Advice that’s commonly given to writers includes “Read outside your genre.” I’ve written a smorgasbord of nonfiction for years. Lately, though, fiction writing has captured my attention, but I don’t know how to categorize my writing.
Then Google alerted me to an article by Kim Wright at The Millions.com that offers a good look at perceived differences between literary fiction writers and genre fiction writers.
Aha! I write literary fiction, I thought. You know: Literature, that important sounding word, the writings of my favorite authors; high school English classes. That literature.
And genre is all that other stuff: romance, science-fiction, horror, fantasy, mysteries.
Or is it?
Read the Wright article and its comments and you’ll find a good discussion on the literary vs. genre debate. Some writers are adamant about keeping them separate. Others feel insulted by inferences to genre as “slumming it.” Publishers are using genre classes to market literature, and so-called literature authors are writing in popular genres to pay their bills.
It’s all very interesting, but I don’t want to join into the war. Can I call mine, say, “Darla fiction” and you call yours whatever sounds right for you?
Not if we want to have anything published. AgentQuery, voted by Writer’s Digest as one of the best websites for writers, says this on its Genre Descriptions page:
Categorizing your book is easy for some authors, agonizing for others. It’s like asking a person, “Where are you from?” …. What’s important to remember is that you must find a way to classify your book. We didn’t make up these genres; they are staples of the publishing world. And before you query an agent, you must understand how the publishing world will view your product.
What’s my genre?
At this point in my writing life, I will categorize my work as literary fiction. So far, the stories I’ve written seem to fit the definition. My writing “explores inherent conflicts of the human condition,” and I am shooting for “stellar writing” (quotes from the AgentQuery article). I do want people to buy my work, so the “commercial appeal” is important to me. Perhaps my genre is commercial literary fiction?
Which has literary merit?
Here’s a definition for genre fiction, found on Daily Writing Tips: “Stories intended to appeal to readers because of adherence to a specific formula (such as adventure fiction or detective fiction), rather than on their literary merits.
According to that definition, genre fiction has an emphasis on what is written rather than how it’s written. If “literary merit” means the work has value, quality, and appeal, then how can that exclude genre fiction? Millions of people value genre books, but does a work become “literary” only if it’s accepted by the intelligentsia?
Maybe I’m naive, being new to the writing scene, and just need to learn a thing or two about the “great divide,” as one commenter puts it. Yet, another commenter points out that the authors of classics we hold in high esteem wrote to entertain, “not impress MFA professors.”
“Good writing is good writing,” another adds.
Question: What’s your take on this division between writers?