Novels that do not fit in a genre
UPMARKET? UPLIT? BOOK CLUB? LITERARY?
By: Judith Collins
End of Year Reflection
New Year Planning
Nov 25, 2022
As I reflected on the books I enjoyed reading in 2022 and the ones I am selecting for my 2023 reading, I noted a few new categories or genres that grabbed my attention.
I am enjoying literary fiction. However, I did notice a few authors putting their books in the upmarket and uplit categories, and was intrigued.
Of course, being the Virgo I am, had to start googling for more "details."
Whether you are a writer, book blogger, reviewer, book influencer, or avid reader, here are some definitions that might help you out. If it’s somewhere between literary and commercial, it’s probably upmarket or general fiction.
General Fiction is the broadest term out there; it covers novels that cross multiple genres or don’t fit into one. It's not genre fiction but doesn’t have enough emphasis on striking prose to be literary, this is a safe term to use.
Genre Fiction is also known as popular fiction— and that’s for a good reason. Genre fiction is more appealing to a wider audience. It’s written for the mainstream reader, especially those who are already fans of a specific subset of fiction. Many readers gravitate to a particular genre, such as mystery, romance, sci-fi, fantasy, young adult, action, history, and so on. Genre fiction gives fans access to their favorite type of storytelling.
Uses conventional storytelling
Features a happy ending
Easier to sell
Gere fiction is considered popcorn for the soul. It may not be earth-shattering literature, but at the same time, the stories presented in genre fiction can be inventive, spellbinding, and beautifully done.
Literary refers to fiction that depends on the quality of writing and sophistication of themes rather than the propulsion of the plot. It usually leaves more space for the reader’s interpretation of events. It can be about anything.
Does not follow a formula
Uses creative storytelling
Explores the human condition
May be difficult to read
Has an ambiguous ending
If genre fiction is popcorn, does that make literary fiction more serious and substantive? Not necessarily. Literary fiction provides a fresh way to tell stories and it ignores standard formulas. It stands alone and is not scared.
The term "literary fiction" is controversial and for good reason. As more “literary” writers venture into genre fiction, the lines of distinction have blurred. Sometimes, it’s not always clear. Perhaps, it is genre fiction that’s just pushing its own boundaries.
Or, maybe literary fiction is a genre all its own.
Examples of Contemporary Literary Novels
Though most can agree that Jane Eyre, 1984, and The Great Gatsby are all literary works, the term is not exclusively applied to the classics. Modern-day literary books would include titles like:
White Teeth by Zadie Smith
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
Atonement by Ian McEwan
I enjoy novels by Elizabeth Strout
These books would be the most likely to win big awards like a Pulitzer or the National Book Award. They tend to be slower in pace but rich in detail and artistry.
Examples of Commercial Fiction
If literary is the buttoned up college professor, commercial is gun-clad action hero. They tend to be fast-paced, easy to read and typically a top seller. What they are accused of lacking in refinement they make up for in addictiveness.
When we think of the really big commercial hits, our minds tend to go to the prolific, recognizable names:
Though books in this genre often catch grief for being a lesser class of literature, they tend to sell a lot of books and attract a lot of readers.
Upmarket novels usually contain a commercial, plot-driven narrative but are written with advanced sophistication, so would appeal to a different audience than the standard genre reader.
Upmarket fiction is used to describe a book that has a literary feel with commercial appeal. It means that the writing is outstanding but accessible. The characters are focused, but the plot is sharp.
Examples of Upmarket Fiction
So what if you want the best of both worlds? You want to be an artist, but also want to pay your rent. You want to create luxurious literary scenes that people actually want to keep reading. Then that is upmarket. Here are some books that represent this classification:
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
All of these books are written in beautiful prose, contain haunting and unforgettable characters and, yes, manage to sell a whole heck of a lot of books with can’t-put-down plots. Upmarket fiction is used to describe a book that has a literary feel with commercial appeal. It means that the writing is outstanding but accessible. The characters are focused, but the plot is sharp.
On the two sides of the scale, you have literary and commercial. Literary fiction can often be considered highbrow, but stuffy. Sophisticated, but slow. It often isn’t considered as “sellable” to the general public.
Commercial fiction, on the other hand, is considered less refined but are total page-turners. These books are frequently the ones you’ll find in airport bookstores. and standing in line at the grocery store.
Though both have the potential to be much more than their classification suggests, the term "upmarket" is the bridge that unites the two.
And in today’s streaming service world, we have a plethora of skilled storytelling in television shows like Breaking Bad, Stranger Things and The Handmaid’s Tale that offer incredible writing, iconic characters and fast plots. So readers and viewers are coming to the table with much higher expectations for story.
There is still a place for formulaic, genre-specific writing (and any kind of writing for that matter), but if you’re hoping to hook an agents attention or captivate a modern reader, you may want to consider writing upmarket fiction.
Book Club Fiction is an increasingly popular term, and you often see it used by any writer who feels their work sits between literary and commercial. The key is that these novels get the reader thinking about topics; they give you something to talk about and have broad appeal. A story that asks questions about complex issues.
Uplit is an emerging genre made popular by writers like Gail Honeyman and Matt Haig. Short for ‘uplifting literature,' these books are about kindness and community – they leave the reader feeling positive. Don’t rush to categorize your work as uplit just because it has a happy ending. Agents will expect uplit novels to show a heartwarming journey with a strong bearing in reality. Many authors came out with these after COVID. I enjoy these for a break from all the heavy suspense thrillers.
Examples: I enjoy these authors immensely: Catherine Ryan Hyde, Elizabeth Berg, and Fredrik Backman.
New Adult is another trendy one, aiming to meet a gap between YA (young adult) and general fiction. It features protagonists aged 18-25 and will appeal to readers of that age, addressing issues unique to this point in life, like the struggles of leaving home and launching a career.
Coming-of-Age novels usually come under the literary fiction umbrella because the focus is on character development rather than plot. These books tell a story of a person at a defining point in their life, showing how they find themselves through a sequence of experiences. Usually, this person is a teenager, which is why you often see coming-of-age novels with YA crossover potential.
What are your thoughts?
Where do your favorite books fit? What types of books do you enjoy reading or writing? When reflecting back over 2022 and looking forward to your 2023 books, think more closely about your top genres. How does your list line up?