Dear Miss Snark,
I pen this with much fear and trembling, but what exactly is "literary fiction"? I've been hearing about it, reading about it, I think I've even been reading some of it. Nonetheless I remain confused. So far this is the info I have gathered.
Literary fiction contains beautiful/fancy writing that may not sell well but is sure to win numerous awards. It has been accused of being plot less and often features a tear conjuring protagonist who dies, is dead already, or is abused throughout the work until she is finally forgotten/abandoned by the known world. It seems to be held on a pedestal over genre fiction, inducing one agent to declare that her authors wrote literary fantasy. I know for sure that my best friend would love it, but I'm not sure what it is. Does literary=good writing?
Literary fiction is shorthand so agents and editors know what a novel's audience is. It's used primarily to separate more commercial titles from other, ie literary, titles.
Alice Munro and Lorrie Moore write literary fiction.
Literary non fiction is what John McPhee writes, what Melissa Fae Green writes, what Mark Kurlansky writes, what Simon Winchester writes.
And I'll hold Michael Connolly, James Lee Burke, Frederick Busch, Laurie King and Sara Paretsky up against anyone in the "literary fiction" category even if what they write is shelved as "crime fiction/mystery".
Go into any bookstore and I challenge you to find "literary fiction" as s shelf category. It's either genres or "literature".
Commercial fiction is supposed to sell. No one cares if it doesn't get reviewed.
Literary fiction is like haute couture; real people may not buy it but it's what's featured in the pages of the New York Times and defines your line.