Prizeworthy : Literary Fiction Awards

Here we are in the middle of literary awards season. The Nobel, the Booker, the Pulitzer, and here in Canada the Giller, the Governor General’s Awards and many more. (Just in time for Christmas.)

Why are there so many of these awards? And why are most of them for so-called “literary” fiction? There are a few awards for genre fiction, such as the Nebula Award for science fiction and the Golden Dagger Award for crime fiction, but they don’t have the profile of the literary prizes.

I think the answer has to do with a fundamental difference between literary fiction and genre fiction. Genre fiction is self-serve. Everyone knows what to expect from a book labelled “mystery” or “romance” or “science fiction,” but literary fiction is random. It can be about anything or nothing. It’s idiosyncratic and nuanced, full of symbols and allusions, and often ends ambiguously. A degree in creative writing may be useful for reading as well as writing it. Lit-fic is popular among book clubs whose discussions use words like Zeitgeist and oeuvre.

However intimidating, literary fiction has the allure (for some) of the Higher Arts. One cannot swim in this rarefied sea unaided. Readers need expert guidance in the pathless country of lit-fic. Newspapers and mainstream magazines such as Time or Maclean’s used to have book sections, but they are becoming scarce.  More and more, the critics’ seal of approval takes the form of the literary award. Once the annual crop of awards is out, those who wish to be known as “well-read” know exactly which books to buy and read (or at least skim). A recent clever development is the announcement of long-lists and shortlists in the run-up to an award, so the benefits of the awards may be spread among more authors (and their publishers).

But what about self-published literary fiction? Most successful indie authors write and publish genre fiction. Is being “literary” the kiss of death to a self-published book? In the world of indie authors, there are no high-profile awards, backed by financial institutions and bestowed by panels of Eminent Writers. No one is telling the reading public, “This is the indie book everyone should read,” condemning to eternal obscurity many an artfully-written work expressing the anomie of a disaffected protagonist in an indifferent world.

 

Advertisements

2 comments

  1. I fully admit that I don’t know much about literary fiction, but it seems to me at this point in time that the best bet for a literary novel would be to get it traditionally published. Readers of self-published books tend to be genre readers, so genre fiction is what sells. That might change in the future, but right now I’m pretty sure traditional publishing is the way to go if your book is literary.

    Like

  2. In a perfect world, yes, trad pub would be the way to go. You’d be in that milieu of literary awards and other mechanisms that declare you one of the anointed, etc. But literary publishers seem to be just as reluctant as any others to take on more new authors. I’m thinking new mechanisms for getting self-pubbed literary fiction will evolve. A point I ignored in my post was that lots of genre fiction books are written in a literary style, combining the complexity and ornamentation of literary writing with (hopefully) engaging plots.

    Like

What do you think? Opinions welcome!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s