Thursday, August 14, 2008

Commercial vs Literary (again)

Another question--is it the voice that distinguishes the two (commercial vs. literary)? Or is it everything together--voice, subject matter, amount of description, etc.? (And actually, I find the commercial stuff harder to write, like the series that need to be short, tight, and often with short deadlines. It's a joy to write more literary stuff where it can be as long as it needs to be to tell the story.)
Commercialness is about popularity, and that means at the least that the language is not difficult for most children to get into. Outside of that, what makes a book popular can vary a great deal.

And don't think that there are only two categories. There are plenty of books that are neither particularly literary nor commercial. They're often called "science fiction".


José Iriarte said...

They're often called "science fiction".


Anonymous said...


David Macinnis Gill said...

I'm sure that anyone who has read The Adoration of Jenna Fox can argue that you're wrong on both counts. It is science fiction that is both literary and commercial.

Anonymous said...

Ouch! I completely agree with the reactions above. Octavia Butler, an African American science fiction writer, won the MacArthur "Genius" Grant in 1995. I don't think it matters if her work is literary or commercial. It is RESPECTED. Point blank. I think other science fiction writers will find themselves in equally good company. While I'm at it, science fiction sells all the freakin' time. Only now, some chicken writers are calling their work "science fiction for people who don't like science fiction." (This is how Stephenie Meyer described her novel, The Host.) WHATEVER! What a copout. Sci-fi sells, whether you like it or not.

Anonymous said...

What about Scott Westerfeld's series, Uglies? Or what about M.T. Anderson's novel, Feed? I guess I'm confused about your stance on science fiction.

Chris Eldin said...

That was pretty funny.

David Macinnis Gill said...

It was glib, not funny.

BonnieA said...


Editorial Anonymous said...

Hey, I'm not saying all science fiction is unpopular and unliterary. You're right that there are fantastic examples of literary sci-fi (Singing the Dogstar Blues, and as you say, Feed) and popular sci-fi (of which Jenna Fox is a smart example, as is Ender's Game, and the Uglies series).

But have any of you been into a sci-fi/fantasy specialty bookstore? Sitting on the shelves right next to the brilliant and ground-breaking authors is fanfic in book form. That's what I was talking about.

There are, naturally, examples of non-literary and unpopular books in all genres. And as you may have guessed from the books mentioned above, I read and enjoy good sci-fi.

There's no such thing as a genre that is bad, even if you believe there are bad books.

And you may also have noticed that I don't treat "nonliterary" and "unpopular" as value judgments. If there's an audience for a book--any audience-- then it has quality of some kind. It may not have a large or literary audience, but it's reaching someone, and in the end I think that's the most important thing.

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