Monday, January 12, 2009

Carolyn Howard-Johnson Wonders, "What Has Happened to Literary Fiction?"

Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of This is the Place, The Frugal Book Promoter, and The Frugal Editor, ponders why so much sci-fi, fantasy and romance is published, but less and less literary fiction? I think you'll enjoy her ideas. At least they will get you thinking.

For me the real topic is this: Why is it that literary fiction seems to be losing readers? The only reason my literary novel This Is the Place sold well in 2001 (at least for a first novel) is that I am also a marketer and took lots of time nurturing the sales and thinking of angles that would appeal to large segments of readers (yes, like the romantic aspect, that it is based on a true story, etc)

Here are some reasons I think literary work is not being read, in no particular order:

* Literary fiction (including poetry) isn't being published, at least not in the numbers it was published in the past.

*Publishers are assigning their marketing dollars to their top authors and stars and very nearly ignoring their midlist people. In fact, they aren't building midlists in any genre as they once did which doesn't bode well for publishing in general as the big names age and retire.

*Our education system isn't encouraging critical thinking or reading.

*Our education system is failing to teach reading/vocabulary building, etc. at a level required by many literary novels. So must we dumb-down our literary writing?

*Evidenced by the way our culture votes for their leaders, it doesn't much value anything intellectual. No matter what your politics I think we writers might agree that Obama's critical thinking, speaking and writing skills might be an encouraging sign for the future.

Please don't forget to discuss the sorry state of poetry. I read recently that even poets aren't buying books or chapbooks of poetry. Sorry, I can't find the article in my files.

Carolyn's web site: How To Do It Frugally.


Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

Mary Emma! I fogot one! Parents are busy working to bring two, three and even four incomes. That doesn't leave them enough time to participate in their own children's educations.

Thank you for printing this. Hope it gives your visitors something to ponder.


Carolyn Howard-Johnson
Blogging at Writer's Digest 101 Best Website,

Mary Emma Allen said...

Thanks for stopping by, Carolyn. Yes, busy lives make it difficult for parents to participate as they might wish in their children's education and their reading.

Teresa Morrow said...

Wow! There was a lot in that post to think and respond to...
First, I would like to say that I agree with the part about the publishers don't wish to take on or help the literary fiction as much as they used to.
I liked your point (even though it is sad but probably true) that authors of literary fiction feel they have to lessen the intellectual aspects of their work. However, in my opinion, that shouldn't stop writers from writing literary fiction they way they want just because it seems no one will read it. There is an audience out there.

Also, these days schools don't take the appropriate time to teach vocabulary enough---so much testing now and not enough learning. I am fortunate with my daughter's school that they do have vocabulary testing each week still (some don't).

Thank you Carolyn for a thought provoking post.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

Teresa, I think the secret to getting kids interested in words is to compliment them when they use one they haven't used before. And, of course, to set an example. Thanks for your comments.

Glad you think there is an audience. LOL

Carolyn Howard-Johnson
Author of the multi award-winning literary novel, This Is the Place

Naomi said...

Literary Fiction is the home my novels should live in. I once had an individual ask, "What kind of books are they?" I replied that they were literary fiction and her reaction was a blank look and, "Huh?"

I could not bring myself to "dumb-down" the dialogue; in fact, it would have taken away from their very essence. I would rather (God help 'em) have someone learn a new word or even complain about the long or unfamiliar vocabulary! Actually, since I am not a marketer and am an unknown author aside from some local hot-spots in a couple areas, I probably don't have much to worry about in the complaint department.