Continuing our “Meet the Authors” series, here is a guest blog post from best-selling author Laurel Osterkamp…
Are My Books Literary Fiction?
The other day I entered a contest with my most recent book, November Surprise, and I had to pick a genre. None of them really fit, but I was torn between romance and literary fiction. November Surprise is a love story, but it’s also about self-discovery, set against six recent presidential campaigns. Does that make it literary instead?
When I think literary, I think James Joyce, Jane Austen, or Louise Erdrich. I think of a novel that is made to challenge and enlighten the reader. I certainly wouldn’t classify my own books as literary. I’d like to believe they are quality work, and hopefully they occasionally challenge and enlighten whoever has picked them up. But ultimately they are meant to entertain. They’re not timeless, as literary fiction ought to be. But they are relevant.
So here’s my question: What ever happened to popular fiction? To me, a book that is entertaining, easy to read, and relevant should fall into the “popular fiction” category. But I don’t see many books advertised as popular fiction anymore.
Around a year ago independent author, Darcie Chan, rose to the top of the New York Times bestseller list with her novel, The Mill River Recluse. She was one of the first independent authors to achieve this feat, and she received a lot of press. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal (12/9/11) Chan described her early challenges with marketing her book. “It didn’t really fit any genre. It has elements of romance, suspense, mystery, but it falls into the catch-all category of literary fiction, and of course that’s the most difficult to sell.”
I haven’t read Ms. Chan’s novel, so my aim here is not to disparage it. But since reading that article I have noticed a lot of authors have classified their own work as “literary.” Whether that’s by choice or because they aren’t able to classify it as something else, I’m not sure. But I do have a theory. Mainstream authors who are published by big name publishers often don’t want to be branded as “literary fiction” because it makes their work sound boring. But indie authors welcome the title, because it gives them an air of credibility. Like it or not, there is still a bit of stigma in being self-published, but calling our work “literary” makes it sound more impressive.
I teach English at a public high school, so I could talk for hours about what is literature and what is not. But when it comes down to it, I think the whole concept of “literary fiction” is over-rated. If an author has something to say, and he or she says it well, then it’s worthwhile even if it isn’t literary. Yet I also hesitate to brand November Surprise as a romance. I don’t have a shirtless guy on the cover, there are no real sex scenes, and while love is a theme, it doesn’t follow the formula of a “romance”. I know there are a ton of well written (perhaps even literary) romance novels out there, but there are certain expectations that come with romance novels that November Surprise just doesn’t meet.
In the grand scheme of things, classifying my books into a genre is not a huge problem. But as self-published works continue to grow both in amount and in esteem, independent authors will have to realize some sort of system for labeling their work. It’s the first, and probably the most important step in marketing our books to readers. And finding readers is way more perplexing than writing the book itself, whether it’s literary or not.
Thank you, Laurel! You can check out Laurel’s Amazon Author page and check out her books if you click here or type in http://smarturl.it/laurel into your web browser, her blog at http://www.laurelosterkamp.blogspot.com/, and her personal website at http://www.laurelosterkamp.com/