STATUS: I accomplished a ton of stuff today. I powered through a lot of client reading, which was great. I usually don’t get to read during the day.
What’s playing on the iPod right now? THE MUSIC OF THE NIGHT by Michael Crawford (from Phantom of the Opera)
Nothing dooms a query faster than mislabeling the genre of your work. If a writer has a serious tone for his/her query with a lot of darkness only to wrap it up with “and this would be a perfect fit for the chick lit market,” I’m understandably going to be confused.
Or better yet, the queries that highlight that the work is every genre under the sun, including the kitchen sink, because then all bases are covered. (i.e. My work is a mystery, women’s fiction thriller that will also appeal to young adults—or what have you.) That’s problematic as well because it’s clear that the writer doesn’t have a clear vision of the market.
But nothing is tougher than trying to figure out whether your work is literary or not.
I wish there were a quick and dirty definition I could give you but there’s not. It’s often like porn. I know it when I see it. It’s pretty clear.
I can at least make a stab at defining it though. The term literary refers to the level and quality of the writing. The language itself is art. It also refers to the level of complexity in the story. So works like THE CLOUD ATLAS or GILEAD are definitely literary.
The writing itself has a beauty that’s palpable. Now, these works can also tell a good story (which both do by the way) but when you sit back in awe at the tightness of the writing and the sheer scope encompassed, then you know it’s literary.
Commercial fiction can certainly have literary leaning. Works such as COLD MOUNTAIN and SNOW FALLING ON CEDARS come to mind. Jane Smiley (THOUSAND ACRES) and Jodi Picoult (MY SISTER’S KEEPER) also strike me as walking that fine line between the two but ultimately I would call their stuff commercial. (Okay, I might really say commercial fiction with a literary bent to show that the writing is above the ordinary.)
And yes, folks might disagree with me—hence the dilemma between what is literary and what is commercial.