Around the publishing industry there has long been a hankering for a certain type of book that is both literary and yet commercial, familiar and yet exotic, well-written but not too dense, accessible but with some depth. They are books that are kind of tough to categorize, because they don’t exactly fit into any one genre. I’d often hear people calling them either literary commercial fiction or commercial literary fiction.
But during my last trip to New York I heard an apt label for this category: book club fiction*. And lots of editors want it.
What books are in this category? Think:
- Life of Pi
- The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time
- The Story of Edgar Sawtelle
- The Kite Runner
- Everything is Illuminated
- The Lovely Bones
- The Secret Life of Bees
- (Eat Pray Love would be an example of book club memoir)
What these books have in common is that they appeal to the book club format. Anyone who has ever belonged to a book club knows the complex calculus that goes into making a good selection. It has to be a book that people can get through in a month, but still have enough depth so that there are things to talk about at the get-together. It has to be a book that would appeal to a wide variety of people. Bonus points for being set in a location that lends itself to themed cooking.
Book clubs are an extremely important market for publishers, so much so that books that would appeal to book clubs often have supplementary material in the back (such as discussion questions), and many publishers provide additional web resources. The books that are able to catch fire in book clubs are often the non-genre books that land themselves on bestseller lists and catch on through word of mouth, hence the clamor from editors for books that fall into this category.
Now, I wouldn’t go and call your manuscript “book club fiction” in a query letter, because it’s still not exactly a recognizable genre. But if you’re brainstorming for novel ideas, think about what your book club would want to read.
*(I should clarify that I’m referring to friends/family book clubs, and not necessarily BOMC, although sometimes there’s overlap in titles)
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Art: Reading loud by Per Eskilson