Infographic: Do You Know The Difference Between Literary, Upmarket and Commercial Fiction?

Carly Watters, Literary Agent Blog

Knowing how to categorize your work is one of the most important skills a writer needs to know–especially while querying. Here’s an infographic to help. It’s not perfect and there are many places that writers won’t fit into and that doesn’t mean it’s not a marketable book. However, learning how to market yourself starts with knowing where your book stands and where it will sit on bookshelves.

Fiction Category Infographic

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A Lookery at: Gore Vidal, a personal memory

Author Gore Vidal passed away Tuesday, July 31, 2012, at the age of 86. Since his death, a plentitude of biographical articles have been written about his life, personality and achievements. However, I would like to take the opportunity to recall a personal encounter I had with Mr. Vidal while a student at UC Irvine. This post is not a political or social commentary about the writer, but rather a very likely flawed recollection of an event that happened over thirty years ago.

My manager at the university’s Lectures and Publications Department would book guest speakers for the annual lecture series. As an Administrative Intern in the department, it was my responsibility to attend to the menial tasks, such as making dinner reservations for the speaker, those who accompanied the person of note, as well as various administrators from the school. I also had to compose an introduction and present it to the audience prior to each lecturer’s speech.

Gore Vidal must have been one of the first speakers of the year, because I remember being very anxious to be properly prepared to interact with someone of his stature. I researched as much as possible about him, so that it would appear that I knew who he was. I had heard of him before – I think on “The Laugh-In” — as a child. I wanted to converse with Mr. Vidal somewhat coherently, if not intelligently, should he deem me worthy of a comment or two.

Since this was the P.G. (pre-Google) era, it required a bit of effort to look into a person’s history. I don’t recall what I found out about him, other than his blind, maternal grandfather was in politics and Gore used to escort him onto the Congressional floor as a youngster. I did decide to read one of his novels, 1876, to show him that I was familiar with his work.

My manager asked me to make dinner reservations for a small party (probably fewer than a dozen diners) at one of the very rare premier restaurants in the Irvine area at the time. I asked if I should include Mr. Vidal’s wife in the party, and my manager looked at me as though I were nuts, and said that no, that would not be necessary. I did not know then that Mr. Vidal was a confirmed bachelor. (This event occurred just as the gay movement was beginning to be discussed publically, and also at the time when AIDS was still referred to as “the gay cancer”.  I later learned that Gore had a long-time companion, and did not care for the term “gay”.)

When the evening arrived, I was a wreck. For some reason, I had to borrow a dress from a roommate, so I was not entirely comfortable in my clothing.  At dinner, I miraculously ended up seated next to Mr. Vidal in spite of being the only student in attendance. I did not know that this was traditional for the dinners. Later in the year I found myself seated next to Gloria Steinem and other well-known personalities.

The first question I asked him set the tone for the entire evening. Knowing that he was originally from the East Coast and had come to Irvine from LA, I asked him what he thought of Orange County.  His reply?  “Oh, it’s just a place I pass through on my trips to Carlsbad.” It’s a good thing I wasn’t drinking anything at the time, or it would have been iced tea (not being old enough to drink alcohol yet), through the nostrils at the dinner table. “Carlsbad??” I asked him incredulously. “Why in the world would you want to go to Carlsbad, of all places?” To which he replied, “That’s where my sister lives.” I then told him that the little town by the sea was my hometown, and I couldn’t imagine that anyone important would ever want to go there.  He got quite a kick out of that.

Gore Vidal and I had a wonderful discussion during the meal. I knew that guests were expected to spend an equal amount of time speaking to the dinner partners seated on their left as well as right, but Mr. Vidal spent the entire meal talking just to me. He told me about his childhood, attending Phillip Exeter Academy, his grandfather, and so on. We talked about 1876 and books we both enjoyed. He put me completely at ease.

Later, when presenting him as the featured speaker, I raced through my introduction out of nervousness, and had to repeat it slowly so that the audience could understand what I had said. I was utterly embarrassed by the situation, but he came on stage, gave me a kiss on the cheek, and thanked me for the introduction.

Gore Vidal had gone out of his way to make me comfortable all evening, which was quite extraordinary given that I was the plebe and he was the guest of honor. I will always think of him fondly.

“I am exactly as I appear. There is no warm, lovable person inside. Beneath my cold exterior, once you break the ice, you find cold water.” – Gore Vidal

Not so, Mr. Vidal. Not so.


A Lookery at: Knowing When to Call it Quits

It’s been too many days, dearreader, since I have reviewed a new title for you; please allow me to apologize for that. No, I have not thrown in the towel after just one week, I’ve simply been underwhelmed by three horrid books!

I recently received two books for pre-release reviews. You may have read About thebooklookery last week, and made note of the genres I prefer to read and write about. Both of these books were profiled in categories I enjoy — Historical Fiction and Mystery. Unfortunately neither were as described. Both novels had strong elements of genres I truly dislike.

The first title I gave up on after struggling through just the first three pages (and I mean slogging)! The second novel I stuck with for over half the tale before asking myself — is this really necessary? I decided it wasn’t.

I turned next to a book I had chosen because the protagonists in the story were both born on the day the Berlin Wall fell. My first child was born on this day, so it sounded like something special. In fact, some of the reviews said it was “life-altering” and would change the reader’s outlook on the world. Both admirable qualities in a piece of writing. Sadly, for me it did neither. Again, the genre was not as described, and while the story was so-so, and I finished it, it fell short of my expectations.

So after attempting to read three books I’d rate as so-so to truly lousy, it made me think — just when do I call it quits when it is a chore reading something other than a required textbook?

For me, it depends on a couple of questions:  One — is reading this book really worth my time? In the case of the first book, where I read the first few pages repeatedly, trying to get “into” the story, absolutely not! Two — is the story something I might end up liking? In spite of trying to enjoy the second book, it proved impossible to do so. And three — did I pay for the book? In this case, only the third book was purchased, so I felt more compelled to finish it.

So when do you, dearreader call it quits? After three mind-numbing duds, I am moving on to some brain candy from a favorite “beach read” author, Spring Fever  by Mary Kay Andrews. Definitely fluff, and easy on the intellect, but at least she’s fun to read!

See you back here soon!

A Lookery at: Collection Day


Some years ago, my daughter was experiencing a difficult time in her life. One activity that always gave her comfort was reading. Her high school had a mandatory daily reading break when everyone from the Principal to the students, teachers and even the kitchen and grounds staff were required to read. All offices on campus would close, and phones were left unanswered for the duration of this reading period.

During one of these sessions, my daughter was reading One for the Money by Janet Evanovich, the first book in a series that I had recently discovered and thought she might enjoy.

Across the aisle from her sat a girl she did not know. However, when this student noticed what my teen was reading, she very enthusiastically introduced herself and started a conversation about the book. Soon they became close friends, often sharing and swapping books with each other.

Sometime later, I had the opportunity to visit and meet her friend’s family. Now our family was far from prosperous, but we weren’t hurting, either. Through conversations with both girls I knew that the friend came from a very large, very low income family.

I met her girlfriend’s family, and was immediately struck not by the number of children in the room or the modesty of the home, but by the collection of books that this family owned! Every surface held stacks of books; every wall had simple built-in bookcases, crowded with reading material. Every person in the family was either looking at or reading a book.

When I mentioned how envious I was of their vast book collection, the girl’s father opened the door to the attic (actually more of a large crawl space — SoCal does not have many traditional attics), and pointed out the bookshelves lining the attic walls. I was dumbfounded! I had never seen so many books in one place outside a library or a bookstore!

It was obvious that reading was a prized pastime in this family. It was also then that I realized that collecting books can be an affordable hobby. And I’m not talking about collecting first editions or rare books. Books did not have to be purchased through or a bookstore. Books could be picked up very economically at garage sales, thrift shops, library or estate sales, or at used bookstores. They could be passed on from sibling to sibling, friend to friend, home to home. If a person wanted to read and be entertained badly enough, tight finances would accommodate this hobby. This family did not have a lot of extras in the home, but they made reading a priority.

For this reader, Collection Day has a new meaning.