Tag Archives: genres

Genre Fixation: Upmarket Fiction

In several posts, I have raged against the literary fiction v. genre fiction situation in the publishing world. One is held in high regard yet is often boring, the other is derided as trite or too commercial. As a writer who finds herself stuck in the middle of these two extremes and utterly frustrated by the hundreds of descriptors for genre and style, I never felt my work fit in any one category.

This week I discovered a new genre, upmarket fiction. This is the definition from editor Robb Grindstaff, “From an audience perspective, upmarket means fiction that will appeal to readers who are educated, highly read, and prefer books with substantive quality writing and stronger stories/themes. Upmarket describes commercial fiction that bumps up against literary fiction, or literary fiction that holds a wider appeal, or a work straddles the two genres.” The Book Genre Dictionary defines it as “Books in the upmarket fiction genre are made up of stories that merge the commercial and literary genres. The books appeal to well-read, sophisticated readers who want a high quality and complexity of writing, but that also have strong characters and plot. Upmarket genre books are often book club titles and inspire not only enjoyment of the story in a reader, but thought and discussion as well. The books consist of many layers of meaning and emotion, making them more complex.”

I must admit that I saw the definition and went, YES! This is what I have been looking for when describing my work. I’m not all genre and I’m not all literary, I’m somewhere in between. It’s always disappointing when readers see steampunk or historical fantasy and assume it will be action-packed. Sorry, readers, mine is not. There is action, but I find myself more focused on my characters. What are they going through? How are their lives affected by the events of the story? How are they changing through each story/trauma? I like to think of my characters are humans rather than archetypes or unchanging figures, which you sometimes see in suspense or action series where the main character goes on adventures through dozens of books. They stay in character for the entire series, but they do so at the expense of growth.

At its heart, I think this is what upmarket fiction is. It’s a book with genre fiction aesthetics (such as being set in a fantasy world, alternate history, or dystopia), but rather than focusing on the action only, the author pays more attention to the characters and plot than how much action drives it. The downside to upmarket is it sounds a bit… snobby. The main issue is where the definitions suggest only highly educated people will like upmarket, but I think what they really mean is people who want more than just 300 pages of action. Upmarket readers want a deeper connection to the plot and characters. They value complexity in not only the characters’ psyches but the plot. They want a book that makes them think.

I also tend to be a reader of upmarket fiction. I get frustrated with literary fiction when it’s a hundred pages longer than it ought to be and tends to ramble. With genre fiction, I get frustrated when the characters don’t change or don’t react appropriately to the horrors they are dealing with. A monster just tore his best friend to shreds, yet he decides to make out with his girl friend and only mourn his loss for two sentences. I need more substance but not the point of literary fiction where it once again becomes insubstantial.

Some upmarket books would be: The Golem and the Jinni, Water for Elephants, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, and The Left Hand of Darkness.


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10 Bookish Confessions

To prove that I am a human being and to hopefully connect with my readers, I occasionally like to do “about me” posts. This time, I thought I would write ten book-related confessions about myself. Seems fitting for a blog about writing and books… and writing books.

  1. My favorite classic is Jane Eyre. I read it in 2013, and I was in love with Jane and Rochester (especially Rochester). Since then, I think I’ve read bits and pieces of it about four times. There’s something about a man whose ugly-handsome, scandalous, and willing to dress as a woman just to troll his date(s).
  2. I have a bracelet of some of my favorite novels. Yes, I’m a lit nerd, so much so that I commissioned an artist on Etsy to make a charm bracelet for me of my favorite books. The books in the pic are The Night Circus, The Mummy by Anne Rice, Jane Eyre, Souless, Frankenstein, and Johannes Cabal: Necromancer.bracelet
  3. My pets names have a literary theme. My dog’s name is Edgar, after Edgar Allan Poe. My cat’s name is Sherlock (Holmes), even though he’s more like a pudgy, blundering Watson, and my other cat, who passed when he was a kitten, was named Erik after the Phantom of the Opera.
  4. My favorite type of writing is that which is sensual and well-written. I love great plots and I love characters that grow, but what really draws me into a work is being immersed in it body and soul. I want to see it, I want to hear it, I want to experience every emotion that character is feeling. If the sentences aren’t good or the writing is flat, it immediately drops to three stars in my mind.
  5. My preferred format of book is paperback. I’m warming up to ebooks, but a paperback is still my favorite way to read a book. I like to hold it, display it, let others borrow it, and show it off, and with ebooks, I can’t do that. I tend to not read hardcovers because they’re cumbersome to lug around. My bag already is cripplingly heavy, and a two pound book doesn’t help. Also, I just find their bulk harder to hold. That and the ever shifting and sliding book sleeve.
  6. I’m a book-finisher. I can probably count one hand the books I’ve put away permanently because they were so bad. No matter how god-awful the book is, I feel the need to finish it. It may be cutting off my nose to spite my face, but there’s a part of me that still hopes the book will get better. Plus, no one can tell me that I missed the good part. No, my review stands because I read and finished the book.
  7. I will read erotica or romance, but I hate naked people on book covers. It’s a pet peeve of mine. I know sex sells, but not to me. I hate half-naked men and women equally. I don’t want to see your giant man-pecks or your pert derriere. An understated cover that is closer to sensual or intriguing than arousing is more my style. I tend to avoid books like that. This is also why I am on the look out for a better version of Teleny. I am embarrassed by the cover (not only half-naked but hideously drawn).
  8. Of my two books thus far, The Winter Garden is my favorite. I know we aren’t supposed to have favorite children, but I really, really love book two more than book one. There’s been so much personal and professional growth since I wrote The Earl of Brass, but I also just love the characters. Out of all of my characters, I think I connect the most with Immanuel. The Winter Garden is also a much darker story, and as a writer, I thoroughly enjoy writing twisted characters and delving into some rather complex emotions.
  9. I have a thing for fancy bookmarks yet rarely use them. I love fancy bookmarks. Ones with tassels, fabric ones, paper ones, metal ones, ones that are silly, ones that are artsy. It doesn’t matter, I want them. Oddly, I tend to use scraps of paper or folded post-its most often. Over the years, I’ve lost a lot of beautiful bookmarks, so now, I’m afraid I’ll lose them. Currently, I’m actually using adorable silicone seedling bookmarks my cousin got me.
  10. My favorite genres are: historical fiction, historical fantasy, and Gothic horror. When I say Gothic horror, I’m thinking like Dorian Gray or Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. Horror with some upper class panache. If the book has a tie to the past and is able to submerge me in it from cover to cover, I’m sold.

Well, there you go. Ten bookish things about the Awkward Authoress.


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