In this multi-post series, we hope to answer some of your questions about different genre fiction. Throughout GENRE FICTION 101, you’ll learn about different genres and their place in the publishing world. We’ll discuss popularity, profits, typical tropes, controversies, and more.

First Thing’s First—What’s a Genre?

Merriam-Webster defines genre as a “category of artistic, musical, or literary composition characterized by a particular style, form, or content.” To put it in another way, genre breaks down a broad art form into refined compartments that are simpler to navigate.

So What Is Genre Fiction?

Genre fiction (also referred to as commercial fiction) is made up of books that have a broad and diverse audience appeal. Compared to literary fiction, genre fiction is easier to describe and define. These books commonly have a good potential to sell, depending on the genre’s previously established audience. After all, someone who loves fantasy books is more willing to take a chance on an unknown author if the genre is something they already enjoy.

The most common genres in fiction are the same you might see dividing the tops of shelves in a bookstore: romance, action/adventure, science fiction, fantasy, horror, mystery/crime, historical, and western. Each of these genres can break down even further into sub-genres as well.

What Makes Literary Fiction Different?

The difference between genre fiction and literary fiction is the way the story is presented and the purpose behind it. In literary fiction, the plot is primarily character-driven, while genre fiction is more plot-driven. Think of a popular literary novel, like Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. The narrative isn’t driven by the glamorous parties or even Myrtle’s death—the story is more focused on Nick’s interactions with Gatsby, and Gatsby’s obsession with Daisy and the concept of the “American Dream.”

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