who the heck knows anything, anyway

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

I have always hated competition.

Bukowski has this poem, “The Last Generation”, and it does the smash-bangingest job of conveying my mild (or, you know, major) anxieties about jumping into an over-saturated field of work (unfortunately, I don't think it's available online). How am I supposed to jump into writing during a time when everyone and their mother (and father, and older sister, and younger cousin) is an author*? Will anyone ever pick up one of my books? And how can a serious albeit young writer find a community these days? All of the greats are jaded, and most of the newbies... Well, let's just say that finding peers (dare I say, friends) at my starting-point in the literary world requires a lot of wading through legions of people who are incompatible. And, as you are about to find out, I do mean legions.

It’s a surreal thing to consider: the population of the world, alone, is more outrageous than it has ever been, and when you also factor in increasing racial- and gender-equality as well as increased acceptance/appreciation for the arts (both of which are awesome, mind you), you begin to see just what I mean. In 2009** in the USA alone, 288,355 new titles were published through traditional channelsCurious about non-traditional? Oh, well, that's just a measly 764,448. No big deal.

This makes me feel like Dash from The Incredibles***
Dash: But Dad always said our powers were nothing to be ashamed of, our powers made us special.
Helen: Everyone's special, Dash.
Dash: [muttering] Which is another way of saying no one is.

Sigh. Well, let's try to forget about that and just ogle some numbers, shall we? Fortunately, I rule the internet.  Do keep in mind that I will only be looking at traditional publications of new titles and editions. God knows who keeps track of those self-published and small-press shenanigans. I would not volunteer for that job. 

Ok then! Let's only look at fiction and literature numbers (including both hardcover and paperback). The data I can find only goes back to 1993, but--as you will see in a moment--that's more than enough. (thanks again, Bowker.com, for providing me with non-broken PDFs)

First, some clarifications: I am not sure how Literature and Fiction are technically separated (I'm guessing the latter includes sci-fi/fantasy, mystery, etc. All the Gold Room books in addition to the Blue Room, if you measure everything--as I do--in PM****), which is why I'm including both. These are, however, classified separately from "Juveniles" books, which I am not including here. 

The freakin' Library of Alexandria couldn't fit
all of the books published last year.
(image thx: history-magazine.com)
So! In 1993, the number of new "Fiction" titles was 7,721. "Literature" made up 3,250. Total: 10,971.
In 1995: F=8,380 and L=3,279. Total: 11,659.
1999: F=12,372 and L=3,646. Total: 16,018.
They continue to creep up--Fiction progressing rapidly but fairly regularly--until 2003, when Fiction reaches a whopping 17,599 and Literature has increased to 4,948, together totaling a crazy 22,547. Oh, but that's nothing. Let's check out 2004 (all of ONE YEAR LATER), shall we? 

2004: F=28,010 (!!) and L=5,364. Total: 33,374. 
Holy smack, Fiction! Also, that's a 204% increase in eleven years. Flub


Let's take a gander at a mere four year difference, between 2004 and 2008.
2004: F=28,010 and L=5,364  Total: 33,374
2008: F=53,058 and L=10,843 Total: 63,901
Recap: Titles increased by 91% in four years. How about the fifteen year comparison? Oh, it's nothing. Just a 482% increase in traditionally published titles. 
(data links! this is where I got my info: 1993-20042002-2010)

This is just the '90s through the 2000's. I wonder what the comparatively small differences between publication in 1920 and 1960 were. Even that change in number, whatever it was, made a great enough impact on Bukowski to write "The Last Generation." So go read it and feel my pain.

And you guys wonder why I'm always having existential crises...

*I believe the answer is, unfortunately, "be better than EVERYBODY ELSE." TOO MUCH PRESSURE, PEOPLE.
**taken from the Bowker Reports of 2009 info
***thanks for the quotes, Brad Bird and imdb
****"Powell's Metric". I measure everything according to Powell's room color and alpha-placement. Ask Daniel. He will confirm that I have, indeed, found where my last name would fit in the Blue Room and, due entirely to poor shelf-placement, seriously contemplated a pen name.