|Emma, maybe they added 'A Novel' in case anyone thought it was a text book!|
Very true. Unfortunately adding 'A Novel' completely ruins it's cross-over potential:- all those mathmaticians with Asperger's who think it's a sexy version of Fermat's Last Theorem
I've been amused to find links to some of TMOLs reviews cropping up on mathematical websites. Presumably it's their automatic feeds or webcrawlers or whatever.
More seriously, I'm very disheartened by how many readers seem to think I'm setting up an opposition between mathematics and love, whereas it's actually a much more subtle idea than that.
I've found my first novel under non-fiction (childcare/self help) before now.
Literary fiction - how about 'a mish-mash of whatever doesn't fit neatly into any of the other categories'?
I tentatively propose this because by this definition I write literary fiction but not if the definition is 'aspiring to do something more than simply tell a story'. If this isn't the case then I have no idea what genre I write.
|I've found my first novel under non-fiction (childcare/self help) before now.|
Emma, thanks so much for your fascinating long msg about the difference between the two types of literary. I found that extremely useful and has clarified things in my mind.
|Deb, fundamentally, the only thing you'll write well enough to sell is whatever you really, really want to write. Generally, I think what you most love reading is a pretty good guide to what you should really be writing.|
That sounds very wise, and I'd thought that myself, since I used to try to write short-short stories for women's mags just because I wanted to sell fiction, but I hate reading them and in the end I realised there was no point in me trying to write something I basically (from a personal taste POV) loathe. I never sent any off because I just couldn't do it.
Judging from your long msg I think what I aspire to write probably comes at the less-literary end of the "real" literary but would fall into the booksellers' literary genre, but I do aspire to some aspects of the real literary - just not all.
I love reading beautifully written, subtle novels - the use of language is important to me - but I don't like books which seem to try to be too clever, because usually I can't enjoy reading them and feel as if I need specialised knowledge in order to understand the clever point they're trying to make!
If I had to pick one writer who represents what I aspire to write it would probably be Helen Dunmore. In which of the two literary categories (if either) would you place her?
I think Helen Dunmore's undoubtedly literary in book trade terms, but she's not obscure or difficult to read, or at all self-consciously 'literary'. It's more just that you need a certain commitment of thought and time to read her, perhaps? But she also crosses over into more commercial territory, I'd say, because her writing and her ideas are accessible.
I admire her writing hugely, and her place in the market (which I'm sure isn't conscious, just the outcome of what she does) does nicely for her. She even gets her short fiction published, which is a testament to her selling-power. It sounds as if that's rather the territory you find yourself in, in which case I hope you'll go for it. And I know what you mean about the magazine stories. I realised I was a writer because I tried to write a Mills & Boon, and discovered a) you can't write what you don't read, and b) the bits I enjoyed writing were the ones that weren't Mills & Boonish enough. So I let myself go off piste...
Thanks so much Emma. That's immensely useful and encouraging.
It's very helpful to have your view of where HD is placed on the high literary/booksellers' literary/commercial
line, and yes, that is where I wish to aim for, so at least now I know how to describe it...
I too once tried to write a Mills & Boon. I knew it wasn't my cup of tea but someone suggested I try it. Having never read a single M&B I then read about 15 of them and made loads of notes, analysing the plots, writing style etc. Then I wrote one and sent it off. After a long time they rejected it, saying that they nearly decided to go ahead with it, but on balance decided it wasn't quite right. They said I'd clearly researched the genre and the quality of my writing was up to scratch, but that it wasn't quite exciting enough... which I guess was largely because I wasn't remotely excited about it myself.
So I decided there was no point in pushing a square peg into a round hole and thought I'd try to write something I actually like!
Thanks again - you've been really helpful!
Well, you were certainly more thorough in your approach to Mills and Boon than I was!
I do think that if life is too short to stuff a mushroom, then it's way, way to short to spend on writing something you don't give tuppence for. And at any point on the literary-commercial spectrum I think you'll find the people who do it best are the people who are working in their 'natural' place on it. Sure, you can tweak, twitching one way or the other - the 1,000 word story I've just written for the Express is tweaked in their direction from what I'd write left to chose my own word count and style - but it's still your real writing.
|it's way, way to short to spend on writing something you don't give tuppence for|
Indeed! But even more to the point (perhaps) I think it's much harder
to write something you don't give tuppence for. You have no feeling for it. You can't judge it so easily since you're not even going to like it if it's right (though I guess an experienced writer should be able to judge any writing fairly well).
It makes sense that tweaking your style a little in one direction or the other can work, however.
One of the reasons I wanted to find out how to describe the writing I aspire to is that I'm embarking on a mentoring scheme and I'll shortly need to say what I'm looking for in a mentor. When things are a bit further on I'll post a msg saying how I'm getting on, in case my experience is of use to anyone else, but atm feel like playing things close to my chest.
Thanks again, Emma...
|You can't judge it so easily since you're not even going to like it if it's right (though I guess an experienced writer should be able to judge any writing fairly well).|
Thinking about that again, I already feel I can make a reasonable critique of someone's writing, whatever genre they're writing in.
However, if you don't have a real feeling for that genre, you are critting the writing itself but are not necessarily attuned to whether the piece provides the reader with exactly what they want.
Hello, I'm new to WW (as a member, though I have lurked and listened for months...) and I just wanted to say how enlightening this thread has been - especially Emma's really useful long post about how the book trade defines things. Fascinating insight!
I must say, I find the way the industry has evolved so that all books have to be compartmentalised into either commercial (within which, usually a genre) or literary is really depressing. It is based on the idea that readers are terminally unadventurous and want to know what they are getting by a glance at the cover and title, and then to have their expectations fulfilled. Is this really true? Why can't people just write books that are what they are?
There are so many dangers, it seems to me, in this rigid commercial/literary divide. For a start, it may create difficulties for authors who want to write something which doesn't fit in a box. For example, those who might want to write in a 'commercial', accessible style or format but about an uncommercial topic. (This used to include things like sexual abuse, bereavement and anorexia, but now these are highly commercial - but it might still include politics, religious experience, the life of the mind...). Maybe an established, published author can play with the boundaries, but as a new author, how would you even find an agent, when they all do one or the other, and how would you convince a publisher to buy a book which doesn't fit into one of their boxes? Or would a publisher let an author (other than at the highly literary end of the scale) write a second book which was radically different from the first; if they have you down as 'commercial' and are trying to build up that readership for you, and then you want to write something more literary (or vice versa), then they wonlt like it, will they? It might not be conscious - surely people ought to write what comes to them - and, since writers aren't necessarily conditioned to think in these distinct and separate categories, they might cross boundaries unknowingly.
Or what if a publisher decides that a book fits in Box 1 when it also has many aspects which would appeal to redaers who read books from Box 2? Slap a Box 1 cover on it and no Box 2 reader will ever pick it up and look inside!
I can see that things are the way they are (the market, and all that) so publishers feel they have no choice - this is how to sell - but are readers really so unreday to be surprised?
P.S. Oh, and what exactly is 'middle market', a term I have also heard bandied around a lot?
Welcome to the site - or the forums anyway if you've been "lurking" a while. (I get a bit nervous of the thought of all these lurking sorts - how many are out there???)
Interesting post. I agree with you. It seems limiting. And as targetted as publicity is, it will exclude some who could be another market.
One thing I never see mentioned on this site, although it is mentioned at every book event/conversation about books I have been to/have in real life about these issues is the demise of the net book agreement. Isn't one of the points that the industry, as it is now designed, needs fast highly targetted publicity because there is little opportunity for people to build up readerships and backlists anymore. More slow-grow authors that could have earned a decent if not spectacular living in the past used to be able to rely on money dribbling in across a number of years, whereas now the range of outlets is so few, that although there is a lot of books published, the ones that receive publicity are few and the rest are not given the chance to earn their keep over a longer period of time.
This is what I keep hearing from booksellers and book events - anyone have any views?
|surely people ought to write what comes to them |
I think the industry sees fiction as a product. If you ran a factory making bourbon biscuits you couldn't think one day how much you'd actually like to make custard creams instead, or make up an entirely new biscuit, because Sainsburys want you to fulfill their order of bourbon creams.
A very crude analogy but I wonder if that's how it's seen? A book is the product and you're the engine which makes the innards. I heard a very successful chick lit author saying the other day (she came to visit my writing group) that business is tough these days in most industries, and that publishing is no different.
|what exactly is 'middle market', a term I have also heard bandied around a lot?|
I wonder if it's the same as "middle-brow". I had this term thrown at me recently by a woman who's setting me up with a mentor when I said I wanted to write like Helen Dunmore. She described it as not high-brow and experimental, but not mass-market commercial. She described it as the kind of book which could get shortlisted for the Booker prize but which people still want to read.
I'm not sure if middle market means the same, though. Anyone know?
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If I had to make a distinction, I'd say that 'middle-market' is more towards the commercial end of the spectrum than 'middlebrow' - Joanna Trollope more than Helen Dunmore, say.
I've never understood why middlebrow's a dirty word, incidentally, but many people use it as if it is. What's wrong with wanting excellent writing and terrific ideas to be made as accessible as possible? I've heard plenty of people say that high-brow is fine and mass-market is fine but middle brow is beneath contempt - Jeanette Winterson is only the latest. I think it's an insidious kind of snobbery: high art is obviously important, and the lower orders are delightfully honest about themselves and what they want in a book, bless them, but heaven help the world if we stop being able to tell the difference...
Some of the media comments when Headline dressed Jane Austen as chick-lit were absolutely poisonous in their elitism and snobbery.
And yes, the book industry sees fiction as a product. It has to. As someone said, a publisher's first duty to his authors is not to go bankrupt...
What that doesn't mean is that publishing people don't love books. They do. Goodness knows, that many intelligent graduates wouldn't fight for jobs and then work their tails off for such pitiful salaries in many other industries...
All publishing people have stories of books they longed to publish, but just couldn't make the sums add up. Macmillan New Writing is one effort to square that particular circle. And they all have stories where they juggled the figures, argued passionately for it, got to publish the beloved book, only to find it bombing when it reached the shops.