Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing & Publishing ~

Is “Literary Fiction” Just Another Genre?


I ran into a thorny patch of articles that speculate on why literary fiction authors don’t self-publish.

Self-Publishing Literary Fiction

Image Courtesy of Mikhail Lavrenov ~ http://www.freeimages.com/profile/miklav

My first question was: Where are your statistics?

It’s so common for folks who write about books to draw their arguments from the straw pile of narrowly-focused opinions.

I’ll list 5 links to an intertwined set of articles discussing the supposed fear of “literary fiction” authors—they won’t ever be published because the Big Houses won’t pay them enough and they don’t dare self-publish

I don’t expect the readers of this blog to follow those links but I feel I need to have them as references, in case my own opinions in this post draw serious doubts.

First though, here’s a definition of “literary fiction” (don’t feel bad if it seems to not make much sense…):

Literary fiction is a term principally used for certain fictional works that are claimed to hold literary merit.

Despite the fact that all genres have works that are well written, those works are generally not considered literary fiction. To be considered literary, a work usually must be “critically acclaimed” and “serious”. In practice, works of literary fiction often are “complex, literate, multilayered novels that wrestle with universal dilemmas”.

Literary fiction is usually contrasted with paraliterary fiction (e.g., popular, commercial, or genre fiction). This contrast between these two subsets of fiction is highly controversial amongst critics and scholars who study literature.

Let’s not forget that the meaning of “Genre” is:

a kind of literary or artistic work

It seems to me that those critics and scholars want a type of fiction that rises above all other “kinds” of literary work because they have “acclaimed” it and judged it to be “serious”.

I’ve read “literary fiction” that seemed to me to be insipid and tortuously self-contained—hardly wrestling with universal dilemmas; more like whining about over-valued pet peeves

And, I’ve read “genre fiction” that met every qualifier of that “definition” of “literary fiction”.

So, just before I list those links—the impassioned discussion about what I consider to be a non-issue—let me give you a few quotes from an article by Hugh HoweySelf-publishing will save literary fiction (I think Howey is using “literary” in the sense of “well-written” and dealing with “universal dilemmas”…):

“What goes unsaid but seems implied in the message that literary works will die without a publishers’ support or bookstores in which to shelve them is that we write literary works for the pleasure of publishers and bookstores.”

“Artists have relied on the largesse of patrons for centuries. Increasingly, those patrons will become the general public.”

“Soon (this is already true for many) self-publishing will be seen as the purer artform. No tampering with style or voice. No gatekeeper. No need even for monetization.”

So, here come those 5 links to the articles about why “literary fiction” authors don’t self-publish—please only read them if you want an education in how “issues” can be created from “imagined” “facts”—imagining that a few authors and a few critics can set some “standard” for what should be considered “literary”:

Genre lines: Why literary writers won’t self-publish

A re-post of the above article—interesting for it’s 63 comments

From bestseller to bust: is this the end of an author’s life?

UK publishing and those poor struggling writer people

Why Literary Writers Have Not Yet Made the Transition to Self-Publishing

Hoping for a few Comments, even if you’ve decided to not follow those 5 links :-)
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4 responses to “Is “Literary Fiction” Just Another Genre?

  1. Jane Watson June 25, 2014 at 11:52 pm

    I think that you nailed it when you commented on: ‘…how “issues” can be created from “imagined” “facts…” personally I think ‘genre’ of any kind, including ‘Literary Fiction’ is a marketing term used by publishers to ‘sell’ books to people, who they think, can’t make up their mind on what to buy – but I believe readers are very smart and can tell if they like a book or not and usually judge and pick it, not on genre, but on whether it reads well for them in the first few pages or is described well in a review or a recommendation from a friend. I am hardly ever told by a friend recommending a book – ‘You’ll love this – it is Chicklit”- but am often told – “You’ll love this, it is great!”

    :-)

    Like

  2. juliecround June 26, 2014 at 6:01 am

    My computer froze so I wrote on my own blog instead of here but it is OK now. I read one of the links and still need educating about ‘literary fiction’ Are classics ‘literary fiction?’ I was asking who set the standard and will be interested to discover the answer. meanwhile I will download a book from an author who claims to write literary fiction to see if I can see what all the fuss is about.

    Like

    • Alexander M Zoltai June 26, 2014 at 1:53 pm

      Well, Julie, I think some classics could be called “literary”; though, from the definition I included in this post, you can see that even the “experts” aren’t sure what it is.

      And, authors like Jane up there feel the whole “genre” thing was made up by publishers to sell books…

      So, if “literary fiction” is a “type” of fiction, I’d say it’s characterized by being “incredibly well-written” and it deals with “universal dilemmas”…

      Like

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