One thing I have noticed since officially declaring myself an indie author and going it alone by self-publishing is that many, if not most, of my fellow DIYers write genre fiction: sci-fi/fantasy, contemporary romance, and every sort of cross-genre you can imagine are all well-represented.
However, it seems like there is a lack of self-published literary fiction. Maybe I am just not aware of it and I just need to do my due-diligence, but I am especially noticing this on social media, particularly on Twitter, and also among book bloggers and review writers.
I have a theory about why this is the case. Last summer for my Digital Humanities class, I wrote my final paper on self-publishing, and what I found then is that people who tend to read literary fiction tend to support fiction published more traditionally as it has to go through a series of gatekeepers before it reaches the public, which helps ensure a higher quality of work.
Literary fiction is supposed to go beyond merely being well-edited and telling a good story, but the conventions are less clearly defined. The books are supposed to be more intellectually stimulating and have a more finely tuned sense of style. It is acceptable for the prose to call attention to itself, and experimentation is generally more welcome. In fact, it is often encouraged.
Which is why it is easier to self-publish and sell works of genre fiction. The only gatekeepers are the book bloggers and review writers, who are more focused on readability and entertainment value than on literary merit. What matters is whether the characters are interesting, the plot is evident, and the story is entertaining. It is your goal to conform to the conventions of the genre and appeal to its fans.
That doesn't mean there is no room for indie authors to write literary fiction. In fact, I would like to think that, as an indie author, you have more freedom to experiment and push boundaries than you would at a traditional publishing house. The problem is, there doesn't really seem to be anyone telling our audience that it is safe and acceptable to read our work.
Those of us who want to self-publish literary fiction need to band together and start reviewing each other's work, and be our own gatekeepers. We do have an audience, and our audience needs to trust what they are purchasing, which means that we need to gain credibility somehow. By working together and using the knowledge that we have developed through our studies, we can show people who would potentially read our work that it is worth their time and money.
That means going beyond mere reviews and actually writing in-depth criticisms, building theory around our ideas, and arguing in favor of the direction(s) we are taking. We don't need traditional gatekeepers who represent their own corporate interests anymore than authors of genre fiction do. We can create our own scene, and draw people to it.
Which is what indie authors of genre fiction are doing, and by taking their model and making it work for us, we can be successful.