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Writer Wednesday: Is Writing Genre Fiction Really All That Easy?

First Posted: 11/02/2011 11:11 am EDT Updated: 01/02/2012 5:12 am EST

From Writer's Relief staff:

As a writer, you’ve probably met someone who says he/she is going write a book because “it looks easy” and “anyone can write that stuff.”

And, usually, the book in question is a genre fiction novel (you know, those mass market-sized “commercial” releases that sell like tartar sauce at a fish fry).

“Romance novels? Anybody with half a brain cell could write those things.”

“Cozy mysteries? Please. As if I’d even have to think.”

“Thrillers? Hey—I’m retired military. It will be like shooting fish in a barrel.”

Anyone who has ever read a bad genre fiction novel—and, really, who hasn’t?—probably had the thought: If this guy/girl can get published, I sure as heck can too.

And while there certainly are badly written books out there, those of us who have been around a while know that getting a book deal for a genre fiction novel isn’t a game with favorable odds—not by a long shot.

Some writers will spend years, if not decades, perfecting their craft before they see their first book deal in genre fiction. Other writers will have to spend years as a mid-list genre fiction author before discovering how to break out of the pack and hit big. Sometimes it’s hard to know what genre a book fits into—if it fits into any commercial genre at all.

So why does the “anyone can be a best seller writing genre fiction” commentary persist?

Flannery O’Connor, in "Mystery and Manners," says, “There’s many a best seller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.” She also says in the same book, “There are certain cases in which, if you can only learn to write poorly enough, you can make a great deal of money.”

And it doesn’t stop there. Take a mental walk down memory lane into your high school English class, and you may remember that Julia from the novel "1984" confesses to her role in churning out dirty stories at Pornosec (a division of the Fiction Department at the Ministry of Truth). Not exactly a glamorous job—writing smut to appease the proletariat and keep them in line.

Clearly, there’s a difference between what Julia was writing and what commercial novelists write in real life. But Orwell’s Fiction Department suggests that fiction for the masses is (and perhaps must be) crude, brainless, easy, and dumb.

While it may be true that bad books are published (and some are widely read), we don’t think it makes sense to lump all genre fiction books together (“mysteries are easy money” or “science fiction is a piece of intergalactic cake”). Yes, bad genre fiction books are out there…but bad books in ALL genres are out there.

In our way of thinking, writing genre fiction is largely about a) hitting on a good story and then b) conveying that story in a way that makes it very readable, so that the writing style is bold and memorable, but doesn’t usurp the storyline.

The BEST genre fiction novels look effortless—the ones that keep us up until the wee hours of the morning and send us to work the next day with bleary red (read?) eyes. It appears as if they wrote themselves. And maybe that’s where the “anyone can do it” attitude comes from.

But is hitting the genre fiction sweet spot easy (compared to other genres)? Or does it only look easy?

Maybe. Maybe not.

You decide. Tell us what you think!

We realize this post touches on touchy (and muddy) issues. But feel free to chime in! Is writing genre fiction easy compared to other genres? Or are genre fiction writers underestimated?

Learn more about Writer’s Relief, an author’s submission service that helps writers make smart, strong submissions to literary agents and literary journals.

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Filed by Zoë Triska  |