1. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    'Literary' fiction or 'Commercial' fiction...

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Tesoro, Mar 30, 2011.

    Is it a choice you make? Or just something you find out if you get published and start receiving the critiques? Is it your voice or plain technique? Sorry if this is a dumb question but I'm still trying to figure this out, because I just stumbled on these terms quite recently, which I hadn't come across before.
     
  2. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    If you don't know if you're writing literary fiction, you're probably not writing literary fiction.

    As for commercial fiction, that's not really a genre so much as a description of your work--is it something people will buy? Is it mainstream, best-seller potential? Then it's commercial fiction.
     
  3. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    I wasn't speaking of myself, I was just trying to understand it better.
     
  4. MidnightPhoenix
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    MidnightPhoenix Contributing Member

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    I don’t know if this help or not but I look on google, found this, hope this help you.

    Commercial Fiction

    This type of story appeals to a wide audience, has a distinct plot, and its characters actively pursue a goal or overcome a challenge. These stories are primarily read for entertainment. There are many categories of commercial fiction, classified by genre and sub-genres. Each genre has basic elements that readers expect to see in the stories. Some commercial fiction may appeal to more than one type of audience, and can be considered mainstream.

    Literary Fiction

    These stories focus more on internal conflict than external events, the plot is less obvious, and there is an emphasis on artistic prose rather than the more straightforward storytelling seen in commercial fiction. There is usually extensive development of the characters, with a slower pace, and less emphasis on what happens and more on the character’s reaction to what happens.

    I also found this, again hope this help you.

    Is literary fiction the yin to commercial fiction's yang? I think so... But you'll have to decide what you think for yourself, because opinions vary far and wide. It's a hot topic in the fiction writing world these days... maybe it always has been.

    Many writers wonder about the differences between literary fiction and commercial fiction. Below I've broken each category down to show the most significant contrasts between the two.

    Literary Fiction:

    * Confronts life as we know it
    * Action makes little (or no) difference to the conflict
    * Resolves the story, but not necessarily the conflict by the end
    * Confronts issues pertaining to the human condition
    * Is challenging and thought-provoking
    * The beauty of the writing is often remarked upon--often aspires to win awards in the literary world
    * Focuses more on the poise of expression, psychological acumen, and character


    Commercial Fiction:

    * Diverts us from life for a while
    * Action always makes a difference to the conflict--can be good OR bad
    * Characters aren't always realistic, they often seem slightly cartoonish
    * Social issues described are similar to the ones portrayed on sitcoms or in movies
    * Can be read quickly and easily--without too much thinking involved
    * Written to entertain a much wider audience
    * Focuses more on narrative and plot

    However, what most other articles, sites, and writers don't focus on are the things that two types of fiction SHARE. It's also important to understand a few of the similarities between (good) literary and commercial fiction.

    Ingredients for a good piece of fiction, be it literary or commercial:

    * Good fiction is grammatically accurate and well edited
    * Good fiction is character driven
    * Good fiction evokes emotions from its readers
    * Good fiction is written with specificity (write concretely, not vaguely)
     
  5. Bay K.
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    Bay K. Contributing Member

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    LOL! Then you were speaking of yourself --trying to understand it better. :)
     
  6. Finhorn
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    Finhorn Senior Member

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    Here's how a writing instructor at Arizona State explained literary fiction (often called realistic fiction) to me: Writing that provokes a complex emotional response from the reader. It's not enough that the reader thinks he read a good story. He should be thinking about it for weeks or years to come.

    The problem is that underlying themes can become so complex that it's inaccessible to those who haven't studied literary fiction. Kind of like poetry. A great poem will leave an impression on your very soul but it's going to take you two years of graduate school before you can understand it.

    Literary Journals are places where literary fiction goes to be published. Here's a link to an online one supported by ASU.

    http://superstitionreview.asu.edu/n6/fiction.php

    Click on an author's picture to read his or her story. I highly recommend that you start with this one:

    http://superstitionreview.asu.edu/n6/bio.php?author=rachelkadish&bio=fiction -- It's short, well written, and a simple allegory that applies to an individual life and all of human history. I'll let you figure out for yourself if the author is for life or opposed. The answer is not the obvious one.

    When you master that take a gander at "Hills Like White Elephants" by Hemingway. http://www.gummyprint.com/blog/archives/hills-like-white-elephants-complete-story/ -- No cheating by looking at the pages and pages of analysis that have been written about it.

    Commercial fiction is what the people who make money at it write. Take Harry Potter, did you ever feel conflicted while reading it? Even Snape's role or character deaths don't bring complex emotion. It's also not written with the maturity of language that literary fiction has. Though Rolling occasionally has a good turn of phrase you don't find yourself stopping and saying "Wow, I wish I wrote that line."

    A few people have been able to blend the styles and give us masterpieces. Like Steinbeck (Of Mice and Men), Jane Austen (Pride and Prejudice), and Stephen King (Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption).

    Though I personally am not a fan of literary fiction, I find that as I read and write it my commercial fiction endeavors get better, faster. Doing the hard stuff, trying to make your audience feel instead of just entertaining them, is work but worth it.
     
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  7. Forkfoot
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    Forkfoot Contributing Member Contributor

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    Some might argue that even the highly-educated people who claim to "understand it" are full of ****. They just have a better grasp of the concepts which bespectacled windbags throw around when discussing such things. Some, upon hearing them expound upon the "complex underlying themes" of a beautiful piece of art, might feel tempted to throw a slurpee on them.
     
  8. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I just find it the most entertaining bit of literary fiction seeing what people decide to interpret as what. If it wasn't for that with some exceptions like Cloud Atlas, L-Shaped Room, is 39 Steps one ? They would be a tad on the dull side.

    I am now scared actually my books actually fall into some of the literary fiction categories - just hoping the story is good enough to keep me as genre fiction lol
     
  9. Louis Farizee
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    Louis Farizee Member

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    The distinction between literary fiction and commercial fiction, like the distinction between any widely accessible form of entertainment and it's pretentious and snobby older sister- pop music and classical music, movies and art films, Guy Fieri and Alice Waters- is purely an artificial one.

    There is no reason that a work cannot be widely successful as well as meaningful and full of themes future grad students will pick apart. Think Shakespeare. Think Elvis. Think the first two thirds of The Dark Knight. Jacques Barzun makes this point over and over and over in his excellent From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life 1500 to the Present (Amazon link), which, if you've never read, you really, really should.

    Yes, there are snobs that love to look down on things that are popular and successful precisely because they are popular and successful. You can choose to go low-brow, and you can choose to write critic-bait. Or you can just write as best you can and let history decide. And keep repeating Sturgeon's Law to yourself.
     
  10. Finhorn
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    Finhorn Senior Member

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    Funny! I've got this class where we identify themes etc. A couple weeks ago we spent 45 minutes working on a story and thought we had it all figured out before the instructor handed out an essay where the author outlined her true intentions. We were reading all kinds of stuff into the story that was never intended. We deserved slurpees all around.
     
  11. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    It is amazing how much can be read into a time travel which begins with an alarm clock being thrown or one with two gay detectives coming out of a cleaning cupboard :) When actually the alarm clock was just the best sized item for throwing and cupboard just seemed a good spot for an illicit incident lol

    I love it when symbolism is found in my work :)
     
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  12. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    Oh, how fun, another one of these threads. The fun is how quickly everyone will come in with personal opinions that make the discussion result into a series of 'well, one time' sort of anecdotes outlining personal slights or disappointments they then use to categorize everything they want in a way they want, whether 'literary' or 'commercial' fiction.

    Here's something to realize: snobs are snobs, and there are plenty of them on both sides of the fence.

    Sure, I've known and seen the stereotypical 'literary' writer/professor who has a chip on his shoulder against anything that sells or doesn't include alcoholism or cancer. I've also known and seen the stereotypical 'commercial' or 'genre' writer who has a chip on his shoulder against anything that is striving for more than a fun, shallow, page turner.

    It goes both ways, and the smart write (and person) realizes, as with most things on life, if there such a fervent debate it's from people who have already dug their heels in and have stopped learning, and the wise thing to do--especially as a writer--is to not take a position, as that will get you nothing, but instead learn everything you can from both sides, which will get you everything.

    The problem I have is where the derogatory or ignorant views on 'literary' extend to education. Sure, that may be where some of the stereotypical 'literary' writer/professor exists, but certainly not the only place they do, and the vast majority of teachers I've worked with are far from your stereotypical literary snobs. Often, those with chips on their shoulder see what they way, get into a class, get feedback, can't accept it, and suddenly it's a vast conspiracy of literary snobbery keeping them down, not the fact their story just wasn't good enough.

    Also keep in mind the most successful 'literary' writers are often learning from and doing things 'commercial' writers have employed with success. They don't just sit in their ivory towers thinking the higher they turn up their noses the more sales they make. That's the frustrating thing as an educator, I see many young writers planting themselves so firmly in the soil of one of these debates they stifle themselves and can't grow into some bad metaphor I'm sorry I started.

    Look at people like Michael Chabon, though. He's a literary darling AND a best seller, has won a Pulitzer (arguably the 'literary' award) as well as a Hugo and Nebula award (arguably more 'commercial' or 'genre'). And, hilariously, instead of learning from what he's achieved, people will sit around trying to tear him down, proclaiming him a sellout, or proclaiming him too pretentious. But again, the smart writers analyze how he walks the fine line between the stereotypes, knowing when you get cemented into one of the labels, or dig your feet in by adopting one a side, it's basically game over.

    I'm just saying, nobody is doing themselves any favors (in general, not just talking about this thread), by buying into these debates. If you go into a class, book, conversation, or whatever with a chip on your shoulder, thinking these labels actually matter to anyone but others with a chip, you're going to hurt yourself as a writer and miss opportunities to learn. Both sides do this, and both sides are hurt by it.

    Meanwhile, especially increasingly the last few years, the successful writers are those that draw from any and all sources they can, despite labels or stereotypes. While many people are spending their time thinking there's a dividing line worth arguing, obsessing and worrying over, many successful writers are exploiting the pros (and prose, a pun!) of both sides.

    If you dig into the pasts of many writers, you'll find influences on both sides. Many of your best known writers who get slammed for shallow, vapid, page-turning novels are trained literary writers intentionally and consciously crafting their fiction in a specific way. And many of your boorish, academic, cancer-and-alcoholism literary writers have trained and learned specifically how to write stories that people want to buy.

    It's not and either-or situation, really. If I were to admit these labels even exist and matter, which I won't, I'd point out it's a sliding scale, and very few successful writers are slammed all the way over to one side.

    For instance, people talk about literary writing as needing to be internalized or character driven. Yet, a TON of commercial, genre, best-selling fiction is very internalized and character driven, just often to a lesser extent. And guess what, most successful literary writing has an engaging plot. Sure, there are trends in styles and methods employed, perhaps, but it's not whether you're going to do something, but to what extent.

    And, of course, as with everything in writing there are tons of exceptions to the rules--very successful literary writers and stories that are heavily plot driven, and some of our favorite genre/commercial fiction is so because of how it's internalized, character driven prose. The lesson, I guess, is when you're debating and obsessing and worrying about these marketing and book-store labels, you probably aren't writing or continuing to learn writing.

    And the people that think education and learning is pretentious, arrogant or in any way a bad thing for your writing, I'll say unequivocally that you're just doing it wrong.
     
  13. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    thank you, I will have a look at those links!


    Hehe, I guess you are right, what I tried to say was I wasn't doubtful of myown writing being more on the 'commercial' side than anythign else, at least until now...hehe. So you say that those who write this kind of fiction are well aware of their work going to be labelled 'literary'?

    Oh, thank you, that was really helpful! :)


    Im sorry if my thread did upset you, that was never my meaning.
    I dont know if you red the original question, my intent was never to spark a debate of the kind you suggest, but simply to understand what defines the one and the other and if the writers are aware of their work being literary while writing it or just write thinking about writing fiction? If it is a (conscious) question of technique or if some people just happen to write that kind of fiction automatically without giving it that much thought.
     
  14. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    But that is as it should be, and is what Barthes thing about the "death of the author" was all about. That stuff is in there, whether the author consciously put it in or not, and there can be at least as much creativity in reading as in writing. But I wouldn't call it "reading into the story", I'd call it "getting out of the story". It's why literature can be timeless: because people find ways of relating it to situations that the author couldn't have imagined.
     
  15. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    You mean that you don't understand literary fiction, so nobody can?
     
  16. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    Sorry, I should clarify I wasn't necessarly directing my comment at you personally, more the pheonomenon of these threads and the direction in which the discussions usually end up going.

    I'm assuming you didn't stop reading my post with what you quoted, and in it I think you'll see I attempted to address and discuss your questions and concerns (without just delving into the other stuff that often plagues such discussions).

    The best advice is to write what you're passionate about writing, and as I mention, learn from anywhere and everywhere you can. If someone is so inclined as to label your work, then that means it's being noticed, I suppose. I would warn against ever trying to write for a specific market, genre or label, or taking offense or worrying about how people will label you or your work.

    I know a lot of aspiring 'literary' writers, and most of them are trying so hard to BE literary (whatever that even means) they've either crippled themselves from actually writing, or fallen into writing what they think they SHOULD be writing, not what they want to write.

    Likewise, I know fewer non-literary writers, but still enough to have seen people trying to actively target such a narrowly defined market, label, genre, etc that their work feels produced, not written or created.

    Well, to be honest, 99% of the time when a writer is trying to do something that involves terms and labels reserved for the final product, the writing never quite gets to the point it's even 'finished' enough to be a product, much less successful in hitting it's target.

    There are a lot of reasons why, I'm sure, but the most tragic in my opinion is these writers are often so consumed with everything other than creating fiction they're proud of that it becomes an exercise is business and marketing, not writing, and if it were that easy we'd have corporations pumping out fiction on assembly lines (and yes, some have tried, to varying degrees of success, no offense romance and erotica).

    That's why my main advice is to steer clear of these debates completely. Don't get into it. Don't even worry about it. Write what you're inspired to write. Write the stories that only YOU can write without the pressure and restrictions of labels and genres. Save that headache for your agent or publisher (or when/if you find enough success you're ironically and awkwardly pigeoned holed into being yourself, then too you'll have to deal with it, I suppose).

    Too many writers cut their own feet out from under them trying to write to a market, or trying to write with the pressure of labels and expectations. These people can tell you they're a steam-punk fantasy YA romance non-vampire supernatural genre writer, but what happens when something they WANT to write or put into a story doesn't fit their pre-defined expectations?

    Especially if you're just starting out I believe it's essential to not even corrupt your mind with all the judgments, chipped shoulders and expectations that permiate throughout the literary world. And there are a ton, and in this case I truly believe ignorance is bliss.
     
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  17. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Actually I agree with most of that Popsicle I have yet to finish with a book in the same genre/sub genre to the one I started with.

    However at least in the UK part of the introductory letter is to show you know where your book belongs on the library shelves.
     
  18. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    Well, when a writer has something that is legitimately ready for an agent to see, I'm sure they'll have some idea of it. :p

    And it varies with agents, often. I've heard some agents say how a big no-no is basically telling them how to do their job by saying how the novel should be labeled and marketed, and even going so far as to 'suggest' publishers that may be interested. This often occurs with works that could be fiction or memoir, where the writer wants it one way and the agent thinks it would sell better the other.

    The 'safe' suggestion I've seen is to discuss themes and subjects and styles and storyline, and the agent will have the info they need, as all that is more instructive often than a writer listing what they THINK the genre is (and it's funny how often they're wrong, even with their own work, lol).

    As with everything, it's a fine line.
     
  19. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Absolutely, regardless of the fact that there are lots of books and articles for newbie writers that urge writing for specific markets, genres or labels. Of course, THAT kind of writing exists only to be sold to an all-too-ready-to-buy market...newbie writers.

    Yep. What he said.

    Historical or futuristic?
     
  20. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes I read your entire post and I especially appreciated these parts:

    I have to specify that I am not trying to be something rather than the other, my question was out of pure curiosity. Most of the books I have read was commercial fiction, and I think that is why I write the way I do. However, I still think I could learn a lot from reading different genres than my usual ones, and even some poetry, even though its really hard for me because Im a slow reader and I read purely for entertainment, and reading a different genre would take a lot of time and I probably wouldn't get through the book anyway. When I do it's only for the purpose of studying.

    Thank you for taking the time to explain this, it was very interesting.
    :)
     
  21. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't know about that - mine is fantasy because it is set on another world but has many other genres thrown into it. I only set it on another world because I am lazy and didn't want to research. My current two are paranormal detectives (sort of Agatha Christie crossed with Gervase Phinn), and police detectives (no idea where those two are going).

    I have just explained for my first book that it was inspired by other young adult first person narrations like Across the Nightingale Floor and the God Box (which should confuse em one is fantasy and the other LGBT lol)

    And as much as I often don't like literary fiction (there are some mind blowing exceptions) - I have borrowed elements I like to read. I basically read everything and include what I like to read in my books. Find it interesting aside from my writing style which isn't literary fiction (although I do play with punctuation for effect), and I would be horrified to win a prize (aside from the British Writers Award) the other bullet points fit my work.
     
  22. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    Speculative about fictional future events you're sure will come true, and thus be historical, too! With a crystal ball is the best way to write! :p
     
  23. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    Could definitely be confusing, and is dangerous (okay, not DANGEROUS, but still) to use direct examples to other work, as the agent/publisher may not fancy that work very much.

    That's why the 'safe' advice I've been given is to focus on describing and explaining things you can actually explain. Telling an agent your work is 'literary' for example is bad, because a) that means a million things to a million different people, even agents and b) many agents honestly don't care what you think your work can be described as, since that's their job.

    That said, the writer definitely needs an idea. Many agents work in specific genres. If you submit literary historical fiction to an agent who specifies he/she wants fantasy romance, they're not going to be impressed.

    Then again, many agents may be looking for something new, even outside the typical genres they handle, so who knows.

    That's why the safe thing is to describe the things that you can actually explain, and that matter more. So instead of saying your novel is literary with fantasy elements and Vonnegut styling, focus on the plot and characters and whether it's set in the 'real' world or an original world, etc. Then the agent will have an idea if the STORY is interesting, which is what most care about. Most are good enough at their jobs they'll be able to tell the genre from the query, and be able to have a precise marketing plan already formed from an actual sample, and writers (imo) are better served not trying to tell the agent what the agent is paid to figure out.

    And, like I said, it's amazing how many writers will claim their fiction is a certain genre, when it just isn't (this often happens with declaring your work literary when writers themselves often don't agree on what that even means, and an agent has to take the 'yeah, sure, we'll see' approach, which isn't a good starting point.

    Getting your own genre wrong is pretty bad, and done more often than we may think, but it's hard to get it wrong when you're just describing plot and meaning and characters and world (though still possible, lol).
     
  24. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Except you are not in the UK - most agents ask for inspiration, idea of the market (this shows you have also studied their website and know who they represent). This side of the Atlantic they want to know you have done your homework on both the agent and the market. That you do read etc

    Fact is if they don't like the God Box or Across the Nightingale Floor they are unlikely to want to represent my stories - they will have probably have put it down already due to the sensibly required first line here Someone Else's Life is a 77,000-word Young-Adult Fantasy (I know it goes at the end in the US). If they haven't already rejected it based on that, especially knowing the commercial potential of both stories it may lead them to look further. I have not said my work is as good or the same merely inspired in style.

    I have now had one UK publisher and two agents give me advice on how to approach it.
     
  25. Forkfoot
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    I mean I think people believe they understand a lot more than they actually understand. I mean I find it irritating to hear some asshole with a degree and a skinny mustache talk about a deep and profound piece of art as though he understands it completely.
     

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