. Now, is this just sour grapes on my part, because I am not(yet) a published writer? Maybe on some level, but a much deeper concern for me is the future of publishing and the American Readership (capital letters on purpose). Is the publishing industry pandering to the lowest common denominator of the reading population, unwilling to take a chance on anything that may not be a “commercial success?” How many novels appearing on the NY Bestsellers display an author’s name in larger print than the title? And how many of these books have you picked up, started reading, only to realize part way through that you’d already read it? All I’m saying is this: we need the fun “twinkies for the brain” books, like we need those kind of escapist movies and other forms of entertainment. But we also need the literature, the more challenging book themes, the “heavy lifting” of the intellectual writer, and sadly, these books will not fly off the shelf and make the publisher a bundle. If things continue in the manner as they have lately, these books will never make it to any shelf.