Literary vs commercial fiction 

Yesterday I had a pretty informative exchange with a colleague. Over morning tea, I told Kush what I was up to these days. I told him the boring bits, before adding, my weekends is when I update my blog. What was your recent posts about? I said I copy pasted an excerpt from my latest short story, while last week I wrote a letter to Bupa, declaring them the best health cover around. Actually, I’m running out of ideas, I said. Posting a new entry every week is bound to do that to anyone. Do you accept suggestions? Dang ran. You could talk bout music, he offered. There’s this group called Wu-tang, they released an album that only had one copy out. Are they Indian? No, they’re from New York. Then there’s this guy called Beck. Bach? I was clueless. No, Beck, he repeated. Oh, Beck, I said, just like the beer. ‘Yeah’. He composed a song that was sheet music, you know notes on a page, so I guess you could compare the two. Righto, I declared.

A matter of goals
Wu-Tang and Beck, sounds intriguing but I’ll take a rain check this time. Anyhow, we talked about other things, and I believe that differentiating fiction is just as riveting. As a former classmate once told me, ‘Dami mo pang introduction!’ So let’s get to it. The main difference between literary (LF) and commercial fiction (CF) is the author’s goal. While LF can garner you awards and critical acclaim, CF is more about gaining commercial success and selling copies. At the moment, and for the fiscal reasons above, the commercial route is the popular one. Think Dan Brown’s mysteries, Grisham’s legal fiction, or Patterson’s thrillers. The list goes on: J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter, Anne Rice’s gothic novels, Matthew Riley’s adventure series, yada yada. While LF is slow paced, it’s also generally longer (300+ pages), hence there are more CF paperbacks (romance, sci fi, etc).

state library of nsw

Lost shogun
CF though is not just about what makes more economic sense, but also what appeals to readers. In this age of wizard technology, bookworms do not have the patience or attention span to read dense, flowery prose. I don’t know many peeps who read Great Expectations in their spare time, or David Copperfield outside of class. Don’t you just hate it when you’re faced with two pages of description. Yes, it may be timeless, but you don’t have time to wade through those prose mountains. The backlash spreads to ebooks, where LF is the veritable lost shogun. Fact is, self publishing your LF book is like entering the dark side. There’s no turning back, and you’re working alone in pitch darkness.

El futuro
So where does this leave the endangered LF specimen? For starters, you’ve got to produce exceptional work, do your research on promotion and marketing and hope that you could reach a niche readership. Forget about self publishing; LF is still preferred in physical book form. Forget about DFW, you won’t sell thousands on your debut. You’re not the next Howey; you won’t get book tours, your output wouldn’t be subject to bidding wars, but maybe, just maybe, after decades of hard work, people will start taking notice, and there are better days ahead.


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