Thinking of submitting a novel to the 2023 IPNE Annual Book Awards? Follow — and participate in — the rest of this discussion via A Deeper Dive into Your Novel or Short Story Collection. . . . p.s. Literary fiction is a genre too.
The following is general info about the 10th Annual Book Awards hosted by IPNE (Independent Publishers of New England). We’re looking to sharpen our submission process so as to better give each book its due. This rethinking has to do with which other books each novel or short story collection will be up against, as well as who judges each.
I think we’re the only awards program around that looks to match books so closely with their target audience. We want readers who are best positioned to love the books they evaluate, while also bringing a keen and critical eye to that read. That way, we gather honest and insightful comments, and spot-on scores.
We’re a relatively modest program, but we aim high. 🙂
Genre gets a bad rap, in some circles
Writing genre fiction? Ever notice how that’s celebrated in some communities; in others, not so much.
For some, “genre” = limited.
But without categories of things, families of things — that is, “genres” — we’d not be able to navigate the world we live in. We humans seek patterns, and variations in pattern, to help give life meaning. In the world of books, a genre is simply a set of conventions and expectations. It tells us something essential about the world we’re about to enter. It’s the sign above the door. The tone and timbre of the doorbell. It’s what we see around us as we linger at the threshold. It’s the character and aspect of the person who will shortly attend. The journey we anticipate.
Genre can mean comfort and familiarity. But along with that familiarity comes the possibility of deeply significant departures and incongruities. Whether to amuse or intrigue. To beguile or enlighten. To bewitch, to provoke, to incite.
In those communities where genre work is less highly prized, the charge of “escapism” can be levied. To begin with, we should not denigrate the value of relaxation and play. The mind needs rest, and play, as much as does the body. Without it, we cannot be whole and healthy.
But it’s not all lemonade and ice cakes. There’s more here than might seem, at first glance.
Genre fiction can help us to escape the reality we face in our everyday lives, no doubt. For a welcome break. A little staycation. But sometimes stepping away from that reality, those problems, enables us to (as novelist Lev Grossman puts it) “re-encounter those problems in transfigured form, in an unfamiliar guise, one that helps you understand them more completely, and feel them more deeply.”
With such novels, we don’t read to escape. We read to find new ways of addressing those problems.
In other words, genre fiction can perform the same function so often assigned to literary fiction. It can be just as dark, just as serious. Just as insightful. And just as playful. Good genre fiction, most particularly today, is also just as character-driven. It is true that literary fiction tends to be more concerned with language, that is, the style of the writing. Fine writing at the sentence level is a hallmark of literary fiction. And yet, there are scores of genre novels with equally fine writing. On the flip side, literary fiction can sometimes seem to forget about story. Meaning, it leaves most audiences behind. (The best literary fiction, even the experimental stuff, does not.)
It is also true that literary fiction tends to focus on the human condition, on the big questions. But there are genre novels that wander into some pretty tough territory as well. Genre is not necessarily fluff, and literary is not necessarily art.
All good writing is artful.
Also, and to the point for us here, not all novels are either one or the other.
Related post: Got a Backlist Title You’d Like to See Get a Little Love?
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