Saturday, October 29, 2005

Literary Fiction, Mainstream Fiction, and Genre Fiction

Publishers, critics, and academics classify fiction into three broad categories:
  • Literary/Academic Fiction
  • Mainstream/Popular Fiction
  • Genre Fiction
Literary fiction, or academic fiction, is supposed to be character driven and is regarded as "highbrow." It has few other conventions (i.e., no formula). The story is almost always a character story, because other types of stories are regarded as inferior.

In literary fiction the writing meets the highest standards of style, rhetoric, usage, and grammar. So the quality of the writing is impeccable and the writer's diction outstanding.

The type of literary fiction in vogue changes. Much is now published outside New York City by small presses and university presses. It is usually first published in hard cover and sold mainly through book stores.

Literary fiction is where the literary prizes are.

Mainstream fiction is popular fiction. It is often called "transient fiction" by literary critics and academics. Most is plot driven, rather than character driven, though the characters are three-dimensional. Much is never published in hard cover, but only as a mass-market paperback sold mainly through ubiquitous retail outlets.

Its quality varies. Some is as fine as literary fiction and can be regarded as both literary and mainstream fiction. On the other hand, some mainstream fiction is poor.

Mainstream fiction isn't formula fiction, though it does have conventions, which are more or less flexible. Various types of mainstream fiction pass in and out of vogue (e.g., the glitz novel, the immigrant-experience novel, and women's [relationship] fiction).

Mainstream fiction is where the money is.

Genre fiction is another type of fiction regarded as "transient fiction" by literary critics and academics. They also dubbed it "pulp fiction" (i.e., "cheap" fiction), because genre novels are traditionally marketed only as pocket-sized mass-market paperbacks sold everywhere. Needless to say, genre fiction is regarded by the literati as "lowbrow."

Genre fiction is where a successful author gets a steady job.

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