The L-Word

Hi Writers,
To follow up on my previous post, I wanted to comment further on the term “literary” as in a “literary novel.”

First, I want to say that I love smart, character-driven literary novels. They are what I gravitate to for my own leisure reading.

So please don’t get too angry with me when I share that labeling your book “literary” will, in the minds of many agents, brand your book as being dark, depressing, boring, overly intellectual, mid-list, unsalable, (insert your own adjective for not-money-making here), etc.

When our annual competitions winners (see below) called their novel manuscripts “literary” you could almost see the agents’ eyes roll up to the ceiling. As Peter Rubie put it: “When you call your novel “literary” you put yourself on a really difficult level—up against Annie Proulx, Philip Roth and the like.”

But what did get the agents revved-up were terms mentioned in my post below, for example “crossover novel” (catchword meaning: a character-driven novel that might actually sell to a mass audience), or book club novel (catchword meaning: somewhat intellectual, culturally relevant, might actually sell to a mass audience if it catches on with the book club set). Much of this is industry jargon, but it’s certainly worth knowing if you’re trying to pitch a novel.

Feel free to share your thoughts on this but please don’t shoot the messenger, I’ve got a busy schedule this month.

Keep Writing,
Maria

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5 thoughts on “The L-Word

  1. Sanga

    To me, the term "literary fiction" is sometimes preferable because I feel that today many works fit genres too much and are strict money-makers… some chick lit may be a good read but a lot of it just seems like trash, for instance. YA seems shallow and pointless. ‘Literary’ instantly elevates the quality of the work – at least in theory. Still, it does carry those connotations Gabrielle mentioned above: stream-of-consciousness, slow plot, and so on, so unfortunately I must say it’s obvious that it wouldn’t be a good sell-word.

  2. Gabrielle Linnell

    Oh, I totally agree with you, Maria. When I see "Literary Fiction," I think: lots of stream-of-consciousness, slow plot, navel-gazing… I walk away from the shelf.

    It seems like some people love the term "literary" because they hate the term "genre fiction;" perhaps because genre fiction is associated with the more "business" aspects of writing, I don’t know. I like what Jennifer Weiner says about categorizing books: "It doesn’t matter what they call it, as long as people are reading it!"

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