Literary or Commercial Stories?

When you start writing a story, it isn’t always obvious whether it’s going to be a literary story destined for university journals, for example, or a commercial story sent winging to the relatively few commercial magazines that still carry fiction.

If the story is nagging at you to be written, write it down and see what you have. But before you expend the time and effort, or at least while it’s marinating in the computer, buy copies of literary journals and commercial magazines and read them. In the first place, you need to get a sense of the kind of fiction each publishes and their preferred styles. No two are alike.

Second, those editors will know when you haven’t read their publications, as soon as they look at the first page of your manuscript! It may make perfect sense to send dog stories to a science fiction magazine, if the dog is an evolved being from another universe. But the university journal probably won’t want the manuscript unless the dog also speaks French without an accent and has a degree in archaeology. Wasting an editor’s time more than once can be the literal kiss of death for your future at that magazine. Goldfinger has nothing on an exhausted editor having a bad hair day.

Are Literary Stories Better?

A school of thought exists that puts literary stories on a higher plane than commercial stories. Maybe they belong there and maybe they don’t. I’ve read some awful stuff in literary journals: cold, sick material that appears to have been regurgitated from someone’s nightmare, or vague, rambling, haughty material liberally peppered with 25 and 50 cent words. It isn’t literature, not even stream of consciousness, nor is it elegiac or sophisticated. It simply never should have been published.

In my opinion, the purpose of literature is fivefold:

  • to entertain and awaken
  • to subtly educate by communication
  • to bring injustice and discrimination into the bright light of day where they can be seen for what they are
  • to explore worlds and their glories
  • to uplift readers, not drag them down to the writer’s own personal interpretation of hell or bore them into an early grave.

Write Quality Material

Keep sadism and trash out of your work. Save the pedantic for tête-à-têtes with your colleagues.

Of course, cold and sick material is out there in commercial magazines, too. Publishers exist who know they have the audience for perverted material because it’s already selling their magazines. However, your family-oriented or any other quality magazines most decidedly will not publish it. In fact, their “first readers” would not get past the first couple of paragraphs, if that much. Such magazines know what good writing is and what their readers appreciate. Excellent stories are what they publish. They’re not interested in publishing “Real life is vulgar and profane, so get over it!” junk. Your job as a writer is to illuminate and interpret society, not drag it down deeper into the sewer system.

We are free to make our own decisions, but why be stupid? Why waste a talent that non-writers would give their eyeteeth for? (Except for those who think “anyone can write”.) Our talents are a gift from our Creator. What we do with them is our gift back to Him, a gift we may well have to explain at some point in our future, and a lot sooner than we might expect. And do we really want him to take away our talent because we haven’t used it wisely?

The completed story will itself determine the type of market for it, literary or commercial. How you write the story will largely determine its success. The rest is timing and luck and persistence, always persistence. And if it’s good, today you have the option of self-publishing, instead of waiting for gatekeepers to accept it and then insist you rewrite it to meet their interpretation of what you were trying to say. Sorry, gatekeepers, in that sense your time has passed. You accepted the manuscript, so let your editors do their job but otherwise, you stay out of the way.

Disclaimer: My blog posts are statements of opinion only. I am not in the business of giving financial, legal, medical or any other type of advice. See Terms of Use and Disclaimer for further disclaimers.

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