Motivation and refreshing the well

I spent this past weekend at GenreCon. You can see my previous post for some photos of that fantastic event. As part of his opening speech, con organiser Peter M Ball said the following incredibly true thing:


He later blogged with the follow-up half of that truism:


I cannot emphasise just how true these things are. You mix with other writers and you learn all you can. You help other writers, with no view to a reward, but you’ll be rewarded anyway with other writers helping you in turn. You will benefit from friendly and open socialising with your peers, whether they’re streets ahead of you in their career or just starting out. But apart from that, the reason to hang out with other writers is because it is just so fucking motivating.

You talk about writing and publishing, you share successes and failures, you learn things you didn’t know before or you’re reminded of things you’d somehow sort of forgotten. You come away from these events with such a burning desire to work harder and be better and chase success that it makes all the struggle and the default position of rejection so much easier to bear. It reminds you why you do what you do. Other than the old truth that we writers simply couldn’t not write, by going to events like GenreCon we’re reminded that there are so many other people out there who share our particular brand of insanity and that’s incredibly empowering.

It’s also important, however, to remember that you need time and space. Creativity is born in boredom. Brains need downtime, when they’re certainly not switched off, but they’re actively resting. It’s a necessary part of being a writer to get out and do nothing. Since GenreCon, which was only a couple of days ago, I’ve written about 5,000 new words, pitched a non-fiction article to a pro venue, polished a short story and sent it to a wonderful beta reader and more. This is alongside running the kung fu academy and having a two year old son. But that’s my normal. It’s great and I love it.

This morning I woke up with a virtual iron spike through my eye, quivering on the verge of a migraine. I don’t get them often, but when I do they’re utterly debilitating. They happen when I’m too stressed/busy and too tired. The busy-ness or the tiredness on their own are no big deal. When the two line up in force, BOOM! It’s migraine time. Usually I can tell it’s coming and head it off. Today I almost couldn’t.

Wednesday mornings are one of my dedicated writing times, before I go out to teach classes through the afternoon and evening. But with the head I had this morning, I knew I needed some self-care. So I took my dog to the beach and walked in the rain. It was beautiful. Then I went into town with him, got a coffee and just sat on a bench under an awning and watched the world go by for an hour.

Now I’m home, recharged, my potential migraine reduced to a dull ache that will continue to fade. I feel refreshed and enlivened. And the best bit? All that stuff I did this morning is still writing. My brain was actively resting, turning over plot and story in my hindmind. Watching people in town gave me insights into characters. Nothing conscious, no note taking, but it all feeds the beast. It refreshes the creative wells. So now I’m back at my desk, writing up this post about it, then I’ll get back to the novel for an hour or two before I have to go to work. I might only add 1,000 new words, where most Wednesdays I might write up to 5,000, but that doesn’t matter. It’s healthy forward progress, it’s sustainable and enjoyable.

So mix with your peers, online all the time and in person when you can. Be inspired, be motivated, but remember to look after yourself too. There’s an old proverb: Fear not moving slowly. Fear only standing still.

Be well and if you make half a page of progress one week, congratulate yourself. Aim to do more next week. If you don’t, so what? Do more the week after. Just keep going and stay healthy. And yes, in some ways this is a thinly veiled NaNoWriMo post, but it’s more than that. It’s about the importance of interaction and isolation, and recognising when you need both. It applies to everything, not just the writing life. It’s about all of life.

Be well!

A photo from my walk today - Kiama headland from Bombo Beach.
A photo from my walk today – Kiama headland from Bombo Beach.

Rejectomancy in words and numbers

There’s been a lot of talk online lately about rejectomancy. For those who don’t know, rejectomancy is the dark art of turning rejection into motivation and positive reinforcement. It’s a kind of bloody-minded alchemy of will. As Kate Heartfield wrote for the SFWA Facebook page on the subject:

Now I’m a non-fiction editor as well as a fiction writer, and I understand that rejection is the default, as it would be in any other transaction. When a customer walks past a rack of shirts in a store, that is not necessarily an assessment of the store-owner’s abilities. Maybe the customer is looking for pants. Maybe someone else will buy a shirt.

This is a great analogy and the line “rejection is the default” is absolute gold. It’s really worth bearing in mind two things when submitting for publication:

1. There are hundreds of people vying for a handful of spots, so you are much more likely to be rejected than accepted;

2. Rejection doesn’t mean your story is bad – it means your story is not right for that market at that time. You’re selling shirts while that editor is looking for pants.

Now, of course, repeated rejection might well be a sign that your story is bad. That’s what beta-readers, critique groups, editors and so on are for. As a writer, you absolutely must learn from rejection. Every time a story comes back, give it another read, another polish. Always make sure it’s been through the wringer of critique before you send it out in the first place. It’s in your best interests to only send out your best work, and your best work is not a first draft. Or even a second, third or fourth draft. And the better you get, the more likely you are to succeed with submissions.

You will, of course, get better the more you write, the more you submit, the more you learn. You should always be honing your craft. I know that I’m always looking to improve. I always try to learn from rejection. I’m definitely a far better writer now than I was ten years ago – that’s evidenced by the fact that I can make pro sales now where before I was selling into semi-pro markets, and before that token pay markets, or giving stories away to non-paying markets. Incidentally, you should never do that. I should never have done that. No one reads non-paying markets (except for a few notable exceptions) and you’re really just throwing work away. But, of course, we all do it, looking for that early validation of being published. So go for it, do what works, but try to gravitate to paying markets ASAP. Even if it’s a token payment of ten bucks or a bucket of cold fish or a fucking hat. Get something for your work.

But I digress. Back to rejectomancy. When I say there’s been a lot of it about, I’m talking about things that SFWA post I linked above and then Elizabeth Bear tweeting:

And Nalo Hopkinson replying with this:

In fact, those tweets triggered a flood of chat and it’s been Storified here:

Pretty good reading, right?

You didn’t read it? Go! Read it now, I’ll wait…

*flicks over to the other open tabs*

*makes sure no one is watching*


Oh, you’re back? So, that says it all about about rejection and I don’t need to say more. So why am I crapping on about it here? Because that’s what I do. And I thought I’d add some numbers of my own to the mix. A lot of those folks are talking about novels as well as short stories and the same rules apply to both in terms of submission and rejection. But for the sake of numbers, here are my figures for short fiction.

Out of 56 published short stories for which I have rejection figures, I have a total of 238 rejections. That might seem like a good rate at first glance – after all, an acceptance rate averaging a hit for every 4 or 5 submissions would be fucking great! I’d love to have a strike rate like that. But I don’t.

Some of those early hits were non-paying markets that accepted my story on the first try. Zero rejections for that yarn. Which is good on the face of it, but is actually only because those markets are desperate for anything that’s basically literate and a trained monkey could get published there.

There are also several stories on that list which were accepted with zero rejections because they were written specifically for anthologies after I’d been invited to submit. That happens later in a career when you’ve established yourself and your ability. Sometimes editors come to you. It’s an awesome feeling and one of which I’ll never tire. Of course, even then there’s no guarantee you’ll be accepted, but the chances are obviously much higher than cold subs.

So all those with zero rejections are actually skewing the results a lot.

Looking at cold subs, to paying markets, I have a handful there that landed the right home on the first try, but the vast majority have at least a few rejections first. Among those, I have 24 published stories that collected 5 or more rejections before selling. That’s almost half of my published stories that were rejected five times or more. The rest had 1 to 4 rejections, with the handful of exceptions mentioned earlier. But let’s just look at those with 5 or more rejections before a sale.

Of those 24, the breakdown is like this:

8 stories rejected 5 times before selling.

3 stories rejected 6 times before selling.

2 stories rejected 7 times before selling.

3 stories rejected 9 times before selling.

2 stories rejected 10 times before selling.

1 story rejected 11 times before selling.

1 story rejected 12 times before selling.

3 stories rejected 14 times before selling. (Not sure why 14 is becoming a theme!)

And my current record-holder:

1 story rejected 17 times before selling.

That’s right. I have a story that was rejected 17 times and I didn’t give up on it. You know why? Because I’m a stubborn fucker with a skin thicker than a geriatric rhino. You have to be if you want to be a successful writer. But you know what else? That story changed a lot between submissions. It started out as a sci-fi story and sold as an urban horror story. I realised the SF trappings were wrong for that one. I listened to editorial comments. I made it better. And then I started sending it to the right markets for that kind of story.

Several of the stories with high rejection counts had similar changes – massive cuts, title changes, characters taken out or put in. But not all of them. For many of them, the changes were very small, but I just kept on until I found the right desk at the right time. I used rejectomancy to alchemically change those stories from unpublished to published.

Subsequently, among those stories with 5 or more rejections, one won a competition, several were listed on Recommended Reading lists, and a couple were nominated for awards!

That tweet from Elizabeth Bear above is so true: “Right desk, right day, right story, write better. It never stops being true.”

So good. I might put that on the wall above my desk, in fact.

So there you have it. The dark art of rejectomancy. Embrace it. Use it. Learn to love it. Go and read that Storify about rejection again. And whenever you feel down about it all, just remember that some of the greatest books and stories in the world were rejected numerous times before they sold. There’s nothing different about you. Stay strong, be stubborn, thicken your skin, always hone your craft and never give up.


Social Media and Book Marketing – Advice from Robert Hoge

Robert Hoge is a good friend of mine, a top bloke and a great writer. We were having a conversation with other friends a little while ago and the subject of social media engagement and book promotion came up. Rob is very savvy about that stuff and he promised to put his thoughts on the subject together. When he did, I found I agreed with him pretty much 100%. So, as I know a lot of writers read my blog, I asked if I could steal his thoughts and spread them out for everyone to consume, like a mass picnic of Rob’s brainmeats. He said yes. I told you he was a top bloke. So here you go:

Robert Hoge’s Social Media and Book Marketing Advice

There are a few simple tips for authors trying to get the best from their social media presence.

There are some good guides out there. I like “Your First 1000 Copies” by Tim Grahl but there’s a lot of stuff available on the web for free. Much of this is geared towards non-fiction writing but with some creativity it can be applied to fiction just as easily. You just need to have something to say.

Tip 1

Have something to say. The most important thing you can do – whatever the channel – is create content that is engaging and adds value. The biggest commitment you’re asking from potential readers is not a commitment of dollars; it’s a commitment of time and attention. Reward their attention with smart, funny, engaging content that adds value to their lives and does more than just ask them to buy your book because it’s cheaper now.

Offer value by talking about stuff that relates to your work but isn’t your work. Establish a relationship with people on social media by consistently being interesting and adding value to their experience. Be real. When the time is right ask them to buy (read) your work. You’re creative people. Be creative.

Tip 2

1908138_871371366267410_6973824597014610978_nBe on Facebook. A lot of readers are on Facebook, as are publishers, reviewers and bookstores. If you want to market yourself to readers through social media, you should have some presence there. When you follow the advice in tip one, the network effects are tremendous.

Understand the Facebook algorithm, then stop worrying about it. The Facebook algorithm helps determine who sees what. For fan (non-personal) pages it initially only serves new content to about one-fifth or less of the people who’ve liked the page. Everyone blames the Facebook algorithm for a post only having eight likes but it’s not to blame. Boring posts are to blame. If you post interesting and engaging content that generates likes, comments and shares, Facebook will reward the post by serving it to more readers. Ask questions, post video, post images. Every time someone comments on your post, like it and reply because Facebook recognises that as engagement.

Tip 3

Be on Twitter. Twitter is a great place to converse and its network effects can sometimes be much greater than Facebook’s. All the points in tip one still apply, plus you get to hone your writing skills by making Tweets sing in 140 characters.

Generally though, Twitter is worse at serving content to all your followers than Facebook. Why is that? Well, Twitter is an ephemeral medium and whether you have 20, 200 or 20,000 followers they’re unlikely to all be online at the same time you post your tweet. Often less than 10% of your followers will see an individual tweet.

Check out to start looking at some details of your tweets and what engagement they get. A post on your Facebook fan page remains there for potential new readers to see for quite a while. A tweet will be gone pretty quickly.

Tip 4

If you enjoy other channels, go wild. If you’re great at photos, hang out on Instagram. If you love reviewing, engage an audience on Goodreads. Just be engaging and add value in a way that’s interesting.

I’d discourage you from posting the same content on multiple channels all the time. To me it shows you’re not interested in engaging in a way that suits a particular channel. And if a reader who likes you on Facebook or Twitter decides to checks you out on Instagram hoping to see new content and just sees the same old stuff, do you think they’ll be more or less inclined to follow you on that new channel? By all means, do it sometimes (maybe one post in 10) but doing it all the time is a turn-off. Instead work out how you can leverage different opportunities across channels to serve each other.


Random point 1

Mobile, mobile, mobile. More and more web content is being served to mobile devices. Facebook knows this and Google knows this and they’re already starting to reward websites that are optimized for mobile. Make sure your website and content is optimized for mobile delivery. Google it. [I’m in the process of updating this website to a mobile friendly format right now. It’s really important these days! – Alan]

Random point 2

Don’t market solely on price drops. This is a really common social media error. If a reader can afford to spend $2.99 on a book, they can probably afford to spend $4.99. When you market solely on price you forget the other thing you’re asking the reader to give you – their time. The value of your work is not in its price. Mention a price drop, by all means, but find something else to talk about too. Why should a potential reader think your 93,000 word novel can hold their attention, when your 18 word tweet barely can?

Random point 3

A lot of writers spend a lot of time on social media talking to other writers about writing (ahem). It’s fine networking and chatting with mates. But don’t confuse that with marketing your books. Readers don’t care. It doesn’t count as reader engagement.

Random point 4

My personal experience is that engaging with potential readers one-on-one, in-person or over email is a really powerful tool. It’s not time effective but for me it has been really rewarding and it has helped convert fans to influencers. Just be careful how you invest your time.



72640_471409952930222_934403925_nRobert Hoge has managed social media for the Queensland Government and Virgin Australia. Mostly though he uses it to talk to people about writing, disability and whatever else takes his fancy. He’s written a memoir, Ugly, about growing up disabled and different. You can find him on Twitter and on Facebook.


Plotting and Structure for Cheats – guest post from Ian McHugh

Plotting and structure for cheats (or, how to gaff-tape your cardboard thingy)

angel-dustI’ve banged on elsewhere about the themes that tie together some of the stories in my new collection, Angel Dust, such as my possibly neurotic obsession with the consequences of men failing to be “good men” and (possibly contrarily) my enduring fetish for shiny ladies with wings. There’s also a couple of fantasy worlds that I return to more than once through the book: an alternate Australia where the dreams of the land prey on people and your shadow won’t reliably stay under your feet; and an early steam age faux-Europe, where tax collectors and little girls turn out to be the ultimate bad asses.

Another thing that connects quite a number of the stories in the book is how they were written. In wrestling with the challenges of transitioning from being a “professional” short fiction writer to trying out as a novice novelist, I’ve discovered something about my writing.

What I’ve realised is that my writing has a number of strengths – I can do character, setting, action, dialogue, mood and tension fairly reliably. But, by comparison, I suck at story structure and plot. It’s like I have the full six-pack, but the cardboard thingy that holds it together has gotten soggy and if I don’t put my hand under it, all the receptacles of fermented goodness will fall out the bottom and smash on the path. In short stories, I think you can get by with being weaker on structure and plot if you’re strong enough on the rest, but even in short form it’s something I’ve needed to address.

Some stories just kind of fall out easily by themselves, like “The Wishwriter’s Wife”, which is reprinted in Angel Dust and made the Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror. (It’s also archived online at Daily SF, where it first appeared, so you can try before you buy.) Mostly, though, I’ve realised I need a bit of help.

In high school, my mates had a saying, “Win if you can, lose if you must, but always remember to cheat.” So I’ve developed a number of tricks and tools (cheats) to prop up my plotting and structure – to gaff tape the cardboard thingy of my stories.

My first cheat is planning onto a formal act structure. I’ve adapted my own version, which largely follows the Hollywood 3-act / 4-part structure, but also borrows useful odds and ends from 2- and 5-act structures. Thus:


Click for higher resolution.
Click for higher resolution.

The main caveat here is that short stories almost never use the whole act structure. As a general rule of thumb, they should start no earlier than the ‘inciting incident’, that sets the hero on their journey, and get out as soon as possible after the story problems are resolved – or even as soon as the resolution is apparent.

I don’t always follow that formula by any means. In one of the stories in Angel Dust, I tell the first act and the fourth act and, in between, my protagonist sits on his roof and sulks for a few paragraphs while acts two and three rage below. Another story in the book takes place entirely within acts two and three of the structure, and in other stories I combine, skip or reverse some of the steps.

So, just because I start from a template, doesn’t mean I’m following it slavishly – and writing formulaically. But starting from the template really helps me think through a part of my writing that I’m weaker on.

Something I always do when I’m planning a story is a quick map of my characters’ emotional buttons – what they want, what they need, what they have to lose and what will hurt them the most. (Killing them, BTW, isn’t what will hurt your characters the most. It’s the Princes Bride Rule: “To The Pain!” What will hurt your characters most is not the thing that kills them, but the thing that leaves them alive and in freakish suffering.) Pushing my protagonist’s buttons – and often those of the antagonist and any other major characters – has to be at the heart of the story I tell.

My second cheat for plotting and structure is for generating an actual plot from those emotional buttons (along with whatever idea or conceit I’ve decided to write a story about). This one’s pretty simple: I start throwing random elements at them and see what sticks.

If my idea didn’t already come from a book, then one of those random elements is almost always a book (or magazine or Wikipedia page or somesuch). For the story “Cold, Cold War”, which is in Angel Dust and also archived at Beneath Ceaseless Skies (try before you buy!), it was a photographic history of the Russian Civil War that I found in a bookshop bargain bin. For “Beetle Road”, the opening story of Angel Dust, it was both an issue of National Geographic with a cover story on jewelled scarabs and a book on transcontinental railways that were in the pile on the table at the writers’ centre.

Another randomiser I often use is Georg Polti’s 36 Dramatic Situations. You can find them online here, complete with Random Dramatic Situation Generator and a bonus dramatic situation. I get the top-level situation randomly, then choose the sub-situation that I like the best. (Of all the various models of story archetypes, this is the most OCD – over 300 story ideas, right here!)

My other go-to randomisers are rolling Crown & Anchor dice (any dice will do but I like the pictures) and dealing playing cards to which I apply a tarot interpretation. Then I start associating cards and dice with characters and story events, sticking the characters onto a character triangle and filling in the events on my act structure.

Sometimes I’ll even generate whole stories from random elements, and use the playing cards to generate characters as well as events. “Beetle Road” is one of those, written for a 24-hour story challenge that I ran with my writers’ group, the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild. “Uncle Bob’s Crocodile”, which is too new to be in Angel Dust, but which you can read at Urban Fantasy magazine, is another story that was generated entirely from (a simpler set of) random elements: a friend’s anecdote about his crazy uncle; a page from Luigi Seraphini’s Codex Seraphinianus; and a random object which I forgot about.

“Beetle Road” was the whole kit and kitchen sink – random books, random characters, Polti, dice, playing cards. So, without giving too much away (because only so much of my planning ever survives the actual process of writing, as you’ll see if you read the story) my plan for “Beetle Road” looked like this:

Click for higher resolution.
Click for higher resolution.

Of course, if you’re strong on plot, doing all of this for most stories would drive you nuts. But even if plot is one of your strengths, sometimes you’ll get stuck, and it’s good to have some cheats in your back pocket to help you get unstuck. And if you are like me and not so strong on plot, then over time doing all the stuff that comes from these tricks and tools becomes more and more second-nature, and sooner or later you’ll find you’ve got a pretty solid cardboard thingy to hold your six-pack together.

the beard in memoriumIan McHugh’s debut short story collection, Angel Dust, was a finalist for this year’s Aurealis Awards (and is available here from Ticonderoga Publications). You can find more of his stories, which have appeared in professional and semi-pro magazines, webzines and anthologies in Australia and internationally, at his website. His stories have won grand prize in the Writers of the Future contest and been shortlisted five times at the Aurealis Awards, winning in 2010. He’s a graduate of Clarion West.


Fifty Shades of Lit. – guest post from Andrew J McKiernan

ajmckiernan_photo_smallIt has been almost six months since Alan asked me to write him a guest blog post. He knows I’m fairly passionate and opinionated about the “Literary vs. Genre” debate, and that’s what he suggested I write about. That’ll be easy enough, I thought. So I agreed.

Turns out, it wasn’t so easy after all. So, instead of trying to create some kind of logical argument — as I was originally intending to do — I’m just going to wing it. Trust my instincts, follow my heart, and just lay it all on the table.

First, let me paste two comments I recently found accompanying articles re: the Literature vs Genre debate. They demonstrate why I get a bit angry when the topic comes up:

EXHIBIT A: User comment on article on whether Crime Fiction is real Literature [see Note 6 below]

“crime fiction has more in common with the crossword puzzle than with literature”

EXHIBIT B: User comment seen on Facebook:

“To me, literary fiction is just another genre, and today it means ‘realistic fiction written by professors, for professors.'”

[I can’t remember who said this, but I think the position is common enough amongst Genre readers and writers that the specifics aren’t important.]

Now, I’m not a professor and I ain’t had no fancy learnin’, but that sounds like crazy talk to me. Both comments based on a misguided and narrow view of what Literature and Genre might actually mean. And, though there’s been a lot of great work in breaking this ridiculously false barrier down, both sides still maintain a strong core of stubbornness and, to me, it seems a horrible prejudice.

I was always brought up to believe ‘Literary‘ meant ‘well written‘. Both my parents and my school teachers taught me that. It’s a bit like I was taught that good poetry is nothing more than ‘the best words in the best order‘. I saw no reason not to apply the same theory to all fiction.

I grew up reading a lot of Genre Literature (i.e. Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror; a lot of 60s, 70s & 80s paperbacks) and I could tell immediately that there was a gradient of ‘literary’ quality. Some books told great stories, rollicking adventures with characters you could love spending time with, but they weren’t ‘the best words in the best order ‘. The books seemed under-written; the words doing their barest to convey a story, what is often called Pedestrian Prose.

On the other side of the fence, so-called Literary fiction has its own share of problems. Follow the ‘conventions’ of Literary Fiction too closely, and the work becomes over-written; filled with an excess of poetic language (Purple Prose) and rambling internal monologues, non-existent plots in favour of intense character studies and disconnected vignettes. In effect, they told no stories at all. These, also, were not the ‘best words in the best order‘.

But there were some books, regardless of their Genre, which seemed to do more than just tell a story. Certain combinations of words joined to form sentences that amazed me, stirred emotions inside me — sometimes happiness, or sadness or fear or terror, sorrow and love – and those author-invoked emotions created a story that was somehow deeper and more satisfying. To me, those novels were more ‘literary‘ than the novels that just told me a story.

They approached, by varying degrees, ‘the best words in the best order‘.

I have discovered these ‘literary‘ novels in every genre in which I have read, and I read widely. Crime Fiction. Science Fiction. Fantasy. Horror. Romance. Historical. YA. And yes, I have even found them in that genre which marketing departments and academics have decided to (falsely) call ‘Literary Fiction‘.

Well Written books are everywhere!

And then I think back to those two comments I posted at the start.

I hate that both sides seem to want to perpetuate this imaginary divide between ‘Genre Fiction’ and ‘Literary Fiction’.

If a writer wants to write in a particular genre, of course they should do a little research (i.e. reading) before they set out. Get a feel for what’s been done before and what’s happening now. Embarking on an unfamiliar journey without first — at least — checking a map would be foolish. So too with writing any type of fiction. But a writer shouldn’t be discouraged from exploring outside that defined Genre territory, and I think they often are.

LYWWWY_amazoncover_smallQuick personal example. Second short story I ever wrote with a thought to publication — and geez, I was a noob – I submitted to a known and well-established speculative fiction magazine. A week or so later, a rejection came back. This is it, word for word: “We really loved this story’s mythic feel, and the writing was gorgeous, but it was a little too literary for us. Sorry, but we’ll have to pass. All the best of luck…”

WTF!? As I mentioned, I’d always thought ‘literary’ meant ‘well written’. How the hell could a magazine reject a story because it was too well written?

That was my first rejection, and a real blow to my ego. I had no idea what to do. I thought I wrote speculative fiction, but it seemed this was too literary to be that? Confused and disheartened, I put that story away and forgot about it. Eventually (about 4 years later) I gave it away for free to an online spec-fic mag that asked if I had anything I could donate. It was later picked up as a reprint for Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror anthology. For a while before that, I was actually conscious about what I wrote; about not being too experimental, or avoiding certain voices, styles and points-of-view that might be considered too ‘literary’. I confined myself to standard genre conventions, and what I wrote wasn’t me.

I have no doubt the same thing happens frequently when submitting genre themed works to literary magazines, no matter how well written the work may be.

This sort of thinking can corral new writers into taking a side. It can trap them into a mindset of tropes and conventions that they feel they must follow or be declared ‘hacks’ or ‘snobs’. This isn’t a good way to nurture new and exciting writing. It isn’t a good way to encourage writers to be the very best they can be.

The way I see it, literary is a gradient of many different shades. It’s hard to quantify, personal in its definition, and often all too narrow, but that’s where things need to change. We have to see value in the entire spectrum of Literature, regardless of genre. If we restrict ourselves, as writers, to only a small part of that spectrum, then what sort of stories are our words painting in the minds of our readers? Of what limited palette are the images we create?

It wasn’t until I dropped that genre barrier and considered how I might utilise the styles, settings and conventions from all ‘genres’, that I began to find myself again as a writer. I began reading more widely than I ever had before, and I feel that my writing is improving with every story, sentence, and word because of this.

We are all taught to ‘read widely‘, but so often we take that to mean ‘read widely within your genre‘. And that’s not enough.

We have to do better if we’re to become better.

We can begin by ignoring the entire Genre vs Literary debate, both as readers and as writers, because it is a nothing more than a barrier to our growth. We should feel free to leave our comfort zones every now and then. To explore, and consume, and assimilate everything good literature has to offer.

We must learn to read without prejudice and write without fear.

Only then, I feel, will we start to become the best writers we can possibly be.


  1. Once Again On Genre, by Rjurik Davidson –
  2. Are They Going to Say This Is Fantasy? by Ursula Le Guin’s post –
  3. The Embarrassments of Science Fiction by Thomas M. Disch –
  4. The Further Embarrassments of Science Fiction by Thomas M. Disch –
  5. Literature and literalism by Edward Said –
  6. Face it, book snobs, crime fiction is real literature – and Ian Rankin proves it

Andrew J McKiernan is an author and illustrator living and working on the Central Coast of New South Wales. First published in 2007, his stories have since been short-listed for multiple Aurealis, Ditmar and Australian Shadows awards and reprinted in a number of Year’s Best anthologies. He was Art Director for Aurealis magazine for 8 years and his illustrations have graced the covers and internals of a number of books and magazines. Last Year, When We Were Young a collection of his short stories was released in 2014 by Satalyte Publishing.