9.02.2005

What am I?

A Snarkling is getting her knickers in a twist...and not in a good way:


Dearest Miss Snark, I've heard very different opinions about the importance of categorizing my book. I believe it's accessible and intelligent, but it doesn't fit into a category like thriller or mystery. My instinct is to call it a "literary novel," but some of my colleagues here at work think that is too vague or limiting from a sales stand point (we're in sales/marketing). They suggest I call it commercial fiction or compare it to other books (as in "a literary novel in the vein of...") to make it an easier sell. I'm wary of doing either. I understand and often depend on the usefulness of a good sales hook, but when I put on my novelist cap, I have a hard time reducing two years of labor to a "[bestselling author] meets [critically acclaimed author]" formula. If the rest of my one-page query letter describes the ideas and action of the book and why the reader should give a hoot, and if my five page sample shows off the style and voice, do I need tell the agent I'm querying about anything other than a literary novel? Thanks



First dearest Snarkling, and every Snarkling in the entire world, you will never ever, and I mean not ever EVER use the phrase "literary novel". You will find Miss Snark swooping down upon you, talons ablaze, fresh from the speakeasy, wielding her gin pail like a lacrosse stick. Stronger men and WOMEN than you have wept at that sight.

You may use ONE of the following phrases: literary fiction. Novel. Fiction. Mainstream fiction. Crime novel. Novel of crime. You may not ever say : fictional novel, or literary novel. Ever.

got it?

Now, what are you? Don't worry. Pick the best fit. Mainstream fiction is fine. We'll figure out where you belong if your writing is strong. Your job is to write. Ours is to pigeon hole you correctly.

Now, repeat after me: Novel. Fiction. Mainstream fiction.

Comparisons work if you're accurate. You may want to say "readers who like Genghis Khan's Memoir of a Silk Road Chow Hound and Nancy Drew's Roadster Moll will like this book." People who tell me they write like Dan Brown set themselves up to fail cause I don't like his writing. "People who were fascinated by The DaVinci Code" is a less negative comparison.

No, repeat after me: Novel. Fiction. Mainstream fiction.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for answering my question, Miss Snark. While I would never, never, never, never have turned my brain off and said "fictional novel," I didn't realize "literary novel" was as egregious. I think we can all agree there are novels we call literary and they're distinct from other novels we might call "commercial" or "mainstream." A slope, yes, and probably slippery, but defined enough at it's poles. The word "literary" does not, by definition, become redundant when placed next to "novel." These terms get thrown around a lot at work (albeit not in the catalog where "fiction" is the default). Perhaps, given the unabashed commericalism of one of our lists and the 150-year tradition of highbrow fiction on the other, we've all slipped into bad habits. BUT, I know better than to argue with your gracious advice. I will go with "novel" from now on. Again, thank you.

Buffy said...

Last summer, at a dinner party, my so-annoying-you-just-can't-stand-her British hostess started in on 'That book you're writing.'

She wanted to know if it was a literary novel. I told her I didn't feel comfortable with the term because, lets face it, people who use it are never as smart as they think they are.

She said it probably didn't matter. I was an American, and Americans 'aren't really that literary'.

To steal a line from Sam....I wanted to beat her over the head with her own shin bone, then drown her in a vat of Chardonnay just to make her mad. Muppet!

Anonymous said...

CATEGORIES ARE B.S. A WELL DONE, PIECE OF MAINSTREM FICTION - NOT DAN BROWN'S DAVINCI CODE - MAY HAVE LITERARY QUALITY, BE GENERIC AND THUS OF SOME IMPUTED GENRE, AND MAY IN FACT BREAK THROUGH ALL THE NONSENSE AND COME TO BE THOUGHT OF AS GOOD, AND PERHAPS TO BE, BEST SELLING, FICTION. PATRICK