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There does seem to be a dreadful tyranny of taste in fiction nowadays, Mark, and, yes, driven by highly reductive processes. The ‘feeding wants’ principles of marketing run directly counter to the fiction genius of engendering in the reader surprise, wonder, humanity and (trigger warning) a sense of the transcendent. In that sense, the reader doesn’t always precisely know what they ‘want’.

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Yes, this idea that we should simply supply current wants is disastrous. Seeing students as customers has ruined the universities. Most people don't like the first sip of wine they ever taste, but it everyone just went straight back to Coca-Cola they would be missing a huge part of the pleasures of life. There is so much that is good in life that people need to be taught to see and hear and taste and enjoy. We need a publishing industry that sees its mission in those terms. But with a private equity firm buying Simon and Schuster (https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2023/09/private-equity-simon-and-schuster/675261/) that is the last thing we are going to see.

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I can’t work out whether ‘twas ever thus or if there’s a particularly acute degradation in our times. Beginning to suspect the latter based on educational erosion, hyper commercialisation and ideological narrowing.

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Yes, I distrust the impulse to see ones own times as somehow more acutely worsening or improving compared to other times. And in many ways we are so much better of than people were in the first half of the 20th century, for example. And yet is is hard to ignore the change that has come over both literature and publishing over the last half century, or what has become of the arts faculties of universities across the world.

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And I really do hope Substack becomes the global go to for that richer fiction alternative. That would be different and exciting and surprising and refreshing. It’s entirely possible. Pretty sure there’s enough hunger to fill the literary niches. Would need a push from the likes of Uncle George Saunders and Father Ted Gioia, of course.

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Yes, though it remains an open question whether Substack is a place to build and audience or a place to take one you already have when you wish to break with the institution that helped you build it. I think it remains true that the way to build an audience is to borrow someone else's. Substack does facilitate that to a small extent, but not the same way that, say, classical broad circulation magazines could back in the day.

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Fair point. To make up that difference, they’d have to show a lot more love for fiction than they do presently. Still, for now I’m happy in this temperate loggia with the challenge of engaging a slowly expanding group of readers rather than out there in a dreary landscape crammed with copycat textkeepers.

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I have enjoyed this series. Glad you're addressing the current state of fiction. It needs to be said. It remines of Maxwell Perkins quotes: “An editor does not add to a book. At best he serves as a handmaiden to an author. Don’t ever get to feeling important about yourself, because an editor at most releases energy. He creates nothing” "A writer’s best work,” he said, “comes entirely from himself.” I read one quote that I cannot find, where he questions: are we (as editors) making the story better or just different?

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Yes, that is exactly what an editor should be. And exactly what many (dare I say most) editors today are not. I pray there are still some made in that mold. I pray we may both someday find one.

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Remember back in the 'old days' when a film was adapted from a novel. The standard comment use to be, "the movie was good, but the book was better."

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