Just how many literary worlds are there now?

Online meme factory Flavorwire published a list of the 35 most influential writers on the internet recently. It’s a…questionable list at best. I know most of the names on it, and I’ve read many of those who have books published. But it reads in large part like a list of the authors friends on Twitter, which I imagine with some research it would prove to be.

The list inspired some of the Sci-Fi writing world’s rooting, tooting, gun shooting right wing authors to come up with an alternative list of writers that also look rather like the author’s friends on twitter. Hmmm…I sense a trend here.

You don’t need to become a mainstream media figure to have a successful career as a writer today.

The internet and social media have a fracturing effect. The grand narratives of mass media are shattered in to a thousand small stories, each playing to their own niche audience. This is even more true in literature than other media. Books have always attached to niche audiences and sub-cultures. But that fracturing multiplies with every new technical advance in publishing.

Looking at the online world of books I see many strong communities. There is the traditional literary world, still surfing the momentum of its former mass media dominance. As the strong online discussion around today’s Booker prize list demonstrates, it is translating well to social media. Genre fiction has a massively strong presence online, especially Sci-Fi which has become the de-facto mainstream literature of online geek culture. But crime, romance and other genres also have their fanatical followings. The politically affiliated literary communities are interesting. As mentioned, right wing conservative science fiction is a thing, but so also is liberal science fiction, and both are relatively removed from mainstream sci-fi (which is largely apolitical). The Flavorwire list is really a list of bloggers and social media gadflys who publish books as an almost secondary activity. But again, that’s another perfectly valid literary community.

What powers these niche communities is participation. Who wants to be a passive consumer of culture when you can start making your own? The internet is now stuffed full of communities of self-published writers. Or largely unknown writers who have banded together to form their own publisher. Some of these also have a readership beyond their immediate circle, but most are more of a circle jerk, creating the impression of an audience when really no one is listening.

Where audiences do exist though, the multiplicity of online literary worlds is a new paradigm for writers. You don’t need to become a mainstream media figure to have a successful career as a writer today. In fact a much more viable career option is to find a niche community you love and become a writer for that community. And with so many literary communities co-existing online, that’s a more viable career


Published by Damien Walter

Writer and storyteller. Contributor to The Guardian, Independent, BBC, Wired, Buzzfeed and Aeon magazine. Special forces librarian (retired). Teaches the Rhetoric of Story to over 35,000 students worldwide.