Writing – literary or genre?

There is a question all writers should confront at some point during their writing life:

What sort of writer do I want to be?

Because, of course, there are a number of different types of writer. Perhaps the question should be: “What do I want from my writing life?”

Believe it or not, this is something nearly all writers fail to ask themselves. I know, we all start off writing as a bit of a hobby. Most of the population can physically write, putting letters together to form words, and words together to form sentences. That’s a basic function many can handle.

But writing seriously? Learning how to write productively, and with a purpose and with an intention to gain an audience?


To align with this blog’s title, one of the choices fiction writers should make is: do we want to write genre or literary fiction?

The differences between genre fiction and literary fiction are difficult to pin down. Everyone seems to have their own opinion on what makes a literary story, and in the modern world of writing and publishing, writing niches are blurry at best. Cross-genre and multi-genre novels abound.

So, how do I categorise them? I think one of the easiest (and, perhaps, over-simplistic methods) is to say that genre fiction is plot-based, and literary fiction is character-led.

That’s not to say that genre (or commercial) fiction can’t have strong, interesting and multi-layered characters, and literary novels can’t have a strong plot to drive the stories forward. Indeed, we now have newer categories such as “upmarket fiction” or “book club fiction” – sometimes described as:

Upmarket fiction describes a book that appeals to audiences of both commercial and literary fiction. Commonly referred to as “book club novels,” a book that is upmarket fiction addresses universal, elevated themes while remaining accessible to the general public.


It’s confusing, isn’t it?

Why is it important?

It’s important because any agent or publisher will need to now how the categorise your novel. If you’re self-publishing, you’ll need to know which category to publish it to.

I refuse to be catagorised”

Good for you. However, you might also be refusing to be published. As writers, we absolutely have the power and authority to write what we like, and call it what we like. But publishing is a business, and as such, they need to be able to construct a marketing campaign and target the right people who might want to read (and, perhaps more importantly, buy) your book.

Why are you talking about this now?

Because my partner, the lovely Anita Belli, has temporarily put aside her rom-com writing, and is planning a more literary novel. She’s written more upmarket literary fiction before, but took a break to write commercial fiction. There are themes she wishes to explore that don’t necessarily fit in with the commercial fiction she also writes. She’s taking time to think through her novel, consider the characters and their back stories and motivations. BUT she’s also got one eye on the commercial market. To get another agent and publishing deal, she’ll need to be able to categorise her work, and be sure that there is a market for it out there.

For me – I’m still very happy with my solid crime-based stories. I’ve got my feet firmly in the commercial / genre fiction market.

In a previous meeting of our marketing group – the FOUR MARKETEERS – with fellow authors Deborah Klée and Ellie Holmes, we were comparing our choice of writing genre and marketing plans. Deborah and Anita were in the “fine dining” group – high-quality products but with a limited market. Ellie and myself were in the “burger van” group – cheap and cheerful and what the mass market wanted.

I think it’s a great analogy.

So what are you – burger van or fine dining restaurant? Because you should understand.

If you’re interested in the Efficient Novelist program, there’s a Twitter account, but it’s fairly quiet at the moment. It might be worth a follow for future updates: @EfficientNovels
And the online course and associated book will be available this autumn.

And if you found this blog post interesting or useful or a brilliant way to procrastinate, please consider buying me a coffee at https://ko-fi.com/authorgeraldhornsby

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