I’ve been writing for over forty years. Yeah, that’s a long time. I’ve been making my living from writing for over thirty of those forty. And it took me a very long time to learn a few key things that I am much more careful of today. The first of those is not to call any of my books “literary.”
I don’t mean that I shouldn’t think of them as literary, or that I shouldn’t hone my craft so that my writing sounds or is literary (that’s a very debatable term anyway), but that I really shouldn’t label it that way myself. And I definitely shouldn’t try to pitch a novel as literary.
Why? Because they don’t sell, that’s why.
For the most part, agents and editors will tell you that literary novels don’t sell very well. Sure one will take off once in a while, but on average, they’re considered slow, plodding, and few people want to read them.
So, what do you do? What do I do? And what do I suggest? Call your novel mainstream fiction, call it contemporary (if it is), call it historical, mystery, thriller, romance, etc. if it has a strong sense of any of those genres. The worst thing that happens is that you are read and someone doesn’t like your book. But the best thing that could happen is that you’re read and the literary flavor is clean and fresh and beautiful and it adds depth and readers love it. That’s my prayer, and my belief.
I don’t want people to shy away from reading one of my novels just because the term literary itself has a bad connotation in the market. I want to give my books a chance. And I suggest you do the same.
There’s another reason to shy from the word literary, too. That’s because there are so many people (mostly new writers) who believe they’re writing literary, perhaps want to believe that their writing is of higher quality and therefore call it literary, or they just don’t know what else to call it… So there are more literary novels out there than ever before. Truthfully, there are more mainstream and contemporary novels, too. So, if you can, I suggest you stick with genre designations. Sure, you get pigeon-holed, but your readers can’t find you if your hidden. And this work is about gaining readers.
Remember, the most skillful writer doesn’t have to think highly of him or her self, they have to deliver a readable book to a reader. Once you’ve helped your readers to find you, they’ll read whatever you write, wherever it’s placed on the bookshelf at your local bookstore.
Terry Persun is an award winning author and a #1 Amazon bestseller. He is also a Pushcart nominee. His mainstream novel, “Wolf’s Rite”, was a Star of Washington award winner, a POW! Award winner, and a ForeWord magazine Book of the Year finalist. His science fiction novel, “Cathedral of Dreams”, was also a ForeWord magazine Book of the Year finalists. And his historical novel, “Sweet Song”, won a Silver IPPY Award for best regional fiction. His latest novel, “Doublesight”, is book one of his new fantasy series. His latest poetry collection is “And Now This”. Terry writes in many genres, including historical fiction, mainstream, literary, and science fiction/fantasy.