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.