Old Moon

Sunday, September 12, 2010

By Another Name?

In the blizzard of commentary on whether or not books are dying out, there has been a recent flurry of argument that suggests that reading is far from being on the wane.  Writing is flourishing like mushrooms after a rain. Never mind the whole explanation of how technology has given rise to this situation. The point seems to me to be that people on each side need help. Those of us who write to be read (as oppose to those who do it for "fun" or pure therapy) need some means of reaching agents, publishers, and above all, marketers with the message that instant classification is helping none of us.

Some genres are easy to toss into a single section of a bookstore, granted. Others, should be allowed to make their way into readers' hands through other hints of content and style. "A mystery is a mystery," you may say. Probably, but so often it's a whole lot more. Nowadays I'm happy to see the term "crime" or "mystery" connected with the term "novel" for those whose  plots center around a puzzle or villainy, but where the characters are multi-layered and the focus of the solution or lack thereof. It seems to me that there's a world of difference between Phyllis George and Ellery Queen.

Some terminology amounts to a kind of kiss of death for a new author. "Literary" is one these days. I believe there must be a hundred nuanced definitions of that term, and none of them is likely to entice a bookseller even if the work gets into print. An ebook so labeled might get half a dozen downloads in a year. I used to think it was a compliment to the author to be assigned that designation. I've been lured into horror, depravity, total obfuscation, and real chicanery by that label. I've also read some wonderful writing under the Literary banner. The point is that I don't think it's a useful term to a person who is unfamiliar with the author and/or publisher of a new work.

Is there anything we can do about this? I'd be the last to know!

1 comment:

Glenda said...

I heard someone at a conference say the reason books have to be labeled is for the book stores so they can know where to put them on their shelves.
It seems to me that a writer has to decide to be a commercial writer or a literary author. Sadly, those who want to be literary authors look down on commercial authors like John Grisham who sells books like crazy.
It is sad that excellent writers whose book are listed as literary don't sell many copies.
How many of the readers in B & N go to the literary shelf for a good read?
Publishers want books that sell to the public and the exciting cover and the title must appeal to the everyday reader.
I don't know where writers like you, Joan, are to sell their books.
You are talented and I hope you continue to pen your stories, and one day I'm sure they will find their mark.