By Susan Mary Malone
Does genre fiction possess the merits of, say, Literary fiction?
You’ll get answers across the board. Of course, genre sells hugely. In all the categories and subcategories of Traditional publishing (and self-publishing now as well), loyal readers argue vehemently that what they read tops the charts. Which, of course, genre does. Fantasy of all sorts now holds the top spot (vampires and such having eaten the competition for many years), but Romance still sells, perennially, the most. Although, don’t tell that to Dan Brown! Anyone can manipulate the numbers, but over the years, agents and novel editors know what actually does sell best, and what they need to fill their lists in order to succeed. In fact, the moniker of Mainstream or Literary makes those same professionals’ blood run cold, unless of course the author is already famously successful (and, as a NY editor buddy of mine always says, preferably if they’re dead:).
Many readers tell me they couldn’t get through touted Literary novels—too highbrow, they say. The author is showing off, is another oft-repeated phrase. What the heck was it about? folks ask. Or, why should I work while reading? I want to be entertained.
Of course, the point of a great novel is to entertain. But many readers want more (and have a precious hard time finding that). The devil, as we say, is in the book development.
Full disclosure here: When I read strictly for pleasure, I read Literary. That’s what makes my own heart sing. I want depth and internal conflict and some piece of meaning to this existence. That said, I read widely, and through the genres, as, well, that’s what I do. I keep up with what’s selling to stay abreast of the market. And most times—like many of the folks keep saying—the writing is abysmal. We can all recount a litany of titles off the top of our heads of bestsellers that are cringe worthy. At best. Yet, they sell like cold beer on a hot Texas day.
But sometimes (and when all is perfect), genre accomplishes exactly what Literary does—including that same depth, inherent internal conflicts as well as external ones, providing a clue into the human condition that makes it all worthwhile.
We can all point to many examples as well. One such is J. Nelson Aviance’s Fantasy work, about vampires and werewolves and mages. His recent collection, Three by Moonlight, includes brilliant writing, compelling characters (I’d follow Eyulf the werewolf across eight galaxies), and gripping stories. And this is just a tease for his novel in progress. A young author to watch, Aviance drew me into a genre that, as all who know me can attest, is not something I’d normally pick up for pleasure and insight. But that’s exactly what I found there. And it’s smart—a key ingredient to what I love.
Kevin Don Porter’s Missing is a Mid-Grade Reader, so obviously not something most adults would peruse. But said adults would be missing the boat. This lovely read contains a depth of insights into the human condition that spans generations, while also being laugh-out-loud funny, entertaining, and a gripping Mystery. This young book author not only has a stellar career ahead of him, but is selling well now. Which just warms my heart!
So, is genre fiction as noteworthy as Literary? Mostly not. But exceptions occur all over the place, and to shy away from the different categories is to limit your reading experience. Great books can be found spanning all genres. And of course, that just adds to the riches of reading!