So you can read my books

Tuesday, February 4, 2014


I've been told that that my style is more literary than commercial, and it started me thinking.

What would your style be labeled? How do you think an agent would catagorize it?

Are we victims of a pigeon-holing system in our queries? Don't blondes hate it when you lump them all together?

Jocks and geeks are not all the same. Nor are all politicians dishonest. Ah, I may have chosen the wrong example there.

But what is commercial and literary fiction anyway, and why is it so important for agents to know what kind of fiction we're submitting?

I.) Commercial Fiction in a nutshell:

This type of story appeals to a wide audience, has a distinct plot, and its characters actively pursue a goal or overcome a challenge.

These stories are primarily read for entertainment.

There are many categories of commercial fiction, classified by genre and sub-genres.

Each genre has basic elements that readers expect to see in the stories. Some commercial fiction may appeal to more than one type of audience, and can be considered mainstream.

II.) Literary Fiction in Freudian clarity:

These stories focus more on internal conflict than external events,

the plot is less obvious,

and there is an emphasis on artistic prose rather than the more straightforward storytelling seen in commercial fiction.

There is usually extensive development of the characters, with a slower pace,

and less emphasis on what happens and more on the character’s reaction to what happens.

III.) Ah, the penny drops (as they used to say in New Zealand.)

But this time literally. The agent is interested in how marketable our novel is.

With commercial fiction you get:

Wide audience. Action. Crisp, easy-to-digest prose. Wide market. High sales.

(Yes, "wide audience" is the same as 'Wide Market." I did that on purpose. Both mean profits hence an easier sale.)

With literary fiction you get:

The opposite ... which is death in today's market.

IV.) Agents are looking for a hot date to take to the Prom.

Literacy is not an essential. Just action, looks, and above all else ... not being boring.

After all, readers can be bored for free. And no one likes being lectured to.

V.) Think about it:

Who would you want to share a roadtrip with, Tony Stark, even without the Iron Man armor, or Hamlet?

A no-brainer, right?

VI.) A commercial hero takes matters in his own hands. A literary hero is swept up by events.

You snorgle in a genre novel. You deep-sea dive in a literary fiction.

VII.) Your prose can be both pretty and filled with action.

It is a danger however.

The beauty of your prose may have an agent knee-jerk shove you into the literary slot,

which in today's market happens to be the garbage shute.

Ouch. What do you think? Why do you write what you write?

Don't Miss D.G. Hudson's take on my DEATH IN THE HOUSE OF LIFE --



  1. I like to think that I write high-quality/literary commercial fiction, which means I dwell in the best of both worlds. Or at least that's my delusion.

    I was struck by your definition, "A commercial hero takes matters in his own hands. A literary hero is swept up by events." In too many literary short stories and novels I've read that are geared to women, the female characters are victims, especially victims of sexual abuse, and the story revolves around how she copes with her victimhood. This annoys the hell out of me. I'd much rather read about fierce, strong women and men who create their own destiny. Then again, there are a few commercial books I couldn't finish because the prose was so wooden. Combining beautiful prose with an exciting story is for me the best.

  2. I do focus a lot on the internal conflicts, but I definitely write the commercial fiction. I am here to entertain. It won't be real deep. And I'm all right with that.

  3. I'm led by my characters. I love action. But I also like to include a lesson to learn.

  4. My stories take me where they will. That's why I don't query agents. I don't want to lose my independence.

  5. I'm a blend of both, which is one reason why my hundreds of queries that resulted in ms requests were turned down by agents--one reason why I love publishing my own work. I think there are many readers that enjoy a light-handed literary feel along with a strong plot and proactive characters. There should be a category for that! Then we could fit nicely into a package ... or maybe not.

    (I was very sad to read about your kitty)

  6. I've been told words on toilet paper wrappers are better written than my books. Ouch! Maybe I'm a niche writer that strives to piss people off.

    New writers should write for a small audience. It you write something interesting, readers will find you.

  7. Helena:
    Emily Dickinson dared to be different and true to the way she wished to express herself. She died, her poetry unknown with only a few scathing reviews to let her know how unappreciated she was.

    Her sister saved her poetry from oblivion thankfully.

    We must accept that we may never be accepted in the world. And respect after death appeals little to me!

    Like you, I believe you can strive to write beautiful prose and still tell a riveting story. Roger Zelazny, an award winning Sci Fi author, inspired me. Sadly, I am not doing his memory justice with my lack of sales. It is a different market these days.

    Like you, I do not enjoy reading about victims that stay victims!

    The lastest review of CassaStorm does not agree. That review stated you told a literary and a commercial story at the same time. Good for you! :-)

    You are wise: action only means something if we care about the characters -- and that means we must relate to the humanity of them in some way.

    Agents are only the first step anyway. Many agents have dropped writers when they could not sell their material. And publishers choose the cover, title, and so much else about your story that sees print.

    Best of luck with your sales. :-)

    J B:
    Like you, I cling to my belief that readers want proactive characters involved in a stirring plot with equally stirring prose.

    So far my lack of sales seems to prove my belief false.

    But I hope it proves differently for you.

    With the opportunity of self-publishing, I have been able to attempt my experiment of writing novels in a linked universe with a shared underlying threat combined with the crisis of the moment.

    Yes, the death of Snowball hurt, coming so soon after the death of Gypsy. Now, I am facing cancer surgery in two weeks. It's never boring being me.

    At least even should things take a fatal turn, there are enough of my linked books and audiobooks out there that perhaps, like Emily Dickinson, I will find an audience who enjoy my tales. :-)

  8. Walter:
    No sales tell me much the same thing about my own books sadly.

    On the whole you have gotten more favorable reviews than I have. Plus the good thing about kindle books is that they never leave the cyber-shelf. Once found by a reader who likes you, your backlist offers him a great array of entertainment to enjoy for many books to come. :-)

    I pray that, unlike me, many readers will come your way to enjoy your tales.

    Write on!

  9. Well, Roland, I guess if there's a profession fit for those struck by tragedy, writing is it! and I guess when we publish, we are sort of begging for some relative tragedy, because most books really don't sell all that well. My sales have been pretty typical--the initial surge that quickly dwindles. But I can't seem to stop the writing process--maybe it's my way of sorting out my own personal tragedies.

    Do you have any other kitties? I hate to think of you going through cancer surgery without a kitty to stroke. I could lend you one of mine!

  10. I write literary for sure. Maybe someday I will try something commercial. I love to read both! :)

  11. Walter:
    I am writing long. I rather suck at the prosper though! :-)

    J B:
    No more feline princes or princesses. I have a German Shepherd puppy whose only food is batteries -- he breathes realistically and looks so real that he spooks my visitors. "Little Buddy" is eternally snoozing in his puppy bed. But his fur feels real.

    I hate to think of you enduring personal tragedies, but they come to us all whether we would have them on our doorsteps or not.

    You're right, of course. When we begin our career of writing, we are asking for the heartache of rejection. May your sales pick up in a surprising way. :-)

    Perhaps the two of us will find a way to successfully combine both! :-)

  12. Ah, I see you have a Super Bowl commercial to. I had to post my favorite. They were much better than the actual game. Unless you're from Seattle.

  13. I am so writing commercial fiction. No doubt. But, like Alex said above, I write to entertain. This is especially true with the project I'm revising now. If you desire to be moved and enlightened, don't read it. But if you want to smile, laugh, gasp, cringe, and roll on the floor, then you'll enjoy it.

    But I do feel there is a place for literary fiction, too. I may not read it, but there are so many who do. It's just a matter of finding your audience and soliciting to them.

    And to be honest, I'd rather be a fudge brownie than a wad of cookie dough rolling around on the counter, waiting to be put in the oven. :)

  14. Stephen:
    The ads are the only things I watch from any Super Bowl! :-)

    I try to be both. I am not an objective judge of my own work though! I wish you the highest sales on your latest book!!

  15. These days, I write what I love to read: psychological thrillers with a toe in literary mystery. Early on I felt pressured to fit one of the genre molds, but no longer. There have been many successful novels that are both commercial and literary successes (Scott Spencer's ENDLESS LOVE, any of Donna Tartt's novels, Eugenides' MIDDLESEX—I could go on with this list for DAYS). But publishers want to appeal to the lowest common denominator, and unless you're a known quantity, getting their attention with a hybrid is tough going.

    VR Barkowski

  16. I like to think I'm more into literary fiction - makes me feel highly educated :) But my short stories are more commercial.

    I'm not very good at labeling myself. I'm just strange.


  17. Donna:
    We're too close to our work to be objective anyway. As for being commercial -- I obviously am not according to my zero sales!!

    Publishers are hurting themselves by going to the lowest common denominator and staying with what worked before the eBook revolution.

  18. Me again,

    I love to write with a bit of style and grace. Description, emotion, and beauty of words is important to me,,, BUT I also write with a commercial edge, too.

    I was told my prose is very lyrical and magical and that is great for my fantasy. But I'm happy writing in many different styles because I do get bored easily. LOL.