Why I’m Here – Lee Konstantinou


I bring two dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives to Sprint Beyond the Book. The first is the per­spec­tive of an author. My first novel, Pop Apoc­a­lypse (2009), is a near-future sci­ence fic­tion satire about a world where the Inter­net has been con­sumed by a new, closed plat­form called the medi­a­s­phere. As someone who likes to make fictional predictions, I’ve been think­ing a lot about the future of media.

I’m also a literary scholar. In my academic work, I’m inter­ested in con­tem­po­rary Amer­i­can writ­ers, the rise of celebrity authors, and the rad­i­cal trans­for­ma­tions of Anglo-American trade pub­lish­ing since 1960. I’ve been impressed by new lit­er­ary schol­ar­ship such as Mark McGurl’s The Pro­gram Era (which is about the rise of cre­ative writ­ing programs) and by lit­er­ary soci­ol­ogy such as John Thompson’s Mer­chants of Cul­ture (which is about the social field of trade pub­lish­ing). These books show how profoundly the lit­er­ary field has changed over the last four decades. Pub­lish­ers have been con­cen­trated, often becom­ing sub­sidiaries of multi­na­tional media com­pa­nies. Agents and retail­ers have gained mar­ket power, squeez­ing the bot­tom lines of pub­lish­ing com­pa­nies. Authors, most of whom make lit­tle to no money from their writ­ing, have increas­ingly had to sup­port them­selves either through sec­ondary income streams (such as talks) or by seek­ing patron­age from insti­tu­tions such as the university.

These trans­for­ma­tions affect what authors do – and what they can’t do. Insti­tu­tions are always leg­i­ble on the page. As a fic­tion writer, I’m inti­mately aware of how these pres­sures migrate into my every­day prac­tice. My abil­ity to write, and the con­tent of what I write, is hemmed in by the insti­tu­tional sup­ports, the com­mu­nity gathered around me, the assump­tions edi­tors bring to my man­u­scripts, the con­straints of the current book mar­ket and broader eco­nomic and tech­no­log­i­cal trends.

That’s why we need to reimag­ine (and trans­form) pub­lish­ing as a field, not just as an indus­try, from pro­duc­tion to dis­tri­b­u­tion to con­sump­tion. We need to ensure that authors receive the sup­port they need, and that read­ers have access to well-edited, high-quality writing. What are the forms of support that allow authors to sur­vive and write well? What forms of men­tor­ship and career devel­op­ment are pos­si­ble today? Who creates and shapes reading publics? What direc­tion do we want to move in?

These aren’t only academic ques­tions, but also questions whose answers should guide what actions we take in mak­ing a bet­ter future. We shouldn’t simply sub­mit to the mar­ket or to the allure of new tech­nolo­gies, but should make a new lit­er­ary sys­tem that works for read­ers and writers.