There’s lots of talk about self-publishing discrimination, and more about gender discrimination, but it’s “genre” discrimination that is on my mind
“Genre” is your book’s category.
If we want to ever make any money writing, being associated with a certain genre is especially important in helping first time authors find their audience.
My debut novel, Riversong, is labeled either women’s fiction or chicklit depending on the reviewer. It certainly has a different audience, for example, than a spy thriller.
Fortunately for novelists, there are as many varieties of readers out there as there are writers. As my daughter’s school librarian says, “I don’t care what you read, as long as you read.”
Where I get into a bit of a snit is when women’s popular fiction, genres like romance, cozy mysteries and chicklit, are labeled as less important, or the writer, as less skilled than those writing literary fiction.
Sure, those of us who write in these genres may never win the Pulitzer but it does not mean that our writing isn’t as good. A well-crafted story is still well-crafted no matter the genre. Compelling descriptive writing still draws the reader in, no matter the genre. Fully developed characters make you believe the story is real, no matter the genre.
As a writer in the women’s fiction genre, when I’m asked at dinner parties, the gym, in writer’s circles, and even at my own book signings, what ‘kind of book’ Riversong is, I feel apologetic, as if the book I slaved over for years and that I get daily fan mail about, is somehow not ‘important’ enough. As if I’m not a real writer.
I often answer with a tilt of my head or wave of my hand, as if I’m dismissing myself and my book:
“It’s just a chicklit book about a woman who triumphs over tragedy. Don’t expect the Pulitzer or anything.”
In 2001, my full-length play, My Lady’s Hand won first place prize for new works at a small Seattle theatre. In the review by the Seattle Times of one of the subsequent productions (which I also directed) the reviewer dismissed the play as, “Something you’d see on Lifetime”. My own father said something about how he could see it on the WE network.
Last week a review on Amazon said that Riversong reminded the reader of a Lifetime movie. For some ridiculous reason, these comments bothered me. And why, exactly? I mean, I should be so lucky to have a producer buy the rights and make a movie of Riversong for Lifetime. It’s only one of the most popular cable networks in the world. And, I might add, makes great movies on all kinds of subjects.
And, there is the crux of the issue, my writer friends. I had to ask myself, last week in the middle of the night when I was obsessing about this very subject – was I ashamed of writing books that appeal to women? Had I bought into the subtle message that my ‘audience’ of women meant I didn’t have anything important to say? And if so, what is the matter with me?
That’s when I had to have a serious talk with myself. It was a stern talk, a take myself ‘to the woodshed’ type of talk.
I am a woman after all. The women in my book are like so many of the strong resilient women I know in real life who juggle aging parents, children, relationships and careers without complaint, day after long day. Should I apologize that I wrote a book for them? For us?
By allowing myself to judge Riversong as unimportant because it’s not written by a man for men, I’m literally dismissing myself and my readers.
Riversong is about an ordinary woman thrown into an extraordinary situation, just like so many of us in real life. The way she gets out of it, is heroic. And yes, there’s a love story too, which apparently is decidedly unliterary. This is ironic, when you consider most of us are in a love story of our own and if we’re not, we certainly want to be. Isn’t that what we talk about during our girls’ nights out?
Genre fiction, commercial fiction, is important. It entertains, it moves, it illuminates the human experience. All of which is our job as novelists. Our readers are counting on us.
So, at the next dinner party, when someone asks me, “What kind of novel is Riversong?” I will answer proudly.
Riversong is Women’s Fiction, literature that reveals the intelligence, resilience and courage of women just like you and me.
That sounds pretty important, now that I think about it.
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*Editor’s Note: See The Guardian – Alison Flood’s June 13, 2011 post about the response to Nobel laureate Naipaul stating women’s writing is inferior.