So you can read my books

Monday, June 27, 2011


I've been told that that my style is more literary than commercial, and it started me thinking.

What has your style been labeled? How do you think an agent would catagorize it?

Are we victims of a pigeon-holing system in our queries? Don't blondes hate it when you lump them all together?

Jocks and geeks are not all the same. Nor are all politicians dishonest. Ah, I may have chosen the wrong example there.

But what is commercial and literary fiction anyway, and why is it so important for agents to know what kind of fiction we're submitting?

I.) Commercial Fiction in a nutshell :

This type of story appeals to a wide audience, has a distinct plot, and its characters actively pursue a goal or overcome a challenge.

These stories are primarily read for entertainment.

There are many categories of commercial fiction, classified by genre and sub-genres.

Each genre has basic elements that readers expect to see in the stories. Some commercial fiction may appeal to more than one type of audience, and can be considered mainstream.

II.) Literary Fiction in Freudian clarity :

These stories focus more on internal conflict than external events,

the plot is less obvious,

and there is an emphasis on artistic prose rather than the more straightforward storytelling seen in commercial fiction.

There is usually extensive development of the characters, with a slower pace,

and less emphasis on what happens and more on the character’s reaction to what happens.

III.) Ah, the penny drops (as they used to say in New Zealand.)

But this time literally. The agent is interested in how marketable our novel is.

With commercial fiction you get :

Wide audience. Action. Crisp, easy-to-digest prose. Wide market. High sales.

(Yes, "wide audience" is the same as 'Wide Market." I did that on purpose. Both mean profits hence an easier sale.)

With literary fiction you get :

The opposite ... which is death in today's market.

IV.) Agents are looking for a hot date to take to the Prom.

Literacy is not an essential. Just action, looks, and above all else ... not being boring.

After all, readers can be bored for free. And no one likes being lectured to.

V.) Think about it :

Who would you want to share a roadtrip with, Tony Stark, even without the Iron Man armor, or Hamlet?

A no-brainer, right?

VI.) A commercial hero takes matters in his own hands. A literary hero is swept up by events.

You snorgle in a genre novel. You deep-sea dive in a literary fiction.

VII.) Your prose can be both pretty and filled with action.

It is a danger however.

The beauty of your prose may have an agent knee-jerk shove you into the literary slot,

which in today's market happens to be the garbage shute.

Ouch. What do you think? Why do you write what you write?
So? Is this movie literary or commercial?


  1. I think my writing is more commercial. I try to write with a literary bent when the story allows, but my current WIP has a lot of action so I've adjusted my writing style as well.

  2. I am trying to move away from literary-- haha never thought I'd say that, but it's true that literary isn't selling now. And what are you doing talking about cookies and fudge brownies this time of night when I am hungry??

  3. We are definitely victims of pigeon-holing. I've been told that my story was too commercial, which is frustrating when it seems like that's what everyone is looking for. I love commercial writing but literary is more often my favorite and honestly, I feel as though I fall between the two. All we can do is be who we are.

  4. I think I'm more literary, but its not quite "literary" enough. So I've been querying it as commeercial/mainstream lately. I never query an agent that doesn't have both listed on their acceptance roll.

    Lately, the "drawer" category seems to have more appeal. Maybe its time I move on to a more defined genre. At least you know all your novels are urban fantasy, or horror/thriller.

    I think there is a very fine line between literary, main stream, and women's fiction. I've garnered the opinion that they are all the same genre specifics.

    So much easier to write fantasy; the criteria is well defined.

    Ooooh, loved the trailer. I see myself watching this on a Sunday afternoon with a bowl of stew, glass of wine, and the netbook sleeping on the end table.


  5. This is just my opinion, but I don't consider literary and commercial to be opposites, nor do I think that they are mutually exclusive.

    Everything that you've described here is true, but there are books that can be both.

    On the other hand, I'm sad to admit that I've dumbed down my writing a bit in the interest of reaching agents who think the voice is too mature for a young adult. I suppose that's what I get for trying to write a book about a young person.

  6. Thanks for stopping by my blog!

    This is a thought-provoking post. My editor described my work as "commercial fun with literary heartache." I suppose I'll have to wait until August to find out if the combo works... :-)

  7. Some very interesting points made. I enjoy reading both ultra literary and thumping good commercial - depends on my mood.

    Right now I am writing for the commercial market, however, I do not believe in writing for 'the lowest common denominator' so aspire to be commercially fun with exceptional writing!

  8. I think writing literary fiction is extremely hard. Whoever told you that your writing is more literary than commercial gave you a HUGE compliment.

  9. Because of the huge market of Amazon, there is room for all.

    Last year there were 3 million Kindle owners. Now there are 8 million. Next Christmas there will be 20 million Kindle owners.

    So, even if you write for a very specific audience, you can still make a profit even if your books do not get onto a mall or Walmart bookshelf.

  10. I think my writing is probably more commercial. I wish it were more literary because it seems to go along with being part of the intelligentsia ;) (and that's kinda cool)! The only problem is I have to be true to myself and what wants to come out of my fingers.

  11. I can't pick where I fit because I don't really fit squarely into one or the other.

    I have given up hope that good writing get you somewhere. Agents will take the most horrendously executed MS (despite what they say), as long as it has commercial shlock potential and then go into two year revisions with the author.

    No Thanks!

  12. I think literary fiction is slower to digest--it is like super dark chocolate or a really rich wine--it demands savoring. In this world, so many people seem too BUSY to put that time, and yes, effort, into books, and thus the smaller audience. I LOVE it when I get to savor a work of literary fiction, but most of my reading is done when I am doing something else (usually walking) and I don't have enough spare brain cells for literary when I am distracted.

    I think your language DOES feel more literary--it is rich and descriptive, so I'm not surprised that is feedback you've gotten. It is beautiful though, so I think you will manage it.

    My own writing is very straight forward. I am high on dialog; my paragraphs are short. It isn't lovely, but for the stories I tell, I think it is fitting (mystery or young adult)--it lets me tell my underlying story, which is the piece of the writing I love.

  13. Roland, I can see why they'd say you write literary fiction. Your prose is genuinely lovely. I know I've told you that before. As writers we all have our own technique, but we really do get mixed signals. (Write what you like. Stick to your guns. Don't be afraid to step out of the norm. We want immediate action. Etc.) What's wrong with internal conflict anyhow? There are so many movies out there filled with action, but do we care so much that a bomb went off rather than the reason behind the action? I love the depth of internal conflict, and I'm betting many readers do too. Just my thoughts. I do understand your frustration.

  14. Lydia :
    Sorry it has taken me so long to reply. It has been one of those days at work -- I am still here in fact! Like pornography, commercial versus literary is in the eye of the beholder. I'd like to see your work.

    Karen G :
    Cookies and fudge brownies are my kryptonite, too. Trying to edge our way into an agent's notice is so hard, isn't it?

    Heather :
    Does that make us victims of genre profiling? LOL. Like you said - you must go with what feels right within you.

    Donna :
    Wasn't that trailer fascinating? I believe you're right. Getting noticed by agents is all in presentation and confidence.

    Matthew :
    I know what you mean. We as authors must always keep our audience in mind!

    Samantha :
    "commercial fun with literary heartache." Your book has at least one buyer when it comes out : me!

    Margo :
    Mark Twain and Raymond Chandler were both considered commercial and later generations have come to consider them literary. You're right : try our best and let others decide.

    Alleged Author :
    Actually you just gave me a HUGE compliment -- thanks!!

    Walter :
    I hope that the increasing Kindle market does swell my readership. So far cyber ghosts hang out at my site on Amazon -- it's so quiet, so little traffic that they can sleep there!! LOL.

    Johanna :
    Being true to yourself will add depth and authenticity to your writing. Go for it!

    Wendy :
    I most of the time feel like you. There is no accounting for taste -- as the mother said when she heard that the police wanted her son!!

    Hart :
    Your work sounds in the style and school of Ernest Hemingway -- great steps to follow! And thanks for the kind words about my writing.

    Laila :
    Thanks for the support and encouragement -- and the nice words about my own writing. May your writing find a willing agent. Roland

  15. My style has been referred to, not often kindly, as prolix.

    I comfort myself with the thought that no pro licks like prolixity.

  16. Hi, Roland,

    Yes, I have to agree that literary is a tougher sell. But like Wendy I am always hopeful that beautiful prose catches the eye of some agent.

    As for myself, I believe mine is commercial with a touch of literary. I do LOVE beautiful descriptive prose.

  17. Mojo :
    Love your way with words!

    Michael :
    You're right. We must be true to ourselves or our prose will ring false and attract no one.

  18. Hi,

    Dare I deem to think my writing the remotest bit literary - I think not even it was so. After all, that is for the elite of the literati to decide! ;)

    Seriously, I'm a mere writer who lives in hope my writing fits the category "Women's Fiction", which I know men read (albeit surreptitiously) providing sufficient titillation revealed within the book's blurb... :o

    It's all a catch-22 in the publishing game. You can be in the right category of genre while penning your masterpiece only to discover upon putting pen back to pen-holder that your work is now only suitable for a publishers "out tray"!


  19. I agree that literary fiction is much harder to write. The whole idea of writing commercial fiction is concerned with mass appeal, ratings and money. Congratulations on telling the stories from an artist's perspective.