So much to agree with in this James Campbell post from 2012:
A quick summation: yes, there is a difference between genre fiction
and literary fiction; no, genre fiction is not necessarily ‘lower’
than literary fiction or mere escapism; yes, literary fiction has just
as many cliches and tropes as genre fiction; and yes, there are many
examples of top quality work and utter crap in both categories, and
people shouldn’t pigeon-hole their reading habits to solely one or the
As Campbell recognizes, the issue is not about defining literary fiction or pitting it against genre fiction (sinkhole arguments which unfortunately bog down a lot of these discussions). Most literary fiction authors I know don’t really view their fiction as better or more purposeful than other types of fiction. They recognize the value of genres and like reading them. They didn’t set out to write “literary fiction” per se, they just set out to write a story that wasn’t in a genre. No detectives, no cowboys, no zombies, no mummies, nothing set in the future, no characters who can read minds, no gun play, no car chases… if you create a long enough list you realize you’re left without a clear genre home. and yet we know that people do write and read books without any of those things. The category of “literary fiction” fills that gap.
As Campbell identifies, the main problem for a book that doesn’t fit well in any category other than “literary fiction,” is that it’s hard to find its audience:
whereas it’s fairly straight-forward to tell someone your book is
fantasy or sci-fi or erotica and give them a pretty good idea of what
to expect, describing it as ‘literary fiction’ does absolutely nothing
for you, and so makes it much more difficult to market.
This is particularly true for indie publishers, who can’t count on marketing campaigns or the imprimatur of a traditional publisher. (Note: there are an awful lot of traditionally published midlist authors who don’t get much marketing support these days either.)
Campbell has landed on a couple of solutions. 1) Build an author brand, and 2) go to the readers rather than expect them to find you.
One approach may be starting up a blog like this one, which focuses on issues of self-publishing and literary fiction. I’m not
convinced, however, that marketing to fellow writers is the best way to go.
Other ideas for finding readers: focus on groups of people who share common interests with your characters. Is your protagonist a dog lover? A fisherman? Racecar driver? Ethnographer? Latin expert? There may be online forums with potential readers. You don’t want to jump in with a spam post demanding people buy your book, but participating in
the forum – demonstrating some expertise and enthusiasm that people care about – may lead others toward giving your book a try.
I’ll post some other ideas in future posts – and Campbell has promised to update his Facebook page with news of his efforts, which will be worth tracking as well.