When I took the time to carefully read and review the super-hyped super-novel “Freedom” by Jonathan Franzen I took the time to watch some of his interviews on YouTube. I didn’t take offense when he characterized “vanity writing” as “genre writing.” He’s entitled to his opinion, and considering the hype given his own book; he’s hardly short on vanity himself. But to be fair, his opinion was asked, it was (is) valued, and he gave it.
When I think of “mainstream” books, I think of books that I’d see in a friends’ home, an example would be a married journalist and accountant I know. As nice people, they see to their lovely kids, pay their bills, and value their friends and family. Music-wise, they are not into rock and roll (yes, difficult for me), favoring Diana Krall instead (OK, classy). In films, they awaited to see “The Da Vinci Code” (I confess to that as well), and in their book shelves are neatly arranged hardcopies of John Grisham (please note the state I’m from), Agatha Christie, amongst other well known names, easily recognizable by any front of a bookstore or by turning on any ebook.
“Mainstream” books to me are the books that appeal to the masses, consisting mostly of high-profile biographies, political and legal thrillers, and murder mysteries. Not every bestseller is mainstream (“Harry Potter” had its share of enemies) but many bestsellers are mainstream.
To me it’s easier to define what’s not mainstream: My genere, Dark Fantasy is not mainstream. As popular as “Game of Thrones” is, 95% of the people I come in contact with have never heard of George R. R. Martin’s Bestselling series. While popular, I don’t believe “The Hunger Games” is mainstream. Science Fiction? No. Erotica? No, obviously.
What has potential to be mainstream besides what I already mentioned? Non-fiction, personal stories about fighting disease, relationships, children, pets, and military experiences. Other topics are out there, and sure, there’s overlap sometimes.
Is there an advantage to mainstream writing for the new author? I think so. The appeal is to a broader audience, which makes sense that a wide net would reach a large audience of variable ages. Downside? Many media carry mainstream material, from “NCIS” to films like “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” to books of the latter title to other high-profile true crime books.
New authors, if you’re writing a mainstream piece of fiction, such as a political/legal thriller, or certainly a “whodunit” go for it, and if a traditional publisher picks it up, I’ll be happy to say Hi to your life-sized picture on a bookstore window. If not, tweet us about it, and I’ll check it out. Regardless, these stories are popular for a reason: people like these stories. As writers, we want to define what we are, and if we write popular work, there’s no harm in that.