What do we mean by the label “literary fiction”?

Some people have been asking what we mean by “literary fiction,” as the term carries many positive as well as some negative connotations. Publerati purports on our Web Site to be “Publishers of Fine Fiction for eBooks,” and we say in our submissions area that we are looking to specialize in literary fiction at the exclusion of other forms of writing. What do we mean by “fine fiction” and “literary fiction”?

When we use the term “literary fiction” we mean the following as it pertains to novels, novellas, and story collections:

  • Works that grab you with a distinctive voice and perspective. There are many examples of these but one we like to cite is Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson. We love this classic for its distinctive voice and mood, and how the stories all hang together in a coherent collection. This American classic has dropped out of favor in modern times, which is a shame and our collective cultural loss. It is a great example of unique human expression via the written word. It stood out in its day and it stands out today.
  • Works that focus more on characters and less on plot. Ideally there is a balance and that is when modern publishers will say a “literary novel can cross over into the mainstream.” Just as some indie movies can. In general terms these are strong character-driven works of fiction. They can be funny, tragic, or both.
  • Works with psychological depth that reveal the interior moral struggles of the protagonist in engaging our interest. Works where there is subtext. Works where what the main character says they want does not always align with their actions.
  • Works that can be read many times during our lifetime and where we discover something new with each reading.  Ideally, works that will endure over several lifetimes because of the universality of the themes and story.

The sort of books described above oftentimes will not earn their way from a commercial standpoint, as they were not created with the pressure to “make money.” Yes, we all would love to make money and many great works of literary fiction have from the earliest times. Oftentimes these are first novels by writers who have spent years or decades perfecting what they want to say, without the pressure of publishing every two years to make money for themselves and the publisher while under contract. Many are cathartic works of art, whether in painting, music or literature, that share some profound emotional truths that move us deeply.

The purpose of Publerati is to utilize ebooks as a way to reopen access for literary works. Period. That is our mission. All great literary writers were unknown when they first began their careers, so let’s make it easier for writers of literary fiction today by using the new technology now at our disposal.

Many publishers and excellent imprints used to gamble much more than they do now on literary works, because as the industry consolidated into a handful of media conglomerates, the pressures to have every title earn its way as a commercially successful work became a prerequisite when deciding what to publish. If the chances of  “earning out” its small advance were low, then the proposal to publish was never even presented internally. Just too much work for too little gain. “Literary acclaim” became too difficult a case to make to the Editorial Board. Many excellent editors in the industry know this to be true and struggle with the modern reality.

We are of the opinion there will be plenty of room for ebooks and print books to coexist, so let’s use ebooks as a way to reopen access for deserving literary works while also supporting literacy charities around the world. It’s a win-win.

We envision ebook-only futures for some very talented fiction writers who otherwise would never be read. Some will also get print contracts down the road. That thought should give us all hope. 

-Caleb

 

6 thoughts on “What do we mean by the label “literary fiction”?

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