Author: Claire Squires
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
Price: £48.00 and £14.99
ISBN: 9781403997739 and 9780230228474
The fact that this lively and meticulously researched monograph considers even humble book reviews indicates the monograph's catholic understanding of contemporary publishing strategies. Claire Squires observes that reviewing is not only an act of reader response and "free advertising", but also of literary production. This fits with her thesis that marketing is a creative endeavour. In addition to reviews, Squires scrutinises cover design; blurbs; literary prizes; and bookstores' usage of layout, taxonomies and "bungs", for their contributions to book sales and critical reception.
Marketing Literature is an accessible yet scholarly account of modern publishing structures, informed by Squires' experiences working for Hodder Headline and interviews with stakeholders in the industry. It analyses texts of the 1990s and 2000s by such literary celebrities as Martin Amis, Zadie Smith and J.K. Rowling. Despite dubbing herself a "literary sociologist", Squires is also an accomplished critic, who vivifies industry reports and marketing theory, and brings an insightful materialist perspective to novels.
The past few decades have seen resurgent interest in literary institutions, typified by John Sutherland's work on bestsellers, Pierre Bourdieu's discussion on the "rules of art", Graham Huggan's monograph on the marketing of "the postcolonial exotic", James English's research into literary prizes and Jenny Hartley's quasi-ethnography of reading groups. Within this growing body of research, Marketing Literature has deservedly gained status as a comprehensive survey. It offers a nuanced, even-handed approach to corporate publishing, which can sometimes be treated reductively by academics.
While refreshing, the book's refusal to enter political debates sometimes proves frustrating. When Squires discusses market censorship, for example, whereby publishers' apolitical quest for profits proves "as effective as ideological controls" in determining what can be published, she stops short of arguing that this stymies debate.
Gender analysis is strong, particularly in relation to Pat Barker's marketing transformation from working-class feminist writer to war writer. Yet while the monograph acknowledges that publishing is a white, middle-class world, it contains only passing reference to class and race. The focus on big business leads to neglect of independent publishers outside London. Insufficient attention is also paid to canon formation or the relationship between marketing and academe. However, at the risk of sounding like marketers' copy, Marketing Literature seems set to become the leading text-book for a generation interested in the history of the book.
Who is it for? Undergraduates and postgraduates studying the marketing of literature, sociology of "taste" and literary prizes.
Presentation: The bipartite structure separates an introductory overview from detailed case studies.
Would you recommend it? A key text that updates literary sociology for this nascent millennium.