Learning from commercial publishing

Thursday, June 15, 2017
Kate Cuthbert

A portrait of Kate Cuthbert, smiling
Kate Cuthbert

Commercial and literary fiction can feel like disparate worlds. Not so, says tutor Kate Cuthbert, whose workshop in July will explore the lessons writers can learn by taking a closer look at the mechanics behind popular fiction narratives.

How do you define commercial fiction?

Commercial fiction, popular fiction, genre fiction: different people have different definitions for what falls into one category and what falls into another. Broadly, I think commercial fiction has to fit into an expected framework in a way that literary fiction does not: a crime is committed and solved, technology will affect the plotline, much of the conflict will be internal. 

What does commercial fiction have that’s missing from other kinds of literature?

It's not true to say that one style of fiction has something that others do not, but I think it's fair to say that certain styles of fiction are stronger in certain elements where others are not. Pacing, for example, world-building, strong dialogue, developed emotional conflict. 

On the other side of things, do you think there’s anything commercial fiction writers could learn from literary fiction?

I think this is a false dichotomy: writers can learn from what other writers do well. The genre they write in, literary or commercial, just provides a framework.  

How did you transition from writing about books to publishing them?

Well, I led a double life for a very long time. I was trained as an editor and working in publishing, but in a few different fields: children's, corporate and academic. In my spare time, I was reviewing romance for a few international and national publications, being the only person in Australia who admitted to reading romance in public. So when the opportunity to head a new romance-focused digital imprint came up, it was a natural fit. 

As a publisher, what’s been one of the most unique projects you’ve worked on so far?

Oh, this is like asking a parent to name their favourite child! Escape publishes into every romance subgenre, so we have dystopian romance, fantasy romance, contemporary romance, historical romance - every kind of story, and so many unique stories in each. But I'm really excited about two projects we have coming out this year, one is an Australian queer historical romance that's a bit like 'The Thornbirds' meets 'Brokeback Mountain' (but with a romance happy ending!), and the other is an Australian dystopian trilogy that's just visceral and intense and fantastic. 

About Kate Cuthbert

Kate Cuthbert is Managing Editor of Escape Publishing. She is also an award-winning book reviewer and critic, and regularly presents and teaches workshops at writers’ festivals and conferences around Australia.