You know how whenever someone gets disgruntled with the publishing industry they invariably name a classic book and say, “Well, [insert James Joyce, William Faulkner, Herman Melville, other dead white male/Jane Austen here] would NEVER have found a publisher today.” And this is supposed to remind us about the fickleness of today’s crass publishing business, the shortsightedness of its employees, and the general debasement of literature? As opposed to “back in the day” when they appreciated Literary Genius and Weighty Books and all the rest?
What I want to know is: how come no one does the reverse? Here’s a fun exercise: let’s instead think about all of the books published today that would never have found a publisher in a previous era. You think they would have published Toni Morrison in the era of Herman Melville? (nope!) What about Jonathan Franzen in the era of Jane Austen? (nope!) Or an openly gay author like David Sedaris in any closeted era? (nope!)
Why would previous publishers not have recognized the genius of these authors?
They would have been a) worried about the bottom line and b) busy publishing books that were reflective of their own times.
You know. Like today.