Literary Fiction as a Pejorative

I recently sent an email to the good folks over at AgentQueryasking them to update my listing on their site. They got most of the details correct — name, preferred method of contact, email address, special interests — but under genres represented they included “literary fiction.” And yes, if you look at my submission page, you’ll see it says “brilliant, funny, original middle grade and young adult fiction, both literary and commercial”, but please do note the bullet point. I’ll admit, I’m not interested in adult literary fiction, no matter how many awards it wins, for many of the same reasons that kt literary client Catherine Cheek enumerates in her recent blog post. In fact, I had a conversation with my uncle when I was back in NY, who told me about the recent Oprah pick he’d read, and how disappointed he was in the ending. Though I admitted to not reading it myself, I told him almost without fail that I preferred commercial fiction to literary, because in commercial fiction, the primary focus is the STORY, with beginning, middle, and satisfying end, not just a beautiful collection of words on paper without meaningful direction.
I want pace. I want adventure. I want romance. I want a story.
Can you imagine tucking your child in at night and telling them the bedtime adventure of a man struggling to find himself? No! Kids want excitement, they want plot, and that, I think, is another thing that separates YA and middle grade literary fiction from its adult counterpart. You’ll never see a YA character, as Catherine writes, taking “40 pages […] to cross the street.” Children’s literary fiction is much less divided from the commercial side because almost all children’s fiction IS commercial. If you want kids to read it, then you better make sure there’s a driving story. It may be literary in tone and style, but there are commercial elements. Look at recent winners or nominees of notable Children’s awards like the Printz, Newbery, or National Book Award. They may be the best of the best (although that’s fodder for another whole blog post), but I believe they are sold in higher numbers, comparatively, than their adult prize-winning counterparts.
And that, I think, is because so-called “important” books for kids still are complusively readable.
So I asked AgentQuery to remove “literary fiction” from my list of interests. Chalk it up there with self-help books and political thrillers as genres that get an almost automatic decline from me.
And with that said, I have more reading to do.

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