And now a pause for a commercial break....
Dear Miss Snark,
What is the latest industry definition of "commercial fiction"? Please?
I have seen agents declare they are looking for literary and commercial fiction but no genre fiction, especially, no fantasy, science fiction, mystery, romance, etc. - which I thought would be considered very commercial.
Commercial fiction is the stuff that sells that is not genre, and not literary.
Sort of like describing "non-fiction" by what it's not : fiction.
Commercial fiction is a sales phrase. It's code for "this isn't some experimental novel from a writer's colony or an MFA program or some half baked numbskull who thinks artful use of the semi colon takes the place of plot". (down! down! no nasty emails...it's a JOKE!)
Commercial fiction can be upmarket or downmarket. Bridges of Madison County was indisputably commercial fiction. So is anything by Nicholas Sparks, James Patterson, Sandra Brown, Dan Brown, Nora Roberts and Jodi Picoult. They don't win prizes, they mostly don't get reviewed, and they laugh at this all the way to the bank.
What is NOT commercial fiction is EL Docterow, John Irving, Bret Easton Ellis, Sue Monk Kidd, John Updike, Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, or Jane Smiley. No matter how much they sell. They are literary fiction. They win the big prizes and the recognition. Sometimes they laugh all the way to the bank, but usually only if there was a big ol movie deal.
Genre fiction can be commercial and/or literary, but it's hardly every categorized that way. If you write in a genre (western, mystery, SFF, chick lit etc) you look for agents who say they handle that kind of work. Genre tends to be acquired by specific editors who know the market.
If you have any questions about what you write, go to the bookstore and look where work like yours is shelved.
In the end though, don't worry about this. Just write something fabulous and it will all work out. More than once I’ve had to break the bad news to a writer that they are not writing what they thought they were!