Succeeding in Genre VS Literary

Let me first qualify this post by saying I definitely believe people should be writing. Lots of Genre writers are making a killing and lots of Literary writers are happily due to publications able to have careers teaching and editing manuscripts. Other people are writing and reading for free in online groups where they make friends interested in the stories they write and post on the subway on their cell phones.

Whether your writing makes money or resonates with the masses or you have the wherewithal to do a big marketing push, go for it. There are cascades of magazines and anthologies hungry for your work and the interactions with their publishers are excellent. The imaginative arts redeem humanity. Sort of. Taking the raw material of life and turning it with mad skills into something ecstatically exciting for you and your readers is exquisite. Do it.

If anything, this post is meant to comfort if you aren’t succeeding the way you expected to, not to dissuade. Let’s look at what that means.

The methods and benchmarks of “making it” are quite different in Genre and Literary fiction, though some authors merge the two styles, in spite of being warned against it by experts who say it’s a no man’s land financially. Yes, it probably is, but some of us are just like that. Stubborn. Thus, the frustration in our rants. But that juncture is still beautiful and full of promise.

Literary writers have jobs. Or at least they want them. The most common ideal is teaching in universities, which is the reward for being authors. Their writing sure as heck isn’t likely to support them directly, unless they’re the exceedingly rare breed of authors established back in the old days when the major publishing houses did marketing and spent serious money on it.

So, they’re adjuncts. And they live in a closet or an enclosed porch, perhaps. Those are always nice.

Even now big publishers have to pay huge fees to bookstores to place books in the best locations and they need a lot of faith in sales to do that. Publishers must ship 20,000 books to stores to be taken seriously, and they have to expect many returned books. A book has a fraction of a percent chance of being stocked in a book store, anyway.

So most Literary fiction is put out by the small press with no thought of stores, or even selling much. And nothing in stores. They have no budget for marketing. They’re probably losing money to put out people’s books out of generous passion. They know what it’s like because they’re authors too.

The marketing comes from a few reviewers who submit their reactions to the books to Literary magazines, usually without pay other than sometimes a free book, because they are passionate about the work. Facebook writers network by sharing links to online magazine stories their friends have published, once in awhile, if they really like them, or hope their work will also be shared due to good karma. They might make the “best” or “most anticipated” yearly lists. They might get a few reviews on Amazon if they work it.

The more avant-garde the book is, the more it’s doing well if it sells a few, usually to other experimental authors who understand the ambitious concepts and are part of the exciting dialogue of innovation. And truly, each reader who gets it is wonderful and cause for celebration. That’s success.

If it’s short stories, forget about it. Makes a good Christmas present for Mom. On the other hand, no, Mom doesn’t know what experimental short stories are, and she wants to keep it that way. No need to scare her. How about chapbooks? Hahaha! Yeah, right. What the heck are those, says everybody.

Only somewhere around five percent of book sales are Literary. Without the author having the money, personality, health, time, confidence, and skills to do the majority or the entirity of enthusiastic and energetic promotion, his books are not going to create an International sensation and they won’t be one of the twenty Literary authors who carry most of the sales in that style.

Mostly, they will give local readings if they live in that kind of place, and maybe sell a book at a small percent of those events. They might have three minutes to read, or if they score big, ten minutes. The rewards are different from money. It’s like the old tribal tradition of telling each other stories beside the caves, by the fire. It’s having the voice heard, understood, appreciated by the community, and an identity and reason for one’s obscure eccentricity established. It’s like howling at the moon.

However, they may be able to afford to apply for grants, may be able to afford to send their work to contests. Usually if they can, they don’t win, and there’s the rub. But if they do, woohoo! They still might not have many readers, but they have a good line on their resume to get the fourth adjunct job needed to survive, and maybe even a good chunk of cash to use to submit to more contests. And they can feel valued by the people who read and chose their books as worthwhile.

The thing is, the numbers of people reading any kind of books are declining. In Alabama, for example, it’s only thirty four percent. No wonder people looked at me funny when I lived there.

This quote gets its own paragraph. “Only 6.7% of American adults read poetry last year.” Let me say that again. “Only 6.7% of American adults read poetry last year.”

The number of books being written which are competing with those slots is exploding, particularly due to POD and e-book self-publishing, which is where the real money is these days for Genre and non-fiction. Lots of non-fiction and a hefty number of Genre authors are becoming millionaires,  even multimillionaires, and they are making a tons of money by telling people how they did that: what tools they used, what productivity hacking methods, what marketing ploys. That’s become the new mark of success. Some of these methods are free, but most cost money.

Who is actually making money with books? They’re young, usually Caucasian, healthy, business minded energetic men. In fact, they generally write non-fiction. No, actually, they buy PLR (written by someone else with the ability to change the author name to their own) or they outsource the writing. They’re affiliate marketers for the tools they share in their newsletters. They put on webinars which funnel into online courses, they give away free reports as lead magnets, have subscriptions, exclusive Facebook groups, become speakers at events. Because every writer wants to learn how to make more money. The books and courses that sell best are about how to make money as a writer. Often the people who have succeeded as authors did so only by writing those books. I know. Weird.

Literary books are successes depending on what the author decides feels good. That may change as he faces reality. It succeeds if it keeps his brain active rather than slipping into dementia in later years, if it transforms his painful experiences into art, if anyone reads it and likes it and even reviews it on Amazon or Goodreads or shouts out on Facebook.

It’s an expression of creativity. It’s a way of making every moment of life each finely honed sentence is written or read into something spectacular. Something exists that didn’t exist before. Maybe you pushed the concept of what can be done with literature in a new way never before seen. And it probably didn’t cost a lot of money. Time, yes, but what better way to spend it? Did you grow from it? Did you fall in love with the characters? Good.

Genre books succeed by being on the best seller lists. It’s harder to get onto the New York Times list, but even being in the Amazon top 100 is just dandy. If the book doesn’t do that, it tanks. People don’t see it. It needs good SEO to be found for popular keywords that aren’t already saturated. And authors are happy to sell you tools to do that.

With Genre, I’m sorry to say, after studying this extensively for years, success is about spending money. You might not make money. But you sure as heck spend it. Yes, there’s a lot of heck going on in the writing world.

This is the secret. Authors buy fake Twitter and Facebook followers. They buy Amazon reviews and buy reviews that demonize their competition. They have someone buy a truckload of books on launch day, to raise their ranking. They buy countless tools, endless software, much of it rather invasive and unfair. An author will pay 350,000 dollars a month in Facebook ads, month after month.

Not all of them do that. Some succeed honestly and without being rich. It takes all their time, and they’ve found just the right niche, and may be brilliant. They write a series with cliffhangers. They write Romance. They create groups of ardent passionate followers willing to review their work on launch day. They of course, like all the others, have great lead magnets to build their lists, like a free book.

How do people find the websites to know they want that free book? Because they read another of his free books on Amazon and it had a link to the splash page. The splash page is enticing because the author spent good money on it, and on tools to see how many people click the link if it has a red or an orange button, on the left or on the right, and how long people stayed on the site, what those people clicked on after they left the site, and what their social media profiles are.

Truly, people mostly find books because they belong to the humongous number of free or paid lists in which they are offered free e-books continually. They download them. They move on to the others in the list that day and the next and the next ,and the other lists. Do they have time to actually read them? How could they? But that brings the authors into the public eye briefly after the free period is done and so some people might buy them for a whopping 99 cents, of which the authors get 30 percent of the profit.

Genre authors don’t usually bother launching until they have at minimum 1000 people in their newsletter, and ideally 10,000 0 100,000 as a base number, with more obviously better. They have to give away a lot of lead magnets, run contests to give away cruises or a night in a castle, do free webinars in which they employ hard sales tactics, split test like a mofo, spend hundreds of dollars on covers even of the free books, guest post left and right and pay for the opportunity to people organizing blog tours. I haven’t begun to scratch the surface of what they pay for.

Do authors who can’t afford to do all that expensive marketing have a chance of competing for best seller status? Not really. But many authors who judiciously give away books while listing them with lots of services hit the best seller in their sub-niche for a day before sales tank. So they can claim that and get other benefits from that title.Maybe the next time they’ll be taken more seriously.

Or maybe the next series they’ll spend the money to fake it, and sell courses in how to do that and on how to make a business on the back end of book sales by selling courses on how to do that.

 

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The End of Awful Words

Eventually, everyone realized no one really likes to read fiction by obscure writers. But everyone had become an obscure writer. So, they divided up daily by a new automated lottery into readers and writers. The readers were paid for their time. The idea of buying books became so outdated no one could remember that model.

Some people screwed with the system, and used their behind-the-scenes clout to avoid being readers, and were able to be only writers. Social classes were formed, with the permanent readers near the bottom, though at least they were gainfully employed. The writers had to steal from them to survive, but it was better than reading that awful stuff.

The readers revolted, and killed off most of the writers. They had no more source of income, but they didn’t care. No more words. Silence. Peace. Death. Finally.

Becoming a Genre Babe

When I was growing up, I read Literary Fiction. I had a William Faulkner shrine in my room. I listened to, sang, and performed classical music. I wasn’t very impressed by pop culture. I liked avant-garde, innovations in plot structure that involved looking at the story from more than one perspective, metaphysical concepts and explorations outside the norm. I was thrilled in High School by the film with Merce Cunningham’s dance troupe dancing deliberately out of synch to John Cage’s industrial noise around Marcel Duchamp’s Big Glass sculpture.

As I continued, I read about Phenomenology and Postmodernism, applying them to Nouveau Roman authors like Robbe-Grillet. I loved reading every book containing Literary Criticism of another French New Novelist, Claude Simon’s method of cutting up the flow and reassembling it. The spaces between stories that freed them from the glue of linearity and being approached in only one way was inspiring to me. I got excited by metafiction like Lost in the Funhouse by John Barth, complexity like Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 and Jorge Luis Borges’ Labyrinths, breaks in continuity like Italo Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler.

I wanted to add my voice in a lasting way to the advancing dialogue of Literature, explore new ways to blow up plot conventions, character defaults. I wrote about forbidden topics and rebelled against traditions of characters always being young and beautiful, white and employed. I wrote a lot of realism, but it never supported the dominant paradigm that leads to wars under false pretenses, superficial commercialism, and sneaky social engineering. The very structure common to fiction relies on the over-stimulation of the adrenal glands, creating addiction, weakness, irritability, burn-out, desensitization, and the need for other stimulants. I proposed a style called Lucid Fiction, which many authors told me they enthusiastically embraced, which varies from the safety of the default.

I created the website, Everything Experimental Writing, which often over the years receives over 1000 hits a day. It always receives several thousands, even though I don’t update it often any more. I published a lot of brave authors in Exclusive Magazine. I was not in circumstances when I did the first issue that allowed me to get much sleep, so the quality of presentation is embarrassing. But the work is good, and each author was required to write about his or her reasons, methods, and goals for venturing outside the norm. I performed at the &Now Festival of New Writing in San Diego, and read with some of the top experimental fiction figures in Chicago at the Ballroom of the Chicago Art Institute. I teach experimental fiction writing with UCLA X Writing Program, Writers College, and my own academy. I’ve had my non-traditional fiction, and poetry published very widely in journals, anthologies, and books. Another one is coming out from ELJ in December, an illustrated Slipstream novella.

Formula wasn’t my thing. I had no idea why anyone would like that. But I did enjoy quite a bit of genre, and off-genre work all along, such as Weird Fiction, and novels by John Crowley and Robert Holdstock. I liked my mysteries with a touch of Paul Auster, my politics sprinkled with Philip K. Dick. I was well aware that the major SF authors like Heinlein and others putting out the alien hoax were promoting CounterIntelligence’s agenda. I had no desire to write commercial fiction.

But then, many years ago, as I prepared to go back into teaching writing at the university level, I started ruthlessly studying all the tropes, techniques and trends of all the different genres. And I eventually started writing in them more often, partly to have the experience for teaching about the process, and to show I could be a good role model for it. The more Speculative, Thriller, Mystery, and other genres I read, finding some that push against society’s rules, the more I liked them, and came to actually sort of lose my taste for Literary, and Avant-garde. I’d wanted to semi-lose my taste temporarily so I could understand the world-view of Genre folks, to write and teach it well. I didn’t realize how effective that mind-flip would be.

I still was a Literary lady, though, and I enjoy Interstitial genres, like Slipstream, Magical Realism, New Wave Fabulism, Neo-Noir, and Weird, fascinating ways to explore past the growing trend for Literary to be strict realism. I think realism in Literary fiction is great, especially as long as people are willing to really look at some of the most important issues in the world straight-on — but I don’t really find people doing that to speak of at all.

I realized the real-world topics I was most interested in tended to be outside the scope of most Literary world folks’ research. I’ve had a couple hundred stories in journals and anthologies, but the ones I am most passionate about, the more politically engaged ones, have become the only hard ones to place. As the prose quality seems similar, that pattern suggests to me that perhaps it’s the controversial subject matter that has makes it less quickly picked up. I think I’ve been sending it to the wrong genre.

I see much less engaged Literary fiction than I did in the past, and fewer magazines that publish it. I’d hoped people into innovative structures and new perspectives in fiction would also be driven to take the time to look behind mass media and alternative media propaganda. But work that is outside the two-party system and questions what the state-sanctioned “authorities” say is no longer represented in Literary fiction. I knew controversial material would be hard for the Big Five to publish, as they are supported by the Corporatocracy that promotes the illusions through the Mockingbird media. (Mockingbird Program is the official CIA control of media.)

I came to realize that the scope of Literary fiction is more personal than political, about topics on a smaller scale, and it’s also driven by the authors’ social media. Authors on social media have to keep information that doesn’t fit in with propaganda off places like Facebook if they they want to be accepted by other Literary authors, editors, publishers, students, fellowship granters, and readers. And without Facebook sharing and camaraderie, publications are rarely read. Authors tend to read stories others share partly out of shared interests and affection, but also for networking, raising status, hopes of being read themselves. They can’t take a chance on any risky ideas, no matter how fact-based and well-documented the source material. I love and respect the Innovative Literary fiction crowd, and I still read their work. And I still have some of my Literary writing coming out in journals and anthologies, as well as a novella forthcoming from ELJ. Most of that is Interstitial, neither straightforward realism, nor full-on avant-garde.

Some of my Interstitial fiction, while it has a Literary tone to some degree, is also labeled Speculative, whether it’s Horror on the Weird side, Paranormal Fantasy that deals with auras, telepathy, and egregores (like tulpas,) or SF that is often cross-genre. Those pieces are what I bring to this blog. In the past, I found getting my poetry published too easy after nearly a hundred of them in print, so I started from scratch with Literary fiction. I found that too easy, and now I’ve started over with Genre, and have been enjoying some success, including monetarily, in a field in which most people dislike Literary; my background in that style only works against me when submitting.

I now eagerly seek out Genre almost exclusively in novels, enthusiastically checking the free two-foot library a few blocks away for it all the time. I’ve stopped writing strictly Literary other than when reading submission calls I can’t help but comply with. I heartily enjoy writing many genres, not just politically oriented work, or making a social point, but for the love of it, for entertaining readers, participating in the world of Genre fiction that I’ve come to admire so very much, more and more over the years. I have written Genre fiction enough recently that I have plenty new material for two large collections of new Genre fiction, if I happen to chose to submit them. One is Neo-Noir and the other is Speculative.

I really like helping Literary folks see the value of Genre, and vice versa, and softening the leeriness between the two camps. I like helping people find the interstices and understand the definitions and histories of obscure terms like Magical Realism, which I consider to be highly engaged politically according to its true nature. I find SF, Horror/Weird, Paranormal Fantasy, Mystery, I’m bridging a lot of styles of writing, and I hope, collecting readership across a wide spectrum. I suspect when my more controversial Genre material comes out, I may possibly lose some of the Literary fans and associates, and that breaks my heart. I love and support them in spite of differences in perspective. They are my clan.

I now particularly value gaining new tribe members among Genre folks who are interested in Conspiracy Thrillers and political SF and the cross pollination of those styles. It’s a tricky place to be in, changing who I am, coming out as someone who has been an activist, sometimes putting my life, career, and degrees on the line for dangerous physical actions. I realize the facts I deal in have been sequestered from a lot of people by the clever psychological manipulation techniques as taught by Edward Bernays and others. Many people just don’t know the facts are there, hiding under pretense. And they’ve been taught not to look. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me and see my way as the only way. I just am sad that many don’t look at the facts to see if they agree or not, because of the effectiveness of social programming, and the common human trait of believing the first thing they hear from an “authority,” particularly if their emotions are triggered by masterful methods.

While I know the majority of genre readers and writers are also unaware of the machinations behind the political scenes, such as the covert reasons for wars and the ways to make people support the wars and hate the newly chosen enemies which have been set up by the CIA, I see tremendously more brave political engagement and statements about the world at large in Genre fiction than Literary. So, so much more. My own novel and some of my novellas and novelettes involve patsies, false flags, covert testings, an unsavory medical establishment, CounterIntelligence hoaxes, governmental black magic, mind control, corporate corruption, surveillance, etc.

I’ve written my lengthy narratives, including my novel Unside, on the edge of Genre and Literary, crossing territories left and right, which is an uncomfortable place to be when preparing to categorize and market. Very little of that mixture happens in fiction. I have a tendency to sabotage myself that way, by including the beauty of fresh language and believing people are ready to abandon genre limitations and predictability. The characters include homosexual males, but it’s not a “gay novel.” Characters are middle aged, comfy, or eccentric, and love happens between an older woman and younger man. The book changes apparent genres as layers of illusion are stripped off and we see the virtual reality underneath, and the conspiracy underneath that. Its table of contents takes Innovative Literary risks, as it’s conceptually spiral, to fit the subject matter. It’s based on science and questions current pseudo-science, but is not hard-edged. It follows more than one protagonist. It has the themes of Cyberpunk without the stylized youth-culture fashion. It’s Paranormal SF without having vampires, or zombies. It was to be put out by a publisher for three years but then the publisher took a turn in a different direction, and in the meantime, self-publishing has become more lucrative than traditional for most authors. Hmm…

But obviously, most people really do want those formulas. And so, moving forward, I’m training myself to like predictability, understand the appeal, and write that way. In the process, I have to become in some ways more formulaic in my thinking, my tastes, my ways of relating to other people and presenting myself. I’m trying to get and accept why people like movies with explosions and chases, obsessive knife-fights, inevitably young fabulous-looking characters, black-and-white thinking, last minute saves, adrenal-pumping fear, simplification, unrealistic plots, sensationalism, and avoidance of accurate truths that could cause repercussions if the work becomes well-known. I am not a fan of adrenalin addictive movies and books, as that’s unhealthy. But I’m embracing it anyway. I watch a lot of action movies lately on YouTube rather than avant-garde foreign films by directors like Sergei Paradjanov, who was sent to Siberia twice for making surreal movies, because only realism fit the Communist party line.

I get thrilled every time I find more books by authors who take a chance on political insights that don’t glorify the CIA, act like the police are always the good guys, or act like the FBI would never set someone up for nefarious purposes. I commend these brave authors. It’s a Neo-Noir sensibility that sees the corruption in the government all the way to the top. They often have to couch it safely in the future, with SF. I like that awareness of the Dystopianism our transhumanism is taking us to. They write in the formula enough that large numbers of people get to hear their words, even while breaking the rules of who can be the bad guy. I’m very grateful to them. The book I’m currently most looking forward to reading is Sibel Edmond’s novel, The Lone Gladio, which combines the formula with its own reversal, for the sake of truth.

I enjoy reading and writing playful, whimsical, unpredictable Genre, gleefully scary stuff, and dealing with paranormal topics that I find relevant. I’ve totally become a Genre Babe! Besides the fun stuff, I also am compelled to write controversially serious work. Now, I’m working toward material like that which I’d like to hope a lot of people would buy. I not only want to get lots of readers thinking of new possibilities of how our world might work, and to entertain the people who see through the veils of illusion, but to support myself financially even more with fiction. I become whom I must become, even if that means getting a little formulaic around the edges.