One of the first assignments I found myself steeped in was determining what genre my novel fell into. What category of writing was it? General Ficiton? Women’s fiction? Chick lit? Hen Lit. Urban fiction? Commercial fiction? Literary fiction?
How do I know???
Who would have imagined that at this age, I’d still be finding myself in situations where my status had to be defined. Class status starts when we’re young. Do we get to be in the class with the smart kids or the dummies? High school it gets even worse – cool crowd or nerds? Popular kids or the losers? College? Career? Aren’t we always defining ourselves according to what others may think of ourselves?
No matter how confident we may seem, there are insecurities lurking below the surface. I assume we all have them. And when we write, we let go of our inner thoughts – or at least we let go of our characters and put them out there for the world to meet. Of course we’re going to be judged – expected. We’ve written a story, we’ve publicized it and we have to deal with the after-effects. But before you can even jump to the judgment part, you have to determine the genre you belong to. Oy. Out pop those old high school insecurities all over again!
Is my book (Menopause in Manhattan) chick lit? That would be light-hearted stuff appealing mostly to women – nothing too heavy or serious enough to make you remember it once you close the book. But my book deals with a woman who’s hitting fifty – and I’ve been told that puts it in the hen lit category. Ouch! So what – like only older women are going to like it? Have I written a novel that will appeal only to senior citizens?
But guys like it. And young people like it. So maybe I need to remove it from the female genre all together?
I thought perhaps it belonged to the urban literature genre – makes sense since my story takes places mostly in Manhattan. Well hardy har har – urban lit refers to the tough stuff – inner city, profanity, sex and violence. That sure as hell ain’t what my story is about.
The decision I finally had to make was simpler – commercial fiction or literary. I think I was asked to assign a category for the Amazon site. Simple enough.
So why did I feel like once again I was being judged? Once again I wouldn’t make it into the cool girl’s sorority? I’d have to settle for second best?
Literary fiction sounded good – Pulitzer worthy. Commercial fiction sounded well, commercial – like Readers Digest maybe would do a quick synopsis of my story. I went to my editor – she knows everything – and she told me. And I did not like her answer!
Yup – Menopause in Manhattan was indeed commercial fiction. Oh the pain of it! My book was good enough to sell – but not of intellectual quality. I meekly expressed my disappointment to her. She laughed.
“But you don’t want to be literary fiction. Commercial fiction is so much better!”
Oh yeah, sure. Tell me another story.
She laughed again. “Look, literary fiction is something like Salmon Rushdie writes a new book. Its considered solid literary fiction. But no one wants to read it, its boring, or heavy anyway. Maybe it will sell because its Salman Rushdie, but will people love it? NO!
Now take commercial fiction. That sells and people love reading it. And it doesn’t matter if its defined as chick lit, or hen lit or beach lit or summer reading or whatever you want to name it. It makes people think or smile or cry. It touches people.
And that’s a good thing!
So Menopause in Manhattan – you get to be commercial fiction. Now get out there and sell thyself!