Imagine you’re a house painter, and you’re applying for a job. Now imagine that your competition for the job includes not only your contemporaries, but every house painter who ever walked the earth.
That’s probably what it feels like to be a novelist today.
Of course, new entrants do have some advantages over competitors from bygone eras. The Tribune, for example, is likely to find your novel more coverage-worthy than it would Flaubert’s Bouvard and Pecuchet, unless there’s a new translation. (Which there is. But don’t look for it in the Books section.) And some people are put off by old books just as they are by old movies, old music, and old persons. Yes, those people are ignorant. But they are real. I’ve met them, and spoken to them in their own strange tongue.
Still: compete against Proust? Woolf? Dickens? Joyce? Not your man Jones. I don’t have it in me. Happily, others do. Whence otherwise come tomorrow’s Proust, Woolf, etc.? For that reason I’ve joined up with the newly formed LitBlog Co-op, whose purpose is to draw attention to the best contemporary fiction by recommending one new book four times a year. Kind of like Oprah, except our weight will remain stable and we won’t give you a car.