Commercial versus Literary

What is the difference between commercial and literary fiction?

What is the difference between commercial and literary fiction? Is it like pornography — you know it when you see it? Is it the subject matter? Is it the quality of writing? Is it audience? Is it that one is purely entertainment and the other an MFA thesis?

I wonder, tongue-in-cheek, if it comes down to sentence length. It seems commercial fiction sentences are terse. You won’t find a sentence unwind over several pages in commercial as you would in a literary fiction, right? This was brought to mind when reading One Hundred Years of Solitude where just such a thing occured.

What do you think the difference is? Does the difference matter?

2 thoughts on “Commercial versus Literary”

  1. Literature (my definition, mind you) is a text that on the surface is a good, enjoyable read. But beneath that surface is layer upon layer of irony, symbolism, etc. that reveals a deeper meaning. Literature begs for a careful and thoughtful reader. Commerical fiction rarely has those intense layers. It is an enjoyable story, may have a little depth, but rarely calls for the reader to retrace their steps and gaze at the beautiful flowers growing in between the cracks in the story’s sidewalk.

    Great post!

    1. Thank you for your comment and your visit. I think your definition of literature is an excellent one. Both commercial and literary can be enjoyable for the casual reader, but literary stories have hidden goodies that reward more careful readings and re-readings. I recall reading The Magicians and having that experience of gazing at the beautiful flowers in the cracks.

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