A REVOLUTION HAPPENED AND NOBODY NOTICED
Amazon tries; it really does.
To satisfy its customers, to make searching for what they want easy (easier), to supply it efficiently.
By revolution I mean both also that things turned around – 180° – from where they were, sort of, before.
Because before this all happened, ‘literary’ was a separate category in bookstores.
And literary meant a number of things:
- Difficult to read, requiring great attention
- Small in scope – One DAY in the life of Ivan Denisovich
- Using difficult flowery language
- Very detailed – a navel closely observed and described
- Slow and languid
- Somehow not for everyone
- Requiring a large SAT vocabulary
- For people with an MA in English or Literature
- Suitable proof for a doctorate
- A credential for teaching English or Literature
- With a limited audience
- Maybe French or translated from Italian or Russian
- Not commercial
- Often not ending anywhere near happily
Add or subtract from my list what comes into your head when you hear ‘literary novel.’ Please feel free to mention them in a comment.
What’s the revolution, you ask?
That ‘literary’ now means ‘traditionally published good stuff’ on Amazon, and is seen as almost the exclusive purview of, you guessed it, the traditional publishers large and small.
The books that are vetted by agents and editors at publishing companies (excluding the celebrity stuff), and are therefore both ‘better’ and ‘not for the hoi polloi.’
The other similar term is ‘historical,’ which is a little fuzzier and often about WWII, sometimes about WWI or the American Civil War.
Because the term ‘mainstream’ disappeared, and is not the same as ‘contemporary,’ which can be attached to, say, a Romance and a worldview: ‘Contemporary Christian Romance’ is a searchable thing.
It is considered presumptuous to label your own work ‘classic.’
And ‘General Fiction’ is not a category, but a garbage can.
‘Psychological’ is filling the empty slot somewhat – almost all novels for grownups are psychological, but is confounded by ‘thriller,’ ‘horror’, and ‘women’s fiction.’ With, of course, nothing actually labeled ‘fiction for men.’
It used to be possible to find mainstream fiction by looking for ‘a novel’ on the cover. No more. It now means only ‘book of at least 50 pages.’
It doesn’t matter for mainstream because
I’m convinced readers of mainstream fiction who use Amazon come there to find a good price on something they’ve already decided to buy.
I don’t think they search on Amazon. Not beyond maybe being attracted by something similar being offered by the ‘also read’ bots. There is just too much stuff.
They get their recommendations elsewhere – book critics (who rarely do SPAs*), reviews in the few places which still have book sections (print journalism has taken a lot of hits lately, too), and the publicity material put out for their best-selling authors by the traditional publishers (other authors get bupkis from traditional publishers – return on investment isn’t worth it).
So the market is saturated and sopped up by the same few titles which keep those offices in Manhattan open for the publishers (and their unpaid interns).
I’m hoping for virality. It can make the huge difference to a start – and then the writing must maintain the quality so that future books, even if widely spaces, are eagerly awaited.
Feel free to help kick that off – if you like mainstream fiction.
Don’t let ‘the system’ keep producing same old, same old – and then complain you can’t find anything you like to read.
Thank you for listening to the daily rant. Now, if I could just manage to do it daily! 🙂
Oh, and the answer to the title question is yes: ‘Literary’ has too many negative and restrictive connotations in the minds of too many readers.
‘Literary’ is not a good substitute for such terms as mainstream, ‘big book’, epic, blockbuster, or commercial novel. It isn’t the same. Even when the intent is to make it a synonym with ‘well written.’
IMNVHO (In my not very humble opinion,)
Final note: Pride’s Children: PURGATORY is taking part today and for the next few days at a promotion at HelloBooks – which has many other wonderful bargains for serious readers of General Fiction (its category) and many other genres.
*SPAs = self-published authors, sometimes known as indies or independent authors