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Amnia
April 17th, 2003, 12:43 PM
you know, thiis question may sound a little dumb, but in all the years I've ben writing, I've never heard anyone explain what "mainstream fiction" is. there are so many genres: humor, historical, romance, mystery, fantasy, mystery, horror, suspense, action . . . and the list goes on. what might a "mainstream fiction" story be about? how could it not fit into one of the thousands of genres? if someone would plz condescend to 'splain this to me, I'd be terribly happy . . .the question has been gnawing at my mind pretty much forever. ;)
luv
me

Acaptus
April 17th, 2003, 01:26 PM
I was under the impression that mainstream fiction meant all things not categorized under fantasy or sf or other types of less popular fiction. But to be honest, I don't actually know.

rotty1021
April 17th, 2003, 01:41 PM
I have always thought of mainstream fiction being the "straight" literature that wins prizes such as the Pulitzer, Booker, etc. Not sure if this is the correct definition, but that's my guess.

KatG
April 17th, 2003, 03:16 PM
Originally posted by Amnia
you know, thiis question may sound a little dumb, but in all the years I've ben writing, I've never heard anyone explain what "mainstream fiction" is. there are so many genres: humor, historical, romance, mystery, fantasy, mystery, horror, suspense, action . . . and the list goes on. what might a "mainstream fiction" story be about? how could it not fit into one of the thousands of genres? if someone would plz condescend to 'splain this to me, I'd be terribly happy . . .the question has been gnawing at my mind pretty much forever. ;)
luv
me

Lucy, you have some 'splaining to do. Sorry, couldn't help it. Market categories have been developed over the years by publishers and booksellers in response to readers, who, particularly in the U.S., are often looking for specific types of books. They are subject to change and there's a lot of crossover overlap between them, which is why when a novel appeals to more than one category audience, it's called a crossover book.

Mainstream can technically refer to anything except wacko experimental fiction, but its usual meaning is anything that is not a defined genre/category. Sort of. The current "genres" are romance, mystery, horror, science fiction and fantasy, the last two usually being kept together. There also used to be westerns but the westerns, as a separate genre, were dissolved, thanks to poor category sales, and now exist in reincarnated form as mainstream western historical fiction. The genres are most easily identified by the fact that they have their own separate section in the bookstores. Everything else, the stuff that is under the general fiction sections of the bookstores, is considered mainstream fiction.

There are many sub-genres in mainstream fiction, such as historical fiction, literary contemporary fiction, glitz novels, etc., but these sub-categories don't have their own separate core genre audience and usually don't have their own corner of the bookstores. The sub-genre labels are used to help booksellers help connect book buyers with the type of stories they will potentially like.

There is also a fair amount of nebulous stuff. Horror, for example, is a distinct genre with a core fan audience, but it may or may not have its own section in the bookstore. Often, horror titles may be marketed in the general fiction section or the sf/f section or in both. And thrillers are a separate but overlapping category with murder mysteries. They do not have their own section of the bookstore and are likely to be marketed both in the mystery section and in the general fiction section. Classics -- older fiction written thirty years or more ago -- sometimes have their own section in the bookstore. As bookstores get bigger, they have sometimes divided the fiction pie up even more, but usually, most of the fiction is put in the general fiction area. In Europe, Canada, Australia and other markets, authors more frequently crossover genres and may not be given a label of any kind at all. Category labels can also be redefined. What used to be considered war or military thrillers was rechristened "techno-thriller" when Tom Clancy's "The Hunt for Red October" was launched.

Mainstream is also used sometimes by some people as a synonym for "commercial," which is used to differentiate books like John Grisham and Danielle Steele from "literary" books like John Updike and Margaret Atwood. Literary is a stylistic term, meaning that the author makes strong use of language, metaphor, symbolism and imagery. The old saw was that the "literary" books were art and made no money and the "commercial" books were not art and made lots of money. Genre books were always considered commercial. However, this viewpoint is no longer true, and in fact, was never true. Literary authors frequently make a lot of money and can be quite "commercial" in approach. Commercial books often become considered literary, a la Stephen King and the like.

So if you're expecting rigid organization, give up now. :) When I use the term "mainstream," I basically mean non-genre fiction, which is the most common definition.

Amnia
April 17th, 2003, 04:31 PM
I think I understand now! thanx quite muchly!
luv
me :D

IaNo
April 17th, 2003, 05:00 PM
Great answer KatG. Now, my question is this: When submitting to a publisher and they specifically ask for the manuscripts genre, what in hell do I put? I would like to call my work a commercial literary sci-fi fantasy for young adults ages 0-150. It just doesn't seem fair. My book has elements of sci-fi and fantasy but isn't at all like typical genre books and I don't want to get stuck as a genre author. How broad or specific do you go? Decisions decisions...

KatG
April 17th, 2003, 05:51 PM
Originally posted by IaNo
Great answer KatG. Now, my question is this: When submitting to a publisher and they specifically ask for the manuscripts genre, what in hell do I put? I would like to call my work a commercial literary sci-fi fantasy for young adults ages 0-150. It just doesn't seem fair. My book has elements of sci-fi and fantasy but isn't at all like typical genre books and I don't want to get stuck as a genre author. How broad or specific do you go? Decisions decisions...

Not very broad and not very specific. The people you will be querying -- agents and possibly editors -- know the genre divisions a lot better than you do because they work with them and they invented them. So give them a synopsis description of your work and they'd be able to tell you what you've got.

But they wouldn't necessarily all call it the same thing. :) So it's helpful to have some idea so that you can label it for them. If you're marketing to sf/f publishers, then your work is either sf or fantasy. Those publishers publish mainly for the core fan sf/f audience, though they'll also try to get mainstream readers. If your book has elements of both, you have to figure out what you have. Fantasy elements -- unexplained or magically/supernaturally explained bits -- tend to cancel out science, but you can have as much science as you like in your fantasy. (Think of fantasy as peanut butter and science fiction as chocolate -- one smears the other.)

For instance, if you have a story about a ghost on a space ship and this ghost exists as a computer crystal memory remnant -- it's science fiction. If you have just a ghost that's a dead soul, then it's fantasy, even if the heroes detect the ghost through complicated advanced technological equipment. But there is leeway. Patricia Wrede described it as sf and fantasy being two sets of mountain ranges next to each other and when you're in the foothills, you may end up between the two. There is, for instance, an entire sub-genre of sf called science fantasy. These are stories where the world of the story looks very much like fantasy -- they have dragons or horses with special powers, etc., but it turns out that the inhabitants are the descendents of space colonists, whathaveyou, and there's a scientific rational behind the exotic wildlife. It doesn't matter if the scientific rational is thin, vague or unbelievable -- all that matter is if it's there. If it's not, it's usually considered a fantasy.

If you give a brief description of the project, we may be able to pin it down for you. Another technique is to go to the sf/f section of the bookstore, take up anything that remotely resembles your work, read the cover copy and see how they set it up and what the book is labeled as. Common sub-genres in science fiction are: hard science fiction (lots of science,) soft (sociological) sf (focused on social and cultural issues,) military sf, comic sf, science fantasy, and cyberpunk (hip computer stuff.) Common fantasy sub-genres are: high/epic fantasy, comic fantasy, and "urban" fantasy (set in contemporary world.) If your stuff is sort of between the cracks, it may still fit within the foothills of one of the sub-genres. Or maybe it will invent a whole new sub-genre, but the basic division of sf/f would be good to make.

If you're writing for everyone but particularly for teenagers, eleven year olds or the very young, you're writing children's literature, for which there are about thirteen zillion sub-genres, none of which you particularly have to know. But calling it a YA futuristic tale (sf) or a middle-school fantastic tale (fantasy,) would also probably be helpful when you approach the children's publishers.

If you don't want to be a sf/f author under that rubrick, then you are going out to the wider mainstream contemporary market, which is a whole other group of publishers. Weird stories are not new there. Check out "Carter Beats the Devil," Louis Erdrich, Margaret Atwood, any of the new Indian authors getting so much attention, and on and on. In that case, it's a literary contemporary story with magical or surreal or futuristic elements, and you just have to find some folk who like it, same as sf/f.

Pluvious
April 17th, 2003, 07:23 PM
Hey Kat,

What's the deal with your knowledge of market specifics and similar technical information? Is it a hobby or professionally acquired? If you don't mind my asking...:) Since you are kind of new to the boards and always pop up when solid facts are required that is. Kind of like with Aik Haw and his historical knowledge on the fantasy board.

milamber_reborn
April 18th, 2003, 01:29 AM
The way I see it you've got General and Speculative. The only story I have written not fantasy or sci-fi is set in modern times about a boy being abused. General fiction (or mainstream) is my classification.

KatG
April 18th, 2003, 05:44 PM
Originally posted by Pluvious
Hey Kat,

What's the deal with your knowledge of market specifics and similar technical information? Is it a hobby or professionally acquired? If you don't mind my asking...:) Since you are kind of new to the boards and always pop up when solid facts are required that is. Kind of like with Aik Haw and his historical knowledge on the fantasy board.


Um, professionally acquired. Two years with NAL/Penguin, 5 as an agent, and 8 as a free-lance book editor and writing instructor. Still doing some on-line teaching but trying to do the writing thing now too. Which doesn't mean donkey droppings, of course, but I do have a lot of "tech" info, I guess. I speak Agent and Editor Speak fluently. :)