Literary, Upmarket, and Commercial Fiction

Here’s an infographic purporting to show in a nutshell the fundamental differences between Literary, Upmarket, and Commercial fiction.

I guess this is all well and good, but this particular element, which I’ve seen before, completely annoys me:

Upmarket fiction is character driven and has quality writing tackling commercial themes.

Commercial fiction is plot driven and there’s no need for quality writing, I guess, because that sure isn’t mentioned.

This seems a touch snobbish to me. My first issue with this infographic is the assumption that commercial fiction substitutes fast pace for good writing and thus that if the writing is good, the book is not commercial or “genre” fiction. Thus Station Eleven, which is clearly dystopian SF, is coopted into the “literary” category because heaven forbid something beautifully written should count as commercial or genre.

I also can’t help but think it says a lot that I’ve had manuscripts rejected by one editor as “too commercial for my imprint” and another as “too literary for my imprint.” I mean, same manuscript. Who exactly is defining “quality writing?”

The second thing I dislike about this categorization is that I, like many many other readers, particularly enjoy character-driven commercial fiction. Where is that in this infograpic, may I ask? The idea that SF, F, mysteries, thrillers, horror, historicals, and everything else generally referred to as “genre” fiction are intrinsically plot driven is not just an overstatement. It simply is not true.

Well, fine. Models are always simplified, I know, and an infographic is a model. But this still looks like a basic mischaracterization to me, and it’s annoying.

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2 thoughts on “Literary, Upmarket, and Commercial Fiction”

  1. I’m reminded of an Einstein quote: “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” These infographics look to me like huge oversimplifications.

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