Selling your novel: Genre vs. mainstream fiction

I have recently read that, unless their names are well known, writers in future are going to have a lot more trouble selling genre fiction than mainstream fiction, because readers will buy another, cheaper novel in the same genre (which today often means that they will go for a free novel in an ebook giveaway) before they will pay for a novel by an author they haven’t heard of before.

On the other hand, more readers are likely to be looking for genre fiction than mainstream fiction, so you’re at least going to have them checking out your book.

Your thoughts?

8 responses

    • It’s always been daunting, Marjorie: but this whole new world does add to the confusion, despite its benefits!

  1. While I love a free book as well as the next person, I’ve found some are not worth the price, lol! It’s a 50/50 chance of getting a ringer vs a keeper. I don’t mind paying 2.99 to 4.99 for a download. I do balk at paying paper prices, and have really cut back on the number of mainstream books I purchase for that reason. I usually wait until they are way reduced in price before I get them, because I read too many books a week to be able to afford that many high-priced books.

    • Me, too, Connie. I still buy real books when I know it’s going to be a keeper — or as a medal if it was a real marathon (e.g. 1Q84. I am a snob: I want people to see that tome sitting on my shelf like a trophy. Did you read that one in ebook format too?)

  2. I don’t buy it. Genre readers are at least as name-conscious as readers of literary fiction. Maybe even more so. They may be more prepared to sample based on low or 0-cost books than are litfic readers, but are also prepared to follow a writer based on that sampling process.

    • I agree with that, Robin. I know that genre readers can be very finicky about who they read, and have high standards of excellence in their genre. I was mostly talking about new writers trying to break in, in genre vs. mainstream.

      • I agree that emerging writers of literary fiction face big challenges, but these have little to do with ebook commodification.

        In addressing these challenges, the first thing to grapple with is that “mainstream” is a misnomer when applied to literary fiction. It has never been as widely sold or read as certain so-called genre works. It depends on a support structure to survive, and to maintain its illusion of cultural centrality. Parts of that structure are falling away: independent bookstores, newspaper book review sections. New structures are coming in to replace them, like big-ticket literary awards. Others have yet to arise, because literary writers have been late adopters in building online communities.

        Which brings us to the real main challenge, the huge cultural swing from high culture to geek culture (If I didn’t have to get back to a project, I’d rewrite that sentence so it didn’t have “culture” in it three times.) Tomorrow’s practitioners of psychological realism will have to find new ways of speaking to an audience that grows increasingly indifferent, if not actively hostile, to its prevailing aesthetic.

        • Well, Robin, despite the use of “culture” three times in one sentence, that was a succinct and eloquent assessment/rant, with which for the most part I heartily agree. Indeed, I used the word “mainstream” rather than “literary” in part because of my awareness of the growing indifference and hostility. In my own case, I have attempted to combine literary writing (which I love to do: words and turns of phrase are my obsession) with a compelling story, in the hope that strong writing will triumph… somehow, sometime. Unfortunately, there have been times when my writing seems to have fallen into neither camp — and be perceived as too commercial for the literati, and too literary for the bestseller list. However I write what I write, and that’s what I write.

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