Eschewing False Choices of Dogmatic Book Industry

This week I read an online Writer’s Digest article, “Finding Freedom in Writing Fiction” by Jean Trounstine, which so resonated with me that I started cheering aloud in my living room and then jotted down choice points.  This was the initial highlighted quote that had me clicking to read the entire piece:

“The idea that one is a fiction writer or a nonfiction writer is a false choice. One should not have to choose.”


Jean Trounstine is an author, activist, and educator, and like her, I had always been a nonfiction writer, due to my law and journalism background, before I delved into drafting the Other Worldly novel series. Trounstine said she spent 31 years writing articles and books to “interrogate the criminal legal system,” and that her “meat and potatoes have always been what college students call ‘the truth.’”

Funny thing, I’ve strived to address truths as much in my fictional series as I did in legal writing and in my newspaper column. I’ve also endeavored to find the humor therein.

Trounstine said, “It’s no surprise then, considering how rigid the book business is in defining genre” —I could hug her for that observation— “that I would have defined myself categorically. You write fiction or you write nonfiction. If you write fiction, it’s…whatever pigeonhole [genre] someone suggests you plug yourself into.”

Boy howdy, as my protagonist Rowan Layne would say.  Rowan would especially appreciate the snark at self-anointed elitism within genre categories inherent in Trounstine’s parenthetical statement: “(I have often wondered: if you don’t write literary fiction, does that mean you write poorly?)”

Trounstine noted that, “With nonfiction, you write to inform, educate, or persuade; i.e., you write to get someone to think something.” Personally, I think all fiction should  do the same, and lauded, thought-provoking fiction most certainly does.

One thing she addressed that makes my blood boil was how after publishing multiple academic tomes she was told by a trade press that they would never publish her short stories if she chose to write them because she “had no reputation as a fiction writer.”

How, pray tell, does one get a reputation as a fiction writer if the industry is so narrow minded, dogmatic, irrational, and arbitrary? It’s like employers who say they won’t hire you without experience. If everyone says that, how does one ever gain experience? And how about giving actual readers a chance to decide what they might like to see from any given writer or author?

Trounstine said this “has a lot to do with why people often stay in their lanes. And it says a lot about how the business of books influences the writing of books.”

Ya think? What it says is nothing good, in my estimation. Besides, we’re talking about an industry that will fall all over itself to publish a book by a celebrity, no matter how notorious or corrupt. If this industry thinks it can make a buck off of someone famous, it clearly doesn’t care if they can write, or have experience in doing so. I myself am far more picky in what I choose to read.

“I think it is crucial for writers to follow their own muse,” Trounstine said. “Not that we shouldn’t be influenced by agents and publishers; of course we should. But to find what is inside our hearts and heads is the only way to write.”

The part I disagree with is the influence of agents and publishers. Had I continued to let a time-consuming futile quest for literary agents and traditional publishers ultimately influence what I planned write, what I have written, I would not have been following my muse, heart, or head. I most certainly would not have followed the path I chose in terms of what I wrote, and how I wrote it. For one thing, I was told by a literary agent that because I wasn’t an established author, I couldn’t write a novel series.

Sure, I’m not commercially successful or famous per book industry definitions and dictates. But I am personally successful for having written and published six novels and counting in my Other Worldly series. And I’ve had some fun doing it.

I’ve chosen to blend both fiction and nonfiction in addressing sociopolitical issues of our time, in a manner that entertains, but also informs and hopefully gets others to think, what if? And perhaps some personal truths shared, in addition to public truths addressed, will resonate with or potentially help other women.

As I’ve said before, I don’t do fluff or formula-driven pablum. My books don’t pigeonhole into the genres of fantasy, sci fi, or even speculative fiction simply because they involve aliens of the extraterrestrial kind. And it is wasted energy trying to conform my content to satisfy constrictions of a book industry who isn’t looking to publish someone like me anyway, any more than they would ever hire a woman over sixty who never worked in their industry either.

But you know what? I can write. So I do so without letting the book industry’s autocratic influence silence me.



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