So you can read my books

Monday, December 13, 2010


If you're looking for my entry for the QUERY BLOGFEST hosted by Jodi Henry :

Tracy's comment on my query that my style was more literary than commercial started me thinking.

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?
As for roadtrip companions ...


  1. Interesting thought. I always thought agents looked for both wonderful prose AND a lively active story. Don't they go hand in hand for today commercial market?

    I worked so hard , as so many of the rest of us, to write beautiful descriptive prose. Do you really think it's the kiss of death?

    I hope not, We all have seen blockbuster novels where the prose isn't as strong as it should be. Look at Stephanie Meyers. I'm sorry, the story's interesting enough, but her prose is far from award winning.

    This concept would be tragic if true. So many talented writer's will be left unread.

    I won't give up my growth for mediocre prose. Would you?

    Thanks, Roland, you always seem to bring something new to the blog world ... how do you do it?


  2. Well, for what it's worth, I think you're kind of literary. I mean, you're so smart, and so well-read, and it shows in your work. Even if Sam McCord is who he is, lover of all things undead, doesn't mean he can't be literary right.

    But yes, you're right, we do get pigeon-holed and its not someplace I want to be. I want to write what I want, how I want, when I want.

    If I want to start out with romance, then switch to YA, and go back to women's fiction, why not? I don't want to only write one kind of book.

  3. I want to be known as a great storyteller. Whether its the journey through an internal struggle or a plot-driven conflict, I want the reader to take a ride with me. I guess that puts me squarely in the commercial fiction slot and not the literary. So be it. =)

  4. Hi,

    One man's meat another's poison: whether literary or commercial fiction. But even in literary fiction, there's a difference between the average "Booker" winner ((yawn yawn))and writers in the vein of L'Carre etc.

    Blonde here - watch it! :)

    I'm not quitting on my crap writing, that's for sure.


  5. I don't see why they can't coexist. It seems like people would appreciate great writing and great plot/action.

    I suppose my own writing is more of commercial fiction, although I'm trying to improve the quality of my writing at the same time; both style and plot are important to me.

  6. Golden Eagle : Like you I've always thought fine prose and stirring plot could co-exist. Any who have watched old re-runs of HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL will see a connection between the articulate, reflective hired gun, Paladin, who dressed all in black and my own intelligent philosopher, Samuel McCord, who finds himself in the crosshairs of supernatural danger. I applaud you for striving for growth. It is a goal we should aim for.

    Francine : Any who have read you know that yours is not merde writing. And you are so right : what is popular at any one moment in the head of any one agent is very subjective.

    Raquel : Don't be so swift to pigeon hole yourself as commercial only if you feel the internal struggle to our characters is important. I feel you can a meld, a sweet spot, if you will, of both commercial and literary.

    Anne : Good to hear from you again! And yes, I, too, hate the idea of pigeon-holed. We are more than just one layer or one genre. Harlin Elison said if you were a good writer then you could write all genres. J K Rowling, for all her astounding success, is a prisoner of that fame. All her fans will buy her next book, no matter what genre. But if it disappoints by being too different from her past works, her following book sales may dwindle.

    And thanks for the compliment, but there have been times very lately that I have felt very un-smart! LOL. But I'm glad you saw my efforts to make of Sam McCord a complex thinking man of action. Robert E. Howard, of Conan fame, did that with his brooding, reflective King Kull series.

    Michael : They touted Justin Cronin's THE PASSAGE as hitting the sweet spot between commercial and literary fiction. And like the man who tried to do the same in the Civil War by wearing a blue tunic and gray slacks, he got shot at by both sides!

    Tracy, who started me thinking, was talking of my query. And like you, I think that both beautiful prose and a breath-taking plot are truly the things a publisher wants to widen the book's audience as much as possible.

    But harried agents are hurriedly scanning our queries. They see beautiful prose and hints of internal conflict ... BAM! ... they reject our query as being too literary. If we do injustice to our novel and just lay out a swift, action-filled plot, we might get a nibble. But as soon as the agent reads beautiful prose without the action starting on page one ... BAM! ... they reject our partial.

    Every great joke needs a build-up to maximize the laughter at the pay-off. But today's struggling publishing world and fearful agents make it hard to do that meld of literary and commercial that I feel is possible -- and that I have done with THE LEGEND OF VICTOR STANDISH.

    Can you remember going to the movies with a childhood friend and see a movie he has already seen? A scene pops up on the screen, and he would nudge you in the ribs, "Here's a good part."

    I labored hard to make every chapter of LEGEND a "good part." May all of your publishing dreams come true, Roland

  7. This has always been a dilemme for me. Because I'd like to think I fall somewhere in the middle... not exactly a McDonalds hamburger or a Brown Derby one. I love getting into my characters...but I still want a plot. And I tend to relish in the descriptions--while still trying to move the action along. I guess I have a literary bent to my writing...I don't know. It is sad that the art form has been boiled down like this. Boneless, skinless, chicken or the pheasant under glass?

  8. You have WON SECOND PLACE in the BLOGONTEST!!! Once Amalia has chosen her prize, I'll let you know, then you can choose, too!


  9. OK Amalia has chosen Box 1, therefore your choice is Box 2 or Box 3.

  10. I'm definitely a commercial writer. I read for entertainment, mostly, so that's how I write too. But I have friends who prefer literary fiction. I love that so many people are writing now that there are stories for everyone :)