Infographic: Do You Know The Difference Between Literary, Upmarket and Commercial Fiction?

Knowing how to categorize your work is one of the most important skills a writer needs to know–especially while querying. Here’s an infographic to help. It’s not perfect and there are many places that writers won’t fit into and that doesn’t mean it’s not a marketable book. However, learning how to market yourself starts with knowing where your book stands and where it will sit on bookshelves.

Fiction Category Infographic

Published by Carly Watters

Carly Watters is a SVP, senior literary agent and director of literary branding with the P.S. Literary Agency. She is a hands-on agent that develops proposals and manuscripts with attention to detail and the relevant markets. PSLA’s mission is to manage authors’ literary brands for their entire career. Never without a book on hand she reads across categories which is reflected in the genres she represents and is actively seeking new authors in including women’s fiction, commercial and upmarket fiction, select literary fiction, platform-driven non fiction and select memoir. She occasionally represents children's book projects. Carly is drawn to emotional, well-paced narratives, with a great voice and characters that readers can get invested in.

80 thoughts on “Infographic: Do You Know The Difference Between Literary, Upmarket and Commercial Fiction?

  1. This is great! When I was looking at the first graphic, the book that immediately came to mind was All the Light we Cannot See. I’ve often wondered exactly what the distinctions were, and many agents are specifically looking for manuscripts in one of these categories. Thank you! :)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My book has been called upmarket WF and commercial fiction, depending on who is talking about it and where it’s being talked about. Of course, on the book shelf it’s simply labelled “fiction,” which makes the most sense to me :)

    Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s true! Some writers will cross over like that, but the fantasy genre will gladly welcome him to the fold where as it would have to be a certain book that help him crossover to literary. And usually, the cover treatment says it all. Good writing is a key to all amazing books–commercial or otherwise! The best writers make everything look easy.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you Carly! I have been battling a category for my writing for awhile now…not sure where I truly fit. These three categories have not always been defined and you did a great job. Finding the right category means all the difference in getting accepted or rejected. I had many a rejections because I was just unintentionally querying the wrong category/agent. I am finding more agents willing to review my work now that I know where I belong. Great blog today!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. The visual depiction of these genres is so helpful! Would there also be a more dominant POV in upmarket do you suppose? My current wip is First Person and it seems difficult to add “objective nuance” when shading the story?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I find it interesting that Station Eleven is listed under Literary Fiction. It’s one of my favorite books I’ve read this year (out of around 30). I loved Ms. St. John Mandel’s writing, and was surprised to like a dystopian novel so much.

    Thanks for the clarification. My novels definitely fall into the Upmarket Fiction category – which I didn’t know before.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you for the clarifying visual. I found the ‘quality writing tackling commercial plot topics or themes’ wedge in your Upmarket wheel especially helpful, probably because I’d like to believe that’s an apt description of my novel. Would specifying the commercial plot topics be useful? e.g. I’m seeking representation for my 100,000 word upmarket suspense novel. Your thoughts are appreciated.


    1. Suspense is typically a genre novel. In order for it to be upmarket it has to have other external plot events happening, plus high quality writing. I wouldn’t suggest calling something upmarket suspense. I think you also need to look at some comparative titles to see where your book would fit in the market.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Thank you. Thank you. I am solidly, proudly Upmarket Commercial. Genre-busting and blending- a cocktail of literary spirits. Oddly, I read almost exclusively literary fiction, but I know as I writer how I want to spend my novel-writing time, I know the audience with which I want to connect, and it’s found in that magical, captivating blend of “Quality writing tackling commercial plot topics or themes”. Brilliant Carly and Amanda!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. This makes so much sense. I have been struggling with a contest, and while I have been trying to write literary, just realised what they needed was commercial fiction. The infographic gave me this much needed clarity, thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Thanks Carly. Your categories were posted by Muse in the Marketplace. Can “Upmarket” and “Literary” be applied to Memoir?


  10. Thanks, Carly, but this raises a question for me. I write Historical Fiction. If HF is not meant to be literary, but the concepts tackled are larger social and historical forces, do I pitch this as “commercial HF”? I aspire to upmarket HF but I don’t know if I am making that terminology up and if it would be more confusing than illuminating to potential agents. My writing is Amitav Ghosh meets Arturo Perez Riverte. Any thoughts?


  11. How would you actually use these designations to describe a book when querying? For example, would either Hawkins or Mantel actually describe their book as “upmarket suspense” or “literary dystopian (or upmarket dystopian),” respectively? With the exception of Literary Fiction, wouldn’t you just state the subgenre or risk sounding presumptuous? I imagine Hawkins’ query just described “Girl on the Train” as thriller or suspense, and that “upmarket” was applied by someone else after the fact. Same thing with Mantel for “Station Eleven,” don’t you think the query would sound weird if she had said “my novel is upmarket dystopian” or “literary SF” or something like that? Practically speaking, just wondering if these designations are not so much for use by the writer describing their own book in a query letter.

    Thank you!


  12. This was so helpful! I’ve been saying my debut novel was a little mystery, a touch of romance, and a lot relationships so I guessed that made it women’s fiction. Now I can say it’s upmarket fiction. Thank you!


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