The Literati: Who Says Your Book is Bad?

The Literati. Who are they? What are they? From whence do they hail? I would define the Literati as the literary gatekeepers. They are the sophisticated readers. Generally, they have degrees in English–usually a Ph.D. or something like that. They are the editors of giant publishing companies; they decide which books to print and which to not. Because of them, you have received hundreds of rejections for that book you spent so many long hours writing. But because of the Internet, the Literati are losing power.

Because of the Internet and similar technologies, the ebook is becoming the wave of the future. One can find a whole horde of ebooks on smashwords.com and other sites ranging in price from just a few bucks to even free. Many of these ebooks are by self-published authors. The Literati tell us to avoid these self-published authors; they have not taken the traditional route; they have not passed the gauntlet… hence, their books are inevitable of poorer quality than those anointed with the blessing of the Literati.

I’m inclined to agree, but only to a limited extent. A book blessed by the Literati is probably going to be of higher quality than one you download for free from some random website. But there is a subtle issue here: how sophisticated of a reader are you? Will you pick up on all the flaws that a “lower-quality” ebook has? I have friends who read a lot. They are smart people… but they aren’t English majors. They probably would not notice a number of problems with a book that the Literati would certainly jump on. Yet, they still read quite a lot. Basically, my point is that the Literati suffer from literary skills that are too developed, as far as the marketplace is concerned. While it is good to refine your literary skills to such a high degree, one must realize that after a certain point it becomes esoteric. Only a select group of people will understand all the critical points and distinctions that separate a literary classic from the mass market. Like any other discipline, be it philosophy, mathematics, biology, or what have you, the Literati run the risk of submerging themselves in their own private language. Although there is such a thing as terrible writing which most educated individuals will recognize, there is also such a thing as “good enough” that will pass muster for all but the most exacting and technical minds.

It goes without saying that a writer should always want her book to be as good as possible, and,

given the choice, she should always go with an industry-level editor to improve her book, for improve it he will. My point, however, is that after a certain stage, the improvements gained will be lost on the bulk of the readers–at least for mass market readers. And mass market readership is where the bulk of profits come from.

What does this mean to readers and writers alike? Please, feel free to share your thoughts.

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About atoasttodragons

The author, Matthew D. Ryan, lives in northern New York on the shores of Lake Champlain, one of the largest lakes in the continental United States, famous for the Battle of Plattsburgh and the ever-elusive Lake Champlain Monster, a beastie more commonly referred to as Champy. Matthew has studied philosophy, mathematics, and computer science in the academic world. He has earned a black belt in martial arts.

3 responses to “The Literati: Who Says Your Book is Bad?”

  1. Katinka says :

    I don’t think most book consumers are “sophisticated” readers. If they were, books like “Fifty Shades of Grey” wouldn’t be worldwide bestsellers. I don’t think it takes only good writing to pass the muster, but also catchy writing, a distinctive voice. I think the downside of ebook publishing is you have to do your own marketing, so you can’t cast your net as widely as you would if you had an agent and a publishing contract.

    Quality is subjective. I think who gets to say what’s good depends on who’s judging. For instance, the Pulitzer Prize panel has certain guidelines for awarding literary prizes, just as Harlequin has strict guidelines on how to write and publish romance titles for their various imprints. There are genres within genres catering to a target audience. I guess if you want to write ebooks specifically and successfully, you have to do the research, figure out who reads them and why they read them.

    One of my professors in grad school said that a book doesn’t have to be really good to get published, it just has to be interesting.

    At this time in my life, I’m not too concerned about whether or not my book will be published, all I want to do is finish it. LOL. Then, I’ll see what happens next.

  2. debyfredericks says :

    Literati is a loaded term. It’s not just English teachers and publishers, but everyone who sets themself up as intellectual, refined, and a discerning critic. Literati is often used as a mild insult, delivered by those who are setting themselves up as down to earth, sensible, and posessing independent judgement.

    What you’re mentioning, I think, is a feeling we writers often have, that critics are dissing our books in order to make themselves feel superior. But, as outlets for reviews/critism have exploded on the Internet, we do need to take care. Any one of us could find ourselves labelled as “literati!”

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