I attended a conference some time back. A small, more or less regional affair on the outskirts of Baltimore, I went because it was close enough to get to on a budget (by car, in other words) and for some of the ancillary benefits that come from a trip to the greater Baltimore/D.C. area. Also, I needed a mini-vacation. More on that some other time.
It was a good conference, and worth the drive for sure. It was the first writing conference I've been to, and I know I didn't get as much out of it as I could have since I wasn't able to do as many workshops as I wanted to. Those will have to wait for the next conference. There was only a small crowd there, which helped give it a more intimate feel. If I was going to compare it to something, it was like a first date of writing conferences: nothing too fancy, mostly low-key, and mainly a way to see if this was something I'd want to do again.
It is, though next time I will attend one more genre-specific, just to contrast. That said, like a lot of first dates, there was the inevitable misstep. That moment where your date says something, and you just know it's over. Maybe you'll give them another chance, maybe not, but you're essentially tuning out the rest of the conversation in favor of contemplating the dessert menu. (Of course, I've been on the other side of that too, though usually you don't realize that until you get home. Unless it's a really good dessert menu.)
In this instance, it was one of the speakers. Not the key-note speaker, she was a well-known author and her speech and reading were spot-on. No, this was one of the warm-up acts. I tuned him out, more or less, the moment he uttered the phrase “serious writer” and meant it as a stand-in for all those writers who do not write genre fiction. This is not a case of my being overly sensitive, a quick to take offense against the literary establishment hack genre writer – though I proudly admit to being a hack genre writer. The speaker was quite clear in laying out exactly what he meant by the term... and then proceeded to continue using it.
It would have irked me less if he'd said “serious fiction” or even “serious writing.” I take less issue with those, as I have heard any number of popular genre authors freely admit – albeit somewhat self-deprecatingly – that they do not engage in serious writing. I imagine that comes with a bit more freedom, and a bit more enjoyment on their end than when they do attempt serious writing. (Stephen King, for example, writes very well on baseball, even if he is a Red Sox fan.)
This is not to say that more literary writers don't enjoy what they do, too. I suspect they wouldn't do so otherwise. This is, however, an argument that they do not deserve the term of “serious writer” to the exclusion of non-literary writers. All of the successful authors I know or know of tend to take it pretty seriously. They have to, as this is how they earn a living after all. If they didn't take it seriously they could well be stuck having to work a regular office job, or worse, and frankly one of the reasons we all write is so we don't have to do those things.
(There are exceptions, of course.)
I would make the argument that anyone who keeps at it, makes a concerted effort, day in and day out, to get words down, stories out (or poems, or plays, or whatever) and does so even knowing the odds against success and despite the sheer volume of rejections that come as payment for every sale, no matter how small, is, by definition, a serious writer. And this is regardless of what they write. I cannot, for the life of me, take the whole sparkly vampire thing seriously, and many of the arguments against them and their creator are legitimate ones, but I would never suggest Stephanie Meyer is not a “serious writer” no matter how much she tried to suggest otherwise in the interview I heard her give some years back.
A concept which, no doubt, would have caused the speaker's skin to crawl, and why I was left metaphorically contemplating the cheese cake.