Lately, I’ve been reading a slew of articles featuring quite a significant amount of hand-wringing about and bemoaning of the fate of literary fiction everywhere.
The reason for this, it seems, is the fact that statistics have uncovered that fewer literary writers can make a living off their writing these days.
And sure, this is a cause for sympathy. I personally don’t like that I don’t make a living purely off my writing either.
Every single one of the articles, featuring various literary writers, share a few commonalities between them, and these traits have been ticking me off beyond measure.
I figured, as this does fall under the industry/business side of writing, I’d write this post to give air to my feelings.
So here the biggest sources of irritation, plus my reasons why, in no particular order.
1) Every single literary artist bemoans how “inferior writers” like E.L. James, J.K. Rowling, and other genre writers can swim in money when the real artists, i.e. literary writers, don’t.
Ahem… Not that I’m an E.L. James fan (she’s just not my jam, y’all), but how exactly can one compare apples and oranges and call the apple inferior, when the apple happens to be the one that’s selling more?
How inferior, exactly, is a genre writer to a literary writer, if the former is the one so beloved by the masses that they can make a living off their writing?
2) They’re bemoaning the loss of the art of storytelling as if genre writers aren’t continuing in the tradition of some great literary classics like Oliver Twist, The Three Musketeers, Jane Eyre, etc.
This point they’re making makes me livid. Why? Simple statistics. This whole culture of “You must read this in order to be considered worthy/smart/intelligent/well-read/whatever” and then forcing readers to follow an arcane, often arbitrary approach to “appreciating stories” has turned away readers year after year.
In school, when readers are supposed to be created, they’re being told they’re not good enough when they can’t or just don’t appreciate literary fiction.
When there is, in fact, absolutely nothing wrong with not liking any particular thing.
Especially when the most obscure amount of nonsense is touted as the truth, man, just so students can make sense of what’s going on, instead of being told that it’s okay to just enjoy a story for what it is… namely a good story… or… you know… not… simply because said student isn’t into that sort of thing.
What exactly is the sign of a good story anyway? Some arbitrary gate-keepers calling a story a piece of art? Or readers wanting to read books that don’t have the stench of elitism attached to them?
You can’t hold your genre (and I hate to break it to you, but literary fiction is a genre) up as the standard of excellence, treat people as idiots for liking something else, and then expect those same people to turn around and buy your books as a reward.
I mean, what are we even supposed to do when you bemoan readers following trends and reading “inferior” genre stories, Mr. Literary Artiste? Clap our hands? Give you a cookie? Are we supposed to be sorry for you? Because right here, I personally can’t even say I like you.
3) They’re bemoaning diminishing returns and the threatening implosion of the publishing industry.
Both of which can in fact be blamed not on the reader, but on the decisions made by publishing houses themselves. Instead, literary writers blame the readers for (rightfully) following their tastes away from their books.
Here are two things I’ve learned when it comes to being in public as a writer.
1) You don’t resent readers for not liking or not wanting to read your book.
2) You don’t resent readers for not liking or not wanting to read your book.
Why? Because it hurts your business Mr. Artiste. You’re literally harming your book sales by coming off as a clueless, self-aggrandizing asshole. While you’re bemoaning your decreasing book sales. I’m only a lowly genre writer, so I can’t be expected to understand figures of speech, but is that ironic or just stupid?
4) The entitlement.
This right here is what probably gets to me the worst. Everyone I’ve encountered as a writer, ever since I started writing fiction, told me that I shouldn’t expect to be a bestseller, that I shouldn’t even bargain on a lowly goal like making enough to buy food every month with the money I make from writing.
So uhm… why exactly do you expect it, Mr. Artiste? Did someone who was selling you something tell you lovely tales of fluffy bunnies and unicorns? Or is it because you think that it’s just not right that you literary artistes don’t make a living, while us genre writers do deserve to starve?
But let’s talk about just desserts for a second. I admit that I know exactly two literary fiction writers (one of which is actually a poet and my Gran). I do however, know that the genre writers in my networks are busting their backsides, often doing at least one other job while writing, always learning, always thinking about what will make a good story, and in what ways they can deliver a story that will please their audience.
And so, they increase their chances of actually finding an audience that will enjoy what they did. Some don’t, though, and I find that unfair, because publishing can be harsh on us all. Even those who did everything to deserve kindness from it.
But in none of these articles I read did I once see talk about the need to innovate, to learn, to inspire readers to want to read literary stories. Nope. All I saw was some form of, “Oh woe is me. I was born in a generation where people are too stupid to read my books, so they read inferior books instead.”
Of course, you don’t say that outright, Mr. Artiste, but here’s the thing. You might not believe me, but genre readers are incredibly good at reading subtext. And they do not like being called stupid.
That’s another basic of writing genre fiction, come to think of it.
Never underestimate the intelligence of your audience.
You might want to try it.
Instead of… you know… beating us all over our head with how little respect you really have for your potential readers, who might not have heard of you before, but who will now forever associate your name with “Ugh. No. Let me go find a writer who actually likes their readers.”
Look. I don’t like to generalize, so I know all literary writers don’t have their heads this far up their backsides. And if you are a literary writer of a different ilk, I really would love to hear your thoughts on the subject of earnings, the industry etc. same as everyone else.
But what I just can’t stand is that in the past weeks and months, all the articles about literary fiction seem to focus on these arrogant prigs with zero self-awareness or even less respect for the people they were trying to address.
I don’t want literary fiction to fail any more than I do the big publishers. But is treating everyone around you like they’re stupid because you couldn’t make them read your book the way to fix your problem?
And really, the lack of logic to this approach is what irritates me the most.
Thoughts? Do you guys think that literary fiction will go extinct? If so, do you think there’s any way to save it?