Tell us how you feel about genre vs. literaryfiction.
Depends if you’re asking me the reader/book consumer or me, the author/small businessperson.
As a reader, makes no difference. I read them both and enjoy them. And anymore, just as genre boundaries are being crossed and cross-pollinated, so is the boundary between literary and genre blurring.
Only problem? The bookstores just don’t get this. In fact, something that constantly frustrates me, the author, is that the major chain bookstores and my own publisher don’t understand how most consumers buy books.
For instance, the closest bookstore to me is twenty minutes away—it takes a lot to get me there, usually combined with other errands and usually with the intent of buying several books, not just one. Despite this, the last three times I’ve made the trip, I’ve been stymied and walked OUT empty-handed without buying the books I went to buy, much less any impulse buys.
In my opinion this total lack of understanding their target customer is why chain bookstores are failing—and the publishers aren’t helping by persisting in their age-old genre bias.
Here’s one of the books I drove twenty minutes to buy and failed. I went to find a James Lee Burke novel—an author I’m sure we’d all agree is one of the most literary writers out there, although his books center on a detective protagonist, they have varying degrees of mystery and suspense elements in them.
Instead I found his daughter, Alafair, whose books I enjoy, but they are straight mystery/suspense, nothing literary about them. Okay, I swim out of Gen Lit and head over to Mystery/Suspense, again plunging right into the “B’s”.
There I find his backlist in mass market paperbacks. No sighting of the book I wanted, a book that at the time was on the NYT bestseller list. Hmmm…..off to the trusty clerk at the kiosk who is busy fielding phone calls and questions. He checks the computer and assures me they have the book I want in stock but is interrupted by another phone call, so I go off to find it myself.
And, if you’re an author with a hardcover out and you’re already shelved in Mystery/Suspense, your hardcover book can be one of three places—the center aisle hardcover penthouse, the first row of Mystery/Suspense, or in the ghetto along with the paperbacks….but here’s the problem. How the heck is the customer to know???
Here’s where the author/businessperson in me gets frustrated. Because not only do the bookstores persist in segregating books with no rhyme or reason, the publishers encourage them!
I’ve lost track of the number of writer friends whose books I, a highly motivated shopper, can NOT find because the publisher decided to shelve their romantic suspense or police procedural or paranormal in Gen Lit.
And guess what, my own publisher does the same with mine. Yes, my fast-paced, fun beachy read paperback novels are shelved not in Mystery/Suspense but rather in the morass of Gen Lit, just to the left of MOBY DICK!!!
Look at these covers—my publisher is clearly marketing to a specific target audience: women who enjoy medical dramas/romantic suspense. Are those women going to browse the quamire that is Gen Lit? Are they going to look for my sexy suspense stories to the left of Herman Melville?
I get hundreds of fan letters. The only complaint I have ever gotten from any reader is: I can’t find your books in my store.
Of course they can’t. You don’t go looking for a candy bar alongside the capers.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my books, I think they’re fun, kick-ass, mighty-good reads. So do the critics and so do my readers—if they can find them.
My books perform the same purpose as any books in the Gen Lit section including any that could be called “literary”—they entertain. They provide a diversion and escape from the mundane world. They give the consumer their money’s worth.
But they’ll never be confused with Moby Dick!
I propose that the bookstores, at least the chains, use the system that makes shopping for books in Europe so delightful. The stores I’ve been in abroad encourage browsing and make things ever so simple for everyone, customers and clerks alike. How? They have no genre sections for fiction—everyone is arranged using my trusty compass, the alphabet.
So yes, in Europe my books are still to the left of Moby Dick—but everyone knows where to find them, right at the end of the “L’s” where they belong!
Speaking of the power of the consumer, I’ve begun a new program called: BUY A BOOK, MAKE A DIFFERENCE.
As a pediatric ER doctor turned author, I applaud the efforts of Doctors Without Borders and their humanitarian aid during disasters such as the recent earthquake in Haiti . In order to support their continuing good work, I will be donating the royalties from the sales of four of my Kindle titles from now until February 29, 2010 to Doctors Without Borders.
The titles, all romantic suspense novels, are: NERVES OF STEEL, BORROWED TIME, CHASING SHADOWS, and LOST IN SHADOWS. For more information on these titles or my Buy a Book, Make a Difference program, go to http://www.cjlyons.net
If you don’t like romantic suspense, you can still make a difference! Make a donation to a worthy cause of your choice and pass this offer on to your friends and family.
As always, thanks for reading!
As a pediatric ER doctor, CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about in her cutting edge suspense novels. Her debut, LIFELINES (Berkley, March 2008), became a National Bestseller and Publishers Weekly proclaimed it a "breathtakingly fast-paced medical thriller."
The second in the series, WARNING SIGNS, was released January, 2009 and the third, URGENT CARE, October, 2009. Contact her at http://www.cjlyons.net