Glossary: Major Marketing Categories for Fiction

Editing for authors: because every writer needs a good editor.

Not open for further replies.

Ari Meermans

MacAllister's Official Minion & Greeter
Super Member
Jan 24, 2011
Reaction score
Not where you last saw me.
Marketing Categories of Fiction: A Short Glossary[SUP]1[/SUP]


This glossary is not perfect because fiction today is bending the rules, blending genres, and generally setting marketing rules on its ears. If you use this guide, however, you will

1.) Have a better idea of where your novel fits within the various marketing categories; and,
2.) Be better able to understand and talk to agents, editors, and publishers regarding the categories of fiction they represent and are looking for.

Category: An umbrella classification used by industry professionals to market novels. Categories of fiction include: Speculative Fiction, Commercial Fiction, Contemporary Fiction, Upmarket Fiction, and Literary Fiction.

Commercial Fiction: Fiction which has mass appeal and will, therefore, reach a broader audience. Characteristics of Commercial Fiction: Plot-driven, aims to entertain, fast-paced writing, concise “hook” aimed at solving a very specific problem such as a murder, and closes all open doors (except series). Includes genres such as: Romance, Crime, Thriller, Suspense, Mystery, Science Fiction, and Fantasy.

Contemporary Fiction: Fiction published post-World War II (published after January 1, 1945). The Second World War challenged and changed the world’s perspectives and literature began to reflect those changed perspectives. Contemporary fiction is based on human diversity, character, and emotion and reflects a society's political, social, and personal views and mores. Contemporary fiction both reflects and challenges the fast-paced changes to these mores and perspectives.

Literary Fiction: Literary is a marketing category which indicates that the content focuses on the character and the character's inner world rather than on the external conflict which sets the story in motion. It's simply the difference in content focus for the story you want to tell. The use of literary devices such as motifs, themes, and metaphors can (and often does) result in a more lyrical or poetic style and flow, but that isn't the aim. Master craftsmanship is in the use of language, even when the language is simple or to the point; if the language is lyrical, it is by no means flowery or purple—it serves a distinct purpose in telling the story. Examples: The Goldfinch (Donna Tartt), Station Eleven (Emily St. John Mandel), All the Light We Cannot See (Anthony Doerr).

Upmarket Fiction: Character driven fiction which uses quality writing to explore universal themes that everyone can relate to, blends commercial and literary fiction, aims to spark thoughtful discussion because of its accessibility to real life (i.e., appropriate for book club discussions). Women’s Fiction often falls into this category. Examples: Water For Elephants (Sara Gruen), The Passage (Justin Cronin), The Time Traveler’s Wife (Audrey Niffenegger), The Girl on The Train (Paula Hawkins).

Speculative Fiction: A broad marketing category covering plot-driven fiction in which supernatural or futuristic elements in a setting outside the real world is the primary focus. Genres under the Spec Fic category include: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, Supernatural or Paranormal Fiction, Science Fantasy, and any blending of these genres.

[SUP]1[/SUP]Reference: Certain of the definitions and examples of the marketing categories Commercial Fiction, Literary Fiction, and Upmarket Fiction from the blog Carly Watters, Literary Agent.
Last edited:
Not open for further replies.

Elizabeth George's book Write Away