I was concerned about the fact that when looking through the New Releases on Smashwords, I rarely see anything that looks like literary fiction. No Moby Dick- or Huckleberry Finn-type stuff, even after I turn off the adult filter. So I did a little research on the number of books in different genres and this is what I came up with.
Genre All Titles Titles over 25,000 words
Young Adult 5,600 3,520
Fantasy 5,210 2,750
Sci-Fi 4,980 2,580
Romance 3,970 2,770
Mystery/Detective 3,920 2,780
Suspense/Thriller 2,570 1,760
Horror 2,400 1,510
Literary Fiction 1,560 740
There were also several categories that weren't actual genres--Christian, African-American, Gay & Lesbian, Holiday, Humor, and Women's. These would actually be subgenres under one of the categories on the list: Lesbian Mystery, for instance, or Romance featuring African-American characters.
Then there were a couple of catergories that shouldn't have been there at all: Adventure (which can usually fit inside either Mystery or Thriller), Drama (which should only be used for theater pieces, although most of the books actually listed under this heading could almost certainly be put in one of the 8 major categories above, and in the same percentages), and Poetry (which, like Theater, should be a separate category outside fiction).
And for what it's worth, there should be a Smashwords category for books over 60,000 words instead of 25,000. Twenty-five thousand words can be a good novella, but is more likely to be an unfinished or poorly thought-out novel. Sixty thousand words is my absolute low word count for a complete novel. And a study has recently shown that Smashwords readers prefer full-length works. This would make it easier for them to find.
So I was right to be concerned about literary fiction. It is the lowest of the low. But why? Do authors who write literary fiction think they are too good to publish directly into an e-book format? Or are they waiting until all other avenues (traditional publishers, agents, small presses) have been tried? Probably a little of both. I'm primarily a writer of literary fiction, by the way, yet none of the dozen or so books I have on Smashwords or Amazon are literary fiction.
Why am I saving my best work for last-minute publication? Do I really think that, in my mid-60's, I'm going to start seriously making the rounds of agents and publishers? Again? In this literary and economic climate? Not likely. But like other posts I have made in this blog, this one is helping me to review my own situation and possibly make new decisions about my work.
I am confident that in time, literary fiction will significantly increase, giving readers a greater choice in what they read. Giving them, in fact, a better choice. Count me in on that.
UPDATE: 3/3/2012: About a week after I created this post, Smashwords expanded their search categories. Although they didn't create one for "books over 60,000 words," they did create categories for "over 50,000" and "over 100,000."