Literature Direct Publishing
Vasily Ledovsky: Wooden Book Shelf, Antalya, Turkey, 2021 (Unsplash)
Unlike the ancient Odyssey or the modernist Ulysses, the epic work that is Amazon delivers immediate gratification to all customers. “The market personified,” Amazon sells whatever books it can, regardless of kind or quality, to any willing buyers, with free same-day delivery or next-day shipping for Prime members in many localities; other booksellers might like to do the same, but none can rival Amazon’s logistical reach. And Amazon is similarly accommodating as a publisher, putting out in electronic form the book of any author who so wishes (for a cut of 30 percent of proceeds) through its Kindle Direct Publishing program—for McGurl “perhaps [Amazon’s] most dramatic intervention into literary history,” as a “free-to-use platform by whose means untold numbers of aspiring authors have found their way into circulation, some of them finding real success.” Needless to say, perhaps, he means commerical, not artistic success.
The interest of Everything and Less as a work of literary criticism comes from McGurl’s efforts to emulate, as far as a single reader can, Amazon’s omnivorous taste in books. For Amazon, literature looks like nothing but an immense collection of commodities, very few of them falling into the generic category of “literary fiction” (let alone serious poetry or theater), and McGurl will employ the same optic: “Genre being a version, within the literary field, of the phenomena of market segmentation and product differentiation,” in the Age of Amazon, aka the universal marketplace, literary fiction has become “simply a genre in its own right” among many others.
Consumer-readers by definition buy the kind of books they expect they’ll like, and, in theorizing the novel as a form, McGurl adopts the same hedonic principle as Amazon and its customers.
McGurl dwells on literary fiction in only one of his five chapters. Other chapters have more time for contemporary genres such as literary role-playing game narratives, or LitRPG, most of them published by way of Kindle Direct Publishing and resembling video games; romance novels catering to various sexual fetishes, whether the vanilla s/m of Fifty Shades of Grey or more outré stuff, such as Adult Baby Diaper Lover (ABDL) erotica; world-building fantasy epics; and the zombie novel. In the indistinguishable undead actants (“characters” would be the wrong word) who populate so many barely distinguishable zombie novels, McGurl spies a sort of allegory of contemporary literary production.