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Thread: Do you know the differences between the marketing categories of fiction?

  1. #1
    MacAllister's Official Minion & Greeter AW Moderator Ari Meermans's Avatar
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    Do you know the differences between the marketing categories of fiction?

    I see so much confusion over marketing categories vs genre and it positively permeates the internet, with even Literary Fiction being called a genre. Here's a neat infographic by literary agent Carly Watters which should help. It's not perfect as Ms. Watters admits, but it's a useful aid toward understanding the differences between the marketing categories of Commercial (Mainstream) Fiction, Literary Fiction, and Upmarket Fiction.

    It's a start and I hope to soon have a glossary ready to put up which will include additional marketing categories.
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  2. #2
    professional dilettante Lakey's Avatar
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    That was pretty insightful and helpful. The other day I was trying to explain to a friend (who is a genre writer) that the thing I am writing is not a genre thing, but it didn't feel right to call it literary either. I wasn't sure whether that was because I didn't feel I have the talent to produce something others would consider literary, or because I didn't have a better vocabulary to describe the thing I'm trying to do. Looking at those infographics, I see that I tick most of the boxes in "Upmarket." I'd like to tick more of the boxes in "Literary," especially "Craft & quality of language" and "emphasis on language," but the truth is, when I try too hard to do that, it really reads like I am trying too hard to do that. What's more, "Upmarket" also has that lovely fudge factor, "Blends lines of commercial & literary." That sounds just about right.

    Of course, my goal right now is to finish a darn manuscript. I don't know whether thoughts about publication and marketing are even in my future. But at least this gives me vocabulary to talk about the project. "Here's what I hope this thing will do, when it's finished."

  3. #3
    MacAllister's Official Minion & Greeter AW Moderator Ari Meermans's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lakey View Post
    I don't know whether thoughts about publication and marketing are even in my future. But at least this gives me vocabulary to talk about the project. "Here's what I hope this thing will do, when it's finished."
    Exactly. Here's the thing: While these major categories are the marketing tools used by publishers for bookstore shelf placement (primarily), it's helpful for an author to have a good idea of the category in which their novel fits. This knowledge can help with finding and referencing comparable titles for queries and/or in discussions with interested agents, if you go the trade publishing route. And, if you go the self-publishing route, having this understanding of marketing categories can aid you in placing your novel in the correct categories on Amazon, Goodreads, and other sales outlets.
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  4. #4
    reading all the things Anna Iguana's Avatar
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    I really like an explanation that Brandon Sanderson gives. (The explanation is not original to him, I don't think, but that's the source I recall. And the following words are my recounting, so don't blame him. )

    Every time we read a story, we view the story through a window. The window is the text, the language through which we perceive the author's ideas.

    In commercial/mainstream fiction, the window is as transparent as possible. You should barely notice the prose and become absorbed in a quick flow of story.

    In literary fiction, the window is ornate, with a hand-carved frame--or perhaps stained glass. You notice the beauty and creative art of the prose, as well as the story transmitted/constructed through the prose. This often means the pace of the story is slower. (An example of this, for me, is The Goldfinch, which moved so deliberately that I gave up a few hundred pages in, yet was so finely crafted that I'd recommend it to any writer.)

    Upmarket fiction aims at a sweet spot between commercial and literary fiction, with well-crafted windows/prose.

    To oversimplify: good literary fiction wins accolades from critics; good commercial fiction wins big sales; and, upmarket fiction seeks both.

  5. #5
    MacAllister's Official Minion & Greeter AW Moderator Ari Meermans's Avatar
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    That's a pretty decent way of explaining the differences to authors who have passed a certain point in mastering the craft. I have a certain disgruntlement about the use of words like ornate, though. And that's chiefly because new writers tend to confuse the meaning of such words with purple prose. Not being able to make the distinction between the use of beautiful, lyrical, and symbolic language to explore themes and motifs and the use of purple prose can be deadly for the new writer.
    Last edited by Ari Meermans; 04-23-2017 at 11:16 PM.
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  6. #6
    reading all the things Anna Iguana's Avatar
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    Yes, there's a lot the "window" explanation (over) simplifies. Thanks for highlighting purple prose as a particular hazard. One thing I struggle with, in that description of literary vs. commercial fiction, is the notion of the story as separable from text (i.e., the scene vs. the window). Actually, always, the text constructs/is the story.

    Another thing I struggle with is the suggestion that literary fiction has superior prose. Certainly there is commercial fiction with mediocre prose, but there's also fine crafting in some commercial fiction; making prose invisible takes work. IMO, literary and commercial are (merely) two different styles of writing, each with features to admire.

  7. #7
    MacAllister's Official Minion & Greeter AW Moderator Ari Meermans's Avatar
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    Literary isn't really a style any more than it's a genre, though. There are works in every genre that are of great literary merit—those novels that contain literary elements exploring the human condition through language. The novels of Octavia Butler come to mind and she was a preeminent writer of science fiction. Her novels endure, and that right there is a good indicator of literary merit.
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  8. #8
    reading all the things Anna Iguana's Avatar
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    Agreed, literary isn't a single style. I was going to add a second parenthetical to my last sentence but decided the construction was too complicated. My impression, though I defer to your industry knowledge, has been that literary and commercial are two clusters of styles. That is, prose takes many, diverse paths to reach two broadly defined end points, literary vs. commercial. Is that fair? Thanks, Ari.

  9. #9
    MacAllister's Official Minion & Greeter AW Moderator Ari Meermans's Avatar
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    hmm. Let me think if I can explain it better. Okay, let's start with this: if you replace "style" with "purpose" or "objective" in defining the differences between the categories, you come much closer. Ms. Watters' infographic does go into the differences. Also, I took her characteristics of and examples for those three categories—as they are the most nearly accurate, concise, and accessible terms I've come across—and added additional info, as well as additional categories in the Glossary I just put up in the Contemporary room. You guys let me know if I need to explain the differences better; I'd certainly appreciate your doing so, if you would.
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  10. #10
    reading all the things Anna Iguana's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ari Meermans View Post
    if you replace "style" with "purpose" or "objective" in defining the differences between the categories, you come much closer.
    Thank you; your precise language has helped me think carefully about some things today. I did read Ms. Watters's infographic before posting (above), and it's definitely worthwhile. Thank you again.

  11. #11
    It's all symbolic. Night_Writer's Avatar
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    Ari Meermans, thanks for posting this. I've been seeing all over the web the way literary fiction and genre fiction get paired up, as though those were the two divisions of fiction, and I knew that it wasn't the case. If it was, it would mean that, unless you were writing about an invasion from space, or a dead body found in a refrigerator, then you are writing literary fiction. As long as you skip the aliens, you iz one hifalootin' writer of purtty prose.

    I'm glad someone did an Infographic on what the actual distinctions are, Literary and Commercial.
    Last edited by Night_Writer; 05-19-2017 at 12:50 PM.
    Heretic.

  12. #12
    practical experience, FTW
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    Nice! I liked that, thanks for sharing. According to that, I write commercial.

  13. #13
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    Thank you for that article. I used to think that I was literary now am wondering if I am upmarket because I certainly don't tick a single box for commercial. Wha I do know is that my WIP has visionary fiction elements. Te question now is where do I fit because am a bit concerned/ confsed now

  14. #14
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    Quote Originally Posted by Anna Iguana View Post
    I really like an explanation that Brandon Sanderson gives. (The explanation is not original to him, I don't think, but that's the source I recall. And the following words are my recounting, so don't blame him. )

    Every time we read a story, we view the story through a window. The window is the text, the language through which we perceive the author's ideas.

    In commercial/mainstream fiction, the window is as transparent as possible. You should barely notice the prose and become absorbed in a quick flow of story.

    In literary fiction, the window is ornate, with a hand-carved frame--or perhaps stained glass. You notice the beauty and creative art of the prose, as well as the story transmitted/constructed through the prose. This often means the pace of the story is slower. (An example of this, for me, is The Goldfinch, which moved so deliberately that I gave up a few hundred pages in, yet was so finely crafted that I'd recommend it to any writer.)

    Upmarket fiction aims at a sweet spot between commercial and literary fiction, with well-crafted windows/prose.

    To oversimplify: good literary fiction wins accolades from critics; good commercial fiction wins big sales; and, upmarket fiction seeks both.




    This resonates with me especially the last sentence

  15. #15
    practical experience, FTW
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    Thanks for the heads up on this thread Anna. I like the window analogy, though I'd say it's probably more of the type of lens you're using. Some writers see the world with a very deep focus, and others less so. Not everything has to be in focus in writing, certainly not in the novel, but there has to be a focus and I think that's where some of the battles over high/low art and genre/literary come in. It almost always boils down to a battle over quality, which, sometimes, is a battle over artistic intent.

    The infographic is helpful in terms of marketing distinctions. I don't think I've encountered the 'upmarket' term before, but if I were to classify my own work, that's probably where mine would fall. I have known writers whose only allegiance was to the sentence, and writers with concern only for the story. Very often we impose a lot of arbitrary rules and classifications on ourselves and our work that are completely unnecessary. A great story, well told is the only measure we should concern ourselves with. How that story is told is of course up to the individual artist and ultimately, the reader.

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