Committed to Artistic Excellence and Religious Truth
The Literary Market
I would never consider myself a literary author, but I love to read literary fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Literary authors write with depth. Their imagery is luxuriant, characters complex, and the story line often leaves me surprised or stunned. I find myself contemplating the ending of the book days after I put the book down. Scenes, characters, and phrases come back to me years later. Examples range from the classics like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, Precious Bane by Mary Webb, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, to present day novels such as The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro.
How do you find literary authors in today’s Christian market? Classics are immediately classified as literary. For excellent examples think of anything written by C.S. Lewis, Oswald Chambers, or Hannah Hurnard (Hind’s Feet on High Places). Current authors are scattered throughout the marketplace. You won’t find their works listed under a genre called literary. Literary isn’t a category like Chic Lit, Romance, or Mystery, although these authors may write in a genre. For recommendations, I asked some leaders in the industry to name a few.
Lin Johnson, managing editor of the Christian Communicator and Advanced Christian Writer suggests Vanita Hampton Wright, author of Dwelling Places.
Dennis “Doc” Hensley, professor of English at Taylor University, recommends “Tom Wolfe and Norman Mailer for fiction and nonfiction, and Joyce Carol Oates, who has won many, many literary prizes.”
Clint Kelly, author of the newly released Delicacy from Zondervan, says, “W. Dale Cramer, Bethany House, received heaps of praise from Publisher’s Weekly and a starred review from Booklist for his novel Bad Ground. I’ve read it and Levi’s Will, both excellent works.”
Another author who has been recommended by more than one person is Lief Enger for his novel Peace Like a River.
If you consider yourself a literary writer, you will find publications that are looking for your writings in Sally Stuart’s Market Guide. Search under the categories for essays and poetry, although many of them also take short stories. These literary, or little, publications include The Image, The Rose and ThornM, andRuminate, to name just a few. They don’t pay much or pay in copies, but these editors seek out the best of the best and to be published in their magazines adds weight to your list of writing credits. Editors and agents will take you more seriously when considering your books proposal if they see you have been published in one of these publications.
For the most part, these magazines want essays, poems, art work, and fiction. The description under what the Image is looking for sums up this form of writing better than I can, “We are always thrilled to see high quality literary work in the unsolicited freelance pile, but we really can’t typify what we’re looking for other than good writing that’s honest about faith and the life of faith. No genre fiction.” One caution: before submitting be sure to check out the magazine. Request a copy or go online and read samples of their articles and essays and request their guidelines to make sure this market is right for you.
In the book publishing industry, most houses take literary fiction and nonfiction, although you probably would never submit it to them under that category. Instead for fiction, you would call it general fiction and for nonfiction it might be a memoir such as Don Miller’s Blue Like Jazz or Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird.
Some literary authors can be a bit disrespectful, referring to God as she or using a curse word now and then or a theology that would not be considered mainstream. For example, Blue Like Jazz opens with this line. “I ONCE LISTENED TO AN INDIAN ON TELEVISION say that God was in the wind and the water, and I wondered at how beautiful that was because it meant you could swim in Him or have Him brush your face in a breeze.” Some would consider this cutting edge, others irreverent. Whatever, it’s a truth-filled story of Miller’s walk with the Lord and the younger generation is reading it. I’m not so sure that these young people even know who John MacArthur or Chuck Swindoll are, or even care.
If this kind of writing describes what you are creating, then read the authors that are listed in this article. Investiage the publishing houses who published these authors and submit to them.
Literary authors, in general, don’t make a lot of money, but they are the ones who win the awards, receive the best reviews, and leave lasting impressions on their readers.