Tuesday, May 27, 2008


In the Guardian G2 today is a long article on new names in fiction. In amongst it, is comment from book journalists and editors - Joel Rickett of the Bookseller is one and he says that literary fiction is the hardest category, as books tend to be one offs, and writers do not repeat themselves, unlike thriller writers for example.

This got me thinking. If this was really true, we would not have managed to establish a single writer from this house, since I really do find most thrillers so similar that I cannot be bothered to read them - let lone publish them. So, if Joel is right and I am wrong, then I have to re categorise our successes as a publishing house.

So here goes -

Hubert Selby Jr writes about poverty, lust, guns and self destruction - so he must be a sadistic thriller writer - a kind of hunt the morality instead of the killer book (although he does have characters kill people - quite satisfactorily sometimes - for example, using Coca Cola).

Hong Ying is definitely a historical romance writer - everyone knows that Julian Bell was a hunk. And The Concubine of Shanghai has a woman rise through the ranks using her beauty, seductive skill and of course, involvement with Triad gangs in 1930s Shanghai - perfect. Or maybe she isa Mills and Boon type romance writer. I'm in a dilemma here.

Elif Shafak - well, it is getting tricky now. Family saga does not really represent what happens in a multi occupied house in Istanbul (The Flea Palace). But it will do - and the dwarf and the large woman is The Gaze are also in a relationship so that makes is OK.

And what about Sadomasichism for Accountants by Rosy Barnes - maybe we will just have to invent a new genre - completely intoxicatingly funny but does not fit in any category novel.

One up to Joel.



Anonymous said...

The question is, why should writers repeat themselves? If you want to do that, become a mathematician. A simple formula like A+B=C sells. It may work for certain genres e.g.thrillers and not so well for others. A writer who does the same thing over and over again and still sells may be every publisher's dream but that is akin to premeditated creative death. Perhaps that's why as a nation we don't read as much as we used to. I think that people are tired of feeling as if they're being sold something. There's something to be said for authenticity. As human beings we may fit into many boxes and we are constantly evolving; this can be reflected in the words that we write. If it is done well, it will still sell.

Unknown said...

Hi Catheryn - What I meant was that literary writers tend to be more inconsistent in sales terms than those who dwell in other more closely defined genres... Brilliant literary novelists tend to shift each book's setting, period, structure, even style. That means they can have one big success, perhaps fuelled by awards or media, and then slip back with the follow-up. Only a handful of literary writers can command genuine mass audiences with each new book. That's because such shifts represent a real risk for the reader (hence the decline of literary hardbacks). Look at, say, Martin Amis - he's managed to alienate swathes of readers by veering around so much.
Contrast that to crime, chick lit, historical fiction, satire, etc - where the successful authors tend to build consistently by creating a distinct world and keeping within its borders. That adds a tiny extra pinch of certainty to the reader's decision.
Of course, all this makes building literary readerships book-by-book even more rewarding! But I don't think publishers should be precious about defining writers using soundbites and references to familiar work/writers/genres. Think of it as a necessary act of reduction that will be happily subverted by the complexity of the novel. A market-defined box that they can easily break out of. It's often the long, over-elaborate cover copy that puts potential readers off...