Thursday 22 September 2011

Literary Fiction - The Kindle 'Genre' That Dare Not Speak Its Name

It's strange, but Literary Fiction seems to have become the 'genre' that dare not speak its name. The inverted commas are deliberate, of course; anything that isn't 'genre' is, by a process of exclusion, Literary Fiction. In the world of the self-published author, 'Literary' has become a dirty word. I can't understand it. There are dozens, if not hundreds of groups where writers can promote their Romance/Horror/Fantasy/Crime novels. These groups function on an ethos of mutual support, which is laudable. But here's the thing. Success seems to be measured in how high your Amazon ranking has gone. This makes writers happy. Of course it does; people are buying their books. Perhaps a few of them are even making something approaching a wage. I am happy for them.

I don't write 'genre' fiction. I don't write about knights in shining armour, monsters, witches or detectives. I write about real people facing problems that real people may have faced at some point. Is this a definition of 'Literary Fiction'? I don't know, but it's what I do. As a writer, I believe, you have to put yourself into your work. I don't necessarily mean autobiography or memoir, I mean you have to give of yourself as a human being. So what's my definition of success? A good ranking on Amazon? Well, that's part of it - we'd all like to make a buck. But for me, real success is when I know I have written something lean, tight and simple - something that is well-crafted and will hopefully strike a chord with a reader, whoever it might be.


  1. I empathise. I don't consider myself a genre fiction writer either and I've just written a lengthy blog asking that very question: Is anyone writing just fiction? In my naiveté I used to think that genre writers were in the minority. I have really had my eyes opened since I've been online. Before I started doing book reviews apart from the occasional good (i.e. Nebula or Hugo award winning) science fiction novel I read nothing bar literary fiction.

    I'm a little worried about how my next novel will be received because it's a metafiction inspired by Beckett's Mercier and Camier and where do you start selling something like that?

  2. I entirely agree. There's immense satisfaction in doing it - just to do it and do it well. I suppose the Amazon ranking - as well as denoting sales - actually tells you somebody out there has clicked and may even read it, which is also what makes writers happy! But even literary fiction has been 'corrupted' if that isn't too strong a word, by the demands of the marketing departments. A previous agent read a novel called The Physic Garden which I had lovingly crafted over many months - and remarked, casually, that although it was an interesting story, beautifully told, my language was 'too simple' and 'not nearly difficult or experimental enough' to be termed 'literary.' I still think of PG as a literary novel, but it is definitely accessible. It seems that obscurity is now a criterion. All of which explains why it's probably another novel that sooner or later will find it's way onto Kindle!

  3. Thanks for posting, Jim and Catherine. Yes, it's a bit of a puzzle, isn't it? I'm putting the finishing touches to a novel at the moment - I would really like to go down the traditional route of agent and publisher, but I gather no one's buying these days (not that it was easy in the past!). Putting something on Kindle is fine, but I think we should all be aware that once the writing's done and the book is out there, it's a different ball game - it's called Marketing. I'm not a Marketer. I am beginning to appreciate what it is that agents and publishers do.