Joanna Kavenna is one of Granta's Best Young British Novelists. But will she ever be an older one? And will anyone else?

Here the author explains how the "career trajectories" of writers of so-called literary fiction are hard to chart because most of your work doesn't get published, or only gets published years after you wrote it.

Last month I was fortunate enough to be named as one of the 20 Granta Best of Young British Novelists. The day after the announcement there was an event at Waterstones Piccadilly.

A kindly member of the audience asked about our "career trajectories" and how the listing would affect them. I tried to explain that these days it is hard to chart a coherent "trajectory" for a writer of so-called literary fiction because most of your work doesn't get published, or only gets published years after you wrote it.

My "debut novel" was my fifth and my latest, Come to the Edge (my fourth book published and ninth written), took several years to find an editor. This is quite usual among the writers I know. The odds against a novel being published are very high. It has to interest an agent, then an editor, and it has to "convince" two dozen people at an "acquisitions meeting".

Publishers are hemmed in and nervous; they engage daily with such dispiriting phenomena as the USP – the Unique Selling Point, or "how to flog a novel in a single sentence". The USP works fine for novels about vampires in Honolulu, or paedophiles in bunkers, but demolishes any study of quotidian relationships, ordinary life – any novel I ever really cared about, from Mrs Dalloway (woman thinks?) to Revolutionary Road (married couple argues?) to A La Recherche du Temps Perdu (man remembers?).

When the Granta list was published, some pondered who the "next" Jeanette Winterson was, the next David Mitchell or Martin Amis. I'd humbly suggest that younger novelists these days are afflicted less by an anxiety of influence than an anxiety of continuation, in any form at all.

If publishing were logical and literary taste objective, then we could assume that published novels are good, and unpublished novels bad. A superficial examination of any stack of books will reveal that this does not remotely apply. Virginia Woolf writes, "Are not reviews of current literature a perpetual illustration of the difficulty of judgement? 'This great book,' 'this worthless book,' the same book is called by both names."

All you can really do, Woolf continues, is write the novel you want to write. However, what you want to write may not be what the acquisitions meeting wants to buy. It may be "too local" (meaning set in one, perhaps unfashionable, country and not in a series of key markets around the world) or worse still, "too full of words" – a comment a writer I know received in one rejection email.

If you're Woolf, then you apply your wealth to the problem: you set up a printing press. Or, you may be one of those rare authors who expresses herself freely and finds her untrammelled phrases chime instantly with everyone. Expecting this to happen, however, is as rational as planning to be struck by lightning and winning a compensation battle with God.

A few authors adopt strategies of concealment: "creative hoodwinking", smuggling idiosyncrasies into publisher-friendly forms - the aesthetic model of the Trojan horse. Take this to an extreme, and you find yourself crafting works of fragile poetic beauty and packaging them as granny porn.

To quote David Samuels, in his 2008 collection of journalism, Only Love Can Break Your Heart, "I don't mean to sound ungrateful, but the truth is, I am". Sounding the death knell for his sort of journalism, Samuels adds: "Magazine writers who survive into middle age are marvels of nature, or independently rich, or half-crazy." I think this applies to novelists too.

The death of the author has been a going concern in academia for some time, not in the sense of the mass hara kiri of chippy, impoverished novelists, but rather in the Barthesian sense of the loss of authorial control over the meaning of a text.

The "open society" of the Internet has backed up Barthes – on the net each reader sets a course through a miasma of blogs, official sites and elliptical tweets. Search engines may urge us in certain directions, sites may reflect back variable realities, contrived to suit our "demographic", but there is an element of free will in each decision to click. The Internet appears to offer a realm of unlimited interpretations.

As Jaron Lanier – one of the early proponents of the "open society" – now argues, the Internet has also brought about the death of the author in a solid, non-theoretical sense – the demise of the profession as a whole. Publishers struggle to make profits from online readers, as do magazines and newspapers.

The clicks do not add up, unless you pay journalists in line with traffic, which tends to re-condition the tone of articles. Beyond such strategies, wages for writing have declined dramatically. Everyone is pitching avidly at the reader, at the viewer. Most of the time the pitch is not even for money, but for attention: the notice of this consumer who does not pay to consume.

"Profile" has become one of the most overused words in the contemporary lexicon, justifying any number of crimes of non-payment. "Advertise yourself", runs the mantra, as if no one composes a symphony except to "get her name out there"; as if Mark Rothko painted ethereal canvases to increase the hits on his blog. This trading of time for kudos is sometimes a strategy of desperation: nearly bankrupt organisations trying to cut costs. Yet the same occurs when profits are made.

The Huffington Post was sold to AOL for $315 m., but the writers who supply "content" are not paid. In old-fashioned terms, this is pure exploitation. It is as if a multinational refused to pay its staff, explaining that their rewards lay in all the attention from clients, the opportunity to enhance their "profile" as an office worker.

Authors were traditionally, for the most part, rich. For those who were not rich, who were just crazy, or marvels of nature, or something else, journalism sometimes kept them afloat (Twain), or a day job (Larkin), or the patronage of the rich (Shakespeare, Lawrence, Joyce). In the current depression, your day job, even if you can get one, pays you very little and uses up all your time. Journalism, see above. What happened to the aristocracy, and why did they stop handing out their money to scabrous authors?

Instead, we have the aristocracy of creative writing courses, and large numbers of writers who teach. There is a virtuous free flow of ideas and a lot of genuine excitement involved, and some writers do really like teaching. They gain a relief from penury, from waiting on the decisions of penurious publishers.

However, there is also something ironic about these courses. A generation of writers (which barely gets paid or published) teaches a new generation of writers (which will barely get paid or published). Be bold, be daring, you tell the students. You think you are inspiring them but really you are ushering them towards the abyss. Jump! Write the novel you want to write, even as you fall!

When computers can be programmed to emit certain sorts of journalism, or sift through data, churning out reports on our predilections and desires, what differentiates authors anyway? Surely it is the expression of a unique vantage-point, or voice, a singular vision of the world? Though idiosyncrasy makes books risky for publishers, it also makes them worth reading.

Readers can tell if something is contrived or bashful; if publishers let us have honest and unmediated writing, most of us vastly prefer it. Surely, the unique, passionate honesty of a book is its only abiding USP? Otherwise we may as well pass the whole thing over to the roboworkers. They can concoct books brimming with marketing ploys; anything the sales team wants.

Then why not just give these robobooks to roboreaders, and have robocritics writing learned articles about the greatest robowriter of this generation? Hand the whole thing over! The Best of Young British Robonovelists – 2023? And the robocritics can say, "But where is the next Martin Amis?"

Joanna Kavenna's 'Come to the Edge' is published in paperback by Quercus

Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?