Popular culture extends to authors. Most of us do not like to be defined as “less than” some other writer, but most of us know we’re no Tolstoy! However, what we write – genre fiction – and the audience we write it for – genre readers! – is no less valid than the “literary works” that win the more famous awards. Today’s how to be an author guest post develops this theme more fully.
Is Literary Fiction More High Brow Than Genre Fiction?
by Judith Post
The first time I ever went to a writers’ conference, my friend and I signed up for one at a university an hour away from where we live. We were too chicken to go alone. We needed a friend, a shoulder to lean on, if we were going to survive the ordeal. In our minds, we’d be deluged by information from the authors on each panel and by the special, intensive workshops we signed up for. And we did learn a lot. It was an eye-opener for us, looking at writing as a business instead of merely a passion. And we DID need each other for support, because we both wrote genre fiction, and genres were definitely considered “hack” writing by most of the speakers we met.
I had it better than Dawn. I was writing mysteries at the time, and mysteries were many steps higher in the pantheon of writing muses than horror. One lecturer called Dawn’s writing (which has since won awards) “fodder.” It crushed her. It irritated the crap out of me. I mean, come on. Like there aren’t rhythms and formulas for “literary?” EVERY form of writing comes with expectations.
Two years later, the university’s entire approach to the writers’ conference had changed. And we went again. This time, one of the workshop leaders WROTE horror and sold LOTS of it. A mystery master, Lawrence Block, taught a one-week class that I signed up for. All of a sudden, genre was respectable. Because it made money. And Dawn and I had a wonderful conference and learned all kinds of new things. We went back a couple more times, but after a while, the panels start sounding the same and you glean one or two new things instead of a notebook full, so we fizzled out. We shifted our attention from going to conferences to learn our craft to going to conferences to make connections. A whole different ballgame—one I didn’t excel in, but Dawn enjoyed.
Years have passed, and Life happened, and Dawn changed careers and I got busy with kids. I rarely go to conferences any more, but I still remember that first experience. And the snobbery that goes with writing. I’ve gone to quite a few author signings with friends. And it still surprises me how one type of writing is considered superior to another. I don’t get it. To me, good writing is good writing. But that’s a very naïve view of the marketing world.
Genre Fiction and Snobbery
I have a friend who sells OODLES of romances. But when I went to hear her speak for a book signing at Barnes and Noble, one of the men in the audience asked her, “Why don’t you write something important since you have so much talent?” She explained how she thought romance WAS important, but I thought the guy who asked the question was in the same category as the speaker who told Dawn that horror was “hack” writing. Give me a break! I might not read very much romance, but that doesn’t mean I think it’s inferior to other genres. I just don’t happen to have one romantic bone in my whole freaking body—my husband can verify that statement. I like people. Love them, in fact. But when he buys me flowers, I ask if they were very expensive, because they’ll be DEAD soon. Too practical for my own good.
But the question is this. If you were going to rate fiction, what would hit the top of your chart and what would cower on the bottom? I can tell you this, when I go to speak on panels around town, I got a lot more respect when I wrote mysteries than I do now that I write urban fantasy. Most people put literary at the tippy-top of the pyramid. Okay, who can argue with Flannery O’Connor and Eudora Welty? But what comes next? Mysteries? Or even better, literary mysteries—like those written by Martha Grimes, Elizabeth George, or Julia Spencer-Fleming? Then what? Where do sci-fi, fantasy, and romance fall? What about urban fantasy? Or women’s contemporary fiction? Horror’s almost afraid to call itself by its true name anymore. It’s “out of style” for the moment, so books are “psychological thrillers” or whatever sounds worthy of a good read. And what about erotica? It used to be taboo. Now, it’s a bestseller.
Novel trends come and go, but to me, a good writer can transcend any genre. Whatever label a writer gets isn’t as important as how well he/she tells the story.
Judith Post’s latest book Blood Battles is available on Amazon.
What are your thoughts on genre fiction vs literary fiction? Is there a difference – and how do feel about not being “literary”? Share your comments below – and promote your latest blog post! And share with your friends too, using the handy buttons provided!