Thursday, June 11, 2015

Defining Literary Fiction

In jumping the romance ship (sort of) I have to acquaint myself with norms for the much broader umbrella of literary fiction. That said, it seems there are no norms other than telling a good story. Then again, that could be said for any of the genre fiction categories -- the underlying factor that makes them genre is that the bulk of the story meets a certain angle. In my case, romance requires an emotionally satisfying happily ever after. All of my manuscripts meet this romance norm, but the romance between my main characters does not always meet the aspect of fantasy implicit in romance, hence the switch.

Part of my research brought me across "Literary Fiction vs. Genre Fiction," a Huffington Post article by Steven Petit. I agree with much of what he says about the difference between genre and literary fiction except for the distinction that genre fiction is to entertain and literary fiction is an expression of the writer's being. Gotham Writers points out that "literary and genre fiction aren’t exclusive of one another." Every thing I have written has been an expression of my soul and I would argue that many authors of genre fiction put themselves into their books and consider them art, albeit art that entertains. Art is successful when it draws forth an emotional response and I like to flatter myself that my writing does just that (even with a happily ever after). Maybe that's because I am amazing. Sure. Why not? 

I struggle with maintaining the norms of one sub-genre of romance. My historical romances are too  chick lit and historical fiction to have a clear shelf space (and I've heard this from my critique partner, my beta readers, AND industry professionals so it's insane that I'm only now accepting it as truth). My paranormal are too historical and thriller/suspense to even be categorized under romance at all. The only clear genre fiction I have in the works (notice it's not finished) are my contemporary, but contemporary romance in itself is also skirting the boundary of chick lit, so bully for me.

In short, I think good writing is "Literary Fiction is comprised of the heart and soul of a writer's being, and is experienced as an emotional journey through the symphony of words, leading to a stronger grasp of the universe and of ourselves" (Petit).  This description can apply to all genres and gives me hope of being successful as I look into a new pool of agents and publishers.

For now I'll ignore the niggling doubt that reminds me many of the agents I have queried in the past represent more than romance. That said, if they saw something more like literary fiction in my manuscripts, wouldn't they have instigated the change? Or were they looking only for romance norms since that was the description they started with?

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