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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Prejudice: Not a Wise Platform Strategy

Platform, platform, platform. We hear it all the time--from agents, from editors, from publicists, from other writers both published and unpublished.

"Develop a readership and a base so your novel will be successful," we are told. "Create a web presence and name recognition." So, we haunt forums and writer groups. We create a blog...or three, and then we stick our foot--or keyboard as it were--right in our mouth.

Yep. You guessed it! I'm about to launch into one of my soapbox-worthy didactic posts about online etiquette. I'm from the South, you see, so I consider myself an expert, not only on etiquette, but on discrimination, which is the topic of today's rant. (Perhaps I'm not an expert and it just bugs me more than most. *wink*)

The point I'd like to make is that regardless of how negative you feel about a particular genre, keep in mind that other people at a dinner party, in an elevator, in your blog readership, on a writers' forum or loop, or even an agent (who liked your full and decided to check out your blog) might be of a different opinion. The very books you are calling trash might be their favorite thing to read.

I'm not saying you have to like every literary genre any more than I'm saying you have to like every genre of music, but if you are trying to promote yourself as a writer and build a platform, alienating loads of potential fans is not a wise choice.

When an essay called "I'm YA and I'm Okay" came out in the New York Times in July of 2008, YA writers all over the blogosphere spoke out on the subject of genre prejudice, including my friend, Tera Lynn Childs, 2009 Rita Award wining author of Oh. My. Gods.

On her blog, Tera Lynn wrote:

So, for those of you living in a blissfully unaware state where books are either good or eligible for use as a table-leveling device, here's a breakdown of the relative social prestige of various genres.

1. Literary
2. Commercial fiction which is not romance
3. Young adult/children's
4 Romance

There is a similar pecking order in all of the arts. Vocal music spans opera to rap. Theatre likewise has discrimination from within. One of the reasons I like Tera Lynn so much is we both come from theatre backgrounds, so this kind of prejudice isn't new to us. Tera Lynn sums it up this way:

I would like to say this apparent need to belittle others is restricted to the field of literature, but coming from a theatrical family, I know this is a widespread problem. Legitimate theatre is more respectable than musical theatre. Off-Broadway is better than Broadway. Off-off Broadway is better than both. Budgetless, cutting edge, avant garde theatre that either puts people to sleep or assures they never want to attend the theatre again is the best of all.
Just who decided that popular necessarily equals devoid of value?

Keep in mind that people read for different reasons. People also write for different reasons. I'm going to address genre prejudice in more depth in my next post, but for now, I just want to shout from my soapbox that it is a bad idea to allow genre prejudice to alienate potential readers or business associates in an industry this difficult to break into. Yes, we have the right to our opinions. We have the right to shout them from the housetops or hammer them out on our keyboards wherever we wish. Having the right, and it being the right thing to do is entirely different.

I will now get down from my soapbox and try to do so without breaking my ankle. Have a great week!



Amanda Bonilla said...

Great post Mary! It hits close to home too. Everyone perks up when they find out that I write. But when they ask what I write and I respond, "Urban fantasy and paranormal." They tend to look at me like I'm from another planet. Or suddenly trying to sell them crack.

I don't understand it. I read to be entertained. I write to entertain. To each his own, but if it's not for you--politely keep your negative opinions to yourself.

Anonymous said...

Too true! You left out specfic or scifi/fantasy on your list. Which is exactly where we rank on genre lists--somewhere below bottom lol. I get funny looks everytime I tell people I write specfic. But I live in the Caribbean, where writers are from the Commonwealth and literary, so you can imagine how much respect I get lol.

Unknown said...

Mary - thanks for posting this. As a YA urban fantasy writer, I'm probably more sensitized to it but I've seen disparaging remarks about both genre and age range by writers. I've seen comments on agent/publishing blogs that seem to place YA and any kind of genre fiction at the bottom of the literary worthiness list. I've even seen comments that women shouldn't write YA if they want to be taken seriously - as if adolescents aren't a valid audience. Don't get me started on that one...

Anyway, I agree that something can be entertaining and popular AND - god forbid - have value. Writers should be supporting each other as it's a tough business - the ones who do the disparaging don't realize how badly it reflects on them rather than the genre/age group they're bashing. Can you tell that's one of my soapbox issues too? I feel lucky to be surrounded by supportive writers in my critique groups - one of which is a YA, urban fantasy group - at least we love us :)

Carolyn V. said...

Thanks for the soapbox. I find that people forget their manners on blogs (and internet). That being said, I love YA. That's why I write it. =) Thanks Mary.

Mary Lindsey / Marissa Clarke said...

Hi, rscarcia. Scifi/fantasy fits under #2: Commercial fiction that is not romance.

Poor romance gets the worst of it all. My next post is about the stigma of writing in the black sheep genre.

Thanks for the comments everyone. :)

ClothDragon said...

I dropped a writing class a few years ago taught by a man who said the word "genre" in the same tone I use to describe the "surprise" that has gotten on my thumb when I've checked the baby diaper with too little care. Ugh. I have happily described my writing as genre since then.

Looking at the list, I couldn't decide if fantasy/urban fantasy was included in commercial fiction or not because I was pretty sure we haven't been rated that highly. I know SciFi goes above us because they "know stuff" and have to create warp drives and such -- though I'm not sure we'd go above or below romance. If you havne't noticed, I try not to take any of it very seriously.

The women in YA comment had to do with our job having been to take care of children since, you know, there were children and writing YA being more an extension of that than a real foray into the writing world. I'm not saying I believe it, but that's what I read into the comments, which automatically made me take it less seriously. There will always be people who believe a woman's place is in the kitchen and for whom winning every award in the world wouldn't prove anything other than that we'd been sleeping with the judge. Not something to worry about.

Unknown said...

Hmmm, I feel like I'm dropping into the middle of a conversation, not really getting where all the negative stuff is, but I'll say this to all those Negative Nancys who diss YA; have they ever read any? How I wish the stuff that's out there now was around when I was a teen. And I am so not ashamed to browse the teen section at all! I teach college, and my students are unabashedly into the stuff (the ones who read, that is). I love talking books with them. So, boo hiss to snobs. I know all about snobs. As an illustrator, I was looked down upon in college as having "sold out". There will always be snobs. I love my YA world of writers and readers!

Anonymous said...

Hi Mary! Thanks for the reply and the clarification. I definitely think romance gets no respect--I used to write that too, so I know that of which you speak ::Grin::

But I'm amazed you ranked scifi/fantasy/horror at two. I'm not sure I see evidence of that in the real world, but maybe I'm just sensitive because I have to forage so hard to find scifi/fantasy/horror agents and publishers lol. Mystery and thrillers, I can definitely see as two though.

Honestly, though some people might say YA is nothing, I've actually never heard that personally. I've seen the opposite in my writing groups and forums, and definitely out there in the publishing world. I wish I was writing YA; it's become very clear that all the publishers are looking for the next JK Rowling and Stephanie Meyer, and so many adult spots are now YA spots on publisher schedules.

So I'd tell the YA writers to take heart. The publishing community is not blind, deaf and dumb like some readers or writers. More opportunities are out there than ever.

Mary Lindsey / Marissa Clarke said...

Thanks everyone, for the comments and kind emails.