1. HeathBar

    HeathBar Active Member

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    Literary v. Commercial?

    Discussion in 'By the Genre' started by HeathBar, Mar 16, 2019.

    Trying to understand the distinction between these genres. My work is not genre. I love to write (and read) a good origin story -- sometimes the family saga, multi-generational type of thing and other times just heavily character focused. Usually modern, e.g., 1950 forward. My current WIP is a 100K novel following two families from 1950-2007. I'm thinking about the querying process and how to label the genre. Saying it's literary seems presumptuous given I'm a new writer with no writing resume or accolades. So I'm inclined to just say it's commercial fiction - even though that seems so broad - and rely on the blurb and comps to describe what it is. Anyone have experience with this? Also, I'd be interested in connecting with others who might write this sort of thing.
     
  2. peachalulu

    peachalulu Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Could call it general fiction. Historical saga. I don't mind using the term literary as for me it feels more like a tone versus literature which is an established state and something someone else must proclaim over your work.
    I use literary/general fiction for my WIP cause I don't know what genre it would fall into. Psychological drama?
     
  3. EBohio

    EBohio Banned

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    Do you know what I mean if I say that when I hear the word literary as a genere I think "artsy, artsy"? Can't think of another way to put it.

    Literary = high quality, high brow and commercial = what the Average Joe would enjoy.
     
  4. The Piper

    The Piper Contributor Contributor

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    Think Matt Haig said the plot to every novel is the same: someone is looking for something. Commercial version: they find it. Literary version: they don't.

    Hope that helps?
     
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  5. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    I totally agree with this. Literary vs. commercial has little if anything to do with quality. It has to do with the kind of story it is and how it's presented. In commercial fiction the character succeeds even if it's not a happy ending. With literary fiction, you know the struggle continues after the last page.
     
  6. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    Personally, I would leave out labeling it as commercial or literary and just query agent with it as a novel. Your query letter should demonstrate which category it falls into without you having to state it.
     
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  7. marshipan

    marshipan Contributor Contributor

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    Sounds like something I'd see labeled as contemporary fiction.
     
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  8. EBohio

    EBohio Banned

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    IDK, I bet there are plenty of commercial novels where the MC didn't get what they wanted, or even won at the end. I'm sure a debate could break out asking if the plot to every novel is "someone looking for something", too.
     
  9. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    I see this. Every character is supposed to want something. Isn't that what conflict rises from?
     
  10. EBohio

    EBohio Banned

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    Maybe it's a matter of semantics: "looking for something" . Kind of broad. If the MC is trying to escape from being killed, I guess you could say he is "looking not to be killed" which is looking for "something" but again, semantics.

    I would describe a plot as a situation that the MC has to deal with and it moves him to action. He can fail or succeed, whether commercial or literary.
     
  11. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    I just thought the quote made sense, at least to me. I will say it took a lot of reading literary fiction for me to really understand the difference. I think there is a shift in focus and literary fiction tends to end before the actual story ends if that makes sense. I read literary fiction almost exclusively. I feel more invested and invested a lot quicker in literary fiction, but that could just be a person preference thing. I agree with you that literary fiction is more highbrow. But that's not always done by the language used. Sometimes it's the story and often a lot of subtext that can do it. It really just comes down to the framework and approach you take as a writer. I also think that reading literary fiction will help you know if that's what you're writing. Or if that's what you want to write, reading will help with that too. They say commercial fiction has better sales, but literary fiction wins the awards. And I am strictly in it for the prizes. ;)
     
    Last edited: Nov 22, 2019
  12. EBohio

    EBohio Banned

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    I think we are finally coming to an agreement. It's why I said "quality" vs "what the Average Joe reads".

    The problem is I can't sum it up in one sentence. It's like porn...I can't define it but I know it when I see it.
     
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  13. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    Your porn reference is pretty spot on to how I feel. I know it when I see it.
     
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  14. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    And that's why I advise just leaving either of these labels off. An agent or editor should know by reading your query (assuming it's a good query) what it is. Show that it's literary or commercial by how you write you query and what it says. Stay true to your story and the vision behind it as you write your query. That's far more important that stating something is literary or commercial. Show it!
     
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  15. HeathBar

    HeathBar Active Member

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    Thank you - I think this makes a lot of sense. Plus, it's the option that doesn't require a decision - the best kind! I read a lot of "literary" fiction, much of which is in the same vein of what I'm writing (at least in terms of pacing, subject matter, etc., not talent or word command). But I'm new to this and don't know what I'm doing yet. I'll leave the labeling up to someone who does.
     
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  16. Matt E

    Matt E Ruler of the planet Omicron Persei 8 Contributor

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    The genre you would use here should probably be similar to the book shelf it would be found on in a book store, or category on amazon. Contemporary Fiction as suggested by someone else might be a good choice. You can also think about what emotions or interests your book evokes, and see whether that fits any established genre (historical: this tells me about a period of time; mystery: this is about finding out a secret; literary: this is about pushing the boundaries of what I can do with the written word).
     
  17. Alan Aspie

    Alan Aspie Banned Contributor

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    You go to book store or library. What is the right shelf so that your potential reader could find your book if he/she has never heard about it? Where should it be?

    "Same but different". What is the "same" part of that?
     

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