Does Commercial Success Hurt Literature?


Publishers are offering big paydays to debut authors—that’s the good news. The bad news is that the books earning big money aren’t particularly literary. Tom Leclair at The Daily Beast takes to task Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney’s novel The Nest as too middlebrow to be considered great literature:

I understand the economic strategy: a novelist with no history (of mediocre sales) can be publicized as the Big New Find because the author has been given a Big Old Advance. But I worry that Sweeney’s book and some other fairly recent first novels with huge advances…suggest young writers are creating what I’ll call commercialit.

Ian MacAllen is the author of Red Sauce: How Italian Food Became American (Rowman & Littlefield, April 2022). His writing has appeared in Chicago Review of Books, Southern Review of Books, The Offing, 45th Parallel Magazine, Little Fiction, Vol 1. Brooklyn, and elsewhere. He tweets @IanMacAllen and is online at More from this author →