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Monday, March 1, 2021

Literary Novelists Switching to Genre Fiction

     The good ship Literary Fiction has run aground and the survivors are frantically paddling toward the islands of genre. Okay, maybe that's a little dramatic, but there does seem to be a definite trend of literary/mainstream writers turning to romance, thrillers, fantasy, mystery, and young adult.

     What is going on? Is it a mass sellout, a belated and half-hearted attempt by writers to chase the market? Are they being pushed into genre by their agents and publishers? Are the literary novelists simply ready for a change, perhaps because even the most exalted among them have a tiny readership compared to genre superstars? Or are the two worlds finally merging?

     Once upon a time, genre was treated as almost a different industry from literary fiction, ignored by critics, sneered at by literary writers, relegated by publishers to imprint ghettos. But the dirty little and not particularly well-kept secret was that, thanks to the loyalty of their fans and the relatively rapid production of their authors, these genre books were the ones who kept the entire operation in business. All those snobbish literary writers had better have hoped like hell that their publishers had enough genre moneymakers in house to finance the advance for their latest beautifully rendered and experimentally structured observations of upper class angst.

     But while genre authors were always the workhorses of publishing, lately they've broken out as stars and are belatedly receiving real recognition. In 2010 there were 358 fantasy titles on the best seller lists, more than double the number in 2006. Publishers, always the last to recognize a literary trend, are pursuing top genre writers who, for the first time, have not only bigger paychecks but genuine clout…

     A lot of literary writers actually support themselves through other jobs, such as teaching, and they may be prepared to wait out the change and hope that literary fiction returns. [Not only has this trend accelerated in the past few years, the line between genre and literary fiction has faded.]

Kim Wright, "Why So Many Literary Writers Are Leaving the Genre,", September 2, 2011 

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