Permit me at the outset to credit my source of the genre definitions I’ll be using: Writers Digest University.
I’m going to start well down their alphabetical list: Popular Fiction—“Generally, a synonym for category or genre fiction, i.e., fiction intended to appeal to audiences for certain kinds of novels… Popular, or category, fiction is defined as such primarily for the convenience of publishers, editors, reviewers and booksellers who must identify novels of different areas of interest for potential readers.”
Uhhm, does that mean literary fiction is “Unpopular Fiction”? Does that mean “Popular Fiction” is unliterary?
James Woods, in his book How Fiction Works, quoted a passage from John LeCarre’s Smiley’s People which he assessed as “…nice writing, for sure, and by the standards of contemporary thrillers it is magnificent….” I thought he liked it until I reached the next page, where he further assessed it as “…a clever coffin of dead conventions.”
Again quoting from the alphabetical list: Literary Fiction vs. Commercial Fiction—“To the writer of literary, or serious, fiction, style and technique are often as important as subject matter. …Commercial fiction, however, is written with the intent of reaching as wide an audience as possible.”
Seems like you’d have to be a dope to write fiction that’s so serious and stylish that publishers, editors, reviewers and booksellers, for their convenience, would categorize it as literary, sort of as a warning label, so that almost no one would ever buy or read it.
I, after considerable thought and soul-searching, created my own genre label for my first two novels, The Magician’s Secrets and Devil’s Oath. I call them “literary crime.” I’m always looking over my shoulder for the literary police. And I’m not even close to being done with this sweet topic. More soon.