June 16th, 2003

me 2011

The literary divide

So I was reading the newspaper this morning, and I came across an article about the Canadian publisher that handles the Harry Potter books. Apparently it's pretty much the only Canadian publisher that's doing well these days. That combined with the fact that it's publishing a children's/YA fantasy book inspired me to ramble over to its site and check out its submission guidelines.

Now, call me a traitor if you will, but I've tended to think that when I have a novel I want to shop around, I'll be doing my shopping across the border. It's not too hard to see why. An American publisher can immediately reach ten times as many readers as a Canadian one. But I love my country and if I stumbled across a publishing company here that seemed to have its act together, I'd be perfectly happy to give it a chance.

What I'm more and more realizing is, it wouldn't give me a chance. To illustrate:

I arrived at the site (Raincoast Books, in cause anyone's wondering). The fiction books they're featuring on the front page all look like your standard Canadian mainstream fiction, but there's also a bunch of hype about Harry Potter, so I didn't give that much thought. I ferreted out the guidelines. I noticed, a little disappointed, that they only publish 4 YA titles a year. Nevertheless, I read down through their requirements, and there it was.

"We do not publish genre fiction."

My immediate response could only be describe as an inarticulate WTF???. I mean, hello?, Harry Potter is about as genre as you can get. But it was swiftly followed by annoyed resignation. You see, there's that class system in fiction, the literary upper crust and the genre plebs, and in Canada the gap between the two is about as big as the Grand Canyon. That's why we only have one magazine in the entire country that publishes any sort of speculative fiction (other than "magic realism", which someone decided is literary). That's why, despite the fact that some of the biggest names in the spec fic world (Gibson, de Lint) live and work in Canada, none of our publishing companies deal with adult speculative fiction, and only a handful will touch the YA stuff. That's why, to someone here, it makes sense to be publishing a fantasy novel that will make the company a lot of money, yet not to accept genre fiction as standard policy. Because, dammit, we wouldn't want to soil our reputation for depressing sagas of familial strife and over-intellectualized interpersonal conflict. (Gee, I wonder why all the other publishers are floundering.)


I love my country, but sometimes it really pisses me off.

I could go into a further rant about how stupid I think the division between "literary" and "genre" fiction is in the first place, but I think I've subjected you to enough bottled frustration for one day.

Back I go to the American Dream. :P