What is Upmarket Fiction? Defining the Classification

If you've ever wondered what upmarket fiction this, the answers are in this article.
Author:
Publish date:

I've spent a good amount of time recently getting agents (and a few editors) to sign on to a ginormous Agent Pitch Slam, which is part of our writers' conference in NYC. Each agent submits their "wants" bio that explains what they are looking for and what they want to hear pitches about.

(Read These Successful Query Letters)

One word that kept coming up was the word "upmarket."  The term isn't brand new, but it seems to be gaining in popularity, so I just wanted to address what it means (or more accurately, what I think it means).

Simply put, it's fiction that blends the line between commercial and literary. To further examine this, let's break down those two terms. Commercial fiction, essentially, refers to novels that fall into a typical genre (thriller, let's say). Commercial fiction can sell very well because it usually has a tight premise/logline ("Someone is trying to kill the president!") and people like reading a category like thrillers because it's exciting. Literary fiction refers to novels that don't fit into any standard genre classification—romance, mystery, sci-fi, for example. Literary fiction requires the highest command of the language. Not pretentious, over-the-top purple prose—just simply excellent writing. Literary fiction has a harder time selling because it's not easily defined, and sometimes the premise is not easily explained (or just isn't that exciting).

So that brings us to "upmarket." Everyone is looking for this genre. "But why, Chuck?" Well, think about it. It's literary fiction, so it's pretty damn good writing, but it has commercial potential. It has the ability to infiltrate lots of book clubs and start discussions and take off as a product. It's a win-win for everyone. I've heard a lot of agents say that they are looking for "literary fiction with a commercial appeal," or something like that. Well, one word that does the job of those six is "upmarket," and that's why you hear it so much. If you're writing narrative nonfiction or upmarket fiction, chances are, there are a ton of agents out there willing to consider your work.

Some examples of upmarket fiction (just my opinion): Water for Elephants; Jodi Picoult's books; The Lovely Bones; Michael Chabon's books.

What is Upmarket Fiction? Defining the Classification

Agents Weigh In

From Kristin Nelson's Pub Rants blog

"In terms of upmarket commercial women’s fiction, it’s all about the writing. Really, editors are looking for literary writers who can tackle the more commercial themes in a way that’s fresh and well constructed."

From the Folio Lit Web site

"We are aggressively seeking upmarket adult fiction that’s appropriate for book club discussion." Keywords - book club discussion.

And as far as whether the term has a hyphen or not (upmarket vs. up-market), who cares. I prefer nonfiction but does writing non-fiction really matter? Nope.

Advanced Novel Writing

Push yourself beyond your comfort zone and take your writing to new heights with this novel writing workshop, designed specifically for novelists who are looking for detailed feedback on their work. When you take this online workshop, you won't have weekly reading assignments or lectures. Instead, you'll get to focus solely on completing your novel.

Click to continue.

April PAD Challenge

2021 April PAD Challenge: Day 10

Write a poem every day of April with the 2021 April Poem-A-Day Challenge. For today's prompt, write a get blank poem.

take two 3 mistakes writers make in act i

Take Two: 3 Mistakes Writers Make in Act I

Without a solid foundation, our stories flounder. Jeanne Veillette Bowerman shares insights into the three mistakes writers make when creating the first act.

David Jackson Ambrose: On Balancing Magic and Practicality

David Jackson Ambrose: On Balancing Magic and Practicality

Novelist David Jackson Ambrose discusses the initial themes he wanted to explore in his latest novel, A Blind Eye, what the editing process was like, and how his books always surprise him in the end.

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Not Knowing When to Shelve a Project

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Not Knowing When to Shelve a Project

The Writer's Digest team has witnessed many writing mistakes over the years, so we started this series to help identify them for other writers (along with correction strategies). This week's writing mistake is not knowing when to shelve a project.

April PAD Challenge

2021 April PAD Challenge: Day 9

Write a poem every day of April with the 2021 April Poem-A-Day Challenge. For today's prompt, write a persona poem (for an inanimate object).

4 Tips for Writing Engaging Frenemies

4 Tips for Writing Engaging Frenemies

No matter what genre you write, if you're planning to write characters as frenemies, you'll need to know how to do it well. Bestselling romance author Lorraine Heath shares her top tips.

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Placing Blame

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Placing Blame

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, make a character place blame on someone.

Luke X. Cunningham: A Writer's Hopes for Their Readers

Luke X. Cunningham: A Writer's Hopes for Their Readers

Emmy-nominated writer Luke X. Cunningham explains how he came to write a middle-grade mystery novel and what he hopes for the kids who read his book.

April PAD Challenge

2021 April PAD Challenge: Day 8

Write a poem every day of April with the 2021 April Poem-A-Day Challenge. For today's prompt, write a metaphor poem.