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Self-Publishing is Dumb

12 April 2014

From Self-Publishing Review:

Recently, the debate has arisen again about genre vs. literary self-publishing (as if there’s some kind of war between the two).

. . . .

So, it’s apparently joyful that people might not read literary fiction. And somehow reading well-crafted sentences doesn’t take you away from the real world. Good writing takes you out of the real world – whether it’s a space opera or a family drama. That’s what it is to read a book.

This is why literary writers are reticent about dipping their toes into self-publishing. Because the culture of self-publishing is stupid. Not always, but very often.

. . . .

Before you call me a snob, I mainly write genre fiction. Weird genre fiction, but books where people are murdered and planets are decimated. Not quiet stories about relationships. But it doesn’t make sense to me to denigrate literary writing, any more than it makes sense for literary writers to denigrate genre. I get that genre fiction writers have been sneered at over the years, so they’re sneering back. But it actually helps out all writers if literary authors are welcomed into the fold. Ironically, self-publishers are acting like a kind of gatekeeper saying: you don’t belong here.

The world of self-publishing seems awfully stuck in a mindset like bad reactionary politics – in which everything is black and white. Genre good, literary bad. Traditional publishing bad, self-publishing good.

. . . .

All this aside, the reason literary fiction hasn’t been adopted as quickly is because literary writers need bookstore distribution more than genre writers do. Genre writers are much more likely to buy books on the Kindle. You might need to pick up a literary novel and read through it – not just the first 20 pages to see if there’s an action scene hook in the first few pages.

. . . .

Literary books are also more of an object to be owned than a lot of genre books – and because literary books are harder to read (not boring, more challenging), it makes sense to be able to see well-considered reviews from reputable sources. And though self-publishers might not want to admit it, readers don’t make the best gatekeepers.

Link to the rest at Self-Publishing Review

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96 Comments to “Self-Publishing is Dumb”

  1. It could also be that traditionally published genre fiction sales are generally cannibalized to pay for the more prestigious, but economically unviable literary fiction.

    Thrown in to the deep-end of indy publishing where literary fiction has to pay its own freight, well… the results would not be pretty and rather ego-deflating for the literary fictioneers and their litcrit boosters.

    But what do I know? I obviously have the reactionary black-and-white outlook of a genre writer. Me Tarzan, them Jane Austen*.

    *Actually, given Austen’s modern plebian popularity, she’s closer in categorization to us forelock-tugging genre hacks than the “far (above) from the madding crowd” lit’ry gents and madams.

    • Thrown in to the deep-end of indy publishing where literary fiction has to pay its own freight, well… the results would not be pretty and rather ego-deflating for the literary fictioneers and their litcrit boosters.

      Sigh.

      Can we please stop already with the stupid stereotype that literary fiction writers are egocrats who ride around town on solid gold velocipedes twisting their elegant mustaches around their fingers? Honestly, it’s old. The author of the featured article even points out how useless it is for genre authors to continue to sneer at literary authors. It’s just pointlessly divisive and it serves no purpose at all.

      The truth is that now, with self-publishing, literary fiction authors are doing exactly the same thing they’ve been doing for decades, which is also writing genre fiction under different pen names because genre fiction has always been more profitable. Always and forever.

      So you know all those literary authors you guys like to characterize as snobs who need to have their fragile egos delicately stroked…? Yeah, they’re also genre writers. Just like you. And they always have been.

      Either that, or they’ve always been literary authors + creative writing teachers.

      Virtually nobody has ever made a sustainable living from writing nothing but literary fiction, and certainly no publisher has ever subsidized a literary author’s fancy-pants lifestyle off the backs of other genre authors. Literary authors typically never quit their day jobs, unless they pick up the genre pen.

      • Amen to this!

      • Joining the “Amen choir.”

      • I agree that literary fiction is just as good as genre in its own right — not my cup of tea, but I don’t view it as inferior — but there is no denying the fact that literary fiction has consistently lower sales while many publishing houses admit they publish genre fiction for the prestige, not the sales. Better selling genre books, which are often derided by critics and editorial staff alike, underwrite the literary fiction books.

        I have observed this personally and seen similar comments in publications from numerous industry professionals, including authors and editors as well as critics and reviewers.

        It is much the same as the “blockbuster film” vs. “Art House/Oscar film” mentality that exists in Hollywood.

        • Yes, it definitely sells fewer books, usually by a wide margin. As for critics, most of them exist in order to critique literary fiction…so of course they’re going to deride anything that’s not literary fiction. Feeling annoyed that literary critics diss on your favorite genre makes about as much sense as it would make for Vladimir Nabokov to be mad because he never won a Hugo.

          And “underwrite” is, I think, the wrong word here. While there are some lit-fic authors who do get major advances from big houses, most of them get tiny advances and are never able to quit their day jobs. The lit novels that do get big advances get commensurately large portions of the publishing house’s marketing budget and attention.

          It’s exactly the same scenario as for genre books, so I think it’s as correct to say that profits from genre fiction underwrite successful literary fiction as it is to say that profits from literary fiction underwrite successful genre fiction.

          By stating that genre fiction “underwrites” literary fiction, you’re kind of implying that all or even most literary novels are big successes and earn the author a lot of money. The reality is that I don’t even think you can fairly say that “many” literary novels are big successes. The huge majority of them are flops in the sales department, even when they win some awards.

          • ‘By stating that genre fiction “underwrites” literary fiction, you’re kind of implying that all or even most literary novels are big successes and earn the author a lot of money.’

            No. What Bill wrote is that literary fiction pays the PUBLISHER too little to be viable. The PUBLISHER uses genre fiction to underwrite the expenses that the PUBLISHER can’t recoup from literary fiction.

            The same way that the litfic writer must keep a day job, even if it’s writing genre fiction, the PUBLISHER must keep a day job: publishing genre fiction.

            No one is saying that writers of literary fiction are well paid. No publisher would take money from genre fiction and give it to a litfic writer, because whether a writer can live on that money is irrelevant to the publisher. The publisher takes money earned by publishing genre fiction and uses that to publish literary fiction because it, the publisher, knows that literary fiction can never pay for itself.

            The PUBLISHER gets paid from genre, not the writer.

            As you pointed out, now some litfic writers are indie publishing genre as well to pay the bills. They are doing the same thing that publishers are. They are using the profits from PUBLISHING genre to meet the expenses of PUBLISHING literary fiction.

            • Edwin:

              Thanks for pointing out the distinction I was trying to make.

              And nothing would make me happier than every writer making a lot more money, literary or genre. I personally think that is more likely to happen in self-pub because I am comfortable with the tasks needed to make that work, but I also can see where for some writers, traditional pub or hybrid makes more sense than the route I am embracing.

  2. Speaking as somebody who writes and self-publishes both genre fiction and literary fiction, I don’t think it’s other SP authors who are making it hard for SP lit writers to break out. I think it’s the readers of literary fiction who just haven’t caught on yet to how cool it is to read indie.

    But they will eventually.

    I also disagree with the author of the article that readers don’t make the best gatekeepers. I think they make the very best gatekeepers anybody could ever hope for. One well-connected reader on Goodreads or one popular book blogger or podcaster can reach tens of thousands of other readers, and with regards to lit fic specifically, where much depends on personal cache and “cool factor,” these kinds of readers can have extreme influence with the right audience for this genre.

    It doesn’t get much better than that.

    • Don’t hold your breath.

      The (fairly strong) consensus I’ve seen among litfic readers at the reader sites I frequent is that anything indie published is by definition beneath their notice. The basic attitude is that if it were any good it would have found a traditional publisher.

      The idea than an author might *choose* to bypass the establishment altogether is to them laughable. (Economic or creative control arguments are waved away with nary a thought.)

      These are the same folks who angst about the tsunami of swill for real.

      • “The basic attitude is that if it were any good it would have found a traditional publisher.”

        I actually know an English professor that has, since the ebook market started, stated this exact sentiment. They hold a doctorate in literature and are of the opinion that if a book author is still alive, the book was on a best sellers list at any point, or the book isn’t in hardcover it’s not worth reading.

        He’s a great guy and a genius in his field, but nobody can ever say he’s anything but a snob trying to cultivate a new generation of snobbery.

      • Yeah, I know that’s the general consensus right now.

        A few years ago, it was the general consensus for ALL genres. The times they are a-changing, and eventually the literary world will catch up to the rest of the world. It’s taking them longer to catch on, but after a while they’ll have no choice but to figure it out. 😉

      • This always begs the question: how do they know it’s indie?

        If you do your job right, there’s no way to tell the difference except by publisher name, and literary has plenty of imprints. You’d have to be a REAL snob to check who the publisher is before you buy, rather than simply read the sample and see if it speaks to you.

        • Therein lies their angst; the morbid fear they might accidentally buy an indie title. And why they wish Amazon would segregate and ghetto-ize indie titles for them.
          Ebook shopping now involves an added layer of work for them, hence the hand wringing over the tsunami of swell.

          • And not only buy an indie title, but love it.

            I heard a few people complaining that because of crap of self-published books they can’t find good books anymore, insisting that this applies for all readers. Does it? Because I always got a feeling that these people are looking down on self-published books – which is fine and all, just don’t try to present your problem of finding good books as a problem of ALL readers – and that they always had that problem, finding good books, even before the KDP.

            • I’ve had a few people confess, both in reviews and privately to me via email, that they had been avoiding indie novels but somehow got talked into reading one of mine, and they enjoyed it so much that they’re now considering changing their stance on being anti-indie.

              Bwa ha ha ha haaaaaaa.

              So basically, that’s what’ll happen to these readers more and more frequently. As they’re convinced by word of mouth that some of the best new books are coming from indies, they’ll give in, a few at a time, and venture out of the kiddie pool. And then they’ll change their minds. It will just take time for it to happen.

              We have to keep in mind that there are still two large chunks of the book world that aren’t exposed to enough information to have any kind of understanding of how books get chosen by publishers: readers and a large portion of new writers. They have no idea that books aren’t chosen by publishers because of “goodness,” but because of a variety of other factors that have nothing to do with quality, including what’s trendy and whether something too similar was already published by that house within recent memory. They have no idea that many wonderful books are NOT chosen by publishers for reasons that these readers and writers would find extremely stupid or even outrageous. They have no reason to learn otherwise, so they’re still swallowing the line that “all good books get published.”

              There was a time when music fans believed that all good musicians got picked up by record labels, too. So I’m not too worried about this. Nothing is permanent, and we’ve already seen so many demographics of readers convert to indie reading. The rest will follow. It’s inevitable. I’d urge my fellow lit-fic writers to stop angsting about it and just enjoy how cool is to live during the Golden Age. It’s pretty fun to watch all these readers convert to indie supporters and see their excitement as a gigantic world of variety and (even more important to the lit fans) artistic freedom open up in front of them.

              • That’s the thing that kills me about this. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve had people recommend genre and literary books to me by saying, “Have you read Book X by Author Y? It’s really good.”.

                I’ve NEVER once had people tell me to pick up a book because it had high reviews from the New York critics scene or because it had a particular imprint. It will take a while for the reader culture to shift but, like you said with music, it is happening and will continue to happen.

                I do have a feeling that the lit-fic critics and the rest of the literati will continue to angst about the swill but that’s pretty much a defining characteristic. Everyone else will continue to just be happy to be able to write, and read, books they find enjoyable.

  3. I have never heard that literary authors were being told to “Stay off my self publishing lawn.” What I have heard is that the literary reader doesn’t buy ebooks.

    • Yep. This is what I’ve seen, as somebody who’s actually trying to sell indie lit fic. It’s just a matter of the audience lagging behind other genres in making the transition from viewing brick-and-mortar stores as the source of books to viewing authors as the source of books. It’ll come with time.

      But when it does come, it’ll still be nigh impossible to make a good living writing nothing but lit! The audience is just so damn small.

  4. Good writing takes you out of the real world – whether it’s a space opera or a family drama.

    What if it’s both?

  5. This squabbling is getting to be silly and repetitive. Just like the soulful tales of “how I took the scary step to self-publish.”

    • Yes, it seems like many of these articles are written to get ‘hits’; I’m a bit over being a number that indicates someone’s success. And this one is particularly annoying as it is trying to create a new war. It brings back my dislike of the label ‘self-publish’ in these articles it always works as an insult.

      Those who judge indies as below standard because they didn’t get a publishing deal just don’t know enough about the soul-destroying process, and the hard work indie writers have put in for many years.

  6. ” Ironically, self-publishers are acting like a kind of gatekeeper saying: you don’t belong here.”

    No. Gatekeepers actually have the power to prevent you from being published.

    Other self-publishers have no such power.

    The only gatekeepers standing in the way of the “literary” writers are the snobby readers and reviewers who refuse to look at any of that e-trash.

    I think Libbie is right that this will change with time.

  7. I think part of the problem is that self-publishers can’t tell the difference between mainstream and literary. Or between “literary” and New York Establishment. (Hint: Literary writers are not the ones getting fat contracts.)

    Otherwise, this conflict isn’t new. It isn’t that genre writers are now, suddenly lashing out against literary fiction after years of denigration and abuse. There has always been a sneering attitude toward literary fiction among commercial fiction writers, and vice versa. (Both sides can always say in unison “You people are just jealous!” of our money, or of our prestige.)

    Like BS Simon, I haven’t really seen what this author is talking about, though. You see flashes of hostility on places like KBoards, but nothing with the idea that literary writers are not welcome to self-publish. Just the usual personal animosity.

    • I wondered if I had missed something. Any time self-publishing comes up, the sp writers I’ve seen are “Join us! Join the Dark Side!” regardless of what someone writes.

    • “Literary writers are not the ones getting fat contracts”

      Simply not true. Jonathon Franzen, Jonathon Lethem, Gary Shteyngart, Salman Rushdie, etc. are just a few of the authors of lit fic who are handsomely rewarded and get the royal treatment from their publishers and the media.

      Here’s an excellent recent example:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chad_Harbach#The_Art_of_Fielding

      • I think Camille is saying that Franzen, Lethem, and the like are ‘New York Establishment’, which is a different animal again from ‘literary fiction’. These writers have been carefully groomed by major publishing houses for reasons of corporate prestige, and it’s never been any secret in the industry that their advances regularly exceed their earnings.

        The average lit-fic writer labours in obscurity and earns tiny sums of money by selling mostly to small presses, or else carves out a niche as a midlister with a highbrow imprint such as Knopf. Only the fashionable and the well-connected have a shot at ‘Establishment’ status, which is pretty much a separate career track from the first novel on. Midlisters are seldom, if ever, invited to join.

      • Peter, saying that Franzen and Lethem and the others you cited get fat contracts, therefore all lit writers get fat contracts, is like saying that all horror and fantasy authors get contracts like Stephen King’s.

  8. Jane Austen: got ripped off by a series of “real” publishers. Died in genteel poverty.
    Charles Dickens: self-published in the cheapest and lowest-status venue of the era (daily newspapers). Died rich.

  9. “readers don’t make the best gatekeepers.” When I open my wallet I am the best gatekeeper there is. I am not in school anymore to be told what to read.

    • When I open my wallet I am the best gatekeeper there is. I am not in school anymore to be told what to read.

      Not only that, but readers are the only gatekeepers that matter. Or maybe I should say, “should” matter…

  10. My snark aside on my reply above, this blog for the first time gives me the impression that the literary-trad-published authors started to feel inferior to the genre Indie Authors. It is like they are defending, almost begging to maintain their entitlement to be sold in book stores. Is this a page turner?

    • I think literary trad published authors have always felt a little inferior to everybody! I mean, the pay is crap. How can you not feel somewhat neglected and/or abused? 😉

      • You are invited to a few nice parties where you can make a reasonable meal out of the hors d’oeuvres, Libbie.

        • I do have a knack for making the most of hors d’oeuvres. Clearly I’m in the right genre.

          • I admire anyone who can spell that, and here we have two people who can.

            • Unless Libbie copied and pasted PG’s spelling…

              • Yeah, she’s sneaky that way.

              • SHHHHH!

              • Just like PG copied and pasted Wickipedia’s spelling.

                • Michael Matewauk

                  Hosting a showcase for indie authors (memoirs) this evening in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle — now I’m going to be on the lookout for folks making sandwiches out of the pita bread & olives.

                • Hey, Michael! Do you have that flyer that says “THANK YOU BEZUS”? I saw it the other day and freaked out and my husband couldn’t figure out what I was so excited about.

                  We’re moving to Ballard in a couple of weeks. Do you guys often have get-togethers in the area?

                  I missed the fact that your showcase was on the 12th — I didn’t see an obvious date on the flyer so I assumed it was last weekend. (If I’d seen this post last night I would have come down to check it out.)

                  If you hold another, I’d love to come. I don’t have a memoir because my life is boring and my personality is insufferable, but if you ever hold a showcase of other kinds of indie writing, I’d love to participate. Or I’d love to help with hosting/organization duties.

                  Hit me up at libbiehawker at gmail.com and let me know.

                • I see what you did there, PG.

  11. What’s it to to me if they traditionally publish? Nothing.
    What’s it to them if I self-publish? Me so dum.

  12. Hmmn, if prose “flows like honey” how can it possibly be boring? Good writing isn’t boring.

    I love good prose, but if it is not in service to the story it is possible for it to be boring. Not always. Not invariably. But it leaves the door open.

    • Most people read books for stories, not words that ‘flow like honey’. I remember one book an ex-girlfriend kept encouraging me to read, and the prose was great, but it was all about stupid people doing stupid things and getting into stupid situations as a result. I think I managed about a quarter of the way through before I gave up.

      I’ve read a few literary books that I loved, but many people look down on the genre because so much of it seems to value words over story in search of literary prizes awarded by their friends.

      • Many people do read for stories, but not all of them. Those who do read for artistic appreciation deserve not to be derided for their preferences (not that you were, Edward…but it’s pretty common practice.) A good portion of people read for both stories and prose.

        And I don’t care how much people like to wave that old saw around, but story doesn’t trump all. I’ve read some books that I suppose technically had good stories, but the writing was so awkward or dull or unengaging that I couldn’t give a tin poop about the story and ended up hating the book.

        • I would argue that such books, regardless of the underlying idea, didn’t really have a good story if you found them to be that bad. An excellent story has both good prose and plot. A good story? Well, they can sometimes get by with passable prose, though not often.

          Still, your overall point stands and is worth remembering. Prose AND story have their place, and as long as that is remembered it’s all good.

          Literature snobs, those who insist that “technically correct is the best kind of correct” when it comes to prose, are insufferable. They may find beauty in the words themselves, in the cadence of the sentences and philosophical profoundness of one word over another. That’s fine. It certainly takes talent and intelligence to have that viewpoint, but genre reader personal preferences often differs. An enjoyment of complex character-driven stories with ‘everyday’ dialogue, even if they do include mages, AI, political intrigue, or explicit violence and sex, even if written in common language, is simple preference.

          I’ve often thought that the thing that makes people go on the offensive against lit-fic isn’t so much the prose or style, but the fact that SO MANY lit-fic readers and “opinion makers” act as if the only reason non-literary readers could possibly not share their passion is that they’re less intelligent. Their choice in stories are seen as less, like the type of rabble you’d hear the commoners going on about in the background in the Victorian era.

          For many, but by no means all, it boils down to upper vs. lower class. Lit-fic is, rightly or wrongly, seen as an upper class pursuit while genre fiction is described as gutter trash or a “tsunami of swill”. Like most of human psychology it gets turned into just one more way for people to tell themselves that they’re better than others.

          It’s no wonder both sides of that imaginary line go on the offensive, because those who insist on seeing the line are usually attacking the very character of those on the the side of it.

    • Words for their own sake might be better served in poems. George R.R. victimizes himself when it comes to beautiful but ultimately meaningless words/prose.

      If beautiful prose was a realistic measure of what readers want, the Twilight trilogy would not exist.

      I love a good story. I prefer to read a well-written good story. I do think readers simply want to read a good story, or at least a story that resonates.

      • Note that virtually all “literary” works that stick around long enough to become classics have compelling stories.

        Jane Austen? Good stories.
        Dickens? Good stories.
        Shakespeare? Good stories.

        The literary darlings of 50 years ago are mostly forgotten, except in the rare cases where they told good stories.

        • Can you honestly say that Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka would still be read widely if it weren’t being pimped in college English departments as a “classic”. A story about a guy that turns into a bug may be mildly interesting but it certainly doesn’t, to me, deserve a spot as some literary great. You could fill a library of “classics” of the exact same quality, and I’m of the opinion that the only reason they hold the places they do in our culture is the historic artifact of gatekeeper whim and a lack of options.

          • The thing is, a reputation that depends on being pimped in college English departments (I like that phrase!) is extrinsic and perishable. As soon as the academic fashion changes, the bubble bursts. John Dos Passos used to be the darling of academe, but how many people even in English departments read him now?

            Whereas a reputation formed among readers who spend their own money voluntarily for their own entertainment is likely to last for centuries. How many times did the critics and the English Lit professors try to kill Kipling for his politics, before finally bowing to the inevitable?

            • I’ve long contended that over the long haul, the 20th Century Burroughs that will be most remembered and studied will be Edgar, for his pacing and plot structures.

              • I believe you’re exactly right. I see signs of it already, here and there.

              • Plus, once they get old enough for people to forget that they were cheap entertainment for hoi polloi, they can also feel good about using them as examples while carefully pointing out how racist they are, and how superior we are in our more enlightened day. That’s what you call a two-fer.

                • Burroughs is funny that way: he lived through the “Apache Wars” in the southwest so he knew exactly what the old west was like yet, except for the WAR CHIEF/APACHE DEVIL duo, he generally wrote the cliche native americans found in the pulps. And germans he wrote as villains in the teens, heroes in the 20’s, and villains in the late 30’s and 40’s.

                  Writing to his market… 🙂

    • Precisely. Good prose is not the same thing as good writing.

    • Would it be remiss of me to mention something that I wrote upon that very topic?

      There is a kind of literary colour-blindness which occurs, for the most part, only among highly cultivated people; for such folly in nature is self-correcting. It takes two opposite forms. One is the belief that prose style is all; that a work of literature is only as good as its individual sentences, and that a bland or pedestrian prose style is in itself sufficient to condemn a story as subliterary dreck.

      ‘Style is the rocket’

  13. My mind’s strayed off Henry Baum’s argument. I’m wondering how you decimate a planet…

    • Kill every tenth person, I suppose.
      Sounds time intensive.

      • Ah. So not the planet, the planet’s population. An example of container for the thing contained?

        • Really big asteroid, splash off 10%, smaller residual planet & new moon.

          • Almost worth it, if you get a moon as a by-product. Especially if they didn’t have one before, so didn’t know what they were missing. It would be a really nice surprise.

            • Could take a few hundred million years for a new sentient species to evolve and appreciate the moon, though.

              • Given the lifespan of a stellar system the star would probably go giant before life could evolve the ~3-4 billion years it took us to reach sentience the first time if they had to do it twice. I feel like a geek for just knowing that…

                • So do it with a red dwarf star. Those remain stable for trillions of years. You could even give repeat performances.

                • True, though then you run into the problem of habitability zone stellar proximity requirements and the probability of geologically unbalanced planets getting tidally locked and being inherently uninhabitable. Still, that’d make for an interesting story if pulled off, and I’d love to read it.

                • Well, the cure for tidal lock, they say, is to pick a large moon of a gas giant in the habitable zone. Then the moon becomes tidally locked to the planet instead of the sun, and has a nice alternation of day and night thereafter. Plus, every few million years or so you can drift a small moonlet inside the Roche limit and make yourself a nice pretty set of rings, so the punters have something to look at in between the really big shows.

                • Last I heard, current thinking among planet hunters is that gas giant moons in red dwarf systems are the likeliest place to find earthlike worlds. Probably by the million.

                  If those giants are like jupiter, though, the night skies might be non-stop auroras…

      • Alternatively, drop the appropriate quantity of anti-matter onto it and turn off the bubble.

        • A good way to kick the planet out of orbit, methinks 🙂

          Decimating the population is a whole lot easier than the planet itself. We humans are good at genocide. Most any supervillain can come up with a dozen workable ways. Fortunately, they’ll monologue themselves into failure.

    • The same thing happened to me! Funny…

  14. After a point, I wonder how much the distinctions matter, even to the people who stand by them. (Ray Bradbury falls into both categories, I’d say, as does Ursula K. Le Guin.)

    I’ve been classifying my book as urban fantasy, even though it fits under other categories, too. People at work, helpfully curious, have asked what the book’s about and then told me that they don’t usually read “that stuff.” (One woman had never even heard of The Hunger Games, though I still can’t see how that’s possible.)

    “What about Harry Potter?” I asked them.

    “Oh, I love Harry Potter!” they all replied. “I’m not a fan of that stuff, but I love Harry Potter!”

    Translation: Push the genre to fans of the genre. Strip the label for those who don’t know they might like it.

    Or, as my wife has said, “Nobody knew they wanted to read a book about a boy wizard until J.K. Rowling wrote one.”

    People like good stories.

  15. I read and write literary fiction (in addition to everything else, I guess). Literary fiction pays the absolute best in traditional publishing and the absolute worst, with very little in between. The dichotomy exists even in the magazines. The New Yorker pays life-changing money for a short story. Most “prestigious” literary journals pay in copies. They’re usually connected to a university.

    Those that pay a little are often independently published or the only thing published by a very small publisher.The best literary journals, by the way, are (or started) as a self-publishing venture on the part of the editor. And very famous literary writers self-published before the stigma was put in there–think Virginia Wolf. (Yes, I know, we’re all afraid of her.)

    What I find amusing upthread is that professors, who used say that anything which sold to a traditional publisher (with one or two exceptions) was crap. Now it’s anything self published. It must be hard to be snobby when the targets keep changing…

    • There is a certain consistency: in the old days, the money was with commercial publishers–nowadays, in going indie.

      It seems they focus their disdain on the ability to make a living out of writing.

  16. Literary fiction writers seem to think they are a group apart and somehow better than mere scribblers of science fiction, mystery, or romance. They have multiple college degrees and positions of importance at obscure eastern universities.

    And, they can actually write. They know that words are more important than story. They can discuss the cadence of Wyndham Lewis novels for hours.

    The angst of an eight year old who’s lost his tricycle is cause for hours of extreme navel gazing and an 800 page novel loved by critics and publishers and the New York Times. And sometimes even Hollywood!

    Of course, there is some hypocrisy. John Banville slums in detective fiction. I’m bored by his books and offended by his haughty attitude. He should go back to literary fiction where his skills are more appropriate. There, he could speak about his journey into the silly little nether world of gene fiction.

    Until they realize that they are just another genre, they will never let themselves be accepted. An never ever stoop to self-publishing.

    • Literary fiction writers seem to think they are a group apart

      No we don’t.

      and somehow better than mere scribblers of science fiction, mystery, or romance.

      As already noted, virtually all of us write those genres, too.

      They have multiple college degrees and positions of importance at obscure eastern universities.

      I don’t even have a high school diploma.

      And, they can actually write.

      You finally said something I agree with!

      They know that words are more important than story.

      No they’re not.

      They can discuss the cadence of Wyndham Lewis novels for hours.

      Never read him.

      The angst of an eight year old who’s lost his tricycle is cause for hours of extreme navel gazing and an 800 page novel loved by critics and publishers and the New York Times. And sometimes even Hollywood!

      Sorry — who wrote this one? I’ve never heard of it. Link me.

      Of course, there is some hypocrisy. John Banville slums in detective fiction.

      What you call hypocrisy and slumming, we call “business as usual, because we have to eat.”

      I’m bored by his books and offended by his haughty attitude.

      He probably feels the same way about you. I know I do.

      He should go back to literary fiction where his skills are more appropriate.

      Well, it’s tough to make a living there.

      There, he could speak about his journey into the silly little nether world of gene fiction.

      The only thing any of us find silly about genre fiction is the snobbery some of you genre writers exhibit toward us. Most of us love genre fiction passionately…enough to write it.

      Until they realize that they are just another genre,

      Hi, we’re already well aware of it.

      they will never let themselves be accepted. An never ever stoop to self-publishing.

      Too late! We’re here, and we’re already peeing on your parade.

  17. But it actually helps out all writers if literary authors are welcomed into the fold. Ironically, self-publishers are acting like a kind of gatekeeper saying: you don’t belong here.

    There are no gates on Amazon KDP. No independent author can stop another from hitting the upload button.

    And those honey flowing words usually need to say something interesting. If not, many will find them boring.

  18. Literary fiction is just another genre of writing, like classical music is just another genre of music. After all, genre just means category.

  19. I find litfic generally annoying, much like mosquitoes and poorly dubbed anime. I couldn’t care less how they publish, though.

    Viva la liberte.

  20. As far as I’m concerned we should just trash all genre labels and just write good stuff. Most good writing bleeds off into alternate genres anyway.

    • I agree! I think readers find genre labels very handy, though. After all, there are tons of books out there, and readers need some basic way to categorize them so they can find what they want.

      I do think that most of my favorite books span multiple genres, though. I love a nice, rich genre-busting book.

      • I’m pretty sure you’re not alone in that feeling. My most popular book is a mid-future urban fantasy, one that has both mages and AI, and that deals with the political & military fallout inherent in stellar expansion just after the discovery of a viable FTL “tech”.

        As for what genre that gets put in? If I’m forced to pick just one I stick with “speculative fiction”, because that covers both sci-fi and fantasy… not the most useful label.

        • According to Doyle’s Law, the book you’ve described is SF:

          If there’s a zeppelin, it’s alternate history. If there’s a rocketship, it’s science fiction. If there are swords and/or horses, it’s fantasy. A book with swords and horses in it can be turned into science fiction by adding a rocketship to the mix. If a book has a rocketship in it, the only thing that can turn it back into fantasy is the Holy Grail.

          • People sometimes get too carried away with this, but one of the cleverer inversions of this I’ve seen is the Foglio’s webcomic (and print comics, and books) Girl Genius.

            It’s ostensibly a steampunk (I think they call it “gaslamp fantasy”) sort of world which most would consider science fiction (under Doyle’s Law, it would be.) However, IIRC, Phil Foglio is on record as saying that being a Spark (the mad scientists who can make the steam-punky machines) is a magical ability, and that either you’re a Spark or you’re not. Non-Sparks can use things that Sparks make, but they can’t make things that violate the laws of physics. Sparks can. So it’s fantasy.

            • I read it as being fantasy because, mech-toys aside, the sparks do things *known* to be impossible. By the dozen. Good books, too. Too bad volume three got caught in thr Nightshade mess…

            • By the way, ‘gaslamp fantasy’ is a wonderful genre label. I loathe the term ‘steampunk’, for exactly the same reason that I sneer whenever some lazy journalist names the latest political scandal by sticking the suffix ‘-gate’ on it. (If Bill Gates buys the 2016 election with massive bribery, will that be Gatesgate? Feh.) There is nothing punk about the Victorian aesthetic at all.

              Unfortunately The Difference Engine was written by two of the early stars of cyberpunk, and some cutesy-poo reviewer thought it would be clever to coin a subgenre label on the pattern of *punk. Rot their interior and exterior everythings, anyhow.

              • I agree that Gaslamp fantasy is a more evocative term for the stories.
                But the cosplayers who live the aesthetic? Steampunk fits their rebellion to a tee. 🙂

              • I don’t mind the term steampunk but I absolutely love Gaslamp Fantasy. Never heard that before. I’d much rather it was called that.

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