Thursday, August 15, 2013

Literary vs Commercial Fiction

What’s the difference between Commercial Fiction and Literary Fiction?

Nothing. Nada. Zilch.

But wait, a wizened blogger said that commercial fiction is character driven and literary is plot driven.

They’re doing it wrong.

But wait, wait, wait. You say some industry professional said that commercial is genre fiction and literary is mainstream.

BUUUUZZZZZ. Sorry. They’re wrongity wrong wrong.

Okay, but my awesome professor in my MFA program totally said that literary is fiction with merit and commercial is crap.

Oh god, I can’t even begin to tell you how wrong that is.

It’s all wrong because there is no difference between commercial and literary fiction. The goal of all fiction is to sell. Each little book baby is sitting in their poopy diapers howling on shelves, or in the virtual void, waiting for you to take it home. It doesn’t matter what shelves or heading the book baby is filed on/under, genre or mainstream, literature or fiction, daily deal or bargain bin. The goal of all fiction is to sell.

Which makes all fiction commercial.

Okay, okay. You say there is a difference between Jane Austen and 50 Shades of Grey. I totally agree with you. You say if we don’t have words to describe the difference how can we bash books in online reviews?

Look, if you want to use ‘literature’ or ‘literary’ to describe the cannons of fiction that have become the cornerstones of modern craft, be my guest. That’s totally appropriate. Just know that ‘commercial’ is not the opposite of literary. If you answered that way on your SAT Analogy section you answered wrong. Every author wants to sell. Every author wants commercial success. So stop throwing ‘commercial’ around like a four letter word.

And last, but not least, if you call your unpub’d manuscript literary fiction I immediately think you are a pompous ass. And you should too. I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with you being a pompous ass (Well, maybe a little).

Because let's be real. Humility is essential in this business. And who in the world are you to assume your work will become a cornerstone of modern craft?

Who are you to think your work will be celebrated until the end of time? Oh wait, you’re a pompous ass, that’s right. Then keep on keeping on.

What are your thoughts?

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