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Charlie  Hill
Charlie Hill

Charlie Hill is a writer from Birmingham. His short stories have been widely published in print and online. He is also the author of two well-received novels, the most recent of which - a satire called Books - was simultaneously lauded by the Financial Times and the Morning Star.

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Literary Fiction Manifesto

What follows, oh oft-assailed and much-beleaguered reader, is A Manifesto. It is not a revolutionary tract however, still less a reactionary one. Indeed, although it fulminates against 1, 2 and, yes, 3 to proclaim instead the virtues of A, B and, yes, C, it is more Business Plan than Blast.


The Question with which it concerns itself is that of Literary Fiction. No, wait! Come back! Despite this, it is a necessary employment of words. For Literary Fiction is dying. No-one knows how best to sell it; few seem to want to read it. Soon, no-one will be able to afford to write it and it will expire.


The situation is undeniably grim. And yet the process is not irreversible. Literary Fiction can be revitalised. Not by doing strange things. But by taking pragmatic action.


Before we start, we need to agree on what we are talking about. In purely practical terms, we need to define Literary Fiction. To Make It Distinct from other genres of fiction (don’t worry. Post-modernism is dead. We can do this now.) So what is Literary Fiction? Literary Fiction is a genre of fiction that tries to to do something new with language, helps us understand better what it means to be alive and changes the way we think about the world.


Thus emboldened, we are ready to take the actions needed… 

  1. Step away from the Kindle. Avert your gaze from the ePublishing chariot as it hurtles across the sky, hymning rejuvenation and trailing the promise of gold. It is a distraction. There is nothing to see here, it is not for you. This is not a rejection of ePublishing per se. We are not being anti-new or pro-sniffy. (Books may be objects of desire in a way that the eReader will never be; Literary Fiction may well be the highest Art of all the Arts. But such questions are irrelevant.) It is merely recognition of the fact that Literary Fiction and the current high-turnover, cut-price, no-cost business model of Electronic Publishing do not belong together. One is a dog, the other a fish. Today’s Electronic Publishing is geared to the writer who can turn out a novel or two every year and to the reader who wants to read novels so constructed. To the consumer who would pay no more than 99 pence a book and to those who would charge them only that for the privilege. Literary Fiction cannot be written - and therefore should not be sold - like this. So leave today’s ePublishing to today’s ePublishing devices.
  2. Take collective action. Get together as publishers of Literary Fiction. Form an alliance. Create an online portal, a one-stop site where people can buy Literary Fiction, read about Literary Fiction, discuss Literary Fiction, celebrate Literary Fiction. (There is a model for this. It has been successfully trialled for other genres of fiction. It is called Amazon.) There will be no price wars on this site. You will not be able to buy a book for 99 pence. Seven quid is not too much to pay for a work of Literary Fiction: 99 pence is too little (Remember! The Distinction Has Been Made!) The site will serialise Literary Fiction. Not like this. Properly. With confidence. Charge a comparatively significant sum for the first few chapters, a token amount for the remainder.
  3. Invest in authors. ‘’s a hegemonic thing that people who write tend to come from the leisure classes. They can afford the time and the books.’ Irvine Welsh said that. And it’s getting worse. So. Take a stand. Pay the authors a cut from the serialisations. Continue - where necessary - to pay advances. Not silly money; this isn’t about hubris, or seeing how high one can piss up against a wall. But enough to help with childcare for a year or to enable a writer reduce the hours they spend not writing. This is not an outdated practice belonging to an unviable business model: this is an investment. It is part of being canny. Which brings us to...
  4. ‘Be canny.’ Who said that? Salt Publishing that’s who. ‘The key is being able to get your books out into the market. Both in terms of marketing and logistics, getting books from A to B can be time-consuming and expensive. So use Nielsen data-feeds, work out who your readers are and how to reach them. Don’t tie your cash up in stock – make the most of digital printing technology and print short runs as and when you need them. This will help your cash flow and save on storage space and costs.’  It also enables you to...
  5. Take more risks. Be ambitious. With form, with content, with language. With the presentation of your product. This makes business sense. Literary Fiction has a niche in the market, just like any other genre. If the form and content of Literary Fiction strays too close to the form and content of these other genres, then you will find yourself competing with them for readers. And losing. Which brings us to...
  6. Have faith. Have faith in the readers of Literary Fiction. Because the time is right for the message of this Manifesto. The Distinction may be a practical one but it is politically and culturally apposite too. Remember! Post Modernism Is Dead! It is time for readers of Literary Fiction to come together; it is time for the readers of Literary Fiction to make themselves heard…  



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