Saturday, September 14, 2013

On Being a Writer of Genre Fiction

Posted by: Jeffe Kennedy
The other night I was chatting on Instant Messenger with one of my writer friends (and critique partner). She and I have a lot in common as writers because we both started out writing literary fiction and non-fiction - and were moderately successful at it - and then both switched to writing genre fiction. We both write erotic romance and she's had a very successful urban fantasy trilogy while I'm making my way in fantasy and fantasy romance.

In this conversation, she mentioned that one of her friends from her "former" writing life had a memoir published with a university press and she was excited to go to the launch party and see all her old friends. Then she expressed trepidation, saying that she never knows quite what to say to them about what she's writing now, as if she's internalized some of the shame of writing genre, especially in SFF and Romance, which tend to be the most sneered at among the "genres" by lit fic types.

It's really hard to say, though, if it's us or them.

But I totally understood what she means. I miss my old community - more so because we moved away. I loved the comaraderie of it all, the sense of being admitted to the club. I told her that I look at the Newsletter from the foundation that gave me a fellowship for a two-week residency, back in the day. Doing that residency was huge for me. First, just passing the jury to be awarded the fellowship was enormously validating. But then - spending those two weeks being fed and catered to while I did nothing but write? That was the first time I felt like a REAL writer. Like was I was doing was important. My fellow residents and I joked that they treated us like we were curing cancer. (I should mention this particular residency included artists of all types - painters, musicians, writers, photographers, composers, you name it.)

That joke reflected our internal uncertainty that we didn't really deserve such support, even as we reveled in it, like foster children plucked off the street and mistakenly given a rich home. We kept waiting for them to discover the error and boot us out.

Miraculously, they never did.

Some writers make a virtual living of this itinerant lifestyle, going from residency to residency. Part of this to support themselves in the early days but also because, with rare exceptions, lit fic writers rarely make money any other way. They work as professors at universities and writing programs. Genre writers typically have non-writing related careers until they make it.

I know far, far more genre writers making a living on just writing than in the lit fic world. I enjoy the writing more, too. But, when I get that newsletter...

There's stuff like:

~ Fellows nominated for the 2013 Tony Award:

~ featured in a solo exhibition

~ has been appointed Artistic Director

~ was shortlisted for Salt Publishing’s International Scott Prize

~ had its US television broadcast premier on PBS’s Independent Lens series

~ The American Academy of Arts and Letters awarded...

I'm reading through this, looking for my buddies and thinking "and Jeffe Kennedy has the second book in her Covenant of Thorns series, Rogue's Possession, coming out on October 7!"

Somehow, it just doesn't have the same ring, you know?

At the same time, I know that these sorts of prestigious announcements are the coin of the arts realm. This is what they trade upon. In that world, reputation and resume are what get you more work. In genre? Sales figures.

What strikes me about all of this is, I'm still the same writer. In many, quantifiable ways that I can point to, I'm  much better writer than when I received that Fellowship. Certainly far more people read my work, I sell more books and, yes, make more money at it.

More than that, I work harder at my writing and produce far more than I ever did then. I feel like a working writer now. A real writer, in a totally different way.

I may not be curing cancer, but that's not my job. I'm a writer.

Jeffe Kennedy is an award-winning author with a writing career that spans decades. Her fantasy BDSM romance, Petals and Thorns, originally published under the pen name Jennifer Paris, has won several reader awards. Sapphire, the first book in Facets of Passion has placed first in multiple romance contests and the follow-up books, Platinum and Ruby are climbing the charts. Her most recent works include three fiction series: the fantasy romance novels of A Covenant of Thorns, the contemporary BDSM novellas of the Facets of Passion, and the post-apocalyptic vampire erotica of the Blood Currency.

Jeffe lives in Santa Fe, with two Maine coon cats, a border collie, plentiful free-range lizards and a Doctor of Oriental Medicine. Jeffe can be found online at her website: or every Sunday at the popular Word Whores blog.

She is represented by Pam van Hylckama Vlieg of Foreword Literary.


  1. I just keep very firmly in my kind what my goal in life is at this stage and as long as I feel I'm moving toward MY goal, I push past the exact same stuff you're talking about...because I sure do have those moments where I think, "wow so-and-so just got a movie deal" or is publishing their n-zillion NYT best-selling book in a series I love....and I'll never be Anne McCaffrey because *she* was LOL....soooo, am I doing what works for me? OK then, onward. Good post as always, Jeffe!

  2. While on a panel at a comic book convention, I was asked if I wrote literary or commercial fiction. I blurted out that I'm a total whore and write for money, and I'm not ashamed of it. It got a laugh from the audience, which, you know, is part of my brand -- the humor thing. But it wasn't a lie. It's not that I don't feel like I'm making art of some kind. But I am telling the stories I want to read, while also considering what's likely to sell.

    Be proud of what you've accomplished, Jeffe. You're versatile and can go either way. I don't think I'm talented enough to make the crossover in the other direction.

    1. I don't think it's a talent-thing, but thank you, Rachel! Isn't that funny that it comes down to money? Yes, I want to sell my work, have many people read it and make a living that way.

      Whores 'R' Us!


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