How Corporate Publishing Has Destroyed Literature

Walter Rhein

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It’s obvious that our country is in a complete state of political disarray, but it might be less apparent that our literature is also in shambles. Consider the number of political narratives that flood social media daily. Some of them are truthful, some of them are outright lies, but all of them are part of a larger objective. Our literature also plays an important part in the social narratives of our age, and it is impossible to accurately evaluate literature without recognizing how it represents a system that is also vulnerable to manipulation.

One of the great tragedies of educated individuals is that they often convince themselves they are not prone to falling victim to false information. However, it’s been my experience that when an educated person latches on to a false belief, he or she will defend it with the same tenacity as any other group.

Today there are only a handful of major media conglomerates that control the news, film, television, and publishing. Independent publishers fall outside of this network, and it’s telling to note the derision with which small publishers are often regarded.

Much of the mythos that surrounds large publishing can be easily disproven by even the most cursory of engagements with factual data. Although many defenders would claim that large publishers are more likely to publish quality work, it’s amazing how the majority of the books they do release fail to ever attract an audience or make a profit.

Considering the marketing advantages of large publishers, it’s astounding that the acquisitions editors should so frequently fail. Why does the public so often reject the novels that our vaunted literary system deems most likely to be of significance?

What is often overlooked in the academic study of literature is that book publishing is first and foremost a business. Although literature aspires to greater objectives, at the end of the day a publishing house must make money to maintain its influence.

Therefore, as in any business model, it can be assumed that great works of literature are buried from public consumption because their success would threaten the bottom line of the dominant publishing houses. This is especially true if the content of the manuscript is of a nature that could be interpreted to undermine the existing system.

Minority voices are often overlooked in publishing, and stories are frequently stolen and repackaged in formats that cast dominant populations in a positive and undeserved light. I recently attended a presentation from an acquisitions editor who worked at a major publisher. He was a middle aged, Caucasian male. However, he was very clear on the point that the stories his publisher chose to release should be more diverse than just those that represented a Caucasian perspective.

The audience cheered, but I thought the comment was problematic.

If the major publisher truly wanted to grant more attention to underrepresented voices, why did they still retain a Caucasian gatekeeper as the acquisitions editor? Wouldn’t it be better to appoint a gatekeeper who had a cultural link to the importance of the stories being told and could, thus, select the manuscripts that most accurately reflected the trials of the group in question?

Maintaining a Caucasian gatekeeper essentially acts as a filter to remove any culturally based works that might shed light on the true oppression that has kept minority voices silent throughout history. Effectively, the whole emphasis on minority perspective is a sham designed to give the appearance of cultural awareness while maintaining the existing structure of subjugation.

In an ideal world, academics and publishing magazines would seek out the works of minority writers published by independent publishers who have also hired minorities as their acquisitions editors. However, the contempt shown to small presses represents the effect of the advertising power that the major publishers wield.

It is frankly very difficult for an authentic author to garner any attention for a quality work. Any criticism of establishment thinking is always met with resistance and sometimes violence, and that’s assuming the author can get the work published, read, or reviewed at all.

At some point or another you can catch all bibliophiles bemoaning the sorry state of today’s publishing. It’s not a secret. However, the next time they select a book, it’s likely to be the latest release from corporate publishing instead of an interesting, independent author or publisher. Our best readers and reviewers have been conditioned to completely disregard anything outside of the mainstream. This would be like film critics dismissing the works of auteurs in favor of the latest Marvel super hero movie.

Many writers wonder why they are compelled to keep telling stories despite all the obstacles that confront them. The fact of the matter is, if you don’t look a certain way, and you’re not from the right socioeconomic group, you are unlikely to receive a contract from a major publisher no matter how good your work is.

We have a system in place that doesn’t want certain stories told.

In my experience, these are the stories that most need to be told.

If you feel compelled to write, please keep writing. The false narratives always crumble into dust in the long run. The world needs you to give birth to the stories that matter, even if it isn’t ready to hear them just yet. Take comfort in the fact that the existence of those stories isn’t up to the world, it’s up to you.

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Walter Rhein is an author with Perseid Press. He also does a weekly column for The Writing Cooperative on Medium.

Chippewa Falls, WI
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