A Vital Point To Consider If You're Trying To Get Published: Part 3


We have established — or rather, asserted, as I am aware that there may be disagreements with this — that a primary reason why certain stories are accepted by major publishers is because they are more ‘literary’. This means, in this sense, that rather than the piece of fiction being simply ‘about’ the events described in a story or a rearrangement of familiar conventions as might be the case in genre fiction, the work tends to extend beyond those mere events and conventions and reaches out to more universal ideas, thus appealing not only to more readers generally but in particular to editors and publishers trained the background of literature.

So, for example, E. M. Forster’s novel A Passage to India tells the tale of Adela Quested and her encounters with Indian culture during the time of the British Raj. In the hands of a lesser author, this might have been a two-dimensional and perhaps even squalid story of race relations — but in Forster’s hands the whole ‘British Raj in India’ motif becomes a metaphor for something bigger and more universal. By the time the end of the novel is reached, it’s clear that it is ‘about’ a question as large as the meaning of Life. Thus Forster's novel is widely regarded as a great work.

This thematic element in fiction, then, is what particularly appeals to decision makers like the readers of books in major publishing houses, as consciously or unconsciously it tends to lead them to select such works above those which are shallower, more basic and lacking in this kind of thematic quality.

This also reflects popularity with readers. By actual test, the winning tales in the Clarendon House anthology competitions have been not only technically well-presented but have possessed thematic elements — i.e. elements which held some kind of appeal beyond the confines of the events of the story being related.

It applies across literature: