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Upmarket Fiction

Upmarket fiction straddles the line between literary and commercial fiction. The writing is elevated but accessible, the characters appear unique while remaining universal, and the plots are proverbial but unpredictable. Since readers have become wise to the tropes of their preferred genre, agents and publishers are now searching for books that can exist in either marketplace.

I was going through some very dusty files and found a submission letter I had sent to an agency in 2007. I entered the agency name into Google to see if the company was still around. Yes, it is. The agent I had addressed was still there and some others had joined the company.

While I was reading the biographies and needs of the newer agents I came across the term Upmarket Fiction. Yes, I looked it up. Would I trip over a term like Upmarket and not see what was under the tarp?

Let’s talk about it. Wednesday, in the chatroom. 8PM ET.

Photo by Amelie & Niklas Ohlrogge on Unsplash white bookshelves
Photo by Amelie & Niklas Ohlrogge on Unsplash

What is Upmarket Fiction and Should You Be Writing It?

Upmarket fiction.

You may even see it paired with a familiar genre. Upmarket science fiction. Or upmarket contemporary romance.

What is upmarket fiction?

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 focused, but the plot sharp.

What is Upmarket Fiction? Defining the Classification.

One word that kept coming up was the word “upmarket.”  The term isn’t brand new, but it seems to be gaining in popularity.

Simply put, it’s fiction that blends the line between commercial and literary.  To further examine this, let’s break down those two terms. 

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.

Defining Upmarket Fiction and the Role it Plays in Today’s Market

Upmarket fiction straddles the line between literary and commercial fiction. The writing is elevated but accessible, the characters appear unique while remaining universal, and the plots are proverbial but unpredictable. Since readers have become wise to the tropes of their preferred genre, agents and publishers are now searching for books that can exist in either marketplace.

Upmarket fiction combines the best elements of literary and commercial fiction.

Upmarket fiction is a classification or a publishing term, not a genre distinction. Think of the phrase as an adjective since publishers use the term as a selling point—e.g. upmarket science fiction, upmarket mystery, upmarket women’s fiction, et cetera. This term identifies novels that dabble in both the literary and commercial realms by addressing universal concerns through elevated prose and poignant themes. Many of the novels chosen for our modern book clubs fall into the upmarket fiction category, which is one of the many reasons this label has become popular among agents.

It seems most of the Google trails lead me to general agreement about what Upmarket Fiction means. I’m leaving you with a lot of reading to do. There are dozens of articles about the category and who knows, maybe you want to write some…

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