Event report

Conference 2011 - The literary-commercial divide

Report published 23 September 2011

Emma Darwin : The literary-commercial divide

Novelist Emma Darwin was joined in a lively, interactive session by authors who feel (or have been told) their work sits on the cusp between literary and commercial fiction, which makes it difficult to sell (unless you are male where, strangely, more leeway seems to be granted!)

In this stimulating talk Emma examined the two genres in detail, looking at their strengths and weaknesses. In discussion, we agreed this hybrid genre is popular with readers, but editors are wary and marketing departments hate it, even though there have been instances of this sort of novel being a huge commercial success (eg The Time Traveller’s Wife and Susan Hill’s Simon Serraillier series.)

To make your manuscript easier to sell, Emma suggested we bear in mind the following points:

1. If they’re not “rom-com” likeable, make sure your characters are at least appealing and interesting.

2. Guard against self-indulgent writing. Editors and readers want to be hooked. If your novel is literary or reflective, you must work harder to achieve page-turning quality.

3. Complexity goes with this territory, but bear in mind you are making your reader work harder to “own” the book. As authors we must therefore invest emotionally in our story to help readers care about our characters.

In short, Emma said, just write better!

Written by Linda Gillard

It's a fact

In 2013, 1 in every 8 fiction books purchased in the UK was romance.