Literary snobbery has been a topic on a couple of blogs lately, including this one. This anonymous post by Jane Genre both cracked me up and made me a little sad. And there was an interesting article on Fuel Your Writing about ways to find out if you were a literary snob.
Book snobbery is evident in some readers. It’s evident in some writers, too.
I’ve seen it a little, but it hasn’t affected me very much. I’m quick to chalk up the fact that not everyone shares the same reading interests. Wouldn’t it be a boring world if we did?
Variety of books is important. If novels are all literary fiction, or all classic lit, it might prove a real turnoff for less-experienced readers. Commercial fiction has its place.
I recently wrote a post featuring the New York Times profile of James Patterson. One of the interesting things he said was that he was trying to make reading more accessible and take the common reader into account:
“…If you want to write for a lot of people, think about them a little bit. What do they like? What are their needs? A lot of people in this country go through their days numb. They need to be entertained. They need to feel something.”
It seems to me that genre fiction bears the brunt of the snobbery. In particular, romance, science fiction, chick lit, fantasy, and mysteries.
Handling Literary Snobbery as a Writer:
Acknowledge their point…to a point. But remind them that not every reader is a good candidate for the classics or literary fiction. Don’t we want to pull readers in by any means possible?
Ask if they’ve tried reading your genre before—hand them your card, make it a selling opportunity.
Point out that it takes all kinds of books to make complete library.
Ignore it or laugh it off.
Ask if they’ve read books in your genre with good crossover appeal. If you’re really trying to make a convert (maybe this is even a member of your family), you could recommend books in your genre that appeal to a wide audience. Maybe this person will read the book, enjoy it, and expand into other books in the genre.
Recommend a different subgenre of the one you write. So maybe the individual dislikes mysteries. But have they tried all the subgenres? Maybe they don’t like thrillers but would enjoy cozy mysteries. Maybe they don’t enjoy cozies, but would enjoy police procedurals or noir. At the least, you’ve given them food for thought. Or you could recommend titles in your genre that are particularly complex or unique—The Dune series for sci-fi doubters, And Then There Were None for people who pooh-pooh mysteries. And challenge them to read them.
Tweak your presentation. Yes, you can be a great candidate to talk to book clubs—even clubs that specialize in literary fiction. I’m the first to tell book clubs that I have a ‘machine washable’ book—one that they should find fun, mentally puzzling, and entertaining, but that isn’t a lit fic, ‘dry-clean-only’ book that needs to be analyzed or picked apart. Instead, at book club meetings I’ve attended where my book was featured, I’ve concentrated on speaking about the creative process and what goes into getting a book published.
I’ll never forget seven years ago when I volunteered at the elementary school library. A second grade boy was checking out a couple of picture books and I said, as I scanned them, “These are great books.”
A classmate of his, a little girl holding some chapter books, looked over and sneered, “Those are baby books.” And the little boy looked absolutely crushed and ashamed of the books he’d just excitedly picked out.
And I said to the girl in a remarkably calm voice (considering how completely furious I was), “These are two of my favorite books. I bought them myself for my family and we read them every week.” And didn’t she just shut that sassy mouth right up?
The important thing to me is that there are choices out there. Sometimes I want a bit of literary fiction. Sometimes I’ll pick up the classics. But sometimes nothing suits me better than a wonderfully-written genre novel. Reading is all about the escape from reality. It doesn’t matter how we get there.
Elizabeth Spann Craig’s:
Blog: Mystery Writing is Murder
Riley Adams Blogs at: Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen
Pretty is as Pretty Dies—August 2009—Midnight Ink
Delicious and Suspicious (as Riley Adams) July 2010— Penguin Books