Sunday, April 01, 2007

Q & A 107 Poetic Prose?


I refer to my MS as a literary novel. Just the other nite I was perusing my Usage and Abusage and came upon the entry "poetic prose". (Poe and G.K. Chesterton) Well Hot Damn, that fits me perfectly. The question is: should I, in future queries, refer to my novel as a possible candidate for the genre poetic prose?

1. Did you happen to notice whether you were in the usage section of the book, or the abusage section when you discovered this term?

2. Of course, it is better than saying you write prosaic poetry.

3. Mr. Poe still sells more books every year than anyone who writes like he did.

Authors don't get to declare what kind of prose they write. (Those who try look like idiots, because they're invariably wrong.) That's a job for critics, agents, and the people who make up the lies that go on the backs of books. Apparently you're unhappy with calling your book literary fiction. Don't be. Literary doesn't mean it's literature; it just means it's boring. My advice: add some sharks and a wolfman, and call it commercial fiction.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

When querying agents/editors, I have heard that you should describe your book only in terms of the category it will be shelved under at the bookstore.

And I've never seen a "poetic prose" shelf at the bookstore.

Jenny Haddon said...

Try consulting the preface to Stella Gibbons' wondrous "Cold Comfort Farm",published in the thirties. (The book orginated the concept of "seeing something nasty in the woodshed".)

Owing much to the rural-inspired works of Mary Webb and (low be it spoken) D H Lawrence, Ms Gibbons thought it would help the reader if she offered a starring system to indicate the intensity of certain passages. You might adopt the same policy, perhaps? Though SG's three star flapdoodle takes some beating.

Anonymous said...

I've learned to cope with the modern "literary" novel by skipping the boring middle third or possibly the middle half, depending on where the beginning ends and the end begins. Although sometimes the boring middle is about three quarters of the total because the end doesn't begin until the last few pages. Back in college when I had to be prepared to make insightful remarks about the contents of sleep-inducing tomes by authors like Doris Lessing I used to shorten the whole work by reading only the left or right hand pages. In fact, my happy discovery of that technique is what I remember most clearly and fondly about Ms. Lessing's prose.

Robin S. said...

http://books.google.com/books?id=icnKIlILT4oC&pg=PA239&lpg=PA239&dq=%22usage+and+abusage%22+poe&source=web&ots=9VGemYlHJs&sig=lI7kQrtUIj--JLx7ftsC-NqIga8

I just Googled "Usage and Abusage" and Poe, because I thought this was sent in with the author's tongue lolling around in his/her cheek.

I guess I'd be worried that if I took myself too very seriously, other people, in a word, wouldn't.

phoenix said...

http://books.google.com/books?id=icnKIlILT4oC&pg=PA239&lpg=PA239&dq=%22usage+and+abusage%22+poe&source=web&ots=9VGemYlHJs&sig=lI7kQrtUIj--JLx7ftsC-NqIga8

An example of modern literary prose at its finest. Perhaps an equals sign too many for my more category taste, but I can certainly appreciate the brilliant placements of the percent signs and ampersands. The repetition of PA239 is the best use I've seen of that literary device in awhile, and I must say it had me smiling. Although it is, of course, the extant use of strategically dropped plus signs that carry the thematic subtext here.

Anonymous 11:28 no doubt simply skimmed 9VGemYlHJs&sig=lI7kQrtUIj, which is sad since this is where the inner struggle is revealed and internally debated. Without this vital understanding, A11:28 probably missed the absurd comparisons linking the end of the beginning and the beginning of the end entirely.

Thank you for, robin s., for sharing this remarkable piece of prose with the minions. It has given me much to contemplate.

Oh, what did you say? This is a url and not an example of modern literary prose? Then someone must enlighten me: What's the difference again?

A word's worth said...

what is going on here? Please forgive my ignorance, and I'm much better with words than with numbers. U&A (Abusus non tollit usum) is a handy little reference book wherein is listed an entry "poetic prose" in which Poe is listed as a practitioner thereof. Did I miss something?

I was just trying to place my writing style in an appropriate catagory. Did I imply my work was comparable to Poe's, or was that the ding-a-ling sound of inference I heard?

If I really took myself and my work seriously, I'd be staging an on-line suicide (mock, of course) performance, because clearly this book ain't going nowhere in my lifetime.

"...Great God! I'd rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
(if you're gonna google, you'll do well to type: The World Is Too Much With Us)

phoenix said...

Hey, a word's worth, we're just having a little fun, albeit somewhat at your expense if you are the questioner for this post.

I actually have a couple of category fantasy short stories that are written in heavy-duty poetic prose style -- lots of alliteration, rhyme and sentence rhythm. One is being held for possible inclusion in an anthology, the other is on submission to a genre mag that says they like more literary type material.

I did not mention the odd prose style to the anthology editor when I submitted there because she said she was looking for standard genre writing and this story broke every one of her "what is a story?" rules. Luckily, she may be willing to bend those rules :o)

For the other sub to the genre mag, I made certain to play up the literary style and capitalize on their desire to pub more literary fiction. We'll see if that strategy works.

In all, though, it's CONTENT over STYLE that you will use to generally categorize your book and decide who to submit to. I believe EE was implying that "literary" is usually a label slapped on AFTER a book is pub'd. Decide what your book is ultimately about, then go to agentquery.com, click on the Full Search option, and choose the category your book most closely resembles to find an agent for it. Then let your agent figure out how best to market it to editors. When querying agents, you can always say it's a 90,000-word literary suspense or 80,000-word women's fiction novel with literary elements. But don't get too hung up on what to call it -- just get in the right ballpark.

Minions, feel feel to correct if I'm leading a word's worth astray.

more than a word's worth said...

Silly me for thinking a story by and about someone who loves literature would be called a literary novel. What a fool I am for not realizing that, while one who writes speculatively about future technologies may call his work science fiction, and another who writes about love may call his book a romance, the word geek who dares to write about deeply meaningful encounters with beloved works of literature (let’s not assail the unfortunate main character whose nightmares rival Dante’s Inferno) and strives to express the tale in a like manner may NOT, under threat of deep humiliation, call that work a literary novel.

I know! Following the sage advice of EE, I will throw in some scatological references and call it Shit Fiction. God knows there’s plenty of that on bookstore shelves, although I do not think it is clearly labeled as such.

So let me see if I’ve got this straight: (calling all minions of the Evil One and Snarklings if you’re there) I may refer to my novel as Fiction, or Contemporary Fiction. If I add in elements from other categories of fiction I might want to call it cross-genre. But if I, the humble gardener, (I dig words) should forthrightly call my digging instrument a spade before the boss-man calls it a spade, I will be thoroughly trounced, denounced, smeared with honeyed words and staked out in my own garden to be slowly devoured by hordes of obedient little ants. Have I left anything out ??

Oh, yea! When querying agents and publishers: Be sure to use a lot of buzz words, drop in the names of their hottest authors (make sure you switch them out for each query) and never, ever indicate that your writing might have innate value. Because there simply is no ROI on that kind of stuff. Sorry kid.

Robin S. said...

Hi author,

I apologize if what I said was offensive. That was absolutely not my intention.

I understand what you mena about wondering where your work fits in, category-wise, and wanting to work this out. I feel that the novel I've written is walking a line between commercial and literary, but I've been told (here, and in no uncertain terms) that it's best to leave the decision on its' category to those who receive your work as a submission.

Hope you stick around. There's lot to learn here, handily disguised, of course.

Anonymous said...

Although skipping the boring middle half isn't a viable strategy for unpublished stuff. What I've seen of self-consciously literary works in critique groups is that through excerpt after excerpt, we might still be searching for a passage where the damn story really BEGINS and the woeful authors tend to stare in numb puzzlement when asked, "What is this novel about?" Because it's supposed to be too obvious that -- it's about "the language", baby. So I'm like some kind of blind-to-the-light pagan, in their humble opinion, saying -- language schmanguage, who cares? Nothing's happening here. Get thee a plot and cut all this fancy blithering or no one will ever read it.

Like EE suggests, most of those books are desperate for a few sharks and a wolfman.

If you wanted to do some kind of wild-eyed market research like roughly comparing audience size for poetical angst versus action / comedy you can just go to box office mojo and see how their popularity is expressed by film attendance.

http://www.boxofficemojo.com/yearly/chart/?yr=2007&view=releasedate&view2=domestic&sort=gross&order=DESC&&p=.htm

Box office is a proxy measure but better than nothing. Book sales numbers are nigh impossible to get and book sales ranks are difficult to compare. Roughly half of films start as novels anyway and it's a lot easier to quit the ol' day job if your novel gets adapted. You can find out about the success of your fav authors' adapted works by going to the imdb:

http://www.imdb.com/

Check out any author's list -- Shakespeare has 675 adaptations listed -- by typing their name in the search box.

December Quinn said...

A word's worth, "poetic prose" isn't a genre. That's where the confusion is coming from, I think.


You book is literary fiction. That's all. (And I hope you spell "night" correctly in other correspondence and in your book, as lazy spellings reflect badly on writers.)

a word's worth said...

Still licking my wounds. I've got quite a nasty gash in my egoccipital lobe. Doc said to check here for anyone still in stitches over yesterday's blog. He also proscribed something to reduce the moisture behind my ears. Hope it works.

Robin S. said...

Hi, a word's worth,

Glad you're back.

Maybe the issue lies in the difference between science fiction, romance, fantasy, horror, etc., and literary fiction. While genre fiction can read like/and be, literary fiction, they still fit snugly in their own genre categories, and so can be "named".

The concept of genre-free literary fiction has more of a qualitative aspect to it; it can't be classified by a defined genre. So that, if a manuscript is referred to by its author as a work of literary fiction, assumptions concerning the quality of the prose, have, by definition, been made by the author.

That's my thinking anyway, from what I've seen here - that the decision on whether or not a work is literary falls to the reader (agent, editor, etc.) of the work, rather than the writer of it.

That's all the fuss is about, I think. Hope this helps.