The Elusive Real Book – The Boon of Being a Genre Author

Inspired by a similar post by J.W. Manus, found here. 

Okay. By a show of hands, how many people reading this blog write genre fiction? Or, basically, anything that doesn’t fall into the umbrella of contemporary literary fiction? Very good. Now how many of you have heard the phrase, “Why don’t you write a real book? No one wants to read [the genre you write].”

You know, your sales figures beg to differ by the simple fact that they exist, but we all know that saying about opinions and body orifices.

Let me be the first to admit that I don’t normally read romance novels or “chick lit”. I’ve yet to find a single chick-lit novel that I don’t put down within the first ten minutes because the writing doesn’t grab me or the plot is so formulaic that Hollywood had made a killing off it. I like historic fiction with romance elements – I very much enjoy Philippa Gregory’s writing style – but modern romance fiction? Honestly, no. My mother reads it, and I tried to, but I found it, again, formulaic and somewhat flat. I do not like it.

Does it mean I don’t consider romance a real genre? No. Absolutely not. It is a genre every bit as real as anything else, but it’s just not something I like to read on a regular basis. If someone recommends me a book, I”ll give it a shot, but if I don’t like it, I’ll let the person recommending it know.

Now, you know I write sci-fi. Now, I also read it on a fairly regular basis, because some of the authors who had asked me to read their NaNoWriMo novels are brilliant. Kevin O. McLaughlin’s books are beyond good. I found a great vampire fiction novelist in S.R. Torris, whose book is both gripping in its suspense and very thorough in its research. And, of course, I write mine. And I heard it all. “Why don’t you go write a real book?” “Who wants to read about that?” “Why didn’t you do X, Y, and Z in the first book? Now no one will want to read 2 or 3.” “Why are you self-published? It’s not a ‘real’ book.”

Ladies and gents, let me drop a little truth on you. It may be a little unexpected, but I think that it’s something that you have to hear. Ready?

There’s no such thing as a “real book” because all books, regardless of their quality or genre, are real by the simple virtue of having been written. 

I mean, let’s face it. We don’t have zombie books on the shelf, right?

Going back to my old post, Stigmas in Self-Publishing, I will reiterate that most qualifications for a real book are bunk. The distinction of whether or not a book is actually good – that is so subjective that one person’s, “Don’t waste your time writing this trash and write some real books” is about as relevant as the buzzing of a mosquito, and just like a mosquito, it can get squashed pretty damn fast. I find books interesting based on the plot and the quality of writing, and sometimes, one outbalances the other. Caroline B. Cooney, the YA author, had written a few books that I thought were brilliant because of their plot. But there was one book, the title of which I don’t remember, where I found the plot to be very lacking, and unusual for Cooney. But I read it, and enjoyed it. Why? Because Cooney’s style is addictive. I can re-read her brand of YA at 26 and be just as engrossed as I was when I was 15. However, J.R.R. Tolkien and the Lord of the Rings? I tried reading it. Believe me, I did.  But the books were not well-written at all, at least in my opinion, and I put them down – never to pick them back up again.

The distinction of one genre being somehow “better” than another is, in my personal opinion, imaginary. I know it’s in human nature for people to judge, but there’s a massive difference between judging on merit (Is the book written well? Can I conceivably read more by the same author?) and judging on something that’s simply the person’s opinion about genre, which is so very often based on complete inexperience with the genre. If you hadn’t read urban fantasy, or steampunk, or romance, or horror – how do you know that you don’t like it? And most people believe, rather erroneously, that the lack of exposure gives them the right to dictate the superiority of one genre above the other, as though the authors of said genre genuinely give half a whit about their opinion or their imagined superiority complex.

Fact is, every genre has its following, and for as long as there’s a following, there will be authors willing to provide material. It doesn’t devalue the genre one way or the other or make it less than any other genre out there.

But what about all those chestnuts that we authors hear? Well, I do have a couple of comebacks, and yes, I use them often.

“Why don’t you write about X or Y?” – Why can’t you write it, if you think you know how?

“Science fiction (or some other genre) isn’t real!” – Please inform Barnes & Noble, then, then because they have a whole mess of that genre in stock…and it’s selling.

“Self-published authors don’t write real books!” – So those things on my bookshelf are zombies?  (yes, I used that, more than once. Goes over like a lead balloon, but…)

And most importantly? Keep writing. You know your story, and you know how to tell that story.



9 thoughts on “The Elusive Real Book – The Boon of Being a Genre Author

  1. Oh my, how I love this post. There are not words enough to tell you.

    I haven’t actually been told to “write a real book,” but I think that’s largely because everyone I know reads genre fiction FAR more than they read “real” fiction (which I tend to refer to as fic/lit, from my days as a bookseller), so they don’t make that distinction. I just don’t understand the pretension that goes on about fic/lit, what makes it supposedly so much better, when I’ve read better plots and more interesting characters in every genre out there.

    And can I just say, it’s so wonderful, awesome and all things great to find someone else who found Lord of the Rings unreadable? I’ve thrown Fellowship across the room so many times trying to read it because, as a fantasy author, I think I *should* have read it. Thank you, you just made my whole day.

    1. *blush*

      You are lucky. A lot of the people around me don’t read genre fiction, but they’d read it if it was recommended to them before they find out the genre. So I got my fair share of the whole “write a real book” BS. What, exactly, is not real about a 110K+ word count? Those words didn’t appear out of thin air.

      Oh good gods, you’re so not the only one who couldn’t muddle through Tolkien. I just cannot stand that writing style. It’s like, do you have to get this verbose? I loved the movie series, because I could follow it easily. I could also follow the movie script; it was nice and concise. But it’s just…really. It’s such a word-dump in novel form. The storyline itself is brilliant, but everything else is just…shaddup already and tell the story!!!

      Ahem. Sorry, small tangent there. Eragon was another one; I just could not manage it.

      The whole book-to-movie thing is a whole different post. I found the film versions of many books completely not doing the books any justice.

  2. Love this post! Yes, all genres are real genres. And yes, all books that have been written are real books (that includes ones yet to be published!) If you like historical fiction with a dash of romance, I think you’d like mine…but they aren’t available yet…someday.

      1. For now, Celtic. My first three books will be Arthurian legend from Guinevere’s p.o.v. (or Guinevereian legend, as I like to call them), set between approximately 480 and 530 AD. The fourth overlaps with the first two, but is Isolde’s story. After that I plan to go back to the first century AD to tell a different Celtic story, but I don’t want to say which one yet.

        And yes, please nudge away! I’ll take all the encouragement I can get. Thanks!

  3. Excellent post! I like your suggestions for responses. I am so often reminded of the words in one of my favorite songs. I’m probably misquoting it a bit, but the sentiment’s there:
    You can’t please everyone. You gotta please yourself.
    Of course the ultimate validation is when your book sells.

    1. Thanks! As I always say, there’s too many people to make happy. What’s the point if you, the author, won’t be?

      I stand by my story, even with its flaws. It’s my product. If someone wants to devalue it by pretending it’s less than real, then it’s their problem and not mine.

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