Just about every day here on the internet, I stumble across a discussion where "literary" writers and "genre" writers debate whether writing "well" is more noble a goal than writing "to sell". I believe both sides are wasting a great deal of time and energy that might be devoted to writing some good books for me to read.
This is a full-service blog, so for those of you who are not writers (and for those who do write but who lead very sheltered lives), I will explain.
"Literary" writers insist that they're writing for art's sake. They worry about whether people will understand their work, and they're offended when anyone suggests that book sales (or lack of them, which is more to the point in any discussion of today's literary novels) are in any way indicators of genius. In fact, it's almost a badge of honor for authors when their literary novels get glowing reviews but sell very few copies. "I'm afraid it's quite literary," they'll sniff over a huge pile of unsold hardcovers. "I'm not surprised it didn't sell."
And in the opposite corner we have the "popular fiction" writers. Stephen King and John Grisham and Nora Roberts, to name a few. Yes, I'm talking about the people who write the books you buy at airports. Especially those ubiquitous, cranked-out-by-the-truckload romance novels.
Whoops! I wasn't supposed to say that. Romance writers will tell you they don't "crank out" their novels, but carefully craft them. Yeah, well sometimes they are crafted rather quickly, if you ask me. They have to be, to keep up with demand. And often the books are poorly edited. Not that the romance-hungry public isn't usually pretty forgiving about that. It's the stories they care about and pay good money for, so a poorly structured sentence here or there isn't exactly a deal-breaker for the average consumer.
If you think I'm being critical, note this: I write romance. Proudly. And I'm not criticizing, I'm trying to make a point. If we pretend that writing romance novels is gifting the world with art, we are not elevating the genre, but making it look ridiculous. Let's be realistic about what we're doing and why: This is entertainment, people. We write romance for fun and for money. And there's nothing wrong with that.
Take a quick quiz: Who's the more talented musician, Eric Clapton or Itzhak Perlman? It depends on whether you're more into hot guitar licks or soaring violin melodies, doesn't it? And what tastes better, premium chocolate-almond ice cream or broiled lobster tail with clarified butter? Again, a matter of personal preference. So which is the better writer: the brilliant college professor who labors for ten years over a single esoteric novel, or the fun-loving woman who banged out in three months the rollicking read you tuck into your beach bag?
I don't get why fiction writers are fighting over this stuff. What prize are they hoping to gain? What does it matter if literary writers think romance writers are hacks? And what's the big deal if romance writers think literary writers are snobs?
Wouldn't it be great if writers would stop flinging mud at each other and get on with the business (or the art, if you prefer) of writing?