Guest Post: An Author’s Thoughts on Labels in Literature

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People often ask me why I became a writer, and the answer is actually quite simple: I’ve been in love with stories all my life.

And that love began with reading.

I became enthralled by stories at a very young age. Ballerina Bess and Dr. Suess were my first loves. I’d listen with rapt attention as my mom read each story to me at bedtime. Before long I began reading them for myself, and soon my interests developed from picture books to Nancy Drew to everything Lois Lowry and Margaret Peterson Haddix. But as I began to learn about literature in middle school, a switch seemed to flip.

Suddenly, I was all about the classics.

Jane Austen was gateway drug into this arena. I read Pride and Prejudice through with voracious fingers, bewitched by Elizabeth’s spirit and Darcy’s noble heart. A few other renowned novels followed, including The Great Gatsby, A Tale of Two Cities, and The Lord of the Rings.

But as I headed into high school, I began to despise the classics. In fact, it seemed like the more I read, the more I began to resent reading them. For a while I wondered what had gone wrong. Had I simply been lucky with the first handful I’d picked up? Were all those research papers for English class ruining the fun of reading? Was I allowing my classmates’ disdain for such books to cloud my own judgment?

I never did figure out the answer, but I did begin reading modern fiction again and it didn’t take very long for me to fall in love. But believe it or not, I actually felt a bit guilty every time I picked up The Hunger Games or Harry Potter. My English teachers had primed me to think of such works as lesser than their classic counterparts, and somewhere along the way I had clearly drunk the Kool-Aid.

This warped belief reared its ugly head like never before when I dreamed up the idea for my current work-in-progress, a medieval fantasy novel called The Dark Between.

I’d always been interested in writing, but I didn’t consider it a serious passion for many years because I knew I couldn’t write the exquisite prose demanded of the Great American Novel. And I figured that if I couldn’t write a classic, I couldn’t write at all.

But my passion for this new story idea was intense, so much so that I no longer cared if I wrote a novel that my English teachers would use for coasters. Regardless of its label, I was determined to bring this story to the world.

And that determination, oddly enough, changed my life forever. I willingly fell down the rabbit hole to the wonderful world of writing, and I’m now well on my way to having that very same fantasy idea published.

While I’ve faced many obstacles in my writing journey, I firmly believe that my warped understanding of critically-acclaimed fiction slowed me down though most. That may be a rather dramatic statement to make, but I often wonder what my life would have looked like if I had been encouraged to explore all avenues of fiction instead of just the one written largely by men long dead.

The truth of the matter is that every type of fiction requires a great deal of skill to write well, and that means that every type of fiction is deserving of respect, no matter its label. After all, every style contains works of varied success. Some novels are critically acclaimed while others are harshly criticized, and others still are overhyped or underappreciated. And this occurs across the board.

As both a reader and a writer, this tells me that I should never feel ashamed of preferring one type of novel over another. And you shouldn’t either.

I often tell my blog readers not to worry about choosing their novel’s genre or title before they’ve begun to write. Instead, I encourage them to focus on bravely exploring the beautiful story that dances just beneath their fingertips. That’s the only way they’ll ever write a novel worth reading.

Why? Because what I’ve painstakingly learned from years of experience is that labels don’t matter at the end of the day. Simple as that.

As an author, your capability to create a unique landscape in the writing industry is incredible. YOU hold the power to create the story you want to write. YOU hold the power to market that story to interested readers. And because of that, YOU hold the power to shape the face of the industry forever.

So if you want to write a feel-good romance that captivates wistful dreamers worldwide, don’t waste another minute. If you want to write a heart-wrenching epic that comments on humanity’s darkest predilections, pick up the pen today. And if you to write a novel that is so far beyond the scope of normal that you fear it will never sell a single copy, pour yourself a cup of coffee and go bravely unto the blank page.

Commercial or literary, upmarket or downright insane…these labels don’t matter in the end. What makes your novel unique is what makes it valuable to the world. And if you write with your soul open to the page, you will enthrall readers with your work. Guaranteed.

So don’t ever feel ashamed of the stories you long to tell, dear writer. The world needs them more than you can know.


HeadshotKristen Kieffer is the creative-writing coach behind She’s Novel, where she helps writers craft novels that will endear readers, excite publishers, and launch their writing careers. Her latest creation, The Pre-Write Project, is an epic workbook designed to help writers prep their next novel in just five days flat. Kristen loves coffee, geeking out over Tolkien, and editing her upcoming medieval fantasy novel, The Dark Between. Want to learn more? Click here!

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12 thoughts on “Guest Post: An Author’s Thoughts on Labels in Literature

  1. Beautiful post! Thank you so much for it! :D
    This is especially encouraging for me as my main novel is a contemporary that I don’t think there’s a very big market for. It’s been rejected several times for various reasons, but it’s the story of my heart, so I’m not giving up on it. Whether I find a like-minded agent and publisher or I publish it myself, I will get this story out into he world. :)

    Thanks again for the beautiful post! <3

    Alexa
    thessalexa.blogspot.com
    verbositybookreviews.wordpress.com

    1. Aw, Alexa! I am so glad this post came at the perfect time for you. It’s so clear to see how passionate you are about your novel, and that kind of passion doesn’t come a dime a dozen. It’s entirely unique and completely magnetic! Keep holding out for that perfect agent/publisher. When they share the same enthusiasm for your novel, you’ll know you’ve found the right one!

      Wishing you all the best of luck, Alexa! xoxo

  2. Yes! Thank you for this post! I sometimes worry that my books don’t fit neatly into little genre boxes, but at the end of the day, those are the ideas whirling around my head that I need to get out, so I’m going to write them anyway.

    1. I completely agree, Emily! Whenever I feel down that my current WIP doesn’t fit a traditional genre, I think of books like Outlander or Game of Thrones. Both of them were hard sells because of how many genre elements they combined, but both became incredibly successful. Knowing that gives me such hope for my own stories!

      So keep your head up and stay confident, Emily. You’re going to do amazing things, no matter what labels your novels do or do not fit!

  3. *nods her head in 1000% agreement* Wonderful post, Kristen! I still get comments from relatives when they ask for book gift ideas, like “Did you know this was for teens? We found it in the YA section.” (My answer: “Um, yes?”) So I know the feeling, in my own way.

    In the end, we read whatever we enjoy reading, and we write the kind of books we want to write. People may tell us their opinions about our tastes, but honestly, we have to go with our gut feelings. I can’t write a Nicholas Sparks-esque story because that’s not what I have in me. But I can tell you all about life-size fairies, shadow demons, mermaids, and sword-wielding warriors (not all in one book, mind you), because that’s what I’ve got in me. And the stories that you and other writers have to tell are all gems in their own regard, too. :)

    1. YES! I get those very same comments from family members around the holidays. Sometimes they’re even genre related, too. For example, I have family that loves Star Wars, The Terminator franchise, and other mainstream sci-fi movies, yet they think it’s weird that I enjoy books like Ender’s Game. It just doesn’t make sense!

      We all read and write what speaks to us, and chances are that there are others who share our interests out there just waiting to read our stories. So long as you do your best to write well, there’s no reason that you shouldn’t pursue your novel just as you imagined it!

      But anywho…Thank you so much for stopping by today, Sara. Let’s unite and rebel against labels together!

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