Literary Fiction vs. Commercial Fiction

At some point, every aspiring author asks a very simple but important question: what is the difference between literary fiction and commercial fiction? She Writes is here to demystify the two types of writing and highlight the critical differences in writing each type. Feel free to stow away this knowledge for your next writing event; you’re officially a publishing guru.


What is commercial fiction?

Commercial fiction, what most mainstream publishers are often looking for, is a high-action compelling plot that will hook most of mainstream consumers. It’s the book that everyone wants to read because it’s a quick, simple to follow, concisely written, adrenaline-inducing escape from every day life. Commercial fiction is entertaining and relies on a character to lead the reader through the story. A commercial fiction title usually falls into a genre – thriller, adventure, romance, action, fantasy – and is the type of book movie producers sometimes option. Why? Because the story sells, as it was written to do.

Examples: The Da Vinci Code, Gone Girl, The Alchemist, The Girl on the Train, Harry Potter, The Help

What makes for good commercial fiction writing? Analyzing the market and developing a radar for what consumers will want to read. Craft the sentences so they are easy to understand and keep the plot points clear and action-filled.


What is literary fiction?

Literary fiction is what many refer to as deeper and more empathic writing. Writers take pride in perfecting their prose which usually focuses on an element beyond plot, such as ideas, artistic or political themes. Many fans of literary fiction refer to the type as art, whereas commercial is entertainment. Literary authors invest the most of their artistic value into the quality of the writing, take risks and often leave many elements of the prose up to interpretation and analysis. Literary fiction is often associated with the crème-de-le-crème of classic literature and has a reputation for being a richer showcase of the English language.

Examples: The Great Gatsby, The Goldfinch, The Kite Runner, Pride and Prejudice, Of Mice and Men, Lolita

What makes for good literary fiction writing? Treating every sentence like a work of art. Literary writers take risks and dive deep into the emotion of every word and insert intentional mystery into the prose – every reader should walk away with a different reading experience.  

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