Big Fiction: How Conglomeration Shaped American Publishing

A Comprehensive Analysis of the Influence of Conglomeration on the American Literary Scene

In the 1960s, Esquire magazine published a groundbreaking graphic titled “The Structure of the American Literary Establishment,” which depicted the key players in the world of writing and publishing. Fast forward to the present day, and Emory University professor Dan Sinykin’s book, “Big Fiction,” takes a deep dive into the impact of conglomeration on American publishing from 1960 to the present. Sinykin’s work offers a thought-provoking analysis of how the landscape of literature has changed, highlighting the role of Catholicism and the rise of autofiction.


The Rise of Conglomeration and its Effects on Publishing

Sinykin begins by tracing the origins of conglomeration in the publishing industry, starting with Times Mirror’s acquisition of the New American Library in 1960. He explores how mergers and acquisitions became commonplace, leading to significant changes in the way publishers operated. Editors, once the driving force behind title acquisition, saw their power diminish as literary agents and marketing departments gained prominence. Sinykin presents a balanced view of conglomeration, neither condemning nor praising its effects, but rather explaining its impact on U.S. fiction and how it should be interpreted.

The Evolution of Autofiction and its Relationship with Conglomeration

One of the key changes Sinykin identifies in the publishing industry is the rise of autofiction, a genre that blurs the lines between reality and fiction. He argues that autofiction is the perfect marketing tool for conglomerates, as it allows authors to use their own lives transparently as the basis for their stories. Sinykin explores how writers like Rachel Cusk, Sally Rooney, and Karl Ove Knausgård have adopted this genre to offer a penetrating scrutiny of the literary world. He also highlights how authors in this genre become walking advertisements, simultaneously losing control over their image and work.

The Catholic Subtext in American Publishing

Sinykin uncovers a fascinating subtext in American publishing—the influence of Catholicism. He shares anecdotes from the past, such as the clash between pulp writer Mickey Spillane and Catholic critics, and the role of Catholic editors in championing Catholic writers like Flannery O’Connor and Walker Percy. Sinykin reveals how Catholicism shaped the literary landscape, with Catholic publishers and editors playing a pivotal role in promoting and supporting Catholic authors.

The Professional Trajectories of Cormac McCarthy and Toni Morrison

Examining the careers of two prominent American writers, Sinykin explores how their Catholic backgrounds influenced their writing and publishing journeys. He delves into the story of Cormac McCarthy, whose early novels struggled to find a wide audience until his editor, Albert R. Erskine, helped him secure grants to continue writing. Sinykin argues that McCarthy’s later success was driven by business pressures, resulting in a shift in his writing style. Similarly, Sinykin discusses how Toni Morrison’s Catholicism is reflected in her novel “Beloved,” which became a literary sensation and garnered numerous awards.


“Big Fiction” by Dan Sinykin offers a comprehensive and insightful analysis of the impact of conglomeration on American publishing. Through his exploration of the rise of autofiction, the Catholic subtext in publishing, and the professional trajectories of Cormac McCarthy and Toni Morrison, Sinykin paints a vivid picture of how the industry has evolved over the years. This thought-provoking book sheds light on the complex relationship between literature, business, and personal identity, leaving readers with a deeper understanding of the forces that shape the American literary landscape.