What is Mainstream Fiction? Upmarket Fiction?

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Q: The more industry blogs I read, the more confused I get about which category my novel falls into. It seems to sit on middle ground between literary and commercial, which some agents have said they are looking for. One agent advised me to call it "literary commercial." I have also seen this described as "commercial literary" and "mainstream." I think my ms. may fall into the category referred to as "book club fiction," but my understanding is that it's bad form for authors to use that label on their own manuscripts. I guess my ms. could also be called women's fiction, in that it has a strong female protagonist, but it's not primarily about relationships.
- Margaret

A: I know how important it is to try and label your work right so I appreciate this question.
When literary meets commercial, the word mostly commonly used is "mainstream," and I think that is an acceptable term for you, Margaret. The word "upmarket" pretty much means the same thing, but that word, in particular, usually is used in conjunction with women's fiction. Normally, I would tell people to just say mainstream, but since your book is indeed about women, it could be called either. Both are acceptable. When you're looking at agent guidelines and they say they want women's or upmarket, call it upmarket. Otherwise, mainstream is a good category to use.

Want more on this subject?

  • How to Write a Query Letter.
  • What Should You Write in the "Bio Paragraph" of a Query Letter.
  • Why Your Manuscript Can Get Rejected, by Hallie Ephron.
  • Confused about formatting? Check out Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript.
  • Read about What Agents Hate: Chapter 1 Pet Peeves.
  • Want the most complete database of agents and what genres they're looking for? Buy the 2011 Guide to Literary Agents today!

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