Sunday, December 20, 2009

Commercial Fiction: One Writer's (Probably Intelligent) Rant

Today, I read something that made me mad. I won't link to it because I refuse to drive more traffic to this person's site, but in a nutshell, this writer stated that agents and publishers are choking off the existence of literary fiction by forcing the masses to only read commercial fiction which, by this writer's definition, is "low-brow and unintelligent." The writer speculated on the lack of talent, work ethic, and intelligence in those writers who would write commercial fiction and stated they must be writing it because they wanted publication enough to suck up to what publishers wanted.

As a writer of commercial fiction, this offends me deeply. Here's why.

1. The writer makes a big fat assumption that I write commercial fiction because I'm not smart enough to write something else. I despise sweeping statements that classify an entire group of people as if there aren't nuances to everything. Frankly, if someone is too elitist or ignorant to realize that there are individual people with individual choices behind every commercial manuscript published, I'm not ready to give credence to anything they say.

More to the point, I write commercial fiction because it's what I love to read. I'm intelligent, educated, well-read, experienced, have a firm grasp of the English language and many of its subtleties, understand the craft of writing, have mastered much of the art of story-telling, know how to weave symbolism into the thematic fabric of my work, and can plumb the depths of the human condition with one finely crafted sentence. I could write anything I want to and I do. I write commercial fiction. Not because I'm unable to write something else. Because I love it.

2. This writer's assertion that her manuscript hasn't been published because agents and editors refuse to allow "real" fiction to fall into the hands of the adoring public smacks of both sour grapes and a stubborn refusal to take her rejections like a big girl and move on. We've all written something that won't sell (With, perhaps, the exception of Stephenie Meyer.). We've all been told "no." Most of us will hear the word "no" far more often throughout our career than we'll ever hear "yes." Does that mean agents and editors have banded together to refuse our masterpiece a space on the hallowed shelves of Barnes & Nobles because we're too intelligent for the masses to comprehend?


It means write something else. And then something else. And something else again until you write something that will sell. It's called paying your dues. Practicing your craft. Hitting your stride. Finding your niche. Getting lucky with the market.

If a writer thinks she should be entitled to bypass this because her manuscript is important enough to be called literary fiction, she needs to wean herself off the Entitlement Wagon and join the real world. No one owes you a publishing contract simply because you typed "The End." I don't care what genre you write.

3. Which brings me to what really bothered me: the assumption that literary fiction is somehow more important than every other genre out there. This is elitist snobbery at its worst. It's like saying classical is the only true music out there and everything else is a red-headed step-child crowding the airwaves and filling up the concert venues and night clubs because the masses are too stupid to realize better music is out there. I can't get behind anyone who believes one form of artistry takes more thought, more work, or more craft than another. Or that one genre is more important than another.

Different genres exist because tastes differ. That's something to celebrate. I enjoy bypassing rows and rows of genres I don't care to read on my way to the rows and rows of genres I love. Why? Because other shoppers are crowding the rows I ignore, discovering new authors or buying from those they already love and that's a good thing.

A good thing.

It's good that smart, talented, artistic writers like Nora Roberts, Stephen King, Laura Lippman, Maggie Stiefvater, J.K. Rowling, Dean Koontz, Jeaniene Frost, Lillith Saintcrow, Julia Quinn, Nancy Werlin, Lisa Mantchev and a host of others buckled down, worked like ditch-diggers, and wrote what they loved.

And I must make it clear that I'm not taking aim at literary fiction or those who love to write it. I'm responding to one writer's attitude only. I think lit fic has just as much place on a bookshelf as manga or romance or thrillers or YA and I believe all authors deserve respect for pouring themselves into their craft.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to get back to crafting my own piece of commercial fiction in which themes of abandonment, choice vs. nature, and what must be sacrificed for the greater good go hand in hand with fainting goats and stealing a flock of chickens.


  1. Well said. It never fails to irritate me when people act as though what I've accomplished, what I write, pales in comparison to their brilliant works. If they want to write lit fic because they love it, more power to them. But I want to write romance because I love it and there's no better reason to write something.

  2. SO well put. I can NOT stand literary snobs. I do read literary fiction at times, but in my opinion commercial fiction is SO much more fun! Both to read AND to write.

    I wish you'd post the link to the blog bc I am dying to head over and comment on it! (or, would you e-mail it to me? sara(dot)a(dot)mcclung(at)gmail(dot)com.)

  3. And you know what? "Real" scholars of literature know better than to say some things are "literary" and some things are not. If it's made out of words, it's literature. Literature is literary. Period. It's backwards to think otherwise. There's good sci-fi and bad sci-fi; good horror and bad horror, good general fiction and bad general fiction. Genre isn't the way to determine whether the writing is good or bad.

  4. I agree. Snobbery belongs in no art. All it does is make that specific piece of art (or artist) sour and ugly. I read half of their article and was bored. I don’t like being told what’s good. I know what I like. I worked in the library for years; I know what people check out ... everything.
    The main thing her post is going to do is make it harder for her to find an agent.
    Great post & happy writing,
    Sarah Winters

  5. I had one such (anonymous) elitist comment on my blog that the whole genre I write in is a bunch of "McNovels" and it only takes a month to write one. It's interesting the person you're responding to believes that publishers are scooping up commercial fiction to choke out the literary fiction. As a writer and someone who works for a corporate bookseller, nothing sells like commericial fiction. Publishers publish commercial fiction because that is what people want. Not too many people I know read lit fic for fun. Obviously, this person's in a world of their own not to realize that....

  6. So well written, and the last paragraph is chock full of awesome. It has always made me angry when someone refuses to branch out or wants to hold to the fact she is being rejected because the industry is less intelligent. Thank you, as always, for taking a stand and calling BS.

  7. That just chaps my hide. My degree in creative writing almost kept me from writing at all because of this attitude. I had always loved books of all kinds, but especially romance and fantasy. When my writing teacher found out I was interested in genre fiction, she asked what I was doing there, wasting my time and hers. I was publicly shamed into hating my own first love until I realized after a few years of staring at that lovely degree and writing nothing, that I didn't give a damn and would write what was in my heart.

    I love words, and mine may not be as earth-shattering or as pretty as the "literary" writer's, but they are the words that want out, the stories that demand to be told, and I am answering my muse.

  8. Great entry! Write what you love to read and what you love to write, no matter what.

    I didn't read the original entry, but you're absolutely right in saying that the original author is living in denial if she refuses accept that her consistent rejections might be because of the work itself rather than the genre. There are plenty of agents out there who LOVE literary fiction, and if her stuff was good enough someone would have wanted to represent her.

  9. I've seen that site, dear C.J., and I commend you for not linking to it. Irritating, to say the least. I agree with you completely.

    Give me romance. I love it -- and not because I'm an illiterate twit who doesn't understand the pain and suffering of the human condition. I have the MA in lit to prove it. *g* I know what I like, and it ain't because I'm too stoopid to know better.

  10. (With, perhaps, the exception of Stephenie Meyer.)

    I love you. You know this.

    But what really irks me about this whole thing is that there are people out there who are as close-minded as this. I read all kinds of books because they're good. And even though there are books that I wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole, I accept their existence and move on.

  11. Wait, where does questioning our work ethic come into it? I get the intelligence part (too dumb to write something depressing and chock full of angst) but not the work ethic part. Is it because of the misconception it is so much EASIER to write, say, 2 genre "mcnovels" a year compared to 1 literary novel every 3 years? *hoots*

    Somebody's in a (very intellectual, I'm sure) snit. Bless her heart, not everyone is capable of writing something more than 3 people actually LIKE.

  12. Well said C.J. Something else that this particular brand of snob doesn't take into account is that many of the "literary classics" that are so lauded would never make it to published today. They are rambling and a little sloppy, with plot tangents and other issues that authors who expect to be published now simply can't afford. They didn't have the competition back in the day that exists for authors now.

    There is also the fact that many of said "great works" were actually commercial fiction of their day. Look at Dickens. His stuff was published as a serial.

    Poo on anybody who doesn't respect another writer for his or her hard work and contribution.

  13. Jules Verne (1828-1905), noted French scientific author wrote Around the World in Eighty Days (1873), Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864), and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea (1869)

    His novels and stories were rejected firstly.

    A simple reminder to also never forget where you are and to persevere.

  14. I agree. I happen to write literary fiction, but I love commercial fiction, and I appreciate the people who can do it well.


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