writerAs an author, I’m frequently asked what I write. You’d think the answer would be easy. It’s not.

My dilemma about how to answer comes because I write a blend of literary and commercial fiction.

But that answer won’t make sense to many because the nuances of publishing vocabulary can be hard to understand. Plus, readers don’t necessarily think about literary vs commercial when making their choices of what to read.

Usually I answer I write commercial fiction, which provides an opportunity to explain the difference between commercial and literary.

Then I explain…

In literary fiction, the story arc is character-driven. The story itself is episodic about personal growth or destruction as the character comes to understand his/her situation.

Think of books like To Kill A Mockingbird, The Great Gatsby, Brave New World, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or the book I mentioned in my recent blog on book clubs titled The Namesake.

Commercial fiction, on the other hand, is plot-driven. The arc is the rising and falling action of an active plot and dynamic opening hook. External obstacles lead to interior changes for the character.

Another name for commercial fiction is genre fiction, which means the book category is based on content. Commercial fiction genres include crime, fantasy, horror, mystery or detective, science fiction, western, inspirational, or romance. But each of those categories has subcategories and authors can blend categories.

Consider genre authors like Stephen King, John Grisham, J.R.R. Tolkien, Susan Wiggs, or Francine Rivers

Stories themselves may actually be a cross between literary and commercial.

You see, commercial stories can contain great character development and literary stories can have a functional plot.

And, authors often blend a literary style or voice in their writing with deep character exploration, intriguing hooks, and entertaining plots.

I repeat distinctions and nuances in fiction types can be complicated.

The true classification of a novel lies in the purpose of the story. Is the point to tell a tale (commercial) or learn something about a character or the human condition (literary)?

One classification isn’t superior to the other. Both types of fiction have their place in literature.

The thing to remember is it’s all about the story and what you, the reader, like.


Thinking about the last book you read or the book you’re reading now, would you classify your selection as literary or fiction or one of the crossover blends?