Genre Writing as Olympic Metaphor

Who remembers who came in fifth place in the men’s 400-meter at the 2008 Beijing Olympics? Or any other event, for that matter? Nobody, right? (Unless you’re a sports writer or the guy who came in fifth.) Even though the difference between gold medal and fifth place is a few hundredths of a second, all the attention and name recognition goes to the top medalists.

It’s the same with genre writing. These days, it seems like there is only room in the print reviews, and the public’s mind, for a handful of “gold medalists,” while everybody else gets largely ignored, even though–like the fifth-place athlete who is still one of the fastest people on earth–many of them are easily as good as (if not better than) some of the mighty famous big shots.

Several awards judges over the years have told me some variant of, “Well, you made MY list.” Meaning I’m good enough to qualify for the top honors, but the competition was judged to be a few hundredths of a second faster, so everybody’s heard of them while I continue to wallow in my status as a cult favorite.

I’ve seen it from the other side, too. A couple of years ago I was on a prominent awards committee, and there were a lot of good contenders in our category, but one entry that I really liked, another judge absolutely hated, so it didn’t make the final list. And so it was my turn to tell that author, “Well, you made MY list.” It was small comfort.

I still think that book was as good as anything that made the final list, quite possibly including the winner.

Those are the breaks, baby.

But you keep at it because you can’t imagine doing anything else.

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