From Sarah, With Joy

*Poet * Author * Wanderluster*

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

E.J. Patten and Popular vs Literary

MG author E.J. Patten (Return to Exile) came and spoke to the creative writing class today. It was pretty awesome. Seeing and hearing from authors in real life can be such a refreshing experience.

Anyway, he read a bit from his book (which I highly, highly recommend for the MG readers in your life. It's supposedly in the same vein as the Percy Jackson series, though from what he read I think its a lot better. You can check out his website here.) He also answered a bunch of questions that the students had.

He talked a little about his experience in the publishing industry. He has a lot LOT more of that then me, so I was listening. He said he had an idea for a YA book a while ago, but was told it was unpublishable just because of the way the YA market is. He obviously found a way to work it out, a way that worked for him and the publisher, but I asked him what he would suggest to people if what they want to write is "unpublishable."

He said pretty much everything is publishable, but you have to keep the market in mind. He got into the whole popular vs literary question, and said that to make a good living as a writer, you pretty much can only do that with "popular" genres. He mentioned Michael Chabon and Jonathan Franzen as a few people who are doing pretty well within the literary genre, but that it's just the way things are that in general literary fiction doesn't sell that well, definitely not as well as the popular genres.

You know, I used to get really bugged by the Popular vs Literary debate. I always thought, can't a book be both? Popular and well-written? I mean, take Harry Potter. One of the greatest literary achievements of our time, and one of the most popular. I still think they can, but I think its just a fact that we have to deal with that really literary books that sell well are the exception. Straight up that's just the way things are, generally.

It's unfortunate, but not disastrous. It just means we have to make some decisions as writers and accept and deal with what those decisions mean. Writing is hard and takes a lot of time and effort, no matter what genre you write in, and there's a lot of luck involved too. There's a little better chance you can make it big writing in popular genres, and if you write more literary fiction, you should probably be prepared with a second career/day job.

The most important thing, though, is that we write what we want. That's all it comes down to. Just write whatever the heck you want and write it the best you can. That's what's fun about being a writer anyway, isn't it?

Sarah Allen


  1. Exactly! It all comes down to writing a quality book. When all is said and done, if the book is good, it'll speak for itself.

  2. It sounds like you think that popular= not well written and literary= well written. Which I strongly disagree with and find insulting. "Literary" has nothing to do with good writing, except in the minds of petty college professors.

  3. Great debate! I think it was ended perfectly. Write what you want, not to sell your work or impress literary junkies, just write!

  4. What does MG stand for? Middle Grade?

    One of the very first pieces of advice I received when I decided to write a book was this.

    "You can make money, or win awards, not both."

  5. Thanks for the thoughts, guys. It's quite an interesting debate, eh?

    To Sarah, I definitely agree popular books can be well written, and I don't mean to differentiate the two, I'm just talking in genre here; literary genre vs more popular stuff, something like thriller, YA or romance.

    "You can make money, or win awards, not both." Kind of true. We'll see how it goes for all of us.


  6. I can't write to trends or in any particular genre. I can only write what is in me, what I know or what I'm interested to know or what I know that I don't know I know. Yeah, it's fun finding that out.

  7. A good book is a good book. That's enough for me :-)


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